Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Retail therapy

After a hectic shopping trip, Sneha May Francis suggests you treat your tummy

Exercise and eat well. Experts claim this is the healthy way to live. I, for one, follow the principle very closely. The only difference being that I skip the gym for the shopping malls.
Don’t be baffled: shopping isn’t only about spending money, it’s the new age workout regime. It involves hours of walking around, packing goodies into massive bags and lugging them home. (Dumbbells seem lighter in comparison!) So after such a hectic workout, it’s imperative that one pampers one’s tummy.

There’s a food court in every mall, but they are always far too noisy and the food is almost always insipid. At the Sahara Centre, there’s a quiet corner, precariously located near the jam-packed food court, but seemingly devoid of the loud banter.

Decked with an eclectic mix of blue and wooden furniture, the Il Forno looks very inviting. We pick a table, place our bags to one side and sink into the large blue armchairs. Our waiter arrives, almost immediately, and extends the menu. We quickly select our favourites from a rather plain menu with dishes named in Italian, making it a bit tough to comprehend. It’s Insalata di Mare, a mixed seafood salad, for the starters. The delicately seasoned fresh prawns, squid and mussels, placed on a bed of crispy lettuce, arrives on a large white plate. The intoxicating smell of olive oil and herbs works miracles on our tastebuds. For the main course, we zero in on Fiorentina Al Forno (beef rib eye, pan fried with olive oil) and Quattro Stagioni (fresh tomato sauce, mozzarella, artichoke, beef salami, mushrooms and black olive).

The chunky beef slice, cooked to medium rare and smothered in creamy white sauce, is accompanied by mashed potatoes. Each bite is a revelation. The thin crusted pizza, large enough to feed an army, is a kaleidoscope of colours. It’s perfectly seasoned.

Once the food arrives, we limit our conversations to concentrate on our meal. We wash down the food with refreshing fruit drinks.

After stuffing our faces, we shamelessly ask for the dessert menu. No trip to an Italian joint would be complete without a round of tiramisu. The large slice of layered cream treat is only OK. Being a die-hard fan, I can vouch that I’ve tasted better. We also pick the sinful melted hazelnut chocolate, which turns out to be plain old chocolate mousse.

On the whole, we’d overlook the sweet disasters and give this joint a thumbs-up. So now there’s another incentive to go shopping!

Il Forno
What Italian cuisine
Where Sahara Centre, Sharjah
Why For Italian cuisine
Cost Bill for two Dh175

Published in e+, Gulf News, Dubai

Saturday, 21 February 2009

Make way for Bachchan junior

Charismatic Abhishek Bachchan leads team Delhi-6, writes Sneha May Francis

He came. He charmed. He conquered, well almost!

Bollywood badshaah Amitabh Bachchan’s baccha (son) Abhishek definitely knows a thing or two about wooing the crowd. Sporting a gelled new hairstyle and sleek formal wear, the man completely enthralled the crowd, overshadowing his tall leading lady Sonam Kapoor. Dressed in a gorgeous orange gown with chunky Kundan necklace, and hair pinned up in a curly bun, Sonam skipped the ‘charm’ quotient to take a step behind the sophisticated Bachchan boy.

Director Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, dressed in a crisp suit, with his long locks tied away in a pony-tail, took the spot behind the limelight, to let the audience enjoy the celebrity circus. For one, a certain pearly-white feathered Massakkali, the face of all Delhi-6 posters, was truly missed!

Mehra’s Delhi-6 has been the talk of the town, especially since this is his first release after his ‘masterpiece’ Rang De Basanti. The Grand Cineplex was choc-a-bloc with eager fans, who braved the grilling weekday traffic, only to catch a glimpse of their favourites. The hour-long wait came to an end when hysterical screams were heard, signalling the arrival of Bachchan junior. The leading couple walked in true rehearsed starry style, waving out, smiling and generally obliging the crowd to spurts of autograph requests. They walked the red carpet, guarded by beefy bodyguards, and stopped in front of a large black and white canvas with logos of Delhi-6 and Dubai International Film Festival.

The three stood against the massive poster backdrop to satisfy the trigger-happy crowd. The actors were flooded with flash lights, with photographers haggling for a good slot. After countless camera clicks, team Delhi-6 was ushered to the back of the theatre. The chubby bouncers were able to keep the frenzied fans from nudging and inching their way closer to the actors, almost avoiding a stampede! The mesmerised crowd followed the stars, almost missing the entrance of the theatre. It was almost like watching ‘Pied Piper’ Abhishek luring a massive crowd! The madness was over when the stars were safely moved to the dressing room (near the main screen). The retraced their steps to the main entrance, now calm and composed.

Once inside, the audience took their seats without any fuss. The customary introduction took place, after a few hurried talk about the film and its association with the DIFF. Mehra presented his film with a humble few words. “It took me seven years to make Delhi-6,” he claimed, sounding a tad hurtful. “I had approached Abhishek then but it didn’t work out. Rang De Basanti had to happen before and now it’s finally the turn for Delhi-6.” He then introduced the shy Sonam who offered a quick “hope you connect with the film”. But the star of the night was definitely Abhishek. He made a dramatic filmi entry, with Mehra shouting out for him and encouraging the women to join in. Aby baby didn’t disappoint and was at his charming best. He confidently marched in, cracked a few jokes, and threw a few tit-bits about co-star Sonam, even pointing out to her aunt and uncle in the crowd. He humoured the crowd by jumping on the stage only because a lady couldn’t see him clearly. Standing on top of the others, quite literally, he asked “Is it better now?” The crowd was awestruck! He rambled on about Sonam’s talent, urging us to give her a go, and how Delhi-6 is Mehra’s “simple, yet noble story”.

Earlier that evening, he had told me that he talks a lot when he’s nervous. Guessing by his act, I think the man was a tad nervous! A few laughs later, Abhishek jumped back and was ushered to the VVIP seats.

The movie opened to hoots and cheer from the crowd, which almost diminished as the story unfolded. I guess, it’s almost always impossible to better a masterpiece and that’s exactly happened to Mehra. His film received a lukewarm response, some people questioning why it didn’t work. For one, it didn’t have the soul of Rang De. Mehra said the film was about “love” but there was none in his film.

Abhishek may have been the star of the night, but the film was not his. Delhi-6 belongs to its strong supporting cast. Legendary actors like Rishi Kapoor (the charismatic ‘Ali’), Waheeda Rehman (the warm ‘dadi’), Divya Dutta (the tangy ‘Jalebi’), Prem Chopra (the cruel old man), Atul Kulkarni (the striking Gobbar), Om Puri (the strict Madangopal), Pavan Malhotra (as the electrifying Jai Gopal), Vijay Raaz (the menacing cop) and Cyrus Sahukar (the sleazy photographer), among others. Deepak Dobriyal as Mamdu was mindblowing! After the menacing evil guy in Omkara, he continues to fascinate.

It’s Mehra’s semi autobiographical, but Delhi-6 is not Rang De...!

Monday, 9 February 2009

Cupid’s Bollywood work

These actors romance in reel-life, but how far does love transcend into their real life... Sneha May Francis finds out

Kareena Kapoor and Saif Ali Khan
They got together amid huge controversy. She left her then beau Shahid Kapoor, and he left is many girl friends behind, to join hands on the sets of Taashan. Ever since, they have stopped at nothing to proclaim their love. From TV shows to films to ads, they have done the whole circus of ‘love publicity’. Contrary to their lukewarm onscreen image (in Taashan) they do have a lot in common – an illustrious filmi backgrounds (one a Kapoor-kid and the other son to the beautiful Sharmila Tagore), phoenix-like career growth and a tight grip on their star tantrums.

Ajay Devgan and Kajol
She makes it to Bollywood’s most talented actresses. Her eyes essayed many a crucial character with aplomb, while his dark broody unconventional look worked a way into the heart of the audiences. Their innocent love story blossomed over a few films, Ishq and Pyaar To Hona Hi Tha. After 10-years of marriage and lovely daughter Nysa, these two are focused on working on their creative growth. Their first film post marriage, Raju Chacha, flopped miserably, but their most recent - U, Me Aur Hum – had a better luck at the box office.

Bipasha Basu and John Abraham
They’ve walked the same line! Both started out as successful models before setting foot in the film industry. Their first film together - Jism - sizzled at the box office and witnessed their love story kick off. Despite rumours of infidelity they have stuck to each other for years together. After Jism, they’ve failed to recreate their love onscreen, making their onscreen romance almost insipid.

Ranbir Kapoor and Deepika Padukone
The blue-eyed Kapoor boy’s debut Saawariya may not have done well at the box office but it got him instant fame. His ladylove Deepika Padukone too struck gold with her debut Om Shanti Om. And together they basked in their success, proclaiming their love to the world. It’s rumoured they hit it off on the sets of Bachna Aai Haseeno. Though their movies (together) got a subdued response, their real life love story is going strong!

Aishwarya Rai and Abhishek Bachchan
They are Bollywood’s Brangelina! Their wedding received more media coverage than any other political story. Their relationship has been scrutanised and dissected by many a pandit (astrologer), media personalities, co-workers, and the public at large. But looks like their numerous visits to religious destinations have paid off and these two look happy. They fell in love on the sets of Umrao Jaan, which bombed. Their second film Guru did extremely well, maybe because of its strategic release close to their actual wedding. But Sarkar Raj didn’t turn out as lucky. But with a few promising projects lined up, they have their fingers crossed!

Amitabh and Jaya Bachchan
The golden couple of Bollywood. They married in 1973, when she was at the peak of her career and he was fairly new to Bollywood. They both worked in some memorable films like Abhimaan, Sholay, Chupke Chupke and Silsila. After marriage, Amitabh’s career sky-rocketed, while Jaya took up domestic duties. Jaya returned to the silver screen after many years with Fiza, Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Ghum and Kal Ho Naa Ho. While Big B continues to charm the audiences, she has taken the socio-political path. Together, they are still one of the most rock-solid couples in the film industry.

Akshay Kumar and Twinkle Khanna
Bollywood’s khiladi Akshay Kumar fell in love with Twinkle Khanna while shooting for International Khiladi and Zulmi. Though his acting journey was choc-o-bloc with numerous romantic links (namely with Raveena Tandon, Pooja Batra, Shilpa Shetty and the more recent Priyanka Chopra), he’s had the knack of shaking off all the bad publicity with super hit films. Twinkle has stood by her man through it all and gave up her, not-so-flourishing acting life, for family and a career in interior decoration.

Dilip Kumar and Saira Banu
Although Kumar was known for his fiery affair with the versatile Madhubala, he married the gorgeous Saira Banu in 1966. It was almost as if he wanted to irk Madhubala. Gossip columnists predicted Kumar, then aged 44, and Banu, then aged 22, wouldn’t last, but the union has stood the test of time. It’s said that it was Banu’s mother who persuaded Kumar to advise Banu against going out with Raj Kumar, but in the bargain the actor fell in love with the innocent beauty. Despite a strong marriage, their love didn’t transcend on the silver screen, with many of their films Gopi, Sagina and Bairaag faring badly.

Rishi Kapoor and Neetu Singh
Their vibrant energy and killer dance moves got them the most dreamy pair recognition. Their on-screen romances, prior to their wedding, namely Khel Khel Mein, Kabhi Kabhie and Rafoo Chakkar were successful. Post marriage Neetu gave up the limelight, leaving him to make his mark. With age he’s done far too few films. But after their son’s entry, the proud parents are now back to support him.

Dharmendra and Hema Malini
The erstwhile beauty, Hema Malini, was smitten by the macho Dharmendra at the premiere of a K Abbas film. Their relationship was hush-hush and it was, infact, this angle that resulted in films like Seeta Aur Geeta, Jugnu, Sholay, Azad and Raja Rani doing well at the box office. But after Hema wed Dharmendra (who was already married) their on-screen magic started dwindling. Though they didn’t get any good projects together, their individual careers did well.

Published in e+, Gulf News, Dubai (Feb. 5, 2009 issue)

Love struck Hollywood

On Valentine’s Day Sneha May Francis does a cupid check on what makes certain couples tick

Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie
They are by far the most celebrated couple in Hollywood. Their controversial love story (which resulted in Brad leaving his lovely first wife Jennifer Aniston) and ever-increasing brood of children has been fodder for numerous media houses. In fact, it’s his ravishing boyish charm coupled with her mother-ly goodness that makes them so special. Their love story might have sparked off on the sets of Mr and Mrs Smith, yet there’s no sign of Jolie going the Mrs-Pitt way. Yet, these two have withstood the test of time and many a ‘love’ tattoo!

David and Victoria Beckham
He’s the pin-up boy of football and she’s a style icon-in-the-making. They each might not have a career to boost, with Victoria’s singing career ending, almost, as soon as it started and Beckham unable to bend a few rounds. But they have managed to strike it with the papps. Her tight-lipped poses and his charming smiles, with their three little boys, made for a perfectly happy family. Something rare in the celeb world! Despite Beckham’s famous wandering eye, these two have clung on to each other, with numerous tattoos thrown in.

Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes
Hollywood’s quintessential chocolate boy shocked the world when he pledged his love for Katie Holmes, after dating her for merely two months, at the Eiffel Tower (with a large solitaire for his lady). Many claimed this hasty love story wouldn’t last. A year later and a cute little angel in hand, the two tied the knot in a controversial Scientology ceremony in 2006, thus putting a tight hold on everyone’s lip. Despite numerous media attempts at spotting the cracks in their relationship, these two are still smiling wide!

Marc Anthony and Jennifer Lopez
She’s been in and out of numerous relationships, some popular actors, while some unknown backstage dancers. And through them all, she’s paraded them for paparazzi profit. He’s a silent shy kind, keeping his personal life under wraps and letting his voice do the talking. They both had little common, except for their flourishing singing career. She married him, almost immediately after breaking off with Ben Affleck. Critics saw him as just ‘another’ man in JLo’s life. Speculations continue about whether there are cracks in their marriage, but four years and cutesy-little twins later, these two look very much in sync with one another.

Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner
His would have been one of the most flourishing Hollywood careers, but he, in stead, got side-tracked by his affairs. There was a time when his cozy photographs with JLo were more in demand than his films. His diminishing acting career went down even lower after his unceremonious split with the singer. He, almost instantly, hooked up with Jennifer Garner on the sets of Daredevil. Theirs was the most lukewarm or rather most predictable Hollywood love story. Two little girls later, and a four-year-old marriage later, these two look extremely comfy.

Will Smith and Jada Pinket-Smith
It can’t get better than this. They make us want to be in love, all over again. These two powerful individuals admiringly complement each other. And it’s almost intoxicating to see them together. Completely content and happy, this is truly an unmovie-like love story. Their 11-year rock solid marriage and a strong growing career, makes them unique in Hollywood. Their 10-year-old son Jayden and eight-year-old daughter, Willow, completes the happy family portrait.

Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban
Millions sympathised with this lanky beauty when Tom Cruise decided to leave her. She was miserable in the beginning, but slowly, yet steadily, picked up the pieces and made a mark for herself in the industry. Along with her steady career came a prince charming - Keith Urban. And they have had shared one of the most sweet love stories in tinsel town.

Courtney Cox and David Arquette
They are one of the most rock solid couples in Hollywood. Nine years into their marriage and a cute daughter – Coco - later, they seem to be in a happy space. Despite being under the media microscope, simply because the papps couldn’t digest the fact that love stories do exist, these two have stood strong.

Jennifer Aniston and John Mayor
Her ‘Cinderella’ love story came crashing when Brad decided to leave. Miserable at first, she slowly moved on. She dated many, but nothing materialised. In a way, people wished Jennifer would find her true love. John Mayor struck a few right notes and had the lady singing his tunes. Though thing concrete has come out of the relationship, we sure hope that this time, she’s found love.

Beyonce and JayZ
She is the voluptuous singing sensation, while he, the talented rap mogul. Their success musical story bordered on similar lines, both worked their way to the top with little or no industry backing. They came from modest backgrounds and weren’t swayed by the glitz and glamour of Hollywood. They protected their love story from the glaring media eye. Their wedding was a private affair, with no media access. But insiders claim it was a white, fairytale-like wedding. They have their priorities right and look absolutely smitten by each other!

Published in e+, Gulf News, Dubai (Feb. 5, 2009 issue)

Kebab & Kurries

Sneha May Francis is smitten by this delicious North Indian fare

Background scores of a film have a strange way of depicting the fate of the film, and in an almost peculiarly similar way, background music played at restaurants work as a prelude to the flavours served. And this is what worked in favour of Qureshis Kebab and Kurry. The host of nostalgic tracks played, all from yesteryear Hindi films, made our meal truly memorable. Though I would have preferred the hypnotic voices of Kishore Kumar and Lata Mangeshkar over the instrumental version, but I am not entirely disappointed.

The striking reddish splendour at this tiny restaurant transforms you into a culinary world from North India. The elaborate menus explain how each dish is not overpoweringly spiced and cooked slowly to help retain each exquisite flavour. The glassed side walls are decorated in silhouettes of Indian village folk and the ceiling dressed with red crystal lanterns. A small stage, at one end, holds a tabla and other musical instruments underwraps, promising a ghazal extravaganza at dinner time. The lunch-goers, however, can enjoy the Hindi melodies on tape. The tables are neatly laid, in crisp white table linen. Each white crockery is bordered with tiny, red chillies, in a way warning us that some dishes can be fiery!

Our extremely courteous waiter, Monmohan, guided us through the menu, offering quick suggestions. As we waited for our order to be prepared, we savoured the crispy pappads served with an assortment of dips – minty yogurt, tangy spicy crushed chillies and mango pickle. The riot of flavours tickled our tastebuds and pacified our growling tummies before the main course arrived.

A few Hindi songs later, Monmohan arrived with the starters. Jhinga Dum Nisha, delicately tandoor cooked jumbo prawns in a thick marinade of cheese and hung yogurt. Each bite into the soft, fleshy prawns was a revelation. The Peshwari Murgh Kebab, boneless chicken chunks chargrilled in a spicy marinade, was simply scrumptious. After the first round of serving, the dishes were placed on tiny grills to keep them hot.

For the main course, we chose the chef’s special Dhaba Murgh and Khumb Harapyaz. The cubed chicken in a rich thick gravy tingled our tastebuds, while mushroom and spring onion dish, cooked in tomato gravy, turned out to be a tad too spicy. Our intuitive waiter sensed our inability to tackle spicy food and placed a bowl of plain yogurt even before he served the main dishes! For bread we chose he soft, yet slightly flaky butter naan, which came with a lavish spread of salty butter. Tasty!

It’s almost like tradition that we end every spicy meal with a sugary sweet dish. The famous Indian sweet dish, gulab jamoon, did the trick for us. The syrupy delicacy was the best we’ve ever tasted. The syrup was not overpoweringly sweet, the jamoon unbelievably soft, instantly melting and soothing our tastebuds.

We stayed on, for a few more minutes after the meal, to savour the riot of flavours lingering in our mouth and the melodious Hindi film songs playing in the background. We left completely content, not before promising ourselves another visit to a night of dreamy ghazals.

Bill for 2
Peshwari Murgh Kebab Dh46
Jhinga Dum Nish Dh75
Khumb Harapyaz Dh35
Dhaba Murgh Dh46
Naan Dh24
Shahad E Jaam Dh 22
Total Dh 248
Qureshi’s Kebab & Kurry
Country Club Hotel
Bur Dubai
04 398 8840

Published in e+, Gulf News, Dubai on February 5 issue