Mission street food

Despite travelling to numerous foreign locales and sampling exotic food, it’s the street food in India that excites actor Karunakaran

August 21, 2017 06:23 pm | Updated August 22, 2017 05:08 pm IST

Karunakaran, who shot to fame with Nalan Kumarasamy’s Soodhu Kavvum , is a fan of street food. He lists his favourite places. “There is a stall that sells authentic Burmese food near Madras High Court. Then there is dum ka rot halwa at Baasha Halwa shop in Triplicane. Aggarwal Sweets, in Parry’s Corner, serves the best lassi in the world. The rasam sadham at Southern Crest Hotel in T Nagar is awesome. So is the biryani at Rahams in Anna Nagar.” he says.

However, Karunakaran’s all-time favourite is pani puri . “Just like the character (Arumai Pragasam) I play in Soodhu Kavvum , I also stop automatically the moment I see a pani puri vendor on the street. I especially like the ones sold on cycles. And there is one guy who sells amazing panipuri in Parry’s Corner,” he adds.

Chennai: 27/07/2016, For City: Pani puri in Time passs north Indian chaat and paratha eatery at Sholinganallur,  OMR. Photo: M. Karunakaran.

Chennai: 27/07/2016, For City: Pani puri in Time passs north Indian chaat and paratha eatery at Sholinganallur, OMR. Photo: M. Karunakaran.

Karunakaran’s father worked with RAW and was based in Delhi, where he spent the first 10 years of his life, after which the family settled in Tiruchi. “A good part of my life was spent in Tiruchi. It was while I was pursuing a chemical engineering degree at SASTRA, Tanjore, that I started tasting street food. Due to my notoriety I was kicked out of the hostel, so I had to travel to Tanjore from Tiruchi everyday,” he says.

Karunakaran says he and his friends found the food stalls around college more interesting than the classrooms. He quickly got acquainted with parotta and chalna and bajji and samosa around that time. “The long bike ride, and endless chat sessions over tea and food will stay evergreen in my memory.”

At the end of the course in 2004, he started looking for jobs thus ending up in Chennai. He lived in the Zam Bazar area and joined the marketing wing of Citi Bank, from where was fired for not meeting targets.

He then joined a BPO where he had to work night shifts and was often caught gazing at cinema posters or sleeping. Eventually he had to resign. “I finally landed in Accenture, where I worked for almost six years. Once my film career took shape, I resigned,” says Karunakaran.

His acting talent was spotted by his college senior Nalan Kumaraswamy, who after completing his engineering course, concentrated on making short films.

When his first film, Soodhu Kavvum , released, he got the break he was waiting for. “I was acting in short films as a hobby. No payment was involved. Balaji Mohan then paid me ₹ 2,000 for working in his short film. I was overjoyed as it was my first salary in my acting career. With that money I took Nalan out for a treat.” During that phase of his life, Karunakaran says he survived entire days drinking just a couple of glasses of tea.

A still from the Ajith-starrer 'Vivegam'.

A still from the Ajith-starrer "Vivegam".

Karunakaran has now worked in over 50 films. He says he was surprised when he found out that Rajinikanth (with whom he worked in Lingaa ) eats with the crew. “Recently, while shooting for Vivegam in Bulgaria and Siberia, Ajith used to sit with the crew and have lunch. Never have I seen him get into his caravan during lunch breaks. Ajith makes an awesome variety of soups and he shared it with me many times,” says Karunakaran and adds, “Everyday after shooting, Ajith used to take us to different restaurants in and around our location. For me it was a dream-come-true moment, to interact and spend quality time with a star like him,” he says.

Karunakaran is currently shooting for Udayanidhi Stalin’s yet-to-be-titled film directed by Priyadarshan. He says that when he travels overseas he is barely excited about sampling exotic food. “But when I travel anywhere in Tamil Nadu, I look forward to tasty tiffin in small towns.”

(A fortnightly column where film personalities talk about their trysts with food)

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