Although Priyanath (played by Likith Yalam) likes to imagine himself as an international superhero, like most six year-olds, he spends most of his time at home. In the film, the kitchen is the central place where the story begins to unfold. In one of the main scenes, Priyanath climbs up into a chair and doodles while his mother, Kadambini, (played by Krishna Smitha) prepares a meal for her family.
We spent a lot of time in the kitchen on this production and bringing authenticity to the kitchen scene was highly important. I wanted it to look like Kadambini was actually cooking dinner. And I wanted to create a visual feast for the audience so that they could actually taste and smell the fragrant spices of a delicious, Indian meal. So, what did we do? We brought in lots of food! After all, what’s more authentic to a kitchen than food?
As you can see in the production stills, we had lots of food, especially fresh produce on set. Zucchini, carrots, tomatoes, onions, green beans. These brightly colored, nutritious props added life, color and realism to our set and helped paint the picture of Priyanath’s family and their home.
I enjoy working with props. And, for me, food props are especially fun. It’s like cooking for guests without having to worry about how the food tastes. I get to have fun with the colors and textures of the food without needing to focus on the flavors.
The Priyanath film crew was a small one so several of us did double and even triple job duties on the film. And there were several “cooks” in the kitchen when it came to making food props. Our food prop team included Heidi Diederich, Debra Wallace-Washington, Samara Wesson and Chrisdya Houston. My good friend, Chrisdya, had volunteered to do craft service for the shoot which basically means she would make sure we were all well fed during the day. Little did she know, she was in for more than craft service that day!
The night before our shoot, I had bought food for our kitchen scene. But once it was all laid out on the table the day of the shoot, we realized it wasn’t enough. So, flying into action like the superhero she is, Chrisdya (equipped with a grocery list from Debra) ran out to get us more. She came back with several bags of food, enough to make a real...well, real fake, delicious Indian meal.
As Chrisdya and Samara unloaded the bags, I popped into the kitchen. I quickly said to them, “So, I need you ladies to make the prop food. If you could mix together a curry that would be great. And then I need you to make a soup in this big, red pot on the stove. And it needs to look delicious because we’re going to be getting a shot of the soup simmering in the pot.” Chrisdya, sounding surprised, replied, “You want us to make the prop food?” I wish I had a picture of Chrisdya’s face in that moment. She had been thrown into the bowels of low budget, indie filmmaking and I think this was the very moment she realized it. There was nothing I could do to save her at that moment. It was too late. We were all in it together. I replied, “Yep. Just start chopping up the vegetables and throwing stuff in. You’ll figure it out. Alright, I gotta go.” With that, I swiftly left them and headed back to the bedroom where we were still shooting. I can only imagine Chrisdya was left thinking, “What did I get myself into?” But I don’t worry about that. We’ve been friends too long for her dump me.
Charged with the task of making prop food, my fifteen year-old cousin, Samara (being the millennial that she is) quickly took to the Internet looking for pictures of Indian curry dishes and soups. She then instituted a prop food making process she called “chop, shove and stir.” By the time I came back into the kitchen, she and Chrisdya had finished the curry and were stirring and cooking a great looking pot of soup made with cans of Campbell’s soup, beans, potatoes, spaghetti sauce and fresh vegetables. And, for a prop soup, I must admit, it smelled pretty good.
I wasn’t the only one who thought it smelled good. When we wrapped that evening, I found out that a few of our crew members wanted to take the prop soup home for dinner. Before they took it, they asked me what was in it and if it was okay to eat. (After all, it was prop soup. Anything edible or non-edible could be in it.) I was shocked! I couldn’t imagine such a thing - eating prop soup! I laughed heartily and scolded them: “Who eats prop soup? Are you kidding me? And why would you take home prop soup instead of the good, homemade food we had for lunch? That food was made with love. There’s no love in prop soup. It’s utilitarian in nature. Seriously, who would eat prop soup of all things?!”
They just laughed and carried away their bags of prop soup, paying me no mind.
One of the things I love most about filmmaking is the collaboration. I love how each person brings their talents and skills to a project, making it better than a singular person’s efforts alone. I often compare the art of filmmaking (and theatrical productions) to making soup. Everyone adds something different, spicy, creative and exciting to the pot. And what we end up with is a unique, cohesive piece of art. As artists, we hope that our piece of art is brilliant, stunning or good at the very least. And when it is finished, everyone who helped create that piece of art walks away with a tangible or intangible piece of it.
Looking back, I can’t help but feel that our pot of prop soup is its own character in our film. We envisioned it, bought its ingredients, chopped them, stirred it and simmered it. It even got a nice close-up shot which will be included in the film. And at the end of the day, when all was said and done, some of us took it home. I won’t soon forget that pot of prop soup. And if I do, I’ve got a prop soup burn mark in the bottom of that big, red pot to help me remember!