Punjabi hero in Paris

Vikram Chattwal One Dollar Curry is the newest in the crop of crossover films. Nirupama Dutt gets director Vijay Singh talking

The stories about the amazing mobility of the Punjabis are all too well known. One of the many Punjabi jokes that express it is that of Neil Armstrong landing on the moon only to find a Sardarji running a dhaba. Armstrong asks in surprise, "Sardarji when did you get here?" Taking the rotis out of the tandoor, the Sardarji replies casually, "We came here straight after the Partition."

Such is the spirit of Vijay Singh’s latest crossover feature film called One Dollar Curry. His first full-length feature film was Jaya Ganga, based on his own novel of the same name published by Penguin in 1990.

Vijay Singh
Director Vijay Singh and 
Vikram Chattwal (top) in
One Dollar Curry 

The film released in 1998 was a romantic love story set in the backdrop of the waters of the Ganga as an India writer goes boating down in search of mystical love.

The 2005 One Dollar Curry is, in contrast, a comedy and shows the young filmmaker’s versatility in handling different themes. Of course, Vijay has shown an Indian writer living in Paris. Vijay graduated with history honours from St. Stephens, Delhi. After doing his Masters from the Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, he moved to Paris for doctoral work. He has been living there and has authored several novels.

Talking about One Dollar Curry, Vijay says, "In some ways it is autobiographical. I too landed in Paris with little reason but the fact that I had a French girlfriend." Identifying with the theme comes easy to most expatriates. Watching the film, which has Manhattan hotelier Vikram Chattwal playing the lead, the actor’s own dad said, "This seems to be my story."

A still from the film
A still from the film

It is the story of a Nishan, a street-smart young Sikh, who comes to la Paree just with several bottles labelled Kamasutra Nandi Bull Oil and a sense of humour. What happens next? The predictable, of course, as the filmmaker says, "He becomes a cook even though he can hardly cook and the One Dollar Curry becomes the brand name of the fare he offers on wheels.

Laughing Vijay tells us, "I actually brought an auto-rickshaw and had it converted into a food cart."

This reminds one that when a Chandigarh-based theatre director had taken her play in the early 1990s to the Avignon Festival, she had taken along a Sahranpuri rickshaw.

This was a major prop for the heroine to be pulled around in Shehar Mere di Pagal Aurat. When she was to return the festival authorities requested her to leave the rickshaw behind. Yes, Neelam had found a young Sikh entrepreneur running an antique shop in the obscure heritage village of Avignon.

If the Punjabis can make it good in Avignon then Paris is no big deal as Nishan goes on to show. Calling himself The Maharaja of Indian Cuisine, inventing a false lineage of chefs and stealing recipes to do a TV show he gets to the very heart of Paris and forms one side of an international love triangle.

Smriti Mishra is the second side of the triangle and Grabriella Wright plays the third side being his French love.

The director says that the cast was most cooperative and the hero did his homework well by giving his housemaid a day off and doing the dishes himself.

Vijay says, "Filming in Paris was not so easy as there were many hurdles in getting permission for shooting and such. So am I going to leave Paris out of my next film. Any plans for the next venture?

"Not at the moment for I am in deep curry, mercifully it is not soup." The film has had a mixed response in India but in Europe it is getting rave reviews.

Perhaps there is an audience abroad identifying with the theme very closely. The director says, "It is an era of crossover films but this one is a double crossover."