Monday, 24 February 2014

And The Oscar Goes To...

Sentimentality has always trumped merit at the Oscars. That is why non-actors like John Wayne (`True Grit’) and Henry Fonda (`On Golden Pond’) walk away with the statuettes while the O’Tooles and the Burtons are left high and dry.

12 Years A Slave
This year promises to be no better. A front runner this time around is a vapid attempt at a tear jerker called `12 Years a Slave’. In about two and a half hours of mind numbing ennui, it packs in every conceivable cliché on slavery – the mandatory slave auction, a `good’ slave owner, a `bad’ slave owner, a white abolitionist, the journey by boat in chains, the whippings, the bloodied backs.

But for all its efforts to tug at my heart strings, it left me quite cold. Sadly, since it has all the sentimental trappings that the Academy so loves (a black director, the collective guilt that white Americans still harbour, et al), I expect it to win big time. And God forbid, if Chiwetel Ejiofor wins the Best Actor Award for merely scowling and grimacing, I swear I’m gonna pull my hair out!

Bale's pot belly
McConaughey's Gaunt look
The Best Actor category this year is actually all about body weight. While Mathew McConaughey lost about 25 pounds for his role as an AIDS patient in `Dallas Buyers Club’, Christian Bale actually put on the same amount for his role as the 70’s conman in `American Hustle’. To my mind, both would be deserving winners, although I find it strange to see that Tom Hanks hasn’t even been nominated – he should have walked away with the award if only for the last ten minutes of `Captain Philips’!

Meryl Streep apparently just has to appear in a movie to be nominated for an acting award! How else does one explain her nomination for her role as Violet Weston in `August : Osage County’ – her performance has more ham in it than Wodehouse’s Empress of Blandings!

Dubey in the Indian version
`August : Osage County’ is actually a Pulitzer Prize winning play written by Tracy Letts. Since all the action takes place in a single room, the play doesn’t easily lend itself to a credible film script. Incidentally, an Indianised version of the play was staged by Lilette Dubey, which I happened to catch at Poona. Both the play itself, as also Dubey’s performance, outshone both the film and yes, Meryl Streep!

The Best Actress will be a straight fight between Kate Blanchette (`Blue Jasmine’) and Sandra Bullock (`Gravity’). While I know, Blanchette will in all likelihood take home the trophy, I’m still secretly rooting for Bullock!

An aside here. We were taught early in school that the feminine gender for `actor’ was `actress’. Why then do actresses of the day prefer to be called actors? Anybody??

The Supporting Actor award has probably been sewn up by Barkhad Abdi for his role as the Somali pirate in `Captain Philips’. I had mentally given the award to Jake Gylenhaal for the twitching Detective Loki in `Prisoners’ – but he’s nowhere on the scene.

And the delectable Jennifer Lawrence will pick up her second award in succession this year. This time for the Best Supporting Actress in `American Hustle’.

And what of the Best Picture? 

Let me gnash my teeth in frustration as Steve McQueen (seriously?) gloats as he takes it home for the eminently forgettable `12 Years a Slave’. My advice to him? Sir, please read Harriet Beecher Stowe’s most moving ode to slavery `Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ – you’re not even close!

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Breakfast at Vohuman's

19th February was a Maharashtrian holiday (Shivaji’s b’day, what else?), so we decided to `breakfast out’. Sid was away at Bangalore, so missal-pav it was – that being the one Maharashtrian staple he normally gives a wide berth to.

For the uninitiated, missal (meaning `mixture’ in Marathi) is a mix of sev, farsan, chopped oninions, coriander and a lentil mix of sprouted `matki’ called usal. It is topped by a fiery, watery curry, called, for some inexplicable reason, sample! The piping hot mix is then served with pav, the Indian version of the burger bun.

The mixture, if conjured in the correct proportions, is simply to die for! Now the meanest missal-pav in Poona is served in a hole-in-the-wall outlet called `Shree Uphaar Grah’ off Laxmi Road. There’s no way you can take your car there, so the ubiquitous auto is your best bet.

We reached there only to find the shutters down. Apparently, it opens only after 10! Now what’s with these Maharashtrians, how can they expect to popularize their cuisine if they serve what is essentially a breakfast dish only after 10?

So we quickly had to switch options. The butter masala dosa at Vaishali’s was tempting, as was the prospect of an Irani breakfast at Café Good Luck, both on Fergusson College Road, about 10 minutes away.

But we decide to head back to Camp, and settled for Vohuman’s Café, a popular if slightly down-market joint next to Jehangir Hospital. I was born there, remember? At Jehangir, not at Vohuman’s..

Bun-maska-cheese omelette!
The problem at Vohuman’s is that they still haven’t heard of the cholesterol scare, and the butter and cheese they serve in such copious quantities is enough to make your arteries scream in protest! No wonder they are located so close to both Jehangir Hospital and Ruby Hall Clinic, just opposite the road!.

Of course you have to ignore the cringe worthy custom of its patrons, of dunking their heavily buttered buns in steaming mugs of sweet Irani chai. What can I say, my brother Satish does it, my niece C2 does it, and now Sowmya proves that she’s a Puri at heart after all!

Breakfast in India is what makes India what it is. In Punjab, have your aloo-ka-paratha swimming in butter, in Delhi head to Sadar Bazaar for the best chana-bhatura on the planet, in Bangalore try the steaming idlis off Commercial Street (or MTR), In Hyderabad try the haleem or the nihari near the Charminar, on the Bombay-Poona Expressway the wada-pav rules the roost!

And if it’s a true-blue English breakfast that you hanker for, there’s nothing like `Flury’s’ on Calcutta’s Park Street, complete with the most delicious Darjeeling tea!

Gaymer wa dibis
In Iraq too there’s contrast aplenty. Kurdistan in Northern Iraq has what they call `No-kao’ – chickpea (Kabuli chana) stuffed in buns, served with the chana gravy. Baghdad has what is called `gaymer’, a very thick white cream made from buffalo milk. Iraqi bread, similar to our naan, is dipped into this cream, along with some date syrup, to make `Gaymer Wa Dibis’ – truly superlative!

In USA, there’s the iHop chain of course. My one visit there, and I had to be dragged out physically – another half an hour, and they’d have needed a gurney..

In the end, at my age, and with the not-so-great digestive system that the Puri genes have blessed me with, I’m content to settle for an `oats and muesli’ porridge for my daily brekker.

Dunkin' bun-maska! 
But it’s Shivaji’s birthday, and since the Maharashtrians have shut shop, it’s `Breakfast at Vohuman’s’ for the Puris.

The maska (butter) is everything the doctor ordered you not to eat, the cheese slices on the `cheese toast' are as thick as the toasts themselves, the tea is as sweet and as milky as any Irani chai can be, and even if Sowmya threatens to dunk the bun-maska in her chai, it’s a small price to pay..