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Capturing the charms of childhood, cookery and cinema

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September 2006
Capturing the charms of childhood, cookery and cinema

Beyond its association with Indian cooking, masala is a multipurpose term that's used to describe the kind of films Bollywood likes to make. This word, which "generally refers to a hodge-podge of elements mixed together to add spice to the final product," captures in a nutshell the unique flavors of both Indian cuisine and commercial cinema. Two books being released here next month promise to entice, with their broad scope, even readers who aren't necessarily avid foodies or film fans. Climbing the Mango Trees: A Memoir of a Childhood in India (Knopf) is by Madhur Jaffrey. And Naman Ramachandran is the author of Lights, Camera, Masala: Making Movies in Mumbai (India Book House). As a veteran actress and mistress of spices, Jaffrey straddles both worlds with ease. In this memoir, she dwells on her idyllic childhood in India, where her large and affluent family used to make trips to the Himalayas from their home in Delhi. Given that Jaffrey often recreates the past through memories of the food cooked and eaten, her book has been dubbed a gastrobiography. "The book is written with the measured cadences of someone brought up as ‘a privileged product of British colonial India' and topped with a generous serving of 32 recipes," notes The Guardian, adding, "This book becomes richer and deeper as it progresses, as Jaffrey relates these experiences to broader social contexts: of being forced to make imperial food at school (like blancmange, the ‘British food for invalids'), and the changing contents of lunchboxes during Partition." Lights, Camera, Masala is an eye-catching coffee table tome that's probably more suitable for browsing than serious reading. Yet, though Sheena Sippy's pictures are the obvious draw, the book isn't merely a photo album for the star-struck and celebrity-watchers. What's novel is that the making of a Bollywood film is seen through the eyes of two imaginary characters, Vijay and Ravi, who take the reader through the process from start to finish. Aishwarya Rai, Shah Rukh Khan, Amitabh Bachchan, Karan Johar and Ramesh Sippy are some of the filmwallahs featured in the book.


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