The flavour of Kolkata

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

Sunday, February 14, 2016

The cross-country cycling trip celebrating International Mother Language Day

The day 21st February is significant for Bengalis all over the world, especially those in Bangladesh. It is known as International Mother Language Day for observance all over the world to promote awareness of linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism. The observance of the day marks a decades-long movement (known as Bhasha Andolon or the movement for language) for the recognition of Bangla (Bengali) as one of the two national languages of East Pakistan (which later became the country of Bangladesh), in which students were shot dead in Dhaka on 21st February 1952. The day was acknowledged as a day of significant importance and to be known as International Mother Language Day (better known to Bengalis as Bhasha Dibas) by the United Nations in 1999 and it is being observed worldwide since 2000. 

A group of six adventure sports lovers under the banner of Touch of Heaven (an adventure sports organization) is celebrating it this year in a special way. They are embarking on a cycling trip from Kolkata to Dhaka from today. They are going to take part in the grand Bhasha Dibas programme on 21st February in Dhaka. The trip has been named Aksharjatra.

The trip through suburban and rural Kolkata and Bangladesh will also seek to understand the grassroot culture that was the root behind the revolution. It should also contribute in its own way to the bonding of Bengalis from India and Bangladesh. It is being led by the Chandan Biswas, 30, a photographer and adventure cyclist. Others in the group are Ankur Barman (24), Rahul Sen (26), Rajat Saha (46), Subrata Chatterjee (42) and Ransdale Manuel (40).

 The group with the cycles

Chandan Biswas, the group leader

The group with the Indian flag at the press conference
The itinerary reads as:

Day 0- 12th February- Flag-off at Press Club, Kolkata
Day 1- 14th February- Journey starts from Eden Gardens and reaches Bangaon, India (80 km).
Day 2- 15th February- Bangaon to Jessore, Bangladesh (40 km)
Day 3- 16th February- Jessore to Magura (58 km)
Day 4- 17th February- Magura to Faridpur (52 km)
Day 5- 18th February- Faridpur to Manikganj (68 km)
Day 6- 19th February- Manikganj to Dhaka (58 km)
Day 7- 20th February- Rest and local amusement
Day 8- 21st February- Bhasha Dibas programme at Dhaka. Boarding a bus to Benapole at night.
Day 9- 22nd February- Back to Kolkata by cycling/ train

For updates during the trip (as available from Chandan) visit the Facebook page of this blog (find the link at the end of this post or click on the widget of the page on the sidebar). Updates will also be available on my Tweeter handle anirban48.

Wishing the team all the very best and a safe and fulfilling journey.

#Ridefor21 #Aksharjatra #TouchOfHeaven

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Friday, February 12, 2016

Indo-European Amalgamation at KK’s Fusion

I have been reading about the fusion cuisine by chef Pradip Rozario who runs Kurry Klub on Sarat Bose Road for a long time in the newspapers and particularly in the food column of Graphiti (The Sunday magazine with The Telegraph) by Rahul Verma. He can easily be called one of the pioneers of fusion cuisine in Kolkata. So this invitation to food bloggers and Zomato reviewers from his restaurant KK’s Fusion was too tempting to resist.

He left his job in the Taj group of hotels to start his first venture Kurry Klub in 1994 with a meager fund of Rs 3 lacs. Other than Kurry Klub and KK’s Fusion, he runs a Mediterranean cuisine restaurant Mio Amore (which is not into fusion cuisine) at Mani Square mall. These are well-known spots on the Kolkata culinary map. He has one more fusion cuisine restaurant in Mumbai. KK’s Fusion serves north Indian and Chinese cuisine, seafood besides fusion cuisine. The pocket pinch at KK’s Fusion, located next to Inox Swabhumi, is Rs 1500 plus taxes for two.

In Pradip’s words, “We all love variety and fusion food encapsulates this desire. Anglo-Indian cuisine is a successful assimilation of one culture into another. Curry has found its way into the hearts of all Brits. It has even been coined as ‘Britain’s national dish’… why is Indian food so successful in Britain? Surely the exotic spices of India are a far cry from the bland traditionalist dishes of Britain. One reason- curry has been successfully modified for the British palate.”

 The food enthusiasts

I asked him how he started his fusion cuisine. A gentleman walked into Kurry Klub in 1994 and asked for khichudi and machh bhaja (Bengali fried fish). Obviously, none of it was on the menu, but Pradip made them for him and added a twist. He served the machh bhaja with Szechwan sauce. The guest loved it so much that he promised to come back, but on one condition- he would have to be served the same dish. This worked as an inspiration to Pradip to experiment with fusion cuisine.

 Chef Pradip Rozario at work

He also shared how he served muri mixed with olive oil and crumb-fried lotte fish (Bombil or Bombay duck) to the chief minister of West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee, because of her well-known fondness for muri. She loved the combo.

Blue Hawaiian- my welcome drink

We sampled four dishes including a dessert. It started with Grilled Prawns in Skewers marinated with Coriander Chutney followed by Fenugreek-scented Pan-fried Fish on Russian Salad, Chicken Roulade Torkari with Seasonal Greens and Sundried Tomato Kulcha and Lamb Chop Rogan Josh served with Vegetable Chorchori Couscous. The dessert was Crunchy Sugar Cup filled with Chhanar Payes and Citric Fruits.

The grilled prawn was served on a banana leaf in a boat-style wooden plate. It tasted good, just like rightly done grilled prawn. But the coriander flavour did not come out well.

 Grilled Prawns in Skewers marinated with Coriander Chutney

The pan-fried fish fillet was placed between two layers of Russian Salad topped by an egg on a piece of stone serving as a plate. The fish was flaky and succulent with a crisp, thin crust and tasted decent. It gelled well with the Russian salad.

Fenugreek-scented Pan-fried Fish on Russian Salad

We were also served a Bengali fusion dish, which is familiar in the food habit of the subaltern and rural population of Bengal- muri (puffed rice) mixed with alur dom. I liked the alur dom. The spices used lifted the taste.

Muri mixed with alur dom

The Chicken Roulade was a disappointment. The chicken was cold and chewy. It was served with a soup of some Indian dish (resembling Bengali mutton soup) which, when poured on the chicken, didn’t really add to the taste, rather the reverse. The kulchas were stiff.

 Chicken Roulade Torkari with Seasonal Greens and Sundried Tomato Kulcha 

Lamb Chop Rogan Josh served with Vegetable Chorchori Couscous came next. Well, the lamb was tender, well-cooked and tasted well in isolation, but it was more of a light, home style curry and didn’t resemble Rogan Josh. I also thought that the chorchori (Bengali vegetable curry) didn’t gel with the light, soup-like gravy.

 Lamb Chop Rogan Josh served with Vegetable Chorchori Couscous 

I was looking forward to the dessert; especially because it had chhanar payes which I am fond of (A Bengali sweetmeat- small cottage balls in thick, sweetened milk). A flambé was done when it was served to each of us. But the excessive amount of liquor spoilt it completely. The combination with citrus fruits (including kiwi) was good otherwise.

Crunchy Sugar Cup filled with Chhanar Payes and Citric Fruits

As I was leaving with a fellow blogger, Pradip gave us a shot of a white drink and didn’t tell what it was. It had a distinctive paan (betel leaf) flavour which I liked.

#KKsFusion #FusionCuisineKolkata

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Sunday, February 07, 2016

Happy Streets

A group of men boxing… sketching on the street…..youngsters playing football (with mini goalposts in place) or a game of volleyball or badminton…young boys and girls zooming on roller skates or cycling around…..children practising karate……adults practising yoga or meditation, and all of it in the middle of the street on the Park Street-Camac Street-Little Russel Street-Russel Street quadrangle with no traffic around……sounds absolutely surreal! Then what will it be if one sees all of this actually happening on two consecutive Sunday mornings?

Welcome to Happy Streets, a gift to the city of Kolkata from Times of India (TOI) in association with Kolkata Police. This is its season 2 in Kolkata after a successful debut in 2015.

As TOI, known for creating innovative events over many years in Kolkata (and in other cities), describes it, “Happy Streets is to promote community bonding and healthy lifestyle for the people of Kolkata. The objective is to reclaim a stretch of road space from automobiles and opening them to the public every Sunday to create a whole new healthy, sustainable & vibrant city street experience. Everyone is welcome to participate in healthy activities of all kinds, from highly intense Zumba to street cricket, Yoga or other games like basketball, football, badminton and karate or just enjoy a theatrical performance.”

Here are glimpses of what I saw on my first ever visit to Happy Streets on 31st January and on 7th February. It will be an experience to cherish in a long time.

Balloon sellers this young to old were aplenty to cater to the carnival mood

The police deployment was noticeable. Senior police officers were on duty so that we have unhindered fun.

The longest queue was at the rent-free cycle booth.

The cycles were being issued upon submission of an I-card and mobile phone.

Ah! She finally got hers after a long wait.

The age of visitors had a wide range. 

The Facebook photo booth was a popular attraction

The stage at the Park Street-Free School Street crossing

Volleyball arena

Cashing in on the need for breakfast after the morning activities

It is expected to continue over the next few Sundays. It starts at 6.30 am and goes on till 9.30 am. Keep an eye on the Happy Streets Kolkata Facebook page or on the paper. Head for it with your family if you can, for a new experience in life.

#HappyStreets #TimesOfIndia #ParkStreet

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Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Review: Bastu-shaap

Language- Bengali
Cast- Parambrata Chattopadhyay, Abir Chatterjee, Raima Sen, Churni Ganguly, Kaushik Ganguly and others
Director- Kaushik Ganguly
Release date- 15th January 2016

A large section of the audience defines a movie in the ‘thriller’ genre as one that thrills by showing visual thrill, like it is in a crime thriller. Such a movie entertains them. But a good psychological thriller has the same ability to engage the viewer with the development of the story and entertain as well. Sadly we do not get to see well-made psychological thrillers on Bengali screen. Bastu-shaap arrives in this void.

The posters drew curiosity in the beginning of the new year- Five main characters played by capable actors (including popular faces) facing the camera in the backdrop of a room in some old, rich home pairing with the logo of the film which implies a curse in relation to the way the house is built, making a pun of the old Bengali word ‘Bastusaap’ (Meaning a snake who lives in old, often abandoned homes guarding valuable property).

Kaushik Ganguly’s Bastu-shaap tells the story of ex-army man Arjun Dasgupta (Abir Chatterjee) who appoints Bastu Shastra and feng shui experts and partners Kushal Mukherjee (Parambrata Chatterjee) and Timir (Kaushik Ganguly) to set the bastu of his bungalow in a hill town in Bengal right. His small family comprising his wife Bonya aka Bonny (Raima Sen) and elder sister Antara (Churni Ganguly) is at disharmony deep within. It has gone through unfortunate incidents and many have advised Arjun to look into the ‘Bastu’ of the house to set things in order. How far Kushal and Timir are able to do so and whether ‘Bastu’ is the main problem leading to the disharmony of the family is what the film is about and are best viewed on screen.

The film was touted to be a romantic thriller which is s less explored genre. The story is short and well-written and the screenplay and storytelling make the film a compelling watch. The dialogue is a high point and I loved a rare quality in it- brevity. There are some crisp lines that stay with one (Like “Pahare bonya-o toh surprise”). What I especially liked is Kaushik’s ability to bring out the psychological aspect of the story competently, delving deep into the mindscape of his characters touching upon the unsaid tension and well-guarded feelings. It is essentially a chamber drama and the setting in the hill town is perfect. Without giving out the details, the romantic track was the best I have seen in Bangla cinema recent years. The story also sets the audience thinking on introspection for the ‘Bastu’ of the mind and dealing with the inner demons to expect a positive outcome from life.

The film draws heavily on the performances of the five characters all of which are well etched out both in writing and execution by the director. It helps the audience relate to the psyche of the characters.

Parambrata has come up with a nuanced and well-measured portrayal of Kushal and it is definitely part of his best work to date. It is well known that he is articulate as a person and this trait is often used by directors by getting him speak a lot. In this film, he was required to talk less and speak a lot through his eyes and finer facial expressions. Kushal is attractive in an intellectual way which is rarely found on Bengali screen, something that aptly finds an expression in the term ‘Thinking woman’s sex symbol’. Param also has a great chemistry with Kaushik and the duo offers some nice comic moments.

(Source: Parambrata Chattopadhyay's Facebook page)

Abir was a pleasant surprise for me. Conceptually his name may not crop up if we think of who would fit the bill of a former but young army major. But his portrayal of the arrogant and adamant Arjun Dasgupta has beaten any such apprehension. Apart from the dialogue delivery (he has some of the good lines) it’s the physical acting that makis it a flawless performance hitherto unseen. Due credit goes to Kaushik as well for achieving it. He looks dashing, helped by the mustache, and should score big with the female audience of all ages.

Raima is excellent as the silent and lovable Bonya aka Bonny who is not happy the way life and her husband have treated her. The sorrow and her urge for love come out brilliantly through her face, especially those expressive eyes.

Antara was not an easy character to play.  She is disturbed (for the life-shattering incident), finicky (wants the home perfectly in order), brutally straightforward, yet talented. The English song sung by her on her lips is one of the precious moments of the film. I can’t remember anyone other than Churni to have done complete justice to such a character.

That Kaushik never fails to deliver as an actor is given now. We know he can shine in even a five-minute role (Recall Chotushkone). He would have overshadowed Param and Abir if they had not excelled in their roles. He is that good as Timir, who is unimpressive and foolish at times but knows his job really well! His saying “Ami jawkhon bolechhi bonduk thik achhe, toh thik achhe.” is clap-worthy. This is also one of the memorable lines from the film.

The music by Indradip Dasgupta doesn’t have a lasting impact but helps to carry the scenes. Bonny Chakraborty has sung a nice title track. Being a chamber drama, the cinematography had little scope, yet Gopi Bhagat’s camera provides the essential support in the development of the story and the characters.

Like the last year, this year starts well in Bangla cinema with this film. Hope the treat continues in the months to come. Keenly looking forward to Kaushik’s Cinemawalla, among other films.

(All pictures except the first are sourced from the Facebook page of  GreenTouch Entertainment)

#Bastushaap #BanglaCinema #BengaliCinema2016

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