Raja Krishna Menon is an Indian film writer, director and producer. He started as an advertisement director and later moved to feature films. He has directed three Bollywood films namely Baarah Aana (2009), Airlift (2016) and Chef (2017). His most recent film Airlift which was released on 22 January 2016 and has been a critical and box office success. Now his new film Chef is releasing on 6th October 2017.
Tell us the back story of this film …
I saw this Hollywood film ‘Chef’ in a late night show with a couple of friends of mine. That time all movies coming were very dark and then this film came and I was feeling kind of relieved like finally a good film and I loved this film. I remember after watching the film we all were like lets quit our jobs and start a food truck. I was shooting Air lift in Jodhpur and Vikram Malhotra the producer of Air lift and Chef said that would you like to remake this Hollywood film into Indian film? I said no as it’s a very good Jon Favreau film so he said I’ve got rights to film and if you’ve got nothing else to do then take a month or two and think about it. I thought about it and came up 2 – 3 important points. One my character Roshan Kalra that Saif plays is a 40 years old man so he grew up and made his decision in late 80’s and early 90’s which was a very important time for me as Liberalization was happening in India, people were looking for other jobs and new career streams and opportunities were opening up,etc. For me Roshan Kalra making the decision of becoming a Chef at that point of time was a very Indian specific point. Second thing was that people in the age bracket of 30 – 40 finally had the luxury to think about what it is to be successful which a very Indian thing to me was again. Thirdly it was about women are finding their own space in Indian society. My character Radha Menon is a dancer who’s divorced. She can still be friends with her ex-husband. But is a happy person as her happiness doesn’t depend on her husband you know she has her own happiness, life, job, and a group of friends too. Once we found these elements we were like this film has to be made now.
You are a Menon and a Keralite was that reason you shot the film in Cochin?
Yes as I know everything about Cochin since I am from that place. We always want to give audience a very unique experience so you want to show them something new and take them on new journeys and these are things that make film interesting like when you go to watch a film you see a new place and you say wow. Kerala had not been show cased in Hindi films that much so we decided to show that place in a very new light. Kerala is not like other urban places. It’s like big small city. It has a small town vibe but whole city is like that.
In how many places has the entire film been shot?
It starts from New York then comes to Kerala then goes to Goa from there it goes to Amritsar.
Saif character Roshan is nothing like Jon Favreau in film like he’s very lean what do you have to say about this?
No I felt there’s an old adage where you don’t trust a chef so I said to him please don’t work out and don’t get me big muscles as well as then I and even audiences won’t trust you as a chef’s life is very miserable. We did a lot of research on this so yes it’s really hard as you’ve to work all time and its a thankless job too.
You have shot with Akshay for airlift and he’s very fond of cooking so wasn’t Akshay first choice for the role in film?
It’s actually very funny enough but yes he didn’t come in my mind for this role and also he wasn’t the original first choice for role in the film. But I think that it’s a very straight forward analysis to make like it’s not very necessary for you to be a Chef to know cooking even a new person can learn how to be a Chef the problem is everything else that goes in it. Akshay has a macho personality and I think it would have been very harder for me to break down that personality to a character of a Chef who has lost his everything in the film. I am kind of person who one finds his perfect fix for any main lead character I don’t look around anymore for the same so fortunately Saif was my first and original choice for the film.
How big of a foodie are you?
Very big foodie I am as I eat a lot. I travel a lot and like to explore new unexplored places and their food. I just have a habit of taking off to trips a lot. 3 years back I decided to just shut down everything and took off for a backpacking trip for 7 months. I think that it’s very important to travel. Basically all my travel is based on food so the culture of a place is very reflective of the food they eat.
How many places did you travel when you took off for a backpacking trip for 7 months 3 years back?
I travelled and explored the entire part of Latin America in time period of 7 months when I had took off for a backpacking trip 3 years back. I started from Brazil, went to Argentina, then Chile, then Bolivia, after that Peru, then Honduras, then Guatemala and after that Mexico.
Saif said that film is a director’s medium how much do you agree with it?
Yes I agree 100%. If anything goes wrong or right then director is to be blamed or praised for it. The actors are there but they work towards the vision that director has for the film and the main lead characters as well. So it’s a director’s medium as I believe that the entire control is in your hands of how you want to tell a story and how you want people to interpret it as well. In the end it’s all about whether you’re able to communicate your story across to 200 people in the theatres.
As a director did you’ve difficulty with jumping from one subject to another since film has multiple subjects?
This is the toughest and challenging film I’ve made till date in my entire life. And I believe that only reason I could make it is because I had the time behind me because it’s a very subtle film in its emotions and I wanted all characters emotions to be real, raw, and genuine so it was very difficult film for me.
How easy or tough it was to work with Saif?
Very easy as we connected at a very intellectual kind of level. It was very tough initially to break down his personality into a chef as he has grown up in a very different environment. It’s very hard to understand not to have a meal if you haven’t had a meal at all like you’re working all day and in end you couldn’t have a meal as you couldn’t buy it.
By Vrinda Mundara.