RAJA KRISHNA MENON
Interview By: ANKITA R. KANABAR
Post ‘Airlift’, director Raja Krishna Menon is back with something drastically different in the form of ‘Chef’. He speaks about his experience of making this film in a brief chat…
“To me, success is becoming free. If success is trapping you then what’s the point of it?”
How were you convinced about making a Hindi version of ‘Chef’?
I’m someone who’s never thought of remaking anything, I might have even made some statements about not remaking anything because I don’t like the word ‘remake’. Adapting is fine. When you can find a reason to take a subject, it should be an important enough reason for you to make it. When I saw the film with a few friends, I loved it. I felt light, happy and came out smiling. Never thought of remaking it though. Vikram Malhotra who has produced ‘Airlift’ and ‘Chef’ both, came to me when we were doing a schedule for ‘Airlift’ in Jodhpur, and asked me if I’d like to remake it. I said no because it’s such a good film. He told me I’ve got the rights, so give it time, think about it and if you find the right reason then let’s make it. So, I spent time with Suresh and Ritesh who had even written ‘Airlift’ with me and we found 2-3 important points. One was the fact that my character RoshanKalra, is in his 40s so he took up this decision in the 90s when it was a very important time for India. It was the first time liberalisation was happening. For me that was important. To me RoshanKalra making a choice to be a Chef at that time – I thought it was a very Indian specific thought. The same person who is about 40 today, this is the first generation of people who have the luxury to think about themselves and ask the question, ‘Are we really successful?’ And then again go through their journey. To me, it’s an Indian thing, it connects to me. Also, about how women find their space in the society today. My character, RadhaMenon is a dancer, she’s divorced, she’s a happy person. Her happiness doesn’t depend on her husband. And she can still be friends with her husband. These are all modern day things which we see around us but that doesn’t reflect in cinema. I thought this was an interesting thing to explore. So, then we thought this film has to be made because we found these elements.
Food plays such an essential part in our culture, but we don’t really have many films revolving around food…
I think food is such an important aspect of our culture, and I use the word ‘culture’ very loosely. For me, and for most of us, most of our memories surround around the dining table. It’s not about food so much, but it’s about feeding people and the whole atmosphere around it. So, we don’t really have many food films. There are many Chinese films on food but even in ‘Chef’, what we’ve done is, we’ve kept food as the glue of the film. I’ve tried to incorporate food as just a part of it. They’re having a conversation and there’s food. It’s not like I’m taking an ad film shot. It’s part of it. Some of the best conversations I’ve had is when having a conversation with a friend over food. So, it’s just a part of most scenes that way.
How’s it been making this film in entirety?
This is the most difficult film I’ve made and I do believe that the only reason I think I could make it is because I’ve had time and experiences behind me. It’s been 20 years and I’ve made three films, many commercials. It’s a very subtle film in emotions. Saif, Padmapriya, Chandan, Svar all of them are brilliant because I’ve actually asked them to be on this edge which is always kind of asking this question, ‘what’s the relationship we have’. It’s easier to have crutches. For example, ‘I’m the villain so I’m going to be aggressive’. But the hardest acting is to be real. It’s a difficult film for me because it’s an emotional story, technically it’s difficult because when you have food, it’s hard. We didn’t do any of the stuff which we do in advertising. I wanted the food to be real so that it can be eaten afterwards.
How was the collaboration with Saif Ali Khan?
It was very easy. We connected at an intellectual level. He’s grown up in privilege, he’s grown up very differently from my character so it was difficult to break that down initially. It’s very difficult to understand what it’s like to not have a meal if you’ve never experienced that. It’s an emotion which is very hard to understand. But we worked on it together. He’s an intelligent man. From a direction point of view, he’s the most easy to work with, because he really wants to do what the directors wants, but he has to understand it. He’s a thinking actor, he likes to understand what he’s doing so that it comes naturally. And fortunately, he’s going through his second fatherhood. A lot of questions we ask in the film, are important to him. It’s almost a self-journey also right?
Also, this film is so different in every way, from your previous outing ‘Airlift’.
I remember one of my friends coined this term for me which I love using it. He said, ‘you’re genre agnostic’. I take it as a compliment. See, nobody expected ‘Airlift’ to be successful. The day it released, people told me your career is over. Three days later, it was a different story, and we’ve been lucky. We’ve put in a lot of effort to make the film like it’s done in every film that people make. So, what do we do next especially when you get success? To me, success is becoming free. If success is trapping you then what’s the point of it? So, very consciously, people came to me and asked let’s do something big again. A big war film with a big star or this and that, and if I did that, then that’s all I’d be making. Five years from now, I’d have made ‘Airlift 3’ or ‘Airlift 4’ and I’d have been bored. So, I had to make a conscious decision. I was going to do something different, that’s for sure, but then I found this and it hit me. Making a film takes a lot out of a person so you should really want to do it. This story kind of hit me.
Don’t you think there’s a stereotype though? That a serious film is considered to be more difficult to create than say a light-hearted one?
Maybe I’m a bit crazy but I’m not scared of failure. I’m not going to let the fear of failure decide what I do. I haven’t done it before. Twice, I’ve put my money into a film and paid a big price for it. But that’s it. You got to chase your passion and do what you want to do. If anyone knew what will make you succeed, you wouldn’t do anything. Today in hindsight, people tell me why didn’t you make a film like ‘Airlift’ earlier, but when I was making it, everyone told me not to make it (laughs).