Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Tourist-ification of our food!


“I asked a question, at least you could reply with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’!”
Shweta’s comment made me realize that my affirmative chuckle had failed to convey its meaning so I quickly said “Oh right. I meant I didn’t!”
The aforementioned question was, “You said you would write a blog about ‘Punjabification’ of Indian food. You didn’t write that, did you?”
And she was not wrong. I have been very vocal against lack of local dishes in the menus of restaurants in our tourist destinations. Every menu starts with a ‘Tomato Soup’, continues to the legendary ‘Paneer Tikka’ or the nouveau ‘Crispy Babycorn’, marches into the kingdom of ‘Paneer Butter Masala’ or ‘Butter chicken’, aided and abetted by ‘Tandoori Roti’ or ‘Paneer Kulcha’ along with ‘Dum Biryani’ and summed up by ‘Vanilla Ice Cream’.
I am mainly a vegetarian so more emphasis on veg dishes but you get the effing idea!
I agree that using the term ‘Punjabification’ is probably incorrect since the staple restaurant-y North Indian cuisine includes dishes which may or may not have originated from Punjab but somehow all that Paneer and all that chicken give this food an aura of ‘Punjabiness’!
So I didn’t find Jhunka Bhakar in Mahabaleshwar but I could select from 5 types of Parathas because ‘tourists’ get what ‘tourists’ want.
And I had met a similar fate in Port Blair which led to the question. However in Havelock Island, tide turned for a little while because Full Moon Cafe had a delightful collection of dishes in their menu. Although they kept the Great-Indian-restaurant-tradition alive by keeping some of these dishes, they had lots of other lesser-seen dishes as well like ‘Bamboo fish’ (fish steamed in bamboo leaves) and Bengali ‘Fish Paturi’. I sincerely regret not reading their menu more carefully! The place is scenic and quiet, the food is superb, the staff is helpful and I specially love their policy of not selling bottled water to reduce plastic waste on the island.
Venom Bar has got a 5 star rating on TripAdvisor and it’s not for nothing. The place has a lovely vibe and stands as a symbol of nightlife on the island. The Paneer Tikkas (yeah same old, same old) were surprisingly good and their lobster (pronounced ‘law buster’ by our server) looked absolutely ravishing!



(Its price was ravishing as well and since they don’t accept cards we had to take along one of their guys to the sole working ATM on the island, withdraw money and pay him for the meal!)
But what would get a 5 and a half star rating from me is a small restaurant close to Baratang Jetty. The restaurant doesn’t even have a shop board, but has two sections ‘Veg’ and ‘Non Veg’ complete with green and red dots respectively. We went to the ‘Non Veg’ section but they served us vegetarian dishes as well and the chickpea-pumpkin-carrot curry in a thick gravy just blew my mind. There was a beans dish and a cabbage one as well, but I could eat hardly anything else. Though Keerthi was busy tinkering with the crab (considering the heaps of bones he extracted I wonder how much he ate!) both Sirisha and Shweta continued to dig in for this curry and we took a second serving as well. Rice was long and thin, fish was beautifully grilled and any regret that we missed the 12.30 ferry to Middle Strait dissipated in thin air!
Back in Port Blair, it was back to same drabness.
May be the problem is with us, the Indian tourists, who love our lunch (or dinner) money so much that we are afraid to try out a new thing and stick to our Chicken Tandooris or Masala Dosas wherever we go. I really wish there are more restaurants like that tiny place on Baratang who will put the local taste back on the menu!


Tuesday, September 05, 2017

If you are a Ram Gopal Varma fan, don't watch ‘Guns and Thighs’ trailer!

If you have watched that nearly 7 minutes long ‘trailer’ of his upcoming web series and the visuals of naked women and some of the dialogues focussed on female anatomy failed to titillate you enough to ignore sheer pedestrianism of his latest venture, you can only weep.
Coincidentally these visuals and probably dialogues have spurned many YouTube commenters to label this as “India’s Game Of Thrones”! And since many of our fellow country-people (see I am not saying ‘countrymen’, because gender-neutrality) believe that nudity and violence will make any thing GoT, is probably one of the reasons we will never ever have a series as captivating and as painstakingly crafted.
And the violence in the trailer is doesn’t even impact you like the violence in some of Varma’s movies. For that matter NOTHING in this trailer even seems to try to touch the bar his previous films have set. Or to be more precise, his films of last decade.
Yes, it was 2007 when his claim to infamy ‘Ram Gopal Varma ki Aag’ came. Before this he had hits and flops but even his failures were not due to lack of effort or mediocrity of his craft. The films that made us believe in him: starting with ‘Shiva’ and ‘Raat’, setting the pace with ‘Gaayam’ and ‘Rangeela’ and finally peaking with ‘Satya’ and ‘Company’. Even if you are not a cinema connoisseur or film buff, even if you have seen these movies just once there is a definite chance that you remember a character, a scene, a dialogue or one of the songs.
Now ask yourself how many of the 25 feature films he has made since 2007 you remember? Not all of these 25 films are worth forgetting. None of these 25 films can hold a candle to his better work.
If this trailer is anything to go by, this series is going to be worse than his worst film.
Where do I begin? The trailer which is laden with so many quotes that I both lost the count and the interest in reading these (seemingly made-up) quotes, starts with voice over of what seems like an old woman confiding to the viewers, the history of gangster-ridden years of Mumbai.
The narration tries too hard to make you sympathetic to the plight of the woman whose face we are shown once in a fleeting visual. However the narration (or is this internal monologue?) is so lame I could hardly care. And once the narration ends and story takes over, all hell breaks loose. One character speaks the same sentence which you have earlier heard during narration. I kid you not. And both the times this seemingly ‘hard-hitting’ statement falls flat on its face. The acting is uniformly terrible. A girl is made to sit in nude and talk to his boyfriend (who is fully clothed btw!) There are some close shots of women’s legs (‘Not A Love Story’ anyone?) and some amazingly terrible dialogues involving human anatomy because that is how the dialogue writers thought the gangsters speak.
This is Ram Gopal Varma we are talking about. The man who made Antara Mali, J D Chakravarti and Vivek Oberoi perform brilliantly on screen. The man who has given us quality acts from the likes of Amitabh Bachchan, Aamir Khan, Ajay Devgan, Manoj Vajpayee, Urmila Matondkar and several others. Now picture him dishing this drivel.
At the very beginning of the trailer Varma says that since for various reasons he could not show ‘the full story of Mumbai Mafia in its raw and real form’ in films, he is going to do it here. It is amply clear that the man is scraping the bottom of the barrels of his once-legendary craftsmanship. ‘Satya’ and ‘Company’ are classics and he is besmirching that legacy with cheap, lazy and titillating cinema.
As I said, if you admired his work then, now you can just weep.
(If you are tempted to watch the trailer to see naked woman, heed my advice and watch some porn instead. If you want to watch the trailer just to see how bad it is, please don’t watch it and save 7 minutes of your life. You will thank me!)

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

India's Answer to Oscars!

“Call an emergency meeting of writers, reality, sales and EM. One hour. My cabin.”

Channel head ordered his secretary and replaced the receiver even before getting an ‘OK sir’. He had just finished watching Oscars ceremony on his 50 inch TV. Somehow he wasn’t very pleased with the picture quality but then he himself had got it purchased claiming it was 4K, 3D, OLED, UHD, PhD and God only knows holder of what other degrees.


Usually after watching the awards ceremony he would Google atleast the movies which were nominees for the best picture. Having a little idea about the plot and cast of these movies made it easier dropping their names during dinner conversations and parties and made him sound knowledgeable about cinema. This trick had worked well till recently when a rival channel CEO started talking about Oscar-winning documentaries and short films and acquiring their telecast rights for his channel. The head had to resort back to time-tested formula of flowing along with the life jackets of ‘ofcourse’, ‘absolutely’, ‘yes, that one is great’ and the best one ‘I am thinking about French and Iranian content’ which was the only sentence needed to show the world that you knew about quality cinema.


But today, he was in contemplative mood. His once ‘leading’ channel was now lagging even the channels showing reruns of old shows of rival networks. Neither any new interesting shows were being pitched to his channel nor the parent network was emptying their pockets trying to buy the rights of new blockbuster movies. Their library seemed like a DVD-rental store where people would never return the DVDs.


While watching the awards ceremony, he thought he had hit the jackpot idea. His channel would host an award ceremony that would rival Oscars in terms of quality, magnitude, content and everything else that Oscars could be rivalled about. He had called the meeting with writers, reality TV producers, sales and event management executives for discussing this idea and executing it quickly.


In an hour about 15 people were assembled in the not-so-large-but-decent-for-15-people sized cabin of the head. He gave them a one line brief of “an award ceremony that would be called India’s Oscars”.


One of the writers sounded confused, “Isn’t Filmfare already called that? And even IIFA?” The head stared at him but even though no sparks flew out of his eyes, the writer was incinerated.


Another writer sensed the opportunity “Arre, anyone can call themselves anything! Tomorrow if Times Now calls itself Fox News, will it become Fox News!”.


“Aren’t they already” someone quipped and table burst out laughing. But the laughter was short lived because everyone noticed that Boss was still serious.


One event management guy said “I think sir wants an indoor event with a great set and a red carpet event with extensive coverage of who was wearing what and who came with whom and …”. He was interrupted by a producer “Seriously? Which award night doesn’t have all of this? And doesn’t TOI give us every single detail next day. I think sir has something more profound on his mind.”


Everyone, except the guy whom the producer had interrupted, silently thanked him hoping this praise made the boss more effusive and reveal what the hell he wanted!


The head smiled and said “Yes, you are right Rajiv. I want something more classy. More refined. Different. Wait a second, they are Live, right? Why can’t we do a Live ceremony like them?”


No one spoke.


Another producer broke the silence “Sir, if we do live, how will we show Amitabh Ji and Jaya Ji when Rekha Ji comes on stage to give an award. Or Deepika when Ranbeer gets an award. Or the audience laughter shots? You know most of the jokes these days are so lame that only some of the stars actually laugh so usually we are just repeating shots for every joke. And most importantly what about the promos? How will we shoot the promo where two superstars are going to fight with each other when they are just acting according to the script and after the break it all unfolds as a joke.”


One of the sales guys also felt emboldened “Yes sir and the ads in those breaks sir. We won’t be able to have half hour long ads between award for best actor and best picture sir. You know sir, we aren’t selling spots at same premium as others these days!”


“OK, fine we won’t do live. How about a great jury and an award so fare that the quality becomes our USP. We might have ‘Fair and Lovely’ as our title sponsor also!” The head winked and everyone laughed at the joke dutifully.


After the laughter subsided, one of the writers said “Sir, in that case we might not have most of the stars attending the ceremony you see. The stars attend the show because we promise them that they will get an award. Only Amit ji comes in the hope of his son or daughter in law winning. Poor guy! And if awards are going to people like Richa Chaddha, Sanjay Mishra, Nawazuddin Siddiqui then stars won’t turn up and who will watch an awards ceremony without stars.” Most of the people on the table had never heard of any other name except that of Nawazuddin Siddiqui and that too because he had acted with Bhai.


Somebody added “Who wants to watch Nawazuddin give a performance in an awards night?”


The head was losing his patience now. “Seriously guys, 15 of you can’t think of ONE way to make an award night different from the trillion already on air!” His voice rose a decibel with every syllable.


A young new writer had recently joined the team “Sir I have some ideas.” 15 pairs of eyes got focussed on him.


He continued “Sir we can have better script. Did you watch Chris Rock delivering his monologue on opportunities for Black Actors and diversity? Why can’t we have something like that? Priyanka Chopra played a north-eastern girl in ‘Marykom’ when any north-eastern actor could have done that role. Somebody gave veteran Assamese director and National Award winner Jahnu Barua ‘Best Debut Director’ award for his Hindi movie! Can you believe it? We have so much diversity in India and yet we don’t have diversity in our cinema. There is raci..”


Chief writer felt that new guy is hogging too much limelight so he interrupted him “Oh sir, Priyanka Chopra was at Oscars too. This year we give her a special award for being first Indian to give an award at Oscars.”


This opened flood gates and ideas flew thick and fast!


“Sir we create a new award catgory for actors and actresses in Hollywood movies and TV.”


“Sir we create a new award category for kids of stars. Anyways they get awards once they start acting in movies. This way we will have dibs on them!”


“Sir we give an award to Sanjay Dutt for coming out of jail. And one to Salman Khan for staying out of jail.”


“Sir we give an award to Karan Johar for hosting so many awards. We call it ‘Lifetime Award Hosting Achievement Award’.”


For next 30 minutes cabin was awash with creative juices of the men and women in the room. Many more innovative ideas were given and taken for creating an award which would be termed as India’s answer to Oscars.


“Vimal Pan Masala presents Fair & Lovely Sony Cineblitz Cinema Excellence Awards powered by Kurkure and Nerolac Tractor Emulsion” is coming soon to a TV Screen near you.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

The journey

I must have been very tired as I slept within 5 minutes of lying down on my side upper berth. Even though it was the closest to the gate, I didn’t mind the noise as long as nobody bothered me. It was Friday (not 13th!) night and I was travelling from Hyderabad to my hometown Bangalore for the weekend.
I don’t know for how long I slept before I felt somebody nudging me, urging me to get up.
“Hello boss..Melkolapadaniki” said an irritated voice in Telugu.
I don’t know Telugu but guessed that he wanted me to get up. I woke up and turned towards the aisle to see who it was but there was no one. I glanced sideways in the corridoor to see who woke me but the guy seemed to have vanished in thin air.
The train was at halt and it was eerily silent. I have traveled often enough on these night trains to know that even nights have their own sounds. This night seemed to be mute. I decided to get down from my berth and take a look.
And then I noticed something very unusual. All other seven seats in my unit were vacant. No luggage, no footwear, nothing. I recalled that there were people when I had boarded the train. I switched on the light and bulb flickered with a faint yellow light. There seemed to be no trace of anyone occupying those seats. I felt a chill.
This doesn’t seem alright.
May be they all got down at some station?
All of them? That never happens.
I wore my floaters and started moving towards the other end of the compartment, switching on lights as I went. Entire compartment was vacant!
My unease was now replaced by an unknown fear with sense of foreboding. I realized that only sound I could hear was my breath and my heartbeat.
I must think straight.
Must not panic. It’s unusual but not impossible scenario right? Right.
I decided to go back to my seat. Though, now that whole compartment was vacant, every seat was my seat.
Train was still not moving. Night was still eerie. I turned back and noticed that it was dark at the other end of the compartment. The light of that unit was switched off.
Did I switch off the light?
No.
May be I did?
But why will I?
I reached my seat and was taken aback by the sight. There was somebody perched on my seat, covered with my sheet, sleeping.
What the hell!
To my mix of emotions, irritation was added. I nudged the guy. Lightly at first and then with slightly more force. No response.
Seriously dude, not even 5 minutes since I left the seat and you are sleeping like a log!
Irritation entered my voice and I heard myself say..
“Hello boss..Melkolapadaniki