Saturday, 24 February 2007
I normally don’t review restaurants, but this one was just too irresistible. After many years I dropped by at the Britannia restaurant located at Ballard Estate in South Bombay (can’t call it Mumbai on this occasion, just doesn’t work.) And was delighted to find the legendary Parsi joint is pretty much as it was a decade ago.
The walls are, as always, chipping away, the unprofessionally applied migraine-green cheap distemper on certain sections makes you want to reach out for a pill. The awning announcing the restaurant badly needs to be trashed at the nearest scrap dealer. The Irani furniture hasn’t been replaced for three generations, and air conditioning is completely out of the question (I made the fatal error of asking the proprietor if he was planning on starting an A/C room… it’s never a good idea to rile a bawa, I assure you). There is still no washroom, you have to go to an adjoining building and plead for a key to be able to pee.
And I absolutely loved to find the place in such a mess. I have never enjoyed eating out as much as I did at the hurried working-lunch meet last week. Of course, the food was as groovy as ever (Berry Pulao, Bombay Duck, Sali Chicken and the burnt-just-right Caramel Custard… all to die for since 1923, when Britannia first opened shop for the exclusive patronage of Brit officers), but my elation had more to do with the crumbling ambience.
Let me explain.
The greatest strength of Britannia is that the place is run by a, let’s just say, ‘not-very-loaded’ Parsi family. And so they have no excess funds available to modernise things, even if they wanted to. This also means they can’t afford to hire professional managers and fancy chefs, they have to run the show all by themselves. Which is what makes the place so magical. Three generations, all three men, grand dad, dad and son, man this place on their own, and this guarantees a personal touch and consistency of food and service, and as usual, they don’t let you down. The dad, Boman Kohinoor, is as passionate about the place and the food as he has been since he migrated from Iran, but if there’s any hint he isn’t too excited about the future, it’s in his ecstatic response to a question on where his son was. “That rascal you see sitting at the cashier’s desk… that’s my son.” Right. Told you I love the ambience.
It’s heartening and comforting to see granddad and dad share a quiet meal in the corner of the restaurant (see pic). It’s reassuring to find decay and degeneration of furniture and fittings. And yes, it’s great to hear the air conditioning people aren’t visiting Britannia in a hurry. More than Berry Pulao (berries still come straight from Iran), this is why I adore this place. It’s stuck in time, and if you ever want to relive all that Bombay lost when it became Mumbai, then here it is.
Boman Kohinoor, always full of good-humoured anecdotes, drops by to share a problem: “You know, some American guests dropped by the other day. And were very annoyed when they ordered Bombay Duck and found it to be a fish. I told them to get lost!”
Way to go, Sir. Keep these Americans away, Especially the McDonald’s suits who would soon arrive to buy you out. There is no way will we let Britannia shut shop. There is no way will we let Bombay die.
Please don’t spend a paisa on modernisation. Please be as unkempt and messy as you are. We love you for it.
Wednesday, 14 February 2007
Dunno if you read my recent interview with SRK in the Mumbai Mirror, and if you didn’t, click here.
A few friends called in to say I didn’t needle the actor enough, that I should have put some more fire and steam into the questions. And they are right. I was far easier on SRK than I have been in the many interviews I have done in my rather infamous career.
There are two reasons that happened. One, I really do like the guy, especially his tremendous sense of humour. I also know SRK dances for money at Punjabi weddings, has a capitalist ideology running in his veins, and is driven by power and materialism. Nothing necessarily wrong with all of this, especially because he doesn’t pretend to be anything otherwise.
My own affection for the actor is rooted in one film he did, the film that affected me the most, the film that, to use a bad cliché, changed my life. And it was Ashutosh Gowarikar’s ‘Swades’, in which SRK played the role of an NRI, Mohan Bhargava. The down to earth sincerity of his acting, the realism with which the movie was directed, the inspirational message it delivered… struck me like a tornado, and am still to recover from it. I have watched ‘Swades’ innumerable number of times, and yet find myself weeping right through the film. Not just because of the story and the emotions pulsating within, but because ‘Swades’ reminds me of the failure and apathy of we, the urban, rich.
That we have done sweet f-all for our people in the villages, that we don’t give a damn about their problems, that we give a rat’s arse whether they live or die. (See how easily we have forgotten all about Priyanka Bhotmange.) To most of us that is a boring India that does not even exist. That we are happy so long as we get our fat paychecks and the malls and the pubs and the theatre and the dating. Swades was a gentle reminder of what this nation can become, if we city slickers take even a little interest in our rural areas. I cannot think of a single work of fiction that has affected me that deeply.
Yup, I know, Mohan Bhargava doesn’t exist, and the movie was just another role SRK played for money, I know all this. And yet, in those hours I spent with the actor, I could not differentiate between Bhargava and Khan. And there’s no way I can ever be nasty with the former, I am too much in love with him. And maybe it’s a journalistic failure on my part that I could not separate fact from fiction.
But I am not ashamed of myself. Only once in your entire life can cinema affect an individual holistically. And Swades did that to me. So I guess I am allowed one screw-up.
Saturday, 3 February 2007
In the recently concluded municipal elections in Mumbai, the Shiv Sena/BJP romped home with a majority, to the great surprise of many, including the Sena cadres. That alliance has controlled the municipality in Bombay for many years, but has nothing to show for itself but failure and mismanagement. The city’s civic amenities suck, the drains don’t, filth lies all over the city uncollected, hawkers and land grabbers are mushrooming faster than Shilpa Shetty’s media coverage, there is zero planning for this decaying city’s future, and 26/7 was a kick arse reminder that heads need to roll in the BMC.
Simple logic would indicate the Sena would get ousted. But that didn’t happen. And that is not to say the rival Congress is any better, I have yet to see a more slothful and inefficient CM in Maharashtra than Shri Deshmukh. Still, one would have thought the slightly lesser of the two evils would benefit, but even that did not happen. Nor did the exit of Raj Thackeray, Bal Thackeray’s ridiculing of the Prez, and Hema Malini’s demand that UPites go back home, made a difference.
What did make a difference was we cool doods of Mumbai ignoring the elections as we always do, but more on that later.
I think what worked was the invocation of baseless fear in the minds of the Maharashtrian community, members of which vote the most. It was Bal Thackeray’s ultimate weapon, and he used it with astounding accuracy. Just a couple of days before the polls, the ageing tiger roared, “We will never let anyone separate Mumbai from Maharashtra!” Implied within the message, of course, was a threat that if the Sena failed to win, the State would lose Mumbai. Of course, the frightened voters got carried away, not even bothering to find out if there was such a talk going around in the first place. The truth, as you all would know, is that for the last three years no one’s even mentioned such a possibility, least of all Sena’s rivals. And the rest of us gave up on the separate Mumbai dream many moons ago. Not having any achievements to crow about, Thackeray fired his emotional Brahmastra, and it hit bull’s-eye.
I guess the easy conclusion is Indian voters are emotional suckers and fools who don’t do their homework, and our netas prey on this weakness. Sure, this is true. But it is also true that not very long ago, Dubya deceived half of America, a first world nation, into believing Iraq and Saddam was behind 9/11, and the idiotic voters bought into the lie. So I guess this is no unique Indian failing. This is a built-in flaw with democracy, and there’s very little we can do to correct it, unless we adopt General Musharraf’s way of life.
We could perhaps dilute this factor by making sure we, the educated and informed, go out there to vote, but that we will not do, as we have lost faith in the electoral process. And we have better things to do on a hol like partying, malling, chilling, etc. Also, the choice of candidates on display isn’t very exciting, so that’s another great excuse to keep away. And so the vicious cycle goes on.
And frankly, I am quite worried about the future. If I was a BMC officer, I would do even lesser work than I did before, convinced that Mumbaikars will die like rats on a 26/7, but will yet vote us back in. So why bother doing anything at all.
Which is why on our glorious Republic Day just gone by, all I did was drink to glory, dry day be damned. If I have to die like a trapped rodent on the muck-clogged streets one day, why not live it up today. Democracy, on the rocks please!