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Chilli Chicken actor Bijou Thaangjam: Could relate to the fear of Kannadigas of losing their culture to migrants

Debutant filmmaker Prateek Prajosh’s Chilli Chicken, which releases in theatres on June 21, is about migrant workers from the north east. Mary Kom-fame Bijou plays a central character.

Chilli Chicken actor Bijou Thaangjam: Could relate to the fear of Kannadigas of losing their culture to migrants
Actor-entrepreneur Bijou Thaangjam is making his Kannada film debut with Chilli Chicken

Last Updated: 09.01 PM, Jun 18, 2024


Masterchef India and Mary Kom-fame Bijou Thaangjam’s Bengaluru connect did not start with his Kannada film debut Chilli Chicken, which comes to theatres on June 21. He was here nearly two decades ago to pursue an undergraduate degree. “I had even picked up a fair bit of Kannada back then, although not fluent. Unfortunately, language is something that if you don’t practice, it tends to fade away. I do try to refresh my memory every now and then, as I know someone from Belagavi in Mumbai and I converse with him in Kannada,” says Bijou.


Chilli Chicken is about migrant workers from the north-east, based on a real-life incident that happened at a restaurant in Bengaluru. While there is more to the story, the racism that these migrants face is integral to the narrative. Was that something that resonated with Bijou from his time in Bengaluru? “Personally, I have faced some level of racism and back then, Bengaluru was a cultural shock for me. I come from a small place in Manipur, where I grew up amid people from different communities. We all knew we are Indians. But when I moved to Bengaluru, what I faced was name calling, but while that happens everywhere, here people also could not understand where we come from. They don’t really know where Manipur is and wonder if it is somewhere near Nepal or China. This was a common occurrence and not something to fight about. I just had to learn how to handle that and educate them,” says Bijou.

When Prateek narrated the story of Chilli Chicken, I was like, “This is right up my alley. The film doesn’t show discrimination and racism on your face, but rather in a very emotional, human way, it tells that it exists and how to embrace inclusivity and diversity. There is no violence surrounding the narrative; instead, it subtly tells you how to handle such situations. This is what I believe in and I liked the story. Also, it would give me a chance to come back to Bengaluru and speak Kannada,” he adds.

Bijou Thaangjam in Chilli Chicken
Bijou Thaangjam in Chilli Chicken

How different was the Bengaluru that he saw in 2023 from what he remembers? “What I saw in the early 2000s to now, well, there is a huge change; in the sense that I could relate it with my Manipuri community back home. Back in the day, the issue was mostly name calling, which happened across the country. Today, especially with the younger generation, there is greater acceptance of outsiders. But because of the IT hubs, the local Kannada charm is lost. I used to live in Rajajinagar, which is close to Malleswaram – an old Bengaluru part of town, which was a hardcore Kannadiga bastion. This time, when I visited, I missed that – the crowd was all mixed. As a result, the older generations feel they are losing their traditions and culture. The real Kannadigas are fighting to preserve their culture, especially the language,” says Bijou.

The actor adds, “People are conversing predominantly in English only. Even the younger generations of Kannadigas, they hardly speak Kannada. In fact, I could speak better Kannada than the children of local Kannadigas. The older generation fears losing the culture, traditions and the language and when they meet people like us, they are not discriminating, but don’t know how to handle it, so they try to impose their culture on us. Like, the insistence to learn and speak Kannada. I wouldn’t blame them and have no complaint also, because the same thing is happening in Manipur.”

Coming back to Chilli Chicken, Bijou tells us that the film is based on a true event that happened sometime in 2013-2014. “It is a story that needs to be told to show the spirit of Bengaluru and the acceptance; the diversity of the city needs to be celebrated in a positive manner. Also, the entire food chain in Bengaluru is run by people from outside, either from the north-east or Nepal. Bengaluru serves amazing food and we need to respect the people who actually feed us. The film is about balance; it’s not only about people from the northeast or the outsider vs localite debate. It is about celebrating Bengaluru and learning to respect the locals, and understanding our boundaries. It’s told in a beautiful way and, hence, the title Chilli Chicken, which is beyond the racial slur,” Bijou explains.

Bijou Thaangjam in Chilli Chicken
Bijou Thaangjam in Chilli Chicken

With the film only days away from its theatrical outing, Bijou does not want to divulge much about the subject or his character. “I play Khaba Meiti, the head chef of the restaurant that BV Shrunga’s character runs. Khaba Meiti is interesting and brings an interesting layer to the narrative, which, I would not want to reveal. What I will say is that when you make Chilli Chicken, you need a fiery ingredient called chilli and that’s what Khaba Meiti in the film – he is a hot-headed guy, who is always in the kitchen, a cramped-up area. When you watch the film you will see how a person changes based on how he is perceived by others and the work he does. Also, since I have a background in culinary skills, all my friends and family who know about the film said that I was just being myself on the set,” he signs off.

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