I am a great foodie says Abhilash Bhattacharya

Abhilash Bhattacharya is a multifaceted personality. He has carved a niche for himself as a cartoonist, an illustrator, a story teller, a novelist, a documentary filmmaker and finally as a creative director and producer. Under his banner ‘SOFT FOCUS TELEFILMS’ he has produced shows like Shabash India, Surabhi and Saare Jahan Se achha. Currently his successful and popular cookery show ‘Kitchen Champion’ came to end with back to back three seasons. GlamGold met the guy to discuss his journey and the show.

GG) Tell us about your background.

AB) I am from Ujjain. My father is a Professor of Politics. My mother is a housewife while I am a Post Graduate in Research and Fine Arts. I always dreamt of being in the arts and entertainment media. So I shifted to Mumbai in 1980. Of course at that point of time the publication media for me was like a stepping stone to Telly Town.

GG) You had long journey of three decades…

AB) Yaa.  I would not be honest to myself if I did not admit that soon enough from my brief fling at the Times and other publication offices as a freelance cartoonist and illustrator I shifted my focus totally towards Telly Town but for one highly ambitious and sweet little distraction as a writer. Yes! Since I love kids a lot I started writing Short Stories but did not have the heart to get them published.

GG) Then?

AB) Finally I found my way in Telly Town when I joined Director Basu Bhattacharya as the 4th assistant.

GG) How did your journey start as an independent director?

AB) The struggling journey to find my roots as an independent director was still on when I met great people like Siddharth Kak and Renuka Shahane and together the trio of us did ‘Surabhi’ for Doordarshan which had ultimately proved to be the longest running show on Indian Television arena and then as they say there was no looking back.

GG) Which other shows you did?

AB) I did programmes like Star Sunday Lunch and many Breakfast Shows for Sahara Channel. Later on I did two shows for ZEE TV namely ‘Saare Jahan Se Achchha’ to commemorate the millennium year and also to coincide with the film festivals and ‘Shabash India’ with Hussain as anchor. The show won many awards like RAPA and Indian Television Academy (ITA) Awards. In between during the 90’s phase I had also made many documentaries based on social issues. Due to all these my television production company SOFT FOCUS TELEFILMS also got firmly established.

GG) Why did you make a cookery show ‘Kitchen Champion’?

AB) In real life I am a great foodie so I always wanted to make a foodie show. So I shot a rough pilot in my office garden and took it to Colors Channel and discussed the idea in detail with its Programming Head Ashwini Yardi.

GG) Did you have to make any change?

AB) Honestly speaking the final content of Kitchen Champion that you have watched on Colors Channel is totally Ashwini Yardi’s & Color Channels Creative Team’s brainchild. I am very happy as this has proved not only to be a reality show with a difference and very unique but also garnering great response from the viewers besides getting great TRP’s in the bargain.

GG) Why the show was aired in ‘Sanjhi Dopahar’ slot on Colors?

AB) Well it was already fixed to be aired for afternoon time. Ashwini wanted a show for 1p.m. to 2 p.m. to make the slot strong. So we decided to do twenty episodes first.

GG) Why did you select Chef Gautam Maharshi as judge?

AB) We took audition of few chefs. We were not looking for celebrity chef but the person should be interesting and also entertaining. Gautam was selected through that process. The way we have conceived the role he was absolutely fit in that. He is a Shayar and you can see him speaking shayaries on the show. He is thorough with his knowledge. Today he has become very popular in housewives.

GG) Why back to back three seasons?

AB) The show was doing well. We have not planned that way but the slot became very strong and TRP was high. So we decided to continue further seasons with variations.

GG) Why you did not repeat Hussain to anchor as he has already successfully anchored your show ‘Shabash India’ earlier?

AB) I have suggested his name to Ashwini but she told to meet Ronit Roy. So I met and talked about the show. He is a happening person.

GG) How was your experience working with him?

AB) Wonderful. I would say that the USP of ‘Kitchen Champion’ without doubt was the Host Ronit who anchored the show so brilliantly that I have no more words left to describe him. He is par excellent. His happy go lucky attitude really succeeds in engaging the viewers there by keeping them rooted. Since he is also a good human being with a golden heart his mesmerizing effect on the viewers has made our show No. 1 since day one. And with him around on the sets we I mean our whole on & off screen team was always in top gear. I really wish he should win the best anchor award this year.

GG) How was your experience with Colors?

AB) Great. The channel gave so much support to me. Whatever I told they provided. For example there were fourteen cameras during the shoot which is a great thing. Secondly programming head of Colors Ashwini Yardi have great qualities. She is a gem. She never makes you feel that I am the head. She is very straight forward. When you discuss about any show with her within five minutes she will tell yes or no.

GG) How was the response from Bollywood heroins in season three?

AB) Prachi Desai, Karishma Kapoor, Urmila Matondkar, Raveena Tandon and Juhi Chawla…everybody enjoyed working for the show. They felt so happy to be part of the Kitchen Champion’. One incident I will tell you. One day Raveena did not had anything for whole day as she was unwell. During the shoot of when she was tasting the dishes made by contestants she fainted. It was dangue attack. But she was back for the shoot on fourth day because she was enjoying the show that much.

GG) Do you think ‘Entertainment Ke Liye Kuchh Bhi Karega’ and ‘India’s Got Talent’ are copy of your show ‘Shabash India’?

AB) We were the pioneers for such show then they came. For Shabash India what we achieved they never achieved. Shabash India had soul of India.  It was the show with ‘I love my country’ feel. This is still missing in other shows.

GG) Which is your favorite channel?

AB) TLC because my heart lies at travel and food.

GG) Which kind of shows you do not like?

AB) I don’t like shows which reveals anybody’s personal life. I will never make a reality show which interferes one’s personal life.

GG) Are you a good cook?

AB) That you ask my wife.

GG) What next?

AB) I have written a novel in English ‘Seven Secrets of Rainbow’. It is fantasy for teen agers never written by any author. I was inspired to attempt this Novella when in between I had worked as an art and entertainment designer for Essel World Water Park for a short period. I am planning to launch it very soon. Also I am getting ready for Kitchen Champion season 4.

Vipul K. Shah