Attend Lahori food festival in Mumbai to taste the flavours of the region

Updated: Feb 12, 2018, 14:58 IST | Snigdha Hasan | Mumbai

A musical set in the times of Partition celebrates Punjab on either side of the border, with a three-day Lahori food festival accompanying the performances

For families that lived in and around Lahore before migrating to India in 1947, a mention of the city still unleashes a flood of bittersweet memories. Barely 50km from Amritsar, Lahore, with its vibrant Punjabi ethos, is a poignant reminder of how political borders can seldom act as cultural barricades. Growing up in Daryaganj in Old Delhi, where many migrants from Pakistan settled after Partition, Akshay Anand Kohli too was brought up on a healthy diet of stories about Lahore, where his grandmother hailed from. Four years ago, he wrote and directed I Bo Kaattey, a play based in Delhi and Lahore, set in the times of Partition. With new venues for experimental productions mushrooming in Mumbai, the play is back in a grander avatar of a Hindustani musical, together with a food festival to give the audience a taste of flavours from Lahore.

"Throughout the region of Punjab - across India and Pakistan - spring is ushered in with the festival of kite-flying, which is a crucial part of the play. Just like they say 'kai po che' in Gujarati, the expression used in northern India and Pakistan is 'I bo kaattey'," says Kohli about the title of the play. A tale of unconditional friendship, coming of age, love, loyalty and honour, the plot revolves around two friends from contrasting economic backgrounds, who get separated in 1947. In the backdrop of the Partition, the play explores a gamut of religious ideologies, from the tragic consequences of fanaticism to inter-faith marriages, and humanity superseding all religions.

The play spans two eras, starting with the Lahore of undivided India and then moving to Delhi after a leap of 30 years. "To create an authentic feel of the '40s and '70s, we shopped for the props and some of the costumes in Delhi," shares Kohli about his research, adding, "Earlier, we had a background score, but this time, we have added live music." The play includes poetry by Mirza Ghalib and Bulleh Shah, brought to life by artistes rooted in Sufi music. The dance forms of Bhangra and Gidda, with choreographed and impromptu sequences, also feature in the production.

Chef Sameer Shah
Chef Sameer Shah

"Often, theatre companies find themselves restricted due to a lack of space in the city. We have used the available space to our advantage by designing the play for the venue, where it will unfold around the audience, instead of the typical proscenium set-up," says Kohli, who is a part of the core team of Theatrewaalas, the company behind OverAct, the alternative theatre space in Versova where the production will be staged.

Akshay Anand Kohli with Rohit Tiwari
Akshay Anand Kohli with Rohit Tiwari

How did food come to be a part of the process? "The venue has a café attached to it, and chef Sameer Shah is excellent with Lahori cuisine. We felt serving the audience some lesser-known dishes from the city was a good way of completing the experience," shares Kohli. The menu includes halwa, poori and chana (a popular festive dish in Pakistan), Lahori chicken and paneer, fried chicken pakoras, lassi and kheer, and fusion items including Mughlai fries. The food fest will run parallel to the play's shows to be held on February 9, 10 and 11.

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