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Short-Film ‘Chutney’ speaks Volumes about the Great Middle Class Life in India

Chutney is a short story with a long content-drive, a kind of reined-in heft that feature films should emulate.

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A still from the Film "Chutney", Wikimedia
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November 30, 2016: Film: “Chutney”; Directed by Jyothi Kapoor Das; Starring: Tisca Chopra, Adil Hussain, Rasika Duggal; Rating: *** 1/2 (3 and a half stars)

The enormously talented actress Tisca Chopra has turned producer with a short story that left me panting for more. The economy of expression compounded by an austerity of emotional leverage gives to “Chutney”, the short story with a long content-drive, a kind of reined-in heft that feature films should emulate.

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You don’t need two hours to establish characters or build a momentum in the plot. Just a look, a gesture or a swipe would suffice provided the emotions underlining the narrative are worked out in detail in the script. In brief, the blueprint is cut before the camera gets into action.

Almost all of the very disturbing plot of “Chutney” unfolds through a conversation between a housewife from Ghaziabad (Tisca in a very convincing frumpy makeup) and a woman who is a threat to her marriage (played with saucy relish – in more ways than one – by Rasika). Tisca plays the wife with compelling but casual candour. She looks different, yes. But that’s just a part, a very small part of what she does with her part. She gives to the wife a kind of ‘don’t-mess-with-my-marriage’ finality and ‘I-won’t-let-you-cheat’ closure that I found disarming and disturbing. If Tisca’s wifely concerns were not so tragic, they’d actually be fodder for a black comedy.

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Adultery and unfaithful husbands run through the plot scampering across the hazily hectic horizon of the plot redolent with threats of toxification and death. There are two domestic servants in the plot, one is killed after he discovers his wife cheating on him, the other one spits into the glasses of cold beverage before serving them to his employee and her guest.Maybe we should just go for self-help.

“Chutney” is a small slight and fragile on the top but very assured sturdy and self-composed underneath. It is held together by the smaller performers who flit in and out with an energetic anxiety helping the director to create a sense of imminent doom. But it’s Tisca Chopra’s central performance that really holds the plot at the hinges and prevents it from coming undone in spite its over-ambitious overtures that threaten to over-run the adulterous drama.

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After watching “Chutney”, we are unlikely to dip into a bowl of ‘dhaniya’ chutney without feeling our stomach churn, or be tempted to cheat on our spouses without wondering what sort of nemesis awaits at the end of sexual revelry.

This is a a short film that serves up quite a dish for Tisca Chopra to nibble on. She chews up the scenes, and kills it, in unexpected ways. (IANS)

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Is Chutney out of place in Carnival?

Chutney has been able to resist the domination of calypso as the heartbeat of Carnival music

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Chutney has been able to resist the domination of calypso as the heartbeat of Carnival music. Wikimedia Commons
Chutney has been able to resist the domination of calypso as the heartbeat of Carnival music. Wikimedia Commons
  • Chutney soca music is a crossover style of music incorporating Soca elements
  • The satire on Prime Minister Rowley’s mother has been arguably the most controversial song in the history of calypso, soca and chutney in the country.
  • It is the International Chutney Queen Competition to be held on February 2 at Guaracara Park in San Fernando, the second largest city in the country

By Dr Kumar Mahabir

When people get angry, they tend to speak their mind. Their emotions explode in words that they have been suppressing for some time. Psychologist Dr Jeffrey Huntsinger proved this theory after conducting experiments at Loyala University in Chicago in the USA in 2012.

Chutney Soca promoter George Singh really spoke his mind when he became upset on learning that his 2018 show was not funded by the National Lotteries Control Board (NLCB), an agency of the Afro-dominated Government in multi-ethnic Trinidad and Tobago  (T&T).

At a news conference which he convened, Singh said that “the decision by the Government not to support chutney soca was an insult to the art form” (Express 05/02/17).

George Singh is a Chutney Soca promoter. Wikimedia Commons
George Singh is a Chutney Soca promoter. Wikimedia Commons

Singh raged: “The Government, over the last three years, has consistently reduced funding to Chutney Soca Monarch and various members of the present administration have stated directly to me that chutney soca brings no value to Carnival” (emphasis added).

At the same news conference, Singh said that the Government had approved a budget of TT $146 million to the National Carnival Commission (NCC).

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“I think this administration is hell-bent on seeing that it [chutney soca] has no place in Carnival. It is a slap in the face to Indo-Caribbean entertainment,” he said.

Singh’s outburst was a public exposé of what the Indo-Trinidadian (Indian) community had always known i.e. Indian culture (e.g. chutney, pichakaree ) is given marginal or no space in “national” and regional shows (e.g. CARIFESTA).

Sing’s rant is more revealing since he has admitted that he has “family ties” to Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi (Express 27/12/17).

Carnival in Trinidad has long been the cultural preservation of the Afro-Trinidadian (African) community. Wikimedia Commons
Carnival in Trinidad has long been the cultural preservation of the Afro-Trinidadian (African) community. Wikimedia Commons

In all his anger, Singh was careful not to confirm what almost every Trinidadian suspected i.e. that Government initially denied him funding because he was allowing Massive to perform his hot chutney hit “Rowlee Mudda Count.”

The satire on Prime Minister Rowley’s mother has been arguably the most controversial song in the history of calypso, soca and chutney in the country.

I have always contended that chutney concerts, competitions, tents and fêtes must be recognised as part of Carnival and must be a given an equitable share of culture funds, media space and stage presence.

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My argument is contained in detail in a chapter entitled “Chutney Music in Carnival:

Re-defining National Identity in Trinidad and Tobago” in the book Caribbean Dynamics:

Re-configuring Caribbean Culture (2015). The book is edited by Drs Beatrice Boufoy-Bastick Savrina Chinien and published by Ian Randle in Jamaica.

In the chapter, I discussed how Carnival in Trinidad has long been the cultural preservation of the Afro-Trinidadian (African) community. To this day, the major players and champions of calypso, soca, extempo, steelpan and masquerade, whether in Jouvert (“Jour Ouvert”) or Dimanche Gras, remain participants of African descent.

The emergence of chutney music and artists in 1995 – when Basdeo Panday was elected as the first Indian Prime Minister of T&T – was historic. In 1996, the rendition of Sonny Mann’s runaway hit “Lotay La” by DJs in soca parties, and by steel bands as their Road Mach tune during Carnival signalled the advent of chutney into the national urbanized festival/centre.

Chutney is being strongly influenced by calypso and soca rhythms and dance styles. Wikimedia Commons
Chutney is being strongly influenced by calypso and soca rhythms and dance styles. Wikimedia Commons

In the following years, Indians continued to change the ontology of “the national festival” to the extent that Carnival has to be re-defined to include Chutney Monarch, Chutney Brass, Chutney Soca, Chutney Calypso, Chutney Glow and Chutney Mardi Gras.

For the first time this year, a new chutney show is being introduced to the Carnival calendar. It is the International Chutney Queen Competition to be held on February 2 at Guaracara Park in San Fernando, the second largest city in the country. The event is being hosted by Randy Glasgow Productions.

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Chutney is being strongly influenced by calypso and soca rhythms and dance styles, but the genre is also used as an alternative to the Afro-Creole music formats. There have been two institutionalised chutney calypso theatres: “D” Massive Gosine Roving Calypso/Chutney Tent and the National Chutney Calypso Touring Tent.  Now in its eighth year is the National Carnival Schools Intellectual Chutney Soca Monarch Competition held at the Queen’s Park Savannah in Port of Spain.

These chutney competitions cum fêtes allow Indians to gain a sense of inclusion in this grand “national” festival, although on the periphery of the capital city. These cultural incursions also allow Indians to actively participate in Carnival without losing their (sense of) ethnic identity.

Dr Kumar Mahabir is an anthropologist who has published 11 books
Dr Kumar Mahabir is an anthropologist who has published 11 books

In 1998, cultural critic Burton Sankeralli wrote: “Indians are claiming Carnival space as Indians…. [and] … The flagship of this Indocentric presence and contestation for space is chutney …” With the re-creation of chutney, Indian artists are refusing to be subjected to silence and invisibility on mainstream radio, television, newspaper and the stage.

Chutney has been able to resist the domination of calypso as the heartbeat of Carnival music. The subversive spirit of calypso and Carnival is perhaps being re-incarnated in chutney.

(Dr Kumar Mahabir is an anthropologist who has published 11 books)