Chef director Raja Krishna Menon on how he got this dream project to the big screen

Abhishek Srivastava

October 08, 2017 09:28:35 IST

Filmmakers often talk about making films that are close to their heart but director Raja Krishna Menon actually made his dream project happen, with the Saif Ali Khan-starrer Chef, that is now playing in theatres. When I met him at Saif’s office in the run-up to the film's release, Menon seemed relaxed, and ready to talk about his pet passion: food.

“If I am travelling, it's never about visiting places or going to a place of historical significance. It's always about food,” he told us. There was a time when he backpacked through most of Latin America, around five years ago. When he landed in the capital city of Honduras (Tegucigalpa), it seemed so scary that he immediately shifted base to Copan (on the Honduras-Gautemala border). “While taking an evening stroll in Copan, I suddenly saw people coming out of nowhere and putting up barbecue stalls on the street. I will never forget the aromas... it was the most amazing meal. Again when I was in Mohaka, Mexico I discovered a dish called 'mole' and it was basically made out of chocolate and chili. It was more of a daal that resembled crude oil but had very interesting flavour!”

Menon's Chef, which follows the blockbuster Airlift, is an official adaptation of John Favreau’s film of the same name. So did he get a chance to meet the man who helmed Jungle Book and the first two editions of Iron Man? “I have not met him but Vikram Malhotra (CEO, Abundantia Entertainment) did. We were supposed to meet three times, but none of the meetings transpired. He (Favreau) could not believe initially that somebody in India was adapting his film.”

Raja Krishna Menon. hoto courtesy Dev Sharma, Facebook/@rajakrishnamenonofficial

Raja Krishna Menon. Photo courtesy Dev Sharma, Facebook/@rajakrishnamenonofficial

Saif was more than a 'first choice' for Menon. When Raja met Saif to narrate the idea of the film, he was floored by the actor's humility. “Of course he is a Nawab and has that starry presence but he is also a fallible guy. His first question was if I really wanted him in the film. I told him yes, with the condition that he would have to submit to me as I was going to make him a chef, which is not going to be easy. He further said that after the success of Airlift I was in a position to work with anybody, but I told him, 'I want to work with you'.”

Having started his career cutting promos for Aamir Khan’s Raja Hindustani and later assisting the late Mukul Anand on his commercials and films, it’s been a long journey. In fact, Menon's film journey began with two disasters. So would it be okay to say that life has taken a 360-degree turn after the success of Airlift? “It’s been more than that. Fortunately I am old enough to deal with it. I am thankful that I did not see this success when I was 25 or 30. It's dangerous and it can screw with your mind. After Airlift, suddenly everyone wanted to work with me and I am not used to such a thing. Success has an incredible way of actually handcuffing you as against letting you free.”

Poster for Chef

Poster for Chef

The phase before Airlift was also a period that was marred with self-doubt and made him hesitant in approaching stars for his films. When Raja thought of making Airlift, his first port of call was Irrfan Khan whom he thought was someone from his part of the world. “When I narrated the film to Irrfan, he said that you are making a Hollywood film and this can’t be made with me. He further said that his name would not get me the money to make the film. I thought it was a cool way of rejecting my film.  It was Irrfan who suggested that I approach an A lister.”

Raja follows the political spectrum of the county very closely. During his Christ College days in Bengaluru, he was an active member of the Communist party but later changed his allegiance to the Yuva Janta Dal. “It was the time of VP Singh’s government and we all burnt down effigies of leaders as part of the anti-reservation bill. Somebody had said that if you are not a communist in your 20s then something is wrong with you and if you are still a communist in your 30s, then something is still wrong with you!” he recalls.

Menon's candour is absolutely charming, and his sincerity towards the craft of filmmaking, infectious. It also gives him the strength to declare that the day he loses the freedom to make films the way he wants, he will quit the industry. The honesty is evident in his eyes.

Updated Date: Oct 08, 2017 09:28 AM