04 Nov Queen: Raw fish head stuffed with tomato
Vikas Bahl’s Queen (a quite unexpectedly big success in India) has just released in France! It is delicious! As India has much better exported its cooking than its cinema, the pitch bets on this success to find a French audience. The heroine tries to colonise Europe with her so tasty Gol Gappa (aka Pani Puri, literally water fritter, more precisely a fritter stuffed with a spicy sauce). In some funny scenes, the young Rani sorts French and Italian cooking out.
Let’s begin with the French – so-called “froggies” across the Channel –, who might be perceived as head-eaters for Indian people.
The young Rani (“queen”, alone in Paris) sits down at the table of the famous Parisian brasserie’s terrace “Le Vauban”, just in front of the Invalides. The waiter suggests, in French, two specialities of the chef: a little fish-head with tomato and a little pig-head. Aunty can easily imagine how disgusting these dishes seem to Indian people, not to mention Hindu or Muslim preferences. Rani, who doesn’t speak French, orders the fish without knowing it will be raw (what is also nauseating for Indian).
Aunty has investigated to know where this speciality comes from.
There is nothing of the sort on the Vauban’s menu and yet it is just the menu of the restaurant Rani reads. Moreover this is exactly at Vauban’s terrace that this scene was shot one summer night.
Does this fish-head be a reinterpretation of a meal à la carte twisted for the comic effect of the caricature? Nothing of the sort! Like in every Parisian brasserie, the Vauban’s menu offers only easy-tasting cooking.
Maybe the restaurant completely alters the taste of an Indian speciality so that this fish head sounds like revenge. The head chef tries some fusion or international food (with chicken Nem and so many meat or fish a la plancha) but there is no reference to Indian flavours.
Let’s try another hypothesis: this sequence could be a parody of the misadventure of Indiana Jones and especially the American woman (in The Temple of Doom) invited by the Sultan for a banquet with eyeballs soup and monkey’s brain directly served in the head of the animal.
About head: maybe the scriptwriter or somebody of the crew saw a typical pig head with parsley in ears and tomato in muzzle in a butcher’s window which gave him the idea of this speciality. But no fishmonger has ever displayed fish head even adorned with lemon or seaweed. Note that nowadays few butcher’s, less and less in Paris, exhibit this kind of trophy.
Aunty wonders if this film gets French and Chinese cookery mixed up since she discovered that Chinese are very fond of fish head, but never raw. They like it fried or in a soup. Why Queen made this mistake between such different culinary traditions? Is it due to the recent proliferation of Chinese restaurants all over India even if they served more rice or noodles with vegetables than “bear’s paw” (you can watch the recipe in Tsui Hark’s The Chinese Feast). Raw fish without seasoning (neither ceviche nor carpaccio) is the antipode of spicy and simmered Indian meal.
We can’t deny that in France (regional or gourmet cooking), fish head may be used for fish stock or soup but never raw or stuffed, always simmered with herbs and spices and vegetables and filtered to eliminate the cuts. French chef can stuff a lemon with raw marinated fish (like ceviche) or appreciate other “head”, like Parisian mushroom’s cap with a persillade…
Aunty’s still wondering…
May be this sketch is about the attachment of Indian to their cookery so that they don’t used to taste exotic meals. Most of Indians will think at this very moment: « Nothing is better than home and traditional cookery ». The disgust towards foreign food is complete when the “degustation” of the fish turns into dissection. This scene will confirm to every Indian tourist the necessity of three Indian meals/day guaranteed by tour operator. In Paris we can see their bus waiting for them in front of Indian restaurant like Saravanaa Bhavan.
Rani vomits in front of the Invalides. This background is probably like many exotic settings in popular movie particularly during song and dance sequences. Aunty remembered the pyramids of Gizeh in Kabhie Kushi Kabhie Gham or the Machu Picchu in Enthiraan or Corcovado in Dhoom 2… In Queen, Japanese tourists are taking pictures of the monument so we think about the photogenic architecture of Paris, and this dome, which reminds me the Sacré Cœur or the Taj Mahal. Maybe this image is against the tide, like the scene right after, when Rani flees and runs in the streets near the Eiffel Tower, which is quite frightening. Aunty, looking into the district, went into the dome which houses Napoleon’s remains; cherry on the cake, Vauban’s heart is also in a mausoleum. Thinking of Napoleon, Bonaparte had the road to India in mind during all the Oriental campaign and the negotiations with English crown: maybe this raw fish head cocks a nose at colonialist ambition… Moreover, maybe this is what contemporary movies often point out. For example, Bang Bang (Siddarth Anand, 2014) fictionalizes the theft of the famous diamond Koh-i-noor to bring it back into Indian territory…
Aunty will come back later with the much vaunted gol gappa!
Thanks to Amandine & Flo for their always precious information.