English Vinglish: Food as a Form of Connection
Info: 7105 words (28 pages) Dissertation
Published: 9th Mar 2021
Tagged: Food and Nutrition
During the starting credits, a lady (Shashi) is seen emerging from bed. As the male in the bed stirs in his sleep, she goes to the kitchen, and is seen preparing herself a mug of coffee and also a pot of tea. Already it can be seen how traditionally, the lady of the house is awake first, and her morning routine consists of preparing breakfast for the family.
In this whole morning routine scene, all focus is placed on the preparation of the breakfast, Shashi cannot be seen apart from her hands, and the main focus for the viewer are the different elements of her breakfast preparation. According to Anne Bower, when looking at the food film genre, it is seen how the camera focusses on food preparation and its presentation through close-up shots (Bower, 2012: 5). This film contains many examples of this; the next example being that Shashi stopping by some boxes. She opens one which seems to have fallen from a stack. The focus is mainly on the boxes, and she is still unseen. These boxes are seen to contain ladoos, and she carefully fixes one before gently closing the box and placing it back on the stack. The ladoos are evidently personal to her, as during her morning routine she stops by them to check, and treats then with gentle care. The focus does not need to be on Shashi’s reaction to them however, as the focus on the ladoos tells the viewer that they are an important element in this film.
In the next scene, she is seen in the background in the kitchen, preparing breakfast for her daughter. She delivers this breakfast to her daughter who instantly has a problem – the fact that the bread is white and not brown. In her refusal to eat, Shashi’s mother in law offers to eat the bread instead, saying how she likes any, white, blue or red. This can be indicative of the appreciation of all food items by the elder generation, and how this unspoilt generation will accept all foods with respect, as opposed to the changing generation which is obsessed with new diet crazes and does not accept food which is condemned ‘bad’ by people who consider themselves healthy. India is a developing country, and in general, is very different to how it was in the mother in law’s generation. As the country develops, the choices with food develop alongside. It can be seen in this scene as the older generation (mother in law) – which potentially did not have the same sort of choice and varietas of food, is not as fussy with the food as the newer generation (Sapna). Sapna’s choice of food can be seen to almost replicate Western food choices (e.g. brown bread, omelette, etc. for breakfast), therefore it is representative of the progression and newer generation in India, and their changing attitudes towards Indian foods. This is further highlighted by her father and mother in law instead requesting traditional paratha for breakfast instead.
Shashi is seen to be rushing around to make sure the family has their breakfast and are all well fed for their day. This is a display of motherly love, how she puts the rest of her family before herself. Food to depict motherly love can be seen as a common theme, as the provider of food is seen as a motherly caring figure, although often this factor is underappreciated and overlooked.
Sagar goes to stick his hand into a ladoo box which is on the table, to which the daughter (Sapna) exclaims “Thief!” – Sagar proceeds to ask whether he can have one to which Shashi replies lovingly that he can have one. This brings a smile to Sagars face as he takes one, knowing how special the ladoos are to Shashi. Sapna then goes on to call Sagar a ladoo in attempt to insult him, as the shape of ladoos are rotund, therefore trying to imply that he will become round and fat. This shows how items of food can be used in a descriptive sense, be it loving or insulting, and in this film, it is seen repeatedly how food is used in a metaphoric sense instead of consumption, therefore once again placing focus on the item of food, but this time in a different sense, without filling the scene with a large image of the item of food in question, but instead filling the dialogue of the film with it; therefore still making it the main focus of the scene for the viewer at that time.
The title then passes, and the next scene starts with Shashi frying items, and then making ladoos, all while she practises the word ‘Jazz’. Clattering behind her draws her attention to one of her house staff, who is packing the ladoos carelessly. She tells him to pack them with care. Once again it can be seen that the ladoos are very dear to her, as she makes and handles them with such care and does not appreciate them being packed roughly. A close up of her hand shows her carefully assembling one. Once again, during the preparation of these ladoos, the close ups of just the items of food can be noticed, although especially when it comes to the scenes where only her hands can be seen carefully assembling the ladoo, it can be almost seen as ‘food porn’ – Defined by the enhanced techniques that are applied during the shot; the close up of the hand, forming this perfectly round ladoo. This sensual visual style is compared to that of pornographic films by Molly O’Neill in her book ‘Food Porn’, due to the nature of the shots and the desire to which the audience feel once the material qualities of the food have been flaunted, how like pornographic films, the audience cannot physically participate, the audience are unable to consume this item of food, yet are filled with the desire for it (O’Neill 2003). It is made evident how her relationship with these ladoos are currently the only means of happiness for her at that very time, and they are an escape of sorts for her from family matters.
The role of food and its ability to form connections is portrayed early into this film with Shashi delivering her ladoos to clients. The amount of respect Shashi receives for her ladoos can be seen very clearly, therefore it can be said that her ladoos have played a very major part for her in connecting with people. She goes to an event, to which she is surrounded by people, wanting her ladoos, and being complimented by each and every one – once again the item of food is the subject of the scene, and it is the item which is in focus and is gaining the main character the attention. It can be seen later however how not all share the same enthusiasm as Shashi, as she calls her husband who dismisses her excitement over how much her ladoos were appreciated. In this and a following scene of where Shashi’s husband is seen to ask her to give up her ladoo business, it can be seen how food as a physical matter can act as a catalyst which brings people together (i.e. the event), but can also tear apart. Gaye Pool goes on to describe food as a catalyst which is able to convey symbolic meaning and provide dramatic focus in performance (Poole 1999: 2), which is evident in this scene and it’s following scene, where the focus still lies on the ladoos, yet one is of joy and the other of passion-crushing sadness, in each, the ladoos remain a constant symbol of Shashi’s pride and joy.
Anne Bower in her book Reel Food speaks also of specific settings; she goes on to say that these specific settings will “consistently depict characters negotiating questions of identity, power, culture, class, spirituality, or relationship through food” (Bower 2004: 6). This is seen in the scene following the event with Shashi’s husband and her at the dinner table. He discusses how Shashi should quit her ladoo business, and upon eating one of her ladoos tells her how her food should only be for himself, and not for others to enjoy. Here, there is special focus on the relationship through food, as it can be seen how Shashi’s husband has a fondness for her food, yet cares little about anything more. This is highlighted further by Shashi asking if he would even come home if it wasn’t for her cooking. His answer then shows the status of their relationship, as he cannot answer the question. The depiction of their relationship is based upon the food which Shashi prepares for him. Upon observation of the setting, this scene is at the dinner table, but unlike the bright morning scene, it is darker, with only the two there. The most significant part of the setting being the dinner table, and how these conversations took place over food (although Shashi is not shown eating but only serving). Once again this scene does not display food, but the main topic of conversation consists of items of food.
Further depictions of the connections Shashi has made through food are seen in the girls school, Shashi and Sapna run into Sapna’s friend and her mother. The mother greets Shashi and introduces herself. She then mentions how Sapna’s friend eats at Shashi’s house, then goes on to tell her mother that she must learn to cook from Shashi, complimenting her. Sapna then goes on to compliment her friends mothers cooking, cutting the conversation, therefore disregarding the compliments directed towards her mother as well. Shashi here is shown to be well known for her culinary skills, not just ladoo making, and this has formed a bond between Shashi and Sapna’s friend as well as Sapna’s friend’s mother. During the PTA meeting, while talking to the teacher (Father Vincent), he mentions where he is from (Kottayam, Kerela), to which Shashi mentions that it is a famous place for banana chips. The teacher says that he will bring her back a large bag of banana chips, to which Shashi shows clear excitement. Once again a connection is formed between Shashi and Father Vincent over an item of food, banana chips. The importance and knowledge of food is seen from Shashi as she instantly associated these banana chips from where he came from. This is also indicative of how areas of India can be associated with items of food, this association of Kerela with banana chips is just one example of how the identity of a person or a group can be discovered through the food they consume or even just discuss. Films in general tend to use food to highlight the identity of the characters, be it their location, background, social status, wealth, etc. It has constantly been conveyed through the characters choices in food.
In a later scene, Shashi plans to go to New York for her sister’s daughter’s wedding, to which Sapna and Sagar want to go along too. To this, Satish comments “It’s fine, go with mum, get kicked out of school and you can sit at home and make ladoos..”. Satish is seen here directly making a mockery of Shashi, by telling his children that without education, they will wind up at home making ladoos like their mother, as if it is the worst possible circumstance. This is also a personal attack on Shashi, as it is saying that her ladoo skills are basically worthless, and that she just sits at home making them. This shows his thoughts on her ladoo making, how it makes her uneducated and worthless in his eyes, however to outsiders her ladoo making skills are regarded as amazing. It is seen in this film how only her husband is seen to not fully appreciate her ladoo making skills. This shows how this one skill to make this one item of food can be seen and interpreted by people in many different ways.
After arguments with her husband about her travelling to New York alone, the next scene consists of her mother in law speaking with Shashi in the kitchen, sympathising. Most of the scenes involving Shashi are in or around the kitchen. While the mother in law gives advice, Shashi gives her a cup of tea silently. This makes the mother in law halt in conversation, and shows that Shashi was not interested in what she had to say. Once again, this is a trend seen, where the ladies of the house generally converse in places such as the kitchen, especially when it comes to personal conversation, and no males are generally present at these places. This trend continues as when Shashi reaches the U.S., she is seen at the kitchen table talking with her sister.
In the U.S., the cultural differences are seen almost immediately, amidst the sights of the city and the way people are dressed, the cultural difference is seen majorly through the food consumed. As part of the song, Frappuccino’s, Mochaccinos and Cappuccinos are sung and shown as part of this Manhattan life. This is also seen when the family are dining back at the house. At the dinner table, it can be seen as much livelier than at home, Shashi is seen laughing and everyone is seen enjoying themselves. Shashi once again is not eating, and she is quizzed on this for once. She is asked if she doesn’t like the food, to which she says she does, and that it is a good “paratha”- she is then corrected to the fact that they are actually eating Quesadillas, Mexican food, which is a world away from the Indian food she is used to, yet she still managed to find a similarity, how the quesadilla reminds her of paratha. Although there is a large cultural difference between Shashi’s traditional Indian food and the food she is eating there, it shows how there can be bridges formed between cultures through subtle similarities in food items. Again, the basis of conversation with Shashi arises from food, and how she is not eating, and then the focus turns to Shashi’s interpretation of the item of food.
Bower in her book Reel Food speaks of how films “make effective use of food as a communicative element, it can be seen that what is consumed and what is not consumed both have meaning to them; defining characters as purists, or displaying compromises, or as gluttons, ghouls; as rejecters or acceptors of cultural elements.” (Bower 2004: 6). – this is evident in the case of Shashi, as she isn’t seen consuming at all, but the meaning behind this defined Shashi, as traditional, and how she follows the old fashioned film housewife, which in older films is never depicted eating (although women in general were not depicted eating). This also defines Shashi’s husband too, who is seen consuming all the time almost throughout the film. Using Bower’s terminology, Shashi can be defined as a purist, while Satish can be placed under glutton.
The morning routine is different too, Shashi can be seen in the kitchen first thing in the morning. She offers to make breakfast but is kindly turned down, as her niece prepares herself a bowl of cereal as opposed to sitting and expecting Shashi to make it for her as her family was shown to be doing. Again, a cultural difference is seen where the house is not dependant on the lady of the house to provide.
Later she goes with her niece to college, where then she does to a park and takes a seat. On the bench next to her, she sees a man devouring a baguette. She observes this and then goes to a café. She walks into this café bewildered, looking around. A short clip is shown of an old man feeding an old lady, with a beaming smile on his face. A standard shot of coffee inside the café is shown. The lady behind the counter is seen to be rather rude, and in a bad mood – this is very different to how people who are essentially providers of food are shown, since as mentioned earlier, they are shown as warm beings who are happy to be providing, and be it a mother or a waiter, they still are portrayed as friendly figures.
She rushes Shashi, caring more about the line behind Shashi than the fact that she struggles to speak English. It can be seen that the lady behind the counter is getting increasingly annoyed with Shashi as she struggles to understand. This shows how the lady does not actually care for feeding, but more for the fact that the place is busy. In her haste to move out of the way of the line, Shashi rushes away. She crashes into a person collecting their food, and makes them drop their meal. She is abused from all angles, being called stupid. This scene can be an example of the importance of food to many, how this mistake caused this man to drop his food, therefore ruining his mood, but not only is he seen to abuse, but other around too. This can be said to be a reaction which everyone can associate with, the instant anger felt towards the person when one’s food is spoilt by them. The scene itself once she crashes into the man with the food is shown in a dramatic manner. The once still camera does not remain still, but moves around as if to put more energy into the scene, and there is a shot of the food falling on the floor. It becomes an almost high-action scene with shots of people’s faces and their reactions towards this. The main shot within these few seconds comprises of the food leaving the plate and landing on the ground via the shoulder of a man sat down.
As she runs out and leaves, she finds a bench and sits on it. While she cries, she is greeted by a cup of coffee. As it turns out, this French man (Laurent) brings the coffee she had bought at the café. This shows the friendly nature of the French man, as he then sympathises, and also in broken English tells her that the person in the café is very rude. Laurent is seen to use the coffee to connect with Shashi, and this depicts the friendly nature of Laurent, and how he wishes to connect with her, using the coffee as a starting point. Once he gets her attention, the focus is placed on the coffee, and their connection is based upon this.
Later she is seen on the phone, signing up for an English class. She finds out the cost of this class and is surprised. To pay for this class, she remembers that she had brought the money she had made from selling Ladoos. It can be said that the sale of the ladoos has enabled her to take this English speaking class, and therefore overcome her weakness, making the ladoos not only important in the fact that they made her happy and were an escape, made her many connections with people in India, enabled her to raise the money to take the classes, but also enabled her to go and overcome a weakness which had clouded her mind and which she was mocked constantly for. Once again this shows how symbolic these ladoos are in her life and therefore in this film as a whole, as without, she would not have the funds to take this English class.
Upon taking this class, Laurent is also there, and it is revealed that he is a chef. This shows how the film plays with the life of Shashi, and how she is approached by a charming French man who is also a chef and shares a passion for food, a man who is a complete opposite to her husband.
It is in this class where she tells everybody that she cooks ladoos and sells, but to her delight, she gets a reaction she has never got before; she gets called an entrepreneur. This instantly brightens Shashi up, and supports the point made earlier of how Shashi is regarded as an entrepreneur and an amazing chef in others eyes, but to her husband and also her daughter, who are seen to reject her from the start, do not see her in the same way, and are not supportive towards her at all. Once again, this supports the point of how her skill of making and selling the same food is interpreted in different ways by her family and by outsiders.
Laura Lindenfeld in her 2003 publication ‘Feasting our eyes: Food films, gender, and American identity’ mentions how food can be employed “as the main narrative engine, as the conflict resolution, and as a turning point in the plot” (Lindenfeld, 2003: 6). This is evident in this film, as from the start, the Ladoos have been part of the narrative of the film, but the only difference being that they were th subject of conflict between the husband and wife right until the ending. They however enabled a turning point in the plot, which was the enabling of Shashi to take English classes.
Laurent offers Shashi to get a coffee with him. She kindly turns him down and replies that she will go back home and make coffee instead. This is symbolic in a manner in which she respects that she is a married woman with children, and sees his offer for a coffee as something which may be looked upon wrongly. In the film he is repeatedly seen asking her this, and she is seen to turn him down each time. Even though the film portrays Laurent as this character who Shashi would be more than happy with, she is shown to hold on to her morals.
Shashi and Laurent take a walk and discuss their culinary skill. He compliments her on her food, to which she says “No!” and goes on to speak about how he is a hotel expert chef, in comparison to her who is “in house, cooking, very small”. She regards herself as less of a mere housewife yet more of a cook, although confined in the house. To this he disagrees, and then states that “food is art”. She then goes on to say in Hindi “when a man cooks, it’s art, when a woman cooks, it’s her duty”. This shows once again her traditional frame of mind, yet here she is seen thinking outside of it, and how unfair it is that it is a duty for the woman yet a speciality and something to cheer about when it comes to a man. This also shows about the gender inequality which women face in their everyday lives, and the gender equality situation in India, as well as how it is regarded as a woman’s duty to cook.
Laurent then goes on to say that “Food is love, you cooking is love, you make people happy, you artist.” This simple phrase shows that what she does isn’t just to feed her family, it’s an act of love and care on her behalf, as she provides for them no matter how she feels, such as earlier, even as she is mocked and spoken to as if she is of lower class than the rest, she still carries on providing as she loves them and cooking is one way she can show this. The phrase “Food is love” can be applied to many scenarios, and can relate to the motherly nature of the provider, and how the provider’s love is conveyed through their food and warm attitude. This however contrasts the coffee shop worker, who’s attitude did was not of a warm, providing nature.
He then suggests she should open a restaurant in New York, she suggests he should, therefore catalysing his thoughts of following his dreams. He then suggests a French-Indian restaurant, to which she says “French food, pasta-basta..?”. Laurent disagrees and then goes on to enlighten her about the difference between French and Italian. Once again her education can be seen from this as well as her knowledge of the western world, as she regards French and Italian food as the same, almost how an uneducated western person may regard Asian foods from different parts as the same. She is not ignorant however, as she takes everything Laurent tells her about the difference in. This shows her interest in different food and how she is willing to learn new things. This can also show the difference between herself and her daughter in a changing India, as in the modern day, all western and European foods are becoming available in India, therefore it is not representative of the knowledge of western foods by Indians, but just of Shashi. Supporting this, it is seen earlier how her daughter Sapna enjoys a rather western diet at home.
Shashi takes her niece to the class too where she meets everyone in the class outside. One of the guys proposes that everybody goes for a movie as their teacher is unwell. Another man then offers Shashi’s niece to come along too, with the offer of buying her popcorn. Later in the movie theatre, they are all sat in a line, and popcorn is passed down. Shashi once again isn’t seen eating. She is fixated to the film as her popcorn is casually taken from her. The man who proposes to buy the niece popcorn can be seen to try and bond with the niece, and make an offer of food to entice her to join. Also, the association of popcorn and a trip to the cinema can be seen as a traditional aspect of cinema going; many films and TV programmes when showing a cinema or a trip to the cinema show popcorn, and usually a drink as well. The viewers concentration to the movie is also portrayed through their consumption – some are shown fixated to the film, hardly or not eating (Shashi), while the others are shown to not be concentrating on the film as much, and are shown to be passing or eating the food. Either way, they are all consuming, whether it be the food, or it be the film itself. Professor Ian Christie quoted that while watching a movie, we consume at many levels simultaneously, “cinema itself is kind of consumption,” and that we are fed “in bite-sized chunks.” (Christie, 1998). This is shown clearly in this scene, but also when observing out of the box of the cinema screen, as it helps realise that it is also true to movie goes in real life.
After a phone call with her daughter, she is upset, and walks with Laurent again. They sit at a café, where a waiter asks her what she would like. Without realising, she makes her order in perfect English. Laurent makes her realise she ordered in perfect English, which instantly flips and brightens her mood, filling her with another confidence boost. In contrast to her first café experience, this is shown to be much easier, and almost effortless, how she managed to make the order. The fact that she made the order in perfect English too shows that she was passionate about learning, and that she has learnt. Also the fact that her perfect English moment came when ordering food and not another time shows how food is a priority to her, and its importance in a way that it is the first thing she learnt to do properly in English, signifying the importance of food not only to her, but it’s importance in life in general.
Later on, when discussing the wedding with her sister, Shashi proposes serving food in the Indian style instead of a buffet. This once again shows the difference in cultural surroundings, as her sister wants to do a buffet, which can be seen as a more westernised style of food serving, however Shashi’s proposal of an Indian style of food serving shows her preference, and also shows how she thinks about the presentation of the food through the serving, and how being served personally like in the Indian style can be regarded as more traditional, respectful and possibly ‘classy’ in comparison to the western buffet system. This is the first time in the film that it is mentioned for a food related subject to be carried out in the Indian way, as up until now, even when back in India, many food related items (breakfast, etc.) were rather westernised (with regards to the younger generations).
In the class, Laurent is asked what he likes about the class. He answers “Shashi”. He then goes on to say that she is very beautiful, and that her eyes are like two drops of coffee on a cloud of milk. He plays with food and description in this part, in this simple description, he encompasses the fact that she likes coffee, as well as the beverage they first met over, and also finally his offers to take her for a coffee. Therefore it shows how his compliment was not just out of the air, but encompassed other factors, which all were based around coffee. The choice of using a food to describe her also shows his interest in food. This is another example of food as a subject instead of an item to consume, as it is used as in a visual and metaphoric sense this time as opposed to being consumed or described (with regards to the senses such as taste and smell). Instead of trying to play on the viewers palette, they attempt to play on the imagination, wanting the viewer to visualise and imagine this cloud of milk, and two delicate drops of coffee falling upon it, they then want the viewer to imagine this image as Shashi’s eyes – a part of Shashi many may have not even noticed until this food based description brought attention to them. A food based description can be said to tantalise the senses of the viewers more than a description which is not, as the viewer can relate to the item of food and almost imagine it. Lovers of coffee especially would be drawn by this description.
Shashi goes home to find her husband and children have come as a surprise. Sagar lists all he ate on the plane, this consists of 5 packets of crisps and 7 cokes, once again showing the innocent, non-caring nature of the child as opposed to his health-conscious sister. The husband later in the bedroom heckles Shashi further; he asks her if she has been able to get around alone, and then points out her English once again by telling her that people who can speak English find it difficult too. He makes almost mocking surprised expressions when she tells him that she does manage to get around alone. She then confronts by telling him that he managed to get to the US too, to which he says “barely”, and moves over towards her, with the intent of sex and not talking further. Their relationship as it is seen here consists of food and sex, although it is seen here how Shashi is less submissive towards him and argues back, therefore showing her rise in confidence. Sagar then walks into the room and says that he can’t sleep, to which Satish turns around and says “you take care of him now, I’m on holiday”. Once again, Satish’s nature is observed through his disappointment of his disturbed sex and how he then proceeds to sleep, leaving the full childcare responsibility on Shashi.
Shashi then proceeds to hold Sagar in the bed, and says “my ladoo” to him affectionately. This shows the difference between how Shashi sees ladoos and how her daughter Sapna sees them, as earlier she uses the sweet as a derogatory term for Sagar, but Shashi uses it affectionately. Again, food here is not a subject of consumption or being described in a sense of consumption (taste, smell, etc.) but is being used as a metaphor, except in contrast to Sapna, ladoo is used to describe Sagar as sweet, or a delight, as opposed to rotund.
The family are then shown sightseeing around, being tourists and taking pictures. While discussing where to go and see next, they are seen at what can be assumed is a café, all enjoying food, once again apart from Shashi. Shashi due to her class refuses to partake in the next activity of theirs, but Sagar is adamant she comes with. The niece then goes on to distract Sagar, talking about an “awesome ice cream place” which she goes on to describe in a very excited manner, hyping Sagar up too, she describes how they add things like chocolate chips and gummy bears to the ice cream, further exciting Sagar as these additions are known to appeal to children.
Sagar then changes his tune completely, forgetting the fact that he wanted Shashi with them, as he is now excited for this ice cream. This can show how the mind can be changed with the offer of items of food, taking for example Sagar and the ice cream; without the promise of this ice cream, he may have been stubborn, and refused to go without Shashi being there. With the promise of ice cream however, he almost forgets about wanting Shashi there, and his mind is drawn towards his taste buds and stomach instead, therefore instead of having Shashi there to look forward to, he instead looks forward to his delectable dessert. Now, it can’t be said that the food replaced Shashi in his mind, but the promise of this ice-cream certainly swayed him to detach from Shashi for that moment in time. A child’s mind can be seen from how he was swayed by this offer of dessert, and the description given is given in such detail that even the viewer can imagine what this ice cream is going to be like, and can almost feel the same excitement as Sagar, or at least imagine.
As the family leave, Shashi waits, and then goes to her class. After the class, Laurent chases Shashi down, and gets her attention. He then stops her and gives her a small pack, while saying “I cook French dessert…crepe”. He then tells her to try and give her feedback. This is an offering to bridge over the past happenings, and how Laurent has been with Shashi. Again, their bridge is the item of food which is offered, therefore being the base of their conversation. Shashi then proceeds to say in Hindi “why don’t you leave me alone”, meaning his peace offering has not worked, and that Shashi is still upset with him. She carries on in Hindi telling him that she is a married woman, although aware that he does not understand. It is almost as if his offering is ignored, as she goes on to call his crepe “French fries”.
As Laurent picks up parts of what Shashi has said (such as Empire State building and French fries), he then calls her back as she storms off. He points her to the direction of the Empire state building, then goes on to tell her about French fries, and how they aren’t a real thing but an American concept. He then describes his crepe as a “French ladoo”. She takes it finally from him and walks away, smiling. Her mood is almost very different from how it was in front of him, the way she ranted at him in Hindi and the way he responded to her in a collected manner and still gave her his peace offering shows that he is not a man who is offended by small rants and still would like to make things okay with Shashi. The peace offering of food too shows that once again he plays on her passion of food and knows that food is one way to Shashi’s heart, even if it is in friendly manner. Once again it can be seen through this scene how Laurent is attempting to build bridges with the use of his culinary skill, and how food is symbolic in Laurent connecting with Shashi.
Shashi’s other niece (bride to be)’s fiancée (Kevin) tries one of her ladoos, and remarks that it is incredible. He carries on eating it with pleasure, joking that he could marry multiple times so he gets to eat ladoo. He is shown completely different to Satish, and is shown almost as a modern man, integrating with the females, and joking around but instead of mocking or at the expense of somebody, in a more neutral manner. Everyone but Shashi eats some ladoos, complimenting them. Satish then speaks to Kevin, saying that they are the best ladoos he will ever eat. He then goes on to say that Shashi was born to make ladoos, instantly turning the compliment into a form of mockery. She then feigns a laugh as he tries to justify the mockery as a compliment. Again, the difference between the old fashioned Satish and the new generation Kevin is seen, as Kevin is able to accept the food and compliment whole heartedly, while Satish compliments but is only able to do so back-handed with an insult – still showing how he feels her ladoo making is worthless, and that she was born to be that way and nothing more.
Later, Shashi comes and uncovers two large trays of fresh Ladoos. She proceeds to carry these outside with the help of her niece. Outside however, Sagar hides behind a plant pot, and as Shashi and her niece walk out, he jumps out to scare her. This frightens her to an extent that she drops the whole tray of ladoos. Her reaction is of pure shock and horror with a large gasp, and this is exasperated by the scene becoming almost slow motion after dropping, and the enhanced sound of the metal tray falling on the floor. Sagar then proceeds to run into a passing waiter who also drops his things, and the only sound which is heard is another gasp followed by more falling/smashing items. This is followed by pure silence for a few seconds, before the silence is broken by Satish calling for Sagar angrily. Shashi, in her own world however then sits down to retrieve the ladoos with assistance of her niece.
She is visibly very upset by this, remaining silent throughout while her niece and sister attempt to comfort her by saying how the ladoos can be bought from a nearby shop instead. She does not respond until Satish comes with Sagar, only then she speaks, telling him to stop telling Sagar off. She then goes on to say that she will make fresh batches of ladoos. Even though her sister disapproves and says it is a lot of trouble, Shashi adamantly replies that she will remake them all. She takes the few she managed to save inside on the tray, and then puts those in the bin too. Upon being asked about her English exam by her niece, she says “what’s the point if I fail in my favourite subject, and pass in the other?” – therefore showing how ladoo making is her favourite subject, and it is very important to her, more than anything. The following scene shows the ladoos being swept up, close up, and Shashi, visibly upset, slowly making ladoos again. As she makes these, the scene cuts between her and then her class, where final exams are being given by her classmates. Each shot of Shashi making the ladoos shows her in the kitchen, with various family members dotted around her. She carries on with her duty as they do their own thing.
Shashi’s feelings towards the dropped ladoos is portrayed to all viewers through how the scene is shown, it almost hits the viewer as well, playing on their senses too with the sounds and the motion, as if the viewers are in the same body as Shashi, and are feeling the same shock and horror as she is. Although still from a third person perspective, Shashi’s feelings are felt directly by the viewer, who throughout the film have witnessed Shashi being as careful as she can with her prized ladoos. This shows a potential connection not only with the viewer and Shashi, but the viewer and Shashi’s ladoos too. Not only are they enticed by them visually, imagining what these special ladoos must taste like, but also can come to care for them as they care for Shashi. While they are swept up, there is particular focus on the ladoos, and they occupy most of the screen. This can also be seen as symbolic to Shashi, and her happiness, as they are swept up and disposed of. This use of food to connect with the audience and use as a symbolic element is also identified by Mervyn Nicholson in his studies of Stanley Kubrick’s movies. He mentioned how there are movies which food is just used as a prop to enhance the realism of the film, and some which use food as a symbolic element; in this case it can be said that the food (i.e. the ladoo) is used as a symbolic element, as Nicholson then goes on to describe this element as “charged with cinematic power and resonance” (Nicholson 2001: 279) – this power and resonance seen by how the scene is portrayed and the audio-visual effects, with the particular focus on the ladoos when they are dropped, and afterwards when they are swept up.
As the wedding ceremony kicks off, various scenes of the wedding are shown, with particular highlight on a bottle of champagne which is popped and allowed to fizz. This can be seen as a standard scene to signify a celebration. Speeches then take place after at the dinner tables, and toasts are raised to the newlywed bride and groom. This is all done at the dinner tables where all guests are together. The dinner table is seen as a significant part when it comes to togetherness, and as a place where important announcements, toasts, and various other aspects can be shared with everyone. This once again is seen in many films along with this, where the dinner table is the only place where the family is together. According to Mark DeStephano S. J. in an essay featured in Tom Hertweck’s ‘Food on Film: Bringing Something New to the Table’, the dinner table and the sharing of a meal becomes a place where stories and testimonials of great importance about life are opened to be shared (Hertweck 2014: xvi). Shashi gives a speech to the bride and groom in English, which is seen as an important point in the film, as from the start this person who could not speak English properly at all is now standing in front of a whole wedding to give a speech, and all of this is done at the dinner table.
After this she is seen collecting another tray of ladoos, and as before, asks her niece to help with the other tray. She proceeds to hand them out personally to her teacher and fellow classmates, who are more than happy to finally accept these ladoos she had spoken about in class. Instead of allowing everyone to take one alone, this traditional manner of handing out shows a level of respect as well as care, as Shashi wishes to make sure everybody gets one. Everyone can be seen smiling while consuming her special ladoos, and after she has spoken to Laurent, he is seen looking at the ladoo first, before eating it too, in thought. After handing to her classmates she proceeds to hand to family.
She goes to Satish and puts two down into his plate. He then looks at her, and asks if she still loves him. She smiles, and answers simply “if I didn’t… why would I give you two ladoos?”. This answers his question, as her love for him is shown through the fact that she personally hands him two ladoos, as opposed to everybody else, even Laurent, who she only gives one. This is significant as it shows that she puts her husband ahead of everybody else, and feels he is the most important, no matter how he treats her. This can be noted as a gesture of love for her husband and her family, and once again, it is portrayed through the item of food that she cares for the most, her ladoos. This goes back to the quote by Lindenfeld, as this can be seen as the conflict resolution, and without her even saying her final line, it is made clear to the audience with the close up of her placing two ladoos for him, how dear he is to her.
Bower, A., 2004. Reel food: Essays on food and film. Psychology Press, pp. 5-6
Nicholson, M., 2001. My dinner with Stanley: Kubrick, food, and the logic of images. Literature/Film Quarterly, 29(4), pp.279-289.
O’Neill, M., 2003. Food porn. Columbia Journalism Review, 42(3), pp.38-46.
Poole, G., 1999. Reel meals, set meals: Food in film and theatre. Currency Press.
Lindenfeld, L., 2003. Feasting our eyes: Food films, gender, and American identity (unpublished dissertation). University of California, Davis.
Christie, I., 1998. Feasting in the Dark. Consuming Passions: Food in the Age of Anxiety. Manchester: Mandolin, pp.193-192.
Hertweck, T. ed., 2014. Food on Film: Bringing Something New to the Table. Rowman & Littlefield. pp. xvi
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