Shah Rukh Khan at the party. Pic/Yogen Shah
Tuesday night saw most of Bollywood turn up at a new Indian restaurant designed by Gauri Khan in Bandra, to bring in a leading Bollywood publicist and talent manager's birthday.
Though we walked in late, post midnight, and missed the cutting of the cake, we managed to spot familiar faces like Shilpa Shetty, a very cool looking Jackie Shroff (dressed in a leather jacket with his trademark sunglasses on), Sushant Singh Rajput, who appeared particularly energetic surrounded by many a lissome lass around the bar, along with Nawazuddin Siddique, Sonu Sood, Bipasha Basu, Preity Zinta and what has become the lietmotif of such gatherings: a slew of ladies in LBDs like Kanika Kapoor, Aditi Rao Hydari and Kriti Sanon, along with a handful of non-filmy folk like Baba Siddiqui, Suhel Seth and Shalini Sharma.
But everything stopped when a haggard, (but in a nice way) pony-tailed slight figure slipped into the party's wee hours. It was SRK; flaunting his (post Jab Harry Met Sejal?) distressed look. The actor, who we met at the bar, soon proceeded to a corner of the restaurant and occupied a table, on which he was ensconced for the rest of the time while one by one guests queued up to greet the Badshah.
But all it took was the resident DJ to put on 'Chaiyya Chaiyya', and before you could say twinkle toes, the superstar was on his feet, recreating his famous moves on the train top to the delight of all. And from then, there was no stopping him. His latest hit track 'Phurr' produced by the famous international artist Diplo had him demonstrating the courage of his convulsions with gusto. Some Tuesday night!
At the recently held AGM of one of the country's top multinationals, a subsidiary of a conglomerate that had been convulsed by strife, it would not be an exaggeration to say that its top echelons were relieved that the high-profile ousted chairman and his comrade in arms, an equally high-profile particularly scrappy former member of its board, had not seized the opportunity to disrupt or hamper proceedings. "Actually they behaved with unexpected dignity. We were fearing the worst," said one insider. Whew!
The way we were
Next week when the Taj at Apollo Bunder celebrates Independence Day by reproducing the exact same menu that was served on the historic occasion 70 years ago, we cannot help thinking of the legendary actor, the late Pran (Sikand), who along with his wife Shukla, and their one-year-old son happened to be staying at the hotel on that day.
Shukla and Pran Sikand
Like many other stories of that period, the story of how the Sikands happened to be there, is both serendipitous and miraculous. A successful pre-partition actor in Lahore, the star had flown to Indore only a week earlier, packing just a suitcase of his finest suits, to celebrate his son's first birthday with his wife and her family. It was only after he had arrived that news had come in of a massacre and bloodbath in Lahore, as riots had broken out.
Borrowing money from friends, the 27-year-old actor left for Mumbai in the hope of finding similar work here, knowing there was no going back. But true to his style, he had booked himself and family into the city's classiest hotel of its time - The Taj! "On the night of August 15, Pran and his family went riding in an open jeep along with the dancer-actress Cuckoo and her parents, to see the celebrations across the city," says a relative of the actor about that historic day. "They had met the actress in the foyer of the hotel and she had invited them to drive along."
The festive season cometh
The festival season is a many splendoured thing in Mumbai, and along with its annual rituals of card sessions, wildly over the top dressing and fireworks, it also inevitably sees a spate of shopping festivals. This year's lot is heralded by the IMC Ladies Wing's annual Women entrepreneur's exhibition, which will take place next week and feature a cornucopia of everything that's necessary and unnecessary, and that gives the festive season its particular flavour.
Kokilaben Ambani, Rashmi Thackeray and Poonam Mahajan
And adding to this year's presentation, is art patron and philanthropist Pheroza Godrej, who has stepped in as advisory board member to the exhibition committee, and the fact the extravaganza will see more participation from stalls run by people in their twenties and several international participants as well. As for its guests of honour, we are informed, they are Smriti Irani, Kokilaben Ambani, Poonam Mahajan and Rashmi Thackeray.
If there ever was an Indian grande dame of the F&B and Hospitality universe, it is Camellia Panjabi, the Cambridge educated Tata employee, who was seconded to the group's nascent hotel's division in the '70s and whose inspired stirring of the pot along with that of her mentor and former boss Ajit Kerkar, resulted in some of the country's most iconic hotels and restaurants.
(Far right) Camellia Panjabi with friends
Way before Rahul Akerkar, AD Singh and Zorawar Kalra were even a gleam in their fathers' eyes, Panjabi had already discovered and put Goa on the international tourist map, introduced the Indian palate to Sichuan cuisine (and later Thai and Mexican), and created the first few palace hotels in India by persuading various erstwhile maharajahs to partner on hotel projects.
No surprises then, that on the occasion of Panjabi's birthday which might or might not have fallen yesterday ("My mum was never sure if it was August 7 or 8," she laughs), a group of some of her oldest friends gathered at a trendy eatery at Kamala Mills on Tuesday evening. These included celebrated publishers, childhood friends and some of her colleagues from her erstwhile long-time employer.
And given what a seminal role Panjabi has played in creating the multi-million dollar food industry in India and abroad (along with her sister and brother-in-law she now heads Masala Zone the largest branded Indian restaurant outfit in the UK ), it was no surprise that the restaurant's celebrated chef (who'd cut his teeth in one of her kitchens as a newbie), was flapping around the birthday girl, personally serving her the perfectly arranged bite-sized and highly enigmatic portions of his post modern? Far east Oriental? Fusion Japanese (!) preparations. What do make of this, we asked Panjabi, pointing to the completely full restaurant on a Tuesday night but also alluding to the general restaurant boom around.
"What's interesting is the age of the diners," she replied, alluding to the propensity of surrounding under '40s enjoying the fare. As for the food? "I judge good food by the fact that were you to be blindfolded and thus unable to see the presentation or the restaurant's decor and atmosphere, would you still think it was delicious and want to return to eat it again?" she said in her characteristic no nonsense style.
By that reckoning, many of the city's high-profile and much-hyped restaurants might not qualify, we wanted to say. But then, the next exquisitely decorated dramatically presented and enigmatic course arrived and we had to eat our words.
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