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A darkly funny play about the people who feed us

Manjula Padmanabhan's play The Cook's Story, which will be digitally launched this weekend, is a 14-course banquet of ideas about food

Elizabeth Wong in 'The Cook's Story'

When Elizabeth Wong, the director of The Cook's Story, decided to create the digitised version of the play, she looked no further than her own kitchen. Though her 85-year-old mother no longer cooked much due to arthritis, when she did cook in her heyday, she’d made food enough for an army of grandsons, says the US-based Wong, an award-winning contemporary American playwright. “Her hands are twisted and crone-like now, but she still has crazy knife skills,” she says.  

We see those crazy knife-skills in a promo, released on YouTube on 23 August, a teaser to a play that promises to be darkly funny and thought-provoking. The camera pans across a trail of diaphanous allium peel scattered across the cooking counter and cutting board before focusing on her mother’s hands, smashing, peeling and chopping ginger into minuscule pieces.“This is art cooked up in a pandemic lockdown with ingredients at hand. Raid the refrigerator. Add knife and spatula-wielding mother. Make a movie, and hope that souffle rises!” says Wong. 

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On 28 August, the Prakriti Foundation will digitally launch The Cook's Story, originally published in writer, artist and playwright Manjula Padmanabhan's Laughter and Blood: Performance Pieces ( The Collected Plays, Volume 2). This is the first time the play is being performed, confirms Padmanabhan, adding that the video recording of the play will be followed by a conversation between Wong and her and conclude with audience interaction. 

The play, a monologue, was inspired by many different cooks and households, adds Padmanabhan. "The character is not based on a particular person," she says. She adds that the idea of the play was this: to get pay attention to the people who feed us. "It's a homage to all the cooks who prepared the food I ate, from earliest childhood to the present day."

Manjula Padmanabhan
Manjula Padmanabhan

Wong promises that audiences can expect to be gently amused and bemused. “And surprised,” she says, adding that the 15ish-minute-long production has many life lessons in it and is a little naughty. “I love that the play is itself a 14-course banquet of ideas about food and the relationships between the people in our lives who cook our food,” says Wong. All of us have people who imbue their food with something of themselves, which sustains us both physically and emotionally whether or not we are aware of this symbiosis, she adds. “This play is both so sad and yet so life-affirming, but I suppose that is the nature of our existence, which Manjula and this play capture so well.” 

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This is the tenth such session of an ongoing project called ‘Drama.Discourse.Dialogue—A retrospective of plays by Manjula Padmanabhan’ that kicked off in October 2020. "Each one was based on one of my scripts, performed by a different team," says Padmanabhan. Twelve theatre directors from all over the world, including India, the US and Brazil, are part of this project. "They have all been very lively, very different. It's been a wonderful year-long experience."

The event will be held on 28 August, 7.30 pm and is open to all. Visit the Prakriti Foundation Facebook page for Zoom details. 

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