Oggarane: Life Is Scrumptious


oggarane_poster

Opening with that existential question that must rank as high as “Which came first, chicken or egg?”, which is, “Does one eat to live or live to eat?”, “Oggarane” (“Seasoning”, Kannada) answers that right away. This, then, sets the palate for director Prakash Raj’s delightful conversational starter, where he also acts and writes the screenplay. The official remake of the Malayalam movie, “Salt N’ Pepper”, “Oggarane” has dialogues by Raj and some clear, pleasant cinematography by Preetha Jayaraman. Add to this recipe a distinguished music score by Ilaiyaraja and lyrics by Jayanth Kaikini (more of this department in a bit and a bite), and you have a homogenized product that’s wholesome, moving fun.

Meet Kalidasa (Prakash Raj), an archaeologist who, when not up to his head in ruins of civilizations past, is conjuring up delectable conversations about delectable meals, and actually steams up finger-licking food himself. Kalidasa has his relative Vaidhi (Mandya Ramesh) whose sole aim in life is to get the 45-year archaeologist married before age progresses and buries his plans for good. Who he gets instead, is a moody, cantankerous cook from Hubli, Krishna (Achyuth Kumar).  To add to this madness, Kalidasa’s millennial nephew, Naveen (Tejus) arrives to interview for a job. As is his generation’s wont, he may not yet have a job, but he irrefutably has a mind of his own.

In another world (figuratively, this isn’t science fiction) lives Gowri (Sneha) a dubbing artist who has her head up in the past as well – but of a life when her mother was around, cooking up slurpingly good food for her on demand. Gowri lives with her friend, Meghana (Samyukta Hornad) and “Chechi” (Urvashi), the latter running her own beauty parlor when not badgering her son about his cycle mishap or Gowri about her marriage.

Director Prakash Raj begins to gently whip these characters into situations where Kalidasa and Gowri’s lives connect through their love for, and yearning for mini dosas. Meanwhile, circumstances force Tejus and Meghana to meet and spin a concoction that threatens to spoil the spread for all involved.  This may seem a little far-fetched, and it seems at some point that it is. But that is not the point of “Oggarane”. With the deftness of a chef who is as sure of his ganache as he is of his directorial panache, Raj treats the story with a light, feather touch that’s touching and introspective; it’s also funny and warms your cockles, a loving throwback to Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s halcyon days. Note the scene, for example, when Kali goes to a girl’s house for the motions of meeting her family, egged on by Vaidhi’s emotional machinations. That scene is absolutely tops, as Kali’s love for food comes to the fore, and in a crunchy twist, he forms an alliance and there is a “bidaai”, but not with the girl of the house. Or, the scene where Gowri floats back in time when her mother lovingly spread batter on the sizzling pan to serve up mini-dosas with chutney that looks tantalizingly mouth-watering. That scene is absolutely moving, as nothing else can bring back heart-tugging moments of nostalgia as one’s mother’s memories and her food. That scene segues into another that’s sprinkled with just the right amount of zest and jest where an order for a mini-dosa leads to an enjoyable smattering of laughs. Or, where Raj and Sneha make up on the phone – you aren’t quite sure why you’re laughing even as you feel the tears. Maybe this is what Nirupa Roy called “khushi ke aansoo”, as she lovingly packed gaajar ka halwa for her son.  And then, there’s that symphonic piece involving a cake named “Joan’s Rainbow”, that makes you want to go back and read up on some history.

Prakash Raj - nifty direction, superb acting shops
Prakash Raj: nifty direction, superb acting chops

The story flags just that wee bit in the second half, and you realize that’s because Raj shifts his camera from Kali-Gowri to Naveen-Meghana. But the director quickly puts the pan back on sizzle, and he achieves a climax that makes you want to whistle, laugh, and cry. And that’s about as easy as keeping your eyes open while sneezing.

Of the cast, the young pair of Tejus and Samyukta Hornad are absolutely likeable. And the snazzy combination of Mandya Ramesh and Achyuth Kumar ensure that your belly is full with laughs, even as in one moving scene the former points out to highlight Kali’s love and respect for the latter with a beautifully written dialog piece.

Prakash Raj, Achyuth Kumar - what's life without a cook
Prakash Raj, Achyuth Kumar: what’s life without a cook?

But the movie belongs to Prakash Raj and Sneha – the former is absolutely assured and gobsmackingly good as Kalidasa. Pitching his character’s age, love for food, and cooking and personal ethics superbly, Raj displays a matured effectiveness that lends a perfect blend of comedy, anguish, and upright fun. Sneha is as perfect a foil to Raj’s Kalidasa. She’s beautifully muted, capturing her angst and anxiety about her uncertain future love life, even as she traverses her ache for her mother’s cooking and love in the past. When she laughs, she genuinely lights up the screen, as she does Kali’s life.

Sneha -  life's a piece of cake, or is it
Sneha: life’s a piece of cake, or is it?

And then there’s the music score by Ilaiyaraja. The first thing that hits you is how beautifully orchestrated and melodic the songs are, as is the background score. And you wonder if the Indian film industry’s gone tone deaf. Why isn’t Ilaiyaraja being used in more projects? If there’s a composer amidst us who’s holding the torch of intransient melody even while effortlessly kneading modernity into their work, it is he. Can we please have more of this composer, instead of lighting hypocritical lamps after time does its inevitable? Back to his work in “Oggarane” – his background score is his trademark, sniftily effective. In the scene where Prakash Raj goes to the meet the girl, Ilaiyaraja gets his orchestra to bounce with bass, synthesizers,  and fun, as if to indicate all the dishes laid out in front of Raj, and his anticipation of eating them. Simultaneously, the composer also gets some anxious violins to buzz on the sides, marking the anxiety that the girl and her family are going through, standing on the sidelines. That’s how superbly he’s caught the essence of the scene.  The songs are fun, some of them immediately catchy.  But the highlight is the title song, “Ee Janumave”, sung with verve and feeling by Kailash Kher. This song has Ilaiyaraja’s superb, staccato melodic orchestration in full swing, even as he melds classical and western influences effortlessly. And here (as in the rest of the soundtrack), he’s enabled beautifully by Jayanth Kaikini’s lyrics. The poetry here is absolutely evocative, moving, and mouthwatering. The lyricist covers multiple zones in the span of 4 minutes, keeping all burners on his writing on simmer, invoking within you the gratefulness of being able to eat hot food, the sighful thanks to your mother’s cooking, and spinning the beauty of Karnataka’s cuisine. And Kaikini does this with a gentle movement of his ladle-pen, sprinkling just that dollop of pun in his writing, wanting you to reach out to hot food immediately – I got all of this with the sub-titles in the original DVD running on the home theater, so for folks who understand the language in all its nuances, this is truly connoisseur’s stuff.

“Oggarane” is that rare movie which celebrates love, life, and food. And it does this simply, deftly, and beautifully, showing us that with the right doses of all three, life is nothing but scrumptious.

Watch the trailer of Oggarane here:

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