A new LGBTQi cookery show blends gender and food in a smart and delicious way
As a child growing up in Kanpur, Pranjul Shukla wasn't particularly fond of the region's signature dish, matthe aloo ki sabji. Made with mashed potatoes cooked in a creamy, tangy yogurt sauce with spices, the fragrant curry was his father's favourite. "I just found it pheeka and boring," he recalls. His view underwent a 180 degree turn, when he moved to Mumbai in 2016 so that he could live the life he envisaged—Shukla identifies as bisexual. As he continued living by himself in Mira Road, memories of the dish started to grow on him. "It reminded me of home," he says. His mother would sometimes replace yoghurt with buttermilk as it was traditionally prepared using the latter.
By then, he had picked up the method of preparation. "Funnily, I started relishing it when I began to whip it up." To profess the new-found love, Shukla has chosen to showcase the recipe in a new queer-themed cookery webseries, Closet to Kitchen with Nakshatra Bagwe. A brainchild of Bagwe, a Mumbai-based actor and LGBTQi activist, the series trains the lens on ten queer individuals and their story, while weaving in the role food has played in their journey. The first episode, available on the Paramplay app, has Shukla in a soul-baring conversation with Bagwe at his suburban home.
"He [Nakshatra] had uploaded a post inviting entries for the show. I filled the form and, within a couple of days, I received a call," says Shukla, who has a day job at a BPO and moonlights as a poet. For Bagwe, the objective to was to chronicle untold stories of queer individuals. Here, he wanted to represent the various gender identities in the spectrum.
"Before locking names, I talked to all of them in advance in order to know their stories so that I could prepare a script. Each story left me stunned and teary-eyed," says the 28-year-old, who also runs The BackPack Travels, a travel company that specifically caters to gay and bisexual men. "It's been easier to find gay men as opposed to lesbians, he says. Three backed out at the eleventh hour.
Pancakes with vanilla essence and honey by Winne Chopra
As a gay man, he understands their quandary. Which is why, each episode talks about a queer person's struggle against societal norms, the fight for self expression and the path to self discovery. "I have chosen to tell the story through food because many queer individuals live alone, and cooking becomes a basic life skill, and food, a form of expression and independence. Many are often thrown out of homes on coming out, or choose to move out themselves." Having said that, not all the individuals are culinary experts. Some are still novices, learning to work the ladle.
Winnie Chopra, a senior sales manager at a digital company, revisited a pancake recipe that she had tried hard to forget. "It was one that my ex would make," says Chopra, who features in one of the episodes. The 39-year-old, who came out as lesbian to her family "ages ago", says the experience was therapeutic. "I came to terms with painful memories and it just gave me closure."
Bagwe's own relationship with food was a result of his inadvertent entry into his late mother, Swati's catering business. "My mother was an amazing cook and always wanted to be independent. I encouraged her to consider cooking as a profession." They soon started a catering venture, and being around, he picked up cooking techniques.
"We later hired two ladies to work with us, but I never stopped cooking along with her. We hosted several gay house parties and she loved all my queer friends." In 2016, she diagnosed with breast cancer and they had to fold up the business. For now, he wants to take the show to other towns and cities. "The show needs to resonate with all queer people, including those in smaller towns and villages," he says.
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