Tarla Dalal’s (Huma Qureshi) newfound success came at a cost: she was unable to care for her family as much as she used to. When she was in talks for a TV show, her mother was forced to cook for her husband (Nalin, played by Sharib Hashmi) and three children.
Tarla’s mother tells her that she can be a “heroine” outside, but first she has to be a wife and a mother inside the home. When Tarla decides to quit the show, she tells her producer, “I am only doing what any woman would do.” The producer, who knows a thing or two about being a working woman, replies, “No. You are doing what no man would do.” The point is made simply and without fanfare, and that is how the rest of the film operates.
Piyush Gupta’s Tarla is the story of a woman who wants to achieve something in life. Her mother tells her to get married first, and then she can do whatever she wants. But even after Nalin agrees to support her decision, the question remains: What does Tarla want to achieve? What will make her feel like she has made something of her life?
Given the time period in which the film is set (Tarla Dalal’s first cookbook was published in 1974), the answer is painfully touching. Cooking was considered such a regular, everyday task for a woman that no one thought of it as an art or a special talent—no less special than the talent that Shakuntala Devi had. Tarla herself wonders, “I can understand tuition classes for math and science, but for cooking?”
But that is how she became famous. First, she coached young women who were about to enter a marriage market where the ability to make perfectly round rotis was a sign that the woman stood a chance. After all, the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, right? But even here, there was something sneaky at work.