Sunday, 5 April 2015

Bok Ful Bhaja & Detective Byomkesh Bakshy

What began as a lazy Sunday quickly metamorphosed into an potboiler weekend day. Primarily because of two reason a very interesting movie and an equally amazing recipe.

A couple of months back while searching for movies in Youtube I came across the trailer of “Detective Byomkesh Bakshy!”.  The protagonist of Saradindu Mukhopadhya’s detective series novels Byomkesh being a very familiar name in every Bengali household I was intrigued. The trailer came up and the frames changed rapidly in the backdrop of what looked like a 50’s Calcutta and then emerged from the shadows Shushant Singh Rajput with a mustache! As the trailer played on the first thing that stuck my mind was that Sushant Singh didn't quite look like what we usually imagine as “Byomkesh Bakshi”. Sometimes certain actors make the character. Like Santosh Dutta based on whom the look of Jatayu was remodeled in Feluda stories or Rajit Kapur who had immortalized Byomkesh Bakshi on Doordarshan. Any reference to Byomkesh and the image of Rajit Kapoor – a calm reticent sharp minded middle aged dhoti clad man with a signature curved smile who always looked in control of the situations around him. Sushant appeared to be a far cry from that image. In fact he had a mustache!  Byomkesh didn't have a mustache! Secondly a Hindi film made on a Bengali character – I was pretty apprehensive about the treatment.  Any typical stereotype would literally murder an iconic character like Byomkesh. And frankly speaking even though many may beg to differ with me I found Abir who played the modern Byomkesh in the Bengali version also ill suited for the character. The poise or charm of Byomkesh did not reflect in any of the three Byomkesh movies he had done. So if a Bengali movie can falter then a Hindi movie can be a catastrophe! These two factors combined I was not very interested in watching the movie after watching the trailer.

I pass a multiplex on way to office every day. Last week onward they had put up the poster of Byomkesh Bakshy in the upcoming movies panel. A dhoti clad intense looking Shushant singh jumping over an obstacle. Looking at it I was scared more about the reaction of the non-Bengali mass of movie goers. I kept my fingers crossed that let the movie at least be of some level that I don’t hear comments like what a crap this Byomkesh character is. My staunch Bangalipona had kicked in big time.

While working on my laptop on Friday evening I chanced upon the homepage of Yahoo news and saw a headline saying “Detective Byomkesh Bakshi is engrossing”. I felt a bit relieved and went about my work. By Saturday morning the reviews and star ratings were there in the Times of India – both were very flattering.

In the evening by a cup of garam chai and chanachur I casually told A that this movie seems to have got rave reviews. Actually here I must mention that both me and A are movie lovers but prefer to watch movie in the comfort of our home, only when it seems like an exceptional movie, do we venture to the hall. And last time we had ventured to the hall misguided by the noir like look and feel of a rather confusing movie called “Roy”. We were still reeling under its effect and had decided to read the reviews thoroughly before going to a hall. Coincidentally Roy was being shown in a movie channel on TV as we discussed about Byomkesh. I was pretty sure after the last debacle A would never talk about going to a movie hall. But he surprised me and told to check if tickets were available for the Sunday morning show. It was and thus we ended up in the movie hall once again.

The good sign was that screen 3 was jam packed. In fact we could manage a seat only 7 rows from the screen. But the inclining seats were nice and cozy so chances of a stiff back was not there. The sound over started as we comfortably sank into our seats with a glass of chilled ice tea.

20 minutes into the movie and we understood the reason of naming Bakshi with a ‘Y’ instead of ‘I’ in the title. Dibakar Banerjee had taken the creative freedom to mold Byomkesh according to his own thoughts, borrowing only faint sub plots from several Byomkesh novels and stringing them together to bring to life what would have been the rookie Byomkesh’s first case. The movie is fast paced and intriguing. Your mind would race and you would definitely feel the rush of adrenaline as you follow Sushant aka Byomkesh on a mad crime chase. Just out of college Byomkesh looks a bit impulsive and restless at times. He is very human also as sometimes he withdraws into a shell when he cannot decipher something or cringes at the sight of blood and gore. The names of the popular character of the novel has been retained only the characterization and introduction have changed dramatically. Ajit is not a blind follower of Byomkesh but has a mind of his own too; he even slaps Byomkesh for being rude. Satyavati is not anymore the typical housewife but a fiercely independent woman who calls the shot when required. Supporting characters have strengthened the movie’s flow. Swastika has become the signature of such noir films. She portrays the character of Angoogi devi with required élan and sensuality. Putiram instead of being an insignificant character plays a very important and endearing role. To say, during the length of the whole film never did I feel that Sushant was not fitted for the role. In fact he portrayed the young sleuth effortlessly.

The story starts when Ajit’s father a genius chemist disappears mysteriously and Ajit seeks help from Byomkesh to find him. Byomkesh shifts his base to the boarding house of Dr. Anukul Guha where Ajit’s father was staying before he disappeared. As the story starts to unfold layer by layer, Byomkesh understands that the disappearance of Ajit’s father is only one end of the complex string that ties the case together. He uncovers bodies and filth amidst the buildup of a deep rooted conspiracy between the Japanese Army, a Chinese drug gang, wannabe politicians and movie stalwarts in the 50’s Chinetown of Calcutta. The movie grows darker and sinister by the minute, plots and sub plots thicken and create a mesh of mystery about the intentions of every character. The cinematography, background score and eye for detail is mind boggling. Very difficult to uphold the feel of a period film, but Dibakar Banerjee does it with the finesse of a seasoned craftsman. The upholstery, vehicles, buildings, advertisements everything underlines the fact that it’s the Calcutta of 1943 and not 2015! The bubbling sound of water in a hookah used for scenes in which reference to opium trafficking is made seems very innovative and apt.

The end might be a little predictable but nonetheless beautifully crafted to impart that required cinematic climax. The 135 minute Bengal noir film is a class apart. It makes you think, question even laugh at times. A terrific movie after a long long while. Definitely worth a watch. We were still talking about the film till late afternoon.

The mood was set right for the day. The weather was also nice and breezy. I felt it should be complimented by something to munch on as we discussed more about the film. I decided to make some Bok Ful bhaja.

It’s not often that you get a Kumro ful or a Bok ful in Pune especially in the part of the city I live in. In fact had I not seen with my own eyes I would have never believed if someone told me you get Bok ful in Pune. I am a great fan of these flowery fritters and can go to any lengths to get hold of them in Pune. You might have already read about my Kumro Ful escapade earlier in this blog space. But thankfully for Bok ful I just had to buy it from the village lady at the vegetable market.

Bok ful or Agathi has the best flavor when you can get them fresh. I selected the unopened fresh buds. These flowers are white in color and somewhat resembles a crane hence the name Bok which means crane in Bengali. The Bok Ful is a bit bitter in taste. The bitterness can be removed to quite an extent by removing the pistil from the flower. You can say this is one of the recipes of Bengal which invokes a lot of nostalgia. It’s something which reminds of childhood when we didn’t have burgers and pizzas for snacks. Plain homemade snacks like these were what made our evenings. But with the advent of fast food our traditional fares like these are fast moving into oblivion. I just hope that the effort that Bengali bloggers like me are trying to put in to make the new generation at least aware of our traditional dishes pays off in the long run. It’s a very simple recipe with very less number of ingredients:

Preparation Time: 15 minutes  

Cooking Time: 10 minutes

Serves: 2

Cuisine: Bengali 

  • Bok Ful - 10
  • Besan or Gram Flour - 4 tbsp
  • Rice Flour - 1 tsp
  • Kalonji or Kalo Jeere - 1/2 tsp
  • Pinch of Baking soda
  • Salt to taste
  • Pinch of red chilli powder
  • Pinch of hing powder (optional)
  • Water for knedding
  • Refined oil

1. Carefully remove the filament from the flower. These are very delicate flower so take extra care while you remove the filament. We would not want the petals to break.

2. Immerse the flowers in saline water for 5 minutes. This will ensure no bugs are inside the petals. Drain and keep aside

3. Take a mixing bowl and mix the besan, rice flour, kalonji, salt, chilli powder, hing, baking soda and enough water to make a homogeneous batter. The batter should not be runny. It should be enough thick so that the flowers can hold onto it.

4. Heat oil in a pan.

5. When oil is hot enough dip the flowers as a whole into the batter and then put it into the hot oil one by one. Deep fry or shallow fry the flowers. Remove them from the oil with a slotted spoon and transfer them on a  tissue paper.

6. Serve them hot and crispy with a chutney or sauce. It can be had as a tea time snack or a side dish,

The evening slowly faded into night as we talked and enjoyed the bhaja. The aftertaste of the movie would linger with us for a while till we see something on a similar note.

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