A meaningless essay on a meaningful film (and film-maker).

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Anubhav Sinha and I have known each other for nearly 26 years. We are nearly the same age and we started our careers at approximately the same time and I have always envied him. Earlier it was for the wrong reasons. Then it was because he bought a swanky Toyota when most of his peers including me could barely afford a new motorbike. That car troubled me for a long time. Then one day in early 2000 Anubhav landed up unannounced on the sets of one of my songs. I don’t like shooting songs. This was one of those songs. He walked in, spent some time laughing with my choreographer and chatting with my film’s lead actor. After a while he left. And then I found my lead actor sulking in a corner. I asked an assistant why he was sulking. The assistant said that Anubhav Sinha had walked on to the set and asked my lead actor who the hero of the film was. My perplexed actor said it was him, why did he ask? Anubhav said that the hero would not be in the same costume as the other dancers. Hence, he wondered if the film had a ‘hero’. To cut a long story short – I had to rework the rest of the song picturization and give new costumes to my hero. And while I resented Anubhav for making that night so chaotic and stressful the truth is that the song did look better after those changes. So between 1993 and 2010 I had a mix of envy, resentment and warmth for Anubhav Sinha who made Tum Bin, Dus, Cash, Ra-One and many other films.

A few days back I saw his new film Thappad – for the second time. I felt envious. But as I reflected later this was dissimilar to the envy from our early years. This was the envy I felt after I ended up watching his earlier film Article 15 nearly five times. This Anubhav Sinha awakens a different kind of envy within me. A constructive kind of envy if there is something like that. But more about that later. This piece is about Thappad. It should be.

When I saw a cut of Thappad on the edit table I had predicted that this film would be widely reviewed, that this film would stir up conversations and that it was probably Anubhav’s best work till date. Thappad is a difficult film to make. But Anubhav makes difficult choices. Mulk and Article 15 were difficult films too because they questioned our own positions and challenged us to have conversations on religion, caste, identity and politics – things that we are all so enveloped by but are afraid to address. But Thappad is an even more difficult conversation to have and hence an even more difficult film to make. It is after all about our private lives. It explores our attitudes, bares our mindsets and strips us of all those artifices we have about gender and patriarchy in our day to day lives. It nudges you, it pushes you, it argues with you, it talks to you, it compels you, it engages you. Through its exploration of the political in the personal it affects you deeply and in that is Thappad’s resounding triumph.

As a father of two girls I wept. I watched the film with a stunned audience in Jaipur and wept inconsolably. Later I felt compelled to just take the flight home and to give a tight hug to my daughters, to tell them that they should be fearless in their choices and as a parent i would always be there for them. But most of all I wanted to hug them. Such was the power of this film. I also felt like saying something to my wife. But I will leave that for the end of this often forgive me for digressing essay.

I often complain to Anubhav that his films underline a lot of what the characters feel in words. Where I would have used silence, Anubhav uses words. It will always remain a point of happy disagreement between the two of us. For me silence is like a meditative and soothing yoga posture, it is a space for audiences to meditate over and explore the unspoken. For Anubhav words are like a healing balm. They can provoke you, they can anger you, they can stun you, they can frustrate you or they can make you weep. Anubhav’s words are sharp and usually elicit a reaction from you. That is his biggest strength and maybe in some cases his greatest weakness. Anubhav’s characters are sharply observed, his scenes are expertly staged, his world is authentic yet pleasingly cinematic, his storytelling is rooted in his stories and is free of ‘international’ pretense. His dialog with the audience is direct, sharp and very effective. His communication with your heart, with your conscience is straightforward. Therein lies the success of Anubhav Sinha 2.0. But again I am digressing .

Thappad is a very difficult film to make because often depiction of the upper middle-class, urban milieu is usually garish or painfully pretentious in many of our films. But Thappad is refreshingly relatable. These are characters you have seen. These are characters you can feel. These are normal people with normalized issues. It is in the exploration of this disturbing normalization of inequity and abuse that Thappad is brilliant. While it does explore how we normalize patriarchy, it also explores how selfishness and entitlement are also seen as completely normal in our modern-day relationships. So many of us live our day to day lives to fulfil the selfish desires of another – whether we are employed, married or in a relationship. In the fulfilment of the other’s desires we must find our happiness. This is what most women are conditioned to believe.  Thappad compels you to introspect. It forces you to question. It shakes you up from within. It makes your body react. It has the power to heal you. Thappad is a tour de force. It is one of the most powerful Hindi films I have seen.

This film would have been less than half the film it is without its wonderful ensemble. The ever consistent, vastly underrated Kumud Mishra is heartbreakingly good as Amrita’s supportive father.  His performance is dignified and wise – much beyond his own age. Kumud is the standout actor of the film for me. Then there is Taapsee Pannu – a rare, rare talent. She plays the complex yet seemingly one-dimensional, vulnerable yet strong, conflicted yet clear, emotional yet stoic Amrita with a rare dignity and with a luminescence that radiates beyond the film’s length. Debutant Pavail Gulati is an absolute revelation. I had seen stills of this actor on Instagram and I was apprehensive about Anubhav having cast a hunk over an actor. This was my stereotyped thinking at work. This hunk is a fantastic actor. He has perhaps the most complicated character in the film. He is wrong yet likeable. He is abusive yet loving. You are not supposed to hate him but you should not be rooting for him. This is the most accomplished debut I have seen in many years. Tanvi Azmi as a shadow of what Amrita (Tapsee) would eventually become if she did not make the choices she would eventually make is terrific. All the other actors (Ratna Pathak Shah, Gitika Vidya Ohlyan and Dia Mirza in particular) are also excellently cast and  most of them populate Anubhav’s complex canvas beautifully.

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I am not a film critic. This is not a film review. I wanted to tweet about the film but there were too many things I wanted to say and limiting those in a series of 280-character tweets would have been a task beyond my limited talents. But there are some people I must complement. Cinematographer Soumik Mukherjee for shooting all the characters and their spaces with love and without once trying to overshadow the film or its characters. Editor Yasha Ramchandani for expertly constructing a complex narrative from a woman’s perspective without ever being unjust to all the male characters in the film. Unfortunately, editors are always unheralded and undercelebrated as storytellers because many uninformed critics view editing as merely reducing the length of a film. Thappad is a gently shot film with an even gentler edit – a rare quality in our films and a great service to Anubhav’s storytelling. The writers of the film Mrunmayee Lagoo and Anubhav Sinha for being the man and woman behind this rare Indian relationship film. I had read a draft of the script a few months before Anubhav made the film.  While quite a few things have changed between the draft I read and the film Anubhav has made, I remember the script of Thappad being beautifully crafted and totally unputdownable. The juxtaposition of different stories in this film is done so skillfully that you rarely feel the stories ever missing a beat or meandering away from the films’ central argument about entitlement, patriarchy and freedom. All of Anubhav’s recent films (Mulk, Article 15 and Thappad) are particularly remarkable because they are persuasive in their presentation of a central argument. It is a rare quality and it is the hallmark of this very fine, evolved filmmaker. So yes, this is a very well written film. All other departments particularly the production design by Nikhil Kovale are so good that they are virtually absent and rarely drawing attention to themselves. Another sign of a mature film made by a secure filmmaker. I could ramble on and on and on. But I will stop here.

From hagiography I will return to envy. I still envy Anubhav but in a constructive way. Hopefully, his films will propel me to make better films. Hopefully, his films will help me become a better version of myself.

I want to end this rather lengthy, sometimes meaningless, mostly rambling and bordering on hagiography piece with a small personal note :

To all the women in my life. To my wife, my mother, my sister, my daughters, my ex-wife, my girlfriends and all those that have been subjected to my societal conditioning

I know it is late. But better late than never. Sorry. Sorry if I have let my sense of entitlement stifle your growth. Sorry if I have let my patriarchal conditioning render me insensitive to your needs. Sorry if I’ve been an asshole. I will try to change. If I don’t,  SLAP me. Kheench ke maarna mujhe Thappad.

Love, Hansal.

PS : Go watch Thappad.

Idli

My favourite comfort food. Breakfast, lunch or dinner – I can eat idlies at any time. I make an idli batter almost every weekend for a leisurely breakfast followed by coffee.

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This recipe does not use cooking soda – I detest soda as it invariably makes me feel uncomfortable and bloated. The picture above was taken with the last remaining  idlies, sambar and chutney. Will try to replace this picture next week.

Using Idli rice might give you fluffier idlies but on most occasions I use the normal indrayani or kolam rice available at home. Use any rice – texture might differ but taste will rarely vary.

Ingredients

1/2 cup Split Urad dal (split black gram)
1 cup Rice
1/2 tbsp Methi seeds (Fenugreek seeds)
1 cup cold cold water
Salt, to taste

Procedure

  1. Wash the rice and dal thoroughly.
  2. Soak them separately (add the methi seeds to the dal) for at least 4-5 hours.
  3. After 4-5 hours drain and mix together. Grind them in a mixer/grinder adding 1 cup of cold water gradually. The final batter should be smooth, frothy and slightly coarse.
  4. Put the batter in a steel or ceramic bowl. Add salt and mix batter with your CLEAN hands. This will help fermentation.
  5. Cover the bowl (not airtight) and keep in a warm place for at least 10-12 hours until it ferments. Check for salt after it ferments and add more to taste.
  6. Take an idli steamer (a steamer with round idli moulds). Boil some water in the bottom half of the steamer.
  7. Grease the idli moulds with ghee and spread a little batter in each of them. Place the moulds in the steamer.
  8. Steam for 10-12 minutes. Remove the moulds and cool for a few minutes before serving hot idli with sambar and chutney.

I have a few wicked recipes for sambhar and chutney. That will be another day, another post. Until then get your idli batter ready. The process might sound daunting but it is actually quite simple and totally worthwhile. Readymade batters use preservatives and soda bicarb which I think are totally unnecessary and unhealthy.

I also add extra water to turn this into a dosa batter or I fry the extra idlies with onions, red chillies and curry leaves. There are times when kids love just idli fry (idli deep fried) or idli with sweet yoghurt (dahi idli).

To each his own

 

Pizza, homemade

I was at a film festival in Florence and that visit was food paradise! Pizza, pasta, risotto, sinful desserts, olive oil, fresh ingredients, minimum cooking and fantastic wine were my daily indulgences. I picked up hints of this pizza recipe from there and even began making pasta at home.

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So here it is! Kids love pizza and so do we. Here is a recipe that uses minimum ingredients, is easily made at home and is much healthier than what we get delivered. The preparation time also doesn’t kill you.

For the pizza dough

Ingredients

3 cups wholewheat flour
1 tbsp Honey (I picked up the beautiful ‘Under The Mango Tree’ honey)
1 tbsp Active dry yeast
1 tsp Sugar
1-1/2 cups Lukewarm water
1 tsp Salt
1 tbsp Olive Oil

Procedure

  1. Put the yeast and sugar in the lukewarm water in a large bowl. Keep this aside for around 5-7 minutes.
  2. Add the honey, olive oil and salt. Mix. The yeast should have dissolved completely.
  3. Add the wholewheat flour. Mix and knead thoroughly for at least 5-6 minutes.
  4. Oil the bowl and rub the dough around in this.
  5. Cover with cling wrap (or just cover it) and keep in a warm place for at least 30-40 minutes. The dough will rise to nearly twice its size.

The Pizza Base

This is simple and does not require cooking. Best base is fresh base.

Ingredients

4-5 medium tomatoes diced
1 can tomatoes with paste or a pack of tomato puree
1 tbsp Dried oregano
2 tbsp Olive oil
4 cloves of garlic
1 tsp Red Chilli powder
1 tsp Black pepper, freshly gound
3-4 leaves of fresh basil (optional)
1 tsp salt (or more to taste)
1 tsp sugar/honey

Procedure

  1. Mix all the ingredients and pulse in a blender/mixer.
  2. This is the pizza base. Thats it!
  3. This base can refrigerated for at least 2-3 days.

Many people have their own pizza base recipes. Many Indian recipes involve cooking (and sometimes overcooking). I prefer the fresh sauce – it makes the pizza come alive.

Putting it all together

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  1. Pre-heat oven at 250-300 degrees.
  2. Dust a rolling surface with flour. Divide the dough into small balls and roll out into discs.
  3. Put the discs in the over for 5-7 minutes.
  4. Take the discs out.
  5. Spoon and spread the pizza base over the discs.
  6. Cut some fresh buffalo mozzarella (or packaged pizza cheese if you can’t find it close by) and spread over the base. I’ve also replaced mozzarella with lovely parmesan that I brought from Italy. The results were interesting.
  7. Top with each or a combination of – herbs, pepperoni, shredded and cooked chicken, salami, sausages, cooked prawns, capsicum, onion, mushrooms, paneer, cherry tomatoes or nothing at all. I prefer just simple herbs. Toppings can be combined based on individual tastes and can be a different creative pursuit.
  8. Put the discs back in the over for 3-5 minutes until you see the cheese melt and sizzle.
  9. Take the pizza out, top with fresh rocket leaves, blanched spinach, fresh herbs and some beautiful infused olive oil. Serve hot.
  10. (For adults) Pair with a good Chianti Classico or any good medium bodied red wine.

Last night I topped the pizzas with pepperoni and fresh herbs that my daughters grow in our kitchen garden. Yes, we have a kitchen garden in our Mumbai apartment where we grow chillies, basil, thyme, curry leaves, coriander, mint, tomatoes. And there was some fantastic new extra virgin olive oil that I’d picked up from a farmer in Florence.

Pizza is comfort food at its best and if made at home with fresh ingredients it need not be junk food! Try it…

 

Butter Chicken

 

Here is a recipe that I’ve built after much experimentation. Every time I was cooking my kids would ask for Butter Chicken. This creamy, rich, mildly spicy, mildly sweet and yummy dish was often relegated to dining out and mostly inconsistent taste – every restaurant seemed to have its own recipe. Some recipes were legendary and SECRET. Some were ordinary – too creamy or too sweet. Some were downright awful – sweet, excessively creamy and usually very heavy on the stomach. Many recipe books gave you a recipe that would either take an eternity to cook or would be just terrible. Personally, I’ve found Butter Chicken overrated but nothing that my kids love so much can be overrated. It has to be recreated in my kitchen. And my kids must swear by my recipe! This is one such recipe. It is simple and it works like a dream. Here it is…

Ingredients

Marination
1 kg Chicken (with bone) or 750g Boneless – you choose
4 tbsp Ginger -Garlic paste
3 tbsp Red Chilli powder (vary depending on how spicy you want it)
3 tbsp Coriander powder (Dhaniya powder)
2 tsp Garam Masala powder
1 tsp Sugar (can be reduced)
1 cup Hung Curd or Greek Yoghurt
1-3/4 cups Tomato Puree
1/2 cup Fried Onions
1/2 cup Mint leaves, chopped
1/2 cup Coriander leaves, chopped
1 tbsp Kasuri Methi
Salt, to taste

To cook
3-4 tbsp Butter / Ghee or Oil
2 Cinnamon sticks  (dalchini)
4 Green Cardamoms (Chhoti Elaichi)
1 leaf Mace (Javitri)
1/4 cup Fresh Cream

Procedure

  1. Mix all ingredients for marinade together. Mix well and ideally keep refrigerated for at least 30 mins to 1 hour. Remove from refrigerator at least 20 mins before you begin cooking.
  2. In a deep pan heat the butter/ghee/oil and fry the Cinnamon, Cardamom and Mace for a couple of minutes.
  3. Add the marinated chicken. Bring to a boil. Cover and simmer for approximately 20-25 mins until the chicken is done.
  4. Take the pan off the heat and gradually add cream. Mix quickly so that it gets incorporated into the gravy and does not curdle.
  5. Bring the pan back to heat. Simmer for 5 minutes and let the chicken rest for another 5 minutes.
  6. Garnish with ginger juliennes and a little kasuri methi. Serve hot with roti, naan or plain rice.

And thats it!

 

 

 

 

 

Rohith’s Last Words

The death of a 26 year old PhD scholar at the Hyderabad University on 17th January 2016 disturbed me. Rohit Vemula’s death continues to disturb me very deeply. That someone so young should even contemplate suicide is disturbing enough. That he did commit suicide gives me sleepless nights even now. Was it cowardice? Was it despair? Was it discrimination? Poverty? Caste? Loss? Pain? Protest?

I do not endorse suicide. The act is neither symbolic nor worthy of my sympathy. However, in Rohith Vemula’s letter I found expression to my own despair at the way our constitutional freedoms are systematically being snatched away by an apathetic establishment. His last letter is a reflection of how our polarised social order has made it impossible for the ‘other’ to even aspire for equal opportunity. His last letter made me realise that sometimes what we deem as suicide is actually an act of collective murder by a stifling society and a dictatorial establishment.

Here is my tribute to Rohith. Here is the last letter of a sensitive young man who should not have died. Here is Rohith Vemula’s last letter.

Narrated by Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub
Translated by Swanand Kirkire

 

 

with thanks to :
Arnab Gayan, Apurva Asrani, Harshit Sharma, Alok Tripathi, Vipul Arora

 

 

 

 

 

An Open Letter to The Striking FTII Students


Dear Students of FTII,

Why are you on strike? Why are you not attending your classes? Don’t you have a reputation for going on strike at the slightest provocation? Don’t you realize that your institution needs change? Why are you so resistant to change?

Your chairperson is an eminent member of the film and television industry with many notable films, 700 television serials including an iconic portrayal as Yudhisthir. He has nearly 20 years of administrative experience within the film industry. Besides his enviable track record he is also a member of the ruling party. He is a nationalist. He believes that films with a good message make for good cinema. He reserves his comments on world cinema. Perhaps, he is afraid that his critical insights into world cinema might lead to unrest between nations. And the nation comes first, world cinema be damned. I am telling you dear silly students, Gajendra Chauhan is the man.

My dear students, you are living in a bubble. Your seniors from the institute were also living in a delusionary world. They were pretending to be inspired by the likes of De Sica, Truffaut, Goddard, Tarkovsky, Fellini, Ray. What use is Truffaut or Goddard or Fellini when your films cannot earn even a fraction of what Mr. Chauhan’s illustrious films have earned? Guys, you need a reality check. And Chauhan is the man to give you that. The truth is that you have been force fed a diet of films made by commies and made to believe that this was cinema. Why? Because your institute was governed by commies like Saeed Mirza, Mrinal Sen and their ilk. These commies are depressing people who make depressing films about the human condition. Nobody watches their films.

Friends, change is around the corner. Embrace it. We have a new government. We have the promise of a new, incredible India. We are now a country run by proud nationalists. Your cinema must reflect this new nationalism. The new wave of Indian cinema will emerge from the nationalistic cinema espoused by Mr. Chauhan and the sensible members of the FTII society who have not resigned their posts. Forget those losers Jahnu Barua, Pallavi Joshi and Santosh Sivan who resigned from the council. They are simply not cut out for the transformation that you are so stupidly depriving yourselves of. They have been part of some depressing films and their work deserves to be condemned. Ever wondered why the government appointed them to your society in the first place? I’ll tell you why. This government is very fair. They believe in equal representation. Unfortunately, none of you realize it. You have been blinded by the propaganda of the Left, without realizing that the pot of gold is actually to be found on the Right.

You find my reasoning warped? Then learn some of your illustrious seniors and industry leaders. They protested against the appointment of Mr. Pahlaj Nihalani as CBFC chief. At a meeting held in Delhi and an austere Mumbai five-star the good minister assured these wise men (and women) that ‘all izz well’. Mr. Nihalani is still the CBFC chairperson and really all is very, very well. What did you tell the minister in Delhi when he gave you precious minutes of his time? Why do you tick people off? Learn from your seniors. Capitulate to force, surrender to nationalism and you will reap the benefits of this new, free Bharat. Communism is long dead. Protest and perish. Prostrate or perish.

Mukesh ‘Shaktimaan’ Khanna is the CFSI chairperson and he is going to transform children’s films in India. He is also a worthy supporter of the ruling party and distinguished alumnus of FTII. Listen to him, he is inspirational. He wants you to accept this appointment and move on with your academic work. If you do not like this appointment you live in a democracy. You have every right to leave this institution. Understand and hang on to every word Shaktimaan says. Or perish.

I’ve watched your shallow defense of your unjustified cause on national television. A senior member of the film industry was right when he said that your institution has gone to the dogs in the past 10 years or so. Your institute has unleashed rubbish all these years – all in the name of art. Those awards you won, the accolades that you celebrated were all part of a larger conspiracy to weaken a nation that was in deep slumber imposed by the commies or their pseudo- socialist counterparts. When a democratically elected government (with a sweeping majority) recruits a person to steer you into the new world, you resist. They must be right. Because you are wrong.

Come on guys, chase that pot of gold. Achchhe din await you.

Jai Hind.

Hansal Mehta

this piece first appeared in thewire.in. Reproduced here with a few edits and grammatical errors.

Palak Chicken

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My wife loves spinach. So do I. Both of us love this simple yet delicious curry. I had surfed the net and my collection of cookbooks for a suitable recipe but found most either pale/dark colored or too greasy or just too convoluted. This recipe is my own concoction out of the many websites and books I referred to before embarking on my own exploration. I might not be a trained chef but now I can call myself an experienced adaptor of published recipes.

Ingredients

1.5 kg Chicken (medium pieces)
2 large bunches Spinach (palak), roughly chopped
3 medium onions, chopped
4 medium tomatoes, chopped3 tbsp ginger-garlic paste
2 sticks (1”) cinnamon (dalchini)
2 bay leaves (tej patta)
5 green cardamoms (chhoti elaichi)
2 tbsp oil or ghee
1 tsp red chilly powder (additional 1 tsp if you want it spicier)
2 tsp coriander powder
½ tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp garam masala powder
½ tsp dried fenugreek (kasuri methi)
salt, to taste

For tempering (tadka)

2 dried red chillies, halved
3 cloves garlic, chopped finely
1 tbsp oil

Procedure

  1. Put the spinach in boiling water for approximately 12-15 minutes (do not cover).
  2. Drain the spinach and reserve the water. Put the spinach in cold water and let it cool down completely.
  3. Puree the spinach or finely chop (I prefer to chop the spinach but my kids prefer the pureed spinach). Keep aside
  4. Heat the oil in a pressure cooker. Add the cinnamon sticks, bay leaves and green cardamom and cook until the begin to crackle.
  5. Now add onions and fry until they turn transparent.
  6. Add the ginger-garlic paste and fry for 5 minutes (until the raw smell disappears)
  7. Mix the red chilly powder, coriander powder, turmeric and salt in 3-4 tbsp water to make a fine paste. Add this paste to the pressure cooker and sauté for 3-4 minutes.
  8. Now add the chopped tomatoes and cook until the tomatoes are mashed.
  9. Add the chicken pieces and garma masala powder. Cook on high heat until the chicken pieces change color, their juices are sealed and the masala envelopes the pieces. This may take 3-5 minutes.
  10. Add ¼ cup (or less) of the reserved spinach water. (If you have drained the spinach water, just use plain water). Bring to a boil.
  11. Cover the pressure cooker, reduce flame to simmer. Let the chicken simmer under pressure for 8-10 minutes. Turn off the flame and wait until the pressure is released from the cooker.
  12. Open the lid of the pressure cooker and cook the chicken curry for another 5 minutes or until the gravy is reduced considerably.
  13. Now add the chopped or pureed spinach to the curry. Let it cook for approximately 5-7 minutes. Adjust the seasoning.
  14. Sprinkle kasuri methi and let it cook for another minute.
  15. Heat some oil in a pan. Add the chopped garlic and fry until it turns golden brown. Add the red chillies and let them fry for 2 minutes.
  16. Pour the tempering over the Palak Chicken gravy. Mix and cook for another minute.
  17. Serve hot with roti, naan or rice.

This recipe is simple, nutritious, satisfying and vibrant. My daughters who are usually averse to spinach now demand that I make Palak Chicken every time I am asked to cook a chicken dish. Add more red chilly powder and coriander powder if you like your curry spicy. I prefer my curry to be subtle and particularly light if it is being cooked for a weekday dinner.

Its been a long time since I shared recipes on the blog. There are many new recipes that I promise to share soon!