Oh Manapenne Harish Kalyan
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In his video column ‘Food Companion’, Baradwaj Rangan talks to Harish Kalyan over lunch about Oh Manapenne! that releases on Disney+ Hotstar on October 22. Also starring Priya Bhavani Shankar, the film is a remake of Tharun Bhascker’s Pelli Choopulu and Kalyan’s first theatrical release since Dharala Prabhu released in March 2020, just before the lockdown. In this freewheeling chat — as much about the film as about food — he talks about playing a chef who makes street food in Oh Manapenne!, his childhood ambition to become a cricketer inspired by Sachin, and if he tries to avoid influences from the original when he remakes films. Edited Excerpts…

In Oh Manapenne!, your character makes street food…

Yeah, my character has a food truck. He makes quick bites like burgers, sandwiches, french fries, barbeque chicken etc. There was a guy called Siddhant who owns Spitfire [BBQ truck] in Bangalore. Pelli Choopulu was based on an episode from his life. We wanted Siddhant to be a part of the film, and so he set up the food truck for us. We agreed when he asked if it could be named Spitfire Food Truck. He is also a food curator and told us about the kind of dishes that would make sense for a food truck.

And because I’m a bit tall, it was cramped and uncomfortable inside the truck. When there were other characters inside along with me, say Priya [Bhavanishankar] and a couple of others, it was tricky to compose shots. If I stood, my head would be above the truck’s window. But with a low-angle shot, Priya might go out of the frame.

Children are always asked this question: What do you want to become in life? Was it always acting for you?

I wanted to become a cricketer because I love Sachin. I used to get up at four in the morning to watch the India–Australia test.I went for cricket coaching and was also part of the school team. But somewhere, I felt that it wasn’t my thing when I was in eighth or ninth standard. 

I used to participate in culturals in school. So, I was also influenced by films. After twelfth [standard], I joined engineering but I quit in three months and decided that I wanted to enter films. 

But my mother has a different story that I can’t really explain. About a month after I was born, she somehow felt that I was going to become an actor or a star. She can’t explain why. I know she isn’t just making this up; it’s kind of weird. 

You were baking a lot during the lockdown. Did you feel that you could have, maybe, become a chef?

Definitely not (laughs). I prefer to eat. You need a lot of patience to be a chef. I am generally patient but not with food. I’m ready to eat if the food is on the table but the amount of work that goes into making it is incredible. I realized this when I went into the Bigg Boss house where I had to cook but I didn’t know how to. I made something, I think it was upma, which I myself found was very bad. I felt bad for scolding my mom about food. Cooking is an art. The satisfaction on a person’s face after they’ve had you cooked is like an Ilaiyaraaja song – that’s a dialogue from the film. 

Dharala Prabhu was a remake of Vicky Donor, and Oh Manapenne! is a remake of Pelli Choopulu. How do you approach a remake? Do you watch the original film and consciously try to avoid influences?

I had seen both Vicky Donor and Pelli Choopulu before I knew I’d be remaking them. My childhood friend Kaarthikk [Sundar] is the director of Oh Manapenne!. He once told me that he really liked Pelli Choopulu. I asked him to write something similar. A few other people tried to remake the film but it didn’t happen. In 2019, the producers approached me; that’s how it happened. I had already seen the original film but didn’t watch them when making the remake because Kaarthikk wanted to do this in our own style without missing the organic feel of the original. It was a simple film and we didn’t want to complicate it. I did it in my own style.

When Dharala Prabhu came to me, I was worried it might backfire. But director Krishna’s [Marimuthu] had made many modifications to the script. And especially with Vivek sir, we were able to make it a lighthearted film that didn’t offend anyone. 

Someone was telling me recently that viewership is higher for remake films on OTT when compared to straight ones. That was surprising, and I think we are inclined to watch films in our regional languages.

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