We have always seen you in front of the camera, how was it being behind the camera now and holding a camera instead of a knife?
I think being in front of the camera is less challenging as compared to running an entire show. I used all my kitchen skills to make the movie. It was very challenging as it was my first feature. We shot the entire movie on the locations and it was quite a challenge. I also think that the way cinema can bring reform no other forms of media can.
How did the whole story idea of this film, The Last Color, come out? What was it about the story that made you say ‘yes’ to direct it?
I was shooting Holi (Hindu Festival of Spring) in Vrindavan, (A Holy North Indian City) which is synonym to Lord Krishna’s life. As we were leaving the temples after shooting the splashing clouds of colors everywhere, I saw lines of widows wearing white sprees, untouched by color. It took me back to my childhood days when widows in our families and neighborhoods were living in complete abstinence. It was a tough site for me and suddenly one of the elderly women bowed and blessed me. It just woke me up.
I wrote a short story called “Colorless” which never got published and later in 2012, Honorable Supreme Court of India passed orders for rehabilitation and empowerment of widows. Post this decision these women played Holi for the first time in centuries. It was heartwarming to see their joy. At that time I decided that the Universe is sending me messages and I must respond. Later I wrote a novel and a screenplay and thus the birth of the movie.
I directed it because I was very close to the story. I had observed their life and dark side very closely.
When you make a film based on the survival of a person living on the street, what challenges did you face while making it?
I think making cinema about change is very powerful. It celebrates end of dark eras and makes a conscious effort not to go backwards.
I think I wanted the movie to look like a documentary and an insight into the lives and struggles of these people who are completely shunned by the society.
How was it shooting in Banaras?
It is my second favorite city after my hometown Amritsar. Banaras is like an ocean of textures, visuals and colors. Anywhere you turn your camera, it’s a majestic frame. I used Banaras as the backdrop to reflect that the world’s most ancient city, that has continuously lived for centuries, must change with time. It has to reform to be more inclusive and reform to the new principles of change.
Your film stars veteran actress Neena Gupta – how was it working with her?
I still don’t believe that I made a movie with Neena Gupta, she is really one of the best and true artists of India. Somedays during the shoot I had to ask myself if this was a reality of a dream. She lives the character to the core. I still remember how she improvised the scenes step by step.
I will never forget when I went to her house to pitch her the movie and narrated the last scene to her. I kept talking just to impress her with my storyboards and later asked her “If she was impressed or should I just keep talking”. She had tears in her eyes and said, “I am doing this movie, send me the dates.”
At that time I thought the universe is with me to complete this film.
You reside in New York but your heart lies in India. Can you share any of your childhood memories that you have of your hometown Amritsar?
I have lived in Amritsar for almost 30 years before moving to the U.S. in 2000. In my hometown food is a very serious business, especially eating.
Some of the most specialized cooking comes from this city and more importantly this is the only city in the world that has a central community kitchen at The Golden Temple (The most significant Sikh shrine). Being raised in the shadows of these community kitchens, I got a whole new perspective on food and cooking. Living in such close proximity to farms and seasonal produce gave me a totally new insight to the power of nature. I feel blessed to have been a helper in my Grandmother’s kitchen and to have learned the foundation of cooking from her.
You have mastered the art when it comes to cooking and are an inspiration to many young minds who want to make their place in the world of food. Please do tell us how it feels receiving so much love and doing something that you always wanted to do?
I consider myself extremely fortunate to be living a life full of passion and commitment. I think today the Chefs are playing a much more significant role of being cultural ambassadors and being a major introduction of traditions to the World. I owe it to many people and I am grateful to be living such a life.
After this what are your plans in exploring the food world? Also, is there any other directorial film?
I recently opened one of my most important restaurants in Dubai just a few weeks ago. We worked for almost 2 years on the project and every dish is handcrafted. You will be amazed at the combination of flavors and presentations while retaining the soul of the cuisine. Most of the dishes come from home kitchens of India and street foods.
I have also come to an understanding that movies are a great tool for bringing out new inspirations and reform to the world. It helps us to connect with people far and beyond. Hopefully it will make you proud to create more organic content. As Oprah says, “One life, live the best version.”