21 October, 2008

Restaurants : Le Cafe a True Jewel of Chembur

This is exactly how I would want a café to look like, was my first impression as I walked into. The place: Le Café – Hotel Jewel of Chembur.

The place was bright with huge open windows, tables are large yet cozy. The décor was minimal yet comfortable. There is lots of space to move and huge comfortable chairs, wooden yet comfortable. Sofas lined one wall and the covers totaled around 36 give or take a few. Each table has its own space around it such that one doesn’t actually peep or lean onto the adjoining table giving you a sense of privacy that is extremely desirable. At one corner as you enter, on your right is the coffee counter. It is manned by just three serving staff. The floor tiling is simple and functional. The thing that grabbed my attention was the clean lines of the place. Walls are white and bare, save a few frames and a LCD screen. Above the counter is a blackboard announcing today’s specialty. My engineers mind grasped the tremendous thought put behind executing such details.

The look of the place soothed me. Told myself now even if the food is not up to the mark somebody has got the look right. I was in for further surprises. I was looking around and though the afternoon rush was slow, the boys behind the counter had smiled a welcome. Tally one for service staff. So many times have been faced with grumpy waiters that its now a given for the Restaurants of Chembur. I have stopped expecting. I was allowed my time to settle in and when I got comfortable one of the boys discreetly approached with the menu and enquired would I like something to drink as I went thru the menu. Today’s special is the crushed Mint Mojito. Suggestive selling in a Chembur Restaurant? I could not believe my ears.

The Menu further rocked me back. Someone up there had finally listened to me. It is a super mix of Breakfast –from omelet’s to sausages and stripy bacon sandwiches in fresh baked breads. The menu was all continental and the range it offered from Breakfast, Sandwiches and Burgers in fresh baked bread (they bake their own breads), Salads Soups and Main courses. Equal attention is given to Veg and Non-Veg in spread and variety. I ordered a French Onion Soup, Roast Lamb in Roast Sauce and kept the rest for later. The serving time is approximately 15 minutes and while I sipped my Mojito, the soup came and accompanied by bread sticks and butter. It is at the right eating temperature and thoroughly enjoyed it. I now looked forward to my main course. The portion size is generous and enough for one person who is hungry. It came with garlic bread. Yummy is the first reaction and then I leisurely settled down to eating it. No one bothered me as I chewed on. Once done very quietly my table was cleared. Again I was asked whether I had room for dessert or can I offer you coffee?

The desserts are attractively laid out and vary daily from mousses, to cakes and brownies and tiramisu. They also have a concept called - cutting desserts – small portions
for the connoisseurs who have gone through the full courses. I chose to have the coffee and decided that here is a place I would be visiting more if it lasts the course. The coffee is simply much superior to the one offered by the Baristas and the CCD’s and is accompanied by a cookie – Chocolate or Butter. Pricing is moderate and for my meal i billed around Rs.275/- which is excellent. I prayed that this place has to survive, even if I have to eat here everyday. I wasn’t too sure of Chembur and its taste for the pau-bhaji and the Udipi Punjabi who have zillions of items all tasting the same in one menu. Le Café is open from 7.00 am morn to 1.00 am night.

Its three years now and the place has picked up, slowly and surely. I have been thru every item on the menu and yet go back for more. I am a fussy foodie and do not frequent a joint more than once, even if something is out of whack from my expectations. Discerning people truly appreciate superb food in clean environs accompanied by discreet service. This place offers all three. The drawback is that this place is located on the first floor of the Hotel and not easily visible from the road. The view from the windows is a busy market road. My favorite table is a corner near the wall where I enjoy the light from the windows yet not have to see thru them. Today the menu is revamped and includes wine too. The new menu is yet to be sampled in its entirety but that’s what shall keep me there.

It’s a non-smoking place now but then so is the rest of India. Give the butt a rest and for good food go to Le Café.

19 October, 2008

Cinema : The Scent of Amour

The typical social class "border crossing " love story in cinema of any language has been fun but a pure fantasy. It just don’t feel real. Lets examine this from another angle hitherto not discussed..Odour. Can this be on account of the smells associated with each class?

Throughout the fifties to the eighties, defying a class border , love-conquers-all , has been the dominant theme. In these decades the popular central character were garage mechanics, bus conductors , labourers or even street punks. Am not making a comment on the dignity of labour or occupation here.

What would a really pretty lady like Madhubala find attractive in a grease monkey ? So what, if he is a Kishore Kumar. Especially when she first meets him, in his garage, the smell on him itself would have prohibited this amazing alliance. It would have been a pity for the film though but that’s a topic for another discussion.

Rati Agnihotri loves a coolie - Amitabh Bacchan. For god’s sake spare us, make Amitabh a coolie but only a Manmohan Desai could have such a fantastic sense to have a super rich girl fall for him. I have been a train traveler and know first- hand how coolies smell. They stink of coagulated sweat and dirt from the platform. This coupled with their regular diet which is heavy in onion & garlic, would keep anyone miles away socially from them. Let alone fall for one and dance atop trains.

Smita Patil is sensuous in Chakra, but what she plays is a garbage handler a kachrawaali from the slums who lives near the sewers. However attractive she may look, one can’t imagine the idea of taking her in our arms. The unwashed smells would drive one over the edge. Thankfully there is no class transgression here.

We have a neighbor, a lady, who uses a heavy perfume. Even after she has sailed past ten minutes by, the scent she leaves in her wake can make a man faint. Imagine living with a creature like that. It’s okay when you have the common cold, else you have had it. She is affluent this lady and I come from the common class, who maybe on cause-célèbre deems it extravagant to dab a few drops of after shave. That’s my limit. The lady may find me unacceptable & without a doubt it would be reciprocal.

G.B.Shaw in Pygmalion was the guy who got it right. The flower girl with the foul mouth is turned into a lady first by Higgins. He falls in love with the lady,his creation and not the flower girl, when she looks feels and smells right to his discerning nose. In my opinion a great leveler for love is the nose. Should your nose be satisfied then love too can happen and then be believable. Unfamiliar and undesirable smells tend to put people off.

I follow my noggin and hence find these movie love situations ludicrous. Reality assaults all your senses together, but in cinema love nose it not.

18 October, 2008

Hire-Fire-Hire - Jet Ishhtyle

Jet Airways fires 850 employee screamed the headlines on 14th October, Jet fires 1050 more on 15th October 2008, taking this toll to 1900.
Was it an explosion of sorts or what?

It just can’t happen to India and Indians. This was the shocked, aggrieved tone taken by the hapless employees who were shown the door. Imagine the horror of having to shift to eating Kheema pau in an Irani restaurant after being used to five star meals. My taste in food can be too pedestrian for those on a lifestyle fix.

Sob stories of loans taken for education and flight training courses by aspiring pilots, hostesses started making the front pages of nearly all tabloid newspapers. TV channels broadcasting how one employee came to know of his termination while he was getting married, how one girl reduced 40 kgs in six months to achieve her dream of being an airhostess with Jet airways and one under the burden of a housing loan is actually contemplating suicide etc etc...

Airlines particularly have been disastrous investments for public shareholder participation. In boom time markets, all my friends were gung ho about Jet Airways-the stock, and it confused me. PE was in high double digits and touching triple digits even. The company was under the mercy of the authorities for terminal space, hangar space, and later was also caught in the pincer of rising fuel costs. During all this they were reducing passenger fares. How does a business make money like this? The writing was on the wall and could the employees not read it? Apparently not. Is it fair to sack employees in such a scenario? The business did demand it and Jet Airways did it. So why is there such a hue and cry?

Does anybody spare a thought for the business as a living entity? Is the employee always a victim in a situation like this? When the business survives and grows and when everyone is getting their fat pay cheques and incentives nobody complains. Very seriously pay reduction is not even an option open to discussion. A business has only one objective and that is to remain profitable and then serving the larger need of supporting the society it is founded on. Private or Public this is a tenet that cannot be deviated upon. Over employment or disguised unemployment today is hugely prevalent not just in Public but also in large privately held corporations. Does this help the business as an entity to become fitter ? Fatter certainly, but fitter ..nahh

1900 numbers and news-media sound bytes makes the issue a hot political potato & naturally what follows, is blatant political posturing . Praful Patel- Hon'ble civil aviation minister and other NCP leaders to be fair said its a pvt company issue and the government is not a party to it. All this while Air India, Indian Airlines & Airports Authority of India are also contemplating similar steps. The comments by some politico's are hilarious "Jet Airways , is cruel to sack them( employees) before Diwali at least they should have waited for after that". Raj Thackeray, the current flavour of the season, in his typical style roared that Jet will not be allowed to fly through Maharashtra if the employees are not taken back.

Naresh Goyal who till this point had my utmost respect as having done the right thing of biting the bullet, does a complete volte-face. "All employees are like my family members and I cannot see tears in their eyes . Itossed and turned the whole night . All retrenched employess are to return back to work, we are sorry" said he. All political parties now claim credit for getting this done, even the non-commital Praful Patel. This drama is being played on the front pages of leading dailies,mind you.

It is sad; sad for corporate India for having leaders who can be forced into a corner. Goyal should take lessons from Ratan Tata, on how not to bow down to political blackmailing and doing what is right for the business. Nano may not come to us in one hundred thousand rupees but the pride and respect accorded to the name Ratan Tata by the employee & customer of the Nano, is definte in its high esteem. Can Goyal's name command equal respect after this episode?

The one place where the name Naresh Goyal shall occupy pride position though is the "Hall of Fame for Nepotism" , as the one who fired 1900 employees and hired 1900 family members.

14 October, 2008

Two Good Movies, A Twin Casting Coup & the Changing Trends of Bollywood

Often have wondered why, despite having the smarts, the talent in areas of on-screen performers, the script writers, the directors and today even the money & infrastructure ; We are yet compelled to make inane films. Is there a place for a kind of cinema that can be both an entertainment treat as well as having meaningful content, in India ? When would we be able to compare a Hollywood and Bollywood ( Mumbai Film Industry to the purists ) work with absolute equanimity and purpose. Can we make movies like Hollywood, those that are both commercial in format who don’t belittle the grey cells of the ticket purchasing consumer?
Let me tell you my experience this last fortnight. I had the pleasure to take in two movies (One American and One Hindi) and thought here are movies with uncanny parallels..lets detail this a bit further

The Event:
Two movies from different parts of the world release back to back “A Righteous Kill” from Hollywood and “A Wednesday” here in Mumbai, India.
Both movies by themselves are casting coups. Two veteran performers of the same industry, contemporaries who by some quirk of fate, have never performed in a single movie ever or in a very long time, are together in the same project.

Robert De Niro and Al Pacino, Naseeruddin Shah and Anupam Kher between them have won nearly all the acting awards instituted.

The Common Issue:
Both the films ask questions on Law and Order (Police force). These are very basic questions on citizen safety and justice. The means to justice adopted supersedes the defined parameters in the code of law and hence form the base plot and are the main contributors to the drama. In both the movies the question raised is a moral one, Justice delayed is Justice denied. If the mechanism that is created to dispense justice is unable to do so because of sanctions and shackles created by bureaucratic red tape, corruption, lack of political will or general dilly dallying of legal-speak, where does the common man get his due? It is this angst and the drive to right a generic wrong perpetuated by the system that leads the protagonist to take the law into his own hands. The audience finds empathy on both sides because of this peculiar moral dilemma.

The Parallel:
In “A Wednesday” we have a Hindi film which is taut, fast-paced and absolutely without any superfluous clutter which is very unlike the demand of its normal format. Hence we now have two movies that are between 90 to 100 minutes of celluloid time. With the casting connection I had a Hollywood and Bollywood film that could be compared on both format and content. This in my known memory had rarely happened.
Maybe I wouldn’t even have compared these two particular movies had they been spaced out in different parcels of time. But they did release together and I did see similarities below the surface.

The Conclusion
“A Righteous Kill” is a good movie but nevertheless just a casting coup. “A Wednesday” on the other hand connects everyway whether in terms of the superlative performances of the lead pair, the direction from the debutant, Neeraj Pande or the tight script and screenplay. Pacino and De Niro still have the fire in them but at a sublime level they do not connect the way Shah and Kher do, with each other, with the film or the audience and it is here the movie "A Wednesday" scores.

For those who have not seen the two films, do make the time. If only for the pleasure of watching excellent performers share screen space together, the trip shall be worth your money.

Today we do have good film makers venturing into territories uncharted and subjects unexplored. It can be seen in the movies that have ben released in recent times . To name a few :Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na : Superb Treatment, Welcome to Sajjanpur: Vintage Storytelling, A Wednesday , Mumbai Meri Jaan , Aamir : Subjects contemporary, Rock On : An original style of telling a story, Hello ; here the story is from a bestselling novel, a good trend though this output could have been different in the hands of a more competent filmmaker.The Blue umbrella, Khosla Ka Ghosla, Bheja Fry, Johnny Gaddar all ouevres different but great in their own way. The benchmark is rising and love it. The last decade that had this variety was the seventies.

This trend is urban and has not really reached the rest of non-urban India. How else can one explain the tremendous commercial success of "Om Shanti Om" or "Singh is King" ? I wish for a time soon that good cinema propogates into all nooks and corners and gets recognized commercially too.

Else we shall have a film being declared a hit even before its release ala " Karz" of Himesh Reshammiya..and be subject to more heroes like Harman Baweja and Love Story 2050's.. Yikes..This happens only in India !!!

02 October, 2008

Hip, Hip, Hurray :-)

Mesmerizing, magical and so very lyrical were the adjectives running in my mind as my eyes locked on the form ahead of me. Completely forgot the original train of thought as I saw them swivel in front of me. It was a magnificent pair of hips, wrapped in a light green chiffon sari. The wrap was diaphanous almost translucent. It curiously highlighted the full and curvaceous shape within, as it swayed, speaking in a language thats universal. She turned and I caught a glimpse of a profile. She was very pretty but her face didn’t have the perfection of her hips. I was walking to the office from the parking lot. It was not a very great distance, about 300 m, or so. But the hips on her stayed in front of me throughout.Regretfully had to turn away as the office building approached. They moved along to cast their spell further on.

My spirits had lifted and knew for certain that the day ahead would be wonderful. It had happened to me many a time earlier with other things. The sight of a joyous spirited laugh, full and hearty on a pretty face or a brilliant colour combination worn by an attractive lady. Sometimes it’s the manner in which a woman carried herself, that was pleasing to the eye, sometimes the sheer innocence of watching an animated face changing a mood. These moments are everywhere, mine have been largely found on the streets of Mumbai, while walking or driving. Lost in my thoughts an unexpected sight would grab the attention. At that very instant, would be unable to put a finger on what made my look linger that bit longer. It would appear like a flash and vanish. But something from it would stay on, bringing a tug to the lips, or make the heart thud a wee bit faster.

Superstitious folks have symbols for dark omens, like black cats crossing their paths, or a glass mirror cracking and breaking, or the number 13…They get worried , even scared and go to all lengths to avoid them.

I call my sights omens too and keep looking out for them. When I seek them, I see them all around me. I like the feeling of a smile on my face and the lift to my spirit that my omens provide. I feel better , I even work better as the day rocks. It only endorses a thought that the world is a beautiful place. Every one of us can be a self starter, provided, we have figured out what juices us up.
So like a biblical quote I tell every person to “Seek yonder your joy actively and it shall be thine”