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Bite of art and spice

He loves Andhra `avakkai' and relishes `Aiyarmeen Kozhambu'. Thota Tharani takes a break from his artistic pursuits



Photo: K. Ramesh Babu

THOTA THARANI'S interests are as varied as his canvas of art. Dressed in an immaculate white kurta-pyjama, he unwinds at the Dakshin restaurant of the ITC Kakatiya Sheraton . This art director (the only one with a Padma Shri to his credit) is an artist (works in different media) who loves good music and food. He is quite techno savvy - has perhaps the latest cell phone and digital camera. Look a little further and you will find a slightly large yet sleek `pen' in his pocket, which opens to reveal a spectacle case. His latest claim to fame is the gigantic Meenakshi Temple set he has constructed in the city for the Telugu Film Arjun.

"I enjoy food. I love home-cooked, authentic food. I eat different cuisines, but I am particular about the authenticity," he begins though his lean frame belies his interest for food. "Diabetes is the worst disease one can get," he states. Since he suffers from it he has to be careful about his intake. But that does not deter him talking about food. He has been exposed to various flavours from his student days in France. "I used to cook when I studied abroad - chicken curry, fish, vegetable curry but now I don't find much time to do so. My wife makes good steamed food." Though that may be the right diet for him, he loves spicy stuff like Avakkai (mango pickle).

Tharani orders a veg thali and talks of his favourite Amma Mess at Madurai which serves traditional food. "I get the best food there. The Aiyarmeen kozhambu there is simply delicious," he says advising one to visit the mess at Madurai.

He reminisces about his student days at Kodambakkam Arts College, Chennai and his works revolving around the word Thota (meaning garden where he played with the letters), Saraswati abstracts, calligraphy. "I am a still a student of art," he modestly admits. When the thali is laid on the table he examines the contents - sambhar, rasam, a Saraswat preparation of mushrooms and peas, avial, potato dry curry, curd, sweet and begins with the puris. Later he asks for avakkai with garlic. "Youngsters are doing well in art these days," says Tharani who finds time to paint despite his hectic schedule. Painting is therapeutic for him. He works in different media - water colours, pencils, acrylics, oils. "The paintings on these walls (of the Dakshin restaurant) are my creations," he points.

He savours the food and the music (the flute being played by Nagore Babu). He identifies the song being played as Chinanjirukiliye, a Subramania Bharati composition. "The musician is playing it well. My taste is eclectic. I can listen to any thing from an old Kannadasan song to Rahman to Western music," he says asking for some podi (masala) of the potato. Tharani is fluent in English, Tamil and Telugu.

Hyderabad has now become a second home for Tharani. "I have been coming here since 1968 and there is an unbelievable change in the city. With modernism, culture also changes. I find the Nawabi culture disappearing," he laments.

Tharani completes his thali (minus the sweet of course) and it's time to say goodbye to the veteran who has more than 100 films (as art director) in his kitty in Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Hindi. Even after almost four decades, Tharani's brush with art continues in different ways.

RADHIKA RAJAMANI

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