The flavour of Kolkata

The flavour of Kolkata
The bridge, the river and kids' play. Brilliantly captured by Sujay Kumar Das.

Friday, December 29, 2006

A youth film

Finally Kolkata has its own urban film for the youth, about the youth and by the youth. The movie Aamra produced by young entrepreneur Nitesh Sharma (Banner: Bangla Talkies) and directed by young US-based debutant Mainak Bhaumik hit the multiplexes on December 22. The sole single-screener to show it is Priya. There was a campus show (Posibly for the first time for a new Bengali movie) in Xavotsav (The annual fest of St. Xaviers) just around the release. It is about six characters from diverse backgrounds and their take on love and sex. In fact it is also officially the first sex comedy in Bengali.

Read my review of the film in my film blog Show Business. The link: http://viewerseye.blogspot.com/.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Organised retail scene will be hot in the city

Organised retail, now represented in the city by Big Bazaar and small players like Arambagh's Food Mart and C3, is set to witness a big change coming year. Subhiksha, the Chennai-based and Mumbai-strong retail chain is going to blast the marketplace with no less than 90 stores by April 2007.

There will be a Subhiksha store in virtually every neighbourhood. And their strategy will be to saturate the city as soon as possible. Organised retail is showing impressive growth in the city with the rich and the upwardly mobile increasingly depending on it. It's a boon for the working couples who are hard pressed about time to shop.

Big Bazaar started changing the shopping scenario a few years back with it's first hypermarket in the city ar VIP Rd. Today it is a 6-store-strong chain, soon going to open two more stores in Kankurgachhi and Sinthi. The chain has two hypermarkets branded Big Bazaar at VIP Rd and Metropolis mall at Hiland Park and four standalone grocery and packaged consumer goods stores branded Food Bazaar at Camac Street Pantaloons, Alipore, Gariahat and Mani Karn, the upcoming housing project on EM Bypass at Beliaghata.

Subhiksha will be different in format too. Unlike Big Bazaar whose USP is great bargains it's a hardcore discount chain offering 9-10% on an average on packaged goods, where the most you get at Big Bazaar on an average is 2%.

Arambagh's Food Mart is the biggest chain in terms of scale. It has 18 stores as of now. But as an organised player they are way behind Big Bazaar. At best an Arambagh's Food Mart can be called a low-profile neighbourhood department store. They are small and clumsy, low on the comfort factor, offering small maneuvering space to consumers when the footfall is high. As an insight, one finds edible oil packs on the floor, while the chain's own brand of grocery goods (Rice, dal, spices) are kept on the racks. In Big Bazaar and C3 the edible oil packs are arranged neatly on dedicated racks.

Subhiksha looks like a blessing for the average consumers who will be spoilt for choice and whose shopping habits will be transformed. Soon shopping will beocome fun and leisure for middle class housewives.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

A triumph of people

The 48-hour bandh on Dec 21-22 was called off from the brink (Wednesday afternoon). And it's clearly a triumph of the people who revolted.

The Trinamool Congress (TMC) supremo Mamata Banerjee got an indication of the revolt of the people since yesterday morning as media joined people's resolve to give TMC a piece of their mind by even walking to work if need be during the bandh days. The Telegraph carried a front-page campaign with a huge heading- DEFY BANDH. The story was based on a survey done on Tuesday where 66% Kolkatans said they'd surely go to work on bandh days. A serious finding for any political party indeed.

The bandh didn't have any worthy issue as such. The anchor issue was the land acquisition in Singur where the Tata Motors small car plant is coming up. On this very issue TMC had called their December 1 bandh. Another issue, that of the mysterious burn death of Tapasi Mallick, a teenager at Singur, on last Monday, was tagged along. TMC suspected it was a 'rape and murder' either by police personnel deployed at the car factory site or with their support. Otherwise such an incident is unbelieveable at a place where section 144 is in force. They immedietly demanded a CBI probe. They've made this demand in a couple of cases in the past. But this time CM Buddhadeb Bhattacharya really surprised them by accepting the demand immedietly by initiatng a CBI enquiry. Hence since the second issue lost sheen, the anchor issue couldn't hold itself on the face of public wrath. And anyways, an issue like this death, however condemnable it may be, doesn't merit to be a bandh issue.

Also all chambers of commerce joined hands to protest. It came out that if bandh again becomes a culture, and doesn't remain an exception as it should be, many potential investors may take a relook at their investment plans for Kolkata and Bengal.

People defied the bandh call by SUCI on December 5 by going to work in big numbers. SUCI's last few bandh calls were success but this one was a tight slap on it's face. The same fate awaited TMC. Good for them they stepped out of the line.

Hope it will make the political parties of this state do a rethink on their protest agenda which often starts with bandh.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Didi, the incorrigible

While Dada (Saurav Ganguly) is doing us pround, there is this 'Didi' who is leaving no stones unturned to make us lose our face to fellow Indians.

Mamata Banerjee, the fiery Trinamool Congress (TMC) supremo (Lovingly called Didi by her followers and patrons and jokingly by many others), has been on fast for more than 14 days at Esplanade to halt and roll back the land acquisition in Singur by the state govt. for the Tata Motors small car plant. This fast is the issue that is disturbing sensitive people in Kolkata some way or the other everyday.

Repeated requests from CM Buddhadeb Bhattacharya to end her fast and bring her to the table for talk, the President, the WB Governor, VP Singh, TMC's new friend Congress and even her party members have failed to budge her. She is stubborn that a dialogue with the state government can be started only when the land acquisition is stopped.

Clearly Mamata is desparate to save her face as her Battle Singur is coming to a close as the government is on track after acquisition and fencing of the land and prepared to hand it over to Tata Motors in this month. She thought after a prolonged programme at Singur her public hunger strike in Kolkata backed by sustained disruptive programme by TMC would do the trick. Unfortunately it didn't. She and her party are now reportedly breaking heads to work out how to end the hunger strike on a respectable note. Her health has deteriorated visibly by now but she is still refusing even a medical check-up. She has sent back twice the team of doctors sent by state government for a check-up and possible hospitalization to the hunger-strike venue.

TMC has already called a bandh (Strike) on the above issue on December 1. Just a while back news started pouring in at my office that TMC has called another 48-hour bandh on coming Thursday and Friday. Come to think of it, before October 2006 TMC was a party who prided itself saying they call bandhs only on weekends so as to cause minimum suffering to people. Then came the October 9 bandh on a Monday, followed by the December 1 bandh on a Friday.

I am sure every sensible Kolkatan will condemn this bandh, which clearly has been called out of sheer frustration, and will be just too willing to go to work just they did on the December 5 bandh called by SUCI (Re:String of Bandhs, my earlier post) on the same issue. Right now we are pure hateful at the word 'Bandh' as the current month has already experienced three strikes (TMC's, SUCI's and the Dec 14 industrial strike lead by CPM's labour wing CITU and 55 other outfits).

Height of insensitivity from all who are contemplating the bandh. Will Mamata not realise that because of her mindless negative politics she is silently losing the sympathy wave created by a lot of hard work during her fight for Singur?

When the going gets tough......Dada gets going


His comeback looked the toughest of all, as apart from form, some 'non-cricketing factors' played a role.

But like a true fighter Saurav Ganguly fought his own battle on domestic fields and took all odds head on. Result was the much desired recall.

Nevertheless such a story can only sound pleasant when one honours the coveted opportunity by delivering on field. Dada did just that in the first India-South Africa test in Johanesberg and how!

A resolute 51 not out, 101-ball knock with only a handful of hits to the fence and a dream sixer from a pull off Ntini ensured India's yet another top order mess ends in a face-saving total in the first innings. Followed it an inspired bowling and fielding attack that we were unfamiliar with, leading to a shameful, shocking surrender by South Africans with a two-digit total.

Well, the second innings didn't look that rosy but he never looked uneasy. The delivery that got him suddenly got lower thanks to the uneven bounce of the pitch. Dada was out trying to hit the bowler big, and not by a delivery that fooled him.

As we Indians in the country and overseas have started celebrating today's historic 123-run triumph by India, needless to say it adds a silver lining to the grand comeback of Saurav besides bringing back the confidence in Team India that they have it in them to become a test cricket superpower again just as it was under Dada's leadership.

Friday, December 08, 2006

What a rocking comeback, Dada !!


This is what you call ' Back with a B-A-N-G'. We, the admirers of Saurav Ganguly, the most successful Indian cricket captain of all times, kept our fingers crossed and expected an innings that can be called 'a decent start' in the preparatory four-day match between India and South Africa at Potchefstroom.

But......but... Dada gave us much more. A resolute, patient 141-ball, 83-run knock full of his trademark flamboyance with no less that 13 boundaries. His innings in partnership with Irfan Pathan's whisked us out of a grand top-order mess yet again.



What's behind all this? Wanna know from someone from his city? Well, after he got the unceremonious boot from the national test team by Chief Selector Kiran More and co. early this year, he got into this introspection- Am I finished? Do I have it in me to serve Indian cricket for a few more years? He never got a negative answer from his inner self. And that's when he formed this rock-solid determination to get a recall to team by sheer merit of his bat, complimented by bowling and an amazing level of fitness by his own standards. He achieved all that before he left for South Africa.



His physical training this time had unusual elements like parachute training and yes, believe it or not, kick-boxing. We've seen him training all these months on television. The silent determination from this unusually calm person was a mismatch with his aggressive, brave, never-say-die image embedded in our mind. But that was a man possessed.




I was aghast to know how the team treated this real hero back at the pavillion after his dismissal yesterday. Our 'celebrity coach' was away with the players to have an 'urgent' net session (To escape from a shameful situation, Mr Chappell?). Reportedly there was barely anybody to greet him in the dressing room. Has cricket ceased to be a gentleman's game this side of the world? The absence of warmth, the willingness to give the credit where it is due, turning back on the face of a rocking achievement suggest just that. Shame, Team India, shame !!

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

String of bandhs

Another bandh (Strike) today, called by the small political outfit SUCI. This is the second one in last 5 days. It seems all the non-ruling parties are desperate to make their presence felt on the issue of setting up of the Tata Motors plant in Singur by making good use of the weapon (Strike) which should be the last resort for a protest.

But it seems the city is in no mood to let another weekday go idle. After last Friday's bandh called by Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress, the city looks normal today. On my way to office (I couldn't risk going out last Friday) today I saw public buses and auto-rickshaws plying and shops open. Learnt that the market in Baguiati is open too.

Frankly speaking, bandh, as a way to protest has been done to death in Kolkata and hence it has lost relevance. Unless it is called by a big political party or front people don't want to lose a valuable weekday.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Kolkata on Mughlai overdrive

Was on Sarat Bose Rd near Deshapriya Park yesterday. Spotted a change that was 'Welcome' in the words of an incorrigible foodie like me. Zeeshan, the famous Mughlai restaurant of Park Circus has opened up a small outlet there. It is a walk-down distance from Deshapriya Park as you walk towards Southern Avenue (On the right). It has a small no. of covers and a take-away counter. There was considerable crowd before the counter showing how the heart of South Kolkata has lapped up the food stop. With winter setting in, and the body ready for a gastronomic journey, Zeeshan's biriyani, bharta, chaap, dopiyaja and other mouthwatering delicacies will surely find a large bunch of loyals.

I consider Zeeshan's biriyani the best in town, and rate it higher than another hot favourite of the city- Shiraz. Long live Zeeshan. I will be looking forward to stepping into the new South Kolkata address.

Talking Mughlai, there has been a lot of actions on its front in recent times. Starting with Arsalan, the second most favourite Mughlai cuisine address in Park Circus expanded with a multicuisine restaurant on Circus Avenue. Mughlai, Arsalan's USP, will of course be the mainstay there. It is cosier, more comfortable, with multicuisine offereings which were not there at the old address. It comes at the same place where a coastal cuisine speciality restaurant used to be.

Then our good old Nizam, the inventor of rolls, reopened after a prolonged closure due to labour trouble. The new, improved avataar offers a 'No beef' menu cooked in pure ghee. The prices are a bit premium, but the name is Nizam, someone who can command so. After all they are not to be equated with just any other kathi roll hotspot. Also consider the cooking medium- its not the cheap vanaspati that offers you taste but plays havoc with your heart. Ghee, of course, is not exactly known to be health-friendly, but it is definitely way better than vanaspati and when taken in moderation is not a health threat at all.

Lastly comes Rehmania, the famous Mughlai food chain. It unveiled its newest address right in 'Office para'- on Central Avenue, opposite Indian Airlines office. The office lunch market is big and too tempting to keep out of. It will offer seating and bet big on takeaway and home delivery (Read office delivery).

Monday, November 27, 2006

Finally...light at the end

The sick single-screen theatres can now breathe a sigh of relief. The govt. has finally realised the ground realities of film exhibition market that clearly show that single-screeners are generally out of favour in the city. This fact is reinstated with a bang whenever an old theatre brings down the shutter. And this happens pretty often these days.

The new rule enables a single-screener to convert to a two-screen theatre which has been newly defined as a multiplex (Earlier the cut-off was three screens). Hence the theatres will be able to- a. Lower the no. of seats and thereby increase profitability, b. Enjoy tax holidays for the first three years of operation.

Many theatres had already expressed interest in converting to two-screeners in order to survive profitably. Among them Hind's plans found mention in papers. It included setting up of a modern cafeteria inside the theatre. Eastern India Motion Pictures' Association (EIMPA), the producers' body, had also lobbied for it quoting a similar example in Rajasthan.

The rethink was prompted by a Zee Telefilms' (New owner of Technicians' Studio) proposal of settilng up a big no. of two-screen multiplexes across West Bengal.

It is indeed good news for the cinema enthusiasts in Kolkata who lament the lack of decent theatres in the town. A good theatre- defined as one having a big screen, good sound, soothing design and lighting, comfortable seating and availability of snacks and soft drinks at the right prices- is really, really small in number. Multiplexes filled up this gap, but they are prohibitively priced. Hence many film lovers choose to stay indoors more than ever. Thanks to this welcome change, many theatres will hopefully go from 'sick' to 'slick', showing two or more movies at any point of time at prices much lower than plexes, thereby wooing back their loyal customers and adding many new.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Two gastronomic experiences

Jadavpur University, Kolkata's showcase centre of excellence in education, has been involved for long to make innovative food products. It often ties up with a business organisation so that its innovations reach the market. It's 'Herbal sweets' project thus gifted us gajorer rosogolla (Carrot rosogolla), tulsi doi (Basil doi) etc. Hindustan Sweets, it's commercial partner markets them in its chain of shops.

Had an wish to taste the former one for long. It happened only today. It doesn't remind you carrot like gajar ka halwa does, but tastes milder and different than regular rosogolla. I wish it went the gajar ka halwa way. The price is set at Rs 4, at a Re 1 premium over regular rosogolla. Came across other innovations listed on a board that are indeed thought-provoking. Sample this: One kind of Sandesh for growing haemoglobin count (Fighting anaemia in other words), another sandesh for improving memory and others for many other ailments.

The second one is not new to me. Chicken wings roast from Arambagh's. Delicious soft flesh held by thin bones is a steal at Rs 6.50 a piece. An Arambagh's special.

The illuminated bridge salutes the master

Yesterday a history was created when Howrah Bridge, the best-known landmark of Kolkata went illuminated. Every big city worth its salt does that. Mumbai has a queen's necklace for ages, Delhi has a well-lit Gateway of India. Kolkata so far had only Victoria Memorial to boast of. But Victoria Memorial has a far less mass apeal than Howrah Bridge and the latter is infinitely better known. Its only know that we have our answer to queens'...

Alas, the brain behind the lighting is no more to experience this which will surely become his best-known creation. Tapas Sen, the master behind numerous stage productions, designed it in collaboration with Philips, the sponsor and executor of the project.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The hunt.....ahead

Every young movie-watcher who freak out on Hindi movie fare must be excitedly waiting for arguably the most awaited sequel of the year- Dhoom 2.

I, too, am keen on checking out D2. But I consciously choose to write on a less faithful upcoming release in Bengali- Saron Dutta's Shikaar. Saron is an young ad filmmaker, also known as the son of veteran actor Swarup Dutta. He made his first film Raat Barota Paanch last year. It was in Puja fare of Bengali movies and did decently at the box office. It got positive review in a paper like The Telegraph which justifiably rips apart most of the mainstream Bengali fare.

Shikaar, so far I know from the reports, is a thriller set on the backdrop of Kolkata and has a romantic track between Koel and Amitava Bhattacharya. It shows a lot of Kolkata and that’s my basic point of interest.

I have this long-unsolved mystery in my mind- Why don't our mainstream filmmakers show such an interesting city except in a few songs? If this city is integrated as a character in the story, a la Yuva, it can enhance the look and feel of the story like nothing else can. If Yuva has got a timeless appeal it’s not for the movie itself which I feel was below par. It’s for the way the city was shot with its popular characteristics.

The makers of Shikaar has intelligently started a teaser campaign to arouse interest in the movie at the face of such monstrous competition like D2 and the December multistarrer Babul. Kolkata is splashed with posters that say “Shikaar saamnei”. Hope Saron scores big with his ‘hunt’. We desperately need many like him immediately to salvage the fortunes of Bengali mainstream cinema.

Good Sense Prevails !!

This is a follow-up to my November 20 post.

The state government is visibly on backfoot on the draft bill on wall graphiti. Just the day after a quick survey by MODE commissioned by The Telegraph (I believe other concerned media houses too joined in) reflected the rage of Kolkatans against this ‘surprisingly’ autocratic bill backed by a sensitive chief minister, the government has amended it with appropriate punitive actions to offenders. People who go against the will of the owner of the wall may now face a fine of a Rs 50000 or six months’ jail term or both. And even the top shots of the local political organisation who don’t physically make the graphiti but are the power behind it can face the music.

I must thank the media houses who promptly got into action. Its them only who could do it this way. And also appreciate the prompt, positive reaction from the government. Now it is difficult to believe this is the same government who drafted the initial bill.

Monday, November 20, 2006

A Prestige Addition

Rbk unveiled it's new store in town early this month. The Rbk Arena Store is at Sarat Bose Rd. One of the billboards in their new campaign about this store proudly proclaims, "The only other store of this kind is somewhere in New York". This is officially their largest store in Asia. As part of it's USP it has an in-house DJ playing the latest in international music.

Kolkata's lifestyle platter is being continuously upgraded to cater to the well-heeled and upwardly mobile. There are recent entrants Subway (Grown to three outlets in less than two years) and KFC besides oldy Domino's and young Cafe Coffee Day, Barista. McDonald's is poised for an winter debut. Then there are new global-standard shopping malls, fine-dining and speciality restaurants and cineplexes wooing this class.

Friday, November 17, 2006

License to deface?

I was really aghast as I read the top story in The Telegraph today. It says West Bengal Prevention of Defacement of Property Act is on its way out and the new act that is expected to be tabled and passed in the winter session of assembly will virtually legalise wall graphiti by political parties. You cannot complain to police. All you can do is 'report' your municipal authority. They are supposed to come and repaint your wall (With taxpayers' money).

The link-http://www.telegraphindia.com/1061117/asp/frontpage/

story_7014264.asp

Is this democracy? It fails me to understand how come a sensible and pro-development CM gun for such an autocratic rule? I understand that with the help of this act during assembly elections earlier this year the election commission (EC) more or less prevented political graphiti on people's walls and it held back the ruling party and all other parties in election campaign and forced them to do innovative nad more expensive ways of campaign. It was a bitter taste in their mouth.


But EC had people's blessings for this bold step. And the ultimate outcome? The ruling party won by a record margin without any help from wall graphiti. Now since it is his time, did our dear CM think of turning the rule upside down and make a mockery of democracy?

I request everyone able to make a comment to speak your heart out on this issue. The only way to even make a decent effort to make the government rethink or at least realise poeple's feelings is making a strong enough noise that is heard.

Please use strong but non-abusive language. If we gather a large no. of protests we can possibly approach a news channel to make a story on it.


Eagrely awaiting comments.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Star Theatre, Chicken-mushroom sandwich

Star Theatre reopened a couple of months back after a revamp by the new private partner of Kolkata Municipal Corporation. To get rid of its high running expenses and lack of bookings, KMC joined hands with Priya Entertainment run by Arijit Dutta who is popularly known as the owner of Priya cinema to most people. Priya Ent. is the managing partner of Star Theatre. Arijit is a seasoned, and I would say intelligent, businessman in show business who really means business. Priya Ent. runs Globe in Kolkata, Gitanjali in Bolpur and Krishti in Katoa. I admire the way he has reinvented Priya to keep up with time.

After the revamp Star has started movie screenings like a regular theatre. Apart from this there will of course be theatre (Drama), book launches, stage shows etc. It will have a trendy cafeteria and function like a new generation entertainment hub with a heritage flavour thanks to the building. It will be a pride of North Kolkata in future, mark my words.

It is currently one of the locations of the ongoing Kolkata Film Festival (KFF). Visited it today to book a ticket of 'Kalpurush' by Buddhadeb Dasgupta which is scheduled tomorrow. A couple of enthusiasts crowded before the movie schedule of KFF. But the ticket counter had no queue. It is not expected that KFF at Star will fetch large crowds, but hats off to Arijit to bring KFF to North Kolkata nevertheless.

Talking of mushroom, one of the rare categories of veg foods I am interested in, just spotted a new mushroom item in Sugar & Spice at its new Jodhpur Park outlet. It is chicken mushroom sandwich. I have always felt mushroom is one thing that can get even die-hard non-vegetarians like me to try veg at times. It hardly tastes like veg to me. I wish the confectionery chains in Kolkata would wake up to the potential of mushroom and make mushroom patty, puff and other items.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

12th Kolkata Film Festival

Unlike last year, this year I feel more connected to the 12th Kolkata Film Festival which was inaugurated yesterday, because of my increasing fondness for good cinema.

Like in the past this year too this Rs 1-crore fest is being organised by the strapped-on-cash state govt. at the behest of the spirited, culture-loving CM who will carry on with his job of organising this prestige city event even after the central govt showed reluctance to any financial assistance despite repeated formal requests. Hats off, Buddhababu !!

The fare is exciting this year, unlike past years as most of the foreign films (Except retro cinema) are new, released in 2005 or this year. But I was disappointed to see only three new Bengali films- Swapner Din and Kaalpurush by Buddhadeb Dasgupta and Teen Yari Katha by Sudeshna Roy and Abhijit Guha and co-produced by Ideas of Prosenjit. Nobody seems to know if the first two will ever get released, as they are known to be stuck in commercial release for want of distributors to pick them up. As reported by the media, the distributors' reluctance to arthouse cinema was not the reason here, though. It was, strangely, the terms (Read 'price') set by the Mumbai-based producer Jhammu Sugand. We the lovers of good Bengali cinema are frustrated at this turn of events, especially because Kaalpurush is Rahul Bose's first Bengali film.

Was keen to watch Teen Yaari Katha, but alas, it is being screened in Nandan and hence is meant for delegates and guests only. Am eagerly awaiting its release since it looks promising, with a cast of Parambrata, Rudraneel and Neel (All well-known faces on Bengali TV, Param also known for his select good work on the big screen too.) and an urban story of the life of three friends and their aspirations and dreams. I applaud Prosenjit to back this film. It shows his desire to give something back to the Bengali cinema audience who has given him so much.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

The New Kolkata

There is this old Kolkata- heritage buildings, traffic jams, cheap street food, crowded public buses- everything that everybody knows for decades. And then there is this new Kolkata which I relish on my way back home at Baguiati. I am talking of Eastern Metropolitan Bypass (EM Bypass or Bypass as popularly known). In the last three-four years it has started sporting signs of a new, contemporary, vibrant metropolis. I check out the new glowlit huge hoardings and the real estate developments that are coming up on the sides (Science City junction to Ultadanga).

There is under-sonstruction Mani Square which will house Asia's largest, multi-storeyed parkomat, an IMAX dome apart from a hot 'n' happening shopping mall. Also under construction is Mani Karan which already houses a Food Bazaar and Fashion Station (Both from Pantaloons). In Fashion Station one gets both the Big Bazaar and Pantaloons young fashion range at great bargains not avaialble in either chain. There are other giant under-construction projects which still don't demand a glance.

The fast ride in a shuttle car (Another distinct feature of Kolkata. Will write about it later) are value-additions in the journey for me basically for the above, especially the ever-changing colourful hoardings wherefrom everybody from Shah Rukh and Kareena to pretty and handsome city models look for your attention.

Will come back to this topic over and over again with development updates.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Subway for the Masses

Media reports show that an increasing no. of people are looking for healthy offerings in the foods. No wonder the phenomenon is reflected among those too who eat street food on the move.

Kolkata's street food possibly has world's largest variety at extremely competitive to downright cheap prices. And with changing times, healthy foods like sandwich, stews are featuring on the long menu of its street food.

I ate from this sandwich vendor at Minto Park sidewalk (On AJC Bose Rd, In front of Crescent Tower, opposite Minto Park) today. I took a toasted sandwich first. Like in Mumbai it had a boiled potato filling, but this one had a bit of veggies mixed with potato. It was served cut in four angular pieces. I ended with an egg-veg sandwich. Its filling is an omlette and pieces of boiled potato, onion, green pepper, carrot, cucumber and tomato with a dash of lime and tomato sauce added. The stuff is put between two long slices of buttered bread. The taste was good and it was a filling meal.

The price for the first one was Rs 10 and the second cost Rs 13. A wholesome executive quick-bite lunch at a reasonable Rs 23 !!

Its main patrons are easy to guess- office and field executives. Many of the customers are loyal.

Kolkata has two Subway outlets. While Subway serves the upper crust, this sandwich-seller can be aptly called a 'Subway for the masses'. Just to mention, with this vendor there is no enquiry for chicken and other popular non-veg sandwiches. Its customers are happy with the offerings. Hence it really doesn't matter that the menu is short.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The Roll-loving South Kolkatans

A common thread among South Kolkatans is their fixation for roll. Every typical South Kolkatan has a yearn for this. Teenagers to elderly people, young housewives to grandmothers, students to corporate executives and businessmen to labourers- everybody just swear by this wonder snack of Kolkata. Roll is popular across Kolkata, but in South Kolkata it is a supreme dominating force while it comes to snacking options.

Roll, as many would know, was invented in Kolkata at Nizam's, a central Kolkata Mughlai restaurant, quite a few decades back. That was mutton roll. And then, after a couple of decades, egg roll was born and won over all. Roll is now synonymous with egg roll. If you just order a 'roll' in any roll shop you will be served an egg roll.

In South Kolkata (Also Kolkata per se) non-veg varieties rule the roost, starting from the basic egg roll to the super specialities like chicken saslik roll (Made with chicken saslik kebab). Veg variants were never favourite with Bengalis who dominate the roll consumer population. But of late veg roll (With meshed potatoes, beet, carrot etc) and paneer roll are quite visible everywhere. Every non-veg variety is yummy (Telling from experience) and the trendsetters in South Kolkata roll joints are dishing out yummier, innovative varieties with times. Basic and bestselling varieties are egg roll and chicken roll.

South Kolkata has it's own variants- like Tikia roll and chicken saslik roll. You won't possibly find tikia roll much in North or Central Kolkata. It's a non-veg category. There are fish tikia roll, chicken tikia roll and mutton tikia roll. Even it has got fish kebab rolls for the fish-crazy Bengali. I won't recommend a fish variant though from , as I think the result of experimentation with fish in the roll arena is not palatable. Even leading joints can't get it right.

Also here the chicken and mutton rolls are made with kebabs (Similar to posh parts of Central Kolkata), unlike North Kolkata where kosha mangsho (Gravy chiecken/ mutton) is used instead.

One leading joint is Bedwin, without which Gariahat, the heart of South Kolkata would be incomplete. It has a huge hardcore loyal customer base and as huge a range of rolls. I heard from such a loyalist that in the beginning of the month she orders chicken roll, but towards the end her orders change to egg roll, for the cash crunch. Bawarchi, which is a snack bar chain, is another hot joint. It has successfully introduced innovations like Roll No. 1 and Y2K. In Roll No. 1, they use a boiled egg.

The prices range from Rs 8 (Egg roll) to Rs 25 (Chicken saslik roll). So there is a roll for every pocket. Enjoy !!

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Chittababu's Shop

A small shop on Dacres Lane has been serving for decades the taste buds of office-going Kolkata Babus (White collar staff) in the Dalhousie area with its range of offerings and top class milk tea. The eatery has no formal name and hence is referred by the name of its founder Chitta as Chittababur Dokan (Chittababu's Shop in English).

Since the core of its customers is officegoers from Dalhousie area who come for their evening munch after work, the menu is a mix of healthy food and traditional tasty bites. Its staple menu is basically stew (Chicken, mutton and vegetable), ghughni (A preparation with peas, similar to chana masala), veg curry (Typical Indian curry with mixed vegetables and chicken liver), fish fry, chicken pakora, fish finger, fried rice and chilli chicken (Recent additions on popular demand) and its USP- butter toast. The menu is very reasonably priced vis a vis middle class affordability.

Chittababu is no more. His brother is in charge now. A tall, well built, dark gentleman with thin hair and a well-grown moustache. One will see him sitting on a high stool with a gamchha ( A piece of cotton cloth used by the Bengalis in place of a towel) tied around his waist and taking cash from customers after they are through with food/ tea.

My dad referred me to this place- a favourite with him when he would go to office. I am grateful to him for this. I wish to introduce this place to my one-and-a-half-year-old daughter when she grows up. Long live Chittababu's Shop.


Friday, May 19, 2006

That's the spirit, Mr Minister


Bengal saw a refreshing change when Left Front (LF) reclaimed power last time, in assembly elections 2001. An IT ministry was created by a progressive and changing top brass of LF. A younger MLA Manabendra Mukherjee who was an MBA, took charge......and changed the face of the IT scenario in Kolkata (For details, refer to my earlier post 'Bengal turns Buddhist). In three-four years Kolkata rose to the third position among Indian cities in terms of IT exports revenue (According to NASSCOM). Starting so late this was indeed a tall feat for Bengal achieved by the enterprising minister.

Everybody thought, after winning again in the just concluded assembly elections, Mukherjee would be retained to take IT to greater heights. But that was not to be. IT has a new minister- Debesh Das, an electronic engineer, a professor and researcher in Jadavpur University. Mukherjee has been given the Ministries of Tourism and Small Scale & Cottage Industries. Many people must have been disappointed. After all, shifting a minister from a department in the consecutive term so far has meant the minister was a failure.

On being contacted by the media for his take, the man has said he would take tourism to where he has already taken IT. Kudos, Mr Mukherjee. That's the spirit. After all, you have been an unquestionably efficient minister and Department of Tourism required one like you (The last tourism minister was a non-performer). West Bengal has immense tourism potential and we all will look forward to experience how it blooms in the hands of this promising minister. Best wishes, Mr Mukherjee.

Monday, May 15, 2006

The new face of public transport

Since I can remember Kolkata has never been known as a city with decent buses. It has two kinds of buses, govt. and private, which is unlike any of the top four metros. Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai have only govt. buses plying and they are good to board indeed. Private buses in Kolkata are regular bus and mini bus. Mini bus looks decent. But the regular ones look just like a tin box and they have uncomforable sitting design for ages. And the crowd in the buses in rush hours are comparable to Kolkata's and Mumbai's local trains in the same time. Govt. buses, thanks to a transport minister who just doesn't show the interest to do his job sincerely, are even worse- many of them look like discarded tin boxes that make intolerable noise on board with out of order parts.

About one year back the city witnessed a refreshing change. a public-private partnership happened between West Bengal Surface Transport Corporation and a private transport co. and two types of executive buses started plying- a luxury bus called Whiteliner and a mini bus called Starbus. Standing is not allowed in any of them and hence the fare is much higher than standard. Whiteliners are AC or non-AC and Starbuses are non-AC. An increasing group of executives and small businessmen who prefer to pay a premium to reach their destinations faster and comfortably are lapping them up. Whiteliners are now plying at two routes- Airport-Santragachhi and Airport-Tollygunge and an expansion is in the offing.

It's apparently the CM, Buddhadeb Bhattacharya who has made this possible fighting with the stubborn transport minister. Kolkata is cheering to the move. At least we can show friends and colleagues from outside that we have high-quality transport besides the dreaded ones.

My Dosar review

Watched Dosar, a Bengali movie (With English subtitles) By Rituparno Ghosh- the most celebrated among contemporay Bengali filmmakers, quite a few days back but my laziness lead to completing the review so late. Posted it just today on Mouthshut.com. Here's the link http://www.mouthshut.com/review/Dosar:_The_Companion-99521-1.html.

By the way, I like to write film reviews but write only if I am excited by a film. Those of you who read it, I would love to read your comments right here.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Aquatica, Dosar

Had a leisure outing by our company on May 7, a day before our annual conference. It was at Aquatica, the only water park in the city. I visited here long back, in 2000. One scene hasn't changed. While the guys get into the water rides in shorts, the girls still seem to be shy of wearing swimsuit. They are in synthetic close-fitting t-shirts and tights. Don't know if it's any different in Water Kingdom Mumbai. If you who's reading this are from Mumbai, may be you are able to tell what it is like there. Please post comments.


Dosar, the latest film by Rituoparno Ghosh, Kolkata's globally reputed filmmaker, just premiered in Mumbai while its successful run in Kolkata is on. It's about contemporary extra-marital relationship and its outcome. The film is refreshingly different as it has been shot in black & white. But believe me, the treatment, storytelling, characterization, the taut script and the master cinematography won't let you feel colour is missing. A review is available on www.rediff.com. Don't forget to read my comments for a fuller view.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Kolkata turning Buddhist

Today's post has no options in subject. Because one subject is far too overpowering for any other possible option. Anybody who checked today's papers in Kolkata (Incl. online versions) will know. It's Bengal Polls, whose results were out yesterday afternoon. The Left Front, ruling the state for the last 29 years, a record in any democracy across the world, has been voted back to power once again with a mammoth majority that beat almost all exit poll predictions all of who anyway projected Left as the winner.

What's interesting is, while entire Kolkata has traditionally not been known as pro-left, the Left Front slightly bettered results this time by winning in a few new constituencies and giving away some to it's erstwhile opponent AITC (All India Trinamool Congress) led by Mamata Banerjee. But the silver lining was that Bengal CM Buddhadeb Bhattacharya won by a record 58000+ votes. A record by any Bengal CM to date.

Since Buddhadeb took charge as the CM a couple of months before 2001 polls, he has been continuously winning hearts of the middle class educated Bengali in and the youth (A major force in the electorate) in Kolkata. The reasons have been his unquestionable honesty, an incredibly low-profile lifestyle (Can you believe he refuses to shift to a CM's residence leaving his old small govt flat in South Kolkata?), level-headedness, sincerity, reformist nature, vision for the state and above all admitting mistakes (Past and present) and failures. His sincere and professional drive for industrialization in the state earlier known as the deathbed of industry has won accolades not only from people but from the whose who of industrialists- the likes of Azim Premji and Ratan Tata. The progress in IT is particularly bright. Kolkata is now third-ranked in software exports in India leaving the emerging Pune behind. Come to think of it the govt truly pursued IT since 2001 only, with an IT ministry being created. Now the IT zone in Kolkata, popularly known as Sector V (In Salt Lake, the satellite township at it's outskirts) is a hotbed of IT professionals with big players like Wipro, TCS, Cognizant, Satyam and Tech Mahindra (Formerly Mahindra British Telecom).

Hence for valid reasons, Kolkata, and I believe the best of Bengal is turning Buddhist for valid reasons, with the CM's fan base shooting up.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

The street food heaven

When it comes to street food Kokata is a sure winner for the awesome range and incredibly affordable prices. You get Indian (North, South and of course East Indian cuisine), Mughlai, Chinese, Tibetan on the street. Interestingly there are food for dieters and the health conscious and then there are stuff for the incorrigible junk food freak. There are proper meal options and perfect snacking options.

Right now in the scorching and killingly humid summer one will find a local summer food like doi-chire (Besides dahi vada). It's dahi ( Plain yoghurt) mixed with chire which is a flat variety of muri or puffed rice. Just today I found chicken stew being served at a roadside stall. To go with plain toast. The range is growing with time and possibly on consumer demand.

There are popular street food zones, like BBD Bag, Camac Street, Dacres Lane. Talking meal options, among North Indian cuisine the favourite is chana- batora, among South Indian it's masala dosa, sambhar vada and uttapam, among mughlai it's biriyani, among Chinese it's chowmein, fried rice and chilli chicken and among Tibetan it's momo. The prices start at Rs 10 for chana- batura , Rs 7-8 for masala dosa and sambhar vada , Rs 12 for chicken biriani, Rs 10 for vegetable chowmein, Rs 4 for a piece of chilli chicken and Rs 10 for a plate of momos. Can you believe it?

These are just the basic varieties. Snacks have a huge range, so will talk about it later. Also they are more hygienic than the standard and govt medical institutes vouch for that. In fact street hawkers' own association vows for making their yummy stuff more hygienic.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Kolkata, Kolkater, Kolkatest

I couldn't find a better title for my first ever post in my first ever blog which will present everything Kolkata through an insider's eye. For the last few years the city is changing rapidly for the better and outsiders including non-resident Kolkatans will vouch for that.

I intend to write regularly on things about Kolkata-the changing and the old-fashioned, the hip and the traditional. On things that add new feathers to its hat. It will talk on the widely reported stuff and the lesser known. It will give insights to the informed and food for thought for the uninitiated and curious.

Not everything here will be extremely interesting, but they will qualify for one reason or the other.

Watch this space !!