Web series

Web series ‘Dinner with...’ celebrates meals with dacoits and encounter specialists

The website 101 India series is a gonzo-style exploration of the gastronomic pleasures of men with blood on their hands.

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.

Play
Salim Chopper: Dinner With The Dons.

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.

Play
MK Tevar: The Don Of Dindigul.

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?

Play
Ramesh Singh Sikarwar: The Don Of Chambal.

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.

Play
Ashok Bhadoriya: Chambal's Bandit Hunter.
We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.

Play

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.