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18.01.2016

As the Juhu Versova Link Road starts to curve past the Arabian Sea, so does time. On the left is the historic Dariya Mahal; on the right, twin clusters of twentieth-century cottages straight out of a tropical fishing village. These form the core of Aram Nagar 1 and Aram Nagar 2, nodes where Hindi cinema's young heartland heroes - the Kashyap-Dhulia fraternity – have or have had their base.

Andheri, with its proximity to production offices and audition studios has always been home to new-in-town movie contenders and established film folk. But when several birdies from Bollywood mentioned that the neighbourhood has turned into a mini Delhi of sorts, we decided to dig deeper. 

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It is said in jest but could well be true that Anurag Kashyap should be the MLA of Aram Nagar. All hail the king. Here, the air is thick with BMW exhaust and the dust of bootstraps, with men who believe that they're the next Ranveer Singh and women who know they're better than Anushka Sharma prowling around casting offices, coffee shops, dance studios and bars. Someone’s just been cast at a studio nearby and they say Andheri is one big party, like the jazz age. Someone’s just been rejected and they say the jazz age, like Bombay Velvet, ended with The Great Depression.

It is said in jest but could well be true that Anurag Kashyap should be the MLA of Aram Nagar. All hail the king.

Hope and pessimism are palpable here, we can feel frissons of them both as we walk through to see if what casting director Mukesh Chhabra told us is true. There are in fact at least 250 hopeful actors standing outside his Aram Nagar office, and according to Mukesh who has in his portfolio films like PK, Gangs of Wasseypur, Rockstar, Aashiqui 2 and Kai Po Che, “60% of these aspirants are from Delhi and Gurgaon.” We have no empirical proof for this figure, but we imagine that yelling, “look, channa kulcha!” would be an effective litmus test for separating homesick Delhiites from the rest. 

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We camp out at Café Coffee Day in Versova (formerly “Costa” but still a place where head shots and Hindi language skills are prized commodities); eat lunch at a four table Oshiwara restaurant where the other three tables are dedicated to script sessions; and are eventually led to a place where “Northern food almost as good as Delhi’s” is delivered until 4 am.

It becomes clear that Andheri hosts an eco-system where the Capital’s university alumni help hopefuls find work (or least provide a couch for the night) and restaurants are requested, pleaded, coaxed into serving Capital specials, sometimes using recipes emailed by Delhi moms.

Take Siddhant Sachdev for instance, who moved to Mumbai as an assistant director in 2002. A Delhi University graduate and then president of the theatre club, he was popular in college and has since guided many alumni students looking for film work in Mumbai. “I have so many juniors who have moved to Bombay to try and find work in Bollywood. They may not be friends but many have stayed on my couch for a few nights. We all help each other,” he says, adding that any Delhiite, no matter how well assimilated, misses two things madly: winter and butter chicken. And in pursuit of the latter, Siddhant and his friends found The Third House, which delivers “almost-Delhi-like” butter chicken until 4 am.

“We joke that Chakh Le has turned into the proxy mother of many Delhiites living in Andheri. Our food is homely and comes minus food colouring or oil, but we do add butter. What kind of Delhi mother would we be if we didn’t?”

Says Third House owner Khaliq Moti: “I can tell from a customer’s order whether they are from Delhi, and there are now many in Andheri. They’re the fussy ones, the food snobs who give directions to the kitchen, who request channa bhatura even if it’s not on the menu and who come around with their mum’s rajma recipe.” He also rattles off a list of film offices in the neighbourhood he has delivered to, with a client list that includes filmmaker Rohit Shetty, Priyanka Chopra, Akshay Kumar and music director Pritam.

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Film writer Mayank Tewari (Sulemani Keeda and Ragini MMS) hasn’t sampled the butter chicken at Third House, but he has discovered that one thing in Bombay that can make any Delhiite weak in the knees: kulcha channa. “When my wife and I first came to Mumbai, we lived in Bandra and not finding good Indian food was her only grouse. But when we moved to Andheri and discovered the kulcha channa at Chakh Le India, we felt right at home.

“Lokhandwala is an interesting study in space and how it influences culture. Everyone wants to be in the movies. Every table at every restaurant is discussing a script and every film meeting is 5 minutes away. It’s a lot of fun,” says Mayank, adding that Delhi has a pool of talent and a great command over Hindi, which could account for its growing presence in the film industry.

Assistant director Siddhant suggests that the Delhi food thing could be Andheri’s Plan B. “Maybe if doesn’t work out in Bollywood, I’ll start a channa bhatura stall,” he laughs.

Incidentally, one of the partners who runs Chakh Le India is also from Delhi, which explains the kulcha channa addition to the menu. Dinesh Singh, his head of operations tells us that many Delhi natives in the neighbourhood flock here for other Indian dishes as well. “We joke that Chakh Le has turned into the proxy mother of many Delhiites living in Andheri. Our food is homely and comes minus food colouring or oil, but we do add butter. What kind of Delhi mother would we be if we didn’t?”

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Bollywood stylist Ekta Jaggi wonders how people from the Capital can feel homesick in Andheri, because the neighbourhood is now essentially a replica of home. “I love living in Andheri because it has such a distinct Delhi vibe. You’re bound to run into someone from NCR at the coffee shops, restaurants and gyms,” says Ekta, who finds her Delhi food fill at JJ Express, Curry House and The Dhaba.

Bu there is a certain section of Delhi food snobs in Andheri like filmmaker Danish Aslam (Break Ke Baad) who refuse to give the Bombay kulcha channa a chance. “We accepted early on that we’d never get authentic Delhi food in Mumbai and just made our peace with it. It’s not like us Delhi people get together on sweaty summer nights and bemoan the lack of anda paratha, but that’s one thing I’ve never seen here and would love to.”

Assistant director Siddhant suggests that the Delhi food thing could be Andheri’s Plan B. “Maybe if doesn’t work out in Bollywood, I’ll start a channa bhatura stall,” he laughs. But given the current Delhi - Andheri migration, an authentic channa bhatura kiosk from back home could be a pretty solid Plan A, too.

Kahani mein twist?

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Getting there: The Third House, 13 Mohid Heights, Andheri West, call 33814076; Chakh Le India, Shop 8, Fantasy Cooperative Housing Society , J.P.Road, Seven Bungalow, Versova, Andheri West, call 33814186. 

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