The flavour of Kolkata

The flavour of Kolkata
The city is known for its old alleys. One such is shot by Atanu Pal.

Saturday, January 05, 2019

Film review: Rosogolla

Language: Bengali
Director: Pavel
Cast: Ujaan Ganguly, Abantika Biswas, Bidipta Chakaraborty, Rajatava Dutta, Kharaj Mukherjee, Aparajita Adhya, Chiranjeet, Shantilal Mukherjee, Kaushik Sen
Length: 2 hours 18 minutes
Release date: 21st December 2018

Je somoy niye bhabena, taake niye toh bhabtei hoy" ( If someone is oblivious of the time lost (in creation), I better take him seriously).

A confectioner says this in the film in respect of his potential competitor Nobin Chandra Das who is lost in the pursuit of invention of his dream dessert for years. This is what makes Rosogolla more than a sweet love story where the boy fights all odds to invent his girl’s dessert of desire and it simultaneously becomes an inspiring saga of perseverance of a creator. And that makes it a story that very much needed to be told.

Rosogolla is the real life story of the nineteenth century invention of Bengal's globally famed dessert (Rosogolla) by confectioner Nobin Chandra Das who took up the challenge in his early twenties to make a sweet of his lover's desire, nothing like which anyone had ever seen. He married Khirodmoni, his love, through the course of this and fulfilled her desire amid all kinds of misfortune, insult and unending failures that came their way.

Ujaan Ganguly as Nobin Chandra Das

The charm of the film is that it’s a simple story of Bengali’s favourite dessert that’s simply told. The story is penned well by Pavel and Smaranjit Chakaraborty, a well-known author. Pavel spins his yarn on screen with a main thread in a pleasingly unhurried pace and does not digress with sub-plots and unnecessary characters which is not unusual in a period piece. Though the storytelling approach is modelled on mainstream and lacks nuances in places and in some characters, it is thoroughly watchable. It is adorably garnished with dollops of old world charm of the nineteenth century Kolkata. The trivia of invention of Aam Sandesh and Baikuntho Bhog is also one of the attractions.

Having said that, the chemistry between Nobin and Khirodmoni needed better crafting. Many moments between them could be developed better. Also, the character of Baikuntho (Nobin’s partner) is over-the-top and Amritalal Banik (The patents man) is not well-etched.

Abantika delivers a fine and convincing portrayal of Khirodmoni in her debut. She brings out well the chirpy, tomboyish, yet level-headed girl who is the perfect foil to the unmaterialistic genius Nobin Chandra Das and his strongest pillar of support. Ujaan as Nobin shows promise in some scenes with measured delivery but surprisingly goes over the top in quite a few scenes. The story being centred on his character, the performance called for thoughtful handling and the director shares responsibility for this too. Rajatava as Kalidas Indra (The confectioner who was Nobin’s first employer and subsequent competitor), Kharaj as Mahesh, Nobin’s assistant, Aparajita as the golden-hearted zamindar wife and Bidipta as Nobin’s mother are well cast and play their parts well. Lew Hilt is a pleasant surprise as Paolo, the British gentleman who was a patron of the native culture. It has the historical character of confectioner Bhim Chandra Nag (played well by Tamal Roy Chowdhury) and another confectioner Ganguram also appears in a flash. However, Kaushik Sen doesn’t shine as Amritlal Banik with a stylization that doesn’t quite fall in place and Shantilal, with an awful wig, isn’t impressive as Chandu Babu/ Baikuntho except for the end appearance. Subhashree’s Hindi in the character of Malkhaan jaan, the tawaif  needed more attention.

Abantika Biswas as Khirodmoni

Music is a strength of the film and the earthy score of Kalikaprasad aid the storytelling brilliantly. Khodar Banda breaks out amid virgin rural landscape within a few minutes of the film, giving it a zesty start. Tapur Tupur, brilliantly written, composed and sung by Arnab Dutta is an immensely endearing love ballad. Supriyo Dutta’s camerawork brings out the era nicely. It was obvious that the production design had a woefully limited budget for a period piece and despite best efforts, outdoor shots of Kolkata stuck out unflatteringly which computer graphics couldn’t make good. Though it is not desirable in a period film, I would still like to overlook this blemish as it is a satisfying watch on overall consideration.

At the end, it suffices to say that every Bengali across the world should watch this film as it’s a story of our roots that is worthy of it.


#Rosogolla #BanglaCinema #NobinChandraDas


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Wednesday, December 26, 2018

A porky evening with friends at Tung Nam

As the year is drawing to a close, the tired mind itching to take a break from work and unwind. And catching up with friends over food is one of the best ways to go about it.


Anirban Acharya comes to hometown Kolkata every winter from London where he works. He’s ‘fishy’ like me, with an undying Bengali love for all things fish. We met virtually, in a Facebook food group (Easy guess!). For Bengalis, if food comes, can cinema be far behind? After all that's one of the hot topics in a Bengali adda and my namesake can be considered part of discerning audience. So our virtual friendship soon extended to my Facebook cinema group We the Audience. The group likes to share quality content on cinema, post audience reviews of current and past movies (Bengali, Hindi and English) and engage in discussions. If you are interested, you are welcome to join here.


Coming back to food, our virtual friendship had the first physical meeting in January this year, near the end of his last winter vacation. I took my fishy friend to a pice hotel Sidheshwari Ashram (If you wish to know what the term means, read this post on this blog) followed by a visit to the iconic Coffee House. And we knew we would meet again. Our next food destination options kept getting ticked over Facebook interactions.  


Anirban, just after arriving at Kolkata, created a WhatsApp group to coordinate our first meet-up. A dinner meet in Tung Nam- one of the best yet lesser known Chinese restaurants in the city, located in old Chinatown (in Tiretta Bazar, which happens to be India's oldest Chinatown). Our common friend, food blogger Indrajit Lahiri was part of the Tung Nam plan from day zero. Another common friend, food blogger Abhimanyu Chakaraborty, who blogs in Bengali, joined in. Tung Nam is run by a Chinese family from the same locality and is popular in the city pork lover circuit.


When we met in the restaurant in the evening, I found that not much has changed from years back when I came last. They still blissfully ignore what is called ‘ambience’. In fact, they don’t even call it a restaurant but an eating house. Got the drift? Only the walls of which the paint was old and coming off are now tiled. The colour of the table tops is wearing off and a scooter is parked right inside. An unpretentious set-up like this suits me perfectly fine and if you care for good food and little else, should suit you too. What makes it a more homely experience is, the owner may come to you, take your order, serve you, give you the bill and collect cash. Thus you shall get the best guide for what to order as per your palate. That's what happened in our case- a short, fair, middle aged lady came to collect our order. She didn’t allow me to take her picture, but you can spot her in the next photo.


We went off the mark with Steamed Pork Wonton and Pork Wonton Soup followed by Chilli Garlic Pepper Pork, Roast Chilli Pork and Mushroom Baby Corn Pork. The wontons were moist, had the right amount of fat and tasted finger-licking good, as usual! As Abhimanyu pointed out, even the skin of the wonton was yummy! The soup was basically a clear soup but distinctly flavourful, the kind one can call the perfect comfort food. The use of ham choy in the wonton and the soup, typical of this eatery, gives a fine tweak of flavour to these dishes.

Steamed Pork Wonton

Pork Wonton Soup

The Chilli Garlic Pepper Pork had a scary red colour, yet spicy and tasteful. The Chilli Pork was dry and good in taste but I found it to be rather oily. Also it had a lot of fat which spoilt the pleasure to an extent. 

Chilli Garlic Pepper Pork

Roast Chilli Pork

I was bowled over by the delicately flavoured Mushroom Baby Corn Pork. It was a pleasant break from the sharp Chinese flavours. I love mushroom and it added to the taste. It can especially be good for those who like light flavours, like children. It easily earned a place on my list of favourites from Tung Nam. I liked the meat-to-fat ratio of the dishes which is an important parameter of eating pork. Here it seemed to be within 70:30 except the Roast Chilli Pork. After polishing off two plates each of the wonton and the soup and one plate of the other three, Indrajit and Abhimanyu, two Tung Nam loyals, thought of what to order in main course. We were relishing every bit of our piggy indulgence.

Mushroom Baby Corn Pork

The mains arrived- Rice with Pork Ham Choy, Pork with Hamei Sauce and Pork Chou Sui (One portion each). The first dish was spicy and pungent, small chunks of pork on a generous bed of steamed rice. Abhimanyu shared that it used to be sticky rice but has possibly been changed to align to the average customer’s palate. The Chou Sui had rice wine sauce in it. Indrajit shared that as far as his knowledge of Hamei Sauce was concerned, a paste of shrimp and chilli was used to make it. I found a hit of red chilli flakes in all the three dishes. Pork with Hamei Sauce and Pork Chou Sui scored better on taste.

Rice with Pork Ham Choy

Pork Chou Sui

We felt full and decided to call it a day. Our bill, surprisingly, was just Rs 1900 including four bottles of 300 ml cold drink. It’s a pointer to how affordable good food is in Kolkata.


#ChineseCuisine #ChineseFood #Pork #KolkataChineseFood #ChinaTown #OldChinatown


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Tuesday, December 18, 2018

2019: A year of thrillers in Bangla cinema

One genre that never goes out of favour with Bengali audience is thriller. And standing now, 2019 looks like a bonanza for the audience with a possible release of five thrillers made by two big names, one young and successful director and two promising filmmakers. Here you go.

Ink
A long cherished script of Pratim D Gupta who treated the audience with a delectable Maacher Jhol in 2017. The script of Ink was selected in the coveted Sundance Screenwriters Lab in 2014. Starring Pratim’s favourites Ritwick and Paoli, it’s about a superstar and a reporter with a mundane job (played by Paoli and Ritwick respectively) and the strange relationship between them. Director-actor Gautam Ghose is playing the editor of the newspaper where Ritwick works and it also has the talented Chitrangada Chakaraborty (who played a cancer patient obsessed by a superstar in Pratim's Ahare Mon). Pratim shot major parts of the film even before his unusual love story Ahare Mon released this year. The credentials of the script will be a major reason for me to look forward to Ink.

Vinci Da
Srijit Mukherji has recently finished shooting his new thriller centred around a make-up artist and a serial killer and looks set for a Nawbobawrsho date (April). The director is back to the genre which brought him fame and recognition with two films. Baishe Srabon, his second film starring Prosenjit and Parambrata, catapulted him to the big league and Chotushkone, which had some experimental treatment and an ensemble of Aparna Sen, Chiranjeet, Parambrata and Gautam Ghose, gave him two national awards, a first for him, besides box office success. Vinci Da boasts of a powerful cast- Rudraneel Ghosh and Ritwick Chakaraborty in the lead, Sohini Sarkar and Anirban Bhattacharya playing a cop.

Rawkto Rahoshyo
After making Pendulum and this year's critically acclaimed food fantasy Rainbow Jelly, Soukarya Ghosal just finished shooting his next, reported to be a medical thriller, in one demanding schedule. Starring Koel, Chandan Roy Sanyal, Rwitobroto Mukherjee and Basabdatta Chatterjee (of Asha Jaoar Majhe by Aditya Bikram Sengupta), it has Koel playing a headstrong and brutally honest RJ.

Khela Jokhon
The name and cast of this dark thriller by Arindam Sil, whose expertise in the genre is well established, was announced last week. It's about the journey of a woman who comes out of the coma and gradually turns violent because of situations contradicting her beliefs. As the director said, film will start on a calm note and gradually turn violent. The eclectic cast has Sayani Gupta (You saw this Bengali actress from Kolkata in Fan), Abir, Adil Hussain, Jayant Kripalni, Indrashish Roy and June Maliah among others. Interestingly, Arijit Biswas, the co-writer of one of this year’s most acclaimed films Andhadhun (a thriller with a dark comedy streak), Badlapur and Agent Vinod, is writing the script in collaboration with the director. To be shot in Odisha, which is less explored in Bangla cinema, and Kurseong, it goes on floors coming February.

Parcel
Finally, Indrashis Acharya, noticed for his debut directorial Bilu Rakkhosh  in 2017 and Pupa this year, both liked by discerning audience, has turned his attention to this thriller starring Rituparna which seems to be about facing the dark past of a character. Indrashis is known for his treatment of the intricacies of the human mind. So the film, a new genre for the talented new director, will be worth looking forward to.


#Thriller #BengaliCinema #BengaliCinema2019 #VinciDa #SrijitMukherji #ArindamSil #SundanceLab


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Friday, December 14, 2018

The humble street sweet shop in Sealdah

In an abandoned entrance of an old building, just ahead of Loreto Day School, Sealdah, a middle-aged man dressed in white dhoti-punjabi and tilak on forehead sets up a stall early morning selling sweets. He sells still stocks last, which is early or mid-afternoon. The sweets are from Krishnanagar, which sounded new to my ears (though the said town is famous for certain sweets) as I am familiar with street shops procuring sweets coming from Chandannagar and Howrah. I have also heard of sweets from Katwa (of Bardhaman district) selling on the city streets. So, in this shop, you shall get to sample the famous 'Sorpuriya' of Krishnanagar as part of a decent range on offer (given the small space).

I have been noticing the shop, named 'Amrit Keli', for many years now as I have been going to Loreto to fetch or drop my daughter(s). The name is another unique aspect of it as street shops are nameless. The sweets look tempting and are testimony to the amazing range of street food Kolkata offers in desserts which has no match in India.


I finally tasted the fare today. Firstly a kheer-covered syrupy sweet (My second favourite category). The thick, kheer-enveloped sweet was so tender, it broke and fell off my finger. The sweetness was moderate, just as I like it. Next was a large lyangcha. It's not often that you get a good quality of this fried sweet on the street. I still went for it as the one I had before was impressive. The lyangcha tasted good! It didn't feel maida (refined flour) much as is the case often.


I got chhanar payesh (Kheer made with tiny chhena balls) packed for my post-lunch dessert in office. It was thickly creamy and good in taste! My personal preference would be a bit less sweet though.


The prices are much reasonable given the quality. My bill was Rs 47.

This calls for more visits to check out the other goodies.


#Sweets #Sorpuriya #StreetFood


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Saturday, September 29, 2018

A beefy lunch at Shim Shim

I first read about this new kid on the block in a social media post by food blogger friend Indrajit Lahiri as the only known place serving beef momo in the city. Beef momo! That's interesting, I thought. To me, momo equals steamed pork momo. So another kind of it with red meat should be good.

An opportunity came up to have it and many more beefy delights when Indrajit arranged for a meet-up with friend and well-known food blogger Yummraj (with his rani) and another friend and noted food blogger Sabyasachi Raychaudhuri over lunch last Saturday. I knew Sabyasachida through social media and met him for the first time. And man, what a fabulous beef fest it was over endless food talk!

It's a moderate-sized, tastefully decorated restaurant on Tibetan theme with contrasting brick-coloured and white walls with functional, iron chairs and wall-side sofa seating. It serves Tibetan and Chinese Cuisine with a bit of Mongolian and Nepali thrown in. The staff is young and soft-spoken.


We started off with Beef Kothay (Momo with a roasted bottom). Juicy and delicately spicy mincemeat inside a soft skin got it a thumbs up!

Beef Kothay

Yummraj ordered the Oxtail Clear Soup after he curiously found it on the menu. But it didn't impress us. The only disappointment in our memorable lunch.

Oxtail Clear Soup

Up next was the Beef Thukpa. The flavourful broth with strips of beef, noodles and veggies set the palate right. In fact one of the reasons why we didn't like the Oxtail soup was that it tasted like the thukpa. The last starter was Beef Phalay which is like a kachori stuffed with mincemeat. Crunchy outside, moist inside, it  scored with us effortlessly.

Beef Phalay

Moving on to main course, we ordered Chilli Beef and Mongolian Beef to go with steamed Gobindobhog rice. The Chilli Beef was cooked to perfection. It was dry with the heat of a generous amount of slit chilli and the goodness of spices. There were various shapes of beef. Before you have it, squeeze a bit of lime on it and it will be irresistible!

Chilli Beef 

We loved the Mongolian beef too which was low on hotness. The hint of sweetness made it stand out.

Mongolian Beef

An interesting thing came up in our food talk. The habit of people to mean 'Hot' by the word 'Spicy'. As it is, 'Spicy' means it will give the feel of being well-cooked with spices and may not actually be hot at all. In fact, a lightly-cooked dish can also be spicy (Shukto, the Bengali appetizer, is one).

We finished the main course with the scrumptious Beef Kofta. The crunchy exterior loaded with juicy mince beef inside won us over! It can be a damn good starter as well.

Beef Kofta

We were feeling full and content and rounded it off with Crispy Pancake with Banana and Nutella. The look was inviting and Nutella oozed out of it as I held a piece. A fitting end of a thoroughly pleasing meal!

Crispy Pancake with Banana and Nutella

The prices are pocket-friendly. Our bill came to around Rs 2200 after eating to our heart's content and repeating a few dishes. A great afternoon spent over delectable food and good company.

I have to come back, especially if I have a beef craving.


#Beef #BeefDishes #Tibetan #KolkataFood


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Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Chaats of ISKCON #1


Due to hygiene issues I cannot have phuchka on the street as per clinical advice. I haven't had it for long despite a weakness for it. So after I spotted it being served in the ISKCON temple premises at Albert Road, a much unlikely place for it, after we shifted our office to Camac Street, I went for the phuchka one evening as I was feeling like a snack break from work. 

The phuchkas were finger-licking good and the tamarind water was perfectly strong! They were more or less uniformly sized, crisp, with adequate filling and the tamarind water with chopped coriander leaves was served in a full glass. So, you pour the water in the phuchka just as you like it before putting it inside the mouth. The filling had boiled potato, boiled chickpea, boiled moong mixed with spices. The man at the counter asks how hot the customer would like it- normal (moderate) or very hot. He uses chilli powder/ green chilli/ both accordingly in the filling. Thankfully, like it happens in central Kolkata and with phuchka-sellers having mostly non-Bengali customers, the tamarind water did not have a strong taste of cumin powder. It was pure tamarind water like they serve it in north Kolkata and actually a better version of that. Also, considering tamarind water is the most sought after ingredient of phuchka and customers often ask for a free refill after their serving, a glassful of this just for you is tempting! 

The phuchkas are made in-house and are better than roadside ones which are not of uniform size, are sometimes overfried and invariably fried in cheap cooking medium which gets burnt in the process. These phuchkas untick all these points. At Rs 38 for eight pieces, it is definitely at a premium than its roadside cousin but worth it because of the hygiene, overall quality and taste.

There are iron benches and tables to have your food in a serene setting on Albert Road, with the Victoria Square park opposite it.




I am definitely going back for the dahi phuchka, papdi chaat and dahi vada. Watch this space for the series to continue.


#Phuchka #KolkataFood #StreetFood #IndianStreetFood


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Sunday, August 19, 2018

Kolkata Clicks #1

It's World Photography Day today and Kolkata Curry is celebrating it through a curated photo post as part of a new photo series with select clicks of the city by the shutterbugs.

The first one is a street click by international award-winning photographer Soumya Shankar Ghosal who is a self-proclaimed street photographer and has championed street photography in the city through his Facebook group Streets of Calcutta. I have seen few viewing the streets like Soumya does. He has an eye for the extraordinary in the mundane street life.



The next is a click from the folk festival 'Gajan Utsab' by passionate Kolkata explorer Arpita Chanda. As she says, Gajan is one of the oldest festivals of Kolkata and it is much older than Durga Puja. 


Victoria Memorial is synonymous with Kolkata. Everybody loves to shoot it. And then some shoot it like a dream. Here is one such by Arindam Patra.


Now, one more from the life on street. A capture of a moment of joy in the dreary life of private bus drivers, by Rupam Sen.


Signing off with a dreamy capture of an afternoon in a new township of Kolkata by Dushyant Chhetri.




#WorldPhotographyDay #WorldPhotographyDay2018 #PhotoSeries #KolkataPhotos


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Monday, August 13, 2018

A police library with a difference

Today being National Librarian’s Day, I wish to talk about a new library that charmed me.

I came to know of it from a Facebook post of Kolkata Police. Known as Kolkata Police Museum on Google Maps, its full name is Kolkata Police Museum, Library and Cafeteria. It’s located at 112 Ripon Street (on the left approaching Wellington).

I visited it with three friends who got interested hearing of it (two of them read the Facebook post too). The museum is small and spread over two floors. Its main attraction is arms seized by police from various periods of history dating back to pre-independence era.


Photograph by Arnab Banerjee

It shows the evolution of the police uniform since the colonial times. The winners of various awards/ honours of police are listed. It states that Natha Singh was the first Indian to win a traffic roll of honour and he won honours in two consecutive years, 1938 and 1939. A section familiarizes with various badges of the ranks of police which is an important civil information.


The history of the house is interesting too. The second prince (Mejokumar) of the erstwhile Bhawal Estate, who is popularly known as 'Sanyasi Raja' (The monk king), thanks to the popular Bengali movie of the same name made on him, fought the famous Bhawal Monk case from this house. It is regarded as one of the most extraordinary cases ever fought in Indian judicial history which took place in 1933-1936. As it happened, a monk came to the estate and claimed himself to be the Mejokumar who was known to have died eleven years back, and demanded his share of the estate.

Available documents show that it was the residence of Calcutta High Court Barrister RS Tweedle in 1874. After changing hands it landed with lawyer SN Matilal (in 1912) whose daughter Sarajubala Devi was married to the first prince of the Bhawal estate. It went to be part of the estate thereafter.

The house was decided to be demolished given its pathetic condition at a point of time. Kolkata Police took it as a challenge to restore it, and I must say they have done an exemplary job! Post the painstaking restoration, it was declared a 'Restored Heritage Building of the City' by INTACH. 

Coming to the library. It took me by surprise by the kinds of books in its collection as it completely beats the perception of a police library. I later realised it was by design, thanks to the Commissioner of Police Mr Rajiv Kumar, as it has been envisioned as a centre for police-citizen connect. The CP is so attached to it that it is said to be his second home and he is often seen there. The surprise element is that it has a wide collection of books for all the members of a family, from the junior to the seniormost. The fiction section is amazingly robust with admirable collection of classic literature, juvenile literature and classic thrillers.  The non-fiction range is pretty good too, including study books in various disciplines like finance and management. There are many Bengali titles too, both in fiction and non-fiction. Noticed the now popular book on fascinating cases of Kolkata Police written by senior police officer Supratim Sarkar, titled Goendapith Lalbazar (The English translation named ‘Murder in the City’ is available too). Before it became a book, the stories were being published in the Rohoshyo Robbar series on Kolkata Police Facebook page and they gradually whipped up a huge following.  

The library has over ten thousand books.

At the end of our tour of the library, what blew my mind was the extensive collection of comic books in English to hook the youngest readers. Imagine a police library keeping a huge collection of Tintin and Asterix, Marvel and DC!!

As Sub-Inspector S Sharma, the friendly gentleman who acquainted us through the library, told us, it is open seven days a week, 11 am to 7 pm. However, the best time is weekend as visitors are much less. They encourage one to come with the whole family and spend a good number of hours there. To help the purpose, there’s a cool cafe, interestingly named Off Duty Delights, which serves (non-alcoholic) beverages and a good range of snacks. We liked the iced tea. For the overall feel, one of the friends compared it to the British Council Library.


Iced tea

The membership fee is Rs 800 per annum plus Rs 100 as a one-time cost of membership card. You can take books or DVD or both and keep upto two books for a maximum of four weeks.


#NationalLibrariansDay #Library #Museum #Heritage #History


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