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Mani's favourite things

Mani Shankar, the filmmaker, unwinds about his food and fitness and his forthcoming film `Rudraksh' over a Hyderabadi meal.

SOUP FOR THE SOUL: Mani Shankar opts for a `shorba.' — Photo: K. Ramesh Babu

MANI SHANKAR was firmly ensconced in the chowki at Dumpukht, ITC Kakatiya Sheraton Hotel and Towers when one met him. This filmmaker, who is frequently seen at Dakshin restaurant of the hotel, decided to go Hyderabadi for a change. "I felt like eating biryani, so the choice of Dumpukht," he says beginning the chat. In the course of the conversation, one realises that he is not just a thinking auteur, passionate about films, but well read and well informed about food as well.

After scanning the menu the order for a shorba, kebabs (tali macchli and hara bhara kebab), roomali roti, dum ki khumb and the famed kachi gosht ki biryani is placed. "Earlier, I never bothered about what kind of food I ate. Of late I prefer south Indian vegetarian and Hyderabadi. I love a good south Indian spread - a traditional meal which begins with kosambri and ends with pal payasam." His list of other favourites include adai, vatha kozhmabu, guthi vankaya, avial, stew, bisi bele, roti and alu gobi (Punjabi). Occasionally I enjoy a tandoori chicken.

Mani Shankar thanks his wife Subbalakshmi for grilling the concept of health foods in him. "Two years ago I was hospitalised - work pressure and stress took its toll. I was frightened by the list of medicines that I would be dependent on for a lifetime. I got cured merely looking at the prescription. I decided to jog around four kms (around KBR Park). I do so regularly. Even if there is an early morning shoot I jog at night. I also do some cardio training."

As he sips his shorba he says, "self-denial is the greatest virtue. We have to impose self-denial on ourselves. It is an award in itself. We (Indians) are the most opulent, fattest and sickest country in the world. Lifestyle diseases are on the increase. Therefore self-denial is important if one has an ambition." Mani Shankar's first film 16 December was acclaimed. This techno-thriller he says "was one of the top 10 grossers of 2002. It has earned seven times more money than `Devdas'," he says proudly.

There is increasing health consciousness these days. "I realised the value of a high-fibre meal so I eat a lot of fruit. In fact I fill half my stomach with fruit and then have idli, chutney and sambhar for breakfast. This is the routine almost every day. Once in a while, I have pongal and wada. In fact, I can make a meal out of fruits. I am fond of watermelon and oranges."

The filmmaker, who is now making his second film Rudraksh, has a small portion of red or unpolished rice, ulava charu (the famous Andhra speciality made of horsegram) and curd. "I have moved away from white rice, and white bread - live life happily without white bread. Earlier I used to have red rice off and on. Now I have it regularly and it does make a difference. The ulava charu packs me with energy. The work pace is hectic and involves sheer physical effort. So one must have foods, which keep you going, as momentum in work has to be maintained. That way ulava charu sustains me through the day." Curd is an important item of the diet. Mani Shankar has it twice a day - in fact ends the meal with curd. This was testified when he asked for curd when the biryani arrived with the mirchi ka salan. Potatoes are still his favourite though he finds them too starchy now. He loves brinjals in all forms too. If he feels hungry at night Mani Shankar sneaks into the kitchen and has muesli with low-fat milk.

Fitness is the latest mantra which is all pervading. "Drugs are out. Most college students are talking fitness. This generation has awakened to the benefits of fitness. My children (a daughter and two sons) are learning karate." Health food is equally essential too. Mani Shankar shares another secret. "One of my inspiring guides is the Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu. He advised me to drink about seven litres of water which I do."

Cooking is a hobby although now Mani Shankar hardly has the time to pursue it. "It is perhaps the oldest act of civilised humanity which differentiates humans from animals. Cooking implies organisation - order and creativity. Cooking is an act of love. Serving too is important," he says. One is reminded of the adage annadaata sukhi bhava (a blessing given to the person who feeds) in this context. Mani Shankar took to cooking when he was studying in Pilani as he couldn't eat mess food. "With one saucepan and a few vessels in the kitchenette we managed to make something." Mani Shankar is candid to admit that he does not understand French cooking, but has understood how to use herbs and spices like it is done in Italian cooking. He likes to have authentic Chinese food in Chinese areas, sees eye to eye with Thai but can't understand Mexican food.

Mani Shankar is an extensive reader. He can quote anything from Elliot, Aurobindo, Deepak Chopra or Patanjali and this reflects in his conversation. His forthcoming film Rudraksh blends science and spiritualism. "I believe basically there is no difference between science and spiritualism. There are interesting lines like "God is an Internet," infused in the film which has a complex screenplay dealing with genetic mutation and spirituality. "If any book has inspired me it is Deepak Chopra's Ageless Body, Timeless Mind. It is the greatest piece of non-fiction which has helped immeasurably in opening the mind." And sure it has for Mani, who is able to envision and create new paradigms in films.


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