• New web series where adventure and food come together

    Janaki ViswanathanMar 11, 2017, 08:16 IST

    The show’s host Vishal Chopra with (left) Ashok Singh Bhadoriya in Dinner With The Cops
    The show’s host Vishal Chopra with (left) Ashok Singh Bhadoriya in Dinner With The Cops

    The next time you watch a top cop or an army general on screen, he may not be debating patriotism, but discussing his favourite meal. At least that’s what the team of 101 India, an online youth content-based portal, hopes to do in the near future with their Dinner With... web series.

    Dining with the dark side
    In every episode, the host has a chat over a meal with a guest. Except that the guest could be a reformed murderer, kidnapper, ‘owner’ of Dongri, or a Hyderabad-based former don, now a self-professed marriage counsellor.

    Ramesh Singh Sikarwar (right), who cooked a meal which included Dal Baati. Pics courtesy/101INDIA
    Ramesh Singh Sikarwar (right), who cooked a meal which included Dal Baati. Pics courtesy/101INDIA

    A cooking/food show was the genesis of the idea, says Cyrus Oshidar, COO and MD of the web portal. “We were figuring how to create an edgy food show - and while wondering who would know the streets better than anyone, dons popped up.” Thus began Dinner With The Dons, which launch-ed its initial episodes online mid-June 2016. Oshidar says, “Our host travels to where the don lives and talks about food specific to that region, so it becomes a regional-adventure food show. Our mission is to find stories that connect us all.”

    The fare at the launch included Bhadoriya’s favourite Dahi-Jalebi
    The fare at the launch included Bhadoriya’s favourite Dahi-Jalebi

    Not that one would feel much connect at first with the two men sporting wiry moustaches in dhoti-kurtas, at the entrance of a pub in the city. Ramesh Singh Sikarwar and Prabhu Singh aren’t Folk musicians adding a touch of kitsch to a hip joint. They’re former Chambal dacoits. The duo was here last week to officially launch Dinner With... series, where they shared the stage with Ashok Singh Bhadoriya, a former Chambal cop. The Dinner With The Cops was launched as a sort of flipside to the dons, with one episode featuring Bhadoriya. Plans are underway to include army generals at a later stage.

    Mutton Khichda
    Mutton Khichda

    The connect with the dacoits came later, with little elements - disarming politeness, casually calling this writer ‘beti’, the wanting to talk at length about one’s life, like a sweet, talkative uncle. With a criminal record. Which is what Vishal Chopra, 24, creative producer-director, who has hosted four episodes, says he has always been drawn to. “That I am the first person to go out there and put their stories out to the urban audience excites me the most.”

    (From left) Prabhu Singh, Ramesh Singh Sikarwar, Cyrus Oshidar, Avijit Pathak, Vishal Chopra, Satyamev Bhadoriya and his father and encounter cop Ashok Singh Bhadoriya at the launch of the web series last week
    (From left) Prabhu Singh, Ramesh Singh Sikarwar, Cyrus Oshidar, Avijit Pathak, Vishal Chopra, Satyamev Bhadoriya and his father and encounter cop Ashok Singh Bhadoriya at the launch of the web series last week

    A different kind of normal
    Chambal is a whole new world. A world where kidnappings are referred as a dacoit’s “kheti” (farming), ransom becomes “fasal” (harvest), a world where the wife of an encounter cop coolly told Chopra that just a few more days in Chambal, and the intrusive gunfire would start sounding like firecrackers.

    Cyrus Oshidar
    Cyrus Oshidar

    What struck Oshidar most about the Sikarwar and Bhadoriya episodes was how they were mirror images with different back-stories. They were two men who wielded guns for justice. One self-imposed, the other by law, and both keen to share their stories.

    Chopra with Ijaz Khan, don of Hyderabad
    Chopra with Ijaz Khan, don of Hyderabad

    As Sikarwar, once leader of the dreaded Sikarwar gang, now a farmer (surrendered in 1984) puts it: “I was very happy with the show, because it would tell the world why a man becomes a dacoit, and how it’s possible for him to also reform and lead a normal life like me.” Sikarwar was duped by an uncle who snatched his land, leaving him with no resources, no work and no choice but to pick up the rifle - a story common to most dacoits of the time. Sikarwar insists he wouldn’t champion the cause to any youngster today.

    MK Tevar, don of Dindigul in Tamil NaduMK Tevar, don of Dindigul in Tamil Nadu

    Bhadoriya, who claims to have lost count after his 116th encounter, is open to the idea of being a reformed criminal. The show itself follows a no-moralising, no-judgment take. Oshidar asserts that he never faced moral dilemmas in showcasing dons because “fiction may glamourise crime but these are real people who exist. There’s good and bad; and you can’t appreciate the light unless you see the dark.”

    But what Chopra finds most fascinating is how the dons manage to justify their crimes for the sake of sanity. Sikarwar regretted killing a man because he wouldn’t comply with the gang’s request for water. The next minute, however, Sikarwar added that it was the man’s fate to die that day. “So, even their act of killing somebody becomes ‘God’s’ will,” says Chopra.

    All said and done, Dinner With... may not moralise its real-life characters, but it does humanise them. More so, when Sikarwar admits that as a farmer today, he sleeps in absolute peace, something he could never do when on the run. Even a dacoit has retirement benefits.

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    Daku diaries
    Several years ago, Sikarwar and his gang kidnapped a five-year-old boy. The ransom took long, and the boy ended up living with him for 2.5 years. He began to enjoy the dacoit life, even calling Sikarwar “papa”. The day his father arrived with the money, the boy refused to go home, and finally had to be duped into it. As a goodwill gesture, Sikarwar returned `50,000 of the ransom amount (a few lakhs) to the father, insisting that he spend it educating the boy to make sure he never turned against the law.

    The killer album
    Chopra recounts the first time he visited Bhadoriya’s house in Gwalior, and how a red album titled “Sweet Memories” caught his eye. He picked it up, flipped through it, and couldn’t believe his eyes. The “sweet” memories were dead dacoits staring at him from each page.

    Price tag for a cop
    When Bhadoriya was at the peak of his career, finishing up dacoit gangs in Chambal, he had become the terror of the gangs. One gang had placed a prize money of Rs 50 lakhs on Bhadoriya's head. No one ever claimed it, but during one encounter, he got shot on his thigh and almost died. For one and a half months, the dacoits celebrated his apparent 'death', distributing laddoos among themselves, and felt triumphant. One of the gangs built a 100 kg/1 quintal bell at the village proclaiming that the Goddess had been pleased with the offering (of the 'dead' Bhadoriya). The villagers were further terrorised... but once he had recovered, Bhadoriya finished off the gang, the bell-planting dacoit, and put up a 2 quintal bell in its place, announcing an even heavier victory!