Akuri…and a pinch of hope: A tribute to the Irani Cafes of Mumbai
If you’ve spent a good part of your life in Mumbai and have been lucky to visit any of the quaint Irani cafes (savoring some Irani chai and bun maska), you can surely relate to the nostalgia that one feels at the mere mention of them. These cafes are like historic institutions, synonymous with Mumbai, where many a stories take birth. Sadly, their numbers are dwindling and the culture of Irani cafes as we know it, is slowly coming to an end.
It is this thought that led filmmaker Jamshid Roointon to place his short feature film, Akuri…and a pinch of hope in an Irani cafe. The slice-of-life film, which recently had a digital release and has been traveling to various festivals, instantly touches a chord with the viewers owing to its simplicity and relatability. We caught up with Jamshid to know more about the film.
For anyone who has not seen the film, how would you describe it?
The film is set in an Irani Cafe, filled with people unknown to each other, where two strangers share a table. One of their lives is about to change and neither knows about it. Akuri…and a pinch of hope is a slice-of-life, feel-good film, which tries to send a subtle, positive message about life without being preachy.
Where and how did the idea for Akuri.. and a pinch of hope take birth? Was it inspired by any real life encounters?
A while back, I heard a listener on a radio station share this beautiful, short encounter that he had with a stranger on a train. I was absolutely touched by the man’s experience and had this constant smile on me the entire day. It got me thinking; we actually have no idea what experiences life can throw at us. Take people whom we meet in our daily lives as an example. Some short, unplanned encounters may actually end up entirely altering your path in life. I thought of exploring what could happen if two people, completely unknown to each other and poles apart in their characteristics, met. This forms the crux/plot of Akuri…and a pinch of hope.
While the film talks about life, was it a conscious decision to integrate the Irani cafe aspect, owing to the diminishing culture of the same?
Yes. Absolutely. It is, in a way, my tribute to the once-upon-a-time landmarks, synonymous with Mumbai. These cafes used to be meeting joints and hangout places much before any of the Starbucks’ or Baristas’ came into the country. These institutions are unfortunately getting extinct for various reasons, one major reason being, the current generation’s lack of interest in continuing their forefathers’ legacy.
How did you go about casting your actors for the film?
I think I have been really fortunate in getting the absolute right fit for all my characters, which has in turn helped make the characters more real and the film more relatable. Ever since Akuri… was conceptualised, DG, Darshan Gokani, was my Cyrus. And all efforts by my team, including DG himself, to at least meet a few Parsi actors and see if someone fits, fell on deaf ears. The witty humour, the masti and the talkativeness, I just knew it had to be DG. And boy has he done justice. If I didn’t tell you his real name, you wouldn’t realize he is Non-Parsi. (smiles)
On the other hand, for Sadiq I had to wait for quite sometime. I needed deep, intense eyes, which expressed a hundred emotions without uttering a word, a complete contrast to Cyrus’ character. I met Sushant for a narration after watching an Indie film in which he had acted and my EP/Film Editor, Shankh Rajyadhyaksha had edited (that film). Seeing Sushant’s reactions and expressions during the narration; I just jumped with joy after coming out of the narration. I had found my Sadiq. And the wait was worth it.
For the Irani Cafe owner, I needed an actual Parsi/Irani actor, for whom the nuances and the little actions which are peculiar to Parsis/Iranis came naturally, specially the gaalis, which of course sound too sweet to be offensive. I met Firdaus uncle on the set of my friend’s film shoot and instantly connected with him. I could totally visualise the cafe owner in him. And he was so elated when he came to know that we would be shooting at Military Cafe. It has been his and my favourite Irani cafe. He once said in jest that life has come a full circle for him, from being a regular customer to becoming the owner. The importance of that character in the film can only be felt and not explained. And Firdaus uncle has absolutely nailed the character.
The film has been traveling to festivals in the country. What kind of a response have you witnessed?
The film has received a heartwarming response everywhere. It has been the Official Selection at The Delhi International Film Festival, The Kolkata International Film Festival and the Banjara International Film Festival. It also received a thunderous ovation at the NFDC Film Bazaar Industry Screenings and an additional special screening was done on demand for a select few dignitaries. Post release digitally, there has been an overwhelming response from the viewers. I feel glad and very fortunate at being able to connect with them and successfully put across the message I wanted to through the film.
Where next is the film headed to?
The main aim has always been to make the film and its message reach out and touch as many souls as possible, globally. And with the views growing at a great rate (5k views in less than 48 hours of release), I am happy that we are on track. Having said that, Akuri…and a pinch of hope has received official special screening invites from a couple of prestigious international film festivals, which is great news as it presents an opportunity to spread the message on a global platform with a tremendous following.
Lastly, coming to yourself, when did your tryst with filmmaking happen? Do you come from a film-centric background?
I don’t have any familial connections in the industry. But thanks to my mum, my introduction to films and cinema happened at a very early age and my attraction towards it kept growing ever since. As kids, I remember her taking all my building friends and me to the cinema whenever a new film released. It used to be a day-long fun trip as we would travel all the way to cinemas like Sterling and Regal from the suburbs. I looked forward to these outings with my friends of course (still remember the popcorn and samosas and Pepsis), but what I primarily looked forward to was the once in a while, exclusive opportunity to watch films only on the big-screen since we didn’t have many options on the television back then.
I guess because of the ethereal experience films always gave me, as I grew older, I started getting more curious to know what goes behind bringing that amazing experience, which entertains and helps transcend the viewer into this different world, forgetting everything else. A filmmaker has, like this magic wand, which can make the audience experience a range of emotions in a short time, apart from, of course inspiring and stimulating them. I wanted and kept itching to be in possession of that magic wand and be a part of one of the most powerful mediums of communication. That itch made me quit my job as a media planner and jump into films, my raison d’etre.
Watch the film here –