Published Sep 21, 2009Directed by Dilip Mehta and co-written with filmmaker sister Deepa, Cooking with Stella tells the cross-cultural tale of a Canadian diplomatic family's post at the consulate in New Delhi.
Diplomat Maya (Lisa Ray), her husband Michael (Don McKellar) and baby arrive in India to find their gated residence being run by long-time servant Stella (Seema Biswas). The couple try to adjust to their new surroundings, with Maya struggling with the new job and her disconnection from her Indian heritage, while ex-chef Michael resents his new role as househusband.
The enterprising Stella resumes her black market business, selling things stolen from her employers and their household, while finding herself bonding with Michael over their love of cooking. When new nanny Tannu (Shriya Saran) is brought into the house, her honest nature threatens to derail Stella's side business, until Tannu runs into some financial troubles of her own.
The film does well portraying the complex dynamics between the foreign family and their indigenous employees, pointing out the exploitation happening on both sides. Michael and Maya's bourgeois problems are placed in sharp contrast to the poverty surrounding them, and their oblivious nature makes it difficult to judge Stella's actions too harshly.
The script by the Mehta siblings is a bit overwritten and stilted, making it difficult for the actors to naturally embody their characters. The film suffers from a lack of likeable characters, with the couple's self-involvement and seeming lack of interest in their child being quite off-putting, while the duplicitous behaviour of Stella and ultimately Tannu isn't much better.
As well, there are also some fantastical elements and larger-than-life plot twists thrown in that don't quite gel with the film's overall tone. (Mongrel Media)