Plans for London’s historic India Club cook up storm

Staff clean tables as people eat lunch inside the India Club restaurant in London on October 16, 2017. (AFP)
Updated 17 October 2017
0

Plans for London’s historic India Club cook up storm

LONDON: Plans to renovate a historic and beloved Indian restaurant in central London are causing a stir, pitting the developers against high profile defenders, including intellectuals, Anglo-Indian businessmen and lawmakers from both countries.
The India Club, a restaurant and bar on the Strand near London’s West End, is trying to use its storied history to block proposals by owners Marston Properties to turn the seven story building into an upmarket boutique hotel.
“This is a very historic place, we haven’t changed anything,” Yadgar Marker, the club’s current director, told AFP during a recent lunchtime dosa — an Indian pancake — and various curry dishes flew out the kitchen.
“Even these tabletops are from the early ‘50s... It’s like a museum,” he said.
The club was set up in its current location by Krishna Menon, India’s first High Commissioner to Britain, in the early 1950s, and counted Jawaharlal Nehru, the country’s inaugural prime minister, among its founding members, Marker said.
It has served as a meeting place for writers, intellectuals and politicians, Marker wrote earlier this month to Westminster Council, the local authority in charge of planning decisions.
Marston Properties submitted its application on September 8 to Westminster Council to partially demolish and extend the building.
It currently houses a bakery and convenience store on the ground floor and the India Club and Hotel Strand Continental on the upper levels.
Marker, who has run the club and hotel for the last 20 years, said he was “quite surprised” to learn of the plans in an email from the company.
With their seven-year lease set to expire in 2019, he fears it will mean the end of the club.
The club has applied for the building to receive protected status from Historic England, which recommends which sites of cultural value the British government should designate.
A spokesman for the public body confirmed it had visited the club earlier this month, and would make a decision on whether to recommend listing it by January 19, 2018.
Simon Marshall of Marston Properties told AFP it was cooperating with Historic England “to establish the true heritage links of this building.”
He said the company had commissioned its own independent historical research into the club.
“The extent of (the) heritage links... are not in fact particularly clear,” he added.
Marshall stressed no final decision had been made to redevelop building.
Loyal longtime customers have been voicing their support.
A petition launched by the club had garnered over 14,000 signatures by Monday.
“It means the world to generations of Indians,” said Kalyan Thapa, a patron since the 1960s, as he ate with friends there on Monday.
“You can’t knock it down and erase history.”
High profile fans including sculptor Anish Kapoor, writer Will Self and Indian lawmaker Shashi Tharoor, have also leapt to its defense, writing letters of support that Marker has sent on to Westminster Council.
“I think the loss of the club would constitute another step-up in the social, ethnic and cultural ‘cleansing’ of central London’s commercial environment,” Self told AFP.
“Already, smaller and more diverse businesses are being lost from the West End in droves, it creates an arid, aseptic environment in which every cubic foot of space feels commoditised.”


Film Review: ‘Beauty and the Dogs’ takes hard look at an unfeeling society

Updated 20 October 2018
0

Film Review: ‘Beauty and the Dogs’ takes hard look at an unfeeling society

CHENNAI: A brutal title, “Beauty and the Dogs” is an electric French-Tunisian drama by Kaouther Ben Hania (“Imams Go to School,” “Zaineb Hates the Snow”), which has been entered as Tunisia’s submission for the best foreign-language film at the 2019 Academy Awards. Although the film is yet to earn a nomination, it is a powerful piece of cinema that deserves recognition.
Based on a real-life incident in 2012, the movie begins at sunset and ends at sunrise and zooms in on a woman traumatized by an unfeeling society. A rather weak script, but bolstered by a strong, moving story mounted on lovely long takes, Hania’s creation is an unflinching look at how a young woman who is raped by a policeman fights a degenerate system.

Hania does not sensationalize and focuses on the aftermath of the horrifying incident when her protagonist, Mariam (Mariam Al Ferjani), doggedly pursues the villainous cop, who has all the muscle power and support of his superiors. They try every trick to derail Mariam’s grit and determination.

The movie begins on a note of fun with Mariam attending a college party at a Tunis disco. After a mild flirtation with Youssef (Ghanem Zrelli), the two go for a walk on the beach, where she is raped. We only see Mariam running with Youssef at her heels, and we get a feeling that he is chasing her. But no, she is running away in desperation.

“Beauty and the Dogs” is a hard critique of an unfeeling society. Even a woman police officer that Mariam approaches is uncaring and, worse, throws her back into the den of dogs, so to speak. Earlier, a female attendant at a clinic where Mariam goes for a mandatory physical examination seems contemptuous. The film is littered with points of horrific humiliation for Mariam, something which leads to audience sympathy staying unwaveringly strong.
The film is especially important in the current #MeToo climate, where an international discussion on sexual harassment and rape is taking place from Hollywood to Bollywood but has yet to shake up the Middle East.