Ma, bhoj and the stars
As Mumbai gears up for Durga Puja, we speak to celebrities about how they bring in the festival, and the grub that keeps them going
The brouhaha around Durga Puja has begun. The little intricacies beginning from the "pujo pujo gondho" — best described as an earthy smell which asserts that October is here, at least in Kolkata — or the blocked streets that posit themselves as a happy impediment, or the smell of panchphoron wafting from an unknown kitchen, are all intangible indicators that pujo is here. And every year, we find a new way to celebrate it, as we have in this city that is fast becoming home for this writer and slowly less of a stranger.
We speak to famous Bengalis, who like us, have found a home in the city to understand how they go about finding a semblance of Durga Pujo in Mumbai and this is what they have to say.
Our pujo begins on a grand note as we make our way into Tannishtha Chatterjee's home in Versova to be greeted by the actor from Brick Lane, who has recently completed shooting for her directorial debut, Roam Rome Mein, a Nawazuddin Siddiqui-starrer which will also feature Chatterjee. Film director and screenwriter Onir joins us for the rendezvous that turns out to be an apt way of ushering in the auspicious festival. Speaking of their fondest memories of Durga Puja in the city, Chatterjee tells us, "Three years back I bought my house on the day of Saptami. My parents were here and we went out and covered almost all the pandals in Mumbai, beginning from Lokhandwala to Santacruz to the Tulip Star pujo. For me, pujo that year was really auspicious and beautiful."
For Onir, who incidentally was a tenant in the same house, a heartwarming pujo experience in the city was fuelled by the urge to take his then seven-year-old niece around. As he wanders off into his own thoughts, trying to recollect the experience, Chatterjee, who is close friends with the director, remarks, "I don't think he has anything very memorable. We call him every year, but he never shows up!" Chatterjee's joke seems to egg Onir on, who then tells us, "I think it was six or seven years ago, I took my niece to the Lokhandwala pujo because she wasn't exposed to the culture and I carried her on my shoulders so that she could see the idol. We also devoured a couple of deemer devils (devilled eggs). It was fun because she was a little kid then."
For Bengalis, Pujo and food are synonymous and when we ask Chatterjee what the first thing that comes to mind when we say those two words is, she says, "I think both Onir and I are foodies; in fact, he cooks pretty well, too. I love fish the most. Chital machcher er muitha [a traditional fish ball curry] is one of my favourites and I love Oh Calcutta and Bhojohori Manna." But does the food at Mumbai's pandals not intrigue Chatterjee as much? "I don't think the food available at pandals is great; I tried a bunch of stuff last year at Tulip Star pujo, but it was a letdown," she laments.
Onir too, like most Bengalis, is a sucker for seafood and lists golda chingri malai curry (a coconut-y sweet and light curry made with tiger prawn), loochi kosha mangsho (fluffy pooris that come with a generous helping of a spicy mutton curry), shorshe ilish (a mustard-based fish curry), cholar daal made with Bengal gram, and begun bhaaja (fried eggplant) as his favourites. "God, my mouth is watering," he exclaims as he shares his favourite Bengali delicacies.
For this year, Chatterjee plans to cover a couple of pandals, and for both her and Onir, who have lived in Mumbai for 15 years and 25 years respectively, the Santacruz pujo is a must visit. "It captures the true essence of pujo and is a no-frills one unlike pandals that have been overtly Bollywood-ised," Chatterjee remarks, adding that she gives Ashtami anjali at a small, homely and intimate pujo in Versova, near Leaping Windows. She urges Onir to join her this year. But will the director who grew up in Bhutan and missed much of the Kolkata pujo grandiosity join her? We'll wait to hear from him on that.
Young, wild and free
Riddhi Sen, 20, whose film Helicopter Eela released last Friday, is still finding his feet in the city of dreams. The young actor, who will be flying back to Kolkata for a couple of days during the festivities, says he will return to Mumbai soon. "Since my film released during pujo, I will stay in Mumbai for a bit. Kajol ma'am has invited me for the Durga Pujo at her home. I will go there for a while. But for now, it's so nice to see parts of Bombay getting dressed up for the festival," he shares.
Speaking about food, Sen says, "Nothing can compare to Kolkata food, and especially Bengali sweets. But Mumbai has some good Bengali food, and while the variety or authenticity of the taste dulls in comparison to Kolkata, I love visiting Oh Calcutta when I come here. Their bhetki is amazing!"
Bong from within
For veteran actor Bipasha Basu, Durga Pujo has always been an event to look forward to since she was a child. "Even when I was in Delhi till the age of eight, we used to fly back to Kolkata for pujo and then we shifted to Kolkata. I do miss our Kolkata Durga Pujo tremendously and I try to go back, but most of the times because of work I am not able to make it," she tells us. For Basu, giving Ashtami anjali is a must, as it is for most of us Bengalis. "I definitely breeze though all the pujo pandals in Mumbai, but I don't manage to do more than that in this city. I miss my mom and dad," she shares. Oh Calcutta, Bhojohori Manna, and Street Bengal are among Basu's favourite Bengali haunts in the city. "I love mishti and I have kind of made them popular because I keep sending everyone Bengali mithais from there all the time," she reveals.
Durga Ma has been Basu's guiding force since childhood and she believes there is a little bit of the goddess in all women. The actor even carries a locket at all times. Reaffirming this, she says, "She is my go-to goddess and before any auspicious occasion, I always say 'dugga dugga'. It feels like she's always with me and she's even on my Whatsapp DP."
Like most Bengalis, Basu doesn't shy away when it comes to food. "Bengali food is divine. There is nobody, including my non-Bengali friends, who don't love our food, and they demand it every time I have a party at my home. Machher jhol, chingri malai curry, loochi mangsho, channar payesh, aloo bhaja, moong motor er daal, and cholar daal with coconut are my favourites, but the list is just endless. We Bengalis eat a lot," she jokes.
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