It’s important to tell the story of migrants: Prateek Prajosh

In a conversation with Pranati A S, director of ‘Chilli Chicken’ shares why he chose to highlight the struggles of people from northeast living in Bengaluru.
Last Updated : 14 June 2024, 20:03 IST

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A Kannada film based on the lives of migrants from northeast India living in Bengaluru is slated for release next week. Titled ‘Chilli Chicken’, the film directed by Prateek Prajosh is a story of five boys who work as waiters in an Indo- Chinese restaurant in Bengaluru. The restaurant is owned by a local Kannadiga named Adarsh, played by Shrunga B V. “An unexpected event sets things in motion,” Prateek says about a turning point in the film. 

In summary, the film dwells on how these boys navigate through their lives away from home and how they deal with circumstances that make them feel like outsiders in their own country. 

In a conversation with Showtime, the director talks about the real-life incident that inspired the film, working with actors hailing from strife-torn Manipur, and the relevance of the film. Edited excerpts:

Why did you want to tell a story about people from the northeast working in Bengaluru?

When we visit cafés or restaurants in the city, there are (high) chances that you will encounter a person from the northeast or Nepal. We see them so often around us but don’t know anything about them. All we know is that they look a certain way. I feel there’s a lack of empathy towards the community. We wanted to address this through the film. It’s important to tell the story of migrants.

The film is loosely based on a true incident that happened in Frazer Town in 2014 where a hotel staff from the northeast died. The story was brought to my attention by Siddhanth Sundar (also the music director of the film) and it has stayed with me since. We developed the story during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Tell us about your research in portraying a true picture of their lives.

We spoke to a lot of people who work as waiters and servers, and even students and people with corporate jobs. We understood what the general grievances were. We brought them to the fore. 

Chinese food is very popular here (Bengaluru). Most of the boys from the northeast work in these restaurants for the simple reason that they look ‘Chinese’ or ‘Oriental’. It makes these restaurants look authentic. 

During the Covid-19 pandemic, the discrimination against them skyrocketed. The virus was from China but these young boys and girls were called ‘Corona’. That’s when I thought it was important to address this issue (the discrimination meted out to them). 

Why is the film called ‘Chilli Chicken’?

Chilli chicken is an Indo-Chinese dish. Apart from that, it’s a racial slur. People from the northeast are also called ‘momo’, ‘chinky’ and ‘chowmein’. People think it’s a casual joke but we never fully understand how they feel. The idea was to create an awareness (among viewers) to be conscious of the terms they use in front of people of northeast origin. 

What challenges did you face while making the film?

The challenge at the scripting stage was the amount of research we had to do. I was particular about telling the story in a sensitive manner — both from a Kannadiga as well as a northeast person’s point of view. It took us a while to collect stories for the film. Another challenge came during the production. Two of our main actors are from Manipur. And Manipur has been burning for the longest time. There came a situation when we were not sure if these actors would be able to make it to the shoot on time. The trickiest part was that these five boys from Manipur and other north eastern states had never spoken a word of Kannada in their lives. They had to come down, learn the language, and dub their lines.

Any interesting incidents from the shoot? 

When we were shooting, a bunch of kids thought we were shooting with the popular K-Pop band, BTS.  It’s coming from an innocent place but you see how ignorance can stem from anything.  I wanted to tell them that this is not a K-drama and that the actors are from India, from the northeast. But the actors didn’t want to let these kids down. So they pretended to be members of the K- Pop band. The kids took many pictures with them. This gave me an idea for a hashtag for social media (promotions) - #nammaKdrama. It’s not a Korean drama but a Kannada drama. It’s crazy how ideas come from the most unexpected places. 

Published 14 June 2024, 20:03 IST

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