The flavour of Kolkata

The flavour of Kolkata
Flying 'phanush' (sky lantern). A fast-fading passion that surprisingly found a new lease of life this Kali Puja. Shot by Soumya Shankar Ghosal.

Monday, November 16, 2015

X: Past is Present- An intriguing experimental film

“X is going to be a genre-bending, one-of-its-kind cinema experience because we have at least eleven different styles of storytelling in one film.” –Sudhish Kamath

We are familiar with many-in-one films or what the cine buffs call anthology films where several interconnected short films, sometimes made by different directors, are packed into one cohesive film. A recent instance is Bombay Talkies (Hindi).

X: Past is Present, releasing this month, is a film with a single story, but made by not just a handful, but eleven directors, each doing one segment. And so far I’m aware, it is the first time in Indian cinema that such an experiment has been done. Helmed by eleven varied cinematic talents possessing strikingly diverse filmmaking styles, this cinematic treat is about a single man who recalls his passionate journey with various women spanning 25 years. And it happens all in a night at a film festival after he meets a mysterious girl who intriguingly seems to have something to do with every woman in his life.

Each segment, which is like one short film, deals with one of the ten ex-girlfriends with one or two of the twelve female leads acting in it. The male protagonist, K- the filmmaker, is played by Rajat Kapoor. His younger age is played by Anshuman Jha (of Love Sex Aur Dhokha).

The female leads include Huma Qureshi (Looking stunningly beautiful and sensuous), Radhika Apte and Swara Bhaskar.

It is pleasing to note that two filmmakers from Kolkata, Pratim D Gupta (better known as the film critic of The Telegraph, who debuted with Paanch Adhyay in 2012) and Q have directed two segments. Pratim’s film has Parno Mittra in the lead opposite Ronodeep Bose (playing the young K only in this segment), with Usha Uthup playing a character role. Q’s film has Rii in the lead (No prizes for guessing). Howrah girl Bidita Bag (of Ichchhe) has played another lead in one of the other tracks.

Parno in a still from '8 to 8'- Pratim's track in the film

The other filmmakers are Abhinav Shiv Tiwari (of Oass), Anu Menon (of London, Paris, New York), Hemant Gaba (of Shuttlecock Boys), Nalan Kumarasamy (of Soodhu Kavvum), film critic Raja Sen (whose reviews one has read on, Rajshree Ojha (of Chaurahein, Aisha), Sandeep Mohan (Love Wrinkle Free, Hola Venky), Sudhish Kamath (Good Night Good Morning) and Suparn Verma (Aatma).

The story behind the film goes as: The idea came from film critic Sudhish Kamath when he was at The Goa Project held in March 2013. He wanted to shoot a film during the event itself but as he could not because of lack of funds and time he "decided to take the idea forward and make it bigger in scope".  The project got backing from Manish Mundra of Drishyam Films and Shiladitya Bora (who jointly produced the critically acclaimed Masaan along with others) Sudhish was the driving force and he was instrumental in getting the other ten directors together.

The eleven tracks are varied in nature. As Sudhish puts it, “Someone's a light rom-com, someone's a twisted drama; someone soothes, while someone thrills."

The film had its world premiere on November 16, 2014, at the South Asian International Film Festival in New York, where it was selected to open the festival.

One of the reasons why it was indeed a risky experiment was eleven directors interpreting a single character. But this is what Christopher Bourne of Meniscus magazine, New York has said on the film- “The most remarkable aspect of X is the fact that in spite of the quite disparate cinematic styles and narrative modes employed by these 11 directors, the film feels quite coherent and cohesive. If one didn't know many directors were involved in this piece, he or she could easily conceive of a single filmmaker attempting different styles in order to tell the story."

A Sreekar Prasad is the lead editor of the film whose segments have been edited by individual editors. Prasad is largely responsible in giving the film the final shape taking up possibly one of his most challenging assignments.

X: Past is Present is releasing nationwide on November 20 by PVR Pictures. It has already generated curiosity on social media with many celebrities sharing the intriguing trailer which has generated more than 9.51 lakh hits on YouTube.

If you are inquisitive about the story of its making in further detail, read this interview of Sudhish Kamath.

(The digital posters are sourced form the film's Facebook page)

#XPastisPresent #RajatKapoor #SudhishKamath #HumaQureshi #PratimDGupta #Q #ParnoMittra

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Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Kalkatta by Kunal Basu

When about two years back I read, probably in Anandabazar Patrika, that renowned author Kunal Basu had shifted his base to his city of origin- Kolkata, and henceforth would divide his time between UK (where he teaches in Oxford University) and this city, I was elated as a Kolkatan to see one of the city's brightest minds back home. At that time he just started research on his next novel set in Kolkata and centred around a gigolo. The novelty of the subject fanned my curiosity about the book and finally now it is coming out from Pan Macmillan India as Kalkatta (The way non-Bengalis pronounce the name of the city).

The book title has an engaging tagline- Every city has its secrets.

This video about the book, that I came across from a Facebook post by blogger friend Anindya S Basu, got me more hooked to it. It is a monologue of the author shot largely outdoor in various locations in Kolkata and his home, and a charming preface of the story. 

When I started writing this novel, the question that was foremost on my mind was how do I bridge the gap between me, the author, and Jamshed, the gigolo. And I thought the best way would be to write the novel in first person. To try to see Kolkata through the eyes of Jamshed rather than through the eyes of me.”- Kunal Basu says in the video.

Watch it here.

Looking forward to reading the book. It is quintessentially Kolkata and brings out lives from a part of the city I guess hardly dealt with in contemporary English fiction.

#Kalkatta #KunalBasu #KunakBasuBooks #KolkataEnglishfiction

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Saturday, November 07, 2015

The new menu introduction at Cha Bar, Oxford Bookstore

I was curious about this place inside the Oxford Bookstore at Park Street for a long time but never happened to be here. So when Indrajit, a blogger friend, said they were launching a new menu and asked whether I would be interested to join as they would like to meet some bloggers in this regard, I had no reason to think over it.

So we met up at this Sunday afternoon last month. Apart from Indrajit there were Soumya, Manikuntala, Sammya Brata and Preeti (Met all the latter three for the first time, though the first two among these are Facebook friends for some time). This is a spacious L-shaped cafĂ© on the mezzanine floor overlooking the bookstore, tastefully decorated with innovative wall art which has a lot of tea trivia. The longest wall is  intricately done up with art decor and it clearly sets it apart from other cafes. There are stools and chairs (two and four-seater) to sit, and wooden seats attached to the wall. It is a nice place for a relaxed chat with friends/ colleagues/ business contacts. One can carry a book from the shelves and browse it here over tea and snacks instead of standing near the bookshelves. 

We were soon joined by Nitin Warikoo, the national Head of Cha Bar and Business Development. He shared with us how he sees Cha Bar going forward. It was a free-flowing, interactive discussion.

Cha Bar has seven outlets across India, all inside Oxford Bookstore. After tasting success under the umbrella of the famous bookstore, it wishes to expand and go solo in small steps. Right now the menu is going through a change in phases to enhance the customer experience. Nitin told about their Delhi outlet which is more of a restaurant, offering a wide range of food, including thin crust pizza- a specialty. Menu engineering has been done to optimize the offering. The response to this outlet has prompted the management to think of expansion.

 Nitin (extreme left) with the bloggers (Soumya, Indrajit, Manikuntala- second from left to right)

I asked Nitin about the tea trivia on the wall, and he said they chose the form as they wanted to educate customers about tea in a fun way.

The menu is dominated by a wide range of tea, as expected, including Darjeeling, Assam and Nilgiri. The Darjeeling and Assam varieties come from their (Apeejay group’s) own tea estates. The menu covers practically all conceivable varieties of tea over thirteen pages, including organic, decaf, herbal, green, fruit fusion, Ayurvedic, Chinese teas and an uncommon Indian variety like oolong tea which has a small production).

A special one page menu was made for our meet and presented to each one of us, comprising seventeen handpicked varieties of tea, some veg and non-veg snacks, cakes and muffins.

Nitin strongly recommended the hot new entrant in the menu- Fish n Chips- and claimed that they’ve taken enough care to ensure that it is the best in town. Apart from that we ordered Bollywood Mix Masala Cha, Arabic Spice tea, Roast Chicken and Mayo Sandwich, Squished Egg and Kasundi Mustard sandwich and Cheese and Tomato Sandwich. I ordered an iced tea as I wasn’t feeling like having a hot beverage. The waiter was smartly dressed in their black t-shirt and white brimless cap.

The sugar pouch case

Food arrived in a while as we kept chatting with Nitin. The food comes from The Park, which is in the Apeejay group that owns Oxford Bookstore. I loved the Roast Chicken and Mayo Sandwich. The chicken was tender and the mayo was generous. At Rs 110, it’s not expensive given the quality. I am fond of the chicken and egg sandwich at Just Baked which has mustard in it. Mustard, mixed with boiled egg in the right measure, can bring out a different taste of the bland egg. The Squished Egg and Kasundi Mustard sandwich was good too though I felt it could be better if the egg was uniformly cut into tiny pieces.

Roast Chicken and Mayo Sandwich

Squished Egg and Kasundi Mustard sandwich

Enter the Fish n Chips, piping hot. Succulent, flaky fish encased in a thin crust. It was delicious and surely compares with the best in town, I felt. It vanished from the plate in no time and we asked for a repeat. Two longer and one short piece of fried fish with tartar sauce and finger chips at just Rs 130 is a killer deal! They use basa fish (which has become a common substitute for bekti in the Kolkata F&B circuit) as for them it is easy to get a consistent quality compared to bekti.

A word on Bollywood Mix Masala Cha- it is your regular masala tea served in a kettle decorated with Pakistani-style truck art of Hindi film stars. The tea is poured in glass (as it is with cutting chai of Mumbai). Indrajit is the virtual brand ambassador of masala tea and he liked it.

If you like the kettle, you can even buy one off the shelves near the counter. 

 The kettle up for grabs

Indrajit pouring Arabic Spice tea

As I understood, they offer tea and good food at a reasonably cheaper price than comparable joints so that it compliments the bookstore experience well. The tea starts at just Rs 34! It should also appeal to those who just look for good food in a good ambience. The value seekers may like this place more than Flury’s and Au Bon Pain which are good but definitely overpriced. Cha Bar is also very particular about how a beverage or a food item is served and love to innovate on it. Learnt that they are going to introduce pasta this winter. Pasta lovers may note.

The muffins on the upper rack

Out chat and banter and food photography went on for some time before we bid adieu. The kettle of the masala tea got great attention form those among us with a passion for photography (Sammya, Preeti and Soumya).  It was a Sunday afternoon well spent in a relaxed way. Would like to come back especially for the Fish n Chips.

The kettle photo session in progress

View of bookstore from Cha Bar

#ChaBar #ChaBarKolkata #OxfordBookstore #FishnChips

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Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Pijush Ganguly bids adieu

(Image sourced from Facebook)
It was sad to note that he met with a road accident and was admitted to a hospital with critical injuries at the time the Puja revelry just began. I had a soft corner for this actor and I don’t really know why, other than that he was a good actor.  Maybe it was for his endearing smile with a childlike simplicity.

I felt low to read in the newspaper last Sunday morning that he was critical and put on ventilation. I hadn’t watched television that day, so I wasn’t aware that he had already passed away. It was shocking to learn about it at night on Facebook.

I met Pijush Ganguly only once, in 2005 or so, during an event where I was managing a brand promotion activity. It was organized by a television channel and like many other television actors present, I invited him to our stall and gave away a gift hamper. And I saw that smile! Later when I introduced one of the cousins of my wife to him, whose pet name happened to be his first name, he exclaimed, “Oh, Pijush is your pet name! What’s your good name then?”

I was fond of his acting. I have always felt he was an underrated actor. Like many of us recollect now, I too remember him from his first Bengali serial Abar Jawkher Dhon, based on the famous adventure novel by Hemendra Kumar Roy ages back. Autograph, which is a milestone in contemporary Bangla cinema, opened with him, talking over phone. And that scene was memorable, reflecting upon the present scenario of the industry. He was good in a small role in the film (that of the superstar’s personal secretary). I liked him in Bomkesh Bakshi too (the first one in Anjan Dutta's series starring Abir). I sincerely feel he could’ve been seen in more challenging roles and I’m sure he would have made a space for himself on big screen like some of his contemporaries from the small screen have done.

As director Atanu Ghosh recollects on Facebook, he used to be happy like a child if his shot was good, but looked dispirited the whole day if he thought it wasn’t precisely what the director wanted, even if Atanu kept telling him that it was not bad. He would keep saying that he couldn’t give it exactly the way he (the director) wanted. This quality is rare in today's actors! I read in an interview by Dimple Kapadia that dissatisfaction was the hallmark of a great actor. And he lived with this dissatisfaction.

Pratim D Gupta, film critic-turned-director, noted on the same site that he was one of the nicest guys he knew in the industry, and probably for that he was taken away by destiny at the age of fifty.

Will miss you Pijush Ganguly. The only way I can console myself is that your smile will stay with me.

#PijushGanguly #Bengalicinema #Bengaliactor #Kolkataactor

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Monday, October 26, 2015

Durga Puja vignettes 2015 I

Durga Puja, commonly known as Puja, or more colloquially, ‘Pujo’, is symbolized by a mixed bag of elements to the Bengali. Here are some of them from this year in images.

New clothes for going out:

Siblings in new clothes with grandfather on a puja visit

Serial hoardings:

This is a favourite form of promotion for advertisers during Puja

This one has a message for pandal hoppers

The art of the theme pandals/ USP of pandals:

Tridhara Sammilani, south Kolkata. Based on Indian doll theme.

Tridhara Sammilani

Hedua, north Kolkata. Built with jhuri (Cane baskets).

The recreation of well-known buildings of India (Including religious ones) in pandals:

A temple of Nepal recreated in the pandal in Kumartuli Park, north Kolkata

A marble temple recreated as the pandal in Sreebhumi Sporting Club puja

The marble temple in Sreebhumi Sporting Club puja

Sreebhumi Sporting Club

Wall art in pandals:

Threadwork at a Lake Town pandal

Threadwork at the same pandal

Madhubani painting in Kankurgachhi Mitali

Gamchha craft in Rammohan Smriti Sangha, Manicktala

A Sukumar Ray poem with illustration in Pragati Sangha, Barrackpore

And of course, at the core, the idols of goddess Durga and her children:

The traditional form:


The modern form (A personal favourite):

BK Pal Park. The best idol I've seen this year (Though not the ideal one).

And the postmodern form (Thanks to the theme pujas):

 Kankurgachhi Mitali

Eating bhog (Prasad):

Bhog being distributed to a longish queue at Kankurgachhi Mitali

The bhog, one of the key attractions of Puja to many. I can skip a meal for this.

The queue before restaurants:

The new and sophisticated restaurant of the famous biriyani joint Dada Boudi, Barrackpore

To be continued…

#KolkataPujo #DurgaPujaKolkata #PandalArt

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