The flavour of Kolkata

The flavour of Kolkata
Kolkata Maidan- The lungs of the city. Lovingly shot by Arindam Patra.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

The aftermath of the double blast in food scene

As if the fear of dead and formalin-preserved chicken in our favourite chicken delicacies was not enough, the carcass meat scam dealt Kolkata a mighty blow last month.

Suddenly we are suspecting our favourite chicken roll, chicken momo, chilli chicken, mutton biryani and kawsha mangsho and being on the alert about everything with chicken or meat in it, be it roadside eateries or well-known restaurants. We want to be sure we are not eating carcass meat or formalin-laden dead chicken in drool-worthy dishes.

The other day, I saw that the tawa earlier busy frying parathas now idle, the heap of chicken drumstick and chilli chicken displayed outside now noticeably shrunk and just a handful of customers sitting at a popular street eatery on Arabinda Sarani at Karbagan which I’ve always found crowded. A few feet away, the biryani handis which I always used to find open for filling boxes now covered and the staff waiting for customers in two popular roadside biryani shops. This is a representative picture of the city. Biswanath Ghorui aka Mangsho Bishu, the arrested carcass meat kingpin, has scared the daylights out of Kolkatans.

Kolkata would like to look away from such a sight now

Egg roll in snacking and dim-bhaat/ machh-bhaat or khichudi in working class lunch are suddenly seeing an Uber-like surge in demand, beating their respective eternal rivals- chicken roll, chicken-bhaat and fried rice-chilli-chicken combo hands down. A sizable population is now preferring egg, fish and prawn (those who can afford) over chicken and mutton even if it is a compromise with the palate. The trust is shaken and customers aren’t taking chances.

Restaurants and eateries are seeing an unprecedented free fall in orders for chicken and mutton dishes and a relatively higher demand in prawn and fish options. As a natural reaction, restaurateurs are now desperate to prove the freshness of their meat and poultry and some of them are even putting up their suppliers’ names and phone numbers on display subjecting them for public enquiry and inspection to earn back customer trust. I read that small restaurant owners from Hatibagan who shop for their chicken and meat themselves and are demanding that chicken and goats be cut before their eyes as a condition to buy.

A huge food group on Facebook is now seeing posts of mostly home-cooked dishes whereas till recently the feed used to be balanced by posts of dining out- predominantly chicken and meat dishes besides fish. I assume paneer jokes circulated by hardcore non-veg Bengalis (Like ‘paneer biryani’ is a joke by itself) are dipping now.

This social boycott is being reflected in Bengali papers publishing recipes of versions of popular non-veg foods made with green jackfruit and green plantain because people are now even wary of buying raw chicken/ mutton that is already cut and insisting on getting it cut before their eyes. I am sure earlier hardcore non-vegetarian Bengalis would quip that Enchorer Kebab (Green Jackfruit Kebab) was an oxymoron but they are possibly mellowed enough not to react now though they may still be far from for those options.

Is it a passing phase for a largely non-vegetarian city that loves eating out like few other cities in the country, or will it change Kolkatans' food habit in the long term? Will the Bengali be back with a bang to his favourite chicken roll, mutton biryani and chilli chicken in this year’s Pujo? Time will tell. I will be curious to know. All that I feel is that this will clean up the food chain to some extent and improve people's judgement of food (Like anything that's cheap is not good to go for, because cheap indicates compromise).

#CarcassMeat #Chicken #Formalin #Mutton #Kolkata Food

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Saturday, April 28, 2018

Summer survival

A sudden Saturday idea to liven up the workplace. It sucks working on a Saturday, right? 

Long glasses of cold coffee. 

Infused with vanilla ice cream and chocolate with a few Cadbury Shots thrown in. All by the cooking talent in the team.

Slow sips of bliss! Life is sorted. Cheers!

#ColdCofee #Workplace #SummerBeverage #FunAtWork

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Thursday, April 19, 2018

Film review: Kabir

Language: Bengali
Director: Aniket Chattopadhyay
Cast: Dev, Rukmini Maitra, Priyanka Sarkar, Shataf Figar, Krishnendu Dewanji, Arna Mukhopadhyay
Release date: 13th April 2018

A Bengali suspense thriller with terrorism as a subject and a big star in the lead, shot largely in an express train and on location in Kolkata and Mumbai evokes curiosity. Having been familiar with Aniket's work, which is his lowbrow sitcoms, I went to the show with no expectations.

Yasmin Khatun (Rukmini Maitra) is leaving Mumbai to catch her train to Howrah on the day a chain of blasts is taking place in important and busy places in Mumbai in 2012. Her taxi driver refuses to go past a point and police, already bogged down by the blasts, is of no help. She gets a lift from a young and friendly man Abir Chatterjee (Dev) who drops her to the CST station. They meet again in the station, then in the terribly delayed Duronto Express in the evening as co-passengers. The journey turns a nightmare for Yasmin as her dark past comes back and she must answer Abir where Imtiaz, a member of Indian Mujahideen, is hiding after an act of treachery against his gang in Kolkata. Where her ordeal leads to through the course of the journey is what the film is about. Giving away anything beyond this will be a spoiler.

Rukmini Maitra in the film

The premise of the serial bomb blasts of Mumbai leading to the capture of a senior Indian Mujahideen functionary is sound (the film is based on the 2011 Mumbai blasts and the arrest of co-founder of Indian Mujahideen (IM) and conspirator of several bomb blasts in India, Yasin Bhatkal). This is a clear departure from Aniket’s style of filmmaking and he has surprised with this one. He has written and made a thriller based on a serious subject like terrorism without losing focus on the flow and not bringing in unnecessary sub plots or a love angle or songs (There is just one sufi song). The storytelling and cinematic idiom are simple and aimed at a larger audience than urban films, so there are few compromises and over-simplification, but the end product looks good and enjoyable. The suspense and drama have been built skilfully into the plot aided by the twists and turns (A good example is showing the two versions of the ‘Imtiaz’ story). The action sequences look real for a change in Bangla cinema. The film is about a train journey and most of it is inside one train compartment, but the pacing has been done well with flashback shots and few shots from the present. Aniket has used shots of the moving train from various angles at different points of its journey (like passing by stations, passing through a bridge, entering and exiting a tunnel) which, in entirety, has not only made the audience feel the journey but has also provided visual relief.

All in all, it didn’t feel like a Bengali film. Aniket’s extensive research for his story is evident and credit goes to him for presenting to us such a different story, though I wish he showed the preparation of the IM gang for the planned blasts in Kolkata in greater detail.

Most of characters are etched out well. But STF officer Damayanti’s (Priyanka Sarkar) characterisation lacks meat, and Yasmin’s father (Pradip Mukherjee), should have not been used merely as a storytelling device. Same goes for Ashraf, the terrorist (Krishnendu Dewanji).
Rukmini is a revelation in this movie. Not only she looks her part of a strong-minded woman with a wounded past, she brings out the nuances of the expressions competently, given that she was a non-actor two films back. Her laughter at the end was shot and edited tactfully and therefore lost some impact but I understand that it was tough for her to do it in one shot. She should be noticed much more after Kabir. Dev has cast himself as the protagonist and though his performance is much better than what we see in his mainstream flicks and he has his moments, it needed more work to get under the skin, which includes English and Hindi diction and physical acting (though the director has cleverly justified his Bengali diction). I would alos have liked the character colder and more piercing. The other actors have been well-cast and Arno Mukhopadhyay is impressive on debut as Imtiaz. Krishnendu Dewanji, a talented actor from the stage, didn't have many lines but impresses in silent moments. But I felt Ruksana's father (Pradip Mukherjee) deserved a better-written character. A talented actor like Priyanka Sarkar was miscast. She didn’t look her part of a tough STF officer. A non-Bengali actor, preferably a new face, would be better.

Arno Mukhopadhyay (centre), Krishnendu Dewanji (left) and Shataf Figar (right) in the film

But it needs mention that a good job has been done in casting in the bit roles, eg. the railway catering staff, the policemen on the road and the security force members which have helped build the narrative fabric. Everybody in these roles looks his/ her part.

The movie stands out for the swell job in cinematography by Harendra Singh. The largely hand-held camerawork in real locations and natural light gives a raw, documentary-like texture to the film which makes the narrative realistic yet not losing out on the dramatic appeal. Rabiranjan Maitra’s editing is a decent job and the movie doesn’t drag it its one hour and fifty minutes of runtime. The background score is typical of thrillers but at places it is a bit too loud. The Moula song is pleasant and sensibly placed.

There are a few flawed shots, like Priyanka's lip-matching and accent in the meeting didn't seem right and I didn’t understand how Imtiaz got shot from his back while hidden behind a statue during the encounter without the force changing positions. But these can be overlooked as Kabir nails it as a suspense thriller with a fresh and gritty subject.

The images have been sourced from the trailer and the song clips of the film on YouTube.

#Kabir #BanglaCinema #BanglaCinema2018 #Dev

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Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Balconies and terraces of Kolkata - 2

Kolkata is home to some fascinating old architecture in balconies and terraces. I find many of them head-turners!

It has been a constant wish to present some of this heritage beauty on this blog, which started with this post- Balconies and terraces of Kolkata - 1. But the wish didn't get justice thereafter. And the second edition comes now, thanks to Arpita Chanda.

I met Arpita in a Facebook food group and knowing my Kolkataholism, she added me to another Facebook group on old Kolkata which has proven to be a relish! Our discussion on Kolkata has been going on since then. When this fellow Kolkataholic is not at home looking after family (including her very young son), or not practising French, she may well be spotted in the lanes and alleys of Kolkata with her camera to shoot anything she fancies, which can even be old doors and windows. To my pleasure, the range includes old balconies. So, here comes the second edition of 'Balconies and terraces of Kolkata' from her collection .

All the beauties are from north Kolkata. The first three have an aristocratic touch while the fourth to sixth are rather common. The last one is an inside balcony overlooking the 'uthon' (courtyard).

Madhab Kutir, Pathuriaghata 

Madan Mitra Lane

Madan Mitra Lane

Bechu Chatterjee lane

Parshibagan Lane

Garpar Road

The well-known residence of Mahendra Srimani at Sukeas Street

#Balcony #Terrace #Heritage #OldKolkata #KolkataHeritage

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Monday, April 02, 2018

Five reasons to watch Kabir


1. It is an edge-of-the-seat thriller- a rare genre in Bangla cinema.

2. It is a film with terrorism as a subject which is indeed novel in Bangla cinema.

3. It is made by a veteran print and television journalist-turned-director (Aniket Chattopadhyay) which prepares me for a realistic take on the subject. The director wrote the film five years back (not far from its timeline- Mumbai of 2012) but didn't find a backer to count till Dev offered to produce it in 2017.

4. It has a different look n feel- More than half of it has been shot in an express train (Kolkata to Mumbai). Majority of the shooting has been done with handheld camera in real locations in natural light. Some portions have also been shot guerrilla style.

5. It doesn't have Bangkok or Europe for outdoor but real locations in Mumbai, for a change. Some of the sites of the 2011 bomb blast (which is part of the story), like Hazi Ali, Zaveri Bazaar and Gateway of India were part of the shooting locations.

Kabir is slated for a 13th April 2018 release.

#Kabir #BanglaCinema #BanglaCinema2018 #Dev

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Friday, March 02, 2018

The aura of Sridevi

I was never a fan of Sridevi. In our younger years there used to be two groups among friends (after 1988)- Madhuri fans and Sridevi fans. And I was a proud Madhurian always ready to fight it out with Sridevians to prove Madhuri’s superiority.

I woke up on 25th February 2018 with a shock (from the early morning Whatsapp message of a friend and Sridevi admirer) like millions of Indians all over the world, that Sridevi was no more. It still didn’t really disturb me though I was sad. I started recalling movies that best remind me of her. And then it happened! Her thought consumed that Sunday and days thereafter. I kept on sharing and approving posts about her in my Facebook cinema group We the Audience which I otherwise wouldn’t perhaps have done. The aura of India’s first female superstar finally overpowered me!

Miles of content have already been written about her life and career. So, here I would like to recall vignettes of her work resonating deep inside my mind even though she never captured my senses as an ardent admirer. And that explains the aura which overpowered me a day after she passed away in Dubai.

This post will appear in instalments. Starting with one of her career-defining dance numbers.

Hawa Hawai
Why particularly this song of Mr India? Because I truly feel it demonstrates the sheer magic she created on screen. A heady mix of glamour, charm, dancing prowess and terrific comic skill on her part makes this song ageless.

Though the words of the lyric underline an enchanting lady (Main khwabon ki shehzadi/ Main hoon har dil pe chhayi), the song had a strong comic orientation with a lot of gibberish thrown in which made its choreography an arduous task. While Kavita Krishnamurthy pulled it off greatly in the recording studio, Laxmikant-Pyayrelal set it to foot-tapping tune and Saroj Khan was at her imaginative best to create the moves for one of the biggest challenges of her career (She has recently admitted in an interview to Anandabazar Patrika that it was a make-or-break situation for her), it was left to Sridevi to take this ensemble of work to another level that could create magic on screen. So, one can understand the pressure on the actress. Great dancing skill was not enough to do justice to the composition. This is when her comic timing came into play and became her trump card! The melange of uninhibited fluid comic expressions that Sri gave this song is not only unparalleled to date, but it also acted as a pivotal force that catapulted it to a cult status and gave the actress a loving nickname ‘Hawa Hawai’.

You have to watch the song once (or once again) to witness the power of her comical acumen in pushing the envelope and own this unforgettable dance number.

#Sridevi #HawaHawai #HindiCinema #IndianCinema #FemaleSuperstar

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Friday, February 16, 2018

Pet peeves in private buses

The private blue buses are the oldest surviving private bus fleet of the city. They are the largest in number among all types of buses plying, offer the most basic facility and charge the cheapest fare. Thus they can easily be called the lifeline of Kolkata. Naturally, along with the dependence of lakhs of people for their commute, comes some pet peeves. Here's a look at some of them.

"Kawtobar ticket katbo?” ("How many times do you want me to buy ticket?")

To me, this one is the most amusing! This is what a passenger says to the conductor. No matter you bought your ticket without delay, the conductor can come back to you and ask you to buy the ticket- sometimes even within a span of two minutes! Don't get surprised as this is part of life in a bus. This is all pervasive. Curiously, this memory lapse of the conductor is prevalent only in selling tickets and not in any other activity. For example he will remember to return you the change of Rs 100 you handed him to buy a Rs 6 ticket. This peculiar short term memory loss of bus conductors does merit a serious study.

“Abar signal khelo” ("He deliberately drove slow to stop at the signal")

This mostly comes with an abuse prefixed of which the intensity depends on how irritated the commuter is. A section of passengers monitor how timely the driver is driving the bus and this annoyed remark comes from them. Well, as I’ve seen, sometimes (may be most of the times) this is true but they aren’t always right. It’s a common trait of a large section of drivers to drive slow so that they can stop at more signals and load the bus with more and more passengers at the cost of passenger convenience and delayed trips. So the commuters' irritation for waste of time on the trip is understandable. Now, to be fair to the drivers, sometimes they have to drive slow because of traffic ahead but the monitoring passengers often overlook it. A solution to this could be incentivizing the driver and the conductor for timeliness of completed trips.

“Seat khali” ("The bus has a lot of vacant seats")

This is often the biggest bluff of the conductor aiming at quickly filling the bus with passengers. So, it's actually a competitive tactic. Often at busy junctions, a number of buses stop around the same time and the conductor uses this trick to grab more passengers than the competing buses. In reality, most of the times, the bus hardly has empty seats and the poor passengers rushing in to grab the seats often discover that after boarding the bus. What follows from passengers is an easy guess.

Ending on a lighter note, related to the same subject.

"Aaste, ladies. Pete bachcha.” ("Please stop and let the pregnant lady get down")

The familiar alert of a conductor to the passengers trying to hop onto a bus, which he does to ensure the safe alight of a pregnant lady. But sometimes the conductor can be wrong in reading the stomach of the lady, leading to great embarrassment and annoyance of the lady with a pronounced midsection. I came across the post of a young lady on an interactive website, who vent her anger on the conductor who misread her generous waistline.

#Kolkata #KolkataBuses #Commute #Transport #PublicTransport

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Sunday, January 21, 2018

The Kolkata hidden gems trail- Part 1: Dhiren Cabin

The Kolkata foodscape is incomplete without its age-old cafes (or cabins, as locally known). They are the reason for Bengali’s undying love for fries and cutlets. Though many have faded into oblivion with the passage of time or are struggling to survive in the competition with modern foods and wide availability of street food, there are some who are still going strong. A few of them are widely known, like Mitra Cafe of north Kolkata and Dilkhusha Cabin of central Kolkata, while there are others who are locally popular and are as good or maybe better at least in certain items. They are the hidden gems. Through this new series, I shall share my experience in some of these places.

Tucked into a not-so-busy street in north Kolkata, Dhiren Cabin's nondescript exteriors are likely to be mistaken for just another old, struggling cafe. The road from Sovabazar crossing on CR Avenue towards Ahiritola (Sovabazar St) leads here past just past the Rabindra Sarani crossing. The  interiors are equally humble- two non-AC dining rooms with old-fashioned marble-top tables, small wooden chairs and a few cabins for couples. Don't prejudge its food by the unpretentious and sometimes careless appearance. Like other such cafes, it has a good number of patrons and they come here just for good food, not ambiance.  Don’t expect a menu card. The menu is put up on the wall. Take a look at it before ordering or you can always ask the waiter.

One dish that makes it stands out is chicken cutlet. It’s certainly one of the best in the city. The crunch of the bread-crumbed coat is spot on. Inside lies a well-marinated, succulent chicken breast fillet that’s yummy! It costs just Rs 55 which underscores the high value for money that this place offers. The mustard served with the food lacks punch, but the taste of the food makes up for it. When it comes to fried chicken snacks, it can give the KFCs of the world a run for money.

The other thing that I like here is the vegetable chop. It’s a large crumb-fried ball inside which there is mashed potato lining a large mass of beetroot and carrot sauteed with seasoning and a few raisins thrown in. The taste is a bit on the sweeter side which is not exactly what I prefer, but it’s otherwise very good. Actually a winter delicacy, it doesn't taste half as good in other seasons and there too, a good vegetable chop is not easily found.

It’s fish items are popular too but they haven't impressed me as they are made with basa fish. It’s not one of the fishes traditionally used in fish fry (mainly beckti) and lacks taste reasonably.

I wish to come back to it for some other dishes about which I’ve come across good words.

#KolkataFood #BengaliFood #ChickenCutlet

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