Rajesh Golla’s ‘Flavor Of Life’ A Hollywood Blend With Desi Tadka
The Flavor Of Life is a story of a weary Latino chef (legendary Latino actor Pepe Serna, Scarface) and his estranged grandson must reconcile in order to save their beloved Mexican restaurant. There’s plenty of spice in the film that is neither too hot, nor too cold, but just right. First and foremost among these strengths: a cast that grows stronger as the film progress, anchored by a thoughtful, often thrilling performance by Pepe Serna, Erick Lopez, Roberto Sanchez, Lorena McGregor, Julia Vera, Eddie Martinez, Rene Moran, Victoria Ortiz, Ronnie Alvarez, Denell Johnson, Juan Vasquez.
Writer, producer and director Rajesh Golla immerses its audience with the twists and intricacies in the film as it plays out and considers the logistics and consequences of crime. In an interview, Rajesh tells us more about the film.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and when did you realize your interest in film making?
I’m originally from Hyderabad, India and have been living in the US since 2002. After my undergrad studies in Mechanical Engineering in India, I saw the film Taxi Driver and was blown away. I was so obsessed with the film that I ended up watching it four more times the next one week. On a whim, I announced to my parents that I was no longer interested in Engineering and wanted to be a filmmaker instead. My parents laughed at my idea and sent me packing to the US to pursue Masters in Industrial Engineering.
Working as a supply chain-planning consultant for many years, I kept my dream of being a filmmaker alive by attending part-time workshops in film direction and screenwriting. After making a few short films, I finally got an opportunity to make my first feature film.
Tell us about the …. Why did you name it flavor of life?
The title is an analogy of food and life, where different flavors make up the different emotions we all experience as humans. Also, the film has elements of drama, romance, action and that’s why I chose the title Flavor of Life. After a screening at a film festival in San Diego, an Indian lady came up to me and said “I felt like I was watching an international film, but with desi tadka”.
I grew up on Bollywood films, so even when I make a film in English with a Latino cast, there’s bound to be some Bollywood in it! It was amazing to hear that comment because I could not have made the film any other way!
What made you decide to work on such a sensitive subject?
The subject matter is family relationships and how it’s hard to express our emotions. We care for each other but we don’t always express ourselves in a way that makes sense to the other person. In fact, we express our emotions to friends and even strangers but we rarely do it with family! So this is the area I wanted to explore in writing and directing actors. My plan is to build on the work I’ve done and made more intense dramas as I continue my filmmaking journey.
The direction and storyline are quite amazing. The film can be tasted, smelled and seen all at the same time. Who is your inspiration as a director?
Thank you for your kind words! I went to a few workshops in filmmaking, but I mostly learned filmmaking from watching and analyzing movies from around the world. I have many favorites but the most inspiration comes from the films of Yasujiro Ozu, Akira Kurosawa, Majid Majidi, Andrei Tarkovsky, Federico Fellini and of course our very own legend, Satyajit Ray. From the more recent directors, I admire Asghar Farhadi, Hirokazu Koreeda and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu the most as they tend to explore human relationships at such a deep and personal level.
Talk about the cast and the location.
We have an ensemble cast, who are all fantastic actors! The two leads, Mr.Pepe Serna, who is in the movie Scarface, is an industry veteran and a legend among Latinos in the US. Erick Lopez, the youngster has had starring roles in many TV shows, one of them being the hit sit-com Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. Roberto Sanchez was in the movie 2 Fast 2 Furious. Eddie Martinez was recently in the movie Bel Canto and worked with Julianne Moore. The lead actress Lorena McGregor was in a movie directed by Diego Luna(Narcos star). It was a pleasure to work with so many fantastic actors.
The main location in the movie was a Mexican restaurant in a city called Southgate close to East Los Angeles. I drove around Los Angeles for 6-8 months to find the locations. I love location scouting as the process makes me adapt and evolve the story in an organic way as I go along.
You are a writer, producer, and director. What comes first and why?
It depends on what I’m doing that particular day. When I write, I have to think like a producer to keep the costs of locations, a number of days of shoot, permits and feasibility plans under check. All this happens during the development stage but once we’re on set on the day of the shoot, the entire focus is on directing the actors and the camera and everything else takes a backseat.
Walk us through your journey of writing, directing and producing the film. What was most challenging?
The idea for Flavor of Life was actually conceived while enjoying a fantastic meal in a Mexican restaurant in San Gabriel, CA. The taste of food and the colors in that restaurant were divine, something very different from what I was accustomed to until that point. A single moment of an elderly chef describing the preparation of Cochinita Pibil(popular Mexican dish) while a young man placed the food on my table inspired me to write Flavor of Life. That moment actually turned into one of the scenes in the film with the legendary Mr. Pepe Serna playing the grandfather’s role and Erick Lopez taking on the role of the grandson.
It was a wonderful experience directing the actors as every actor is so different and each of them responds to totally different methods. For example, some prefer very little instruction, whereas others will need to discuss a detailed backstory and character motivations. What is amazing is regardless of their methods of preparation, when the camera rolls, they are all switched on! Mr. Pepe Serna has been active in the film industry for more than 50 years and his presence helped a relatively young cast and crew.
Are we expecting any new project soon?
In the next 12-18 months! I’m working on a Hindi language story set in New York mostly and a bit in Mumbai. The scope of the film is much larger than Flavor of Life and I’m very excited to get it going. Anyone interested in it can follow me on Instagram at Rajesh_Golla1981 and @RajeshGolla1981 on Twitter.
If you can go back? Is there something you would want to change or do it differently?
As filmmakers, we are proud of the work we do but I also think true artists are never satisfied with the end result. One always feels they could’ve done much more. I feel the same way as well, especially because this is my first film where I learned so much about every aspect of filmmaking. So to keep it short, I think every aspect of the film would be different!
What is a regular day for you?
Most of the time currently goes into promoting Flavor Of Life and writing the script for the next project, on which I’ll start development work soon. During evenings, I try to cook as much as I can and love to spend time with my wife and five-year-old son.
Some words for your audience…
Hope all of you get to watch Flavor of Life and see if you can feel the ‘desi tadka’ in an international film! Also, if you like the film, please review it on Amazon!
To get the film click the link below
Flavor Of Life