The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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City Lights
Taste trail, sweet ’n’ sour

North Indian, Chinese, continental, pizza, sandwich, chaat… There’s no dearth of choice or variety for the Calcutta foodie, in palate or place. More restaurants have laid out the tables in the city in the past few years, than in the past two decades. The reason, say restaurateurs, is the growth in taste and spending power.

So, are Calcuttans rising up to the taste challenge' Anjan Chatterjee, of Mainland China fame, seems to think so. It’s been three years and counting for the Gurusaday Road restaurant and he’s already in the process of opening up two more. Oh! Calcutta is being spruced up for the much-awaited launch at Forum, on Elgin Road, this month. And The Great Indian Spice Trail, in progress on the EM Bypass, will be ready in about six months time.

“The Mainland China in Calcutta is the biggest nationwide, in terms of volume, sales and turnover. That’s because people here are ready to experiment and they are the biggest spenders on food. Why these eateries are mushrooming all over the city and doing so well is because there was a gap. The old-style Park Street died out a while ago, and foodies were waiting for new fine-dining destinations,” Chatterjee says.

Another doyen of grub street, Grain of Salt’s Sanjeev Kapoor, agrees wholeheartedly. “Calcutta is by far the best test market for food, because the people provide an objective view. In fact, if you start off something here before, say Mumbai, you have a much higher chance of survival,” he feels. “Calcutta is a great place for opportunity, since there is not much available between the five-stars and the A-grade restaurants.” The master chef will be clearing the Grain of Salt table for ‘Food in Fashion’ talks on Saturday. Kapoor will be cooking up conversation with the likes of Moon Moon Sen.

It’s the harmony of “good quality food and value for money along with the right ambience” that is all-important. So, while Grain of Salt offers soothing sounds of running water, Oh! Calcutta will have heritage paintings and fusion Rabindrasangeet and Tangerine, on Outram Street, has floor-to-ceiling glass windows overlooking a green vista. Grain of Salt has an “aggressively priced” lunch spread, as does Tangerine, and Mainland China has a breakfast buffet fit for a king.

However, there’s a fly in the soup, in the form of a few old favourites, and newcomers, who’ve had to bow out of the business. The once-brimming Blue Fox, on Park Street, buckled under labour trouble. And the downward spiral for Steam, on Ballygunge Circular Road, began about a year ago, when partners Amit Puri and Bunty Sethi parted ways. The cooks left, the quality of food dropped, customers steered clear, the shutters were down. And it’s now reportedly up for grabs.

On the brighter side, Waldorf, ousted from its Park Street premises, has resettled in a far smaller avatar on Russel Street, and Red Hot Chilli Pepper, on Ballygunge Circular Road, has reinvented itself in a hurry. There’s also talk of places like La Zeez struggling to serve it up.

Then what is it that tantalises the taste buds of Calcuttans' At Mainland China, it’s seafood and vegetarian, with top marks for the crispy corn and crackling spinach. And at Grain of Salt, non-vegetarian is preferred, spicy stuff always works, north Indian fare is favoured on the menu and the winner is dal lalla mussa.

— Nisha Lahiri

For all seasons

From advertising to writing and now film-making — Shaoni Mukherjee has come full circle. Well, almost. The former creative director of an advertising company decided a change was in order after seven years spent in the same profession. So, she turned to music videos.

The 32-year-old’s Thums Up and Coca Cola advertisements for Bengali television channels even won her awards from the industry. She did her share of public service, too, making a series of short films for CRY, PUBLIC and others, to create malaria awareness. Then, it was on to music videos, for Hindi ghazals, which, she smiles, made it to MTV. All part of the 10 films she made after setting up her own company.

“I get bored very easily. I need change all the time,” she laughs. So, Shaoni set off on a European sojourn, to seek inspiration for her first novel. Alone Together is a love story, waiting for a publisher, along with a book of English translations of 51 of her favourite Rabindranath Tagore poems. At the moment though, she’s working on her newest venture – a film.

The Last Poem is an English film based on Tagore’s Shesher Kabita. “I want to make Tagore universal, by not just making him accessible to Bengali NRIs, but to people all around the world. For that, we need more of his works in other languages, particularly in English. And film is my medium this time,” Shaoni explains.

She’s in the process of meeting producers at the moment, with everything, from script to cast, ready in hand. “There is a lot of interest, particularly from Bengalis settled abroad. Hopefully, it will happen soon,” she signs off.

Treasure hunt

Action and adventure. Thrills and spills. City girl Tina Mazumdar will be part of all that in an Indo-French celluloid venture. The yet-unnamed English feature film, with Tamil actor-director Babu Ganesh at the helm, will be an adventure shot in Sri Lanka, India and Malaysia.

Tina is part of a multinational cast. “It is the story of a treasure hunt. Seven characters come from several corners of the world in search of the booty. There is a Nigerian guy and a kid as well as a girl from the Far East, played by Hollywood star Jackie Chan’s cousin sister,” says the 20-year-old, bubbling with enthusiasm. “But we haven’t met yet,” she quickly adds.

Tina is just back from Chennai where the film’s promo was shot. The camera actually starts rolling in November.

Since there will be a lot of action involved in the film, Tina is busy tuning up. “I am taking lessons in martial arts,” says the second year student of St Andrews College, relieved to have the Part I exams out of the way.

There is more action up Tina’s street. She is starring opposite Jishu Sengupta in Dulal Dey’s Samudra Sakshi. “About 80 per cent of the work is done,” she says. She is no newcomer to Bengali films though, having debuted in the Victor-Debashree starrer Antarghat a couple of years ago. “My Class XII results were just out then,” laughs the granddaughter of film editor Nikunja Bhattacharya, who worked in films like Atmaja and Ranger Saheb.

The girl is also getting offers from the Oriya film industry. “I have a script in hand. Since it involves an unknown language, I have asked for time to take a decision. But I think I will say ‘yes’. I want to work in many languages,” she states.

Action with message

The second chapter in the PeaceWorks campaign will take the stage on Monday. Last month, the students involved with the peace movement helped out up a jazz and blues concert. This month, the vehicle is drama. But the theme is the same: anti-violence and pro-peace.

A group of young actors has been participating in workshops, conducted by actor Jayant Kripalani at the Seagull Arts and Media Resource Centre, and the outcome is Peacewards, a performance of monologues by Manjula Padmanabhan, and other writings. Live music, with rock band Insomnia on stage, is woven into the performance. The curtain goes up on July 7 at GD Birla Sabhagar. The monologues by Manjula Padmanabhan, published by Seagull Books, entitled Hidden Fires, will be released on the same day.

Alternative methods of communication to raise awareness about peace is an integral part of the PeaceWorks agenda. Interactive processes like the drama workshop are designed to reach out to the viewers as well as enrich the participants — all school students.

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