Bombay has two Gods. Bollywood and Cricket. Both worshipped by ardent fans who constantly expect to be charmed. Bollywood sits in the heart of Bombay and has religious followers, inspired, filled with hope and who dream to be a part of this industry. You will see a number of them lurking around Bombay’s film studios, a place where Gods were made.
Now you’re wondering what's this got to do with me! Let me tell you a story.
My first real job (aside from the part time work I did in college) was at Sony Pix, a newly launched English movie channel in 2007. My first tryst with what happens behind the scenes. This led to the real world of film when I joined Vinod Chopra Films. I assisted Mr. Chopra on 3 idiots and Ferrari Ki Sawaari and spent many hours at studio sets (sometimes being productive, but mostly being a prop). My first time on set was whilst shooting a promotional campaign for 3 idiots at Mehboob Studio.
Every studio houses a canteen that caters to hundreds of artists, heads of departments, senior and junior crew. Yesteryear actors didn’t bother eating in the seclusion of their vanity, they’d instead join the crew in the canteens for their favourite meals. Today, it's mainly crowded with production units and job seekers. My first meal at the Mehboob Studio canteen inspired me to write this piece. (Also, I'm a Bollywood fiend).
One Sunday, I set off on a trail to explore canteen food at four cult studios serving up specialties that have become their legacy and also a hit among today’s younger generation of superstars.
The Romance: Mehboob studio, Bandra West
Founded in 1954 by director and producer Mehboob Khan, this institution sits in the heart of Bandra and houses 5 shooting stages. It soon become popular with directors such as Guru Dutt, Chetan Anand and Dev Anand. In the following decades it was used by Manmohan Desai extensively. A recording studio was added in the 1970s and both remain in use (Source: Wiki). The Mehboob Studio canteen started 50 years ago and has been run by the Shetty’s ever since. Mr. Prakash Shetty, a second generation member of the family is the man in charge. He is warm, polite and humble. Little has changed in the decor of the canteen ever since it was built. An old school Irani café charm similar to the many neighbourhood joints that dot the streets of Bandra. Mr. Shetty was kind enough to share some anecdotes about movie stars who would make sure that a tiffin from home was not necessary when one had the studio canteen. Mr. Shetty recommended the misal fry, omelet pao and kheema kaleji and the showstopper - cutting chai.
Misal fry is made by frying the usal (Sprouts cooked in a spicy gravy) on a tawa (flat iron pan) and topped with farsan (A local mixture of salty snacks). Mr. Shetty has a big smile on his face when he tells us that Abhishek Bachchan still orders this in his vanity van. The omelet was simple, light and fluffy. It was the Kheema Kaleji that blew my mind! A perfect romance between texture and taste.
Tip: Unless you are shooting or have a booking inquiry, getting in can be a challenge. Make sure to brush up on those acting skills ;)
The Multi Starrer: Yash Raj Studios, Andheri West
Yash Raj Studios is one the newer additions to the studios of Bombay. Spread across 20 acres in Andheri West, it boasts of high-end technology, refined shooting equipment and multiple editing and sound recording studios. The canteen is an open air space with two levels which may look familiar if you've have watched the McDonalds fight scene in Chak De. The ground floor has a lunch buffet on display and they do not serve à la carte. Sandeep Kadam, who is serving us, thinks we're from the press and instantly looks hostile (Reflex actions!). We engage in mere banter and soon we're friends. I top my plate from the lunch buffet just so I can convince Sandeep to make us a plate of his famous Chilli Cheese Toast. It works.
The buffet spread had typical canteen style food that you eat to quickly fill your stomach and get back to work. It is setup on a daily basis and Yashraj does not allow caterers from outside on their sets. The menu was simple: Mixed vegetables, Aloo Karela Sabzi (Potato and Bittergourd), Chicken curry, Steamed Rice, Chapatis (Flatbread) and Jalebis (Sweet deep fried dessert)!
The Haunted: Filmistan, Goregaon West
Founded in 1943, Filmistan is spread over five acres, has seven shooting floors, and a temple and garden for outdoor locations. The studio has permanent sets of the Central Jail, a temple and a police commissioner’s office. As the name goes, this is one of the oldest studios in the city and the birthplace of legendary movies like Anarkali and Nagin. The studio was quiet (nothing on floors that day) and as the gates closed behind me, I am haunted by its eerie silence.
The canteen was started over 50 years ago by Mr. Vitthal Shetty and is run by his son Sudhir Shetty for over 25 years. Our server is Deepak who seems to be pretty popular with the few people who come into the canteen. He briefly sits and talks with us about union strikes and his one degree of separation from movie stars who know him by name. Dal Khichdi is their hero but is unavailable (as most heroes are!) so he offers us his next line up of Misal Fry and Bhurji Cheese Toast.
This Misal hits the spot. The Bhurji Cheese toast is a spiced scramble egg grilled between two slices of bread and hidden under a tiny mountain of grated cheese.
The Fantasy: Film City, Goregaon East
Film City was built by the State Government to facilitate film shoots. There is strict entry at the gates and the guards are pretty good at separating the actors from the stars. We drive through the city with massive sets being constructed on either sides. TV shows have permanent sets while extravagant film sets pop up for a couple of months. The canteen is located close to the booking office, so we get through the second check point without a fuss.
The canteen is owned by Anil Gaikwad and he directs us to window side table and sends over a waiter to talk about the specialties. The waiter insists that everything is good on the menu and shies away. The manager steps in and yet another Misal Fry is recommended except this one is loaded with butter. Another star on this menu is the Triple Schezwan Vegetable Fried Rice.
This piece was written couple of years ago and I hope to go back on set some day again (maybe to shoot my own show) and relive some good old canteen days.