Oct 15, 2019

Agonising Piece of Art!

Michelin star chef and now director, Vikas Khanna gets candid and talks to Just URBANE about his latest release, The Last Colour, his favorite recipes and stories from his childhood. Read on...

Words Shourya Jain

photography roshni manghani

location Mulk, Mumbai

Author John Mark Green once wrote, “There are wounds we learn to live with, seas of sorrow we learn to swim. There are dreams we learn to bury, deaths that teach us to rise again.”

Why is grief perpetual? I wonder. Is it because of the constant reminders of losing something precious or is it because we’re too afraid to let go? The question persists.

It’s a gloomy morning in Mumbai and I’m sitting in a beautiful, deserted, uptown restaurant somewhere in Andheri West, waiting for Chef Vikas Khanna to arrive at the venue. Chef and now director Vikas charms the crew with his Punjabi quirks and a gallon of wholeheartedness. Multiple retakes, common people shooting for the first time and Vikas’ air makes everything looks like a light whipped cream frosting. In the middle of shots he gets distracted with what the chefs at the restaurant were preparing for the day to follow and starts sharing his expert tip. Everything he says comes out in a heavy but proud Punjabi accent with a sense of warmth and belongingness.

“Whenever I begin writing anything, I write it either in Hindi or Punjabi. So I’m gonna tell you the first few lines of a sonnet I wrote, ‘Oh desh jo ranga vaste sari duniya wich mashoor hai, oh di he kudiyaan berang, majboor hai.’ Do you understand?” He asks me. Of course I do, owing it to my huge set of Punjabi friends from High School where I had picked up the language and culture. Such a colourful country yet its daughters lead a colourless and helpless life - his agonising lines had meant.

“I was flying to New York when I’d written these lines post which I went on to write an opinion column for the New York Times and the New Yorker magazine, about the plight of widows in India and what would it be like if they were to have the same societal status as the rest of the people,” he recounts and continues. “Writing about this unearthed a lot of buried memories from my past. It reminded me of an elderly woman who we used to call bhabhiji. As a child, elders would forbid me to put colour on her in Holi, but I, being a rebel and naive, would always go and colour her pink - her favorite colour,” he fondly reminisces, as if briefly relieving the past. “As time passed and I became a teenager, I gave into the orthodox norms and held back from colouring her. I regret it, giving in, to societal pressure, now that she’s no longer with us.” The feeling of being burdened by something that clearly wasn’t his doing marks his face. He somehow maintains composure for the rest of the interview.

“I felt indebted. So then I wrote a novel but as a chef it was difficult to get the novel published. It had never happened before that a Michelin-star chef was writing a novel which was a mix of fiction and true events. The Publishers in the UK found this story to be very powerful. My screenplay writers were Americans, Consulting Editor was a Russian and my Editing team were all Iranian. And for a long time they tried wrapping their heads around the story where a little girl, who is a tight-rope walker, promises the protagonist and a widow named Noor, played by Actress Neena Gupta that this year they’ll play Holi and the whole story revolves around that promise.” A story based on a promise so pure and benevolent that compels you for a long overdue introspection - Do you realise how much of a difference your actions make to the people around you?

“I tried reaching out to directors for this film. Doing the things that I do, running restaurants, writing books, being on television, chairing a foundation; I couldn’t think of taking up more. But I had to thank the lady (bhabhiji). If I hadn’t made this film to celebrate the victory of her colour, I’d be indebted for all my life. I’m going to screen it at MAMI, scheduled in October, 2019 after having showcased it at numerous film festivals worldwide. We released the teaser earlier this year at Cannes Film Festival followed by a premier at Annual Palm Springs International Film Festival and were invited for a special screening at The United Nations Headquarters. But to be honest, I held my first screening for my mother. Since I’m not professionally trained in giving direction, I take creative liberties. This is not a commercial project, it’s just a medium to express gratitude.” he explains as I ask him about the paradigm shift in his career.

I still am curious about his career as a Michelin starred Chef so I blurt out ‘Director Vikas Khanna or Chef Vikas Khanna; where does your heart lie?’

“Son Vikas Khanna! It’s my highest achievement,” he’s almost teary eyed. He recounts his favourite pickle recipe that he would create with his grandmother, as a child and lets me in on a few secrets as well. But Chef Vikas’ directorial debut is a film to watch out for. His personal story and The Last Colour makes me believe that we’re all holding on to things and walking around with a ton of baggage on an everyday basis. But we also have two choices. We can either let it weigh us down or choose to turn it into a piece of art that inspires generations to come. For Chef Vikas Khanna it’s the latter; what’s it going to be for you?

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