That gangsters and police officers are two sides of the same coin is an idea that is nearly as old as cinema itself. And if gangster films are to be believed, what is a respectable don without a passion of the finer things in life? In the website 101 India’s web series Dinner with...,host Vishal Chopra dines with a variety of guests with blood on their hands – from an encounter specialist with 116 kills to his name to a Hyderabadi don who is now a marriage counseller.
The series has been inspired by Vice documentaries that attempt to give an insider view of the underbelly. Dinner with... began life in June 2016 as vignettes with dons from the Dongri and Nalasopara neighbourhoods in Mumbai. The series features conversations with evocatively named men such as Salim Chopper, who says he was inspired by Sanjay Dutt’s character in the movie Vaastav (1999). Gangsters also hold forth on Mumbai’s fabled street food.
The gangsters featured in the series are reformed criminals who talk dispassionately about chopping victims into countless pieces. Like the Vice documentaries, the information is unverified and unsubstantiated. However, stylish visuals and intimate access to flamboyant characters conveys a sense of time and place.
In one episode, Vishal Chopra visits Dindigul, referred to as the “crime capital” of Tamil Nadu, to meet local don MK Tevar. Chopra’s easy camaraderie with the mobster leads to the hilarious moment when Tevar agrees to be interviewed at a graveyard along with his dog, who is named after India’s cricket captain Virat Kohli. Tevar speaks about his abiding love for biryani, which he says should be his final meal.
The most comprehensive explorations of India’s underworld take place in the infamous Chambal valley, which has been immortalised in numerous films including Bandit Queen (1996) and Paan Singh Tomar (2013).
The first of the Chambal episodes looks at Ramesh Singh Sikarwar, who surrendered in 1984 and became a farmer. Sikarwar answers the question that plagues everyone: Who is the Samba to his Gabbar?
In the second part, Chopra meets police officer Ashok Bhadoriya, who has been involved in numerous encounters in the Chambal Valley and had a near-death experience during a shootout. Bhadoriya is a fascinating character and speaks candidly about his past encounters.
At the end of both episodes, Chopra asks his subjects whether they feel any remorse about the numerous lives they have extinguished. With their answers, both law-breaker and enforcer become equals. They have no regrets except a fleeting one over the innocent lives lost in the crossfire.
It is in these portions that the shortcomings of the series become apparent. The gonzo-style investigation has its limits. The intimate access comes at the expense of genuine sociological insight. Both gangsters and officials allow only as much detail as they want to reveal. While the time spent in the underworld locales is thrilling and pregnant with dread, Dinner with... is unable to what Tigmanshu Dhulia’s biopic Paan Singh Tomar did admirably – enter the grey area between cop and don and uncover the ethical and moral dilemmas plaguing both.
From catching Goan dances in Lisbon to sampling langar in Munich
A guide to the surprising Indian connect in Lisbon and Munich.
For several decades, a trip to Europe simply meant a visit to London, Paris and the Alps of Switzerland. Indians today, though, are looking beyond the tried and tested destinations and making an attempt to explore the rest of Europe as well. A more integrated global economy, moreover, has resulted in a more widespread Indian diaspora. Indeed, if you know where to look, you’ll find traces of Indian culture even in some unlikely cities. Lisbon and Munich are good cities to include in your European sojourn as they both offer compelling reasons to visit, thanks to a vibrant cultural life. Here’s a guide to everything Indian at Lisbon and Munich, when you wish to take a break from all the sight-seeing and bar crawling you’re likely to indulge in.
Lisbon is known as one of the most vibrant cities in Western Europe. On its streets, the ancient and the modern co-exist in effortless harmony. This shows in the fact that the patron saint day festivities every June make way for a summer that celebrates the arts with rock, jazz and fado concerts, theatre performances and art exhibitions taking place around the city. Every two years, Lisbon also hosts the largest Rock festival in the world, Rock in Rio Lisboa, that sees a staggering footfall.
The cultural life of the city has seen a revival of sorts under the current Prime Minister, Antonio Costa. Costa is of Indian origin, and like many other Indian-origin citizens prominent in Portugal’s political, business and entertainment scenes, he exemplifies Lisbon’s deep Indian connect. Starting from Vasco Da Gama’s voyage to India, Lisbon’s historic connection to Goa is well-documented. Its traces can be still be seen on the streets of both to this day.
While the Indian population in Lisbon is largely integrated with the local population, a few diaspora groups are trying to keep their cultural roots alive. Casa de Goa, formed in the ‘90s, is an association of people of Goans, Damanese and Diuese origins residing in Lisbon. Ekvat (literally meaning ‘roots’ in Konkani) is their art and culture arm that aims to preserve Goan heritage in Portugal. Through all of its almost 30-year-long existence, Ekvat has been presenting traditional Goan dance and music performances in Portugal and internationally.
Be sure to visit the Champlimaud Centre for the Unknown, hailed a masterpiece of contemporary architecture, which was designed by the critically-acclaimed Goan architect Charles Correa. If you pay attention, you can find ancient Indian influences, like cut-out windows and stand-alone pillars. The National Museum of Ancient Art also has on display a collection of intricately-crafted traditional Goan jewellery. At LOSTIn - Esplanada Bar, half of the people can be found lounging about in kurtas and Indian shawls. There’s also a mural of Bal Krishna and a traditional Rajasthani-style door to complete the desi picture. But it’s not just the cultural landmarks that reflect this connection. The integration of Goans in Lisbon is so deep that most households tend to have Goa-inspired textiles and furniture as a part of their home decor, and most families have adapted Goan curries in their cuisine. In the past two decades, the city has seen a surge in the number of non-Goan Indians as well. North Indian delicacies, for example, are readily available and can be found on Zomato, which has a presence in the city.
If you wish to avoid the crowds of the peak tourist season, you can even consider a visit to Lisbon during winter. To plan your trip, check out your travel options here.
Munich’s biggest draw remains the Oktoberfest – the world’s largest beer festival for which millions of people from around the world converge in this historic city. Apart from the flowing Oktoberfest beer, it also offers a great way to get acquainted with the Bavarian folk culture and sample their traditional foods such as Sauerkraut (red cabbage) and Weißwurst (a white sausage).
If you plan to make the most of the Oktoberfest, along with the Bavarian hospitality you also have access to the services of the Indian diaspora settled in Munich. Though the Indian community in Munich is smaller than in other major European destinations, it does offer enough of a desi connect to satisfy your needs. The ISKCON temple at Munich observes all major rituals and welcomes everyone to their Sunday feasts. It’s not unusual to find Germans, dressed in saris and dhotis, engrossed in the bhajans. The Art of Living centre offers yoga and meditation programmes and discourses on various spiritual topics. The atmosphere at the Gurdwara Sri Guru Nanak Sabha is similarly said to be peaceful and accommodating of people of all faiths. They even organise guided tours for the benefit of the non-Sikhs who are curious to learn more about the religion. Their langar is not to be missed.
There are more options that’ll help make your stay more comfortable. Some Indian grocery stores in the city stock all kinds of Indian spices and condiments. In some, like Asien Bazar, you can even bargain in Hindi! Once or twice a month, Indian film screenings do take place in the cinema halls, but the best way to catch up on developments in Indian cinema is to rent video cassettes and VCDs. Kohinoor sells a wide range of Bollywood VCDs, whereas Kumaras Asean Trades sells Tamil cassettes. The local population of Munich, and indeed most Germans too, are largely enamoured by Bollywood. Workshops on Bollywood dance are quite popular, as are Bollywood-themed events like DJ nights and dance parties.
The most attractive time to visit is during the Oktoberfest, but if you can brave the weather, Munich during Christmas is also a sight to behold. You can book your tickets here.
Thanks to the efforts of the Indian diaspora abroad, even lesser-known European destinations offer a satisfying desi connect to the proud Indian traveller. Lufthansa, which offers connectivity to Lisbon and Munich, caters to its Indian flyers’ priorities and understands how proud they are of their culture. In all its India-bound flights and flights departing from India, flyers can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options, making the airline More Indian than You Think. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalised by Lufthansa to the extent that they now offer a definitive Indian flying experience.
This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.