Chef Vikas Khanna was the director, writer, spotboy, art director and even helped the child actors help memorise their lines on the sets of The Last Color
Chef Vikas Khanna was the director, writer, spotboy, art director and even helped the child actors help memorise their lines on the sets of The Last Color

With love from Banaras

Brunch date with Chef Vikas Khanna and actor Neena Gupta: “If a film has no objective, it won’t work!”On the eve of the release of their movie with a message, the chef/filmmaker and acclaimed actor get talking
By Karishma Kuenzang | Hindustan Times
PUBLISHED ON DEC 13, 2020 08:08 AM IST

“Wow, Neenaji, that’s quite a view with the hills”… “I love the chandelier behind you, Vikas…”… “I couldn’t keep my eyes off you in Masaba Masaba…”

Even the small talk is different – genuine, respectful. It almost makes me feel like I’m eavesdropping. But that’s what happens when two seasoned players who are masters in their respective fields come together for a project with a powerful message. For instance, Chef Vikas Khanna and actor Neena Gupta, who’ve come together to talk about the former’s directorial debut, The Last Color, which released in India this Friday.

A chance meeting on a flight five-and-a-half years ago right after Neena’s Threshold released, cemented their bond. “I only meet people in planes. I even met my husband on a plane,” laughs Neena.

Vikas had a complete fanboy moment, he confesses. “Bauji ki taraf se (like my grandfather),” he says, explaining how his grandfather, who wasn’t a film buff, was obsessed with the show Mirza Ghalib because he was a “die-hard fan” of Neena.

“He was in his ’80s, and was a Urdu and Persian poet and would say Neenaji has that ‘lehja (tone)’,” Vikas says, breaking off to ask if Neena remembers the ghazal Royenge Hum Hazaar Baar Koi Hame Sataye Kyun, before adding that his grandfather, who had dementia in his last few years, remembered Neena till the very end.

So, it was natural for the chef to inherit this love for Neena. “Neenaji has never followed a path and the younger generations admire that. When I was writing the script of The Last Color, I kept this still of hers from Threshold where she’s wearing a shawl. I wanted this look,” he says.

Vikas Khanna’s directorial debut The Last Color starring Neena Gupta
Vikas Khanna’s directorial debut The Last Color starring Neena Gupta

Chef, director, writer, spotboy etc.

Why pick a topic like the widows of Banaras for his debut movie? “All our lives, we who’ve grown up in small cities have seen this prejudice. Widows would have to wear white saris, were not allowed to touch children, be part of weddings or celebrate Holi. No one questioned it because when something becomes part of the culture, it’s very difficult to break that chain. When I saw the chain break on Holi, I knew I had to make this film,” the chef tells us.

Neena chooses a script only if it appeals to her and choosing this one was a no-brainer. The shoot, the veteran actor says, was unique, with chef Vikas donning multiple creative hats. “He would suddenly say wait and spread out five saris in the background before the shot,” laughs Neena, adding that she would nap every day for half an hour after lunch, in costume because Chef Vikas wanted to show the creases of a worn-out sari.

“My husband was crying! Having a man watch a film about widows and cry, speaks for itself”
—Neena Gupta

“There’s a scene where Chhoti and Neenaji fight, and we ran and got a huge lamp from a nearby temple. Everything was done on the spot. Literally,” Vikas explains. 

“I’d see him sweeping the ghats. Someone would have pooped there and he would clean again. We didn’t have spotboys; it was all Vikas,” Neena says.

This also wasn’t a typical actor-director relationship. Neena improvised scenes, which helped the chef grasp nuances. “She said, don’t spoonfeed anyone. For example, when Chhoti (the nine-year-old flower seller and tightrope-walker who befriends her) asks Neenaji’s character if she can call her maa, Neenaji replaced the dialogue after that with a simple look, which made the scene much more powerful,” explains Vikas.

“Intuition actor ki bhi toh hoti hai, na (actors also have intuition, isn’t it? There’s a healthy give and take here,” smiles Neena.  

So, did they swap recipes on set? “Vikas didn’t feed me a thing!” says Neena, to which a charmingly astounded Vikas says, “I cooked for you with my hands at the New York event. It took two days.”

“I meant, during the shoot. Anyway I don’t eat fancy food, only dal-chawal,” laughs Neena. But food helped the kids memorise their parts and Vikas made sure they had apple pie ever day.

This was the first time the chef saw the raw cut of a film. “I was like, what the hell have I made! I took a flight to Mumbai and spent a month editing it,” he says. After that, Neena tweaked a few things, which Vikas graciously calls the points in the movie ‘jahan pe taali bajti hai (where people clap)’.

“My husband was crying! And having a man watch a film about widows and cry speaks for itself,” Neena says.

The objective of activism

Some critics say this is not a movie; it’s activism. Vikas shrugs. “If I am picking up a subject then it has to lead to activism,” he says, giving the example of how Neena flew to the US for 24 hours for the UN screening of The Last Color and how her presence has today brought big reforms in Africa and India: the UN is launching microbanking for widows this coming week. “Activism toh hona chahiye (activism is a must)! Use your power to tell impactful stories,” says Vikas.

It’s an objective, Neena adds. “If you’re making a documentary or film without it, it will never work. I’ve always had something to say with whatever work I’ve done on TV – like extramarital relationships or empowerment.”

Even the timing of the release, which was supposed to hit theatres on Holi 2020, has a goal: To generate jobs during the pandemic.

“Creators, agencies and people at theatres get work. I don’t have to prove myself at the box office with Neenaji and she won’t be asking for numbers either like in commercial cinema. Even if we lose money, it’s going to many houses,” says the chef, who’s written his fourth book, set to release next year.

Chef Vikas’ lockdown lesson? Prioritising people. “I’ve lost too many people and been part of way too many Zoom prayer meetings,” he says, promising to make a video call to Neena from Times Square the minute the film releases.

Follow @Kkuenzang on Twitter and Instagram

From HT Brunch, December 13, 2020

Follow us on twitter.com/HTBrunch

Connect with us on facebook.com/hindustantimesbrunch

SHARE THIS ARTICLE ON
Close
A South African citizen in India talks about her pleasant Covid care and treatment (Shutterstock)
A South African citizen in India talks about her pleasant Covid care and treatment (Shutterstock)

A crown of care during Covid

By Archana Sinha
PUBLISHED ON MAR 06, 2021 09:46 PM IST
How a South African citizen in India to visit her parents contracted Covid and came away impressed with the love and care
Close
Hemant Oberoi and his wife Mallika at 22 and 17 (inset) and now (above), at 67 and 62, respectively
Hemant Oberoi and his wife Mallika at 22 and 17 (inset) and now (above), at 67 and 62, respectively

“When I was 22, a meal at Kailash Parbat cost 1,” says chef Hemant Oberoi

PUBLISHED ON MAR 06, 2021 09:31 PM IST
The celebrated chef reminisces about working as a sous chef of Tanjore at Taj Mahal Palace, Mumbai, earning his first stipend of was 150, dating his now-wife and his favourite places to eat at then
Close
Content creators stand divided over the new rules by the ASCI indicating influencers may be required to declare paid partnerships
Content creators stand divided over the new rules by the ASCI indicating influencers may be required to declare paid partnerships

HT Brunch Sunday Debate: Restrain or welcome change?

By Riaan Jacob George, Vasudha Rai
PUBLISHED ON MAR 06, 2021 07:14 PM IST
Two digital creators argue if the proposed guidelines by the Advertising Standards Council of India to make it mandatory for digital creators to disclose “paid posts” on their social media handles, are a boon or bane
Close
Aaliyah Kashyap, 20, wrote about how negative comments on her lingerie pictures were affecting her mental health
Aaliyah Kashyap, 20, wrote about how negative comments on her lingerie pictures were affecting her mental health

HT Brunch Social Media Star of the Week: Aaliyah Kashyap

By Shruti Nair
PUBLISHED ON MAR 06, 2021 07:13 PM IST
The 20-year-old wins this week for raising her voice against sexist hate speech and hypocrisy, while talking about mental health!
Close
Arjun opines that a lot of [music] venues [in india] aren’t rooted in ideology, but in economics
Arjun opines that a lot of [music] venues [in india] aren’t rooted in ideology, but in economics

Music and musicians during the pandemic: Sound of silence

By Karishma Kuenzang
PUBLISHED ON MAR 06, 2021 07:12 PM IST
Arjun Sagar Gupta, the passionate founder of Delhi’s jazz club, and other top musicians on how creativity has survived the pandemic
Close
Harshit Misra says his mother was supportive about his music career but was also stern
Harshit Misra says his mother was supportive about his music career but was also stern

To ma, with love: Harshit Misra

By Karishma Kuenzang
UPDATED ON MAR 06, 2021 10:10 PM IST
How bassist and musician Harshit Misra’s tribute to his late mum became a dream collaboration and an awareness campaign
Close
Dino Morea clicks a selfie in bed for this HT Brunch column
Dino Morea clicks a selfie in bed for this HT Brunch column

“Never keep secrets… communicate!” says Dino Morea

By Dinesh Raheja
PUBLISHED ON MAR 06, 2021 07:11 PM IST
The actor talks about his new habit of rubbing lavender essence oil on his forehead and elbows at night to enhance sleep, being a voracious reader and describes himself as #Sexycool in an intimate chat
Close
Strong calf muscles improve ankle stability, prevent falls for the ageing population and help maintain muscle mass, says Kamal (Shutterstock)
Strong calf muscles improve ankle stability, prevent falls for the ageing population and help maintain muscle mass, says Kamal (Shutterstock)

Fit and fine by Kamal Singh CSCS: Training your calf muscles

By Kamal Singh CSCS
PUBLISHED ON MAR 06, 2021 07:10 PM IST
Want shapely lower legs but have never gotten to it? Well, here’s your chance to include it in your lockdown regime, or even start one!
Close
Upcyling has a positive environmental impact and also shows how creative thinking can be transformative
Upcyling has a positive environmental impact and also shows how creative thinking can be transformative

Fashion: Incredible adventures of upcycled trash

By Dinesh Raheja
PUBLISHED ON MAR 06, 2021 07:10 PM IST
Meet five people who see beauty in ‘rubbish’ and are transforming sarees and lives – something we could really be inspired by given the year we’ve all had
Close
Scars and marks carry beautiful stories – of recovery, struggle, stigma and strife; Location: Hilton Garden Inn, Saket, New Delhi; Art direction: Amit Malik; Styling: Tanya Aggarwal; Make-up and hair: Anuj Dogra; (From Left to Right) On Manisha: Dress, Dramebaaz by Ritika; rings, Senco Gold & Diamonds; On Mandeep: Top, Zara; jeans, Mango;heels, H&M; On Nidhi: Top and pants, Rohit Gandhi + Rahul Khanna; earrings, Senco Gold & Diamonds; On Rashi: Dress, Monika Rajeev Malik; watch, Gucci; shoes, Bata; rings, Senco Gold & Diamonds; (Below)On Devica: Top, Dramebaaz by Ritika; jeans, Zara; boots, Mango (Shivamm Paathak)
Scars and marks carry beautiful stories – of recovery, struggle, stigma and strife; Location: Hilton Garden Inn, Saket, New Delhi; Art direction: Amit Malik; Styling: Tanya Aggarwal; Make-up and hair: Anuj Dogra; (From Left to Right) On Manisha: Dress, Dramebaaz by Ritika; rings, Senco Gold & Diamonds; On Mandeep: Top, Zara; jeans, Mango;heels, H&M; On Nidhi: Top and pants, Rohit Gandhi + Rahul Khanna; earrings, Senco Gold & Diamonds; On Rashi: Dress, Monika Rajeev Malik; watch, Gucci; shoes, Bata; rings, Senco Gold & Diamonds; (Below)On Devica: Top, Dramebaaz by Ritika; jeans, Zara; boots, Mango (Shivamm Paathak)

HT Brunch Cover Story: Scars and stripes

By Lubna Salim, with inputs by Veenu Singh
PUBLISHED ON MAR 06, 2021 07:09 PM IST
Women’s Day Special: Should imperfections on our bodies make us insecure? Meet five strong women, who wear lessons of life like badges of honour
Close
For the money, Kiger is a compact SUV that looks great, has loads of space, is well-equipped and is fun to drive too
For the money, Kiger is a compact SUV that looks great, has loads of space, is well-equipped and is fun to drive too

Sunday Drive by Hormazd Sorabjee: A bit of a stretch

PUBLISHED ON MAR 06, 2021 07:09 PM IST
The Renault Kiger enters an overcrowded market with a brilliant design even as it has stuck to a conventional template
Close
Atul Kochhar has the status of being the first Indian chef to break through beyond the Indian food fraternity and be regarded as a celebrity chef
Atul Kochhar has the status of being the first Indian chef to break through beyond the Indian food fraternity and be regarded as a celebrity chef

Rude Food by Vir Sanghvi: Return of the native

UPDATED ON MAR 06, 2021 10:09 PM IST
Atul Kochhar is one of the world’s most respected Indian chefs but success in his homeland has eluded him. That may be about to change
Close
Hurt your wrist playing badminton? Here’s a simple solution
Hurt your wrist playing badminton? Here’s a simple solution

Sohrab Khushrushahi: Be a badminton baddie

By Sohrab Khushrushahi
UPDATED ON MAR 06, 2021 07:28 PM IST
Do you know your wrist pain could be associated to how much you use your phone? You can still play badminton with some simple rotations, though
Close
Take a brisk walk in a park to enjoy the spring flowers, then find a shady corner to settle down with a nice book (Aparna Ram)
Take a brisk walk in a park to enjoy the spring flowers, then find a shady corner to settle down with a nice book (Aparna Ram)

Spectator by Seema Goswami: Spring has sprung

By Seema Goswami
PUBLISHED ON MAR 06, 2021 07:07 PM IST
And it’s time to make the most of it, before it dissolves into summer. So, what are your plans for this last week of great weather?
Close
What to do after losing a pet and how to be there for a friend who may need you even if it may not seem so
What to do after losing a pet and how to be there for a friend who may need you even if it may not seem so

Shaheen Bhatt: On losing a pet & being there for your friend

By Shaheen Bhatt
PUBLISHED ON MAR 06, 2021 07:04 PM IST
How long do you wait after the passing of a pet to get another one? And how the best way to know what your friend is going through is by asking her/him
Close
SHARE
Story Saved
OPEN APP