The flavour of Kolkata

The flavour of Kolkata
Maidan in a wintry November 2016 morning. Photograph by Indranil Roy.

Friday, December 02, 2016

Cake-mixing ceremony at Aauris

Thinking of the run-up to Christmas, probably the first thing that comes to one’s mind is cake-mixing ceremony. This age-old tradition followed the world over marks the beginning of the long-drawn preparation of baking the Christmas cake and spreads a lot of cheer and the warmth of the impending festive season among those who do the cake-mixing together. There is a religious angle to it too, as it is believed be a harbinger of good tidings and happiness.
It takes place as an event in all the big hotels around this time. As Aauris invited me to their cake-mixing ceremony well in advance, the curiosity value was high as it was my first ever invitation to a cake-mixing ceremony. It was more of an internal affair for the central Kolkata hotel, with a few food bloggers invited to join them on the occasion.

Aauris is the new kind on the block in the luxury hotel space, located at Robinson Street, off Loudon Street. I’ve been to this hotel earlier this year for a food blogging workshop (There’s a post about it on this blog) and I appreciate the unique and innovative art in the décor.

It was an early afternoon time when we had been requested to take seat. Poulami, the PR manager, first asked us bloggers what we would prefer to wear in the ceremony – chef cap or Santa Claus cap. All of us ended up wearing the latter. It was a simple paperboard rolled into the shape of a chef cap fitted as per the size of one’s head. Executive Chef Sujit Mondale was making the caps.

A long table was formed by joining tables and a wide variety dry fruits were put on it one by one at the patisserie near the entrance. There were usual suspects like cashew, raisin, dried plum, date, dry cherry, tutti frutti apart from chopped and candied orange peel (in green), chopped murabba, dry fig, dried apricot, black currant and sultanas. The hotel team was spreading the dry fruits on the table and it was a nice sight to see more and more colours being added to the tempting mix.

Blogger Indrajit Lahiri and Chef Sujit Mondale

The mix of dry fruits before pouring liquor and wine

The liquor and wine, essential ingredients of Christmas cake, arrived meanwhile. There were dark rum, red wine, brandy, whisky and cointreau (kwan-troh, a French liquor). The bottles were placed at one end of the table before they were poured one by one, with the rum picked up by the chef first. Thereafter, Ankur Salim Siddiqui, GM of the hotel, poured whisky and quipped that it was the ‘real thing’ being added as someone from his team wanted to find out what was being poured at that moment.

Ankur announced that it was time to dirty our hands. We put on the gloves and joined the team in mixing the liquor well with the dry fruits. The chef told us not to caress the fruits but crush them hard. That’s the way to mix the liquor really well and enable the dry fruits to absorb it as much as possible.

Mixing in progress

We kept on doing it till the chef who was keeping an watchful eye on the progress was satisfied. The crushed, colourful fruits mixed with liquor of different colours assumed a different texture. I couldn’t resist but taste a tiny morsel of the liquor-soaked goodies stuck to my gloves. Ah…..drunken dry fruit - unlike anything I had sampled ever and liked it.

Yours truly with the soaked goodies

The chef got the mixture collected in large trays and said that it would be kept for about four weeks before baking. More things would be mixed in phases, like spices (cardamom powder, cinnamon powder, nutmeg powder, caramel colour, ginger powder and star anise powder) in a few days and more wine in about three weeks from the cake-mixing day. The schedule is set to ensure the dry fruits absorb the ingredients in the best possible manner.

My lovingly dirtied hands

The Aauris team (Ankur third from left) at left and bloggers at right with dirty hands

We chatted for a while over coffee and fruit cake (baked in their patisserie) before signing off. I was suffering from withdrawal syndrome after dealing with so much of tempting ingredients which would go into making a delicious Christmas cake. The only remedy would be biting into a freshly baked cake and yes, the one I had was excellent! Perfectly balanced in sweetness, the buttery taste was kind of therapeutic.  

As a parting gift we received a nicely wrapped basket of a variety of their cakes. I and my kids loved them.


#Cakemixing #Aauris #Christmas

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Sunday, November 27, 2016

First Flush- love in a bylane, indeed

When I first walked into this tea café in a lane in Golpark in August, just after it opened its doors, I found the ambience intimate, cozy and different - Low glass-covered cane tables and chairs with relaxed seating and nicely spaced out, framed photos on the wall done in cream colour with red punctuating in racks displaying books, teapot, cups & mugs and a low cabinet. The tables are small and laid out with two or four chairs. Since people don’t come here for a meal, a table can comfortably accommodate four guests. The warm feel resembles a living room, which makes for a perfect lazy afternoon / evening meet-up with friends or even a relaxed business meeting.

You can reach here by taking the lane adjacent to the Axis Bank ATM on the left just before Golpark, going from Gariahat. A red door and a glowsign bearing the name with a thoughtful tagline “Love in a bylane” welcome you.

First Flush serves a small range of teas, the specialty being Darjeeling tea (first and second flush). The menu includes Gidda Pahar, Thurbo Moonlight and Castleton among others.

I like my tea strong, hence between Darjeeling tea and Assam tea, my loyalty goes with the latter. When I told the same to Subhasish Mitra, the owner, in a recently held blogger meet, he advised me to try second flush. I was soon served Avongrove tea in a colourless cup and plate through which its nice light brown colour came out well. I liked the flavour which was precisely between mild and strong.

Subhasish is a senior official working in IBM. His passion for tea, as my short conversation with him indicated, is probably the reason behind his first business venture in F&B. This part of the city doesn’t have well-known tea joints like in central Kolkata. So, being close to Gariahat – the heart of south Kolkata – it’s a well-chosen location.

There was a small, compact menu for the blogger meet, and first arrived Bacon Cheese Bomb. It was bacon wrapped around molten cheese served with a dip. The cheese caressed the palate and the perfectly done bacon flirted with it before melting away. The dip enhanced the sublimity of the dish. A definite recommendation for a light bite and I wonder why it is not listed among the signature dishes on the menu. A portion of five pieces is reasonably priced at Rs 200.

 Bacon Cheese Bomb

The usual banter and leg pulling among blogger friends was on in full swing, along with discussing what was happening in the city blogger circuit. The next to come was American Fish ‘n’ Chips with Beer Batter served with lemon butter sauce and French fries – a signature dish of the house. The thick fillet of Bombay beckti fried in a thin batter went well with the yummy sauce. The crunchy French fries are abundant. Subhasish told me that it was one of the popular picks. We called the young chef and asked what the sauce was and he shared with us the secret – it was lemon butter sauce added with cream, lemon juice, salt and pepper that brought out the killer taste. At Rs 390 for two pieces, it’s value for money.

 American Fish ‘n’ Chips with Beer Batter

As I asked about its offerings in coffee, Subhasish told me that they serve Jamaican, Irish, Puerto Rican and Colombian coffee. Though the range is small, the options are decent.

I tried the cappuccino and loved it.

My cappuccino

Next came American Club Sandwich which was noticeably heavy for one person, so we shared it. A full sandwich served generously with French fries should suffice you for dinner. At one layer it has slices of salami and at the other, poached duck egg. Tastes good, especially the finger-licking yolk. If you are looking for a sandwich meal, just order one. It is expensive though, at Rs 295.

American Club Sandwich, the heavyweight

It was a sweet ending with a nice brownie with chocolate sauce and a lage scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Blogger Debjani Chatterjee Alam posing with the brownie with chocolate sauce and vanilla ice cream

To summarize, it has the qualities to justify its tagline – love in a bylane, whichever way you think. It’s a place that you may develop a soft corner for as it’s just right to unwind alone with an invigorating cuppa tea (The books in the rack can give company) or with friends over coffee and snacks, also for lovebirds to while away time.

(Left to right) Bloggers Debjani, Madhushree, Anindya, yours truly, Subhadip and Subhasish Mitra (owner)

I was told by Subhasish that the pastas also move well. Noted, for the next time.

#Cafe #Firstflush #Tea #Darjeelingtea  #Fingerfood #Sandwiches

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Monday, November 21, 2016

Three reasons to watch Antarleen

Antarleen, the Bengali film, is releasing on 25th November. Here are the reasons for me to look forward to the film.

  1. A psychological thriller-cum-murder mystery set in a scenic hill town- Yes, thrillers are the flavour of the times but what makes it stand out is its setting. The story is set in a quiet small town called Kasauli- far from the crowded, so-called tourist gateaways and engulfed by the hilly terrains of Himachal Pradesh. The film unfolds by meandering through the maze of human minds and the natural environment perfectly compliments the drama and suspense; twists and turns of the story. The foggy mornings, the peek-a-boo between the sun and the cloud, the sudden drizzles, the dark and quiet nights and the murkiness created by the layers of mist help set up the moods for various situations. The captivating and virgin beauty of Kasauli will be an added attraction. No Bengali film has ever been shot here. In other languages, the only major film shot here that I’m aware of is 1942: A Love Story.

  1. Mamata Shankar- This fine actress hardly works in films these days as the industry can’t offer roles that excite her enough (Jatiswar and Pink are exceptions). Her last work etched on my mind is Rituparno’s Abohoman. She plays a pivotal role in the film and as per writer-director of the film Arindam Bhattacharya, her character is unlike what she has ever played before. It has many shades and the audience will be kept guessing about her.

  1. Kharaj Mukherjee and Sampurna- Despite proven talent, Kharaj Mukherjee is not thought of beyond a comic character. He is always overlooked for substantial, serious roles and left perennially underrated. Finally, Antarleen attempts to change the game for him. One thing is for sure, you have not only not seen him portraying such a character, but also never have imagined him as anyone like that. His performance is claimed to be able to make the audience sit up and take notice. He is well-known as a good singer and he has sung a Rabindrasangeet in this film (Tumi rabe nirobe picturised on himself).

Sampurna Lahiri, too, has been selected to play a very different character and, again, unlike what she has played so far. She plays a fearless officer of the Narcotics department who is visiting the hill town to leave her work-related stress behind. She has done chase and action scenes (A first for a Bengali actress in a long time) in the film. While casting for the role, the director had the reference of an A-list Mumbai heroine, but finding someone having even distant resemblance of her looks within budget was proving to be difficult. Finally Sampurna was selected.                                    

Sampurna in the film

#AntarleenTheFilm #BanglaCinema #MamataShankar #KharajMukherjee

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Saturday, November 19, 2016

Change of menu at Cha Bar

Nested inside Oxford Bookstore, I like this joint as a cool place to unwind with friends with a limited range of good food at reasonable prices (the only such casual dining place I know on Park Street). As the name suggests, it should particularly appeal to tea lovers and connoisseurs for its vast range of teas including Darjeeling, Assam, Nilgiri, Sikkim, Oolong and handpicked foreign teas in all conceivable varieties. You can enjoy food over reading a book you picked up from shelves (which you may return or buy if you like) or walk in just for the food and ambience. Read my first review of the place published last year here.

On one October evening post-Puja, I walked in to join a bloggers meet over their refreshed menu. It look no time for me to dive deep into an adda (chat session) peppered by the usual banter in a blogger friends’ circle. The entire menu of new items was presented to us, printed nicely on two transparent plastic sheets and tied by a red lace, wherefrom we ordered what we liked. It was divided in Sandwiches, Wraps, Small Nibbles, Local Plates and Desi Burgers. Our imminent sojourn with the food was named Flavothon, and aptly so, for the long list to choose from. Nitin Warikoo, Head of Cha Bar flew in from New Delhi to be with us. I had first met this smiling, friendly gentleman in my first bloggers meet at this place last year (See the post on this blog mentioned above).

It kicked off with Smoked Chicken and Mustard Sandwich for me- applewood smoked chicken with traditional English mustard sauce between brown bread slices. I love sandwiches and exploring varieties of it, and I love mustard. The chicken was in small, juicy chunks and the mustard in generous quantity. My only feedback to Nitin was to make the mustard strong enough to give a hit, at least a moderate one. If it calls for tweak of recipe, so be it, but that’s the kind of mustard sauce that mostly appeals to the palate this city. If that’s done, it can be one of the attractions at Rs 120.

Smoked Chicken and Mustard Sandwich

The Chilli Chicken Wrap looked inviting with the non-oily paratha loaded with spicy chicken. After all, Kolkata loves its rolls! It is served with with chopped, vinegar-soaked, spiced onion and tomato. It didn’t disappoint completely, but the paratha could be softer, so that it wouldn’t harden when not that hot. The chicken is not what we call chilli chicken. Rather, it’s a spicy Indian kind of chicken which lacked the desired sharpness. My view was: Change the name and enhance the spiciness a bit, something that can be enjoyed by all ages and palates. Done right, this dish can be one of the draws here. The mint sauce seen in the picture was picked up by us from the table, and not served with it. It’s reasonably priced at Rs 110.

Chilli Chicken Wrap

The Celery Chicken Club is your familiar triple decker with brown bread, interlaid with grilled chicken and poached egg accompanied by celery. The tender chicken was dripped in sour mayo, which should have been less as it bore upon the taste of chicken. Otherwise, it was good! It can be an option for the health food seekers. Great value for money too, at just Rs 110!

 Celery Chicken Club

Our adda was hindered only by the servings. The bloggers pounced on the food with cameras whenever any dish arrived.

Their desi take on burgers is interesting! Tried the Bun Kebab first. A patty of minced chicken kebab put inside a halfway cut medium burger bread, on a dab of mayonnaise and served with mint chutney. Liked the taste! Shows value at just Rs 60. But you must have it hot. I took a repeat.

Bun Kebab

Though I love egg, I’m not fond of egg-based bread dishes, unless it has other non-veg proteins. So, though the Bun Omelette didn’t disappoint (omelette replaced chicken kebab in the earlier bun, served with tomato ketchup), I didn’t think it was worth a repeat. Not value for money either (same price as Bun Kebab). They also have a bun tikka (with potato tikia).

Bun Omelette

In Small Nibbles, I picked up the Three Chilli Cheese Toasties reluctantly (as it was vegetarian yet the cheese was too inviting to resist). And I didn’t regret. It’s cheese toast (having cheese in good measure) with three kinds of chilli- Jalapeno, green chilli and red chilli. It was scrumptious, just short of finger-licking! The variety of chilli in utter cheesiness created a winning flavour. Don’t go by so much of chilli, it’s not that hot and can be enjoyed by all, even children. A recommendation for vegetarians. Comes at just Rs 80.

 Chilli Cheese Toastie

It was time to bid adieu at Flavothon. The parting gift was appealing to me, as I dig health food and drink. A nice, large box of Typhoo green teas in six flavours apart from pure green tea. Typhoo is an iconic British tea brand born in 1903. The brand which is the second largest tea manufacturer in the UK and delights people in 50 countries was acquired by Apeejay Tea (The same group which runs Cha Bar and Oxford Bookstore) in 2005. To be honest, I do not like green tea for the taste, but I was looking forward to sample the flavours like masala chai, lemongrass and Moroccan Mint. There’s a coconut flavour as well.

#ChaBar #ChaBarKolkata #OxfordBookstore #NewMenu #DesiBurger #Wrap

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Sunday, November 06, 2016

Apeejay Bangla Sahitya Utsob- a heritage bus tour

I love to explore the heritage of Kolkata. So when this invitation came from the Apeejay group for a literary heritage tour as a curtain-raiser to their Apeejay Bangla Sahitya Utsob (a Bengali literature festival) organized by Oxford Bookstore, the heritage book den and Patra Bharati, an old publication house, I agreed to it. It was a tour of the houses of some of the most illustrious names in Bengal’s literary history.

A Sunday afternoon saw a bunch of bloggers and social media enthusiasts hop on a small AC bus from Apeejay House, Park Street. It started for the tour around 2.30 pm. Another bus carried mediapersons. It was fun to be in the company of fellow bloggers, chatting away the time in the bus amid our usual banter. RJ Roy, who I know since long before he became popular on radio (the Orkut days), was also with us.

Our first stop was the residence of Raja Rammohan Roy which was later converted to Calcutta Police Museum. It is located at 113 Acharya Prafulla Chandra Road (APC Road) before Manicktala crossing when approached from Sealdah.

Calcutta Police Museum. Photograph by Subhadip Mukherjee.

Eminent journalist, author and scholar Ranjan Bandopadhyay introduced us to the history of this place. Tridib Kumar Chattopadhyay, MD, Patra Bharati also spoke briefly and Swagat Sengupta, CEO, Oxford Bookstore and Director, Apeejay Bangla Sahitya Utsob spoke about the literary festival.

(Left to right) Swagat Sengupta, Ranjan Bandopadhyay, Tridib Kumar Chattopadhyay

The house was built around 1814 on a five acre plot with three ponds. Rammohan used this house to entertain his European friends and hold meetings with his associates and collaborators. The house was built and furnished in European style as described by Fanny Parkes, a well-known travel writer of nineteenth century.

Rammohan auctioned this house to organize funds for his departure for England in 1830. The government of West Bengal rented this house to re-locate Sukia Street police station in 1874. The government acquired this property in 1918 and till 1990s, various offices and senior officers’ quarters have been accommodated in the premises after the police station was shifted again. In 1996, Calcutta Police Museum was inaugurated in the house.

It has been a long time wish for me to visit the museum. It is a place to know the rich history of the city police right from pre-independence era. It depicts many well-known incidents from the history pages as well as the last few decades with preserved material belonging to the said incidents (including a large variety of arms recovered down the decades). There are dedicated officers of Kolkata Police who take the visitors through the exhibits.

The museum is open Monday-Saturday, from morning till about 5.30 pm and closed on public holidays. Entry is free. It is an ideal place to visit for children who have studied the freedom movement of Bengal in history books.

Unfortunately, photography is prohibited inside the museum and special permission is required to shoot. Hence I couldn’t take pictures to post here.

Among the interesting exhibits are the book bomb sent to chief presidency magistrate of Kolkata DH Kingsford in 1908, made by freedom-fighter Hemchandra Das, and Mauser pistol which fired both in short as well as long range (fitted in the body of a rifle, it used to fire like one) and could be easily concealed as a toy in a wooden case.

It also displays the hierarchy of the police and displays the badges which are worn on the uniform indicating different positions. The commissioner’s badge has a sword and a baton crossed along with stars. Every single badge is noticeably different for concerned and knowledgeable people to make out which position it is for. There is a list of all the city police commissioners right from the first till the previous one along with photographs. The first ever Indian commissioner was Surendra Nath Chatterjee (1947-1951).

An interesting bit of information to note was that the women’s section in Kolkata Police was started as long back as 1949 with nine sub-inspectors and thirty four assistant sub-inspectors.

The house also has the quarters of a senior police officer. I couldn’t resist the temptation to shoot this statue of a fairy in the middle of this manicured garden on the right hand side of the museum where the quarters are located, before I was told that photography was prohibited there too.


 The entrance seen from inside

We couldn’t stay for long. It would take at least two hours to explore the entire collection of the museum. I have to come back here.

We walked to our next destination Rammohan Library which was almost a stone’s throw. It was closed that day, so we couldn’t step inside. It’s located at 267 APC Road. Noted travel blogger and friend Rangan Dutta shared the history of the place briefly to the participants but I completely missed it.  It was founded in 1904 in memory of Raja Rammohan Roy to support and develop reading habit and create a cultural milieu. The library has a collection of rare books and magazines along with arrangement for research, a dedicated section for children and adolescents, does literary meets and has a permanent exhibition on Rammohan.

Rammohan Library

We hopped on to the bus and went down near Rajabazar Science College. The destination was noted author and publisher Upendrakishore Ray Chowdhury’s house. It’s on Garpar Road adjacent to Calcutta Deaf & Dumb School which is a few metres away from the science college on the opposite side of the road. It’s a white-coloured building at 100A Garpar road which has been declared a heritage building by The Kolkata Municipal Corporation. The house is not open for public visit.

The residence of Upendrakishore Ray Chowdhury

This was also the house where Upendrakishore’s son, famous children’s author Sukumar Ray lived all his life and his son, globally acclaimed director Satyajit Ray spent the early years of his childhood. Leela Majumdar, Upendrakishore’s niece and a famous author of children’s literarture also lived here. So, it is a rare address associated with three generations of literary and cultural legends who are widely known for laying the foundation of children’s literature in Bengali. Upendrakishore ran his publishing house U Ray & Sons which published the legendary Bengali children’s magazine Sandesh from this address. It also houses a school, Atheneum Institution which was started in 1931.

The busts of (left to right) Upendrakishore Ray Chowdhury, Sukumar Ray and Satyajit Ray

The bus then took us to Hrishikesh Park through Sukia Street. The residence of legendary educationist, author, reformer and philanthropist Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar is located behind the park. It’s a nicely-built two-storied house with a long balcony along two sides of the building with an adjacent lawn having an open-air stage at one side. Though this is an IGNOU centre now, it wasn’t open that day.

The residence of Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar

Rangan Dutta (centre) with the participants

Our last stop was Bangiya Sahitya Parishad at 243/1 APC Road. Unfortunately this was closed on that day too. Founded in 1893 for promoting Bengali literature (including translating literary work in other languages to Bengali), it was situated in the house of Binoy Krishna Deb, the first president, at Raja Nabakrishna Street. After several shifts, it came to the present address on a land donated by Maharaja Manindra Chandra Nandi of the royal family of Cossimbazar. It was first named The Bengal Academy of Literature which was changed to the present name in 1894. Rabindranath Tagore was one of the first vice presidents of this academy.

 Bangiya Sahitya Parishad

I wasn’t aware that the homes of several luminaries of Bengali education and literature were located such close to one another in north Kolkata. My sincere thanks to Apeejay Bangla Sahitya Utsob for the experience, especially for the police museum.

Apeejay Bangla Sahitya Utsob was held at Oxford Bookstore on 21st and 22nd October 2016.

#ABSU2016 #Heritage #History #BengaliLiterature #KolkataPolice

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Saturday, October 22, 2016

Review: Zulfiqar

Language- Bengali
Cast- Prosenjit, Dev, Parambrata, Jisshu, Ankush, Rahul, Koushik Sen, Nusrat, Paoli, Kanchan, June Maliah, Kyra Dutt
Director- Srijit Mukherji

After the very first action sequence it becomes clear what pitch this film is going to have. That, no, this is not going to be Bengali cinema’s answer to Satya or Company. It’s an unabashed mainstream attempt of the director known for his brand of sensible cinema with the support of two famous Shakespearean plays providing the lifeline missing in today’s Bengali mainstream cinema- content.

There isn’t much to say about the story as the film is an ambitious joint adaptation of Julius Caeser and Anthony and Cleopatra which have some common characters, the same backdrop and the latter follows the former chronologically. The world of dock mafia in Kolkata forms the backdrop in this tale of power, greed, friendship, love, betrayal and revenge. Zulfiqar (Prosenjit, based on Caeser) is the leading man in the umbrella crime racket known as Syndicate which operates on the collective decision of its members. The members are varied in nature, for example, there is a promoter- Kashinath Kundu (Jisshu, based on Cassius), the son of the local councillor and two government officers (Sujan Mukherjee and Srijato, the poet). Syndicate is the representation of the senate in Julius Caeser. It runs on a common principle- no one member can become exceptionally powerful or popular with the people, in other words, bigger than the syndicate. When that happens, he is eliminated.

The first half (and the beginning of the second half) of the film is based on Julius Caeser, essaying Zulfiqar Ahmed's rise in mass popularity in the area and a parallel fall from grace in his best friend's mind as he got addicted to grabbing the credits of group accomplishments himself, which eventually leads to his end, and the second half is Anthony and Cleopatra which traces Zulfiqar’s nephew Akhtar's (Ankush, based on Octavius) joining the business and taking over complete control of it. It's an exceptionally intriguing story indeed.There’s a gap of twenty years between the timelines of the plays which has deliberately been erased here.

The prominent members of Zulfiqar’s own gang are his closest friend Basheer Khan (Koushik Sen, based on Brutus), Tony Braganza (Parambrata, one half of Mark Anthony) and Markaz Ali- the brawn of the gang (Dev, the other half). Markaz and Tony are best friends forever to the point of being “brothers not from the same mother”, as Tony puts it. Markaz is dumb, so Tony puts words to his expressions to others.

Srijit has given the film a realistic backdrop (the dock area- Kidderpore and Metiabruz) that has largely been ignored in Bengali cinema, thus giving the story a fresh look and feel which is one of its strong points. It’s the old Kolkata that we not only don’t get to see on the big screen but also know very little about. The action sequences are smarter, at par with national standards and much more realistic than average Bangla mainstream cinema not only for the action direction but also for the way they are shot. The drone shots need a mention.

However, there are certain noticeable excesses for the temptation to play to the gallery in certain sequences. The blast in the ship after the successful counter operation by Zulfiqar’s gang following his kidnapping and the kickboxing match featuring Markaz and a foreign opponent (the WWF type) are instances. There is lack of detailing in the action sequences too- Thunderous punches landed in the kick-boxing bout failing to cause visible injury to the face, no blood squirting even when someone is forcefully hit by sharp weapons, while an exception is- Rabindranath's framed photo is coloured with blood spray when bullets are fired into one's head point blank, just for the visual effect. There’s a chase by toughs with firearms without a single gunshot fired!! It’s obvious that Srijit wanted to reach out to a much larger audience with this film, including a big new audience who would watch the film not for Shakespeare, or to catch a Srijit Mukherji film for the first time but for the sheer star power and a new story. Such excesses should be lapped up by it and such lack of detailing overlooked.

The first thing to strike me was- Why is Koushik talking in a fake voice? Well, apparently to bring a certain gravity to the persona of Basheer, but that doesn’t work as his modulation works mostly at a higher pitch as we see it through the film. A measured modulation would’ve worked well, like it has worked for Jisshu.

The language is a bit of a mess here. Because of the setting, the script demanded a lot more Hindi. But characters whose mother language is not Bengali are seen speaking in the language when conversing among themselves. The oddest was Pariza, Basheer’s wife (June, based on Portia) talking to him in chaste Bengali. Hindi and Bengali frequently alternate in the dialogue, taking away the essence of the setting. And Tony talks in and toggles three languages- English (his mother language), Hindi and Bengali with almost equal ease! He delivers a speech to the localites at Zulfiqar’s funeral in a weird hotchpotch of all the three languages.

The first half is better than the second and has more drama. The director has skillfully blended high-octane thrill with drama while bringing out one of the disturbing trends of the city youth these days- bike racing in the night.

I just wish the director kept some screen time establishing the aura and leadership of Zulfiqar and not depended on the elaborate narration of inspector Laltu Das (Rahul, based on Lepidus) in the beginning of the film as he was handing over charge to his successor. The director has premeditatedly played to the gallery in Zulfiqar’s assassination scene as Prosenjit does an Amitabh Bachchan (a la Coolie or Agneepath) taking bullet after bullet from the syndicate members yet refusing to collapse. He falls on his knees once but, no, stands up again before Basheer fires the last bullet! If gunshot has to replace stab (as in the play), the scene called for a different composition.

The revenge of the death by Akhtar (Ankush), the foreign-educated, calm, young nephew of Zulfiqar up to his taking complete control of the crime kingdom by eliminating challengers step by step forms the second half. The drama gets a bit weak in this part. Akhtar’s moves hardly face challenges, as if he has become a master strategist in just a few days.

In performances, Koushik and Jisshu stand tall in the ensemble cast. I assume the fake voice of Koushik was a director’s call, but otherwise he competently brings out the strong character of Basheer who is able to win audience empathy despite eliminating his best friend by falling in the trap devised by the power-greedy Kashinath. He has worked on his body for the first time in his film career and looks fit for all the high-voltage action. 

Jisshu has essayed an uncouth, pan-chewing, scheming, delightfully sinister Kashinath Kundu with a pockmarked face flawlessly. We rarely get to see understated  villains in Bengali cinema. Thanks to Srijit for consistently offering the right roles to this highly talented actor who didn’t get a fair deal for the most part of his career. 

The next to mention is Dev, who surprised with his silent portrayal of Markaz. It was indeed a masterstroke of Srijit to take away Dev’s voice (which could have backfired too) as the actor had to focus on physical acting. Dev has learnt sign language, not used some of his stock expressions and made use of his eyes, which put together have worked wonders. To me, after Bunohansh, this is the next milestone of his acting career. The deep hurt in his eyes after he discovered the betrayal of his lover (Rani, played by Nusrat, based on Cleopatra) is one of the defining moments of the film.

Prosenjit is apt as Caeser but for the way the character is written, it doesn’t offer remarkable scope for him to emote. It’s his charisma and screen presence that the director has chosen to use in this film. The characterization of Tony is a disappointment and I found Parambrata miscast in the role. He was obviously chosen for the cerebrality of the character and his English-speaking skill which is rare in Tollygunge, but I didn’t find a single scene where Tony’s strategizing power is established. He never seemed the brain of the crime syndicate which he was supposedly, as articulated in one of the pre-release interviews. This is one of Srijit’s major weaknesses in the film. On the acting part, a criminal in that kind of a setting, no matter how intelligent he is, should not sound as cultivated as a young lecturer. The weird wig didn’t help as the face and the eyes weren’t supporting it. And it’s high time Param gets rid of certain expressions, like his typical eye movement, as they suit a college boy more and not a crime mastermind. Just to mention, I have appreciated Param in two diametrically different characters earlier this year in Kaushik Ganguly’s Bastushaap and Cinemawala and it’s understandable that the diector was responsible for smoothening out these rough edges.

The role of Akhtar was too heavy for Ankush’s well-built shoulders and the director has not been able to groom him as much as needed for this key character who leads the second half. I understand his limitations as an actor, but his efforts to rise to the career-defining role was lacking. Also, the director apparently put in more effort on getting the transformation of his look from the suave, Bangla band-loving youngster to a cold-blooded strategeist right than on being ruthlessly demanding of his actor’s emoting skill (which he is famous for).

Nusrat is glamorous and sensuous without doubt, but Rani lacked the killer charm and enigma of Cleopatra, the traits she is famous for. Zulfiqar’s wife Karishma’s character also lacked depth (Paoli, based on Calphurnia) as she is mostly found drugging, smoking or hallucinating. Srijit probably balanced out by paying disproportionate attention on the male characters after his women-centric Rajkahini last year.

This is indeed the most versatile score of Anupam and his lyrics touch the soul. All the songs are good and some stay in the mind like the romantic Katakuti khela (by Shaan and Shreya), Amader ghawrbari (by Anupam) and Ayak purono masjide (by Nachiketa) but the former looks forced in the flow and I so wish the last one was used in the first half to build the character of the area which remained stereotypical throughout the film. Soumik’s camera brings out with the dark and shady world competently (the action scenes are already mentioned).

Overall, Zulfiqar is a strong mainstream product which is better not seen as an ambitious double adaptation of Shakespeare. You shall probably enjoy it better if you don’t have expectations as you go to the theatre.

#Zulfiqar #BanglaCinema #SrijitMukherji #Dev #Shakespeare #JuliusCaeser #AnthonyandCleopatra #BengaliCinema

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Sunday, October 09, 2016

Pujo 2016

Here are some moments from Pujo (as Puja is called by Bengalis) which is going on from
7th (Shasthi) to 11th October 2016 (Dashami).

A pandal (marquee) made of grass in Talbagan, Barrackpore in north suburbs of Kolkata

 A pandal designed like an old, decaying mansion in Nonachandanpukur, Barrackpore

The pandal in Nonachandanpukur, Barrackpore

Human models in the pandal in Nonachandanpukur, Barrackpore

Puja is now being referred to globally as 'World's largest art gallery' thanks to the incredible popularity of theme in creating the pandal (marquee) and the idol of goddess Durga among thousands of pujas organised in Kolkata. Let me also say for the records that Puja, without doubt, is one of world's largest and greatest festivals which draws several lakhs of crowd in the city in just the five days.The themed pandals that mesmerize the visitors are actually huge art installations created by qualified and self-taught artists over a long time. The districts have followed in the footsteps competently and have been drawing crowds as well. The picture of the pandal below from the adjoining district of North 24 Parganas is representative of the fact. Many pandals in suburbs and districts can give those in the city a run for their money.
The pandal in the puja of Anandamath, Ichhapur in northern suburbs of Kolkata. 

Loved the classical form of idols of goddess Durga and her two sons and daughters in this puja in Ichhapur. Since as per Hindu mythology Durga killed the monster Mahishasura in a fight, her face is supposed to look feisty and angry. This is aptly expressed in the right degree in this idol.

 No Pujo is complete without khichhudi bhog

#Puja2016 #Bhog #WorldsLargestArtGallery

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