Tenderloin Care

Pubished in Indian Express (5 April 2015)
By Anup Kutty

There’s an abundance of religion and politics in Kerala. But neither has invaded the Malayalee palate. In Kerala, you leave your ideologies behind when you dine. Feasts are meant to bring people together. The cuisine — an amalgamation of Indian, Dutch, Arab, Mediterranean and Portuguese influences — is a celebration of diversity and a matter of much pride.
I was born in Kerala and raised in Delhi, visiting the motherland only during vacations. This made me a Madrasi or a Hindikaaran depending on which side of Kerala Express I got off. My mother’s family were Hindus settled in a predominantly Muslim region of Kerala, and that was where I spent my summer holidays. Here beef was as serious a matter as bitter gourd. Some chose to eat it, some didn’t.
Cooking a Syrian Christian-style pothu erachi varratiyathu (popularly known as Kerala spicy beef fry) was an elaborate event at my grandparents’ home. To begin with, the men of the house cooked it. Usually on a Sunday. My uncles worked as a team. The older one would cycle over to the butcher in the morning as the early bird always got the best cut. He’d later head to the toddy shop out in the paddy fields to pack some for his sisters. If the toddy wasn’t fresh, a bottle of brandy would do just fine. Meanwhile, his brother would be in the kitchen chopping onions and weighing a precise measure of pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, curry leaves and green chillies. The women would wait in anticipation, delighted to be out of the kitchen. Finally, a boozy lunch would be served on the terrace under the shadows of tall coconut trees swaying gently in appreciation. Unexpected guests were always welcome. Umma, the old Muslim lady living next door; Jose, the cop on duty; or Unni, the auto driver… The chatty affair, where everything from films to music would be critiqued, would end with a siesta broken only by the fish-seller’s incessant hoots.
In contrast, the search for beef fry in Delhi has taken me on quests through the dark alleys of Gautam Nagar, Govindpuri, Mukherjee Nagar and Srinivaspuri. Mallu dhabas never have them listed on their printed menus but almost always serve them. Like bootlegged liquor, access is on a need-to-know basis. And most Malayalees do need to know where they can get a mean beef fry and Malabar porotta.
My friends and I launched The Toddy Shop a year ago hoping to recreate that magic where interesting conversations would accompany authentic Malayalee cuisine. As expected, beef fry became popular and now has a steady and growing fan following within Delhi’s discerning foodies. At a recent food festival held in Nehru Park, thousands tore through a ton of beef fry we’d prepared. By the end of the final day, we had to turn people away but not before promising to deliver to their doorstep.


How a toddy shop rendezvous resulted in Avalude Ravukal

By Sreejith Warrier
Published in Manorama Online

Script writer Alleppey Sheriff approached several producers with Avalude Ravukal but nobody had the courage to make a film on the life of a prostitute. Sheriff was sure that his script would break all conventions in Malayalam film industry but he had no other option but to wait for a bold producer.

When Sheriff’s close friend and owner of Murali Movies, Ramachandran came forward to produce the film, Sheriff himself dissuaded him. “Don’t take risk Ramachandran, you will burn your fingers,” Sheriff told his producer friend.

The script of Avalude Ravukal was ready beforehand and Sheriff always carried a handwritten copy of it with him, wherever he went. He met a director – I V Sasi – who was keen to direct the film which no other mainstream directors would dare to lay their hands on. But Sheriff hesitated as he didn’t want his close friend to produce the film which others had rejected as he feared a big failure at the box office.

One day while both of them were sitting at Ramachandran’s office in Madras, now Chennai, Pavamani – the owner of the film distribution company Sheeba Films – came to visit them. Pavamani was in search of a suitable script for making a film and he told Ramachandran about it.

Ramachandran turned to Sheriff and asked him to read out the script of Avalude Ravukal to Pavamani. Reluctantly and without any hope, Sheriff narrated the story. The rest is history as a story which remained in the creative mind of a novelist finally found an avenue to be shot on celluloid.

“Go ahead, Ramachandran. I will give funds for making the film,” Pavamani assured. With Pavamani agreeing to distribute the film, Ramachandran decided to go ahead with the project.

For Sheriff, the toddy shop near Rainbow Theatre in Kottayam was like a school from where he learnt about the nuances of life. Both the rich and the common man were regular visitors to the toddy shop. For Sheriff, who used to frequent the shop, it was a wealth of experience to learn about life from them.

At the shop, Sheriff met some women who had strayed away from the path of righteousness. The character of Raji in his novel was loosely based on the girl who narrated her story to Sheriff. A popular actress of that time, who later became his close friend, was also an inspiration for Sheriff to write the novel.

However, when Sheriff finished writing the novel he wasn’t satisfied but he rewrote it only when he began writing the script for the film. The film was a big hit at the box office and was a turning point in the careers of both I V Sasi and Sheriff. Sasi repaid Sheriff by becoming the illustrator for other novels written by Sheriff.

Avalude Ravukal didn’t attract many viewers on the first three days but after that the crowd gradually swelled and the film became a big hit. Sheriff and Sasi became a hit combination in the later years and Sasi made a name as a hit maker and directed numerous films with multi-star cast.

Before becoming a director, Sasi was a noted art director and had also worked as assistant director. Sheriff had worked with Sasi in Utsavam which was produced by Ramachadran under the banner of Murali Movies and the film was distributed by Kalanilayam Krishnan Nair.

Anubhavam, Aalinganam, Ayalkari, Abhinandanam, Ashirvadam, Anjali, Akale Aakaasham, Aa Nimisham, Aangikaram, Abhinivesham, Anandham Paramanandham, Andardahanam, Hridayam Sakshi, Innale Innu, Oonjal, Avalude Ravukal, Eeta, Iniyum Puzhayozhukum, Allauddinum Albhutha Vilakkum, Manasa Vacha Karmana, Anubhavangale Nandi, Ezham Kadalinu Akkare and Anuragii were some of the hit films from the Sasi-Sheriff combine. In all, Sheriff wrote 23 scripts for Sasi, out of the little more than 100 he wrote in his career as a scenarist.

For someone associated with films and hailing from Alappuzha, Udaya Studios was a big institution and Sheriff’s career kickstarted in one of the films produced by the studio. Sheriff, who stopped going to school at the eighth standard, had wealth of experience gained through reading and had firsthand knowledge of the things happening around him. When Umma was produced by Udaya Studios, Sheriff, who was only 18 years old, assisted script writer Moidu.

Sheriff shifted to Madras as he felt the city would stoke up his career ambitions to become a writer. His friendship with Sathyan was his only strength and belief. Sheriff made Nalanda Lodge, which was the abode of film aspirants liken him, his base in Madras. He wrote his first script for Kallippava which was directed by A B Raja. Sheriff didn’t get any remuneration for his first script but he got his first earning for Nathan which was his second film. Till this day he doesn’t know the value of Rs.1000 he got for writing that.

Age has slowed him, but Sheriff is still alert in his mind. Many have approached him for remaking Avalude Ravukal. He still writes, dictating his thoughts to a scribe. “Writing is a passion” says Sheriff and the statement sums up his affinity towards the world of letters.