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An Englishman in Mumbai decodes puzzling Indian traditions through Indipedia

Chef-turned-actor Edward Sonnenblick decodes puzzling Indian traditions through his new show, Indipedia

Edward Sonnenblick
Edward Sonnenblick

American chef Edward Sonnenblick, who moved to the city in 2008 to try his luck in Bollywood, has perennially played the evil British guy or a bossy expat. So, when the producers of EPIC channel approached him with Indipedia, a light and peppy series that explores the beliefs and logic behind Indian customs and rituals, he saw it as a pleasant departure. "I've worked in a lot of British period dramas, where I had to wear heavy wigs or uniforms in the sweltering heat. But, here was a show where I could talk about the country I love and what makes it so fascinating, without oppressing myself," he laughs.

In the series that launched on September 6, the 41-year-old visits several cities across India and spends time with locals to discover intriguing cultural facets. "What happens when you live in the city long enough, is that you stop noticing things, because you are so consumed by the everyday rigmarole," says Sonnenblick, who considers himself a thoroughbred Mumbaikar. In 2008, he married city-based Sonal Mehta, a freelance creative director with a production house, and has since then made the city his home.

While he believes that Mumbai can accommodate all kinds of professions, it's the traditional ear cleaners who have always piqued his curiosity. "I never had the courage to summon their services, and I would always wonder why these men cling on to a profession that involves swabbing dirt off people's ears," he says. As part of the show, he finally gave it a shot by heading to a de-waxer in Byculla. The treatment exceeded his expectations and left him with cleaner ears. "He was efficient, professional and careful," he says. "It's a family profession where the skill is passed down generations. They feel a sense of responsibility towards it."

Sonnenblick's hunt for the unusual took him to one of the few remaining rudra veena players in the country. While it's the mother of all stringed instruments, it's an instrument that is rarely heard. The sound, he recalls, was ethereal, almost meditative. "It is so soft, that it can be heard properly only by the person playing it," he says. For now, Sonnenblick is busy juggling the show with Hansal Mehta's web series Bose Dead/Alive and Kapil Sharma's Firangi. In fact, he's learnt enough Hindi to impress those around him. "The reaction it evokes from locals is priceless. It serves as the best ice breaker."

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