His films may touch the most sensitive subjects like in ‘Shahid’ and ‘Aligarh’ but today Hansal Mehta chats about a subject that’s close to his heart…and his taste buds. He discusses Nihari, pure ghee and fussy actors with Viraj Sawant.
When we heard about Hansal Mehta’s seven-year-long association with ‘Khana Khazana’, we decided to quiz him about healthy delicacies. Turns out that his love for food isn’t limited to eating and trying out cuisines; it extends to knowing all about food, cooking and experimenting in the kitchen.
When Hansal was 22, he worked as a computer programmer and was sent for an assignment to Australia and the Fiji islands. With a lot of free time on hand, he decided to try cooking simple dishes and called up his mother in Bombay for recipes. That’s how it all began.
“I realised that I had started enjoying it and cooking was very therapeutic to me. I came back to India in 1993 and decided to change my profession. I thought of working in the media. Zee TV was new in those days and I walked into their office and proposed a food show to them. They loved the concept and gave me an approval in less than two weeks. We started looking for an anchor for the show, for which I started visiting different restaurants in the city. Finally at Centaur hotel I found Sanjeev Kapoor and the rest is history.”
We all know the magnitude of ‘Khana Khazana’’s popularity. Over a period of seven years, the show showcased more than 1000 recipes – what more could a hardcore foodie ask for? He recalls, “I got so involved in the show and cooking different types of food, experiments and that’s how it became a passion for me. Even now my biggest book collection is of books on food rather than on cinema. And by that, I don’t mean just recipes.”
Always remember, a true foodie can never decide what his favourite dish is. Ask Hansal and he says, “My taste in food is a very mood-based thing. Mood, weather and also what phase of health consciousness you are in… Like, when I return home after a long schedule or post travelling, I usually put on a lot of weight. So then I prefer cooking something light or healthy, experimenting with salads, soups or sautéed vegetables.”
Being a director, Hansal has faced many critics, some who have been nice to his films and others who were not too happy with his creations. When it comes to food, who is his biggest food critic? “It’s my father-in-law. He is a real connoisseur. He introduced me to fine Lucknowi cuisine. Both of us bond over food and he gives me his frank opinion on things that I cook. Lucknowi cuisine is one of my obsessions. Over the past 10 years, I have made at least 10 to 12 different versions of Nihari. I always try different types of Nihari at restaurants.”
Whoever works with Hansal Mehta can never be unhappy. We have heard that he cooks for his entire unit during shooting schedules. “It’s a tradition that my unit has always maintained,” he smiles. “It started with ‘Shahid’. We barely managed to shoot for the first four or five days and we ran out of money. So even today, after a week’s shoot, we celebrate a schedule wrap and I cook for everyone. We celebrate small milestones within our unit.”
All actors are very health conscious and eat only nutritious food. Wouldn’t that been a turn off for someone who loves feeding people by making mouth-watering meals? He agrees, “Cooking for actor can be quit boring. They are extremely conscious of their diet. Rajkummar and Patralekha come to my house very often for lunch or dinner. I love cooking for Patralekha because she embraces a lot of different types of food. She really appreciates good food and never hesitates to try every dish. Although she eats very healthy food, she makes an exception when I cook. Rajkummar is a pure vegetarian and so cooking for him does get a little difficult.”
With a lot to offer to the audience, will we ever see the National Award-winning director doing a food show? “I would love to do a food show. I’ve always wanted to do a food show that will be about sharing recipes from different books. So if I do a show it will be more about adapting recipes from books. There are many exotic books on Chinese, Japanese or even continental cooking. Every book has its special recipe and taking these special recipes and bringing them on screen for the audience, would be interesting. Also I would like to host it myself,” says Mehta as he signs off.
We’re smacking our lips already!