The flavour of Kolkata

The flavour of Kolkata
A government vessel on the river against a background of magical clouds at the peak summer. Lovingly captured by Sammya Brata Mullick.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

The big bang release of ‘Praktan’

As an impassioned supporter of Bangla cinema, it gives me a high to note the great job the makers of the keenly-awaited 27th May release Praktan has done in distribution. Besides an uncharacteristically wide release in Bengal (last heard 101 theatres, by distributor Piyali Films managed by Arijit Dutta of Priya Entertainments), the film is having an unprecedented big release all over India. Most importantly, and as another first, this will be a day-date release which means the film will see a release all over India on the same date as Bengal.

In the 25 cities that the film will be released in, most do not generally see a Bengali release though they are known to have a sizeable Bengali population (like Lucknow, Kanpur, Chennai, Allahabad, Bhubaneshwar, Patna and Dhanbad). Bangla movies have a release (if at all) deferred by a few weeks mostly in cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Pune and Bangalore.

On top of it and as yet another first, Praktan is going to have a day-date international release in 8 cities in US and 1 city in Canada. The theatres are:

California- AMC Mercado 20, Cine Grant Fremont
New York- Bombay Theatre
Dallas- Fun Asia Richardson
New Jersey- Regal Commerce Center
Los Angeles- Brea Plaza 5 Cinemas
Seattle- Roxy Cinema
Toronto- Albion Cinemas, Woodside Cinemas

Bangla movies don’t see an international release for quite some time. In the past, a US-based organization called Databazar used to release Bangla movies in the US on a small scale but the efforts were not sustained for long.

All this is possible thanks to Eros being the distribution partner. This big and eminent production & distribution house of Hindi cinema and of late, regional cinema, has the necessary clout in distributing Indian movies in the country and international markets. Eros decided to back the Praktan director duo Nandita Roy & Shiboprosad Mukhopadhyay’s films after they distributed their last release nationally observing its success in Bengal (Belasheshe, a blockbuster of 2015). 

If Praktan is a success, a large national and international market will open before Bangla cinema from which it can immensely benefit.  The struggling industry is probably pinning its hopes on the film.

#Praktan #PraktanRelease #ErosRelease #USrelease #CanadaRelease

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Sunday, May 22, 2016

The reopening of a lost hope

It is common knowledge now that it has become a routine for single-screen theatres in Kolkata and other parts of West Bengal to shut down. The state used to have seven hundred theatres (multiplexes apart), a number which is now bleeding at just two hundred and forty eight. Consistent poor business on one hand and rising costs on the other are the primary reasons for their fate. All of us have fond memories of a number of theatres where we used to go to watch movies, which are closed down now.

The just-released Cinemawala by Kaushik Ganguly deals with this brute truth at its core. It’s a father-son relationship story in the backdrop of a closed down theatre in the suburbs.

The lack of business emerges out of basically two reasons- 1. The pathetic box office of Bangla cinema these days (I’m talking of the mainstream releases here, not so-called urban cinema which releases not even in one third of the theatres) and the owners’ apathy to the business. Any business calls for the businessman’s interest and involvement to survive and flourish and there is no reason why a movie theatre would be any different. The state government supported the cause of the theatre owners some years ago by bringing down the amusement tax to just 2% for Bengali movies on condition that the savings would be ploughed back into the improvement and upgrade of the theatres, but most of the theatre owners have been reluctant to avail this opportunity.

On the other hand, changing with the times in terms of technology and amenities and learning smart ways of doing business have kept many theatres in good business not only in Kolkata but in the districts as well. From personal experience in the movie exhibition business (running a movie theatre in other words) spanning Kolkata to interiors of Bengal I know that the audience across economic classes doesn’t mind paying a little more for a better movie watching experience.

At this juncture, it’s incredible to see a closed theatre re-opening. But that’s what has happened almost silently in one corner of Kolkata earlier this month. Ellora, an old theatre in Behala and once a much-loved destination for cine goers, has been re-opened after being closed for three years. This is thanks to the owners of Ajanta Cinema, one of the popular theatres of the city located in the same area.

Tthe owners of Ajanta- the young Satadeep Saha and his father Ratan Saha are passionate about the business of film exhibition and that is the reason why some single screen theatres in Kolkata have moved with time and are sustaining themselves well in the age of multiplexes (Priya being a prime example). Since I was overjoyed with the news, I asked Satadeep how it happened. He shared the inspiring story of their growing cinema business.

They have always wanted to grow screens with good infrastructure. It all started in 2007 when they renovated Ajanta and opened the screen 1 in 2007, followed by its success the screen 2 came in 2008. The next stop was Tripura which has a sizable Bengali population. There was not a single decent theatre in the state. So the Sahas took a calculative risk and opened a four-screen multiplex named SSR Rupasi in 2012. It is running successfully screening new Bengali and Hindi releases.

They were looking for properties to start a new theatre in Kolkata and rather than going for a new property which calls for a substantial investment, re-opening a theatre seemed a viable option. Ellora is a well-located theatre just a few kilometers away, which was closed for three years and they zeroed in on it.

Ellora finally threw open its gates on 6th May 2016. I found it out from a nonchalant status update by Satadeep on Facebook. As he shared, it has been opened as it was,  only with a better projection and sound for now. The Sahas plan to renovate it over time with all modern facilities to qualify it as a movie-viewing option besides the plexes. Ticketing machines are being installed and online booking will be open soon. Good for now! Ellora will show mainly Bengali movies and Hindi movies as well.

A friend born and brought up in Behala informed that decades back Ellora used to be the number one movie destination for the educated middle and upper middle class in Behala. He fondly recalled his family trips to the place in his early school days.

Here’s hoping Ellora earns its lost glory back.

#MovieTheatresKolkata #Ellora #BehalaTheatres #BengaliCinema

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Thursday, May 12, 2016

‘Elixir’ makes it to the Cannes big league

A lady was waiting at a restaurant in Kolkata for her husband’s friend to deliver a parcel. The waiter served her a glass of water. And it changed her life, as it was not water, but ‘Elixir’.

Srija was living an unhappy life because of a failed marriage. Her husband was a corporate slave and had little time for his family. The Elixir gives a U-turn to her living by transporting her to a dream life where she meets a man and they fall in love. Akash, her lover, is in his early thirties, very sensitive and caring and has all the qualities of a quintessential Bengali lover. She starts living two parallel lives but yearns for this imaginary life and prefers it to the reality. It affects her psychological well-being and she eventually ends up in a hospital. There, she is offered a final choice- another drink of Elixir.

This is the synopsis of a short film named Elixir made by debutant Anirban Guha, born and brought up in Kolkata, and working as a banker in Delhi. What makes this film different is that it has been selected among forty films from India for screening at the ongoing Cannes Short Film Corner (11th to 22nd May 2016).

 The official poster for Cannes Short Film Corner

Another interesting bit about the film is that those who have acted in it are all non-actors, except the female lead Daminee Benny Basu. Mahul Brahma, a Kolkata-based senior editor-turned-corporate communicator, plays Akash, her dream lover. Anirban, however, had the support of an experienced cinematographer and editor in Ravi Kiran Ayyagari and Sreya Chatterjee respectively, both alumni of FTII. Sreya won a national award for her work in 2008.

As I asked Anirban how he had zeroed in on the story, he revealed that the story (written by his wife Sinjini Sengupta) actually inspired the film. He was very excited with the story, so decided to base the film on it.

About casting Mahul, Anirban said that he was his first choice for Akash because he was sure that Mahul would be able to deliver. He was glad that Mahul agreed to do the role and did justice to it. Mahul, on the other hand, is happy about his new experience. He said, “When Anirban told me about the role I thought he must be joking. He was absolutely sure that I will fit the role of Akash, the dream lover, best. Every day of the shoot was a challenge for me. But thanks to the excellent team effort, the hard work paid off.  Watching our movie screened at Cannes Film Festival will be an amazing experience.”

Mahul Brahma in a still from the film

The making of the film was quite a challenge. Anirban being extremely busy with his job, shot the film in just four days in Kolkata in December 2015 when he finally managed to take leave. The post-production was the biggest challenge as his crew was spread across three cities. Hence, much of the iterative and intense work had to be carried out over conversations over phone and internet chat. It also needed with some quick trips to Kolkata over weekends to brush up and even out loose ends.

#Cannes #Elixir #ShortFilmKolkata

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Sunday, May 08, 2016

A unique Bengali new year calendar

I read in Ei Samay, the Bengali daily, a few days ago that a Bengali new year calendar was printed in thirty thousand by a leading cake shop chain, and it went out of stock within two weeks of the Bengali new year day this year (14th April) or less, thanks to the demand from customers among whom it was distributed.

Drooling over a calendar of Bengali new year (it’s 1423), something that most of us don’t follow except for certain times of the year! Also, the creative aspect of such a calendar is generally not worth writing home about. So this one had got to be something extremely special, I thought.

The name of the creative agency (Mayurakshi) and that it was for a leading cake shop chain rang a bell. So when I was in Mio Amore earlier this week and had a fleeting glance of someone walking out with a sophisticated rolled up calendar, I asked a salesman whether they had come up with a new year calendar. As he answered in affirmative, I asked whether it was for a price. He embarrassedly said no, and picked up and handed over one to me. It was a wonderful reward from the chain to me for being a loyal customer for many years.

It is a theme calendar based on Satyajit Ray and the legendary sleuth created by him- Feluda, produced in association with the Ray family and Ray Society, with a well-worded foreword by Sandip Ray. It celebrates the fiftieth year of Feluda’s debut in Bengali literature. Sandip has revealed how Feluda had gradually developed noticeable resemblance in psychological traits and similarities in physical traits and dress sense with his creator.

The calendar presents the versatile creative genius of Ray, from writing, illustration and book designing to various aspects of filmmaking.

It starts with the manuscript of the first Feluda story- Feludar Goendagiri along with its published illustration and the book cover design of Joy Baba Felunath.

The manuscript of Feludar Goendagiri

It then walks into his world of filmmaking where we see the first page of the Sonar Kella script, Ray’s work on the production design (like the sketch of Feluda’s room in Sonar Kella), costume design and character sketches.

The first page of Sonar Kella script (Middle at the left)

The sketch of Feluda’s room in Sonar Kella

The character sketch of the knife thrower Arjun (Right) and the design of the dart board in Joy Baba Felunath

Costume design for Sonar Kella

There are stills of the making of the two Feluda films made by Ray showing him busy in the shooting with the actors.

The maestro earnestly believed in getting every small detail right in his films and used to be personally involved in ensuring the same. The shooting stills of Joy Baba Felunath in the calendar bear ample testimony to it. How many of us know that the freeze-frame at the end of Joy Baba Felunath showing the title written on stone at the Beneras ghat was created by Ray himself?

Ray adding touches to the Durga idol in Joy Baba Felunath 

The master writing the title on stone in Benaras which we see in the 
freeze-frame at the end of Joy Baba Felunath 

My sincere thanks to Mio Amore for creating this collector’s item where they have cheered for the Bengali intelligence and creativity.

#BengaliNewYear #SatyajitRay #Feluda50 #FeludaFilms #MioAmore

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Sunday, May 01, 2016

The music release of ‘Praktan’

“Ghum bhange Esplanade
Khola bhange Chine badam
Chena kon ghaasher daag
Shuye thaka ki araam
Kolkata, tumi-o hente dyakho
Kolkata, tumi-o bhebe dyakho
Jaabe ki na jaabe amar sathe”

The city of Kolkata has become a character in numerous Bengali films till date. An apt example in recent times would be ‘Kahaani’(which was technically not a Bengali film albeit its unmistakable Bengaliness). But we are yet to come across a film which romances the city in the true sense.

The wait was over as the first song from the eagerly-awaited May ’16 release Praktan was released in the social media in April. It is called the ‘Kolkata’ song, an excerpt of whose lyric is in the beginning of this post. The protagonist Ujaan (played by Prosenjit), in this movie directed by the famous duo Shiboprosad Mukhopadhyay-Nandita Roy, is a tour guide in the city who has an undying love for the city and prefers calling himself an explorer.

The song, penned and composed by Anupam Roy and sung by himself and Shreya Ghosal was lapped up instantly. I loved the melodious composition and the wonderful lyric, not to say the mellifluous voice of Anupam and the infectious charm of Shreya. I sorely miss the pure romance in contemporary Bangla cinema (the last romantic tale I loved was Antaheen in 2009), so finding solace in the lines “Khunje dite na parle aari/ Amar Byomkesh Bakshir bari/ Tawbei tomar katha/ Kolkata Kolkata/ Sawbkichhu mene nite pari” took no time.

The invitation to the music release was therefore instantly accepted. As I settled down in a sultry afternoon at South City Mall on 27th April, the media and the crowd had started gathering.

The show started a little late. Meanwhile, the trailer of the film (Released earlier on YouTube) was being played time to time. Somak, the emcee took the stage first and conducted a quiz about the cast and the director duo.

 The trailer being played on the backdrop with a screen

Among the known faces from the cast, crew and music team, Aparajita Adhya turned up first, followed by Anupam and Anindya Chatterjee. Shiboprosad came little later and took the stage reluctantly as he was called by the emcee (he wanted to go up with his co-director Nandita). He shared with us the experience of making the film which was conceived in 2002 (long before they debuted with Ichchhe). From the beginning the lead cast was locked as Prosenjit and Rituparna, but they had just stopped doing movies together following irreconcilable differences. The film finally got rolling last year when the director duo, now with seven films behind them, got a nod on the story idea from the actors who had buried the hatchet sometime back and were waiting to make a comeback with the right film.

 Shiboprosad Mukhopadhyay

He also shared the ‘firsts’ for Praktan- from shooting with a helicam on Kolkata streets to Eros, one of the leading studios in Mumbai, backing the film (Eros started taking a long term interest in the director duo as they did the national distribution of their last year’s blockbuster Belasheshe). He also shared later that this was for the first time after Ray’s Nayak that a whole train was used for shooting a movie, and he thanked eminent production designer Nitish Roy (also known as the husband of Nandita Roy) for this. Also as a first, the movie will have a same day-release in 40 centres across India (I guess West Bengal is excluded in it). Shiboprosad was joined by Nandita who is a lady of few words and prefers her work to do the talking.

After a quick round on stage with members of the cast and the musical team who were present (the lead actors were yet to come), the presenter of the film Atanu Raychaudhuri, producer Probhat Roy and co-producer Pranab Guha (of Ardor Entertainments) were called on stage. Shiboprosad, in his short speech earlier took pride in the fact that this was a film completely made by a group of Bengalis (from producers to directors). Atanu, a barrister by profession, talked about his satisfactory association of five films with Shiboprosad (starting with Muktodhara in 2012). The producer and the co-producer have either started off with this film or Belasheshe. It is nice to see Shiboprosad handholding various Bengali businessmen/ professionals into becoming first time producers as his success run continues. Bengali cinema needs more and more such backers. 

The director duo, the cast and the musical team

The directors with Atanu Raychaudhuri and Probhat Roy (Third and fourth from left)

Somak called the musical team on stage again- Anupam, Anindya, Imon Chakraborty (a new playback singer) and Surojit who have made five songs (including two versions of one song) between them. All the singers other than Imon have also acted in the film, playing themselves. Anindya put on record that his first playback and first work as a composer have both been in Shiboprosad-Nandita’s films (Ichchhe and Aleek Sukh respectively). Surojit talked about his work as a composer with the director duo in Ichchhe and Muktodhara. He also revealed that many songs had been rejected before he recorded Radharaman Dutta’s Bhromor as a singer after Shiboprosad had suggested it one night.

(Left to right) Upal, Anindya, Imon, Anupam and Surojit

It was the time for some live music. Anupam came back on stage and as a nice gesture, he called his musicians and introduced them. One of them said that unlike the current practice in the recording studio, they mostly played along live at the time of recording.

Anupam and his musicians including Ratul Shankar (third from left)

Next, Anupam enthralled the thick crowd with his ‘Kolkata’ song. Prosenjit and Rituparna arrived as the performance was on and they joined the singer. Rituparna hummed and moved her hands to the tune of the song to show how much it was close to her heart.

Anupam singing the 'Kolkata' song

 Rituparna, Anupam (singing the 'Kolkata' song) and Prosenjit

Song over, the actors who united after fifteen years for this film shared their take on the film and the characters they portrayed. Prosenjit said he wasn’t aware of a profession like the one he has in the film and it was indeed a good service to the city.

Iman Chakraborty impressed with her soulful rendition of Tumi jaake bhalobaso- a tragic romantic number written and composed by Anupam his inimitable style. This song was also released on social media before this event.

Iman Chakraborty snging Tumi jaake bhalobaso

Moner guptochawr- best described as a Chandrabindoo-style fun romantic number penned and composed by Anindya was belted out by him, preceded by the introduction of his musicians which included Upal. I saw Rishona, Rituparna’s daughter, enjoying herself dancing to the tune at the side of the stage.

Anindya in performance with Moner guptochawr (his musicians behind him)

Rishona (Rituparna's daughter) enjoying herself

Bhromor is a kirtan-style tragic song and Surajit did complete justice to it. Anupam wrapped up the performances with his version of Tumi jaake bhalobaso.

Surojit singing Bhromor

A contest was organized where the participants had to sing the ‘Kolkata’ song and send it by Whatsapp. As promised, the three winners were called on stage and they got to sing the song along with Anupam.

 Anupam with the contest winners 

The album was unveiled hereafter amid great cheer. It has been brought out by a start-up named Amara Muzik which started off earlier with Bastushaap (a January 2016 release). Prosenjit broke into an impromptu jig first with the child artist in the movie, then with Rishona.

Rituparna and Prosenjit unveiling the music album

Rishona has a dance partner in Prosenjit 

Goodricke, a partner to the film, interacted with the crowd through getting them to share their tea-related experiences and participate in fun activities like tong twister at their stall. They also sampled their Roasted Darjeeling Tea, which was a strong brew, unlike the familiar Darjeeling tea.

Looking forward to the release of the movie on 27th May.

#Praktan #PraktanMusic #KolkataSong #BengaliMusic #BengaliCinema

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Monday, April 25, 2016

Restaurant Week India at Serafina

Restaurant Week is a unique international event aimed at bringing fine dining closer to a larger section of diners. Restaurant Week India, which started in 2010, is the largest and the most popular pan-India culinary event, where customers have the choice to dine at some of India’s finest restaurants at a fraction of a la carte rates. It is a celebration of the culinary landscape in each city – a time for more and more foodies to explore and appreciate the finest restaurants. It kickstarted in Mumbai and after its huge popularity moved to Delhi, Bangalore, Chennai and finally Kolkata as of September 2015. It is a bi-annual event.

Restaurant Week India has started on 22nd April and will go on till 1st May. Twelve of Kolkata’s fine dining restaurants are participating in it. In each of them, a person can enjoy a set three-course menu with plenty of vegetarian or non-vegetarian options at a special price of Rs 900 plus taxes.

I and blogger Indrajit Lahiri were invited by Serafina, the famous Italian restaurant chain of New York, located at Quest, to sample their Restaurant Week menu.

The restaurant has a classy décor with wooden furniture and walls designed in a mix of brick theme and cream colour. We chose one of the two-seater tables lining the glass wall overlooking the outside. There is a neatly fenced dining area outside as well, with chairs and tables placed under canopies, simulating a European café experience.

Our table

We quenched our thirst with Twisted Orange Mojito recommended by the service staff. A herb-infused, refreshing fruit-based mocktail- ideal for the scorching weather now.

Twisted Orange Mojito

The set meal comprised of a starter, a main course dish and a dessert per person. As we were two, we ordered two different meals.

I and Indrajit chose Calamari and Assortiti Crostini Platter respectively for the starters from the special Restaurant Week menu. The former is part of their regular menu and the latter was one of the two signature appetizers created for the event. The crisp, thin batter-fried Calamari (Squid preparation in Italian cuisine) went well with the spicy tomato dip which resembled Bengali homemade chicken curry.


The Assortiti Crostini Platter had four types of crostini (crisp baked bread with topping). I tried the one with ham and another with chicken. The ham was of top quality. The service staff said they were very particular about sourcing quality ingredients and use imported perma ham only. The creamy chicken mince mixed with a bit of mustard was yummy with oregano sprinkled by me on the top. Their regular menu has each of the four options separately.

Assortiti Crostini Platter

I walked to the other side of the entrance as we were waiting for the main course. There is a large open kitchen and bar counter adjacent to each other there. For those who come to enjoy drinks, there are high chairs and tables.

In mains, I chose Lasagne al Forno despite being a veg dish (since I wanted pasta and didn’t like to go for spaghetti which was the only staple in non-veg) and he picked Belgium Grilled Pork Chops from the two signature options. The Lasagne was a pretty big portion for one person. This spicy dish was tasty with a crunchy top and abundant veggies cooked with generous amount of cream and sauce between the pasta sheets.

 Lasagne al Forno

 The Belgium Grilled Pork Chops bowled us over! We were given toothed knives to cut the meat off the rib bone (It takes some effort; mind it, which will increase as much as the meat is allowed to get cold).The perfectly cooked pork with the belly fat lining was brilliant with the sweet and tangy sauce. It went well with the equally well-made mashed potato (with a thick, tasty sauce) and broccoli served with it. We were almost full by now.

 Belgium Grilled Pork Chops

I had quickly picked tiramisu and Indrajit had chosen Gelati Sorbetti for the dessert. The service staff said tiramisu was their specialty. When we tasted it, we knew the claim was justified. The tiramisu with cheese cream dripping from the top gave the palate the expected flourish, created by the cream and the soaked coffee and liqueur. Serafina was noted among the best tiramisu places by us. The gelato-sorbet combo served in an almond shell was equally good. The gelato paired well with the refreshing sorbet which had the perfectly mushy consistency with concentrated fruit juice- perfect for the weather.


 Gelati Sorbetti 

An epic meal after long! Serafina is strongly recommended as an option among the participating eateries in Restaurant Week Kolkata. Otherwise, for Italian, it is easily the go-to place in the premium segment.

#RestaurantWeekIndia #Serafina #ItalianCuisineKolkata #Tiramisu #PorkChop

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Thursday, April 21, 2016

The political circus: Rezzakism

Abdur Rezzak Mollah, the veteran politician of West Bengal, has never been known to measure his words. His verbal ‘gems’, often at the expense of his own partymen, have been widely circulated in the media when he was with CPI(M) and entertained many. As it is common knowledge, he had been expelled by CPI(M), formed his own political outfit (Bharatiya Nyaybichar Party) and got expelled from it (!) before joining Trinamool Congress earlier this year with which he had great enmity as a communist. He kept a low profile since then.

But his remarks in an interview with ABP Ananda on 20th April showed his return to ‘true form’.  It happened when the interviewer asked for his opinion on actors joining politics. There is a common chord among all who were at the receiving end of his bouncers and no prizes for guessing it- all of them are actors. Two of them are MPs from his own party- Dev and Moon Moon Sen and the other one is a candidate in the ongoing assembly elections from Howrah district for BJP- Roopa Ganguly. Rezzak was certainly back to the form with a bang, considering he has just been censured by the election commission for violating the code of conduct the verbal way. By the way, the interviewer was quite embarrassed as he was a well-known actor too- Dhritiman Chattopadhyay.

The nature of the remarks varies but. While he dismissed Dev as ungentlemanlike, Moon Moon’s effectiveness as a politician was questioned. But the fiercest and the most vulgar one was reserved for Roopa. He took a dig at her smoking habit and her multiple partners (who he said he knew), and compared her to "Draupadi'- a role which brought Roopa national fame on television.

We’ll soon know the outcome. But here is the immediate thought. Due to his strong political acumen and mass following, he used to get away with all this careless talk while he was in CPI(M). But Trinamool is no CPI(M) who will hold discussions at the highest state level and wait for the ‘recommendation’ of the concerned committee entrusted to decide his fate. Here everything is decided by the supremo and she can even make her once-trusted second-in-command redundant.

He also hadn’t taken note of the fact that it was his party chief who had reportedly handpicked Dev to fight the election. Before that, Dev had no direct connection with Trinamool. So Rezzak’s bouncer hits two persons- his target and his party chief and amounts to ridiculing her political wisom. Even Moon Moon Sen must have been the captain’s pick as her selection as a candidate for assembly election had no backstory. So the outcome of his remark is expected from the top and shouldn’t take a long while.
About his remarks on Roopa, I condemn them in the first place. But honestly speaking, I don’t find it out of place coming from the member of a party where a well-known sitting MLA and ex-minister questioned the character of the Park Street rape victim and another woman MP put a ‘perspective’ to the said rape to kind of justify it and even said that it was the result of a disagreement between a woman and her customers. Only that this time it is politically sensitive and wrongly timed (the election is going on and an evidence like television footage can be brought to the notice of the election commission). Last heard, Rezzak has showed no repentance for the remarks. I am not sure whether the outcome of this can come from the same place as the one of the other remarks, because Roopa is one of the harshest critics of Mamata Bandopadhyay.

#PoliticalCircus #AbdurRezzak #BengalPolitics #AssemblyElectionsBengal2016

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Monday, April 18, 2016

Metiaburj Dawaat at ITC Sonar, 16th to 23rd April

Which place is the origin of the famous ‘Kolkata biryani’?

Well, it is one of the least discussed parts of the city- Metiabruz. However, this place has the distinction of having been the home of the last nawab of Awadh, Wajid Ali Shah, since 1856 when he was exiled from Lucknow by the British. The nawab spent more than the last three decades his life here.

The nawab brought with him a large entourage. His team of bawarchis guarded the true culinary treasures of Lucknow which came with the Nawab. However, the recipes for tikias, kebabs, biryanis and kulfis soon started accommodating the locally available ingredients and as a result emerged a cuisine which is familiar in texture yet unique in flavour which this city can call its own. It was in this period that potato was added to the biryani but there is a many a story explaining the reason for that. If you are interested, you may check out this post published earlier this month on this blog.

Under the name Kitchens of India, where ITC Hotels showcase India’s wealth of unique, undiscovered, royal and forgotten cuisines, ITC Sonar is holding a food festival showcasing the above-mentioned royal cuisine, so aptly and interestingly named Metiaburj Dawaat at Eden Pavilion till 23rd April 2016. “The festival is in keeping with our ethos to celebrate the indigenous offerings of this region, part of our initiative towards Responsible Luxury.”, said Atul Bhalla, General Manager, ITC Sonar.

I was invited along with other bloggers and mediapersons to sample the spread a few days ago at the dinner.

We met the chief guest Mr Shahanshah Mirza, who happens to be the great-great-grandson of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah. I arrived in time and found the soft-spoken, tall and fair Mr Mirza talking to the bloggers about the cuisine and answering their queries at the other table.

Our welcome drink was Aam Panna, the local summer drink made of raw mango and spices.

 Aam Panna

The dinner started off with Murgh Reshmi Kebab and Paneer Tikka. The reshmi kebab was unusually subtle but tender and good in taste. It’ll be much appreciated by those who want their kebabs less spicy. I’m not an admirer of paneer dishes. The tikka tasted  good and was rightly spiced.

 Murgh Reshmi Kebab

Paneer Tikka

I also sampled and liked the Veg Jalfrezi- rich, dry and spicy with a dash of sweetness.

 Veg Jalfrezi

The main course had Paneer Champ, Aloo Dum, Dal Fry, Machhi Tikka Butter Masala, Chicken Chap, Gosht Tikka and Mughlai Parantha. The staples were all biryani- Aloo Chana Dal Biryani for the vegetarians and Gosht Matiabruz Biryani for people like us. They were accompanied with Dahi Pudina Ghol, Subz Raita, Burrhani Raita and Dahi Ka Salad.

The Machhi Tikka Butter Masala was rather dry. The tikka was rightly done, but the thick and dryish gravy didn’t appeal to my palate. The Ghost Tikka (actually tikia) claimed my attention right from the first moment thanks to the tantalizing aroma of ghee. The first bite told me that it was different from the tikia we are familiar with. All I felt was succulent minced lamb masterly marinated and tawa-cooked. A masterpiece indeed! The ordinary tikia feels of dal first and meat has a secondary presence. Chana dal probably has been used for binding this one, for it was quite brittle and serving it in full was a bit of a challenge.

Machhi Tikka

 Gosht Tikka

The tikia partnered well with the Mughlai Parantha. Some of us bloggers asked executive sous chef Gaurav Lavania (one of the two men at the helm of the kitchen) why it didn’t have a stuffing. Gaurav’s answer was a revelation- The Mughlai Paratha popular among the Bengalis is, in fact, a creation of them. The original Mughlai Parantha is flat like any other parantha. Lachchha was used in this one and it was cooked in ghee.  

Mughlai Parantha and Ghost Tikka

At this time, we met Chef Manzoor Alam, the other one supervising the food. Manzoor was born and raised in Metiabruz and comes from a family of bawarchis. So he has grown up seeing all this food being cooked at home. I asked the chef which dish demanded most of his effort. He quickly answered- Ghost Tikia (Gosht Tikka). Because first the lamb mince is marinated with poppy seed, onion, green chilli and spices for four to five hours. Then it is fried on the tawa with ghee for about forty minutes. I told him that his effort resulted in a wonderful dish.

The Gosht Matiabruz Biryani came next and it too had a distracting aroma of ghee and basmati rice. It looked moist- a little different texture compared to the familiar version of biryani. The first spoonful in the mouth felt, to put it simply and precisely, divine! Chunks of succulent lamb cooked on dum with basmati rice, potato and egg, fried onion slices and spiked with cardamom mace powder. It had a subtle taste with a delicate balance of spices and a moist feel- the hallmark of excellent biryani. The entire dining experience was elevated! Blogger friend Sammya Brata said the taste was similar to the biryani he ate in Metiabruz. The sips of Dahi Pudina Ghol in between perfectly complimented the spoonfuls of biryani. 

 Gosht Matiabruz Biryani

I took a reluctant bite or two off the Chicken Chap. It seemed good too. But by that time I was at a different sensory orbit thanks to the tikia and the biryani, so couldn’t do justice to it.

Mughlai Parantha and Chicken Chap

We rounded it off with Phirnee, Lachchha and Zarda Pulao.

 Phirnee (Middle), Lachchha (Right) and Zarda Pulao (Left)

Mr Shahanshah Mirza

Chef Manzoor Alam (L) and Sous chef Gaurav Lavania (R)

It was a pleasure to meet and have a brief chat with Riju Basu, a senior journalist in Anandabazar Patrika, who I have been friends with on Facebook for long. I consider him one of the best food writers in contemporary Bengali media.  

Venue: Eden Pavilion
Period: 16th April to 23rd April 2016
Time: Dinner buffet only (7:30 pm to 11:45 pm)
Pocket pinch:
Rs 2250 + taxes with a glass of select premium beverage per guest
Rs 1950 + taxes with a glass of soft beverage per guest

#KOIMetiaburj #MughlaiCuisineKolkata #AwadhiCuisine #KolkataBiryani #ITCSonar

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