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  Life   More Features  05 Mar 2017  Talking food in mean streets

Talking food in mean streets

THE ASIAN AGE. | SOMUDRA BANERJEE
Published : Mar 5, 2017, 12:49 am IST
Updated : Mar 5, 2017, 2:06 pm IST

Dinner with Dons, a new web show, is about meeting former dons and dacoits and shares their expertise and love for food.

A still from Dinner with Don of Chambal.
 A still from Dinner with Don of Chambal.

They say the way to the heart of a man is through his stomach. But 101 India, a web portal, wants to get to the heart of the country’s most dangerous men, through culinary explorations. Dinner with Dons is a food show with a difference. “We wanted to do a food show but not one of the run-of-the-mill kind,” says Cyrus Oshidar, the brain behind the series. “That’s when we asked ourselves ‘who could know the streets and the food best?’ and it occurred to us that probably the local goons.”

Last year, they began the series with a local don from Mumbai, who showed them best street food in the city. “But there was not much traction. I thought maybe our initial intuition was wrong. But one fine day we found there were about 5,00,000 views. Then, we got the impetus to make it better and shoot more cinematically,” he reveals. Eventually they made two more episodes, one with M.K.Tevar, Don of Dindigul and another with Ijaz Khan for Don of Hyderabad. Now they are out with Don of Chambal. Cyrus says, “Everyone loves stories. And we need to tell stories of our times. These are people who we read about everyday in newspapers, but we wanted to know the back-stories of these people without any judgement.”

Cyrus believes it is only through a concerted effort of unbiased storytelling that the world can be a better place. “So much is happening right now; so much fighting, between students and the Government, there are issues of religion, caste, but these are the dark sides of our society and we cannot just overlook them. Even at the cost of a corny cliché, the fact remains, without darkness we will not be able to appreciate the light any better,” he says.  

But his show has found detractors. “They say that we are glorifying crime; we are not. We are just trying to get their back-story. We are only talking about food and trying to show the faces that we often have heard or read about. Also, they have surrendered to the cops and are free citizens of the world.”

To help him shoot the series, 27-year-old Avijit Pathak and his team went to Chambal for Dinner with Dons with Ramesh Singh Sikarwar, a “reformed” dacoit, who had surrendered to the police. “We stayed there for five days, and it was definitely challenging. The biggest of them was to convince and shoot them,” laughs Avijit.

However, it was not the dacoits, but even demonetisation that made the crew’s lives miserable in the Chambal Valley. “We reached the day when demonetisation was announced, and all our money was useless. We had to completely rely on the daakus. Eventually they were the ones who helped us out,” he says.

After meeting the baagis, Avijit says a lot of the perceptions have changed. “These daakus would act like Robin Hood. They would loot, but they would also help the villagers. During the shoot, initially, all of us were a bit apprehensive. But soon, the ice broke between us and things became much more cordial. Ramesh is a very spiritual guy now,” he adds.

Avijit recalls an evening when they performed a small skit, demonstrating how they would loot in their heyday. “Ramesh, who was the leader of his 32 member outfit, would stand in the middle of the road, acting like a madman, waiting for a bus. When a bus would approach, he would board it, and soon his companions, who hid in the jungle, would attack and loot. It was a surreal experience — it was funny, it was entertaining and yet so scary.”

In continuation with the series, now they have a Dinner with a Cop, where they have shot with former encounter specialist, Ashok Singh Bhadoria who had single-handedly “cleaned Chambal” of the dacoits. “The idea was to look at the other side of the narrative as well, and get a fuller picture,” concludes Cyrus.

The videos are online on their official YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCZwZrym87YpirLIFBzTnWQA

Tags: food, web portal, chambal valley