Don McKellar and Lisa Ray star in Dilip Mehta’s Cooking with Stella, a comic fable set in the split world of New Delhi, India.
Ray plays a newly installed Canadian High Commissioner and McKellar’s her stay-at-home husband, who each have a tough time adjusting to the class system in their own home.
They live in the relative luxury of the diplomatic compound staffed by servants who live in the real, down and dirty New Delhi, including a cook named Stella who runs a black market business with Canadian supplies.
“It was great to be in India and have a job and a reason to be there,” says McKellar. “It’s not the easiest city to explore; it’s a chaotic city, but it’s a sensual city. The cliché about India is true — it is very sensual with smells and sounds and noise. And touch! People touch you, there is no personal space. It’s sort of overwhelming.
“And then you see the compound where we live in the film. It’s the real Canadian High Commission and it looks like York University. That’s what’s so funny about it. Indians get the joke but foreigners don’t. It looks ridiculous in the middle of Delhi.”
His character’s relationship with Stella is a complicated one. She doesn’t want him breathing down her neck while she bootlegs the Commission’s food and supplies. She reluctantly agrees to be his cooking guru and ups her con game.
Filmmaker and photojournalist Dilip Mehta nursed the idea for a story for years.
“Being from the subcontinent, we’ve grown up with domestic staff in the family and the whole thing of people waiting on you has always rankled me, the inequality and disparity between the haves and have nots. I always had an idea to address it but as a photo essay. I realized there was a dimension missing, the element of sound. I didn’t want to do a documentary because it would be hard to find the right people. So maybe I could give it a shot as fiction but because of the subject matter.
“I didn’t want to be Dilip pontificating on a soapbox. So I showed great astuteness by enlisting the help of my sister Deepa and together we decided to make a light satire so people can enjoy it. We could be Canada’s answer to the Coens!”
He wanted to reflect a more realistic contemporary India.
“We have all seen the exotic, erotic and poverty films about India. But there is a 300 -million strong middle class. Why aren’t we doing stories about that? Because colour and poverty sell. If I said this about Slumdog Millionaire, you’d be talking about me in the past tense. I’d be dead.”