rediff.com

NewsApp (Free)

Read news as it happens
Download NewsApp

Available on  

Rediff News  All News 
Rediff.com  » Movies » Decoding Stella

Decoding Stella

Last updated on: March 17, 2010 17:14 IST

Decoding Stella

     Next

Next
Ajit Jain in Toronto

Cooking with Stella, a 103-minute social satire primarily shot at the Canadian high commission in New Delhi, will premiere at nine theatres in Toronto and Vancouver March 19.

"Such a permission has never been given before," said Dilip Mehta, who wrote the script and directed the film. "They loved the script and the high commission and the department of foreign affairs in Ottawa were pleased to allow us to shoot there."

This warm hearted social satire is about a Canadian diplomat (Lisa Ray) and her husband Michael (Don McKellar), a chef, who are posted to New Delhi.

On arrival, they inherit a number of Indian servants headed by the cook, Stella (Seema Biswas). When she agrees to become Michael's guru to teach him cooking traditional Indian dishes, little does he know that she is cooking up a scheme. The rest of the story revolves around that.

But then there's twist to the story as a new nanny (Shriya Saran) is employed.

In an exclusive interview with India Abroad, Dilip, acclaimed director Deepa Mehta's brother, said they were born in a privileged family with servants to attend to all their needs, something that he did not like.


Image: A scene from Cooking with Stella

     Next

'People who are getting the most fun out of the film are the students who are in their 20s'

Prev     Next
Prev

Next

"These days when people have gone to the moon and beyond, we still call other human beings servants. We deny them their identity, their sexuality, and their emotions and we attribute so much (stealing) to them because they live with us," Dilip explained as to how the idea of the film started.

"They are the faceless people. It doesn't fit well and so I said to myself I must do something for them. I said I must make a documentary and I kept on thinking about this."

But then he wanted to ensure that it did not become preachy. So, he discussed his ideas with his sister Deepa and asked her to help finalise the script, which she did.

It took them two years to write and polish the script. The actual filming took a mere six weeks. He was totally surprised with the reactions of the invited audience.

"We thought the film will appeal to women in their 50s and above, who were found of cooking, but people who are getting the most fun are the students who are in their 20s and who want to see the emerging India, and its middle class of 300 million people, which is almost equal to the entire population of the Untied States. That is the spine of India that we are trying to tap into coincidentally," he said.


Image: A scene from Cooking with Stella

Prev     Next

'People tell me, they did not notice so much going on in India'

Prev     Next
Prev

Next

The media screening last week at the Menu Life theatre, downtown Toronto, was filled with young students from the University of Toronto and a large number of international students from India.

"People are telling me they did not notice that so much is going on in India," Dilip said.

The film starts with the statement: 'It is 100 percent reality -- based on the story that's true, almost.'

Dilip explained how most of the characters are real.

"For instance we had a cook in the house for the longest time, Stella. She was a wonderful person, not a kleptomaniac as portrayed in the film, an Indian Christian from Mangalore. And then my younger daughter's nanny ran away with the young driver, as it happens many a times."


Image: A scene from Cooking with Stella

Prev     Next

'In Delhi people talk about their servants all the time'

Prev     Next
Prev

Next

Maya's character is loosely based on a friend's daughter who was posted to New Delhi as the first political counselor.

"And believe it or not, her husband was the governor-general's chef at the Rideau Hall in Ottawa and so Michael is a real person and he's back working as chef for the governor-general of Canada and Maya is back with the department of foreign affairs in Ottawa," Dilip said.

He said there are real instances, incidents and stories that combine to catalyse a scriptwriter to produce a script.

"All these don't come from nowhere as the ideas come from somewhere," Dilip noted.

"It is true in real life. These things happen all the time," he said. "For example, in London, people talk about the weather all the time. In Washington people talk about politics all the time and sadly in Delhi people talk about the servants all the time," Dilip said.

Through this film, Dilip said, he was making a social statement -- That you pay your servant poorly.

"In the film, Michael says to Stella, 'You become my cooking guru and I will pay you Rs 100.' What is Rs 100 ($2.50) and what do you buy with this?" he asked.


Image: A scene from Cooking with Stella

Prev     Next

'Things are not what they appear to be'

Prev     More
Prev

More

Dilip, 57, is essentially a photojournalist and like his sister Deepa, he now has a home in Toronto. His two children go to school in Toronto.

He was the production designer in Deepa's Water and he earlier directed The Forgotten Woman. He initially wanted to do an illustrated article on the plight of domestic help but it ended up being a hilarious feature film.

Though he called Biswas's performance as the best in the film, he admitted that McKellar had the tougher job.

"Stella steals, drinks whisky, and plays cards. But Michael is essentially a quiet typical Canadian, wants to please people and is a good person. I told him, 'Don, I am giving you nothing to work with but you have to come across as earnest.' He understands the student-teacher thing; he believes in giving something to the teacher, Gurudarshna (sic)," Dilip said.

Is there any lesson in the film?

"I think I have not gone that far into this film. I am merely saying things are not what they appear to be," he said.

On criticism that he portrayed Biswas's character in poor light, Dilip said, "I wonder why people feel so insecure in a country of over a billion people. It is like you saying the Mafia exists in Italy and being accused of portraying all Italians are Mafiosi. I want people to find the layers of the film. You have to see the nuances."


Image: A scene from Cooking with Stella

Prev     More