New Delhi: ”Let’s take the risk” is the thought that propelled Vikas Khanna to become a world-renowned chef and that’s what motivated him to turn director with ”The Last Color,” a poignant story that he says he has lived with for quite some time.
The film released in India on Friday across PVR Cinemas to good reviews after travelling to various international film festivals.
It’s posters also appeared on the billboards at The Times Square in Manhattan, the result of a promise that Khanna had made to his leading lady, Neena Gupta.
”This is one of the first films to be coming out in theatres after they opened. Everyone keeps telling me that this is the wrong time but I was like ‘Let’s take the risk’. That’s what I have been doing my whole life. I’m excited to be among the brave people who said, ‘Let’s release it’,” Khanna said in an interview from New York.
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‘The Last Color’ is just the beginning, the Michelin Star chef said, promising many more films, stories, and documentaries in the coming year. ”I want to use my platform, my voice to create art and empathy in people… Through storytelling, you can create empathy for people.”
Set in Benaras and starring Gupta and Aqsa Siddiqui, the film is a story of promises, resilience, love and friendship.
Gupta plays the protagonist Noor, a 70-year-old widow along with debutante Siddiqui, playing the role of Chhoti, a nine-year-old tightrope walker.
Recalling the origin of the film, Khanna said years ago he wrote a story about a widow who yearns to play Holi but she’s not allowed by the society and she dies without colour.
He wrote the story after witnessing the Hindu festival of colours in Vrindavan, the holy city in Uttar Pradesh which also has a sizeable population of widows. ”In 2012, honourable Supreme Court passed the law for the rehabilitation of widows and post that decision widows played Holi for the first time. This was a landmark. I thought my story was a happy story because that day spring actually arrived.”
Khanna said it was such an emotional moment for him that he ended up calling many of his friends who did not think of it as a big deal. But the celebrity chef was looking at things differently. Colour, for him, had become a symbol of equality.
”It became a symbol of rebirth, of empowerment. There was an equality in it,” he recalled.
Khanna, who was born in Amritsar, Punjab, had seen the discrimination of widows first hand in his family and in his neighbourhood. It was an accepted norm for widows to not attend weddings, play Holi or touch a newborn, he said.
”We accepted this prejudice because it was everywhere,” he said.
The inspiration for the film was his favourite neighbourhood aunt, who was not allowed to be a part of any festival but people found it ok to leave their child with her.
Khanna recalled another childhood incident that reveals how this practice must have affected him.
”When my grandfather passed away I was throwing tantrums that I didn’t want my grandmother to wear a white saree. I kept saying ‘Chitti saree nai pani’ (Don’t wear white saree) because I had seen women become completely different. This is why when this decision happened, I felt we should celebrate it. Our kids need to know that this used to happen. They should not be like us who accepted it while growing up. They should be asking for change,” Khanna said.
He admitted that people were unkind in the beginning when he expressed a desire to make this film. Khanna even approached some directors to direct the film but they wanted him to act.
He realised that it was his risk to take.
”People were like ‘ye kya hai? Chef ho, daal roti banao’ (What is this? You are a chef, you should be cooking). People actually don’t expect you to take a risk like this when you are at the top in another profession. But why can’t we take a risk? As God would have ‘I was going through a lot of surgeries in my left hand and so I had one month free. I was not even allowed to hold a pan. I had lost my grip. But I’m someone who can’t sit vella (idle),” he said.
This gave him a chance to visualise the film and finally reach out to his favourite actor, Gupta. ”I thought she would think I am mad. I told Anupam Kher that ‘sir, I have written this story on Neenaji… she had done a film called ”Threshold.’ It is an old movie of hers and my favourite. For me, Noor was always Neenaji.”
Khanna met the actor at her house, she read the script and immediately agreed to be a part of the movie.
”She gave me 100 per cent support in making this a reality,” Khanna said.