Filmmaker shares her Nani's Sindhi Kadhi for a UNESCO-backed web series

By Snigdha Hasan | Mumbai

Updated: Jun 30, 2018, 15:48 IST

At the end of the film, the hearty dish looks every bit the effort has taken to carefully imbue it with flavours, even as she has nonchalantly let viewers into her life for a brief eight minutes.

A still from Sindhi Kadhi

Unperturbed by the camera around her, Sushila Dodani, who "has been approximately 80 years old for a while now", goes about shallow-frying vegetables and roasting besan in her Ahmedabad apartment, engaging in endearing banter with her filmmaker granddaughter throughout. As she extracts tamarind pulp, she talks about how manual processes in the kitchen used to be people's workout until they started paying others to keep them in shape. While slicing lotus root into uniform chunks, she reminisces about how the tuber, an ingredient typical to Sindhi cooking, used to be "so much thicker in Pakistan". And at the end of the film, the hearty dish looks every bit the effort Dodani has taken to carefully imbue it with flavours, even as she has nonchalantly let viewers into her life for a brief eight minutes.

A photo of Sushila Dodani and husband Bhagwandas taken in a Bombay studio in the '60s

The film, Sindhi Kadhi, a Recipe by Nani, by New York-based anthropologist and filmmaker Natasha Raheja is the latest addition to Grandmas Project, a web series that aims to share "the world's most delicious heritage" through recipes and stories of grandmothers, filmed by their grandchildren. From soufflé au fromage whipped up in Brittany, France, to Lebanese mehchi, the series has featured recipes by 14 grandmothers so far.

Natasha Raheja

"I love the idea of connecting with grandparents through cooking. Filming nani was an opportunity to observe her gentle grace through the camera's eye. In working on this film, I thought about the role of food in mediating relationships and building intimacy, the memories it elicits, and about the gendering of domestic work — how patriarchy shapes who cooks and who gets cooked for," says Raheja, 31, adding how Sindhi kadhi is a meaningful dish for her family and the community. "Most of us don't speak Sindhi and there are few cultural references we have to Sindhiyat. The kadhi is one of the few connections we have to being Sindhi," she says.

A still from Pariente's film, Molokheya, on his grandmother

Paris-based filmmaker Jonas Parienté, who founded the project in 2015 and has received UNESCO patronage for it, agrees. "Almost everything I know about my family's history [Egyptian Jews on my dad's side, Polish Jews on my mom's] was recorded as I filmed my grandmas' cooking. As I turned 30 and my Egyptian grandma, 80 [his Polish grandmom had passed away by then], I realised I could trigger this global dialogue on food and history by inviting other filmmakers to do films about their own grandmas' recipes — and everything they encapsulate," he shares.

Jonas Pariente

While Raheja appreciates the way her nani pays attention to how ingredients look, feel, taste and smell, over exact measurements or timings, Parienté observes how grandmoms make dishes that take longer than what we're used to today. "In Natasha's or my own film, the recipes take hours and are for larger numbers. There are dozens of steps; it's quite sophisticated. Our generation does fresher, quicker things, usually for one or two people," he says.

As food becomes an important part of entertainment, is home-cooked food losing out to gourmet dishes? "Not necessarily. What we are losing is the knowledge of how to make it. One of our goals is to preserve these recipes. But if we want them to keep existing, we'll have to make them ourselves or at least adapt them to our current habits," says Parienté, who has also spent some time in Mumbai, filming the Bene Israelis [an Indian Jewish community]. "I have the best memories of that experience, especially when it comes to food. I tasted amazing biryani, Konkani seafood and vegetarian dishes I'd never heard of," he recalls. "I'm proud to have an Indian film in my series because that trip showed me how serious Indians are about their food and cinema!"

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