Annapoorani delves into the complexities of gender roles, familial expectations, and societal barriers through the lens of food.

Annapoorani, released in 2023 and directed by Nilesh Krishnaa with Nayantara in the titular role, apparently attempts to challenge certain regressive ideas associated with women and the societal challenges they encounter. Though the movie was released on Netflix in December, owing to controversies, Netflix removed the film. It is available on YouTube now.

Interestingly, food is chosen as the main ingredient, and the correlations between food and memory, food and gender, and food and career are all touched upon but not well integrated. Annapoorani describes the journey of an Iyengar girl, the daughter of the temple chef of Srirangam, as she strives to become the best chef in India.

Food as an identity marker

Annapoorani is born with a remarkable gift; special taste buds that lead her to seek flavor even in breast milk. She is depicted as possessing extraordinary sensory abilities when it comes to taste. Consequently, we witness Annapoorani, blindfolded, discerning the flavors of food and identifying its ingredients. However, her familial background as the daughter of the temple chef poses a challenge to her aspirations. It was her father who initially sparked her passion for food, dedicating himself as a chef whose duty is to nourish Ranganatha Swamy, the deity who sustains the world. Thus, preparing food for the deity becomes a defining aspect of their family identity.

The role of temple chef, her father emphasizes throughout the film, is more of a service than a mere occupation. This social identity, intricately intertwined with their religious identity as Iyengar Brahmins, faces a threat when Annapoorani decides to pursue her dream of becoming a chef by enrolling in a culinary school.

A child raised in a household where non-vegetarian food is strictly prohibited, Annapoorani grows into a young woman who clandestinely enrolls in a culinary school, only to be caught red-handed by her father later on. Annapoorani consuming chicken in pursuit of perfecting her culinary skills threatens the longstanding identity of her family as devout, God-fearing, orthodox Brahmins, and her father disowns her. The importance of tasting food emerges prominently in the storyline, especially as Annapoorani, afflicted by a clinical condition stemming from an accident, loses her ability to taste the dishes she prepares during the climax.

Although there are sporadic references to the Ramayana, where the consumption of non-vegetarian food was not condemned, these allusions do little to reshape the narrative’s depiction of food as a symbol of identity. Ultimately, the film does not succeed in fulfilling this objective. The film indirectly posits a question: who is a chef? We see Annapoorani’s friend Keerthi’s father as a “samayalkkaran” (the one who cooks) but not tagged as a chef, though he cooks both meat and vegetables. The questions of class and caste of the one who cooks are hinted but not explored further.

Food in the domestic space

Rangarajan, Annapoorani’s father, dedicates himself to cooking for the deity, and upon returning home, he relies on his wife for meals. While Rangarajan is esteemed as the finest chef in Srirangam, and he perceives cooking as both a professional duty and a service, domestic cooking falls under the purview of the women in the household, whether it be his mother, wife, or daughter. This division becomes particularly evident when Annapoorani’s mother refrains from cooking or leaving her designated area during her menstrual period due to perceived physical impurity. The act of cooking food is clearly viewed through a binary lens in this context.

When Annapoorani is inspired by the renowned corporate chef Anand Sundarajan and expresses her desire to enroll in culinary school, her family members raise objections for various reasons. Her mother opposes the idea, citing societal shame associated with women pursuing careers as chefs, rooted in the belief that women should solely cook for their families. Meanwhile, her father expresses concern about the potential requirement for Annapoorani to consume non-vegetarian food as part of her culinary training. These regressive attitudes, influenced by tradition and societal expectations, instill guilt in Annapoorani as she decides to secretly pursue her culinary aspirations.

Women, memories, and cuisine

To impress Anand Sundarajan, Annapoorani prepares a special dish she recalls him mentioning in an interview she watched as a child. Her meticulous attention to detail and her recollection of the emotional story shared by Sundarajan during the interview pave the way for her to seize opportunities in pursuit of her dream.

Sundarajan himself associates food with memories of his mother and the nostalgia of their impoverished childhood. His mother’s resourceful creation of a sweet from leftover ingredients due to financial constraints holds deep emotional significance for him. When Annapoorani successfully recreates the same taste through her memory and her culinary knowledge, she leaves Sundarajan impressed. Once again, we witness the intricate connection between women, memories, and food, where domestic memories are intricately linked to the kitchen space.

Food as an emotion

As the reality show in the movie nears its end, Annapoorani is asked by the judges about her ability to recreate the traditional biryani cooked in Muslim households. She confidently asserts, “Biryani does not have any religion or caste; Biryani is an emotion.” In support of her assertion, she recounts her journey of achieving the perfect biryani flavor despite her impaired taste buds. Annapoorani shares her struggle to match the taste of biryani prepared by her friend Irfan’s mother, which is when she discloses the secret ingredient: prayer. This revelation leads Annapoorani to understand the significance of prayer as the essential component in a biryani!

In an effort to maintain a secular perspective and respect religious sentiments, the film includes a detailed sequence of Annapoorani performing Namaz. While the juxtaposition of Annapoorani’s father’s devotion to cooking with Irfan’s mother’s dedication to preparing biryani is thought-provoking, the inclusion of the prayer sequence tends to veer towards melodrama rather than any rational discourses.

Glass ceilings and women chefs

The film briefly explored an intriguing yet underdeveloped theme regarding the multitude of challenges women face in pursuing their professions. Annapoorani, much like numerous other female protagonists depicted on the silver screen, had to defy societal norms by breaking off a marriage and fleeing to pursue her dreams. Marriage remains portrayed as a persistent obstacle in the narrative, highlighting the continuing struggle faced by women. The absence of understanding fathers and supportive spouses in the storyline is glaring, leaving much to be desired in terms of on-screen representation.

Annapoorani’s grandmother plays a pivotal role in aiding her escape from an impending marriage, and she invalidates the dishonor that can be brought forth by Annapoorani’s action. However, transitioning from the domestic sphere to her professional aspirations proves to be a daunting journey filled with numerous hurdles. Upon entering the professional realm, Annapoorani confronts the harsh reality of glass ceilings. The jealousy of Sundarajan’s son towards her talent manifests in his attempts to undermine her confidence and hinder her opportunities. These sequences expose the shortcomings of the director’s reliance on convenience, which detracts from the coherence and integrity of the plot.

While it is agreed that the film certainly discusses several types of politics around food, the director is largely driven by a principle of convenience, which seriously affects the way the plot is structured and the characters are developed. However, if one can overlook the melodrama and the compromises the plot makes, Annapoorani delivers some food for thought, though they may be undercooked.

V K Karthika

Dr. V.K. Karthika teaches English at National Institute of Technology (NIT) Tiruchirappalli. Interested in cultural criticism and philosophy of education, her work focuses on communicative peace and sustainable development goals.


  1. The point about tasting… Her father has perfected the art of preparing without tasting. . so it should have naturally occurred to her that a good cook can judge a food even without tasting it… There is a chef called venkatesh bhat who comes in Tamil cooking shows as judge .. one judge will taste non veg and give comments.. this guy will smell and give comments…

    After saying briyani has no religion, and u do namaaz for it, the film lost the honesty completely … Should we chant andals thiruppavai before preparing akkaravadisal ? Why even bring religion into these things

    • V. K. Karthika on

      I agree with it. Missed that point of the temple chef never tasting food. Moreover, the protagonist loses her sense for taste towards the end but she manages to pass all tests of that reality show and wins the title. So I am really unsure why the plot had this compulsory non-veg tasting as an imperative element for being a chef. Confused plot which is messed up with themes that should have been handled with care. Thank you for the comment!

  2. There is a girl shivaangi who comes in the same cooking show where Venkatesh Bhat is the judge .. she doesn’t eat non veg but cooks.. We have seen RW agenda driven movies recently. I feel this is an agenda driven movie too … Just like we shouldn’t insult non veg eaters, there is no need to guilt trip vegetarians and make them consume non veg too

    • V. K. Karthika on

      Again when I am not sure about the agenda that it carries, I am sure that the take on the veg/non-veg binary was a lame one.

Leave A Reply

Exit mobile version