FEATURE: Dinner and a Movie with a Pinch of Salt and A SOUL OF SAND (Film Foodie)

SOUL OF SAND (Global Lens 2011), which will be available on DVD at the end of this month, explores the intersection between modernity and tradition in India with suspense, striking visuals, and food. GFI’s Laura Brewer, Online Marketing, was inspired to recreate a meal from this film—adding GFI’s own touches (re: crockpot!)—in order to further understand, appreciate, and experience this haunting film.

The final product: dal, roti, and basmati rice. Yum!

You are what you eat, right? As food and film lovers dedicated to exploring the richness of other cultures, we couldn’t help but notice prominent food scenes in many of the Global Lens films. As part of a new Film Foodie series, we’re making use of that quintessential pairing—dinner and a movie—to further our understanding of our films and their represented cultures.

We begin with SOUL OF SAND, Sidharth Srinivasan’s suspenseful tale of a tyrannical landlord, a watchman and his wife, and a masked killer. On the surface, the film is an eccentric thriller. But by using subtle cues, including several scenes featuring meals, Srinivasan points to issues of caste in India’s rapidly expanding economic landscape.

The watchman eating in SOUL OF SAND

Early in the film, the protagonist watchman takes a lunch break prepared by his wife. While he eats, she explains that they are out of resources: no sugar, tea, salt or oil. As she lists their miseries, he casually ignores her. Barefoot and cross-legged on the table, he slurps, eats with his hands, licks his fingers, speaks with his mouth full. It’s a messy ordeal, this eating, and it alerts audiences to the mess this character has made of his life. But this noshing style is also indicative of the watchman’s low caste.

The watchman and his wife eating in SOUL OF SAND

This eating scene is contrasted later in the film when an officer is presented with a similar plate of food. Rather than stuffing handfuls into his mouth like the watchman, the officer politely grabs pinches of food and pops them into his mouth. It’s orderly and neat, as if he won’t get his hands dirty. Later he very pointedly does get his hands dirty in the violence of the film; we see that this supposed higher caste may also be messy, but in a more dangerous way.

These subtle clues help Srinivasan communicate his theme of the politics of the caste system in contemporary India. As modernity and industry crowd in on the rich history of India, these conflicts become especially apparent and questionable.

Making lots of tasty roti!

“Nothing beats a home-cooked meal,” murmurs the officer as he indulges in one final meal before escaping the dying mining town. Amidst violence, financial instability, and horror, characters turn to food. No matter how you eat it, food is a life source to be appreciated.

And so, we created a SOUL OF SAND-inspired meal (with crockpot, obviously, because we love crockpots around here). The dal recipe is below, and we recommend serving it with basmati rice and roti. We made our own roti using this recipe, and it turned out really well! To see photos from our food experiment, check out our Instagram: globalfilminitiative. Enjoy!

SOUL OF SAND CROCKPOT DAL (adapted from Food.com)
Serves 8

Distribution and Granting Coordinator, Angelica Dongallo, enjoying the meal!

1 cup orange, red, or yellow lentils (we used red)
3 cups water
4 TBSP oil
1 tsp black mustard seeds
1-2 roughly chopped tomato
1 minced Serrano chili
5-6 ounces chopped fresh spinach
½ tsp turmeric
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
salt, as needed
2 tsp lemon juice
chopped cilantro for garnish

Rinse lentils and place in a lightly oiled crockpot. Add water, put on high, and cook for 2 hours stirring every half hour.

About a half hour before the lentils are done, heat oil in a large frying pan over high heat. Add mustard seeds and allow to pop for 10 seconds.

Add tomatoes and chili; stir-fry for about 4 minutes. Add spinach; stir-fry until spinach is very tender. Stir in turmeric, ground cumin, ground coriander, lemon juice, and salt.

Once lentils are cooked, add the mixture and allow to sit for a few minutes in the crockpot on low heat.

Garnish with chopped cilantro.

Enjoy while watching SOUL OF SAND, coming soon on DVD!

Laura Brewer joined the Global Film Initiative staff after most recently working in Seattle’s film and music industries with such arts organizations as the Seattle Office of Film + Music and the Seattle International Film Festival, as well as freelancing as a writer and documentary producer. She has a B.A. in English and in Media Studies with a minor in Philosophy from Loyola University Chicago.

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