Cooking shows in general are a crowd favourite. It’s the perfect wind-up to a long day and for some, it's even therapeutic to watch the entire process of food being cooked. Cooking competitions such as MasterChef already have a huge fan base across the country. So what could be done with the format that was new? Here’s a team that came up with an interesting idea of adding a good dose of comedy to these cooking competitions. Kitchen novices with a natural sense of humour, who would be paired with chef to ensure that they have at least a couple of disasters. This reality show called Cook With Comali airs on Vijay TV and has captured a sizeable pop-culture fan base. The concept of this show was new to Tamil audience last year but by now, in its second season, the show has become the talk of the town. TNM spoke to its makers on the show's inception, its popularity and the much-anticipated finale. Parthiban, who has worked on other Vijay TV shows such as Kitchen Superstars and Super Singer, is Cook With Comali’s director. The show itself is the brainchild of Media Masons, a Chennai-based production house founded and headed by HK Ravoofa. Prathima, its creative head, also heads Cook With Comali’s creative direction along with Ravoofa. The idea itself was jointly discussed during a team meeting, says Parthiban. “We were sure of doing a reality cooking show and the idea to have a comedian was something we arrived at together. It was very organic,” Parthiban shares. The content for each show, the tasks and the segments, also go through multiple sessions. “The ice-cola challenge, in fact, was originally planned as an ice-bar challenge where the cooks and comalis take turns to stand on top of an ice bar while the other cooks. But then we saw that it would inconvenience the cooks and comalis physically so we dropped it,” Parthiban shares. Production team This then evolved into an ice-cola challenge where the key was to have a manual ice shaver, and not an ice machine. The team, after having scouted for those shavers across the city, decided to have it made, just so the episode could have its moment. The team is also careful not to be offensive, since the line is always thin when it comes to television comedy. One can recall the disaster that occured in a Bigg Boss Tamil episode, where housemates dressed and pretended to be persons with mental disability. Following outrage, the show’s host Kamal Haasan condemned the episode and distanced himself from the controversy. The makers of Cook With Comali, however, want to make sure the show is enjoyed by all. “When someone suggested a Super Deluxe Shilpa inspired dress-up for our show, we immediately shot it down. We do not want any part of the show to offend anyone,” Parthiban explains. But there was a moment from the show, when a homophobic comment (Avana nee?) from one of Vadivelu’s popular comedies was inserted and became controversial. “It was mainly due to oversight and was not done intentionally. When we came to know of it, we immediately cut it out and sent it back to the channel,” Parthiban adds. Parthiban attributes the sudden popularity of this show to the lockdown, when the re-telecast of its first season gained a greater audience. “It was also a stressful period for all of us and with the show being available to stream on Disney+ Hotstar, it was easier for many of them to watch. Soon, clips were being shared and memes were being made,” Parthiban points out. Parthiban Season 2 therefore began with a lot of expectations. But when it comes to such reality shows, interest tends to wane when there’s season after season being made. How would Cook with Comali manage to escape that fate? “Our strength, we believe, is in casting. Usually we have at least 30 people on our wish-list before narrowing it down to eight. Second is the bond that the cooks, comalis and the judges have on the show. This season, in particular, has done that so well and we are very happy about it.” The finalists this season include Ashwin, Baba Basker, Kani, Pavithra Lakshmi and Shakila. The comalis to pair them would be Pugazh, Manimegalai, Shivangi, Bala and Sunitha. Chef Damodharan and Chef Venkatesh Bhat are the judges on the show. This season is hosted by Rakshan. Another important factor they keep in mind is to make sure the tasks are not repeated, Parthiban adds. “That is our biggest edge.” He also denies scripting the pairings between cooks and comalis, a common allegation against reality format shows. “In fact some of the pairing we hoped to see never happened. Shakeela and Shivangi was a pairing we wanted to see but they have not paired even once.” The show has also been actor Shakeela’s big opportunity to break out from the adult-film-star stereotype. The actor, who is a finalist, has also shared in interviews that she has been enjoying her time on the show. On casting her, Parthiban says, “Ravoofa ma’am wanted to reach out to her. We also decided to make sure not to have any body shaming jokes or adult jokes on the show. The result has been great. Her cooking, bonding with comalis and everything else has been perfect.” As for the finale, a six-hour feast that will begin airing at 2 pm on April 14, Tamil New Year’s Day, and actor Simbu has been invited on the show as a guest. “But there will be more guests on the show other than Simbu,” Parthiban reveals, but stops short. While there are plenty of rumours doing the rounds regarding “leaked” winners, Parthiban remains tight lipped. “The finale will have two segments and in the second half Pavithra and Shivangi will be paired. That’s all I can say for now,” he adds. Bigg Boss is clearly Vijay TV’s top performer when it comes to non-fiction. However, Parthiban shares that Cook with Comali’s performance came closer to the former’s TRP when the two were on air simultaneously. “No one expected the reach. This season has been better because our trial-and-error from season one helped. Our entire cast including the judges this season and host Rakshan gets the credits for enhancing the show,” Parthiban shares.