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Icing on the cake is...

CHARM'S THE ACTIVE INGREDIENT: Actor Rahul Bose at Olive Bar and Kitchen in New Delhi. Photo: Sandeep Saxena.

INTELLIGENT, THINKING, forthright, charming `ordinary'. Are we talking about a Bollywood actor? Yes, now that Bollywood has stretched its definition of films from three hours of prancing round the trees interspersed with chasing villains atop running trains. If it's the age where the commercial genre can include themes that end up as Chameli, Jhankaar Beats or Everybody Says I'm Fine, it is an age where actor Rahul Bose can speak his mind, criticise productions he's been in or play rugby without worrying about upsetting his fans, being blacklisted by producers, or letting a broken nose ruin his handsome face. Is it any wonder Rahul is an easy conversationalist?

At the Olive Bar and Kitchen in South Delhi, where he has dropped in to participate in one of the Med Mosaic Nights, Rahul is the epitome of... well, himself. Down-to-earth, amiable, accessible. No airs, no narcissistic obsessions. Settling down to a simple lunch of spaghetti, he recaps on what has kept him busy over the past few months.

Life as an idol

Having just completed Vinta Nanda's White Noise in which he appears opposite Koel Poorie, he is also scripting his next film. Meantime we can expect him in Idol, in which he acts with Maggi Q, an actress from Hong Kong. But Rahul is more than a matinee idol.

"I am working with an NGO called Akshara that funds and encourages young Muslim girls. These are girls from families where the girls are not educated, the boys are. Even when they go to college, their professors say things like `Tumhara to nikah hone wala hai.' Or who can afford to go to English medium college but don't, because they have a complex. I spend one day a month with them, mentoring, chatting, discussing their problems. Some of them don't leave their house at all except for these sessions. I also spend one day a month with two youth groups called Kshitij and Disha."

Here the topics range from history and politics to the idea of India. "They want to discuss Kashmir next," says Rahul, adding, "I thought, we can always give money, but not many people give of their time."

Maximising the moment

And well-chiselled time it is. Films or rugby - he has just returned from playing for the country in Thailand - or lecturing - this week he will be in the U.S. lecturing on communal harmony and gender equality - or writing his column for Tehelka, he says, "I believe in maximising the moment."

He admits he has to be disciplined to pack everything in. "I hardly eat out," he explains. And while he recommends the fancy pizzas Olive serves on rustic wooden platters, Rahul says he has not come across a better chef than his father. Whether it is Bengali cuisine, Lucknowi delicacies, or a simple zeera alu, nothing can match his calibre. The secret: "Fresh ingredients, lightly cooked with a minimum of chillies and oil work best." While his own meals can be simple or extravagant - at a dhaba for Rs.50 or at Olive for Rs.2000 - "These requirements have to be met."

He remembers going food shopping with his father. "In Bengal the men do the shopping. It was a huge market. It would take three hours, and that finger I used to hold was as strong as a tree trunk," he recounts fondly. Tradition aside, Rahul describes his parents as free form stereotypes. "He was the mother of the family and she was the father. She was the one who encouraged me to play rugby."

Needed: a chef's role

For all his admiration Rahul has not learnt to cook, but submits it is on his agenda. If only it became a necessity, like learning to play the drums for Jhankaar Beats or mixing music for Idol! "I'll have to get a role as a chef," he quips.

"Indian vegetarian food, the U.P. kind, is the only vegetarian food I adore - Zeera alu, baingan ka bharta - but I just cannot handle the idea of Western vegetarian food. I'll fall ill immediately. So I'm definitely a confirmed non-vegetarian. But of late I've started having an ethical dilemma." While it's tastes versus ethics for now, he feels if you change from within, your preferences will adjust as a matter of course.

Rahul finds it ridiculous that English language films of all genres are slotted together just because of the language. But if anybody mentions his small screen debut a decade ago with the English serial A Mouthful of Sky, the articulate debater crumples up blushing, calling it a "shambolic" effort and insisting he wanted to opt out early but was held by the contract.

Nothing shambolic about his career now though. With his directorial debut Everybody Says I'm Fine released in a New York theatre from this Wednesday, he is flying high.

There is herbal tea for dessert, but it's his recipe for a balanced life that leaves the best aftertaste. "Learn from the past, live in the present, remain free of the future."


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