New Delhi: It'll be four-in-a-row for Michelin starred Chef Vikas Khanna at Cannes when the first look of his directorial debut "The Last Colour" that revolves around the widows of Vrindavan is unveiled on Wednesday.
"The film is about girl education and girl empowerment. I had written the (similarly titled) short story in 2011 when I was shooting in Vrindavan where I was researching around UTSAV (his culinary epic of Indian festivals)," Khanna told IANS in an email interview.
"More than the Holi celebrations, I was drawn to stories of some widows who were not playing Holi. I imagined, in my short story, the glorious day when their hope and faith will be filled with colours.
"In 2012, I saw on the American Yahoo homepage the stunning images filled with emotions when they played Holi.
"There were a million sentiments in those images, especially the one in which an elderly woman was lying on a ground smeared with colours. She was laughing and crying at the same time.
"That's when I turned my short story into a novel. But the visits to the ashrams of Vrindavan and Varanasi gave me more stories for this celebration," Khanna added, detailing the journey of the short story to a novel and now to a film.
Speaking about the production, how it was working with children, particularly the actor who plays Choti, the protagonist who befiends a widow, Khanna said he had auditioned many children through agencies, schools and NGOs but when he went to New Delhi's Zeenat Mahal School, he "truly respected the energy" of the Principal, Meena Kumari.
"She was so encouraging for the girls and that reflected in the confidence of her students. There we did several auditions and then we met Aqsa Siddiqui. She was Choti. Our Choti.
"She is a topper in her class and very bright. She went through a lot of workshops before and during the shoot. Her innocence, brilliance and spontaneity were very inspiring for the crew.
"We used to take her to the ghats to observe and talk to the children and understand their energy, she picked up the role very genuinely," Khanna explained.
The film is currently in post-production and will first do a round of film festivals. "And then, God willing, what will happen will happen," Khanna said.
Khanna made his debut in 2015 at Cannes with the release of UTSAV, a limited edition 30 kg, 1,200-page labour of love that took 12 years to compile and was presented to a host of world leaders.
The 12th copy of the book was auctioned for Rs 30 lakh that went to feed 200,000 underprivileged children through an NGO he supports.
"In 2016, we premiered 'Kitchens of Gratitude', a short documentary that showcased the power of food and how it binds us. It was truly inspiring to be in the company of such great and legendary filmmakers from around the world," Khanna had told IANS at the time.
In 2017, the trailer of "Buried Seeds", a timeless story of passion, resilience, failure and rise as seen through Khanna's eyes and which follows the journey of an immigrant past and overwhelming obstacles in achieving his dreams, made its debut at Cannes.
How does it feel to be featuring at Cannes for the fourth time in a row?
"It is very humbling. But at the same time it brings great satisfaction to be able to bring such diversified art to a platform like Cannes which is the epitome of art," Khanna replied.
What's cooking on the culinary front?
"A lot. Just working on research of 'Sacred Foods of India'. Lots coming this year end on grains. A big global project to be announced," he said.
What of the future?
"I have always believed in the Universe's path. Where I started from two decades ago, till today, I have always worked on what comes my way. For reincarnation of the arts, it is necessary to walk on new paths.