Licking the food off their plates

Gaggan Anand, Parveen Kumar Chander, Raakhee Lalwani, Rashmi Uday Singh and Harsh Goenka
Gaggan Anand, Parveen Kumar Chander, Raakhee Lalwani, Rashmi Uday Singh and Harsh Goenka

It's not everyday that you are seated in a room where your fellow diners are as eclectic as industrialist Harsh Goenka, investor Mahesh Murthy, photographer Atul Kasbekar, publisher Alex Kuruvilla, and film director Nikhil Advani.

And what's more they can be seen picking up their plates and licking them clean quite literally. But that's exactly what happened on Friday evening, as a group of foodies were brought together for the pop-up by chef Gaggan Anand.

The celebrated chef who has been voted Asia's best for three years in a row, was in town for one night, and cooked his famous 'emoji' menu of 19 courses for the lucky 30 or so diners, which included his modern take on classic Indian origin dishes like baingan ka bharta, goat brain, white chocolate pani puri, prawn koliwada, patrani macchi and jalebi, and it is fair to say that he had the guests eating out of his hands.

And after much post-dinner schmoozing with his fans and admirers, the pony-tailed superstar flew out the next morning to Delhi, and will also spend a night each cooking in Chennai and Bangalore, before he returns to Bangkok. And we hear if everything goes according to plan, we might just see a Bollywood film made on the life of the great Gaggan soon. (The Netflix docudrama on him was nominated for an Emmy!)

Celebrating a matriarch
By any reckoning Rajashree Birla, wife of the late Aditya Birla, and mother of Kumar Mangalam Birla, is one of the most respected matriarchs of her generation.

Kumar Mangalam Birla and Rajashree Birla
Kumar Mangalam Birla and Rajashree Birla

And that is because the Padma Bhushan awardee has not only conducted herself with peerless dignity throughout her life, but, has been an outstanding philanthropist, spearheading the Birla CSR initiative in fields like education, employment, drinking water, and women empowerment. Which is why next year, when the grand but notoriously media-shy lady turns 70, there are to be a series of celebrations to mark the occasion.

"Two industrialists closely associated with the family are already planning their grand celebrations to felicitate her," says an insider. "Of course her doting son Kumar, will host a celebration too," she says.

But of course, true to her nature, the lady in question is already reported to be balking at the idea of being thrust in the limelight. Always one to shy away from attention, she was overheard recently grumbling good naturedly about all the birthday planning. "Wish they wouldn't make such a fuss about me," she said.

Shaken and stirred
As expected, the launch of former RBI governor Raghuram Rajan's 'I do what I do', was hugely oversubscribed. The feisty and brilliant central banker with James Bond good looks, is something of a rock star, and no surprises then that this Friday's 6 PM event saw the Coomaraswamy Hall at the museum begin to fill up by 5, as the likes of Adi Godrej, Nadir and Rati Godrej, Shobhaa and Dilip De, Dolly Thakore, Khushroo Suntook, Bakul Patel, Pradip Madhavji, and Nira and Shyam Benegal scrambled for seats.

Raghuram Rajan at his book launch
Raghuram Rajan at his book launch

After a one-hour talk on the subjects of inflation and interest rates, the rock star ex-governor got down for a lively conversation with Anil Dharker that saw many in the audience on the edge of their seats, hoping to hear the renowned economist spill the beans on many issues irking the Indian economy. What's more the spotlight is said to have stayed on Rajan throughout the evening.

At the private dinner following the launch, guests waited anxiously for the evening's star to arrive, but he was busy at Coomaraswamy Hall signing hundreds of copies of his book. "Every time the door of the Taj's Jade Room opened, all eyes would surreptitiously look to see if the great man had arrived, but it would only be waiter with more snacks," reported one guest.

Incidentally, when he was asked by Dharker how the title of the book had come about, Rajan narrated how early in his governorship when a reporter had asked him which international central banker he most resembled, he had replied, "The name is Rajan, Raghuram Rajan, and I do what I do." See what we mean about the James Bond quality?

Sunshine and sparkle
Swashbuckling publisher, philanthropist, wordsmith and world traveller Khalid Ansari's Sunday champagne brunch at a five-star's sun filled rooftop banquet hall to celebrate his 80th birthday, was a sparkling affair.

Khalid Ansari with his birthday cake. Pic/Farzana Contractor
Khalid Ansari with his birthday cake. Pic/Farzana Contractor

After all, it was Ansari who had more or less set the bubbly brunch ball rolling, when he would host the iconic mid-day parties at the same venue back in the day, which used to be celebrated for their guest list ( all of the city's prime movers and shakers) and its sumptuous table.

Yesterday's table was no different. From eggs Benedict, to burrata topped with caviar, to juicy asparagus stalks in hollandaise, to risotto served out of a parmigiano wheel, to an amazing fish molee, to tawa roasted leg of lamb with Malabari paratha, and desserts served on an antique cabinet, there were dozens of things to choose from.

But of course, it was the cake which was the piece de resistance. Especially crafted for the birthday boy by Chef Joy, it was a replica of the first front page of the newspaper you are holding. Yes, if not for Ansari there might have been no mid-day. Put that in your pipe and smoke it gentle reader.

The casting ouch
OK so here's some garam gyan from our filmy insider about the industry's legendary casting couch. According to him, time was when it was the producers and directors who conducted the (ahem) casting couch, which required wannabe actresses to audition for them in ways that would make you blush. Not so any more. "These days the casting couch is wholly and solely the purview of a handful of top male actors. If they 'approve' of a girl, then they recommend her for a role in their next film. That's how it works," he said.

And the front-runners in this regressive and abhorrent practice? According to our source, it's a handful of hunks who are known for the practice. "Only recently, a leading actress, someone easily ranked among the industry's top 10, was seen to be summoned to an actor's room for a 'script discussion' at 2 am while they were abroad on a show. What's even more shocking is that the actor is celebrated for his rugged action man and doting husband image, being as he is, married to an actress known as Bollywood's sweetheart. Ouch!

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