My aunt loves watching Marathi plays at Dinanath Mangeshkar, Vile Parle. My uncle hates them and often falls asleep in the second act of each show. But nevertheless, he tags along and tolerates the first half, bidding his time until the interval. At Interval, the audience pours into the foyer, scrambling to get to the real superstar of the auditorium. Dressed in oily, white-yellow envelopes, shrouded in fluffy batter, the unchanging, unfailingly delicious, Garma-garam Bataate Vade. This uncle is a legend to me, and I fondly remember him every time I watch a terrible play in Parle or at Shivaji Mandir, Dadar. An interval of Bataata Vada and Chaha/Coffee can make any act of any play a hundred times better.
Treats before the Third Bell
Marathi stage refers to its audience as Rasik – connoisseur. Theatre and food go hand in hand here. Try eating at Ram Krishna or Shabri before a play at Dinanath, and you overhear anticipation for the same play from audience members at tables around you. Or have chai at Geeta Refreshments after the play, and you’ll overhear the cast and crew discussing the show, sipping chai on the next table.
It’s not just Parle East, however. Cold Coffee at the NCPA, Suleimani Chai at Prithvi Cafe, and Chicken Coleslaw sandwiches at Andrews have been elevating the theatre-going experience in this city for years. The foyer in the old Bhaidas Auditorium in Juhu would transform into Juhu Chaupati during intervals with Chaat Stall, Popcorn, Cotton Candy, Ice Cream – I think horses and ferris wheels would’ve been welcome here, if only they had fit through the door.
My teens and early twenties were spent trying to work in as many Bombay theatres as possible. The hustle was real, budgets were restricted, and meals were mainly street food, and yet we were never short on options. The NCPA cafe was out of bounds and you only went to Alfredo’s in Juhu when your seniors were buying lunch. But the Khau Galli on the Nariman Point backroad, near the NCPA bus stop was then an active supporter of student theatre, with everything from delicious Sandwiches, Dosas, Kebabs, Rolls and a delectable Ganne ka Juice available at cheap prices. An early morning at Prithvi Theatre meant breakfast at Fresco or the Idliwaala near Novotel, evenings meant the Sevpuri-Bhelpuri guy at the Janki Kutir gate and late shows meant herds of young theatre enthusiasts walking to Ayaz for a Tikka Roll dinner afterwards. Samosas and Upma will never taste better than they did at the old Tamaasha Studio in Aram Nagar.
Student theatre also meant inter-collegiate competitions, where hundreds of hungry artists from all across Mumbai would converge to celebrate the performing arts. Finals for the Mumbai University Youth Festival were held in Churchgate and they went on for days; one not-to-be-missed event was going with your teammates to Stadium Restaurant near the station for endless plates of Mutton Keema, Caramel Custard and Bread Pudding.
IPTA’s elimination rounds were at Mysore Associations, Matunga and the stressbusters from the high-stakes compition was Rava Dosa and Pineapple Sheera at Madras Cafe and Ramashray. On the day of the IPTA finals, at Tejpal Auditorium, we would finish our performance, skip a play (one touted to not be in the running) and walk down to the New Ideal Cafe for Biryani, Butter Chicken and Custard. That Cafe now competes with McDonald’s next door, but I am not complaining. Maybe more theatres need a McDonald’s near them to sustain student theatre in Mumbai. On the other hand, the famous Sandwich-waala outside Bhartiya Vidya Bhavan in Girgaon Chowpatty has scores of young actors and backstage artists indebted to him (humne Namak, Aaloo aur Cheese khaya hai) and I hope he never goes away, and neither does Girgaum’s Cafe New York.
Times change, tastes change and so does the Rasik audience member. As you savour new experience inside the theatre, you discover new places to gossip and discuss the show outside it. Now when I go to Shivaji Mandir, I go to Aaswad and Gypsy (for the Misal, Sabudana Vada, Wothimbir Vadi feasts) or to Gomantak for Fish Thali. Homemade Cafe in Juhu is the assigned spot before a play at Prithvi (everything is delicious here) and if I crave Alfredo’s Pepperoni Pizza, I don’t have to wait for a senior to take me there. The dainty Suzette behind NCPA is a failsafe choice, and going to Bandra (Andrew’s, Rangsharda) comes with the temptation of Sushi at Fatty Bao, seafood at Soul Fry or a Buff Chilly Burger at Gondola’s. College theatre groups waiting for the awards ceremony at IPTA, probably grab a Happy Meal now, or perhaps they have found a new haunt at Kemp’s Corner they swear by and will someday fondly write about.
Neel Kaka Got it Right
Nothing excites me more than the idea of watching a play, even today. But nothing can add to the excitement more than a food joint by the corner. “Where is the show, Aram Nagar? Toh Jam Jar mein mile ya seedha Veda Factory?”
I would like to declare my sleepy-in-the-second-act uncle an undiscovered genius. Reminisce over a good play you just saw, with yummy food tickling your tastebuds or watch a good performance on a full stomach. It’s the grandest treat you can gift yourself.