As I shared in a previous post, I really loved The Hundred Foot Journey. And one of my favorite things about the movie is Manish Dayal. He did a phenomenal job. I recently talked with him about his role in the film, how much he likes to cook, and well, meeting Oprah.
In “The Hundred-Foot Journey,” Hassan Kadam (Manish Dayal) is a culinary ingenue with the gastronomic equivalent of perfect pitch. Displaced from their native India, the Kadam family, led by Papa (Om Puri), settles in the quaint village of Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val in the south of France. Filled with charm, it is both picturesque and elegant – the ideal place to settle down and open an Indian restaurant, Maison Mumbai. That is, until the chilly chef proprietress of Le Saule Pleureur, a Michelin-starred, classical French restaurant run by Madame Mallory (Academy Award® winner Helen Mirren) gets wind of it.
Manish Dayal grew up in South Carolina. Becoming a lover of films and wanting to be in the industry after seeing Jurastic Park, thinking he’d be behind the camera, but one day after doing a friend a favor, ended up being in front of the camera. After that he was hooked. From helping a friend, to being in a Steven Spielberg film, Manish appears to be on the road to being around for a long time. He was casual and up to chat for as long as we wanted.
Manish Dayal Interview
Do you cook in real life?
So I’ve been getting that question a lot lately. And this is what I would say – no. (Laughing) But I’ve definitely learned a lot about cooking. And definitely in the movie, it wasn’t so much about learning how to cook but more just how to like understand kitchen culture. Because we had to understand how to chop and where to stand and how to move and how to make sure that all of the dishes were effectively made. And I think like that was sort of the challenge in terms of learning kitchen etiquette and stuff like that for the film.
How did you get attached to the project?
It was a really, really funny story actually. I mean I don’t know how much time we have to tell you the whole story. So I went in for a voice over audition for an animated feature that DreamWorks is doing. And then that day I went in, and I ended up (being seen by) one of the people that sort of first sort of spotted me, Leslie Feldman. And she’s the casting executive over at DreamWorks. And we ended up having this great conversation the whole time we were in this audition, but not auditioning, just talking. And then that night I get a phone call sort of asking if I’d come back in and read for a different project. They wouldn’t tell me the name or anything about it. I did, of course. I found out Steven Spielberg was involved. So I was like holy sh!t. (Laughter all around) He’s like a childhood hero of mine, which I’ll talk to you about later. But, anyway, so I go into this room. And I ended up reading a scene I think 38 times. I must’ve read it trying it every different way you can imagine. And then those tapes went to Steven, uh and Oprah. And apparently I found out that they were very excited. And then I went in for more meetings and sort of an interview and then more meetings and more meetings and over the course of four and a half months. Then I met Lasse Hallström in New York who ultimately I think signed off. And then I got a phone call the next day saying that Steven wants to hire you. And that’s how it happened. It was a long, long crazy amazing entertaining experience.
Where were you when you got the call?
I was in New York.
Who was around you?
I was by myself. I’m really glad I was by myself. Um, whew! It’s not something that…yeah, um, I was by myself. I think at first, you know, I was speechless. I was shocked. And then the first thing I did was call my mom. So yep.
Did you meet Oprah?
Yes, she’s really amazing. All the things that you know about her she’s that much more incredible. She’s, as you know, giving and generous. I mean most interesting thing about her is how generous she is with her knowledge and her knowledge of the world and how much she did impart and which things that we talked about on set. So I did get to spend some time with her. And it’s clear to me, and I think all of you guys, of why she’s connected to this story. I mean this is a story about, you know a displaced family that has to sort of find their way in this new place and sort of overcome all these obstacles culturally, racially, you know, in every way. And it’s a real immigrant story. And I think that that’s why she connected to it. And these are the stories that she wants to tell. And I think she did it. Hopefully.
What’s it like working with Helen Mirren?
First I should tell you that she’s hilarious, and she has a very, very, crass sense of humor. And I think that’s something we had a lot in common. So we ended up just laughing all the time. And she was telling me stories about, her life and how she got started in this business. And, you know it was good to sort of learn from her. Also when we were working I could see like how she prepares, what her process was like. That was also really cool. So it was an amazing experience. And she also told me something that I won’t forget, which was when you pick movies to do you should just pick them based on how much fun you’re gonna have. So I thought that was really good advice.
What scene was the most difficult?
Most difficult scene to film for me was the scene when we’re cooking for the Maison of Mumbai, around the boning knife. I don’t know if you remember that line. But that scene had to be sort of choreographed in a way because so much is happening in that scene. The stakes are so high. You know, this is a family that this is their one shot. Papa’s coming here, and he’s having to sort of make a life for his family. The stakes for him are through the roof. These are new immigrants coming to this foreign place. And for me I felt like my character should feel the weight of the world on his shoulders in combination with Papa. And I thought that the scene needed to be very quiet and still. And what made it challenging was the environment around me. You know, we have a huge boisterous family in this kitchen and so much going on and lines and things just flying all over the place. And I just have to really be kind of still and silent and observant in that scene. So I thought that that was pretty challenging.
What was most surprising about food culture?
Ok, that’s a good question. I went into it thinking that the French culture and the Indian culture are completely different. There’s nothing about these two cultures that are similar, until I started working on the movie and really living with these people who were making the movie. And I realized they’re actually distinctly similar unlike any other culture in the world because of their appreciation for food. They both have this sort of like razor sharp appreciation for it that I don’t think any other culture has that I’ve been a part of. And I think that the interesting part about that is that a French kitchen is really structured. It’s very formulaic. There’s a formula for everything. There’s a way to do everything. There’s a way to stand. Everyone has a skill in the kitchen. And you know your skill by not going beyond your skill. So there’s a hierarchy there that’s really respected. And it’s really quite amazing to watch how everyone follows the rules. And it’s like sort of perfect. And the level of respect you have chef, it’s really insane. Then in an Indian kitchen, it’s not like that at all. It’s about whoever, however you’re gonna get this thing cooked, and how are we gonna make it happen? And both yield great tasting food. But the cultures in these kitchens is so different. And that’s one of the most interesting things I learned. But they still have the same sort of razor sharp appreciation for cooking and food. It’s just done in a very different way.
What foods evoked memories of home?
Well, two things, of my mom, grilled cheese sandwiches. Nobody can make a grilled cheese sandwich like my mother. It’s this one thing. She didn’t do it often growing up. But I remember when she did it it was always late at night for me and my siblings. If we were hungry she would make grilled cheese sandwiches. And she makes them perfectly. And it is something that she does that I really sort of love. And then also, Indian-wise, rice and daal, which is a very simple thing. But everybody makes it differently. That thing about daal is that it is, depending on where you’re from in India where your family originates, daal is a uniform dish. But everybody cooks it differently. Like where I’m from, where we’re raised, which is also where the Hagi’s originate in the movie, they put sugar in it. So to me daal should be sweet. But to a north Indian it shouldn’t be, you know? And for us it’s also runnier. And in the north it’s thicker. It just depends. You know, everyone makes it differently.
What was your favorite dish on set?
The beef bourguignon. That was good. I killed it. (Laughing) I ate so much of it that day. And I remember it was a scene that I was shooting before lunch broke. Afterwards, I couldn’t even eat lunch I ate so much of it. It was really good.
What’s the message you want everyone to walk away with?
I would say that this movie, the message that I want– I hope people feel or– walk away with is that in order to achieve something great you have to go after life’s uncertainty. And I think that that is what I believe this movie is about. It’s about going into the unknown and not knowing what the f*ck’s gonna happen because after life’s uncertainty and committing yourself to a higher purpose. That’s what I think this movie’s about. For everyone in the movie, not just my character, it’s that way for Om Puri who when he arrives in France, you know, this guy with four kids to feed. Like wow! And Helen Mirren really trying to sort of do away with years and years of culture and experience that she knows. And she’s hardened to it and then sort of loosening that up. That’s tough. So I think everyone has a little bit of a journey. My character really does go after something that is difficult and challenging and not knowing what the result. That is real– that is real courage in my opinion. So that’s what I think the movie’s about.