Recipe for success

Recipe for success

The very mention of Sihi Kahi Chandru brings a smile on people’s faces.Such is the appeal he enjoys. S Nanda Kumar engages the versatile actor in a conversation.

About 40 years ago, a young boy studying in the third standard was watching a Kannada play. He was so excited by the actors on the stage that he immediately tried to clamber onto the stage to join them! The elders accompanying him gently restrained him, but the acting bug had already bitten the boy.

He would dramatise the lessons and poems taught at school, and enact them in front of a mirror. Soon, he would be reciting poems at school functions. And acting in plays was just a natural step. The joy he got from the applause convinced him that he should be an actor.

Today, that young boy, Chandrashekar, has firmly established himself as an actor in Kannada films, television and theatre — it’s just that the world knows him better as Sihi Kahi Chandru. The prefix stuck to him after he played the lead role in the first ever Kannada serial aired on Bangalore Doordarshan.

“After all, it signifies life with its ups and downs, so I thought, why not?” exclaimed the jovial actor. But 327 films and many serials later, he has attained even more fame for his cookery shows on television.

In fact, such was the popularity of his cookery shows that the actor, fearing that he would lose his identity as an actor, stopped anchoring these food shows after the success of programmes like Nalapaka and Rasapaka on different Kannada TV channels. “I had already shot another 13 episodes of Rasapaka, but when people started stopping me in public to ask me technical questions on the bisi bele bath that I had showed on TV, rather than about my roles as an actor, I stopped doing cookery shows. It became an identity crisis for me,” he laughed.

Years later, a Kannada TV channel finally convinced Chandru to relent, and the result was Bombatt Bhojana, a runaway hit that has already crossed 760 shows at the time of going to press. “I wanted it to be full of fun and entertaining, and apart from teaching people about food and cooking, I also wanted to give them some food for thought,” he says.

Within the first week of the show airing, the ratings skyrocketed, beating even popular TV serials on the same channel. Interestingly, the need for cooking arose when Chandru was a young man and his parents shifted to Davangere. Chandru chose to remain in Bangalore to pursue his dream of becoming an actor. A severe stomach upset caused by hotel food prompted him to ask his mother for instructions for rice and vegetable huli over telephone.

First experience

Armed with borrowed vessels from an aunt, and a new kerosene stove, the cook began his first dish of vegetables and dhal. “But nothing happened even after a long wait. When I called my mother again, she asked me a basic question — had I lit the stove? I sheepishly realised I had not!” he guffawed.

That basic step became his famous opening line on his cookery show — “Lesson Number 1 — you will have to first light the stove.” He has certainly come a long way from cooking that first simple meal on a kerosene stove.

He says he is at his creative best while churning out a dish, often trying out something at his office, which houses a kitchen. “When a channel asks me for a new concept for a serial, nothing happens if I sit down and try to think. But the moment I start chopping vegetables, and begin cooking, the plot-points and ideas start working in my head. By the time the dish is done, I have the idea for the new project ready,” he exclaims with infectious glee.

And it is not just his deep love for cooking that drives him, week after week. Many of his viewers have told him instances connected to his programme that have given him the inspiration to carry on. One that moved him was when an elderly lady saw him at a wedding at Mysore, and after meeting him, broke down in tears.

Chandru was dumbfounded. The lady insisted that he accompany her home. “There, she introduced me to her mentally challenged grandson who had not uttered a word for many years. But whenever my show came on, he would sit in front of the TV and say ‘Bombatt’ and smile, and  would eat anything that was given to him while the show was on.

This became a daily habit, and the family would record my show for the weekends, when it was not on air. That lady said I was responsible for keeping him healthy and cheerful all these years. I was so moved. I am an actor and would love to get an Oscar. But this encounter with the boy gave me more happiness than getting an Oscar,” he said quietly.

Few know that a serious and sensitive actor lurks behind the comedian. Very few directors have exploited this facet of the actor. Today, he has shed over 25 kgs, and is trim and fit, a far cry from the rotund person the public remembers. He says this was also a part of his ‘make-over,’ towards his aim of doing serious roles in films. Did he have any idea of directing a film, I ask tentatively.

He replies swiftly, “Definitely. That is why I have become like this,” he says, patting a firm midriff. “Most certainly. But first I plan to direct a full-length comedy film, because that is what people expect from me. But my second film will be a serious one, a commercial one, of course. I have already written the screenplay. Maybe within two years.” He cannot resist a typical Chandru line  — “That is why I have become a six-pack from a family pack,” and joins me in loud laughter.

Fond dreams

He also dreams of helping underprivileged children. “I was once called as a guest to a government school in Tavarekere. I met a boy there who could not afford more than two notebooks — so he would write everything using a pencil, and after carefully memorising what he had written, he would erase it so that he could re-use the books again. I was very disturbed by this. Of course, I arranged to supply not just that school, but also many other schools across Karnataka, with notebooks.

I also made sure that that boy had enough support to complete his education. But, as a lasting legacy, I want to start a free residential school for underprivileged children, from standard 1 to 10, with all the facilities of an international school. That is my ultimate dream. That will be my legacy when I go,” he said with determination.

He has no regrets in life. “I want to live life 24 hours a day. I do not want to immobilise my present by feeling guilty about my past or worrying about the future. I only want myself and the people around me to be happy, and well-fed!” Perhaps that is the secret ingredient — cheerfulness and a positive outlook — that is part of his recipe for success.

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