x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Chicken curry for the soul

Ujala Ali Khan talks to the cast and crew of Luv Shuv Tey Chicken Khurana, Bollywood¿s first food-centric film

The actor Kunal Kapoor plays a Punjabi in the film, which was shot on location in the northwestern Indian state. Courtesy UTV Motion Pictures
The actor Kunal Kapoor plays a Punjabi in the film, which was shot on location in the northwestern Indian state. Courtesy UTV Motion Pictures

Not one to do things by halves, the director, model and actor Kunal Kapoor started his Bollywood career as an assistant director of the film Aks, calling the shots on Bollywood's Big B, Amitabh Bachchan. He then made his acting debut in 2005 opposite the formidable thespian Tabu in Meenaxi: A Tale of Three Cities.

He hit pay dirt a year later with the critically acclaimed and commercial success Rang De Basanti, India's official entry to the 2007 Academy Awards. It was nominated in the Best Foreign Film category at the Bafta Awards, and earned Kapoor a Filmfare nomination in the Best Supporting Actor Award category.

However, his overnight success was followed by a baffling string of box-office duds, all released that same year: Hattrick, Laaga Chunari Mein Daag and Aaja Nachle. At this point, Kapoor stepped back to take stock of things, returning two years later with better decisions in the shape of Lamhaa in 2010 and Don 2 in 2011. Though neither film was a box-office buster, Kapoor delivered laudable performances.

The reason behind his slow pace? He was being selective.

"I believe it is better to not do a film at all than do one that you don't believe in," he says. "I realise I have not been doing a lot of work, but that is because I would rather wait for a good project than jump on board something that doesn't make sense to me. I am on the lookout for scripts that are entertaining, that come with a certain sensibility."

Not wanting to leave things to chance, Kapoor took hold of the reins for his next project, Luv Shuv Tey Chicken Khurana, with the director Sameer Sharma.

"Sameer and I got together to write the story, the idea of which had stemmed from simple conversations," recalls Kapoor. "I enjoyed developing the idea with Sameer and once it was done, we took it to Anurag [Kashyap]. When he read it, he immediately said he wanted to produce it. That was great news for us because this is not the kind of stuff he normally goes for - there's no blood, no violence. It's a very un-Anurag film, but we believe it will reach a wider audience."

Starring Kapoor and Huma Quresh, Luv Shuv Tey Chicken Khurana revolves around the hunt for a long-lost secret recipe (Chicken Khurana) that had once made the Khurana Dhaba, a cafe in Punjab, very famous.

It's surprising to see Kashyap - riding high on the success of his gritty directorial masterpiece Gangs of Wasseypur - coaxing critics in such a wholesome, mellow manner. Kashyap says the film reminds him of "the Hrishikesh Mukherjee school of filmmaking, which is now seldom experienced".

Kashyap continues: "After a long time I was handed a script that belonged to an era we hardly remember anymore - an era of Basu Chatterjee and Hrishikesh Mukherjee films. Luv Shuv Tey Chicken Khurana reminds me of those gentle movies; I got a feel of that from the script. Sadly, people have stopped writing such films."

Talking about his role in the film, Kapoor says it was tricky: "I could easily have gone over the top because my character is Punjabi. But I wanted to keep him realistic and subtle while still being entertaining and funny."

Sharma says his most vivid childhood memories, those revolving around food and family, have strongly defined his directorial debut, which also happens to be the first Bollywood film completely focused on food.

"We are a country obsessed with what we eat," explains Sharma. "It was impossible for me to tell a story without food being integral to it."

Sharma entered the industry as an assistant director for Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge in 1995 and since then has written several films, including Bhoot and Swades.

Luv Shuv Tey Chicken Khurana, which Sharma had earlier decided to make in the Punjabi language, has been shot on location in Ludhiana, a city in the northwestern Indian state of Punjab.

"When Kashyap came on board as a producer, he encouraged me to turn it into a commercial entertainer," says Sharma. "While food forms an integral part of this film, that is not the only aspect to it. There is much more - characters one can relate to and a simple but heartfelt story that will resonate with the audience."

* Luv Shuv Tey Chicken Khurana will be released in the UAE on Thursday