Cooking With Stella

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      Starring Don McKellar and Lisa Ray. In English and Hindi with English subtitles. Rated G. Opens Friday, March 19, at the Ridge Theatre and the Cinemark Tinseltown

      Indie film veterans Don McKellar and Lisa Ray star as Michael and Maya, fresh to Canada’s diplomatic compound in the capital of India, New Delhi. The supposedly gob-smacking twist in Cooking With Stella is that she is the new consul and he is a lowly househusband along to care for the infant child about whom neither of them appears to give a rat’s ass.

      Watch the trailer for Cooking With Stella.

      Actually, Michael is a professional chef, between gigs for unexplained reasons, although the passive-aggressive way he diminishes his wife’s job holds a clue or two. To be fair—and what’s more Canadian than that?—she’s pretty icy to him too.

      In director Dilip Mehta’s patchwork script, which he wrote with his sister Deepa, everything is spelled out but nothing is understood. For Maya to have reached this high-water mark in her career, you’d think the couple would have at some point discussed the most basic issues of foreign service, but everything here is discussed like it’s a brand-new topic.

      No wonder they are instantly mocked by cook Stella (Seema Biswas, who, like Ray, was in Deepa Mehta’s Water), a practising Catholic and devoted thief whose specialty isn’t lamb biryani—it’s fleecing naive Canucks and gambling with her black-market proceeds. The fact that Michael wants her to be his Delhi-style food guru softens Stella’s heart not at all, and the arrival of a sweet village nanny (Shriya Saran) fails to add tension to the dynamic, since she is morally co-opted soon after joining the household.

      The Mehtas can’t choose between earnest social study, Bollywood parody, and class-war farce. So they opt for the whole thali platter, with poorly lit cooking scenes—which could have been shot anywhere—offering occasional breaks from the stilted dialogue and abject behaviour. In the end, we’re asked to smile and forgive, but even the mildest laughter leaves a bad taste.