Toronto, There were more white Canadians in the audience than non-whites when Dilip Mehta’s directorial debut “Cooking with Stella” premiered to a full house at the Toronto International Film Festival.
There was not a moment without laughter as this light comedy revolving around the family of a Canadian diplomat Maya (Lisa Ray), her husband Michael (Don McKellar) and their cook Stella (Seema Biswas) and nanny Tannu (Shriya Saran) unfolded on the big screen Wednesday.
Turning in an outstanding performance, Seema personifies duplicity in this feature film directed by acclaimed filmmaker Deepa Mehta’s brother. A cunning old hand at the high commission, she has perfected the art of manipulating her non-suspecting foreign employers.
Pretending to be a devout Christian, who prays to Mother Mary every day, Stella begins her manipulation games even before the new diplomat family has settled on the compound of the Canadian High Commission in New Delhi.
She steals cash and small jewellery, inflates grocery and laundry bills, steals duty-free items as Maya is busy with her new job and Michael tries to be a caring house husband in charge of his little son.
The audience had a good laugh when Stella’s husband is shown enjoying whisky stolen from the diplomat family.
When Michael decides to learn Indian cooking from Stella and offers her additional money per lesson, Stella continues with her cunning game preferring ‘dakshina’ (alms) to extra money.
When young Tannu joins as a nanny, Stella tries to bribe her to collude with her. But the honest nanny slowly starts exposing the wily old cook who even enacts the drama of her own kidnapping for ransom.
The unsuspecting diplomat family pays $40,000 for her release. But Stella’s game is exposed when Tannu finds the money in her home.
Seema, who also featured in Deepa’s Oscar nominated “Water”, said: “I am very happy to be associated with this film and my role. It is wonderful to work with Dilip and Deepa.”
“Cooking with Stella” was shot at the Canadian High Commission in New Delhi.
“It is the first such film shot on a diplomatic place. We sent the script to the high commission and the government in Ottawa. So the film was basically shot on Canadian soil,” Dilip, who co-wrote the screenplay with his sister Deepa, said amid laughter.
Donna Glezakos, who was one of hundreds of white Canadians in the audience, said: “It is a typically Indian movie and I love the comical role of Stella played to perfection.”
Laura Mitchell, another white Canadian, said: “After ‘Dil Bole Hadippa’, this is my second Indian movie. It is very funny. The topic was not heavy unlike so many films in the festival. Biswas has played her role superbly. But Rani (Mukerji) was great in ‘Dil Bole Hadippa’.”