There are two approaches to cooking — one that follows recipes to the minute detail by measuring at every step, and one where ingredients are combined with an intuition and practised sense of smell and taste rather than by the measuring spoon. Whatever be the method, good food nourishes the soul. Ani I V Sasi’s Ninnila Ninnila (simultaneously dubbed in Tamil as Theeni) shows a bit of both methods and roots for the second one. Food, here, reminds the central characters of people they have loved and lost. Food also helps to revive or forge new connections, heal, and find a new purpose in their lives.
- Cast: Ashok Selvan, Ritu Varma, Nithya Menen
- Direction: Ani Sasi
- Streaming on: ZeePlex
Ani Sasi juxtaposes two unlike people who will soon cross paths. An insomniac and pot-bellied Dev (Ashok Selvan) whose life has been thrown out of gear after a loss, and Tara (Ritu Varma) who hopes to fill a void by mending a broken bond. He is a mess, suffers sporadic muscle spasms and cooks by instinct, dishing out lip smacking delicacies. She is a stickler to discipline and has an obsessive compulsive disorder.
The story could have been set anywhere and it wouldn’t make a big difference. But London gives the film’s team an opportunity to plate international dishes in a restaurant run by a Michelin star chef (Nasser), and for cinematographer Divakar Mani to romance both London and food through his lenses. The head chef has a Gordon Ramsay-like reputation. Add to that, no one has seen him cook or eat in the restaurant. A personal incident has rendered him sour.
In the cold, grey winter of London, these three characters gradually thaw, with food as a catalyst. With a handful of characters and barely a few locations, Ani Sasi doesn’t digress much from the core plot. Satya livens up the happenings in the kitchen with humour. Rajesh Murugesan’s music fits in aptly both in the kitchen and elsewhere.
The coldness with which Tara treats Dev melts, literally, after both of them get trapped briefly in the kitchen’s cold storage. Dev’s past is characterised by childhood friendship and the shared love for food. These portions, unfolding against the Old City of Hyderabad, celebrate chai and short eats. The bond between Dev and Maya (Nithya Menen) somehow comes across as slightly obsessive than just cute.
There isn’t much happening in terms of the story and what unfolds in the restaurant on one night seems too long, despite the film’s length being shorter than two hours. Ritu as the tough girl who is actually yearning within, Ashok as someone who hasn’t come to terms with loss and Nithya as the impish and childlike friend keep us engaged. On a side note, watching Ashok Selvan in the flashback portions, it’s hard to shake off the uncanny resemblance with R Madhavan in his younger days.
(Both Ninnila Ninnila and Theeni can be viewed on ZeePlex)