Dishoom: A Spicy Chai You Need To Try

A BOMBAY CAFE IN LONDON

The original Bombay Cafes have almost disappeared. Opened early last century by Zoroastrian immigrants from Iran, their faded elegance opened all: rich businessmen, sweaty taxi-wallas and courting couples. Fans turns slowly. Bentwood chairs were reflected in stained mirrors, next to sepia family portraits. Students had breakfast. Families dined. Lawyers read briefs. Writers found their characters.

I recently visited Bombay Cafe Dishoom, Shoreditch branch,  which has been on my list of restaurants I’ve wanted to visit for a few year now. There a few branches open all over London now, and I’ve been told by a few friends who have been to this place how great this place is, so I had high expectations of this place. My friends and I booked a lunch to go one weekend to experience some culinary (and visual) delights, and were not disappointed.

Dishoom harks back to an older era which mixes chai in metal cups with fusion dishes and art deco and art noveau decor; there’s random railway signs (which remind me of old Bollywood films from my childhood), funky bits of clocks and machinery, sepia-coloured family photos and gorgeous fabrics and flooring, all mixed together for an old-timey but very friendly atmosphere. There’s nothing pretentious about this place at all, and the staff who work here are just as friendly.

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The best thing about this place is it’s eccentric decor and the way everything seemed to come together – everything is placed together in a mix-and-match way without feeling cluttered or over-crowded at all, and there’s plenty of seating for the customers.

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When we wear seated, we were giving metal cups and a water jug, with condiments and pretty plates. One of the things which really stood out from this restaurant was these plates, which were laid out with small personal stories on each one, in patterns and swirls and which added a really nice quirky touch. It really tied in with the history of the restaurant and gave a way of making us feel part of the restaurant’s Story and how it works.

Of course I have to comment on the food, which is the initial reason we came. Dishoom apparently does a brilliant breakfast, which I have yet to try but we came for a (slightly late!) lunch and loved what we had. Our meal was pretty traditional in its cuisine, but there was plenty of juicy flavour and variety, and there’s something special about each dish. The rotis (traditional chappatis/round bread) were huge and delicious, not like the usual naans you get in standard restaurants but something closer to what my mum makes, and the drinks were traditional South Asian drinks – no coke or Pepsi here, you’ll find what is served in a normal Bombay Cafe.

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And what meal is complete without tea and dessert? I loved the Dishoom take on some traditional desserts – the ‘Memsaab Mess’ and ‘Guju Chocolate Mousse’, combining traditional English desserts with an Eastern touch. I also loved the drinks menus – there’s seven types of chais alone, each with their own dash of unique flavour.

And of course I must mention the signs in this place – they’re humorous and to the point – it’s nice to be reminded sometimes not to sleep in the toilet!

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I love the way there is a juxtaposition of old style glamour with modern retro decor, everywhere you turn you’ll see wooden chairs and screens mixed with painting, odd bits of machinery on display, from the welcome counter at the front door to the ground floor bathrooms and bar.

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Like it’s name, (‘Dishoom’ is the sound you used to get in old Bollywood movies when heroes threw a punch, think ‘kapow!’), this restaurant packs quite a punch and certainly lives up to its name. I loved my visit here, for both the food and the style of this place, and it’s great when the visual experience you get is just as good as the food. I’m already planning to come back soon, and have recommended it since to about three people who went and said they loved it too. Maybe I’ll try another branch next time, Convent Garden maybe?

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Haider – To Watch or Not to Watch

Haider – a Bollywood remake of the timeless Shakespeare classic Hamlet, set in modern day Kashmir.

I recently watched Bollywood art-film Haider, which interprets Shakespeare’s troubled hero Hamlet into a conflicted younger adult Haider, whose conscience and confusion leads the way through a canvas of Kashmir conflict, troubled relationships and the idea of love in more than one form.

I’m sure it’s no coincidence that there is a Bollywood version of Hamlet – after all, Haider is the third in a series of Shakespeare dramatisations in Bollywood by director Vishal Bhardwaj, after making Omkara which is based on Othello and Maqbool, based on Macbeth. I also recently saw Ram Leela, Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s version of Romeo and Juliet, set in the Rajhastan, India, which was a colourful albeit not as serious as the above films. What makes Haider works that it is not just a mere translation of Hamlet – the film takes the story and re-invents it into something much more.

I’ll admit, I’m not a fan of remakes – although there have been a few which have been terrible, and Bollywood on the whole is always churning out films which aren’t always a hundred percent brilliant. Haider-movie-posterIt sounds like a typical re-hashing of a clichéd storyline – boy meets girl, conflict from one or both families, and a macho battle at the end where everything ends well.

Haider take on the storyline is a more contemporary one, touching on the conflict in Kashmir, not only being caught in between India and Pakistan’s tug-of-war, but also the idea of conflict in family, between brothers, spouses, mother and child and even between lovers.

Shahid Kapoor plays the troubled youth, whose father goes missing after a military search of their village for terrorists being hidden. Thus sparks a search for the truth, questioning not only where his father is, but also who was responsible for his capture, who to trust, and the concept of revenge.

The primary thing which I note in this film is the spectacular cinematography, the beautiful scenes and landscapes, and the artistic presentation of Kashmir – this is Kashmir as it has never been shown before. For all that Kashmir is a stark, depressing place it also has a haunting beauty, and Bhardwarj depicts all of that – from snowy mountains, grassy hilltops, weaving trains which illuminate modern homes as well as ruins and castles.

Also layered in the film is music, which is infused with Kashmiri tones – there’s only a two or three songs in the whole movie (which is a relief after generations of films which pound out trance-style music or sexy tunes which have nothing to do with the plot) – but they are real Kashmir folk-style songs. Reknowned actress Tabu, who plays Haider’s mother Ghazala mesmerises on-screen, from her expressive eyes and heart-wrenching emotions, to the haunting folk songs she sings, which unravel through the film as we question her motives, her relationship with her brother-in-law, and her love for her son. She sums it up wonderfully when she describes herself as a a ‘half widow’ – half bride and wife, half a widow, forever searching and not knowing, caught up in her own obssessions and guilt which are never fully revealed.

Adding to this is Haider’s father himself, the missing and presumed dead doctor, weaving in his love of music and ballads which adds poetry to the movie, contrasting Kay Kay Menon as the smooth-talking, slippery Uncle of Haider, whose smooth lies and logical explanations add chaos and confusion to the mystery, making not just Haider but the audience question what the truth is.

Also a big part of this is love – Shradda Kapoor plays a feisty Orphelia who tries to support the hero, although his wall of confusion, search for identity and his growing depression pushes back at this. At the heart of this film is also the suggestion of an Oedipal complex – Haider’s relationship with his mother is wraught with jealousy, confusion, and anger, and at times it is almost uncomfortable to watch their awkward, intense scenes. Similarly, Haider’s memories of his father and his love for his father only serve to confuse more, as we question the reason for revenge and whether it is beign manipulated by militants for their own ends – scenes of Haider searching for his father with missing posters in his backpack, bloody, smuggled bodies in trucks and morgues and cemetries only makes this film more haunting and moving.

The best part of the movie, for me, though, was that even though the film has it’s own style, and captures its own struggles well, it still remains faithful to the essence of Hamlet – the self-doubt, the conflict, the questioning which pervades it. And of course, the director could not resist slipping in the eternal famous line “To be or not to be” (in Hindi, of course!) as well as the famous scene with Hamlet and the skull (which is not a horror scene but an amusing one, as Shakespeare intended!) While Haider is a unique story in itself, it remains faithful to the ideas that Hamlet promotes – a haunting scene, for example his Haider’s reasoning that he would not kill his father’s murderer while he is in prayer, because he does not want a sinner to be absolved and go straight to heaven – this is a scene I vividly remember studying in university and which resonated with me.

For all that this is a sombre film, there are also a lot of  quirky moments as well, surprisingly amusing moments which add to the depth of the film and add another facet to the character of Haider. Haider’s play-madness makes us chuckle, and the song in the cemetery with three old men digging graves reminds me of a quirky Cohen brother’s movie, something cheeky and slightly inappropriate because of the way it makes fun of death. There are plenty of jokes too, one of my favourite being a woman who is unable to understand why her husband stands outside their house for hours and refuses to speak or come in – which is solved by a quick request for ID card and then permission to enter – it’s a reflection of how their daily lives have become, yet handled deftly and lightly.

 

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For me, Haider works because of the many pieces which fit together and blend well – the music, the scenery, the dialogues and the ability of all of the actors to make characters come alive and make us question. The director cleverly re-shapes this storyline in a new context, while still remaining faithful to the essence of Hamlet, which is not an easy thing to do. I don’t often praise Bollywood films but this is a rare gem, it captivates from the first few scenes and carries through to a compelling, bloody and emotional ending. Haider is a film which is more than just a boy’s search for his father and his murderer, it is about identity of himself and his country, his love for his family, and the idea of truth, revenge and what the right thing to do is.

I would strongly recommend this film to most people – it is poetry, war and misplaced patriotism on screen which answers whether to watch or not to watch, although I say, watch it.

My Local Lane: Street of High Fashion

I thought I’d try a writing challenge this week, which is about ‘blogging your block‘, that is, about the area we all in live in. I don’t often spend a lot of time wandering around my neighbourhood, especially because I tend to rush home from work, or jump on buses and trains all the way home.

Every now and the20140402_201545n I’ll stop to dawdle in the local shops, particularly the ones which display and sell beautiful Pakistani and Indian style outfits – beautifully draped saris, elegant maxi dresses, blingy abayahs and lovely embroidered shirts which come down to your ankles.

I’ll admit it, I’ve always been a bit of a diva when it comes to clothes. I like having a wardrobe of beautiful things, and I especially love my ‘desi’ wardrobe, that is, my clothes which are more on the Asian-influenced. And I also reluctantly will admit that I probably have too many clothes (somewhere in the world, a Bollywood star is crying and doesn’t know why).

Nevertheless, the Lane that I live near is chock-full of Asian shops with Indian and Pakistani style outfits which are always worth an ogle (and perhaps stepping into the shop for a moment or two doesn’t always hurt either!)

And there’s the flashes of jewellery displayed carelessly all over the display cabinets, draped along luxurious velvet and self-printed silk, beautiful gold-plated rings, jewelled necklaces and stone-embedded purses.

These days, there’s a veritable land of fashion shops lining almost every other doorway, all with  beautiful clothes, blingy jewellery and pretty scarves which all have their own styles and influences. It’s lovely looking through the window glass at the beautiful things (although these days, the more beautiful they are, the less I can afford them) and seeing the vibrant colours.

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I suppose it’s important to me because when I was a child, these shops weren’t there, and the fashions and styles were completely different. When I was a child, my mum used to take myself and my sisters to the local fabric shops to buy several yards of cloth to stitch herself on her sewing machine (which she still has!) and we’d always have the same generic style of stitched kameez (or shirt) with a salwar pyjama (the bottom, pants). Mind you, we still loved it, it was an adventure going to see all the rolls of fabrics lining the shelves while my mum dreamed up our outfits.

These days there are styles which I never imagined wearing – I’ve always worn traditional Pakistani clothes, and I’m always  trying new styles and cuts – but there’s always something else new to look at. I was 22 when I wore my first sari, which was to a close friend’s wedding, and I went for something simple and vibrant (in purple!) These days, there’s every style of sari imaginable, various colours, cuts, embroidery and influences – be it Indian, Pakistani, Bengali or even Western-influenced. When I walk along my local lane of fashion, I’m always getting inspiration, and not just for my wardrobe (although that bulging thing will always keep growing) – it’s a place of art, of beauty, of culture and when you’re fed up of shopping…of food food : )

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Pretty pretty things.

The Unspoken Rules of All Soap Operas

I don’t watch as much soap operas and those day-time tv series as much as I used to, mainly because they frown on watching television at my workplace (it doesn’t look good to have iPlayer running in the background of my reports, managers tend to frown on that), and also because after years and years of watching Eastenders, Emmerdale, Hollyoaks and Neighbours, I got sick of watching the same storylines being disguised and recycled with each generation.

How many times will Den die? Will Kat cheat again? More importantly, will she be wearing leopard-print while doing it? And how on earth do people like Tony from Hollyoaks and Ian from Eastenders convince so many women to marry them?

It got me to thinking about how a lot of TV’s soaps follow some unscripted rules which seem to be unchanging over the years – even if they’re disguised to reflect current issues. In the 80’s and 90’s there was a lot of controversy over story-lines like homosexuality and teenage pregnancy, these day the storylines will be about immigration, transgender issues, terrorism or just about Cornish pasties – but the results are the same, possibly because the soaps follow the same ‘rules’.

I expounded on some of my theories about soaps to a friend of mine and she urged me to share my theories so I can enlighten you all with them. Admittedly, her exact words were “write a post about it, it sounds funny”, but I’ll take that as a positive too. Read on follow soap-cynics, and tell me if you agree.

Rule #1: There is no such thing as a happy relationship or marriage.

No matter how long the ‘romance’ has been dragged out, and the suspense built up, when a couple finally ends up together or gets married, it will never last. I have yet to see a marriage which has lasted on any soap. Even those married couples who have supposedly been married for 50 years suddenly end up having problems with each other.

It is inevitable that there will be three possible outcomes in any relationship:
1. One of them cheats (which probably means nothing because the other one is likely to be cheating as well)
2. One of them dies (which forever immortalises them and makes them the perfect partner)
3.They just give up their relationship because it gets boring/one of them has to leave the country for obscure reasons/one of them turns gay (i.e. their relationship got boring and producers wanted to spice it up)

The best relationships have been the ones where one half of the couple is dead (probably because they’re too dead to argue or cheat) – in which case, the living half will remember the relationship with unrealistic fondness. Strangely enough, this doesn’t stop characters from having an impaired memory – the amount of times Pauline Fowler talked about her beloved (and belated) ‘Arfur’, despite the fact that he was a cheater and she was a husband-beater. Sounds like him being dead suddenly redeemed him.

Married and separated so many times, we lost count.

Rule #2: Everyone must visit the pub.

It doesn’t matter if you aren’t a drinker, every soap has a thriving pub which is at the centre of all business, drama and gossip, which means it’s a place that everyone eventually ends up being in the episode. Teetotal and/or ex-alcoholic? Why not go to the pub and surround your lemonade with some drinkers? Muslim and don’t drink? Down to the pub with you. Underage or with young children? Why not have a rest at the pub, there’s plenty of people to keep an eye on your children while you have a quick pint. Best of all, no one will ask you why you are at the pub at 11.00am, plus a possible pub lunch and a quick pint after your dinner too.

Some would argue that the pub is a great equalizer – the rich, poor, working class, middle class and people of all colours and ages congregate to the pub cos they all want a drink at the end of the day (or want to witness the latest debacle about to take place). But I’ll just say that the Queen Vic and Rover are too over-populated to be realistic, especially when you know most people would prefer to be at home in front of the telly (I wonder if there is a soap that the characters watch in Eastenders, something called The Market maybe).

Rule #3: Ian is always going to be a git.

I just don’t like him. ‘Nuff said.

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Rule #4: There should only be one taboo topic at any one time.

Every season in soap-world will have a new scandal going on, whether it’s affairs, crime-doings or someone ‘aving a go in the market. In order not to confuse us simple viewers, there’s only ever major story arc at a time, so that we can keep our bums on the edge of the seats without being distracted by other storylines. The downside of this is that a story can drag on for months until we stop caring. But it also means that you can watch a story about an affair in January, go on holiday for a couple of months, come back in April and the affair’s still going on. When it comes to ‘taboo’ topics which become major storylines like teenage pregnancy, homosexuality, immigration or similar issues, I can’t help but think that they’re dumbed down and simplified so that we are beaten over the head with the overall message.

Rule #5: There is always a loophole for characters to come back, regardless or how they leave.

Death is not a preventive factor because there’s always an explanation , even if it’s not a realistic one. We may have seen someone get shot/stabbed/go on the run for twenty years, but it still means that there’s a small lee-way for them to come back. Yes, you, Dirty Den, we’re looking at you. What do you think this is, the Resurrection?

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Rule #6: There is always a villain that we love to hate in every soap

It’s practically a requirement. In Eastender it’s Ian (for me), but there’s plenty of real ‘baddie’ characters to spice things up a bit. And there’s different strands of baddies too, whether it’s the gangster type;, the smarmy type who everyone hates; and, worst of all baddies, the ones who pretend to be good but have serial killer eyes and end up going cuckoo crazy before they get carted off in a wheely bin to a local asylum (which they’ll probably escape from). Think Annie from Sunset Beach, maybe.

Rule #7: The token ethnic person is never accurate.

I have a personal gripe about this because every time there has been an Asian, particularly a Pakistani character in a soap, they’ve never sounded or behaved like anyone I know. The Masoods are a classic example of unrealistic storylines which have either been lifted straight from a Bollywood serial or just made up by non-Asian people who think that Pakistani families are like this. Coronation Street was just as bad, although the only thing they got right was that the Indian family owned the corner shop. As for Emmerdale, well, I have yet to see any Asian people out in the fields.

Put some more of these in Coronation Street.
Rule #8: Time is irrelevant in soap operas and doesn’t run at the same speed as real life.

Don’t try to make it make sense of it, it’ll only give you a headache. A character may find out she is pregnant in May and then be ready to give birth just two months later, pay no attention to that, it’s just producers speeding up time for us. Similarly, a baby will grow into a toddler and suddenly get replaced into a teenage character in a couple of years (I may be exaggerating here, but still). And if it’s highly convenient that Christmas day in Soap World is on the same day as real life, well that’s just clever timing.

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Rule #9: Every character has potential to have a huge (translation: stupid) secret

This ‘secret’ will cover a storyline that will drag on for weeks until we stop caring and the producers are forced to do a ‘big reveal’ so they can try to save the storyline and make us all interested again. Usually the secret is something like having a criminal past or that they’re really someone’s secret mum, or that they were the one who stole Dot’s sandwich. Admittedly, there have a been a few interesting storylines in the past, like the secret serial killers, the complicated affairs and the random storylines which make no sense but which still are fascinating. At the core of soap operas, the moments we all hang on for are the ‘Big Reveal’ parts, the moment everyone finds out something that we knew all along – even if it’s a boring secret.

Rule #10: I can’t think of any more rules so here’s a picture of a cute turtle.

Look how cute it is.

That’s all I could think of folks, I know some of these are silly and some of you might not agree with these, but a lot of these are silly and down to the fact that I watch a lot of rubbish TV which doesn’t always make sense, so I may have done some over thinking here!

Next up, clichés and rules about Bollywood films (and Indian TV serials) – expect some silliness!

Indian Puppets & Wooden Carvings

I love looking at random, quirky pieces of art from other cultures, and Indian art is one which has always fascinated me, particularly because of the overlaps it has with my own culture. This is a antique, wood sculpture (or perhaps toys, they remind me of puppets in a way) of a scene from history – I’m thinking a meeting between powerful Indian figures and British delegates (I see a top hat on the table!), but it’s likely that I could be wrong!

Even so, I like the earthy, warm colours here, and the quirky styles of these little men – they remind me a little of some of the folk stories I read as a child, and immediately make you feel as if they’re part of a puppet show that have just frozen for a little while, and will start moving again when you look away : )

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Boating with a Bengal Tiger

LIFE OF PI (PG)
Directed by Ang Lee

Acclaimed director Ang Lee picked well with his latest venture of adapting Yann Martel’s Life of Pi, depicting cinematic deliciousness with beautiful landscapes, lively animal scenes and a central character who manages to bring a sea-faring adventure to life. Following the unnamed writer who meets a remarkable Indian man to hear about his life story, we meet ‘Pi’, full name Piscine Molitor Patel, named after a French swimming pool, brought up in the French-Indian colony of Pondicherry, who lives in a zoo. And it’s not long before he is sailing on a Japanese ship which is bound for Canada, to begin a new life with his parents and his brother Ravi. And thus begins what seems to be a richly-coloured tale, although it doesn’t just begin there. Painting a portrait of zoo life and schoolboy childhood in India, Pi (and the narrator) creating an engaging voice, pulling us along in his memories of being teased at school, living with zoo animals, and even meeting girls, giving an almost ‘boy’s own’ adventure tone which we can easily fall into.

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And this is, after all, a tale to “make you believe in God”, so it’s fitting that we also learn about Pi’s religious beliefs, and how he is brought up as a Hindu but stumbles upon Christianity and it’s “mind-boggling” concepts of love and sacrifice. Soon, “Islam followed right behind”, with Pi embracing all three religions and accepting their philosophies equally. It is here we see a compassionate young boy, looking to understand the idea of love and God, and the overlying message that all are equal. (Not that it stops his brother teasing him by asking whether “Swami Jesus will be visiting Mecca this year”, or whether “will it be to Rome for your coronation as the next Pope Pi-us?”).

And there are the animals themselves, twittering, growling, moo-ing and neighing in and out of the film, as the director amalgamates Pi’s childhood in the zoo with his journey on the Pacific Ocean. From the very beginning of the film we are asked: “Do animals have a soul?”. Pi’s father insists that it is our own emotions and perceptions which are reflected back at us when looking into their eyes, but Pi’s spiritual nature is reluctant to accept this view. At the peak of the film, events takes a tragic turn when the ship begins to sink, and in true epic style, Pi is left along with some zoo animals, his own knowledge and a whole lot of water. Thus, the story of the survival of a young boy becomes more than just about getting his meal and being rescued; he has to contend with sharing a life-boat with a deadly tiger, keep his sanity, and learn about his place in the world and how far he will go to survive.

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Most striking of all about this film is the aesthetic experience; Lee transports us to an oceanic world which is much more beautiful than your average travel brochure, luring us with beautiful scenes to share this adventure with Pi. With exquisite detail in the landscape, animals and beautiful scenery, this is a movie which appreciates natural beauty as an art, transporting viewers into a simpler world of enhanced beauty, the idea of the spiritual and being human. Blending special effects so that they merge with the spectacular scenes (the night scene with glowing pools of water and fish is one of my favourite scenes, left) it’s easy to leave us breathless, mixing the almost unreal and unbelievable to make the beautifully depicted animals and epic scenes feel just a touch away.

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All in all, this is a wonderful story, Yann Martel’s novel quietly questions the idea of home, and what makes us human, and Ang Lee interprets this on the screen just as well. While the novel is more successful at portraying the angst of religious conflicts and “being all religions is the same as being none at all”, as well as the concept of animals being compared to humans, the film chooses to do this in imagery. We are shown the beauty of nature in all its calm and cruelty, its mastery of mankind as well as the taming of it. Metaphors, too, come in several forms in this film, we see how ‘Richard Parker’ (the tiger) represents not only Nature, but also reflects back Pi’s wild side, just as the sea, the ship, the life-boat and the various encounters the protagonist has represents not only the circle that is Life, but also the idea of a ‘spiritual’ coming of age. Newbie Suraj Sharma plays his role amazingly, and doesn’t overact or under-emote, and his ability to express emotions realistically only adds to the calibre of the film.

I loved the book because of its haunting and quiet descriptions of a lone soul struggling to survive in an extreme situation, and just as it quietly comes to an astonishing end, this film also ties the threads to come together in a startling, yet quiet conclusion in this masterpiece. I will admit that the novel felt more articulate and the ending felt more coherent to me than the film, yet the actual cinematic experience of this film is beautiful and cannot be beaten, it is a journey which I ‘d recommend to all.