Movie Review | Tarla: Food business, investment in dreams

'Tarla' is perhaps first cinematic documentation of a woman who changed the contours and paradigms associated with food in the most imaginative and practical manner.

India is a land of foodies which continues to experiment with food cuisine in an evolutionary manner. Tarla is a biopic on Indian chef and cookbook author Tarla Dalal. ‘Tarla’ is perhaps the first such cinematic documentation of a woman who changed the contours and paradigms associated with food in the most imaginative and practical manner.

Business of food has clear fault lines at least in India. Unwritten rule is that while cooking within the four walls is mostly an all women domain, cooking for public functions is still a predominantly male prerogative and it has continued to be so from ancient times.

Tarla Plot

Tarla (Huma Qureshi) is a woman who wants to achieve something significant in life. Apparently, her family is insisting on getting her married. Though Tarla’s husband, Nalin (Sharib Hashmi), is all set to stand by her side with her choices, gender duties result in her imagination and desire taking a back seat. Despite being a pure vegetarian, Nalin’s extreme liking for non-vegetarian food is a matter of surprise.

She started preparing vegetarian delicacies that followed non-vegetarian food items and gave them a run for their money. After teaching her neighbour’s kid to cook, she started giving cooking classes, and this was the turning point in her journey to start a tribe in the world of cooking.

Tarla chronicles the paradigm shift that happened in the food cooking industry in India where a woman dared to share her cooking expertise in a public domain and facilitated ease-of-life for scores of women to follow who were stepping into a married life. Tarla underlines the fact that the way to get things done in a conventional middle-class home still is through the magic to be woven by whipping up a heady concoction of food items that would pave the way for broad acceptance of the woman into her new family on her terms, still tough task to accomplish in actuality.

Subtly Tarla has shown on screen some life lessons and some underpinnings of empowerment cinematically, like:

Tarla getting married wearing her glasses

When was the last time such a feature was observed in a marriage in Indian society? To this day I have not come across any such marriage where a girl wearing specs choses to go through the rituals of betrothal sporting them with a grin. A new defining moment indeed!

Door-to-door selling

A concept, which supportably is presumed to be a western import indeed seems to be an Indian innovation if one were to go by how it has been shown in Tarla. The network of raddi-walas and the local domain expertise that they have, and the manner in which it has been leveraged to make a success out of the first book of Tarla is a template which needs to be re-looked into for product marketing by the new category of innovators.

Food business is investment in dreams

Indeed it was Tarla’s dream to step into a business of her own and she chose food as the channel vehicle for actualization of her dreams and made a success out of it inspite of all the usual societal barriers including the society not allowing her to conduct classes, and a doctor admonishing her for not fulfilling her motherly duties. She may not have been aware, but a KFC could become KFC only after its owner attained 65 years of age!

Passion does not have an expiry date

Indeed, passion should never be allowed to die down it should continue to simmer and nothing better than Tarla’s case to underline it!

Why it is that women have to run the kitchen and it should be her primary role?

Tarla shreds apart this conventional paradigm with panache and also underlines that it can be shattered again and again provided the male companion stands up in support and not gets off-balance when prodded from the male brethren as it happened in case of Tarla’s husband.

Women don’t need approvals

If a woman has decided that she has to attain something in life it would be done and Tarla underlines it repeatedly through the character though even her mother-in-law tries to pull her back from her initiatives to make a success out of it, by chiding her about the supposed preeminent role of a married woman to look after the kitchen, the husband and the children. Tarla however budgers on.

One of the existentialist dilemmas every newly married woman faces in her new abode is her struggle to make a chapati round. And Tarla poses a question that why should a chapati be good only when it is round in shape? After all, a paratha can be triangular or rectangular and nan can be elongated and a kulcha can be spread out? If the shape of a chapati is not round, is it not fit to eat?

As a matter of fact, more than four decades ago Parveen Babi in KALIA (1983) was besotted with this dilemma and it underline the role plays embedded in our society where acceptance in the kitchen and in the family for a newly wedded woman is guided by her ability to roll a chapati which is round in shape and Tarla has questioned it in a very subtle manner.

Tarla has been one of the earliest poster women of an emerging middle class of India which has built its strength brick-by-brick catalyzed by the core competencies that middle class had and continues to manifest.

There are scores of such stories waiting to be explored and shared. Huma Qureshi has shown how effortlessly she can change gears from being a glam doll in her last movie ‘Monica, O My Darling’ to a self-believing woman who wanted to become a broadcaster in ‘Double XL’. Role of an unsure husband oscillating between supporting wife and getting influenced by the male ego from his male peers, has been very well executed by Sharib Hashmi. What has been missed out in the film is the timelines of success i.e. in what year was her book published and when did her television show become a rage in the nation, etc.

Movie: Tarla
Directed by: Piyush Gupta
Cast: Huma Qureshi, Sharib Hashmi
Streaming on: ZEE5


'Tarla' is perhaps first cinematic documentation of a woman who changed the contours and paradigms associated with food in the most imaginative and practical manner.
Nalin Rai
Nalin Rai
Nalin Rai is a Tagore Commemorative Honouree Author for 2023 for his literary Contributions and Beyond & Emily Dickinson Award Winner for his poetry writing.

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