Anu Hasan wears many hats. By her own admission, she’s more than just a movie star having appeared on television and authored a book besides running a healthcare startup. Anu, who made her feature film debut with the Tamil film Indira in 1995, directed by her cousin Suhasini Manirathnam, is hosting a cookery show titled Get, Set, Cook that recently premiered on JFW’s YouTube channel.
“My life is more than just cinema. I think doing just one thing restricts you. One must be able to explore every aspect of life. Be it art, music, people, travel or food. I’m in a very happy place right now,” she opens up a little into our conversation with an infectious energy and a wide grin. But before we get to discussing all that, we begin with her new cookery show.
Anu has a long history with JFW, having begun writing a column for them in 2006 titled Sunny Side Up, which later became the title of her book. She says working with them has always been a pleasure. “I started writing the column in 2006 and I’ve loved working with them since. I work within a framework but I don’t feel I’m working inside a cage. There’s space to move around,” she shares.
Talking about how the whole idea of Get, Set, Cook came about, Anu says, “Last October when Bina Sujith came to me with an idea to do a cookery show, I was excited. I love food and I’ve done a cookery show before. I enjoy cooking and love feeding people.”
Adding that the title sends an interesting message to the audience, “It contains a whole set of emotions. It tells you cooking is easy and also exciting,” Anu says their idea is to entice people who consider cooking to be “tedious”. Anu, on the other hand, believes that there’s so much love associated with food. “I think serving food is equivalent to serving love,” she says going on to share a recent memory associated with food and love.
“One Christmas, I remember I was at my house in the UK and feeling especially low because it was just after losing my parents one after the other and the previous Christmas was not eventful either. My friends, David and Daya, two beautiful people, invited me over for Christmas and when I took a rain check they told me ‘If you aren’t coming here, Christmas will come home to you.' And they did just that. They came home with their children. They cooked, we ate together and we had one of the most wonderful Christmas. There’s so much love associated with food,” Anu recalls.
When we ask Anu of her earliest memories of cooking, she begins with a disclaimer: “I’ve told this so many times but it never bores me. I’m always excited to share it!” and goes on to talk animatedly about the incident like it happened yesterday, conjuring up a rustic image in our heads.
“I think I was about 9 when I was cooking with my friend Viji in the backyard of my parent’s house in Trichy. There were two tall coconut trees, one of which we had named Ramayi, after the film Ramayi Vayasukku Vandhutta,” she giggles, recalling an inside joke having to do with the film's title and the tree not bearing any coconuts yet.
“So there’s Ramayi, another coconut tree and a mango tree, forming a triangle, and we’ve set up our brick stove in the middle. We mount a Rukmini cooker, I’m not sure if you’ve heard of it,” she digresses to explain that it’s a bronze cooking pot used mainly for rice. “You add the rice, water and tempered spices and cook it all together,” she finishes.
Anu has another vivid memory to share when we ask her if she has had any mishaps. “One of the scariest episodes was when I was younger than 9. I still remember the kitchen with its red-oxide flooring and teakwood doors. My mother was cooking inside and I was playing just a little away. She had gone into the storeroom to bring something and the pressure cooker just exploded,” she says explaining how the lid flipped and flew onto the loft. “Rice splattered everywhere and just one grain fell on my thigh. I remember bursting into tears and I’ve been terrified of pressure cookers until today,” she chuckles.
Anu, who loves biriyani and era thokku (prawn chutney), talks about the times she’d wait, along with Kamal Haasan’s daughters Shruti and Akshara when they were all young, for lunch to arrive from actor Sivaji Ganesan’s house every Sunday. “We would starve ourselves on Sundays and wait for biriyani that would usually come in huge tiffin carriers,” she adds, delighted just by the memory of it. Interestingly, in the first episode of Get, Set Cook she cooks mushroom biriyani.
While Anu considers digital to be the way forward, mainly for the freedom it gives her, what does she think gives her show the edge over other cookery shows on TV and on the internet?
“There are three things that will always sell with people – roti, kapda, maakan (food, clothing, shelter). Food will always sell. Secondly, I as a presenter have to be very confident of my space. I’m not saying I’m a master chef. I’m a happy chef. There’s always space for happiness and positivity. I’m not at all worried about the fact that there are bigger, better presenters and chefs out there. I do believe there is a little bit of me that I put into the show and there isn’t another me out there,” she smiles.
While we briefly discuss her film career and get around to talking about her observations on the industry today, Anu keeps it short by saying that she hardly follows what’s going on in the industry.
“Cinema is only a part of my life and I’ve not given it the kind of attention it probably deserves,” she notes. While we look surprised, she adds with a laugh, “Also, I don’t own a television and the only time I watch movies is when I’m on a flight and when there’s no escape.”