Cinema gets tasteful
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It’s natural that the culinary breadth and depth of India would find expression in one of its other obsessions: cinema. In these five scenes from Bollywood and regional movies, food is a trigger for everything from warm vibes to heart-grabbing action.
‘Gol Maal’ (1979)
Bhavani Shankar (Utpal Dutt) has just found out Ramprasad (Amol Palekar), the cultured young man he has hired, is actually the brash Lakshmanprasad (whom he detests) in disguise. Advancing on him, sinister smile on his face, Bhavani takes off on his sister’s (Shubha Khote’s) offer of aloo paratha. Grinding out each syllable, he tells the increasingly panicky Ramprasad that he’ll feed him rajbhog from Kolkata, sohan halwa from Delhi, peda from Mathura, kalakand from Varanasi. One of the funniest scenes in one of the funniest Hindi films ever made, this exchange in Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Gol Maal is also a nice nod to the infinite varieties of Indian desserts.
It’s fitting that paan is linked with the quietly menacing Abbaji (Pankaj Kapur) in Maqbool, Vishal Bhardwaj’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth: Like the gangster, this is a food item that’s fastidious, tart and prone to blood-red stains.
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After a meal, one of Abbaji’s associates addresses him a little too freely. The mob boss calls him closer. Suddenly, he grabs hold of the man’s head and stuffs a piece of paan in his mouth. “Gilori khaya karo, Gulfam. Zubaan kaabu mein rehti hai (You should eat gilori, Gulfam. It keeps the tongue in check),” he mutters.
‘Golpo Holeo Sotti’ (1966)
Though its Hindi remake, the Rajesh Khanna-starrer Bawarchi, is better known, Tapan Sinha’s Bengali film—about a cook, Dhanonjoy (Robi Ghosh), who unites a bickering household—is every bit as charming. The scene where Dhanonjoy cooks for the family for the first time is a concise comic gem. It begins with him humming and stirring two large pots and adding spices. Then, as the background percussion races and his actions are sped up, the scene shifts gears as he manically slices vegetables, before switching back to the earlier measured pace. A comic note is added when he flips through a magazine, lips moving, while he waits for the food to cook.
‘Kaaka Muttai’ (2015)
A gently heartbreaking moment in Kaaka Muttai comes when two young slum-dwelling siblings voice their demand for pizza, a wondrous thing they’ve seen on TV, to their grandmother. Like any enterprising grandmother, she tells them it can be made at home. With a picture as reference, she fashions her best guess at a pizza (none of them have seen an actual one). The brothers reject her effort, upset; they’ve been sold a dream, and won’t accept a substitute.
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It isn’t often that a film lifts the veil off the process of making food. Thithi, a black comedy by Raam Reddy set in a small village in Karnataka, offers a massive climactic feast built on grubbiness both moral (sheep theft is involved) and literal (flies buzzing around as the food is being cooked). But the spread at the end looks spectacular—bringing to mind that old Indian adage: Never go into the kitchen of your favourite restaurant.