Cinema Asian America: Five Questions with ‘Today’s Special’ Filmmaker Aasif Mandvi

by | February 16, 2012 at 2:18 PM | Cinema Asian America, Interviews, Movies, The Daily Show, Xfinity On Demand

“Today’s Special.”

A sparkling New York City romantic-foodie-comedy that hits the heart as it does the funny bone,”Today’s Special,” written by and starring Aasif Mandvi (The Daily Show) and directed by David Kaplan is available this month through Cinema Asian America on Xfinity On Demand.

Mandvi plays Samir, an ambitious, thirty-something sous-chef at a fancy French restaurant. His life is a fast-paced blur of bubbling butter, lamb chops and cilantro oil and he dreams of his seemingly certain promotion to head chef at a soon-to-be opened SoHo restaurant. To his parents’ disappointment, however he hasn’t married, has no children, and ignores all of the dating profiles his mother (the doyen of Indian cooking, Madhur Jaffrey) sends him.

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Events however, conspire to throw his life through the wringer; a pass-over at work, his father’s heart attack, and a realization that his cooking lacks the magic and passion to make it truly special. All roads lead home, including the 7-Train to Jackson Heights, where the now-run-down family restaurant Tandoori Palace beckon and offers a glimmer of possibility…

With a cast that also features Madhur Jaffrey, Naseeruddin Shah, Harish Patel, Kevin Corrigan and Jess Wexler, “Today’s Special” casts a ninety-nine minute spell and then lingers for an equally wonderful finish.

Today’s Special was inspired by a one-man show you performed in 1998 called “Sakina’s Restaurant”. What was it about that stage piece that told you it would work as a feature film? Where did the story come from?

AM: Yes, the film was inspired by a one man show called Sakina’s Restaurant, however the two are very different. The play doesn’t really work as a film as it is, so we had to create elements that would make it more cinematic, most notably the character of Akbar (played by Naseeruddin Shah), a romantic story line and we also had to embrace the entire world of food and cooking as a metaphor which was not really dealt with in the play. Also the car chases, the explosions and the myriad of underwater special effects were developed solely for the film.

Read more interviews with Cinema Asian America filmmakers.

Many folks know you from your work with “The Daily Show”, as well as your roles in films and TV shows over the years, from “Sex in the City” to “Spiderman 2.” Alongside films like “Today’s Special” and “The Mystic Masseur” where you are playing Indian characters, you’ve also used your brown-ness to play characters of many different ethnic backgrounds. How has your use of your ethnicity changed over the years? Has it evolved? What does brown do for you?

AM: I’m ethnic? What? Wow… that explains all those strange conversations I have had with casting directors over the years. Seriously though, I think my ethnicity has indeed evolved over the years, though not in myself. I am still the same level of ethnicity that I have always been, but as my profile has gone up, I’ve gone from convenience store-taxi driver brown, to “white guy with brown skin” and now when I bring up my brown-ness white people get to say, “hey that’s right, he’s brown, we almost forgot” and we all have a friendly laugh… until I mention Muslim and then we are right back to where we started again…but hey, we’re workin’ on it.

You not only star in “Today’s Special”, but also co-wrote the screenplay with Jonathan Bines. What’s it like coming up with an amazing line, and then giving it to someone else to deliver?

AM: The writer in me loves it and the actor in me hates it. And watching them argue inside of me can be awkward for all who witness it.

Today’s Special has an incredible cast. How did it feel to have Maddhur Jaffrey as your mother, Harish Patel as your dad, and Naseeruddin Shan as your guru/mentor?

AM: We couldn’t have asked for a better cast. We were lucky to get them. Truly. I owe them a debt of gratitude, they are such professionals and such talents. I’m sure the better question would be to ask them; why on earth they all decided to work with me? With all the belligerence and the drinking and the singing during other actor’s lines, I can’t have been easy to work with.

What are you working on now?

AM: I have a few new films coming out later this year. “Premium Rush”, “He Loves Me” and “Gods Behaving Badly”. I am also writing a book that will reinvigorate publishing as we know it.