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Tuesday, February 25, 2020

On a dosa drive

Six musicians and a single-minded search for the ‘South Indian crepe’ gets music writer-turned-filmmaker Amrit Singh to pan his camera to The Dosa Hunt.

Written by Suanshu Khurana | Published: May 19, 2013 12:12:56 am

It was in June 2011 that New York-based Vampire Weekend guitarist Rostam Batmangalij sent out a tweet: “Eating a dosa”. These three words instantly struck a chord with Amrit Singh,a Punjabi music writer in NYC,who was at that time discovering the joys of the humble dosa. “I was moved by how deeply Western (and my own) perception had equated ‘North Indian’ with ‘Indian’. Dosa was both delicious and mind expanding,” says Singh,who fell head over heels for a Manhattan dosa he tried some time ago. He replied to the tweet asking for Rostam’s location and what kind of dosa he was digging into? “A spicy Mysore? A classic paper masala?” Rostam tweeted back saying that his dosa had arugula and jack cheese in it. Knowing that his fusion dosa was nowhere close to the real deal,he decided to take the Persian musician to try the authentic South Indian dosa. The conversation thread on twitter caught the attention of Grammy-nominated jazz pianist Vijay Iyer,rapper Himanshu Suri of Das Racist,indie band Yeasayer’s Anand Wilder and Neon Indian’s Alan Palomo and all six of them decided to find New York’s best dosa.

“We had all hung out in varying combinations in various situations. Rappers,jazzers,alt rockers,synth poppers,a filmmaking music journalist — we were all friends,and planning to be in one place at one time. I knew it needed to be documented,” says Singh,who decided to jazz up the interiors of a van with the colours of the Indian flag,making it look like a mini disco with mirrors. They were on a quest for the authentic “crisp and soft rice-batter crepe”,hot and spicy in the middle by way of mashed potato,and served with coconut chutney,lentils and other condiments. The hot griddles hissed with steam,churning out a variety of dosas wherever the musicians went. The men loved what they ate,for as musicians it also fitted their tossed-up sound,and thus was born The Dosa Hunt,a 22-minute film,which was recently screened at the Tribeca cinemas as part of the New York Indian Film Festival.

“The film is an attempt to document my friends and me,navigating cultural identity,expectations,and artistic ambitions in a post-diasporic climate,” says Singh. While the film is a documentary,it is also a dialogue with the specific intention to stoke conversation between India and abroad.

A self-financed project that had Singh loosen up his purse strings by 15,000 US dollars,the film opens with six men getting into a van and heading to Pongal,a dosa restaurant in Lexington Avenue. This is where the musicians try to decipher the dosa that throws varieties and surprises at them. Unlike a common Indian,drumsticks baffle them,and they have much to chew on. This is followed by a visit to Dosa Hutt in Flushing followed by a visit to Patel Brothers in Queens to buy dosa ingredients,pots and pans to make one. But what they don’t give their audience is their attempt to create the dish they are talking about,which would have been interesting to watch. Instead,the film ends abruptly. What is interesting though is the eclectic blend of music one spots in the film,thanks to the different influences of the six musicians. From rap,hip hop to bhangra and some jazz piano,the film’s music is one of the more interesting scores one has heard in a while.

As for screening the film in India,Singh wants it to be an experience. “There should be a music component,and there should be dosa,and so on — so I’m figuring out the best way to make this happen,be it via film festival or otherwise,” says Singh,who is now working on a DVD and Blue Ray release.

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