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Shruti Seth’s Guide To Andheri

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SHRUTI SETH’S GUIDE TO ANDHERI

WORDS BY SHRUTI SETH

Shruti_200pxActor Shruti Seth was born, raised, and attended school in Andheri. It’s the only home she’s known for the last 40 years, so it’s no wonder we went straight to her to find out what’s good in the ’hood. From the best running tracks to martinis, this is Shruti Seth’s Andheri.

What do you like about Andheri?

It’s an easy suburb, and honestly, it’s large enough for it to be developed really well. I’m hoping that people will see more and more potential in the spaces that are available around. I’ve seen it evolve over the years. And it’s home.

Where do you go for a leisurely breakfast? And where do you go if you want to just grab something on-the-go?

For a leisurely breakfast, I go to Indigo Deli or Bistro 1. Both serve really nice, wholesome breakfasts, and they’re welcoming and hospitable. To grab-and-go, grab a sandwich, coffee shop chains are the best.

Speaking of coffee, who does the best coffee in Andheri?

I don’t drink coffee. But from friends who drink a lot, aside from the regulars, the coffee at Indigo has a wide variety of coffees.

Andheri Guide_003

Is there a good swimming pool in your neighbourhood? What about a running track or trail?

There are three really good pools – Raheja Classique Club; an Olympic-sized pool at this club called Celebration, and there’s one at Andheri Sports Complex. There are lots of parks, most of which have a running track.

Andheri Guide_002

If someone was coming to Andheri for just one time and would never return, where would you take them for lunch? And what would you order?

There’s this really interesting place that’s almost a hole in the wall in Shastri Nagar called Darjeeling. It does Tibetan and North Eastern food. It’s very reasonably priced. They do excellent food, and it’s such a quaint place. I’d order the thukpa and the momos.

Where can you get a really well-made martini?

Indigo Deli

Is there a place open for late-night snacks?

I’m sure there are late-night snack places, but since I don’t have any late nights anymore I wouldn’t know. My neighbourhood has become a huge party hub, and there are all these stalls that have opened up that serve things like anda parathas. Fun.

If you need a timeout, do you have a hideaway that is not your house?

There’s the cutest little place called Leaping Windows. It’s a comic book library and it has a fully functional café. You can sit there for several hours just hanging out there. There are quite a few beautiful parks now, some with landscaped jogging tracks. There’s another near Model Town. Also my building has a lovely, landscaped garden where we spend our evenings.

andheri parks

Change one thing about Andheri (not the traffic, that’s too obvious).

The people! Hahahaha, no I’m kidding. It could be greener! It’s such a massive suburb – it needs less littering and more trees. I also want to change the food taste. Everything is Indian and Chinese.

What would be the one thing you’d miss about Andheri if you had to move to another part of the city?

My parents, because I was raised here and my family is right next door to me. Other than that my apartment – it’s smack in the heart of where all the action is. And it’s constructed in a way that it feels like an oasis.

Feature photograph by Ting Chen [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Flickr. Photograph of Andheri park by Naman Saraiya. Andheri Sports Complex photo by Rohit 80101 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

 
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Cafe Madras Serves Dependable, Delicious Food

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CAFE MADRAS SERVES DEPENDABLE, DELICIOUS FOOD

Established in 1940, Cafe Madras is one of the best South Indian restaurants in Mumbai. It opens at 7 a.m. from Tuesday to Sunday and is always busy, no matter the time. The menu includes staples like idli and dosa, plus appams with stew and ponga avial.

Cafe Madras, No. 38-B, Ground Floor, Kamakshi Building, Bhaudaji Road, Kings Circle, Matunga, Mumbai 400 019. Phone: 022 2401 4419

READ SHIVANI SHAH’S STORY

It’s 7:45 on a Sunday morning, and there’s already a queue outside Cafe Madras. Twenty minutes for your table, says the gentleman who jots my name down in his notebook. I glance at the list; there are at least eight names before mine. We get comfortable on the last of the plastic chairs available on the pavement.

The other people waiting are a mixed bunch. There’s a large family – some of whom are visiting, their American accents tell us – who were already here when we arrived and soon abandon their post for nearby Mysore Cafe, which is a mistake, in my opinion. Young couples, groups of friends, families with hungry young kids…everyone is attentive each time the gentleman with the notebook calls out a name – if you miss your turn you’ll end up waiting for an age again. Twenty minutes turn to thirty, and the crowd continues to swell. Eventually, it is our turn.

There is nothing Instagram worthy about the presentation, but Cafe Madras doesn’t care about making the food pretty.

Smaller groups are asked to share tables to reduce waiting time; my family of five gets our own. Today it’s on the ground level by the window. We’re in the corner but not forgotten; a waiter appears just a few minutes later to take our order, which includes kaapi, that hot, frothy, milky South Indian coffee that Cafe Madras is famous for. He seems amused that we want it now, even before the food is ready. He reappears mere seconds later with four steel glasses, deftly pouring the coffee from steel glass to steel bowl to cool it. I haven’t ordered any. I like my coffee strong, black, and without sugar – something I’m not willing to budge on even though I’ve heard so much about the kaapi. I order rasam instead, a drink I love that most South Indian restaurants do not serve. I will not pass up the opportunity to have it at the city’s best.

Breakfast ordered, we settle back and wait. Cafe Madras isn’t small, but it’s so popular they pack the tables to the brim. We can’t help but overhear snatches of conversation on the table behind us. Someone is commenting about a relative who’s on a Top 10 list of some sort in America. (College? Work? FBI’s Most Wanted?) We’ll never know, because our food has arrived and our focus is singular. There is nothing Instagram worthy about the presentation, but Cafe Madras doesn’t care about making the food pretty. Like any good restaurant, it cares about what the food tastes like. And it succeeds, like it consistently has for decades, in serving good, authentic, comfort food.

The sambhar isn’t sweet – a huge bonus in Mumbai these days. The idlis are floating in rasam, soaking in the spice. The mulgapudi is crunchy and salty. Someone outside fills the windowsill behind me with the snacks the cafe sells at its pavement counter. I make a mental note to buy some on the way out. The waiter reappears and we order seconds. He chuckles as we order more kaapi.

In the end, it’s always about the food.

It feels like we’ve been here for a while, but in thirty minutes our breakfast is over. The family steps out while I wait at the counter to pay the bill. The owner sits there, calmly juggling the patrons waiting to pay, the phone that rings non-stop with delivery orders from neighbourhood residents, and the parcels lined up in front of him waiting to be delivered. The crowd outside has grown even larger, and people are now ordering kaapi to drink while they wait. When I’m done I head straight for the snacks – those sweet banana chips are divine.

They’ve opened a store right next to the cafe, which sells health food, tea, bread, and other quite frankly unmemorable things. It’s an effort at something new, but these are things you can buy in most stores these days. What’s best about Cafe Madras is the old: the no-frills decor, the steel thalis and glasses, the seasoned staff that keep it moving like clockwork when it seems chaotic to the casual observer. Because in the end, it’s always about the food, which at Cafe Madras has been dependable – and delicious – meal after meal every day.

Feature photo by Suruchi Maira

 
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Calling All Culture Vultures To G5A Foundation For Contemporary Culture

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 g5a foundation for contemporary culture

CALLING ALL CULTURE VULTURES TO G5A FOUNDATION FOR CONTEMPORARY CULTURE

The G5A Foundation for Contemporary Culture is a multifunctional space with a black box, a sun-lit study, a bougainvillea-lined terrace, and a café that’s ideal for extended Sunday lunches. Among the events it hosts are book readings, ghazal renditions, dance workshops, documentary screenings, and experimental theatre. It is a not-for-profit organisation.
G5A Foundation for Contemporary Culture, Laxmi Mills Compound, Shakti Mills Lane, Off Dr. E Moses Road, Mahalaxmi, Mumbai 400 011. Phone: 022 2490 9393

WORDS AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY KRUTI DALAL

In the old textile district of Girangaon, past the crumbling, banyan-sprouting walls of Shakti Mills, beyond the blue exteriors of Blue Tokai lies a remodeled warehouse that is nurturing creativity and encouraging dialogue one event at a time. The brainchild of architect and filmmaker Anuradha Parikh, G5A Foundation for Contemporary Culture is a multifunctional space with a black box, a sun-lit study, a bougainvillea-lined terrace and a café that’s ideal for extended Sunday lunches.
The schedule at G5A is much like the space – well spaced out, yet cohesive. Often, there are no events lined up for days but the blend of book readings, ghazal renditions, dance workshops, documentary screenings, and experimental theatre more than make up for the skeletal calendar. Packed program or not, a trip through Mahalaxmi’s back roads is worth your time just for the sunlit café with potted plants and a tree that extends till the mezzanine floor.
Port is what Prithvi Café was a decade ago. At a time when there wasn’t much to be found between the extremes of cutting chai and classy cocktails, Prithvi Café introduced the city to Irish coffee. Affogato is the new Irish coffee, and nobody does it better than Port. If vanilla ice cream doused with a shot of espresso and homemade caramel sauce is not your cup of coffee, then opt for the lemon iced tea. Dense and chilled with a faint kick of tamarind that’s zingy, tart and yet balanced, this is the best beverage to beat Mumbai’s year-round summer. Lean back on the printed couches, soak in the rays and listen to the quiet babble of artists, theatre personalities and socialites. That’s what you call a complete cultural experience. 
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Drink Delicious Indian Coffee At Koinonia Coffee Roasters

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DRINK DELICIOUS INDIAN COFFEE AT KOINONIA COFFEE ROASTERS

Koinonia Coffee Roasters is a roastery and café in Khar sources its beans from local Indian farms. They use Arabica beans, which are roasted twice a week, packaged, and then sent to various clients across the country. The café itself is open to the public daily.

Koinonia Coffee Roasters, 66, Chuim Village Road, Off BR Ambedkar Road, Bandra (w), Mumbai 400 052. Phone: 096196 82668

READ KIT CALESS’S STORY

Picture the scene:

Sunday morning and you’re on a lazy walk from Perry Road up through Pali Hill. You crisscross and pop west to see the sea, zigzag and drop east to Union Park. You meander through Chuim Village. Goats bask in the sun, and free running chickens perform poultry parkour. You swing south and head towards Ambedkar Road. You walk past a coffee shop; it reminds you of the ones you know in Hackney, London. You think nothing of it and take a few more paces. Then you stop, back up, and turn around. You stare at the black exterior with bold white typography. You run that sentence through your head again: It looks like one of those coffee shops from Hackney. You push the door open, obviously.

Now picture this:

You’re inside this coffee shop, and a French man called Clement talks to you about roasting coffee. With his sexy French accent he shows you his massive roaster (well hello there!). A serene man named Sagar makes you a flat white (a flat white!). You sip the coffee, and it’s good. Really good. Clement tells you that all the beans are sourced from Indian farms. You almost fall off your stool. You almost produce a stool, in fact. Clement tells you that he only moved here, with his wife and children, just seven months ago after deciding to join two native Bandra boys, Shannon and Sid, in this coffee adventure. Clement had only previously visited India once, for one week. You finish your coffee and eat a biscuit baked by Clement’s wife. You think, everyone needs to know about this place.

koinonia coffee roasters indian coffee bandra

Koinonia, based in a former seamstress building is, first and foremost, a coffee roastery. Their German-brand Probat roaster is the first to be built in India and sits proudly behind the barista station. Germans make good things (apart from Volkswagens with dodgy emissions and food that isn’t bread). Beans are roasted twice a week, packaged and then sent to various clients across the country. The café itself is open to the public seven days a week.

Over a few cups with fellow City Storyist Genesia Alves, I chatted to Shannon, Koinonia’s loquacious coffee zealot, who explained a whole host of things about Indian coffee I had absolutely no idea about.

So here are 10 Things I Learned About Indian Coffee.

  1. Until the mid 1990s, the Indian Government forced coffee farmers to sell to the Government only. Coffee was considered Government property. The Government used to auction off the coffee in Bangalore. It was rarely exported, unlike Ethiopian or Colombian coffee. The farmers didn’t really make too much money. The Government had a capital G during this whole period.
  1. Shannon’s uncle has plantation in Chikmagalur. They export 25-30 tonnes of coffee every year to… Australia. Shannon grew up partly in Australia. These two things are related. Kind of. Well, I mean, he has a lilting, rhapsodic Australian accent, which I didn’t know could exist. I do now.
  1. Every country has it’s own way of doing coffee. Australians love a flat white, Americans do drip coffee, Japan has a “pour over” method, and Italians have the espresso. South Indian filter coffee style evolved because espresso machines and other filtration techniques were too expensive or weren’t available. Also, most of the coffee beans that are mainly grown in South India are Robusta which is very strong and very bitter. That’s why South Indian filter coffee is stuffed with milk and sugar. Koinonia use Arabica beans, which are a bit lighter. Robusta has a higher yield and is less susceptible to pests; it contains more caffeine (hence more bitter). But you want the best stuff, don’t you, Bandra? Of course you do, otherwise you’d live elsewhere.

koinonia coffee roasters indian coffee bandra

  1. Coffee starts to smell good when you grind it. The roasting process isn’t all that aromatic. Coffee is only fresh 15-21 days after roast. You can tell how fresh coffee is when you pour hot water over the ground beans and it mushrooms, rises up. That’s all the carbon dioxide from the bean. Koinonia coffee balloons like an atomic bomb. Which makes it fresher than Will Smith’s brand new chuddies.
  1. Tata partnered with Starbucks a while back to supply the Seattle corporation with coffee beans from Asia. Starbucks now has stores in India thanks to a 50:50 partnership with Tata branded Starbucks, a Tata Alliance.
  1. Starbucks actually did Koinonia a favour two ways. Firstly, they have helped foster coffee appreciation in India. Secondly they’ve encouraged a higher price point for coffee. Koinonia sits in the middle of Café Coffee Day and Starbucks in terms of money you spend on a cup.
  1. Coffee imported to India has 110-120 per cent duty. So really, if you’re drinking imported coffee, you’re paying the Government 100 bucks a cup. Hey, it’s just like the old days in Bangalore! With Koinonia, their coffee comes exclusively from Indian farmers, and all from Indian farms. Jai hind!
  1. A regular customer, Alex, says, “this is the best coffee in Mumbai” as he buys his take away drip coffee before heading to his office. Alex is a trustworthy name; he’s a stand up guy. He is American though, but we can all put that aside for a minute.

koinonia coffee roasters indian coffee bandra

  1. Shannon, Sid and Clement visit their farmers regularly. Some people (i.e. yours truly) would call this a holiday to Tamil Nadu. These three amigos call it work. This connection to the source is vital for Koinonia, as Shannon says it encourages the farmers to produce better coffee and with more care. The farmer influences the taste of the coffee. When the people buying your coffee directly are visiting and telling you how much their customers love it, of course you’ll be more proud of your produce. I wish I could tell the guy who grows the figs I buy in Pali market that his figs are the nuts. But that might confuse him.
  1. The Koinonia coffee is first rate, make no mistake. The café only opened at the end of January. The people behind this enterprise are the real deal. I’ve heard people talk about coffee before – usually boring hipsters in London whose personality left their body shortly after puberty – but Shannon and Clement are both captivating. And you know, with caffeine and everything, I can get a little ADHD after the fourth cup, so holding my attention for that long is tougher than Rajinikanth’s toughest tough guy.

If the future of Indian coffee is in the hands of Koinonia and their affiliates, it’s going to be a very bright one. Put that in your Probat and roast it.

Photographs by Meghna Gupta

 
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Blue Tokai Brings Malabar To Mahalaxmi

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BLUE TOKAI BRINGS MALABAR TO MAHALAXMI

WORDS AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY KRUTI DALAL

Blue Tokai is a café that is attractive first and foremost because of its coffee.

I remember the exact moment I fell in love with coffee. The extended family had gathered post midnight to celebrate a birthday. I saw my aunt holding a cup close to her body, stirring vigorously with a spoon, and I offered to take over. Over the rhythmic clanking and chatter, I watched the dark brown liquid transform into a fluffy, caramel-coloured cloud. I inhaled the heady aroma, scooped some of the grainy paste and tentatively transferred it to my tongue. Bam! I’ve had one too many cuppa joes since then, but none have sparked off fireworks; until I consumed three cortados in one afternoon at Blue Tokai.

Finding Blue Tokai in the maze known as Laxmi Mills is akin to a treasure hunt for millennials unused to asking for directions or keeping calm when the signboards disappear for a short distance. In theory, you could just follow the sweet smell or track breadcrumbs and find yourself face to face with wide, floor-length windows and a burst of bougainvillea. But it’s probably a safer bet to keep your eyes peeled for the blue square nestled between rectangular signs for furniture boutiques.

blue tokai coffee

If you think dragging your feet through narrow lanes, surrounded by abandoned textile mills is hard work, you’d best return the same way. The truly Herculean effort comes from Blue Tokai, which follows the principles of purity, freshness and transparency. The nautical windows in the café overlook the roastery, so you can witness the journey of the espresso perched on your table – from pale beans to burnished liquid in pretty blue cups.

I head to Blue Tokai on a Wednesday and meet Raymond, the head roaster. The air is thick with the smooth scent of fresh-out-of-the-oven beans, cut only by the apologies flying across the room. Raymond is apologetic about breaking off conversation to alter the temperature and sliding across the floor to prop a barrel to catch falling beans. I’m clearly just getting in the way. Over the next 15 minutes, I grill Raymond even as the coffee beans from Kalledeverapura Estate in Chickamangalur are put through the test of fire.

blue tokai coffee

Blue Tokai sources their beans from 10 estates spread over the lush green ranges of Karnataka, Raymond tells me. There is no standard temperature, but heat graphs have been plotted separately to extract the unique essence of every single type of bean that is rolled in through the roaster’s swinging doors. Additionally, the beans are roasted to different degrees – light, medium and dark – in order to highlight different flavours. After being heated by a gas burner, the beans are cooled down and packed in airtight drums. Then, depending on orders received over the past four days, the beans are either ground to a particular consistency or straight away packed in beautifully illustrated brown paper bags and dispatched to coffee enthusiasts across the country. The coffee retains its zing for two weeks, and then it’s time to let a fresh batch of Malabari java tickle your nostrils.

My hunt for the perfect coffee has been like the Rolling Stones’s hit number. Complete satisfaction has remained elusive, but after years of refreshing myself at coffee shop chains with free Wifi, I’ve finally found a café that is attractive first and foremost because of its coffee. The easy vibe, friendly service and Wifi access are added bonuses. I now have a favourite spot (corner table with a clear view of the roastery), preferred blend (Hummingbird) and sinful snack (almond croissant). I also have a fixed address on Wednesday and Sunday evenings.

Blue Tokai roasts to order every Wednesday and Sunday from roughly 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The roaster is adjacent to the café and open to the public. You can place orders for specific blends on their website or pick up packets from the café.

Blue Tokai, Unit 20-22, Laxmi Woollen Mill, Opposite Khazana Furniture, Off Dr E Moses Road, Shakti Mills Lane, Mahalakshmi, Mumbai 400 011. Phone: 098200 95887
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Birdsong-Cafe-band

Birdsong Café Blends Delicious With Healthy

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BIRDSONG CAFÉ BLENDS DELICIOUS WITH HEALTHY

WORDS AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY KRUTI DALAL

Some days you’ve just got to have that chocolate cake. But if it’s not your cheat day, it’s best to head to Birdsong Organic Café so you can avoid the extra piling on of guilt once you’ve wolfed down that gooey piece of goodness.
This wood-shuttered, brick-walled, high ceilinged, aesthetically lit space with a rustic, yet modern menu will dispel most of your doubts about organic food. Here the feta is fresh and crumbly, the watermelon isn’t just watery and the quinoa is actually edible. I’ve seen some of the biggest skeptics lick clean their plate of gluten-free pasta and drain the last drop of Hibiscus Chia seed juice.
Getting to Birdsong is a treat unto itself – you either have to go through the old village of Ranwar or take the shortcut through a graffiti splattered walkway. Even if you get lost in the narrow lanes, just follow the fragrance of freshly baked bread and cookies wafting from the old building with French windows and you’ll find yourself right at home.
Birdsong Café 
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Zen-Cafe-band

Zen Cafe And Missed Connections

SPACE
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ZEN CAFE AND MISSED CONNECTIONS

WORDS BY MEHER MIRZA AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY SURUCHI MAIRA

Zen Cafe is a vegetarian/vegan cafe and co-working space with hot chocolate that will command your attention.
It looked as if the whole of the sky was hidden behind gray clouds. The tops of Lower Parel’s tallest buildings were smothered in mist. A heavy rain had fallen. The road was silver-slick. Big drops sat motionless on the trees, and all the leaves bowed to the earth, heavy with wet.
She walked past the huddle of security men at the entrance, her umbrella leaving a rill of water in her wake. Up the stairs she drifted until she reached her favourite table, the one by the mezzanine railing. A waiter appeared silently. “Coffee, madam? Tea? Pizza? A soup?” Today she wanted a sandwich, plump with portobello and gouda. No, a quesadilla, perhaps. But at last: “The roasted pumpkin ravioli, please. And a hot chocolate.”
The chocolate came first, a big, frothing cup of it. It must have been good, for she buried her nose in it and sighed with pleasure. Across the room, a man stared at her. He was a most interesting looking man, reading Kierkegaard and sipping a cappuccino, as interesting looking men are wont to do. His hair was closely-cropped and he had long lashes. He peered at her through them. But she looked palely through him; she simply couldn’t see him at all.
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Then the ravioli came, floating in a moat of olive oil. Art Blakely and the Jazz Messengers floated from the speakers. Delicately, she speared the pasta into two, watching the plumes of steam escape. As she ate, a gaggle of men and women swept laughing onto the sofa beside her, hung about with large bags. From the bags tumbled out laptops but alas, the Wi-Fi wavered. A chorus of voices rose in complaint. But them she couldn’t see either. There was a large, people-shaped hole where they were.
The waiter whisked away her plate and brought her the menu. It was black and fancy, a “curated, rotational menu of coffee offerings”. She asked for Origin X, a black coffee from the Nilgiris, with “notes of caramel and spice”. The coffee came, strong and hot, and with it a chocolate hazelnut cream and a scoop of ice cream. She strongly approved.
The office crowd stumbled out, and a sudden hush lay heavily on the cafe. The music had played itself out. And then she looked at him, a long, intimate, searching look, and for a minute they were caught in their own circle, just the two of them. Him fiddling with his coffee cup, and her playing with the ganache on her plate. The air danced and quivered between them.
Zen Cafe_003
He turned to ask for the bill and scraped his chair back to go to her…but she was gone. Only an empty plate remained, a moonscape of chocolate rubble tossed around it.
The afternoon lengthened into evening, and the interesting-looking man found himself back outside the cafe. It had grown dusky. The sky was speckled with stars; the street lamps glowed warmly. He turned and walked home.
Zen Cafe serves coffee and vegan/vegetarian food, plays jazz and is a superb co-working space.
Zen Cafe, ICASA, Raghuvanshi Mills, Senapati Bapat Marg, Lower Parel (w), Mumbai 400 013. Phone:  
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Prithvi-band_600px

Prithvi Theatre Is A Patron Of The Arts You Must Visit

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PRITHVI THEATRE IS A PATRON OF THE ARTS YOU MUST VISIT

WORDS BY MILI SEMLANI AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY SURUCHI MAIRA

The legendary Prithvi Theatre has a thriving reputation for celebrating people.

Shashi Kapoor sits quietly in his wheelchair, sipping tea from the cutting-chai glass in his hand, ponderous at the Prithvi Café on Sunday. You get the feeling he’s breathing in the hopes, dreams and passion of the cinema and theatre folk who throng Prithvi Theatre. He seems to ignore the bustle of the hipster Juhu locals, the children screaming for nachos, the low hum of the conversations of struggling writers and actors, the pushy culture junkies trying to bag the best seat. Shashi Kapoor is at home.

He’s spent his life living, breathing, thinking cinema – a career that in some ways is inextricably linked to Prithvi, a theatre he built in memory of his brilliant father, the legendary thespian Prithviraj Kapoor, as a hub, a home for the repertory theatre company, Prithvi Theatres, he started in the early 1940s. Managed by the family since 1978, today Sanjana Kapoor and Kunal Kapoor breathe life and continue the legacy of Prithvi’s values – an affordable platform for new genres, actors and storytellers, a place for performances in languages other than just English and a way to create new audiences.

But this space, crammed with chatty people is a microcosm of the City of Dreams’s true nature, accommodating newcomers with a certain warmth, especially if they’re willing to admit their deep love for film.

These days, you’re more likely to see the aloo parathas, chocolate waffles and sultry sangrias of Prithvi Café posted on social media, but Prithvi still has a thriving reputation for celebrating art, culture, cinema, theatre and, of course, people.

To get to the theatre you must dodge rickshaws and party people on their way to the watering hole next door. Tucked away is Janki Kutir, home to Prithvi. You’ll hear the hum first and then you’ll see the long queue. It shouldn’t surprise you. Prithvi doesn’t sell you a seat number and there is no online check-in, so the best spots within the theatre have to be earned. The early bird catches the worm.

I’d already missed the best seats so I headed to the café, eschewing Prithvi’s “famous Irish coffee” for a cutting chai and a cheese croissant. Typical of any weekend, finding an empty table was like finding parking in Juhu. But this space, crammed with chatty people is a microcosm of the City of Dreams’s true nature, accommodating newcomers with a certain warmth, especially if they’re willing to admit their deep love for film.

You can catch sparkles of the glitz of Bollywood even here. I eavesdrop on a conversation that is nothing short of a verbal tour of the residences of Bollywood’s glitterati that live in the vicinity. Now and then, you’ll catch a glimpse of a very famous actor or actress. This is, after all, the mecca of the performing arts and Juhu is the Bollywood district of the yesteryears.

The bell rings to let us know it’s show time. You walk in and try and find the best spot in what’s left of the free spaces in the four concentric semi-circles of seating as they look down at the wooden stage and the deep red curtains. It is simple and perfect and has played gracious host to a variety of performances: Zakir Hussain performs every year on February 28, which is Shashi Kapoor’s wife, Jennifer Kendal’s birthday. You can watch plays in English, Hindi, regional languages, musicals, experimental theatre, open mic nights. Last year, a bunch of international jugglers and balancing acts from a travelling circus enthralled children on this tiny stage from which budding artists, actors, writers, directors and musicians have found their calling, some propelled to stardom.

My luck turns after the play. I bag the perfect table for two by the big tree inside the theatre café. I call for the special sangria to celebrate. I can’t see him now, but I raise my glass to Shashi Kapoor.

Prithvi Theatre, 20, Juhu Church Road, Janki Kutir, Juhu, Mumbai 400 049. Phone: 022 2614 9546
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the-bagel-shop-bandra-mumbai

The Bagel Shop Decade

SPACE EXPERIENCE PEOPLE FOOD + DRINK VIDEO

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THE BAGEL SHOP DECADE

WORDS BY GENESIA ALVES AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY SURUCHI MAIRA

Anil Kably walks me to my favourite table at The Bagel Shop. “This is Denzil Smith’s table,” he says. “He gets very antsy if he comes in and finds someone else sitting here. He’ll stand around, fretting, harrumphing. It’s very funny.”

I know the feeling.

The Bagel Shop turned 10 this January. You’re surprised. It feels like it was only last week that it opened, but also, weirdly, like it’s been there forever, hooded refuge by day, warmly glowing by night – both an old insider secret and a receiving camp for the newly arrived.

Ten years ago, business partners Kably from Bandra and Matan Schabracq from Amsterdam had already set a butterfly flapping into the gathering whirlwind that was taking over Bandra: their hip, no-borders, come-as-you-are Zenzi bar. “Bandra had an amazing vibe at that time,” says Schabracq. “It felt like a new era had started: artists, musicians, creatives were seeking a place to hang out.” He had landed up in Mumbai on a lark, intending to stay six months. He stayed six years.

There was a sewing workshop metres away from Kantwadi where Kably grew up and still has family. They were walking past and Schabracq nudged his friend. It seemed perfect to him for a café. “Bagels? Are you cracked?” Kably remembers saying to Schabracq, who shrugged and said, “It’s a sandwich.”

If you tuned in, you’d hear the cranking of tech talk, the moody drawl of a film-idea, the staccato clacking of fiction in progress.

Some of us – fans of Jewish and Jewish American writing, pop culture vultures, American bankers returned, foodie snobs (casually referencing the legend of Russ & Daughters) – already knew what a bagel was. The bagels here were good, but soon all the draws to The Bagel Shop – the delicious bagels from the classic cream-cheese-and-lox to the slightly (very) naughty Goa Sausage, the clever juice combinations, the coffee, the crisp salads, the inconsistent carrot cake, the comfortable cane furniture with a view of Pali Hill’s passegiatta, the sight of Schabracq’s model girlfriend’s model friends – were all overshadowed by the simple fact that Kably and Schabracq’s strategy to provide WiFi had begun to attract Bandra’s (maybe even Mumbai’s) first wave of coffee shop entrepreneurs.

There were laptops on every table. A community, a consciousness was building. “People came in to work,” says Kably. “The same people we saw at Zenzi at night, we’d see them work here during the day. The drum and bass footsoldiers, the start up guys…” If you tuned in, you’d hear the cranking of tech talk, the moody drawl of a film-idea, the staccato clacking of fiction in progress. Once I eavesdropped on the clever chittering of two bright young playschool teachers, planning a year of Montessori activity.

But it wasn’t all work at The Bagel. Kably and Schabracq’s friends, including writer Jeet Thayil and actor Denzil Smith found a place to converge at odd hours of the day. Thayil was writing Narcopolis, living in an apartment off Carter Road. When I ask him if he did any writing at The Bagel he sputters. “Are you completely out of your mind?! I’m not that kind of writer!” He laughs with me and then says seriously, “When you live in a big city, your living space is so modest, you have to get out as often as you can. I was writing, obsessed for hours and when I needed human contact, to feel human, I went down to The Bagel Shop.” He acknowledges the feeling that once at The Bagel, you became part of the tribe. “Someone you knew would be there. You would be taken care of.”

Regulars at The Bagel Shop are not just the entrepreneurs and hipsters. I ask Kably about the man who paces up and down every morning, with his plastic bags in hand. Kably grins and acquiesces that the chap can come across as “slightly strange” but the café is happy to serve him coffee and trades small change for notes of a larger denomination with him. “For a commission?” I ask incredulously. Kably’s grin is wider. “Yes!”

Even now, a young woman with special needs who loves to walk up and down the hill, visits The Bagel Shop every day. If Kably is standing at the gate, she will swing at him with a feisty punch. “Then she walks in, grabs a few packets of sugar and a table’s worth of napkins and walks off,” Kably says with a chuckle. “She’s a regular.”

“Anil is a good businessman,” says Thayil of an association that goes back deep into the dark histories of Bandra’s old narcotics past, “but he is kind above all else and no matter what was happening to us and around us, he never once lost his humanity.”

“After a day of work, traffic or anything, you feel drained, and The Bagel Shop was created as a place where you could escape from all the mess.”

Running Zenzi was heady, Schabracq remembers. “Mumbai sucks out all your energy,” he says. “After a day of work, traffic or anything, you feel drained, and The Bagel Shop was created as a place where you could escape from all the mess.” They called themselves the BTDTs, Thayil says, the “Been There Done That” people – Schabracq, Kably, Thayil and Smith. This was their zone. “I miss hanging at The Bagel Shop with my good friends Anil Kably, Denzil Smith, Jeet Thayil and Charles Nuez,” says Schabracq. “I saw a documentary about the Rat Pack in Las Vegas recently. And that’s exactly how it felt those days.”

Everyone has a Bagel Shop story. Some may be about the giant, loping security guard slash delivery man, Mishraji, wearing his hip (possibly Schabracq hand-me-down) threads. Or the girl with the giant flower in her hair who sat at the same table every day, until one day she was gone and her picture appeared in the obituary of the newspaper and on the walls of the café, next to the art, in memoriam. Or the time you found out you were pregnant and decided to have your last cigarette of that year with your French best friend at The Bagel Shop and someone was in your (and Denzil Smith’s) table and you couldn’t finish the cigarette anyway.

“I was there from the first day it opened,” Smith says. “It has become an institution, a space that lends itself to a relaxed, thinking atmosphere. I know of film scripts and books written there. There is no other place like it.” The BTDTs don’t hang out as much anymore. Schabracq runs several clubs in Amsterdam and has just had a baby with Flavia (who he first met at Zenzi). Smith’s acting career is busier than ever. Thayil has moved to Delhi. But he says he will still call Smith and Kably as soon as he hits Mumbai and ask to meet “at Denzil’s office” a.k.a. my favourite table.

The Bagel Shop, Anand Villa, 30, Pali Mala Road Bandra (W), Mumbai 400 050. Phone: 022 6533 0479 / 022 2605 0178

 

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