Monday, November 17, 2014

Ghar Aaja Pardesi: The California Boulevard, Gurgaon

You know how there’s an unwritten rule about pooping your gut out before going for an Indian wedding? It helps you clear enough gastric real estate to realize full worth of the shagun ke paise right down to that one rupee. However, the opening of The California Boulevard (TCB) at Gurgaon quite recently demands for such a rule to be written down in ink on something as sacred as Amitabh Bacchan’s right arm, with the word “shaadi” replaced by the restaurant’s name. Because, it would be nothing short of blasphemy to visit this holy shrine behind IFFCO Chowk Metro Station on a stomach half-full.

TCB’s first restaurant at Rajouri Garden left quite a few enthralled by the sheer passion with which the team had brought together themes of Hollywood, Harley Davidson and international music to a part of the capital for which beat-boxing is nothing other than the sound of heavy sirke-wale-pyaaz induced burping. But just a year since its inception, TCB has finally hit G-Town, a place where it more belongs, and how!

With a larger area to put their love for Hollywood on display, the place takes you back to the time when you first crossed the Gurgaon toll booth and were amazed by the city’s resemblance to Bangkok; except this time, it doesn’t take a giant like DLF to give you a glimpse of some foreign land. While the signature Harley at the entrance and Walk of Fame remain, the restaurant boasts of a “Regal Cinema” replication that plays classic Hollywood movies in HD and a bar that looks stunning, to say the least. Further, the two striking surf-boards and a Lakers Basketball wall piece that adorn the open smoking area are sure to dazzle your eyes even if, in all honesty, you’ve never watched any sport but cricket.

To all the Baniya’s who fit the description of “paise toh aa gaye but class nahi aayi”, TCB is the perfect place to learn how to spend one’s money and create an ambience which is nothing less than that offered by the Westin’s and Vivanta’s despite keeping it well within the budget of the Honda City’s and Hyundai Verna’s.

However, the primary selling point of the restaurant lies not in its d├ęcor, but in its hospitality and product offering that complement each other wonderfully. It all starts with a valet escorting you to your table, after which the management ensures that your glasses remain full and your entrees arrive at the perfect time. The service seems so impeccable that if one were to understand how the management keeps a watch on all your moves, sensing your every need, it would be creepy as creepy could be. The fact that a personal attendant remains camouflaged in the vicinity and comes to your attention as soon as you require may leave the over-anxious worrying about the servers almost hearing all the poop jokes that you crack with your family at the dinner table. But the staff’s non-judgmental eyes are quite reassuring. And it goes without saying that not all dinner company is as obsessed with bowel movement humor as yours truly.

If one is known by the food he eats, TCB is sure to put you through a multiple personality (dis)order, but in a good way. The menu flaunts of offerings from Italy, Mexico, Japan, South East Asia, Arab and Europe, all done beautifully: authentic, where necessary, and fusioned where found magnificent. The Mezze Mezze, Spring Rolls, Quessadilla and Bruschetta are nicely done, but Dilli ki Chaat and Paneer Sushi remain the stand outs. The former, for the crispy spinach base, and the latter for giving a fancy touch to what is basically a paneer and mushroom pakoda. But both, most importantly, for catering to the heavily Punjabi taste buds that we carry around Delhi NCR.

The chef’s originality shows in a number of dishes, like in the sensuous Khumb and Singhade ki Galouti, and in the TCB special Kulfi Gazzak, which on first look appears to be a block of chocolate, but as soon as the server blows on it with a flame torch, the chocolate casing melts, hinting at an inviting kesar kulfi underneath. The dessert screams food porn like none other as there’s no better description for it than imagining a chocolate nigga’ pressing on top of a Caucasian kulfi in the heat of the moment, missionary style. Uncomfortable sounding to most, but we all know that it’s worth it.

It goes without saying that the team at The California Boulevard knows its business from the back of its hands. The more than generous portions of zucchini, egg plant and other vegetable assortments in the form of Greek Vegetable Moussaka and Cheese Enchiladas among many others stand evidence to the fact that both Chef Karen as well as the proud Harley loving, Sardarji owner, Rajan, make beautiful mothers. You can almost picture Rajan looking at you lovingly while you have your food, proud of the fact that he could make you have your veggies. He ensures that your trip to the restaurant is like a trip to your maaika, where your magnanimous mother gives you much more than she takes. He stands at the exit to see you off, with tears rolling down his cheeks. It’s difficult for him to hide the love he feels, or maybe, it’s just Karen chopping some onions for her next creation, which you must catch while it’s still fresh to eat.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

An Honest Summary of Half Girlfriend

If Chetan Bhagat’s contribution towards making Indians read has to be depicted graphically, the graph will take the shape of a bell curve. I mean, yeah, he got a huge population hooked on to some easy literature, but if he’s going to continue writing Bollywood screenplays in guise of books, you might just think of saving some effort and skipping the 250 odd pages of text to go for the big picture stuff directly. And for the few who wouldn't care for the movie either, here’s presenting an honest summary of his latest: Half-Girlfriend.

Half Girlfriend is very cleverly marketed as a story of Madhav, a Hindi speaking Bihari who falls in love with Riya, an elite Delhi girl at the prestigious St. Stephen’s College. It deceives you into believing that the story would revolve around the travails of a person who cannot speak English. However, it is a story about being horny for someone way above your league and then giving it the name of true love. Considering the number of guys who jerk off to images of Deepika Padukone every day, the plot seems relatable. Only if it were as easy as whacking the weasel.

The leading pair makes it to the esteemed college through the sports quota. It’s a fact that need not have been so explicitly mentioned in this Dummy’s Guide to Indian Stereotypes. Because, how do I put it mildly? They’re both dumb as fuck. The two bond over basketball and soon enough, the Bihari suggests games involving her basket and his balls. Riya, who isn't up for such shenanigans, forces on him an arrangement of half-girlfriendship, which is understood to be a relation more than friendship but excludes the physical-whisical. (Super shit deal, I tell you.)

The Bihari male hormones soon get the better of Madhav, who professes his love with a: “Deti hai toh de, warna kat le.” Riya chooses the latter and kattofies, telling Madhav to never contact her again. Months pass before the Bihari boy can gather the courage to speak with her again, and when he does, Riya hands him her shaadi ka card complete with chocolates and stuff.

Heartbroken, our man throws away the card and cries his eyes out while pocketing the chocolates. Why? Because free food trumps true love, that’s why.

With Riya married off to a hotel-mogul in London, Madhav realizes that there isn't much to look forward to in Delhi. He therefore decides to go back to his village Dumraon to help his mother in running her rural school. But before he leaves, he sits for placements for HSBC and makes the panel realize that the interviewers themselves are facing a mid-life crisis and need to STFU. They offer him a job because all it requires to land a job is to go all mean girl. (I don't know what a casting couch is, but a casting grouch is this one. Totally!)

Madhav declines the job offer and leaves for Bihar because it makes a good scene for a Bollywood movie- idealistic and shit. Except, not really.

Madhav, or Mr. Jha, as we will now call him, starts helping his mother at her school, where they need funds to build toilets. As the government officials are unable to help in any way, the next obvious step is to wait for Bill Gates to visit their school and give them some money. Who thought about making some moolah by getting a job at HSBC instead? No one, because we’ll get the founder of Microsoft to build our toilets, FTW!

As luck would have it, Bill Gates decides to visit Bihar with his team from the Gates Foundation. To get Bill to pay their bills, Mr. Jha has to organize a little song and dance performance for the delegation and deliver a speech in English. (And this is when you realize why he being poor at English is the central theme of the story. And this is also when you fail to understand what he was doing at St. Stephen’s for three years. Oh wait, he was trying to get into some girl pants.) #Prioritiezzzz

Jha-Man soon enrolls himself for some English classes at Patna, the city where he also runs into Riya. ZOMG, how did this happen again! Totally did not see it coming! (Totally, did.) Riya is now a divorcee and is working with Nestle. Madhav, with renewed hope of love, now helps her with setting up her little apartment, and in return, our lady helps him with his speech, telling him to read Chetan Bhagat to improve his English #LOLZZZZZZ

Very close to the day of the big speech, Madhav takes Riya home to his mother, who gives our pretty lady the stares. The newly-in-love do some jumma chumma de de on the terrace, after which Mr. Jha delivers his speech and gets a lot of money from Mr. Bill Gates.

Immediately after the grand event, Riya memsa'ab goes missing. When Jha sa'ab goes around looking for his lady love, he receives a letter from Riya in which she tells him about her terminal lung cancer and how she has decided to go underground and die alone because she doesn't want him to take care of her in her last days. More like: enough of your nonsense, gavaar. Except, the letter ends with an “I love you”. (Girls, I tell you.)

Jha-Boy looks for Riya-Babe all over Dilli-Bihar, but to no avail.

Three years later, Riya’s landlord from Patna finds some of her journals from the apartment and hands them over to Madhav Babu, who thinks it will be torturous for him to go through them because her painful memories will come rushing back. So, what must he do with the journals? Keep them safe in the attic? Throw them away? Burn them? Hell, no! Take them to Chetan Bhagat, he says.

(At this point, you’re all like: Dude, this makes absolutely no sense! I mean, what has C-Bag got to do with this?)

Apparently, Mr. Bhagat is also confused to see the journals. He is told that Riya had asked Madhav to read Chetan Bhagat’s books to improve his English, so that’s how he thought it would be best to take the journals to the author. #LogicDividedByZero

Because if there's one symbolic memory that you have of your half-ex, it is of her being a supporter of Chetan Bhagat's literature. *slow clap*

Let’s just say that we’re glad she didn’t ask him to read Wren & Martin.

Moving on… Madhav, who we will now call Dr. Logic, tells Chetan to dispose of the books the way he pleases. Mr. Bhagat bids Dr. sa'ab goodbye and dumps the journals into the garbage bin before he decides to go to bed. Except, with so much literature lying in his book rack aka the koode daan, his conscience is all like: Bro, utth ja. Dekh shayad koi story mil jaaye picture banane ke liye.

Chetan then reads the journals through the night and phones Dr. Logic early morning. Dr. sa'ab reaches C-Bag’s room soon enough and is asked to read some of Riya’s diary entries. #Picture Abhi Baaki Hai Mere Dost

Through the journal, Madhav learns about the domestic violence his lady had to go through in her marriage, about how she was sexually abused as a child and about how Madhav’s mother had told her to stay away from him because of which she had to make up the cancer story and leave Mr. Jha to his own misery. (Wow, so much plot twist. *yawn*)

Dr. Logic remembers that Riya always spoke about wanting to be a singer at a bar in New York and therefore, she must be in New York. (Here, we accord him the title of Sherlock.) Mr. Holmes requests a few of his friends at the Gates Foundation to get him a three month internship in Manhattan. They oblige and Sherlock travels to the Big Apple in search of cray-cray. On his last night in America, he finds out where the crazy woman could be singing, runs seven miles in the snow to reach her and stands in front of her while she sings with her eyes closed. #CreepyFeelzzz.

Riya opens her eyes at the end of the song and both cry like do kilo pyaaz katwa diye. Then the couple heads over to Riya’s place to do what bunnies do because poori book mein nahi kiya.

(So much naatak for just one moment of action! I mean, college mein hi settlement ho jaati toh all of this drama wouldn't have happened. Too much moral of the story, this.)

The story (umm?) ends with Mr. Chetan Bhagat being shown around the rural school by Madhav and Riya, who are now married and have a son (awww?). Also, this Chetan is very vella, visiting schools and all!

Given how the storyline has so much depth, it is worth mentioning that through the course of the book, the author touches upon all possible social evils that he can spell out, including but not limited to illiteracy, domestic violence, corruption, casteism and sexual abuse. There’s also a hint of cancer and hygiene. But most importantly, the book is about the two biggest social evils of all: an author’s attempt to star in the movie adaptation of his book, and stupidity. Both, not necessarily mutually exclusive.