Jim Sarbh, Rasika Dugal on finding their feet in big, bad...

Rasika Dugal and Jim Sarbh enjoy a meal at Leaping Windows in Versova. Pics/Nimesh Dave
Rasika Dugal and Jim Sarbh enjoy a meal at Leaping Windows in Versova. Pics/Nimesh Dave

In a cosy corner of Leaping Windows in Versova, a table is set for a Sunday lunch, where over coffee and customised meals in the cafe-cum-library, Jim Sarbh and Rasika Dugal share with us their Bollywood journey, never once hesiting to admit how it's still new to them. Sarbh leaves for New York the same evening to attend an awards ceremony - he won the Best Villain award for the film Neerja earlier this week - while Dugal has recently wrapped up the shoot for Nandita Das's much-awaited Manto. As they talk about the commercial machinery in place behind the big screen, and the joys and challenges of acting in indie cinema, we encounter an unassuming, perceptive side to the actors. Curious about how the other interacts with the camera, they end up interviewing each other for a good part of the session.

Hasan: How difficult is it for someone without a film lineage to make it in Bollywood?
Dugal: He's made it to Bollywood; I am still lingering on the fringes.
Sarbh: What nonsense! You are now Ms Bollywood; people invite you to events; you are acting with Nawazuddin Siddiqui…
Dugal: (Laughs) I think it's difficult because filmmaking is a collaborative exercise and people tend to work with people they are comfortable with. It happens in the indie as well as the commercial film set-up, something I am still battling.
Sarbh: For me, it was pure, beautiful luck that I debuted in a Ram Madhvani film, so I have no idea. They liked my audition and fortunately, the film did well. Now, I am enjoying working on Padmavati, which, I think, will release later this year. But I don't know these details as I am on a need-to-know basis, because, you see, I am not that important (laughs). So much of breaking into any new world is like a birthing process. You are safe in your nice world of theatre, and then you are out, navigating a ruthless commercial machine. But you find moments within that, full of connection.
Dugal: Those are the moments that make it worth it. That's what I find exciting about being on a film set, where everything around you is trying to not make you do your work. But you do it anyway.

Hasan: For someone of unconventional looks…
Sarbh: Does that mean ugly?
Dugal: No, she means very good looking, otherwise she wouldn't have brought it up. I don't know what it means, but I think it's fun to have something unconventional in Bombay because when people want somebody of that kind, they'll call you. I don't mind being typecast in that way. What do you think?
Sarbh: It is cool to know that if they were looking for someone slightly off kilter, they'd think Jim. But I like varied roles, which I got to do in theatre. The more we widen our idea of what a lead could be, the richer society becomes.
Dugal: I think it is happening with more layered or just nicer scripts and I am encouraged by that.

(Chicken Full House with an egg-white omelette for Dugal and scrambled eggs for Sarbh arrives.)
Hasan: Your dishes are quite similar.
Dugal: That's an actor thing, no? Egg white and all that.
Sarbh: If my meal has enough protein and vegetables, I am happy. When I am training to look a certain way, my food window is reduced to six hours. If I eat at 1 pm, my dinner would be at 7.
Dugal: I have disciplined and undisciplined times. But I like to be mindful about what I eat. At the same time, I always fantasise about food.

Hasan: What space does the entertainment industry offer to indie cinema and online content?
Dugal: The web has definitely changed things. It has given an opportunity to actors like me and first-time producers like Tisca [Chopra]. I had never imagined that [the short film] Chutney would get 100-million views. But I don't know how long it is until it becomes a space that requires a lot of money for publicity.
Sarbh: I hope it thrives. But the very nature of indie means it never quite gets the same kind of space. Every now and then, a work comes out that is called the game changer, but then 10 others follow the same formula and fail. Commercial ventures are always ruthless. It's that simple.

Dugal: I want to use that line...
Sarbh: What's weird is when you see yourself become ruthless on a set.
Dugal: What's weirder is when unconventional ventures become ruthless. That's heart-breaking.
Sarbh: That is the worst. And then, at times, in commercial cinema, you end up working in a sweet, family-like environment.
Dugal: That's why, the role and the money is important, but a big factor is what I feel about my colleagues. There needs to be trust and respect for the people I am working with.

Quick takes

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Truffle and Edamame Dumplings
Truffle and Edamame Dumplings

This city is no stranger to modern Cantonese cuisine, thanks to international brands like Yauatcha and Hakkasan having landed at our doorstep several years ago. And the fact that they're going strong is proof that Mumbai's elite loves the grub.

Enter House of Mandarin, a soon-to-launch fine-dine that aims to quell our dumpling cravings. A project by Rachel Goenka, this is a far cry from the European fare and dainty baked goods we have been treated to from her brands, The Sassy Spoon and The Sassy Teaspoon.

We visit one afternoon to scope out the new restaurant, standing at the same spot in Bandra where an outpost of The Sassy Spoon used to be. The interiors have been transformed — dark wooden accents, lamps, and Chinese murals adorn the elegantly designed space. We settle down at a table and begin our eastward journey.

Sweet and Sour Chicken
Sweet and Sour Chicken

Raise your glass
The cocktails deserve special mention. Created by mixologist Pranav Mody, each is a subtle nod to the Orient without becoming a cliché. The Crouching Tiger (Rs 399), made with a lychee green tea-infused vodka with a dash of cranberry juice, is for those who like their drinks fruity but not cloyingly so. The signature cocktail, the vodka-based Mandarin (Rs 399), is fruit-forward and bursts with flavours of citrus and aromatic basil. The tall glass filled with this chilled drink momentarily transports us to a beach deck on a sunny island.

Our favourite, however, is the Mandarin Mocha (Rs 339), which has a whisky base and comes with a dose of espresso and vanilla, topped with orange zest. This is a drink we could count on for that much-needed shot of caffeine.

Mandarin Mocha
Mandarin Mocha

Duck tales
The menu isn't trying to impress anyone by being out-of-the-box or innovative. Instead, what you get is pure comfort food, dishes that are flavourful in their simplicity.

Being a Chinese restaurant, you can expect a wide selection of dim sum here. The Truffle and Edamame Dumplings (Rs 440), which have become a regular feature at Chinese fine-dines, are sheer perfection — the film-like wrapping breaks open to reveal an edamame filling that feels like velvet and has a lovely umame flavour owing to the truffle oil. The Crispy Prawn Cheung Fun (Rs 540), served steaming hot, also wins our vote. Two glossy, translucent rolls hold juicy prawns and a layer of crunchy tempura batter.

Crispy Prawn Cheung Fun
Crispy Prawn Cheung Fun

A drizzle of soy sauce gives the dish a flavourful punch.

If you're visiting with the intention of shelling out the big bucks, don't skip the Aromatic Crispy Duck (Rs 1,150 for quarter, Rs 2,150 for half). Deep fried duck thighs are shredded and served with pancakes, a rich plum sauce and batons of cucumber and scallion. There is a method to eating this dish — place a light-as-air pancake on your plate, spread a dollop of plum sauce, place a spoonful or two of the shredded meat on it, throw in some greens, roll it up and tuck in.

Steamed Whole Pomfret with Ginger and Scallion
Steamed Whole Pomfret with Ginger and Scallion

Pots of delight
Among the mains, you can't miss the soy-drenched Steamed Whole Pomfret with Ginger and Scallion (Rs 2,200). The seasoning on this dish is on the milder side, so if you're looking for something with a punch, this is not it. You can, instead, opt for the Sweet and Sour Chicken or the Sanpei Chicken Claypot (Rs 540 each), and pair either with a portion of the Spicy Vegetable Fried Rice with Taro (Rs 390).

The interiors are peppered with Chinese murals. Pics/Bipin Kokate
The interiors are peppered with Chinese murals. Pics/Bipin Kokate

We can never have too much of the fare from the Far East, and if you're anything like us, you know where to look if dumplings are on your mind.

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Baqerkhani roti being prepared in old city. Made with wheat kneaded in milk, ghee and sugar, these rotis are slightly heavier to digest, but can be stored for days
Baqerkhani roti being prepared in old city. Made with wheat kneaded in milk, ghee and sugar, these rotis are slightly heavier to digest, but can be stored for days

Author and journalist Sadia Dehlvi grew up in a home where food played a central role in the family. In fact, her earliest childhood memories are of her amma (grandmother) hovering around the kitchen and pantry along with her retinue of house-help, while the matriarch would supervise the cooking, make pickles and dry spices on the verandah. "Friends who visited our home never left without savouring a meal. They would often say that they had never seen a house with so much food around all the time," she laughs.

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In her new book, Jasmine and Jinns, Dehlvi has brought back the memories, through a culinary tour of the capital. She has also let us in on some well-guarded family recipes, to help us soak in the flavours of old Delhi favourites like jalebi, daalbiji, aloo puri, dahi bhalla. Dehlvi, who hails from a publishing background – her grandfather Hafiz Yusuf Dehlvi founded and edited Shama, an Urdu film magazine in 1938 – grew up in an environment where literary discussions and filmy banter were commonplace. "Our family was particularly close to Meena Kumari, Nargis Dutt, Dilip Kumar, Saira Banu and Waheeda Rehman. Mushairas and qawallis were common at our home," says the author.

Sadia Dehlvi
Sadia Dehlvi

Dehlvi, who along with her siblings, was packed off to a boarding school in Shimla, would get to indulge in home-cooked food only during holidays. "My grandfather loved to serve the best of Delhi cuisine. Like most Dilliwallas, he was particular about what to eat in what season, and, taseer, which means the effect of food on the body. I grew up relating food to light, heavy, warm and cold. So, summers were always about sharbat, bhel and Rataul mangoes, from a village near Meerut. It now grows abundantly in Pakistan. Our monsoon favourite was hari mirch qeema and besani roti and fresh mango chutney."

Natraj Dahi Bhalle Corner in Chandni Chowk is famous for its dahi badey. Since it’s adjacent to Central Bank, the dish was called Central Bank ke dahi badey
Natraj Dahi Bhalle Corner in Chandni Chowk is famous for its dahi badey. Since it’s adjacent to Central Bank, the dish was called Central Bank ke dahi badey

In the Dehlvi household, the medium used for cooking was desi ghee or clarified butter. "At that time, most shops in Old Delhi, too, would use desi ghee. Some still do," she says. A family favourite was the sunheri gajar halwa, prepared with golden coloured carrots and gheeghar halwa made with aloe vera from Sheeren Bhavan in Chitli Qabar, a market hidden in the bylanes of Old Delhi. Therefore, she says, rounds of the old city were often made with pit-stops for Central Bank ke dahi badey, popular among locals. "I often wondered why the bank was selling dahi badey," she jokes. "Delhi has seen phases in its cuisine. After the Partition, there was the arrival of the chana batura, dal makhani, butter chicken. With the influx of South Indian communities, Udipi cafes became standard. Later, it was noodles, and now the momos. Delhi is no longer dominated by one community — it's a little India now," she says.

Fresh Mango Chutney
1 ripe mango, pulped
¼ tsp red chilli powder
½ tsp crushed cumin seeds
2 medium-sized onions, finely chopped
Mint leaves chopped
Few drops of lemon juice (optional)
Salt to taste

Mango chutney is delicious if made with sarauli mango. Since these are not always available, take any good quality mango. Put the pulp in a bowl and add all the remaining ingredients. It is delicious with besani roti.

Kachri Qeema – Marinated Smoked Mince
Kachri is a small wild brown melon found in desert areas. It is common ingredient  in Rajasthani cuisine. We use it as a food tenderiser and it is available at spice stores in both whole and powder form.

1 kg qeema, 4 whole kachris crushed or 2 tsps kachri powder, 1 cup half-ripe papaya, grated or pulped, 1 – 1 ½ tsps red chilli powder, 1 tsp garam masala, 2 tsps garlic paste, 1 tsp ginger paste, salt to taste.

It is best to pulp the papaya in a mixer. Marinate the mince with all the above ingredients. Leave overnight in the fridge or at least for four to five hours.

Cooking the qeema
250 gm curd, 4 medium-sized onions, golden fried, 4 cloves ½ cup oil Add the curd and onions to the marinated mince an hour before cooking. Heat oil and add cloves and cardamoms, allowing them to crackle for a minute or two. Now add the marinated mince. Stir it for a few minutes on medium flame and then leave on low flame till done. Do not use the pressure cooker. As it is a dry dish, let the excess water from the marination evaporate fully. After the qeema is cooked, prepare to smoke it. Light a small piece of coal over the stove flame, then place it on an onion slice, pour a few drops of oil on the live coal so it smokes. Then, leave the smoking coal over the mince and cover the cooking pot with a lid.

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Let it remain there for a few minutes. I sometimes use a long deep spoon, place the smoking coal on it and close the lid. It adds an exceptional smoked aroma.

Garnish with fresh coriander leaves, onions rings, chopped green chillies, finely shredded ginger strips and a sprinkling of garam masala. A squeeze of lemon juice adds a bit of tanginess.

Rajesh Khanna and Dimple Kapadia lunching at Shama Kothi, the Dehlvi residence. "Rajesh and Dimple came shortly after their wedding. They had first met at our Shama Film Awards function  in Delhi," she writes in the book.
Rajesh Khanna and Dimple Kapadia lunching at Shama Kothi, the Dehlvi residence. "Rajesh and Dimple came shortly after their wedding. They had first met at our Shama Film Awards function  in Delhi," she writes in the book.

Inspired by New York's street food, Dehlvi set up Al Kausar, old city's first kebab kiosk
Inspired by New York's street food, Dehlvi set up Al Kausar, old city's first kebab kiosk

Danny Denzongpa at the opening in 1979. The shop was known for its kakori kebabs
Danny Denzongpa at the opening in 1979. The shop was known for its kakori kebabs

Syesha Kapoor, Siddharth Mahadevan talk restaurants over lunch

They have renowned singers for parents, and they both love food, but that's about where the similarities end. Moreover, this is the first time they're meeting as adults. But that doesn't stop Siddharth Mahadevan and Syesha Kapoor from hitting it off instantly. Despite being Alka Yagnik's daughter, Syesha has kept her distance from Bollywood, choosing instead to handle marketing and branding as associate director for Silver Beach Entertainment & Hospitality. Siddharth, meanwhile, has followed in his father Shankar Mahadevan's footsteps, but he too has entered the F&B space as partner at the newly-launched Mojo's Bistro. We get the duo together at Fable, Juhu, for a chat.

Mahadevan: I think I met you around 20 years ago.
Kapoor: Wow, how do you even remember?
Mahadevan: I believe it was when my dad and your mum were getting an award together.
Kapoor: They meet often, but I hardly go out to any of these parties, so I don't end up meeting anyone.
Mahadevan: I rarely socialise with people from the film industry either.
I have my set of school and college friends, and very few are from the industry. You won't find me at a Bollywood party.
Kapoor: People used to keep asking me why I don't sing. There's a simple answer to that. Because I can't. My mum has set a benchmark few can touch. A child has the genes of the father and the mother. My mum is a great singer, but my dad can't sing to save his life. He's great at business, though.
Mahadevan: You've got those genes from him, then. I've taken after dad. I knew that I wanted to make music. At the same time, I used to have people telling me I was born for business. And it's been my dad's dream to open a restaurant. So, when the opportunity came along, I jumped at it.
Kapoor: And the restaurant space is the new Bollywood. A lot of people think that restaurants are glamorous, like the film industry. But they have no idea how wrong they are. It's a lot of work.
Mahadevan: I'm finding out now (laughs).

Syesha Kapoor and Siddharth Mahadevan enjoy a meal at Fable, Juhu. Pics/Pradeep Dhivar
Syesha Kapoor and (Below) Siddharth Mahadevan enjoy a meal at Fable, Juhu. Pics/Pradeep Dhivar

Red Wine Poached Pear Salad and Watermelon and Feta Salad arrive.
Mahadevan: Watermelon and feta is the best salad on this planet.
Kapoor: With lots of pine nuts.
Mahadevan: The poached pear salad is great, too. Both are really fresh.

Mahadevan: Do you cook?
Kapoor: A little.
Mahadevan: My dad loves being in the kitchen. He cooks every day.
Kapoor: What about you?
Mahadevan: I'm the sort that experiments. Oh, and I don't like cooking vegetarian food.
Kapoor: I'm vegetarian (laughs).

Uchil: What's your take on the nepotism debate?
Mahadevan: To be honest, today, nobody cares who you are.
Kapoor: True. You have to prove yourself. Anybody who is under the impression that they will get special treatment is in for a reality check.
Mahadevan: People say to me, "It was easy for you to get into music. Your dad's in the industry." But if my dad wanted to do something about my career, he'd have done it long ago. It was Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra who pushed me to sing for films. You might get a lucky shot because of your name, but you need to be good to stay relevant.

Kapoor: The pressure is worse because you came via an influential personality. You cannot do anything less than amazing.
Mahadevan: I feel the pressure sometimes. But my dad has always told me to be original. I'm not trying to be a Shankar Mahadevan.
Kapoor: Exactly. I'd rather do something well from scratch than do something that I already know I won't be good at. And I'd like to think that I'm great at handling my restaurants. It's the small things that matter. For instance, if I can't understand the problems my staff is facing — why the AC isn't working, what my clients need — it doesn't matter how good the restaurant looks or how many celebrities visit it. This becomes crucial because competition is tough.

Mahadevan: True. There's probably a new restaurant opening with every breath we take. I think the best part about this industry is that if you're good, there's enough business for you.

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