Priyanshu Chatterjee is a great foodie and he can cook too
In the peaceful ambience of Chutney, Metropolitan Hotel’s Indian restaurant, it takes just a few minutes for Priyanshu Chatterjee to feel “completely bowled over”. The strikingly good looking model-turned actor earned bouquets with his debut film Tum Bin, brickbats for Julie and now is “hoping to be noticed more” with Chintuji, releasing tomorrow. He plays Arun, a journalism student on the run who finds his refuge in small town. “Out of gratitude to the small town, he starts a weekly newspaper there,” shares Priyanshu.
Scanning the menu, the 36-year-old actor, now a known name in the Bengali film industry, says of his culinary skills, “I can do need-based cooking. I can make tea, coffee, omelette, dal and even roti. But frankly, I don’t enjoy cooking. I had to do it while living in Mumbai during my modelling days.” While the chef helps with his special appetiser platter — a piece of sarson mahi tikka, gilafi seekh kabab and murgh malai kabab, Priyanshu can’t help tasting all nine varieties of chutneys the restaurant serves with the appetisers. Despite having his first film Tum Bin do good business at the box office, playing the lead in Aapko Pehle Bhi Kahin Dekha Hai and essaying convincingly the role of Amitabh Bachchan’s uncaring son in Bhootnath, Priyanshu couldn’t make it big in Hindi films. This doesn’t upset him though. Opting for dum murgh nizami, gulnar-e-subz (sautéed vegetables with ground pepper simmered in tomato gravy) and subz rasila (vegetables sautéed with ground spices) and tandoori roti from the main course menu, Priyanshu reasons, “After my second film, which was a disaster (Aapko?), I didn’t want to do dance and song roles. So, I opted out of films that limited my role to a dancing hero and chose ones with a good script and roles of substance. Julie was one such choice. But it was marketed in a tantalising manner and the film was rated sleazy, though my role had nothing to do with sleaze. I was more of a utopian character who agrees to marry a call girl (played by Neha Dhupia). Soon, after that I was flooded with similar films. I understood that Bollywood has few roles for actors like me. So I waited for better roles, simultaneously moving to Bengali films.”
The Bengali film industry where he does one film every year quenched his appetite for meaningful roles as well as palatable food. Relishing butter naan with murg nizami, Priyanshu says, “People often ask me the difference between the Mumbai and Kolkata film world. Mumbai is too quick with its food. Mumbaikars including the film fraternity eat as a duty or routine, but in Kolkata we look forward to the ‘unit food’. We eagerly ask each other, ‘Aaj khane mein kya aayega’. And we never get one dish but several varieties of fish, mutton, chorchori (mixed veg), heaps of rice and mishti doi. The satisfaction of having a great food shows on peoples’ faces, in the attitude and the culture. In Mumbai, I miss that satisfaction.”
Spoilt for further choices on the menu, this time Priyanshu seeks the chef’s help. The chef insists on keema katlama (katlamas are pan-fried snacks made with different ingredients mixed with flour). “We are trying to revive some dishes from the North West Frontier Front (NWFP) here. Katlama is one of them,” shares Rajiv Kumar Bhatia, Assistant Manager. “That reminds me of Bunny Chow,” Priyanshi adds quickly. “It is a nearly100-year-old dish in Durban, earlier meant for poor Indians living there. They cut a huge loaf of bread from the middle and fill mutton in the hollow. It is so delicious that now various restaurants serve it as a staple diet. When I went to South Africa, I had no problems in looking for home cooked Indian food. Several Indians and Pakistanis have opened restaurants which serve excellent food,” he adds.
It is dessert time and a sweet-toothed Priyanshu concludes it with gulab jamun mixed with tandoori pineapple, and caramelised nuts. “It is heavenly,” he smiles, adding he would “love to visit again”.