V. Mangalam is 82 years old and is providing stiff competition to her much younger contestants in Star Vijay TV’s “Aashirvad Asal Suvai”
“Ten...nine...eight...” Anu Haasan, the judge of Aashirvad Asal Suvai, the cookery show on Star Vijay TV, begins the countdown and urges the contestants to speed up. It is the Variety Rice round and the contestants have to prepare three rice dishes. Pressure cookers add to the confusion with their shrill screams as contestants wring their hands over under-cooked rice and others run frantically to grab masalas from the shelves. One of the contestants in her apron and chef’s cap stands calm. She has completed her task and has prepared jaggery rice, pepper rice and manathakkali rice in the allotted 40 minutes. She is V. Mangalam, the 82-year-old Chettinad cuisine expert from Coimbatore.
We are watching the video clip of the contest at Mangalam’s house and she recounts how Mano the playback singer and judge danced, singing “O Podu” after tasting her pepper rice. He then ran up to her and kissed her hands! Anu Haasan said she just could not stop eating her jaggery rice. Revathy Sankaran, the actor and judge, exclaimed “wow!” when she tasted her dishes. She won the first prize in that round. “I was so overwhelmed! Everyone was clapping for me. The contestants congratulated me and shook my hands.”Mangalam is the oldest contestant in the reality show and one of the top eight finalists. And she is always the calmest and most relaxed. Judge Anu Haasan told the other contestants, “You should learn from Mangalam. She is so composed. She even cleans her kitchen after she is done.”“I always finish five minutes before everyone. I never get tensed because I know I cannot cook well if I am worked up,” says Mangalam.
While her contestants experiment with dishes adding new flavours, Mangalam sticks to the traditional. She still cuts vegetables with an aruvamanai. “I am of the old school and not comfortable using knives. I need my aruvamanai. I have kept one at home and one in the studio.”
The studio, camera and the loud lights…All of these are new to her, but Mangalam enjoys it. “The only time I get tense is when they ask me to speak in front of the camera. Also, it is a little difficult to cook with all those wires wound around you, but I manage,” she smiles. However, she says the cast and crew of the production are warm and caring. “Before the camera is about to roll, the studio boys wish me good luck!”Her favourite moments are in the caravan, just before the shoot. This is the only time for the contestants to unwind. “We laugh about our goof-ups in the studio. We share our anxieties and wonder what the judges will ask us to prepare that day.”
The three judges Anu Haasan, Revathy Sankaran, and Mano are fair to all, and give them due credit. Their suggestions inspire them to do better in the next round, says Mangalam. “Mano is always entertaining. You can never say when he will break into a song. Anu Haasan criticises you but gives you credit if you do well. Revathy Sankaran’s tips and demonstrations after the show are helpful.”
Mangalam is currently shooting in Chennai for future episodes of the show. In the meantime, she is learning a few North Indian recipes with the help of her neighbours. “I also do my homework by watching other reality shows. I can’t even sleep these days as my head is full of recipes. I am determined to win this show!”
Watch Mangalam whip up traditional fare at Aashirvaad Asal Suvai, every Sunday from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Star Vijay T.V.