The story of India’s first home chef is fascinating and should be brimming with food. We don’t get served any platters, I’m afraid! For those of us who didn’t have the chance to see her become a force to be reckoned with in real-time, the film Tarla should’ve given us some real insight into her food and life. While to the uninitiated, the story may come across as a heartwarming tale of endurance and a feel-good film, it tells a very limited tale, ending much before the real story began. Personally, I looked up the chef after watching the film because I remembered hearing her name but not much more. When I saw that she became an entrepreneur in the process of becoming one of India’s most revered home chefs, I was disheartened not to have seen that side of things in the film. It’s understandable that, as a biopic, the movie focuses on her early life and how she became the Tarla Dalal we all know, but a lot of the film feels like the editing room got a free pass and left out on too much in the final cut.
Tarla Dalal’s story is definitely inspiring, and a lot of the conflicts she faced are common occurrences for most people, making for a relatable story, but having seen such things every day, it comes across as a little bit of a bore. The songs are fun but too long for a movie like this. Piyush Gupta tries to paint a picture of a supportive husband at a time when women were not allowed to step outside the boundaries of their homes. While I’m not so sure how true it all is, a good chunk of the movie is spent focusing on a period where Nalin is bruised from Tarla’s success and his own failure, and he begins to become less supportive, and it all seems like an act of progressivism. We still see Tarla fail at the basic tasks of a homemaker, making her look bad and giving Nalin the agency to feel that way, although he said he would leave everything behind and support her dream.
It’s a little bit contradictory, and it takes too long for things to change again, making it almost feel like it’s right for him to feel that way. This is where the pacing of the film could really have been sped up to make it crisp. Huma Qureshi is great as the woman who made it in the 60s, but the fake teeth definitely feel like an unnecessary addition. Sharib Hashmi is as charming as her husband, and their chemistry is sweet. The supporting roles, specifically Bharti Achrekar is impeccable, and there are times you feel like you’re really in the market listening to the ladies gossip. What the story lacks is food! I went in expecting to feel hungry after the first 5 minutes, but we only see one montage of a potato recipe. The costumes and sets are good enough to take us back to the 60s, but the mood lighting that is now applied to every OTT biopic since Scam 1992 (not trying to say this one looks like a mystery, but you get the idea) feels a bit overused and not as “vintage” anymore. I understand that for a film that is set in the 1960s, we need 1960s lighting, but we’re just a little bored, you know? A lot of time is spent establishing the relationship between Tarla and Nalin, and while we understand that more than 12 years have passed since she decided to do something, it comes at too late a point in the film.
It’s nice to see that the film is partial to those who may not know what they want to do with their lives early on and shows them that that’s okay. While the messaging is sweet, it just had to be cut down, maybe by half an hour. It’s the performances that carry the film and give it some kind of flavor, rather than the unalluring pacing and storytelling. For a heartfelt, cute little movie, if you have two hours to spare, Tarla is definitely a decent watch. If you’re expecting an inspiring tale of greatness, it will disappoint you because of its languid pacing. Nevertheless, it’s definitely a watchable film with good performances and a message too. A lot of the dialogue is trying to be funny but fails, and while at first Tarla’s repetitive habit of saying the same thing multiple times is fun, it adds to the slowness of the film. While the film is out to be an impactful drama, it’s more of an ordinary tale that is dripping in sugar syrup.
Ultimately, the film isn’t mouth-smacking, but a 7 out of 10 if Nalin were to check it for quality. Although the film is about Tarla, much of the narrative serves the purpose of showing Nalin as a supportive husband and his side of things that Tarla herself does not see. But the film begins with the words, “This is a story not about Tarla Dalal but of Tarla.” Yes, he has had a massive impact on her life, but that’s all I could see in this film. I couldn’t feel the aromatics or the wonder of vegetarian cooking through Tarla, which makes me rather sad. Still, if you’re remotely interested in the great chef’s tale or have a penchant for women-led films, you could give Tarla a go. I would give this film 3 out of 5 stars for the performances and the message. I think the first half of Tarla is more fun, whereas the second half needs some editing.