It has been about a day since my taste buds fell in love with Aasihiq Abu’s Salt ‘n Pepper and they are yet to get over it. You would see what I’m talking about, when I tell you that I drove around a drowsy city on a Sunday afternoon after the noon show, frantically hoping all the while to hit a food joint somewhere, where I could settle down in some corner, and eat, eat and just eat.
Kalidasan (Lal) is an archaeologist who is equally obsessed with food, and the smell and feel of the past. Maya (Swetha Menon) lives in another corner of the city, and has to put up with a job as a dubbing artiste that she enjoys, but which is often contrary to her beliefs. The two strike up a conversation that doesn’t go too well, after one of Maya’s calls to the local Dosa guy ends up on Kalidasan’s mobile. Hate slowly gives way to affection, but when they decide to finally meet.
However, Kalidasan on the spur of the moment sends over his nephew Manu (Asif Ali) instead. And, Meenakshi (Mythili), Maya’s roommate, volunteers to make an appearance on her behalf.
This is perhaps the first film that I have seen, where an entire audience smacks their lips in anticipation, barely two minutes into it. This is a dream-come-true film for any foodie out there, but even for the others there is no escape from the drool and dribble. Get ready for some real flooding in your mouths, as almost everyone in the film digs into food, and more food.
Having struck up an affinity over the telephone, Kalidasan proceeds to let Maya into the secrets of baking a Joan’s Rainbow Cake. Made by a French soldier’s wife as the Second World War raged on, and as she anxiously waited for her husband’s return home, the sumptuous cake with strawberry, pistachio and orange layers placed one over the other, is topped all over with delicious chocolate sauce. Kalidasan and Maya bake their own versions, and the world around them turns a tad sweeter.
Kalidasan almost undergoes a teleportation, courtesy the Unniappam that proclaims Babu’s (Baburaj) culinary skills. Almost everyone at the beauty parlor that Maya’s house owner (Kalpana) runs, bites into her juicy banana fries with a vengeance. Manu stares at Meenakshi round eyed, with the froth of a hot cappuccino plastered over his upper lip. Balakrishnan (Vijayaraghavan), an officer at an excavation site, explains the impact of a steaming hot tea, after a terribly drunken night. And even the lecherous technician who’s after Maya at work, chews into a drumstick in his Sambar as if there is no tomorrow.
As much as the film is about food that comes in all possible delectable forms, it’s about several other things as well. It’s about the lives of people who love to bite into something scrumptious and lose themselves in the glory of the moment. It’s about people unearthing themselves, and on their route to discovery coming to finally comprehend, what they really want from life.
There is so much to be said, of each of these adorable characters. Maya is a struggler striving to confront her own insecurities, and constantly challenging herself to prove that better days lie ahead. She gets the jitters on a driving test, and eventually does grab the driver’s license. She takes one hard look at herself in the mirror, and tries to come to terms with the fact that men aren’t in love with her any more. And it doesn’t help much, that they are lusting after her instead.
Kalidasan has been busy gorging on anything that he could lay his eyes on, and all on a sudden finds that the ground has turned slippery, as he starts yearning for companionship. He is a Self-doubting Thomas all right, and the salt on his beard isn’t reassuring to him either. There isn’t a flavor that escapes his savory tongue, and yet the tang end essence of human relations remain almost alien to him. Until he meets Maya.
I especially loved the wholehearted, keen servitude that characterizes Babu. Over the years, he has comfortably imposed wifely duties on himself, and is every bit what his employer wants him to be. Moopan (Kelu Moopan) is a silent spectator from another culture, who merely has a toothless grin as an answer to most questions. And who would forget K T Mirash (Ahmed Siddique), the irksome, on-your-back guy who eats into your ears with undecipherable, nonsensical advice, as much as you are trying to vigorously shake him off. Last but certainly not the least, there is the dysfunctional radio in Kalidasan’s retro Premier Padmini, that jumps into life each time the car runs into a ditch. It soon dies out again, but not before playing a song that adds a little bit to the story.
Performances are uniformly splendid, and Lal and Swetha Menon head the lot, with feats that are crisp and quite crunchy. Asif Ali and Mythili whip up some real fresh cream with thick sugar syrup. Baburaj has some real spicy fries in store, that are downright yummy. Ahmed Siddique pours over some steaming soup that’s sweet and sour. And the rest of them see to it that the garnishing is perfect.
Shyju Khalid, with his apron right on spot, has captured perfect frames that make Salt ‘n Pepper, a visual delicacy. Saajan wastes no time, mincing it all up and slices and chops with precision. Bijibal and the rock band Avial have mixed up mint and cinnamon with their musical scores, and the very special ‘Kanamullal Ulneerum’ pours honey over raisins.
Aashiq Abu and his team (that includes the fantastic writers Syam Pushkaran and Dileesh Nair) adhere to the golden rules of good cooking, and see to it that the griddle is all hot, before they gently spread out a light hearted Dosa story on it. The batter is rich and consistently textured with much mirth and laughter and it settles down on the tava, with a sizzling hum. They grease it a bit further with a dollop of emotional butter that melts all over it in no time. Just as the crust turns firm, they flip it over, and let it turn a golden brown on both sides. And once done, roll it over to a swank platter, and serve it piping hot.