Saturday, January 22, 2005

Amita MalikSIGHT & SOUND
Food for thought
Amita Malik

Programmes on food and cuisine have been one of the staple diets on television since it began in India. It all started with auntyjis, who wanted to show their culinary skills and special recipes on TV. They came complete with party sarees, diamond rings and mangalsutras which dipped in dal makhani. They gave nice home-made recipes which did no harm.

Upen Patel and Malaika Arora Khan on Cook Na Kaho
Upen Patel and Malaika Arora Khan on Cook Na Kaho

Then, with the proliferation of channels, came the super cooks from five-star hotels, giving us recipes for exotic dishes cooked in microwave ovens. We were duly impressed and some of the chefs have become so famous and popular, with formidable star status, that they have left their five-star hotels and started restaurants and food classes of their own. And good luck to them.

Together with the star chefs there is a new class ó the chamchas. Either pretty girls who giggle all the time or men who taste the food, lick their lips and say how super it is, without ever telling us why they found the dish super. And everyone lives, and cooks, happily ever after. However, I would like to raise a dissenting voice against some of the stars, most of whom consider themselves above criticism.

In my last column I mentioned two women who were covering Chinese restaurants in Hong Kong. The shoulder-brushing earrings of one of them got perilously near the soup. And the only remark they made when a Chinese cook made some Shezuan dish for them was that there were too many red chillies ó for them, that is.

Last week I was rung up by one of the Capitalís gourmet cooks who has written books on cookery for top publishers. "Just watch the food programme on Star One", she said and rang off. And I soon discovered why she had called it "unhygienic".

The programme called Cook Na Kaho was hosted by Upen Patel. And what Patel was doing revolted me, as it had my gourmet friend. Like most Indians I believe in jootha, that is, not polluting food personally with fingers or spoon when it is meant for all. Not for any religious sentiments but because it is unhygienic and can spread infection. What Patel was doing was putting a fork into the ice-cream, licking it and putting it back into the ice-cream. Sorry Patel, but I would not eat your food after that. You could use gloves rather than lick your fingers. What made the programme more unbearable were the fancy camera angles. Why should the cook be shot upside down, sideways and lying down. He canít cook like that, whatever the cameraman may think.

It is for the same reason that I find one of the TV ads revolting. This is the advertisement for Daawat rice, where a family is at the table. When the dish of super rice is finished, a pretty girl finds that an elderly gentleman has a grain of rice on his cheek. She sneaks across and licks it off his face. Ugh! How could she? And while on ads, I find the Ford ad very anti-social and giving wrong ideas to young people. It shows an old gentleman sitting on a floating platform, fishing. Along comes a family in a Ford car and discover that they have to cross a river. So they quietly (this canít be done, however quietly, without the old gentleman noticing) drive the car on to the platform, cut the rope tying it on the bank and row the car and the old gentleman to the other side. Then they drive off in the car to loud derisive laughter when the old fisherman discovers what has happened. There are other ways to advertise a car than mock at elderly people and make fool of them.

There is uproar after uproar, mostly political, on the screen these days. While the Shankaracharya simmers, along comes Justice Banerjee with his bombshell report on Godhra. That will more than simmer for days and then there will be the elections. Heaven help us. In the middle of all this, NDTV has launched its PROFIT (Business) channel. I welcome it for a selfish reason. For months the normal news channel in English was commandeered for business news and prime time taken over for the same. For viewers not interested in business matters, one hopes there will be more non-business news on NDTV 24/7.

Tailpiece: Two requests for Doordarshan. Will you kindly tell both your English and Hindi newscasters that government is not pronounced as gorr-ment? And please tell us why there is a broad green line running at the bottom of your news channel and on either side the words: VOLUME on the left and 40 on the right. We donít have any 40 on our TVs, so are quite confused.