A warm salute you can sip on

Sep 17, 2011, 07:20 IST | Aditi Sharma

Master artist MF Husain's love for Irani joints and the iconic chai has been immortalised in critic-filmmaker Khalid Mohamed's documentary, The Last Irani Chai

Master artist MF Husain's love for Irani joints and the iconic chai has been immortalised in critic-filmmaker Khalid Mohamed's documentary, The Last Irani Chai

A quiet day at Leopold Caf � captured in The Last Irani Chai

Brun maska, paani kum chai, Parsi omelette, Khari-toast, Shrewsberry biscuits, maybe even Dhansak, whatever be your poison or pudding, once you've sat at a table at one of Mumbai's Irani cafes, you turn into a slave.

Considering how some of us trudge from the suburbs to Marine Lines when the craving for a Brun-Maska and Chai at Kyani Bakery gets out of hand, we understand what often led the late legendary artist MF Husain to drop by at the city's many cafes. Husain has been captured discussing his long association with Mumbai's cafes in critic-turned-filmmaker Khalid Mohamed's 45-minute documentary, The Last Irani Chai, that will be screened in the city this weekend.

Mohamed had been trailing Husain for nearly a decade, ever since he was commissioned to write the artist's biography. He recalls how Husain would call for tea ever so often but only drink half a cup because he was so fond of the 'cutting chai'. Mohamed's last memory of the artist while he was still residing in the city was at an Irani joint near Mehboob Studios in Bandra.

Although, the filmmaker had initially not planned on including Husain in the documentary, a casual interaction with him in Doha led to an interview being filmed. "We hadn't planned the shoot at all. So when he agreed, we borrowed a camera from a neighbour in Doha, and went ahead. The audio is a bit wobbly but that hardly matters," says Mohamed. The first thing Husain saab said, Mohammed remembers, was that if he ever returned to Mumbai, he'd head first to Kyani for its tea and Khari biscuits. "He felt like he belonged to that place. I can't describe it in words."

Mohamed began work on the film a year ago, along with award-winning cinematographer Aseem Bajaj and a young FTII graduate, Meghna Aschitra, both of who played "devil's advocates" and pushed him to complete the project. The film has been shot across the city, and bits of the coastal town of Dahanu, where a number of Iranian families reside. Film critics Rashid Irani and Rafique Baghdadi lent Mohamed a helping hand, he admits.

Like most of his works, this one also draws from Mohamed's personal experiences. "I spent a lot of my childhood in Grant Road, and dropping in at Alice Bakery and Chai Shop was routine. Also, Rashid Irani's family owned the now defunct Brabourne Restaurant. I've seen him at close quarters there, so that finds a place in the film too."

The terrorist attack on Colaba's Leopold Cafe owned by the Jehani and Dehmiri family, also makes it to the film. But Mohamed is quick to clarify that The Last Irani Chai is far from morose. He isn't exploring a bleak future that hangs over the 30-odd Irani joints that survive in the city. "I've tried to be emotive and bring out the beauty. I hope that lingers on even against the onslaught of fast food chains. I'm not looking at the owners as becharas. It's my way of thanking them, offering them a warm salute."

On: September 17, 6.30 pm
At: Little Theatre, NCPA, Nariman Point. entry Free

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