Film Review: ‘Bitter Chestnut’ explores a contemporary quandary

The story is set after Operation Blue Star. (Supplied)
Updated 07 October 2019

Film Review: ‘Bitter Chestnut’ explores a contemporary quandary

CHENNAI: It can be fascinating when a filmmaker surprises us by transcending genres. While Indian Director Gurvinder Singh told us in his debut 2011 feature “Alms for a Blind Horse” (which premiered at Venice) about the struggles of a village against land grabs and ruthless industrialization, his second outing in 2015, “The Fourth Direction,” took Cannes by storm.

The story is set after Operation Blue Star (when the Indian military stormed the Golden Temple in Amritsar to flush out militants), and examines the dilemma of a people caught between the excesses of government forces and rebels.

In his latest foray into cinema, “Bitter Chestnut” (“Khanaur”), which had its world premiere at the 24th Busan International Film Festival, Singh completely changes track. This time, he takes us to the tranquil environs of the Himalayas, to a small but idyllic town called Bir. There, 17-year-old Kishan (Kishan Katwal) works in a little cafe run by an elderly woman from Kerala, played by Monisha Mukundan.

She, like some others, have left the hustle and bustle of city life for peace and quiet. The tourists who stop by at Bir (a center for paragliding) are her only source of diversion, maybe distraction. Her motherly instincts are etched sharply when we see her relationship with Kishan, who has left behind his family in Baragraan, many miles away. 

Kishan is torn between his desire to explore new frontiers, a fresh lifestyle with a job in the city, and the demand of his family to take up its traditional profession of carpentry. He cannot decide, his dreams to move away clashing with his own insecurities of a life he has no clue about.

He watches how guests at the cafe seem distraught and disgruntled with the modern, urban existence. He contrasts this with his own life, amidst a people who have learnt to live with a multitude of cultures and in perfect harmony with nature. 

In 100 minutes, Singh explores a giant of an idea — the conflict between tradition and modernism — by using non-professionals. Katwal actually works in the cafe, his parents are his own, and Mukundan lives in Bir. It could not have been easy to direct such a group to narrate a story that tugs at your heart.

For all those used to Hollywood cinema’s pace, Singh’s latest outing may seem stretched and ponderous, but “Bitter Chestnut” hides a spirited message. 


COVID-19 lockdown brings out hidden kitchen talents of Saudi men

Updated 10 April 2020

COVID-19 lockdown brings out hidden kitchen talents of Saudi men

  • Curfews have provided opportunity for men to show off their kitchen catering abilities by cooking up some tasty meals

RIYADH: The famed home cooking skills of Saudi women have found a surprise challenger during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) lockdown — with men revealing their hidden culinary talents.

Curfews set up to help stop the spread of the virus have provided the opportunity for men to show off their kitchen catering abilities by cooking up some tasty family meals.

Quality auditor Ahmed bin Ibrahim has been staying at his family’s house during quarantine, and told Arab News that he had enjoyed pitching in on kitchen duties.

“I like to help my mother while she is cooking by cutting some vegetables, but I learned how to cook years ago when I was a student in the US,” he said.

His mom and YouTube became his culinary instructors during his time in America and his favorite dishes are kabsah, steaks and quesadillas.

“Lately, my dad has been cooking a lot and grilling in our back yard, so I’ve been helping him,” he added.

Ammar Albarakati, owner of Ammar Restaurant and TV presenter on Sabahcom on SBC. (Supplied)

Faris Al-Harbi, a college student from Tabuk, has been putting lockdown time to good use in the kitchen trying to create new recipes for his family to lighten the mood.

“Since home isolation started, I have cooked five dishes — mandi (a traditional meal with meat and rice), broasted chicken, pizza, grilled dishes, and pasta with pesto sauce.”

He said that it was only since the COVID-19 restriction measures had been put in place that his talent for cooking healthy food had emerged.

“My family really admires my cooking and loves the taste of my dishes.”

Al-Harbi added that he intended to continue cooking once the COVID-19 health crisis was over, but in the meantime had introduced a kitchen challenge for his cousins and family.

“Every day, a member of the family has to cook a dish and is evaluated by experts — my mother and father. This creates a bit of a competition which is nice. Everyone wants to cook something that is delicious and creative, which makes us excited to cook again.”

Abdulrahman bin Kasem, Saudi chef and food blogger. (Supplied)

He pointed out that under the current situation it was sometimes hard to find an alternative for some ingredients not available in the home. “It is also difficult to estimate the right amount of ingredients for the family. Preparing the dough and forming it is also hard.”

Al-Harbi’s brother Abdulrahman, an architect, had been challenged to cook madghout — pressure-cooked chicken and rice — for the first time for his family.

“It was the first time I had cooked, so I couldn’t say whether I was talented or not, but it definitely needed some focus,” he said, adding that his creation was well-received. “YouTube has a lot of cool Saudi chefs and their videos are so simple and easy to execute. It helps anyone who wants to try to cook.”

Al-Harbi’s sister Shahad told Arab News that she was surprised to see her brothers’ talent in the kitchen and would struggle to compete with them.

Speaking about her younger brother Khalid, who is currently studying in the US, she said: “He likes to try international foods and he uses fresh ingredients and different spices. He likes to make avocado toast, steaks, cheesecakes, exotic juices, and risotto.

Although a mess is inevitable in some kitchens as male family members go through a trial-and-error phase, most mothers will undoubtedly be proud and happy with the help they are receiving under the current difficult circumstances.