‘Mango Curry’: Watch Nikithaa Kumaran’s Award-Winning Short Film
Image Credit: Stills from Nikithaa Kumaran's 'Mango Curry'

FEW fruits in India occupy a space as evocative as the mango in summer. Perhaps it is the mango itself — luscious, aromatic, sweet, pulpy and inviting. Mangoes speak of decadence and sensuality quite unlike any other fruit: those Katrina Kaif “aamsutra” ads had the right idea. But for many of us they’re also throwbacks to a more carefree time, to rituals and joys shared with loved ones, to all the things that summer implies at a certain stage in our lives — drowsy afternoons, near-soporific heat, hours and hours of play, an extended circle if one’s cousins were visiting, freedom and boundless imagination.

It is this sentiment that Coimbatore-based photographer Nikithaa Kumaran draws on in her short film, ‘Mango Curry’. The minute-long short made Kumaran the winner in the “Food Film Shorts” category at the recently announced Pink Lady® Food Photographer of the Year 2023 awards. The awards honour excellence in the art of food photography and film, and the judging panel this year included food photographer David Loftus; Fiona Shields, head of photography at Guardian News And Media; celebrity chef Ian Kittichai; Ella Ravilious, the curator of the V&A Museum; cookbook author and columnist Nik Sharma; and Rein Skullerud, the senior photographer and photo editor at the United Nations World Food Programme. 

Speaking of her winning short, Kumaran observed that it encapsulated both the summer season and her mother’s love. “(In India) summer is the season for mangoes and my Amma makes this Kerala-style mango curry every year for me,” Kumaran explained. “I look forward to every summer just so that I can eat this curry that my Amma makes.” 

The short begins with a woman (presumably Kumaran’s mother) immersing ripe mangoes in water before setting them on the stovetop in a traditional, heavy stone pot. She sprinkles a liberal helping of turmeric, followed by a pinch of salt, then watches as the mangoes blanch in the boiling water. When the golden-yellow curry is ready, she prepares the tempering and adds the sizzling hot oil, with its crackling mustard seeds and curry leaves, over the bubbling liquid.

The final step is when a spoonful of the mango curry — complete with one plump portion of the fruit — is carefully ladled onto a mound of steaming hot rice (drizzled with ghee, of course) and a crisp fried papad. As the woman relishes the meal, Kumaran notes that her mother does have one very special ingredient that she includes in the mango curry without fail. “Her secret ingredient in this is her love for me,” the photographer says, “and for her family that loves her back unconditionally.”

Watch ‘Mango Curry’ here. © Nikithaa Kumaran and Pink Lady® Food Photographer of the Year: