As culinary wizard Vikas Khanna embarks on a new journey as a feature-film director with a moving film on the widows of Varanasi, Subhash K Jha catches up with the chef d’oeuvre for a war tete-a-tete.
What prompted you to turn a feature filmmaker and that too with a theme so hardhitting and far- reaching ?
I had written a very moving story in 2011 while shooting for my book UTSAV. The idea came from a Holi shoot inVrindavan temple, where lots of widows in white sarees stood outside in isolation of colors. I wrote a book calledColorless which was rejected by publishers in US and Europe. In 2012, when internet was flashed with images of widows playing Holi, that was a time my story of Noor came to life. The story was so compelling combined with girl empowerment and education. I had to make a modest movie.So here I almost ready with my film The Last Color.
You have done documentaries in the past. In fact you wear many hats including that of global activist. What sort of impulses prompt you in life ?
I am not a very planned person in my life. I have worked all my life on instincts.At times I need to be aggressively challenged to do something. Any new project I research or do, I need to be emotionally connected to it. I have to do best to my ability, otherwise I find it hard to finish what I start.
I find your journey from Punjab to NY hugely fascinating.Wouldn’t that make a great film?
I think my life is pretty boring. I work about 18 to 26 hours a day. I think some of the opportunities I got were very interesting. Late Karan Bellani wrote a book on my journey Buried Seeds, which was also made into a film by American-Russian filmmaker in 2017.
As a master chef you have brought great glory to our country ? Would you say cooking is your first love?
I did not do much, I think I had reached America at the time when Indian cooking was gaining momentum. There were and will be great ambassadors of Indian food in US. From Madhur Jaffrey to Suvir Saran, so so many brought glory to Indian cuisine. Cooking has always been my first love.I think it gave me a voice, a purpose and a reason to bring to the global audiences.
Speaking of love why do you remain so stubbornly single and with those matinee idol looks how do you resist all the female attention?
I have been devoted to developing my craft with a single focus mind. I hope that when I will feel I need to slow down, and Y will settle. Since I moved to the US in 2000, it’s been a whole new wars that I had to fight without changing my focus to my personal life.
I have always been fascinated by your journey in life . How do you look back on your life so far?
I have always looked at myself as a big failure and a luck success. Many times, I look back and feel that I should have not done this thing or not partnered with that one.But I know that they all helped me in some way or the other. I feel extremely fortunate to have worked with some of the very powerful people of my industry who encouraged me to move forward. I learnt one major lesson. Success or failure, just got keep working,nurturing, creating.
Do you think Indians and India have made name in popular culture , say in the way you and Priyanka Chopra have?
Of course yes. There has always been a lot of pride in Indian achievements. It may be as corporate heads, innovations, authors, business ventures or in the arts. In the last decade there has been a great interest in India and thus the highlights. I was just fortunate that I had the unique opportunities from cooking for Presidents and world leaders. I was always trying serve as authentic Indian food as possible. I think that vision of combining culture and food with confidence and faith helped me. Of course there was modernization in the cuisine, but not by losing the Indian soul. I think that is the challenge in the mainstream pop culture, retaining the balance while moving ahead.
What do you say to those youngsters in India who look up to you as a role model ?and who are are the people who have inspired you the most?
In any field you choose, just keep reincarnating in it. Your passion and devotion will be your strength. Failure is just awesome, it prepares you for success. But instant success is very dangerous, it does not prepare you for failure. Even at the top, take risks, find things that excite you and tell stories that are meaningful beyond the pursuit of wealth. I was always inspired by so many chefs, leaders and my family. From Phillips Petite to Richard Bach to SanjeevKapoor to Gordon Ramsay to Lataji Mangeshkarji. I can go on and on.
What are your target goals and dreams in the future?
I wrote a book The Last Color and I created the screenplay for legendary actress Neena Gupta.The film is almost complete.I want to take this movie to the world. It’s a simple story of breaking taboos, girl empowerment, education and colors. My dream is to keep my promise with Neena ji and everyone who helped me create this film and to take the movie to the world. I am trying to the best of my abilities. I have a great project on life of spices and the unique ways to cook with them. A great children’s book. And a lot of research being done on Northeast.
Ok everyone loves Vikas Khanna’s food but what are Vikas Khanna’s favourite food and cuisine and who is his favourite chef?
I love the cuisine of Bhutan, Assam and lots of regional cuisines. Of course trips to France and Spain would always excite me. My list of favorite chefs or food people is very long. Pushpesh Pant, Sanjeev Vermmaji, Vir Sanghvi,Rashmi Uday Singh, Manjeet Singh, Florence Fabricant, Arlyn Blake, Marryam Reshii.
Finally you share a deep connection with the Hindi film industry . whom there do you consider your friends ?
I think Hindi film industry has been very supportive and kind to my work for years. They proudly love Indian cuisine and it helps. Lata Mangeshkar ji. Anupam Kher ji. Karan Johar. Manish Malhotra. Rajkumar Rao, Manish Mundra, Vicky Kaushal and Manoj Bajpai are some people I love and respect in the Hindi film industry.