A superbly acted cozy mystery with a dark Dahlesque twist
The review contains spoilers. You can watch the film first and then read the review:
The most fascinating—and repelling—thing about Chutney is the macabre connection between food and death, especially when that death is caused by murder. And murder is the last thing we think of when we meet Anita, a demure housewife, at a party in an elite club in a “model town" somewhere in the outskirts of Delhi, near Uttar Pradesh. Before we see her, we hear about her from a group of other ladies, the kitty party types. They talk about her the way the popular group of girls gossip about the plain Jane in an American high school movie. One of them (Rasika Dugal) is more subtle. She tells Anita that she has heard about her culinary talent and asks if she can visit her one day and learn a thing or two. She doesn’t forget to complement her on how good she and her husband look together. In the next scene, at the drinks counter, she is flirting with Anita’s husband (Aadil Hussain).
How the film progresses from here makes Chutney a most unassuming tale of revenge that transpires through a seemingly casual chit-chat about domestic affairs that takes place over a plate of pakodas (served with green chutney) and two glasses of soft drink. But it must be noted that Jyoti Kapur Das’ short film shares much in common with a short story by Roald Dahl—Lamb to the Slaughter, in which a pregnant woman kills her husband with a big bone of frozen lamb, and later, serves it to the investigating cops who are looking for the suspect weapon (read here ). Das’ film deviates from Dahl’s story in terms of plot but the crucial elements are all there—a domesticated wife, an unfaithful husband and of course, the stomach-churning link between food and murder, and, even motifs like two people enjoying a beverage (alcohol in Dahl’s story). There are also unmistakable traces of the “cozy mysteries" of Agatha Christie, where violence and sex become more potent by way of suggested clues. These influences seem obvious, but Das’ film is a wholeheartedly Indian one. Her characters are extremely believable and rooted in a milieu brought alive by acutely observed details—the accent they speak in, the clothes they wear, the house they live in and the food they eat. And its twist is founded on an innately Indian foundation, a kind of agrarian way-of-life that is still in practice in many parts of the country.
In spite of such interesting ideas, Chutney could’ve gone awry without its cast of highly competent actors: whether it is Hussain, who takes only a couple of seconds to convey the essence of the complex husband character, or Dugal, who carries the entitlement of being the small town beauty perfectly beneath her friendly demeanor to Sumit Gulati (who made great impression in Talvar), as the servant on the sidelines spitting on the soft drink before serving. But the film’s center-piece is Tisca Chopra, barely recognisable as the buck-toothed Anita. She has also produced and co-written the film, which means she must have substantially improvised with her lines. The way she spins the yarn and lets it slowly tighten its grip is what makes the film.
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