"The Wedding Café and Lounge". What a curious name. We decided to check it out.
As we headed to the elevator, I saw the nameboard, and under that "Global Fusion Cuisine." Oh, I get it, I thought. Wedding café - marrying different cuisines together! Sounds nice.
Confusion struck again as we entered the restaurant. The all-white decor, with flourishes of gold/brown on the walls, made me feel like I was inside giant wedding cake. There were two private, reservation-only dining rooms bedecked in pink (oddly enough, the pink glass walls were see-through. Not much privacy there. They should have used frosted glass.) Nearly the whole place was booked in advance, but we still found a seat.
The menus - giant, A3-sized booklets - were brought to us, and the mystery deepened. It turned out the Wedding Café was a restaurant-cum-wedding planning service, and the menus were dotted with pictures of different wedding styles. I know of wedding planners who are also caterers, but try as we might, we couldn't digest combining a wedding planning service with a full-fledged restaurant. But that's what trailblazing is all about, isn't it?
The menu contained some very interesting dishes, although not many vegetarian options. We ordered a Stuffed Baked Jacket Potato for starters, along with a Beauty in Forest (litchi juice, grape juice and black currant sauce) for me and a Foster's for my husband.
The Baked Potato was accompanied by an assorted bread basket with bread sticks, nut-crusted white bread and garlic bread. The breads in turn were accompanied by herbed butter, a sweet-spicy mango pickle and sweet (tamarind?) sauce.
The potato was very large and delicious - it was stuffed with corn, cheese, cottage cheese, mushroom, tomato (I can't remember the other ingredients) and was very well done.
For the main course, we ordered a baked Cottage Cheese with Okra Ratatouille and Spinach, and an Asparagus Risotto, both on the recommendation of the head waiter. Both were delicious, but husband felt we should have ordered the Risotto first since we both love paneer to death! The meal was extremely filling and we eventually ended up sharing the Beauty in Forest an after-dinner dessert since we were too full.
The food was excellent and the service was fast, although the drinks arrived late. The maître d’ and waiters were friendly and well-mannered. Their uniforms were a bit of a oddity - white suits with cream shirts and the same chocolate/gold flourishes - but it's different from the usual boring black, and on that account alone it should be overlooked. The place is clean, posh, efficient and serves great food, and that's what matters.
However, for the prices they charge (and deservedly so) and the fact that they serve global cuisine, they should have stocked the bar with a wider variety of liquors and draughts. Hubby had to settle for a Foster's because they didn't have even Budweiser. Also, they should have a larger variety of vegetarian appetizers - most of them are the usual cheese-laden continental stuff.
Rating: 3½ stars
Verdict: Worth atleast one visit!
Such is your beauty, your countenance, your shy demeanour
That brings admirers from near and afar.
Men of such persuasion and will, casting a glow upon my pallid person
That I can never hope to compete with.
You sashay down the street and all I can do is follow you with my eyes
Till you turn the corner and vanish, leaving in your wake a trail of perfume
So heady it makes the blood rush to my head
And I stumble forward blindly, clutching at the silken wisps of your hair
That are now far beyond my reach.
Yet as I lay on the ground and see your fine form fade into the distance
I am filled with the terror of one facing loss
Like he who finds himself in a desert with no water for miles around.
This thirst must be quenched, by you and only you.
I want you.
I need you.
I must have you.
And I will do anything to get you.
I watch you stroll down the promenade,
your back turned to me,
But I still know it is you.
I know you from the way your bag rubs against your hip
And the way that little tendril of hair curls around the lobe of your ear.
Even in the shade of dark glasses I know your piercing gaze seeks me
Because you need me too.
Just as you need all the men who swoon as you pass them by.
You need to know you are wanted and worshipped
So your colossal ego, one that belies your petite frame
Is kept well fed and satisfied.
You think you are the Mistress of us all
Yet you are nothing but a slave, just like we all are
To your own blinding beauty.
A female Narcissus in love with herself
Who wants to be loved by men as well
And who wants to hear the jingle of cash,
And see the glitter of diamonds
And feel the swish of the silks that they all take turns presenting
So you would choose them.
Yet all these are merely aperitifs for your pride;
You just want more and more, as much as we are willing to give
To attain you.
Ha! You're nothing but a trinket up for a never-ending auction
To be sold to the highest bidder.
Only, the whole Universe wants you and the stakes will keep getting higher
And you'll remain for the rest of your life on the auctioneer's table
Listening to the gavel fall, and fall, and fall again.
You shameless whore, don't you realise
You're just condemned to walk the streets for the rest of your life
With us all yapping at your feet
Like dogs behind a coveted piece of meat?
But what else do you expect?
You are after all, Perfection.
Forever desired but ever unattainable
Just as enslaved by us as we are by you.
The warmth of late October mornings had turned to a nip as evening descended; the acceleration of the train only intensified the chill. I wrapped my scarf snugly around my ears and settled back for the remainder of the thirty-minute ride back home. It had been a long day at work and my realization that it was getting late had cut into the fun I had been having with my co-workers. I regretted the distance between my home and my friends, which seemed to get longer each time I thought about it.
These melancholy thoughts and a thousand others going on in my head, combined with the gentle rocking motion of the train and the steady rattle of the metal against the rails, started to lull me back to sleep...
Then I felt a tiny hand on my shoulder.
I had been hearing gurgling sounds off and on for a while, so I had already guessed that there was a small child in the seat adjoining the back of mine. I turned to look at the owner of the hand – and paused, startled.
Facing me was a baby girl with the biggest smile I had ever seen.
She was smiling so widely that her open mouth revealed her toothless gums and her eyes disappeared into deep lines. The joy in that little face seemed to shine a beam of light directly into my heart. I couldn’t help but smile widely back at her, and her face lit up even more as I did so. I held out my hand, and her tiny fingers clutched around one of mine.
She couldn’t have been more than a year old. Her hair was a mass of wild dark curls, and she had pierced ears. I don’t remember her eyes because they were completely eclipsed by that toothless smile, a smile as contagious as it was comforting.
The look on her face was one of complete, naked adoration. I don’t know what was it about my disheveled hair and sleep-laden face that delighted her so much, but in that instant I felt like this little person loved me more than anything else in the whole world.
We began to play peek-a-boo. Each time I would conceal my face with my scarf, and each time she would squeal with delight as I revealed myself. Each time I laughed as her eyes disappeared into the folds of her smile, and each time she seemed to radiate more joy than before. All around me, stone faces melted into smiles and tired eyes shone as this child filled the compartment with her vibrant energy.
In that train, late in the night, in the midst of pining for friends past and present, I had unwittingly made a new one, albeit one who would have forgotten me the instant she got off the train. She has been on this planet less than a year; I have no doubt that she will go on to live a wonderful life and make many more friends that she will remember and cherish, and who will cherish her in return. That cheerful demeanor and those adorable crinkly eyes will strike down more hearts than Cupid’s ever will. I hope she will have all the happiness she needs to keep her heart as pure and giving.
She will never remember the stranger whom she loved wholeheartedly for those thirty minutes. But I will never forget her. All young children give pure, unadulterated affection but few display it so openly, thus imparting it generously to those around - especially those in dire need of it. In that cold night, in the hum of the train’s rattle and the whir of a hurried, worried world too caught up in its problems, I came face to face with sunshine; and came away with the rays of a new morning already waking up my heart.
Evening arrived and Joe sighed.
This was his job
Filled, drunk, wiped and refilled,
By the peg and the tankard.
The dank smell of muddy boot-prints
Alongside lager and whiskey and rum.
It was all he’d ever known.
Then, in the haze of beer-bellies and barley-breath,
He saw her at the bar.
She was beautiful; her face framed by tangled auburn curls
That she kept clearing away from her eyes.
Oh those eyes.
Brown? Grey? He wasn’t sure;
But he knew they didn’t belong to this place
With its woebegone patrons -
Wife-beaters, loafers and loan defaulters.
This angel was not one of them.
Then those heavenly eyes let loose a torrent of tears.
A pain shot through his heart
And the whole world stood still while she wept.
Then she dried her tears with the back of her lovely hand:
It came away blackened by her mascara.
She spoke in a voice that was stronger than she looked:
“A pint of your finest whiskey, barkeeper.
Neat, and no ice.”
He ached for her. He wanted to dry her tears…
Then, to his delight, he was summoned
To be her savior.
He took her whiskey to her.
She looked at him and her face crumpled.
“Don’t cry,” he implored, “for I might break.”
But she didn’t hear him.
As her tears spilled onto the whiskey, he couldn’t take anymore.
He shattered in front of her.
She screamed and clawed at her eyes
They were now weeping not tears, but blood.
All around her there were startled cries
One man grabbed a broom, another a washcloth.
And another called a hospital.
It was too late; those eyes would no longer see.
And no one else would see them either
Or wipe the tears that would fall again, and again.
If only poor Joe had known.
But how could he?
He was just a whiskey glass.
Until a strange fellow - with a familiarly handsome face and a famous surname but a career that couldn't have been less removed from either - decided to turn it upside down.
The discreet couplings and dazzling brocade were stripped away; the story relocated from Bengal to Punjab; the lover became a repulsive chauvinist and his woman a fiesty virago with occasional flashes of subservience towards him. The elegant courtesan was now a doyenne of phone sex with her past indiscretions recorded on MMS for the world to see. The victorias gave way to BMWs, and some coke 'n' hash was thrown in for good measure.
And thus did Abhay Deol recomission Devdas, steered by Anurag Kashyap through a tempest of sex, drugs and rock'n'roleplay.
The story begins with a brief look at childhood sweethearts Dev (Devender Singh Dhillon, or Dev D, played by Deol) and Paro aka Parminder (newcomer Mahi Gill) in Chandigarh. Even at that tender age, Paro shows she's no pushover, but a fiesty Punjabi kudi to the bone. She brings paranthas for Dev and then snaps at him when he asks her why she didn't bring pickle!
Cut to the present, with Dev and Paro now having a sexual relationship on the internet (as far as possible.) At his request, Paro even sends him a topless picture of herself. What's more, she takes it on film, and goes all the way to Delhi to have them developed. The only thing that annoys her about the gawking stares of the men at the studio is that they behave like they've never seen breasts. The only explanation for such boldness is that this is a woman who isn't merely aware of her sexuality, but revels in it - a far cry from Chattopadhyay's heroine.
When Dev comes back to Chandigarh for his brother's wedding, Paro is thrilled to see the man she wants to marry, but that does not stop him from having a fling with another young woman he meets at the wedding. However, when he hears that Paro is not a virgin, he calls her a slut - embodying the double standards employed by the average Indian male. (Kudos to Abhay and Anurag for unapologetically showing this fact!) They break up and Paro marries somebody else. Unable to handle this blow to his ego, Dev, who intermittently runs his father's factory but prefers to have run-ins with scotch instead, drinks himself senseless and is sent to Delhi to avoid embarrassing his family further.
Meanwhile, Delhi girl Lenny is now a high-class call girl who goes by the name of Chanda. We learn that she was abandoned by her parents at 17 after an MMS surfaces of her performing fellatio on her boyfriend, which leads to her father committing suicide. After spending some time in her grandmother's native village, she escapes to Delhi and is taken under the wing of a brothel owner after her former friends turn their backs on her. She slowly rebuilds her life with the help of Chunni the pimp, and even goes to school and college, moonlighting as a multilingual phone sex operator and servicing select clients. She meets Dev and slowly falls for him. In the meantime he tries to unsuccessfully get Paro to come back to him, but she turns him down. Unable to take it, he drinks to a point where he runs over a group of pedestrians in his BMW.
It seems like the end for Dev, but it is only the beginning. His dad dies fortituously at the time of the accident, and thus he gets a light sentence as it looks like he had been drunk out of grief; back in Delhi, through a series of providential escapes and support from a local mo-mo seller, he eventually reunites with Chanda and gets a chance to start over.
The movie drags a bit in the second half, and the events of the ending are a little too coincidental to be convincing, but the movie is a refreshingly different take on a classic love story. The complete reversal of the characters is much more believable and the film is visually arresting. The dark treatment with flashes of riotous colour makes for effective atmosphere and a special mention must be made of the camera movements in the drug scenes. There are plenty of laughs in places as well, which do not stick out as comic relief, but are actually part of the narrative.
Abhay Deol is the epitome of the male chauvinist pig and succeeds in evoking disgust, but little else. It is hard to feel sorry for his character, but given his penchant for such offbeat roles, he is definitely an actor to watch out for. As the concept of Dev D is his, he also deserves praise for coming up with a different twist on Devdas.
Mahi Gill shows plenty of spunk and talent as the fiesty Paro, and fellow debutant Kalki Koechlin is good as Lenny. While it remains to be seen whether there are takers for the latter's unusual looks, her linguistic skills will surely prove to be an asset.
Last but not the least, top props to Anurag Kashyap for breaking out of the mould for not being afraid to cast his leading man as a reviled cad and his female protagonists as strong characters who are more than just mere decorations, even when they are prostitutes. He does not hesitate to bring out the hypocrisy of the Indian patriarchal mindset, as shown by Dev D himself, who thinks nothing of having a sexual affair with another girl but calls Paro a slut when he hears that she might not be a virgin. It comes full circle when Chanda calls him out on his duplicity and brands him a slut, and he can't retaliate, for she is a prostitute - a person who is as publicly despised as she is secretly sought out.
A favourite scene of mine, in terms of content, is when Chanda tells Dev about her MMS scandal (which is inspired by a real-life MMS scandal in 2003, involving two fifteen-year-old students of DPS Delhi.) She tells him that though her name and face were never made public, everyone knew it was her and ridiculed her. There is only one way this was possible: everyone downloaded the MMS and saw it, including Lenny's own father. As she states in the film, "the whole country got off on that video, and I'M the slut." Here Anurag makes an excellent point about our society - it brands the participants of the act as sluts, but conveniently chooses to ignore that by having downloaded the MMS and watched it, it is just as guilty , dep perverted.
Their movies are not without it's flaws, but love them or hate them, in a world where most women characters continue to be merely decorative and 40-year-actors romp with 20-year-olds on-screen, directors like Kashyap are a breath of fresh air.
The story revolves around Delhi boy Vikram (Farhan Akhtar) and Kanpur native Sona (Konkona Sen), both of whom are looking to make a break in the industry. Vikram lives with his aunt, while Sona lives in the same apartment block as Vikram's friends (one a wannabe director and the other a theatre actor), which paves the way for their friendship and eventually love. Vikram attends a film school while Sona does bit roles in films and TV shows, all the while waiting for producer Chaudary (Alyy Khan) to offer her a role he's been promising her for ages. As they await their breaks, they offer each other moral support.
Meanwhile Producer Romy Rolly (Rishi Kapoor) has just flagged off a new film which marks the debut of Nikki Walia (Isha Sharvani), the daughter of yesterday star Nina (Dimple Kapadia) and is being directed by Rolly's brother, failed actor-turned-director Ranjit. However, the leading man, superstar Zaffar Khan (Hrithik Roshan) pulls out of the film, and Rolly is forced to look for a new leading man. Enter Vikram, who steals everyone's hearts, especially that of the cantankerous Nina - and her daughter.
Eventually Sona discovers that the lead role Chaudary had been promising her for so long does not exist anymore. She is heartbroken, and Vikram lends her his support - for the last time. His newfound star status changes him and his dynamics everybody around him as the shooting progresses. These developments make up the rest of the film.
The characters are all in shades of grey - sweet to people in their faces and backstabbing them later. Yet, that is perhaps how it should be, for in a place where people can replaced at the slightest hint of trouble is a merciless one. For a newcomer, duality is probably the only way to stay close to the top. The stories of these people who are trapped in their own dreams are poignant.
This is best illustrated in the scene where Nikki goes to Vikram's bedroom (a favourite scene of mine for other reasons too, which I'll come to later.) She flirts with him outrageously, and he moves from shock to acceptance to control, knowing that turning down Nikki might jeopardize his big break, and turns the situation to his advantage almost involuntarily.
Konkona shines as usual as a starry-eyed small-town girl; her independence and perseverance is endearing. Also, she shares a surprisingly brilliant chemistry with Farhan; he, in turn, does a great job as Vikram, a man with charisma and cunning in equal doses. Same goes for Hrithik Roshan as Zaffar Khan - he succeeds in bringing these dualities to the fore in the limited screen time he has. Rishi Kapoor sparkles while Sanjay Kapoor makes a decent comeback. Juhi Chawla as Rolly's sweet but nagging wife is also very good. No wonder she's one of the few superstars who's still getting plum roles. Maybe there IS justice, after all.
One thing I liked very much about the film is that romances, live-in relationships, extra-marital affairs and exploitation are not portrayed openly; yet they make their presence felt in the movie thanks to Zoya's talent. The very first scene between Sona and Chaudhary has underlying tones of the casting couch, but portrayed solely through their eyes rather than visual and dialogue. The relationship between Vikram and Sona, including the live-in/sexual aspect, is depicted entirely through hugs, close physical proximity, sharing of feelings and other physically affectionate gestures that bring out their closeness beautifully. Konkona and Farhan, and Zoya deserve full credit for portraying this man-woman relationship as more than just a sexual union.
Another scene - and my favourite in the whole film - was the scene between Vikram and Nikki in the former's bedroom. The heavily curtained bedroom and the strategic amber lighting create a strange atmosphere, one that sets the tone for carnal indescretion and yet is somewhat claustrophobic. In this one scene, one can actually see Vikram's personality change; from being bemused at Nikki's childish sense of entitlement, to shock and helplessness at her openly flirtatious advances, to a growing awareness of her sensuality and finally realisation that yielding to her is the chance to get into the big league. For her part, Nikki drops her "mama's girl" mask to reveal a side that she keeps hidden even from her mother. Clearly, the spoiled little star kid is not that innocent; she knows the power of her sensuality and uses it successfully. Zoya does a good job of playing out an important shift of the film and its characters in this one room.
There are plenty of cameos - Aamir Khan, Shah Rukh Khan, Abhishek Bachchan, et al, and - surprise! - Anurag Kashyap as the hapless writer for Ranjit Rolly's film. In a scene that cleverly pokes fun at his "kind" of cinema, he passionately narrates a particularly Kafka-esque suicide attempt and is dismissively asked by Ranjit if he intends to send the film for a film festival instead!
The screenplay is fairly tight and the music moves the story along without being too distracting. There is sufficient depiction of the luxuried life of movie stars as well as the struggles of those who aspire to be them. This film must be watched at least once, if only for the fact that it acknowledges the invisible people behind the sets, costumes, lights etc. who disappear into the razzle-dazzle.
There is no solid ending. Instead, the story follows the ensuing rift between Sona and Vikram, the sudden catapult of Vikram into fame, the tabloid gossip that follows soon after, and tapers out into an ending where the characters are still a work in progress. It seems a little abrupt but perhaps it's for the best; after all, in the real world there are happy journeys, but no happy endings; and sometimes no ending at all.
When asked whether his latest film, set in a village, would find any takers, veteran filmmaker Shyam Benegal replied, "There are always takers for my films."
And he was bang on target!
Welcome to Sajjanpur is a delightful comedy set in the fictitious hamlet of Sajjanpur, somewhere in the UP-Bihar belt. The protagonist, Mahadev (Shreyas Talpade in his element) is one of the few people in the village who is educated, and thus makes a living writing letters on behalf of the village folk – though he dreams to be a best-selling novelist. The villagers are all fantastic characters, each one more engaging than the next: a snake charmer who manages to lose his father in the Kumbh Mela; a corrupt local politician who wants to be sarpanch; a pretty potter Kamala (Amrita Rao) who is Mahadev's childhood sweetheart; an ex-Army jawan and his widowed daughter-in-law who is fancied by the village compounder; Munnibhai the eunuch who also wants to be elected as the sarpanch; and a perpetually weepy Ila Arun who is worried about her educated daughter's marriage, because the fiesty girl is a maanglik (born under the influence of Mars) and therefore unlucky!
The film follows the daily lives of Mahadev and the villagers, all leading up to a surprising end. The characters are refreshingly innocent, even when they do things that would be considered wrong – a hallmark of masters like Benegal, whose characters always have shades of grey. Even as Mahadev fancies the much-married Kamala and jealously writes angry letters to her absentee husband accusing him of being neglectful, his intentions are not anything like those of the adulterous characters in Bollywood films like Race. It's mere puppy love, and therefore rather endearing.
(Benegal isn't shy of taking a stab at current issues either – one of the politicians forces Mahadev to write a letter accusing one of their Muslim residents of being an ISI agent. The poor man turns out to be innocent, of course, much to Mahadev's consternation.)
The dialogues, which are spoken in the Bhojpuri dialect peculiar to that region, are also hilarious without trying too hard. An example is where Mahadev tells Kamala to bring him her husband's reply as soon as it arrives, and follows it up with a statement that she can visit him even when there is no reply! While this might sound leery in English, the actual lines were very funny. Terrific stuff.
However, the film falters a bit towards the end – after going great guns right from frame one, it suddenly seems to lose its punch. While I wouldn't call it a bad ending, the shift in the scene is a bit to sudden to round out the whole story properly. It's hard to appreciate since there seems to be not even a slight indication of the forthcoming twist, which does not do justice to the narrative.
But, despite the ending, there is no mistaking Benegal's genius at work. The comedic storyline is nicely interspersed with moments of poignance and tragedy, without them seeming out of place. This is one thing I like in particular – the dialogues are not deliberately funny, but are made so by the performances and the story. This is pure classic comedy, pioneered by the likes of Hrishikesh Mukherjee, and Benegal deserves to be lauded by successfully doing it old-school and coming up trumps.
Also noteworthy is that despite being set in a village, this film is not catered to a foreign audience. Far too many movies romanticize "rural" India and make a mockery out of the culture in an attempt to impress foreign audiences who like the "quaint" quality of such films. In Welcome to Sajjanpur, it is very easy for us to identify with the characters even though we may not understand the language or may be unfamiliar with the village setting. There is a little bit of each of us inside the people of Sajjanpur and Benegal has tapped into that perfectly.
The actors have done a brilliant job, especially Talpade and Ravi Kishen as the eunuch. Also, the songs in the film (yes, there are a couple of songs!) are so nicely woven with the narrative that they only add to the story. The songs featured are mainly about Mahadev's love for Kamala, and the visualisation pays homage to classic Hindi cinema, when songs were all about emotions and adding to the story, rather than mindless item numbers featuring garish costumes and foreign locales. There's even a tribute to Martin Scorcese's Aviator (or more accurately, that great Hollywood dream merchant Howard Hughes) where Mahadev and Kamala are in a plane - dressed uncannily like Leonardo DiCaprio and Cate Blanchett, who played Hughes and Katharine Hepburn in the film!
Overall, this movie is a must-watch, and if you're a loyal fan of the genre of classy, clean comedies like Chashme Buddoor, Padosan and the like, then you'd better not miss it.
Ah, those zombies. Everybody knows one!