Long before he became a powerhouse performer and National Award winner, actor Nawazuddin Siddique famously stated that as a struggling actor looking for work in Bollywood, he primarily survived on tea and Parle-G biscuits on most days for almost a year and a half. This isn’t just Nawazuddin’s story but any up-and-coming artiste’s who moves to the city with big dreams of making it into films.
A hot cup of chai with biscuits to dunk into may be comfort food for the privileged lot. But perhaps it is the only meal that struggling assistant directors and aspiring technicians can afford on some days.
Film activist and writer Arun Mo of Thamizh Studio, a film society movement that has been involved in the welfare of film aspirants, has now launched Cine Cafe. “The idea is to offer affordable tea and coffee for assistant directors, film technicians and anyone who is trying to get into cinema,” says Arun Mo adding that they have been doing a lot of film-related initiatives through Thamizh Studio.
At Cine Cafe, anyone remotely associated with cinema can have a cup of tea for ₹5; it is priced at ₹10 for the public. Located in Valasaravakkam, now known as the hub for Kollywood, the stall is at the entrance of Pure Cinema (library and bookshop) and was launched recently by filmmaker Lokesh Kanagaraj.
Arun’s brainchild was the result of years of listening to stories of film aspirants who linger around Kodambakkam and nearby Vadapalani, knocking on the doors of offices for opportunities. “Some of them live away from their families. They don’t take care of themselves because they are either underpaid or not paid at all. Even for something as simple as a tea and bun, they might spend close to ₹100 every day. I wanted to do something for people like them,” he says.
Right now, the menu includes four kinds of tea: regular, ginger, lemon and black, and a few quick grabs like bread omelette and sandwich priced at ₹20 to ₹25.
While the ₹5 tea may be the highlight, people who visit Cine Cafe can also access Pure Cinema, which has a space for reading and can partake in film discussions. “They can also use the space to discuss scripts,” says Arun, adding that this might benefit a lot of youngsters. But how does the cafe identify assistant directors among the other customers. For that, Arun says, he issues a membership card of ₹100 which the industry people can pay and collect. With it they can order ₹5 at Cine Cafe all through the year.
Arun insists that this is a non-commercial initiative: “Raising funds has been a challenge. But thanks to directors Lokesh Kanagaraj, Mysskin and producer SR Prabhu who did a workshop for us to raise funds, I was able to realise Cine Cafe,” says Arun, adding that the bigger goal is to offer low-cost meals in the future.
“When their stomach is full, they can focus more on the art form.”
Cine Cafe is open from 6am-10pm.