Monkeycaps. Bhinter (a.k.a. what non-Bengalis call winter). Boroline. Fish. Singing. No, these are not a few of my favourite things. These are just a list of all that you will find in the music videos of the very Bengali Sawan Dutta. Dutta who is a composer, singer, lyricist and producer, has created a social media storm with her song, Machher Jhol. Which means Fish Stew, for the uninitiated. And which is like a dose of Revital for all Bengalis, and only a close second to sandesh.
Dutta, other than for singing about all things Bengali in her two-and-a-half-minute YouTube videos, also seems to embody all things Bengali. She wears saris with sleeveless blouses (a particularly Bengali habit, women really don’t like sleeves on their blouses or at best magia sleeves—look it up), has kohled eyes and a big bindi and, most importantly, plays many musical instruments and sings like a dream. Dutta’s voice will remind you of Usha Uthup’s husky voice. And like most good Bengalis, she’s over-educated. Dutta is from the School of Planning and Architecture and decided to sing instead of pursuing architecture. Which seems to be a very good idea for us listeners.
I heard about Dutta last week when her “song blog video” called Machher Jhol appeared on my Facebook wall. The video is not only about the Bengali love for fish stew, but also shares a really authentic recipe for it. Which is what impressed me more than the fact that she’d actually made a song and dance about machher jhol, like any true blue Bong should.
Here’s a look at some of the lyrics.
Today our goal
Is to make machher jhol
Good for my tummy
And good for my soul
With turmeric and salt first marinate the fish
What is our goal?
To make machher jhol
If you have amasha (which means loose motions, a terminal disease for Bengalis)
Or ombol (indigestion, another terminal problem with Bengalis)
Machher jhol, machher jhol....
She even mentions the absolute worst thing that can happen while cooking machher jhol. Burnt potatoes. Only a proper cook will know that a burnt potato can ruin the best stew. So full points to her for that.
What I realised while watching the Machher Jhol video was that this was number 8 in her Song Blog Video. She has a string of other videos, including one about her seven years in Mumbai or how she misses the Delhi winters. When she sings about stuff related to Bengal and Bengalis, she dresses the part with sari et al. But when she sings about Bombay or Delhi, she’s dressed in jeans and non-Bong attire. Versatility as we know is key. Also, while her songs are steeped in fact and excellent observations, there’s a solid dose of humour in all of them.
Why Dutta should appeal to even non-Bengalis is because not only does she make fun of us Bengalis, she also imitates our lovely and very unique accent to perfection. Where we can’t say B or V or W, and instead say ‘bhinter’ is coming for winter is coming. It’s self-deprecation at its best.
But Machher Jhol as I found out is but one of her odes to Bengal and all things Bengalis hold dear. There’s also Ode To Boroline.
Is your skin feeling dry?
Does your complexion make you cry?
Then you must definitely try
Is good for my skin
Boroline is the cream
For my kith and my kin...
If you have got boil on your bum
Choose correct treatment
Do not be dumb
The balm for my skin
I always have extra
in my biscoot tin....
And to the season which most Bengalis hate. Which she sings of, dressed in Bengal’s winter costume—the monkey cap.
Winter is Coming
Have you got the woollen socks?
Vitamin in tiffin box?
Lagavulin on the rocks?
The temperature is falling
I feel so cold...
My monkeycap is calling
Am I growing old?
I want to go walking
With glove and with stocking
But weather is shocking
How I will go....
There’s much to be entertained by in her videos. From the accent to the poking fun of Bengalis to Dutta’s fabulous voice and very sultry looks. I also think it underlines the fact that Bengalis love making fun of themselves. We know our kinks and obsession with indigestion, fish, Boroline, phuchkas, Punjabi men and women, scotch, using tiffin boxes to keep our money and our medicines and jewellery. The list of our objects of affection is long and not very flattering. And maybe because Dutta is Bengali herself, she gets the nuances correct. Even her Bengali accent, which it’s obvious she’s putting on, is spot on. Unlike say Jackie Shroff’s accent in Devdas or Amitabh Bachchan’s in Piku.
Dutta’s videos do remind me slightly of Pammi Aunty’s videos, but her narration in song is the clincher. It’s not parody or slapstick, which is what makes it more enjoyable. But then of course, she’s Bengali. So it’s only expected that she’d be one up on the Punjabis.
Watch the videos, you may even learn to cook fish properly. You can watch the video here .