Star chef Vikas Khanna, filmmaker Doug Roland make docu-film ‘Barefoot Empress’ to inspire change


Barefoot Empress, a documentary film that narrates the trials and tribulations of a 96-year-old woman, Karthyayani Amma, who disregards societal norms to pursue her dreams of education. The film that has been made by celebrity chef Vikas Khanna and Oscar-nominated filmmaker Doug Roland to inspire a change in society premiered at the Asia Society headquarters in New York on September 13.

Barefoot Empress is a story of the victory of the human spirit, written and directed by renowned Michelin star chef Khanna and produced by Roland. The movie has been produced in association with non-profits Leap to Shine and Global Fund for Widows.

The film follows the remarkable journey of Karthyayani Amma, who, having never had access to education as a girl, finally gets a chance to join the first-grade class at the age of 96. Amma spent most of her life as a temple cleaner trying to make ends meet for her family, but when given the opportunity to educate herself, she pushed past societal norms and ended up a star student in her class. With a score of 98% on her exams, Amma dreams of studying up to grade 10.

Barefoot Empress is about the people left behind in today’s society and is a story of the underrepresented finally being seen and heard. Amma’s journey creates a platform for the conversation about social injustice to continue and the goal of the film is to empower the young girls and widows of India who do not get an equal chance at life through education and financial empowerment.

“I am so honored to use my art and voice to inspire change,” said Khanna. “By sharing Barefoot Empress with the world, I hope to spark conversations that create safer learning spaces and bring financial security to girls and women in India.”

Inspired by Barefoot Empress, the non-profit organization Leap to Shine named Amma a global ambassador and pledged to educate five million girls in India. The non-profit’s mission is to provide quality education to underserved children using best-in-class digital technology, and Khanna serves as an advisor on their board.

“After having spent almost 25 years volunteering for non-profits, I have learned that transparency, scalability, and impact are the key attributes to make a difference,” said Khanna. “We achieve that using technology to create a profound impact in the lives of those who have the drive to change their destiny with the power of digital learning.”

The short documentary was celebrated at a debut screening event at the Asia Society in New York. It was a sold-out event with more than 250 attendees including notable industry professionals such as world-renowned award-winning vocalist Ila Paliwal, Consulate General of India, Randhir Jaiswal, UN ambassador for India, Ruchira Kamboj, entrepreneur and philanthropist MR Rangaswami, and other renowned personalities. Khanna and Roland held a Q&A session post-viewing of the film with journalist Katie Couric to address audience questions regarding the journey of Amma and the making of the film.

Aside from being an award-winning chef, Vikas is the host of MasterChef India, Twist of Taste, and Mega Kitchens on National Geographic. Author of 38 award-winning books, including UTSAV (the World’s most expensive cookbook) and the creator of documentary series Holy Kitchens and Kitchens of Gratitude. The Last Color marks Khanna’s debut as a film writer and director which was eligible for the Oscars race for Best Feature, 2020.

Khanna is also a James Beard nominee and one of the first Indian chefs to be awarded a Michelin Star in the US. He has been featured amongst the 10 most influential chefs in the world by Deutsche Welle and Gazette Review.


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