Filmmaker Purandar Chaudhuri talks about the second edition of his series 'Life in a Bowl' based on Bengaluru
The series talks about the intangible ingredients that often make up the hidden parts of our unique experiences with food
Businessman and filmmaker Purandar Chaudhuri describes himself as an artist who treasures the intangible ingredients that often make up the hidden parts of our unique experiences with food. In 2021, he released the first part of the award-winning documentary series Life in a Bowl, based on Kolkata, the filmmaker’s first home. Now, Purandar is all set to release the second stint of his series Life in a Bowl, Bangalore Episode, which explores the connection between the food we relish and the untold, myriad stories of their origin. We speak to Purandar about the inspiration behind the series, the rise of cloud kitchens in metropolitan cities, the ever-changing food spheres in Bengaluru, and Life in a Bowl.
You've concluded two episodes of the Life in a Bowl series; the first one was centred on Kolkata — where you grew up — and the second on Bengaluru. What do you think connects the two places?
Bengaluru and Kolkata are very different cities in terms of their outlook and pace. Kolkata has a lot of nostalgia; it’s a very black and white city, which still carries a strong Victorian hangover. In comparison to that — though Bengaluru is also a city with a 500 year old history — today it is a city which defines 21st century India. Vibrant, exuberant, and bursting with energy and colour.
But if there are a few things common in them then they have to be –- their genuine love for food and passion for sports.
Do you think the food scene in Bengaluru has changed over the years? If so, has it changed for the better or for worse?
The food scene in Bengaluru has changed in terms of the diversity and range it offers today. This city has been able to maintain a wonderful balance between the traditional cuisine and the new age, experimental, innovative cuisines – multiculturalist to the truest sense. The Udupi restaurants are very well entrenched and continue to run to packed houses. But you also see guests happily queuing up outside Japanese, Korean and Italian restaurants. Idli in the morning and wood-fired thin crust pizza at night – (Bengaluru food has) a harmonious co-existence of some sort.
As a seasoned Bengalurean, what food joints would you recommend to a Bengaluru newbie? On a similar note, what restaurant or eatery in Bengaluru do you find yourself frequenting?
There are plenty (of such food joints) but it depends on individual tastes and preferences. Also, to know a city and to understand its gastronomic depth and range, I always feel that you must start with the local and authentic pioneers. MTR, Woodlands, Vidyarthi Bhavan, CTR, Taaza Thindi, Ranganna Military Hotel, Shivaji Military Hotel, Brahmin's and Koshy's are a few of the places off the top of my mind.
To answer your question about the restaurant I frequent the most – there really isn’t a specific one. There are so many interesting and exciting places, old and new, large and small...any place which makes me feel happy.
Once, you had mentioned that Bengaluru represents India and it isn't easy to define a Bengalurean. Can you elaborate on that?
There are strong stereotypes about people from different cultures. These stereotypes are largely based on food habits, language and lifestyle of the city. But by these standards, it is very hard to stereotype a Bangalorean. The continuous influx of youth from different parts of the country — even from Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities and distant villages over the last two decades — has made Bengaluru a true multicultural hub. It has come to represent the very idea of 21st century India; young, multicultural and pluralistic – the city lets you be who you want to be or what you want to be.
What inspired you to create 'Life in a Bowl' when you first embarked on the series?
There are many subtle ingredients in food other than the very tangible ones. Our favourite foods are made up of memories, unforgettable stories, people we love, a great book, a few lines from an old gypsy song, and a delightful Sunday morning. Life In A Bowl attempts to recite many of those untold stories – hidden or preserved deep within the cities we call home.
What was the impact that Covid 19 had on the stories of the food, the people and the culture associated with it?
Covid 19 has had a tremendous effect on the way we engage with our world. It was a tough time when it first broke out with immediate changes in terms of hygiene, transportation, and bringing the kitchen to your doorstep. It was no easy task. But like all challenges, it taught us a lot and has been an absolute game-changer in the way we look at quality, consistency, hygiene, and technology on the whole.
When our favourite restaurants couldn’t reach us, we tried to recreate the meals we loved by learning to make them at home. When festival celebrations had to be put on hold, we kept that enthusiasm flowing within our four walls and across the internet. It has been quite profound, to observe how we can thrive under pressure and constraints.
The pandemic led to a whopping increase in cloud kitchens all over India. Do you think they tend to take away from the authenticity of experiencing food and the stories that come along with it?
Yes and no; while Cloud Kitchens may not have a restaurant's magical ambience, they do provide opportunities. Cloud Kitchens emerged at a time when we desperately craved the fast food we so loved. It filled that hole and ignited a chance to see dreams come to life. Suddenly cooks who couldn’t afford to run a larger establishment and restaurants and were on the brink of shutting down, were given a renewed hope at realising their aspirations.
At the end of the day, the food tells the story. If the dish can make that impact, I don’t see it as a bane. But that being said, the experience of the sounds, smells and the emotion of sitting in a restaurant can never be replaced. It has always stayed with us as a memory, especially during the pandemic.
The episode will be screened at August 31, 6:30 pm. At Bangalore International Centre, Domlur.