Meet the Machher Jhol girl, who sings about ilish maach and other Bengali quirks
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Meet the Machher Jhol girl, who sings about ilish maach and other Bengali quirks

Sawan Dutta’s vlog, The Metronome, celebrates the quirks of a typical Bengali

brunch Updated: Mar 18, 2017 21:43 IST
Ananya Ghosh
Ananya Ghosh
Hindustan Times
Sawan Dutta,Bong,Bengali quirks
Sawan Dutta’s vlog, called (Shivangi Kulkarni)

The huge Godfather poster assures me that I have reached the right house. After all, what is a Bong without Godard and Godfather? So I am expecting to meet a Bong boudi in cotton sari, sleeveless blouse, huge red bindi, and monkey cap, holding a turmeric-stained khunti (a steel spatula without which no Bong can cook, and which doubles as a weapon against husbands and strangers at the door).

Instead, I am welcomed by a girl in a pair of shorts, a T-shirt and a hoodie. She hardly looks 45 years old, and definitely doesn’t look anything like the Bong in my head. Neither does she sound like one. “I have lived my whole life in Delhi, so in real life, I am more Jat than Bong,” she laughs.

This is Sawan Dutta, 45, a graduate from the School of Planning and Architecture and one of the earliest members of the fusion band Indian Ocean. For the last 20 years, she’s been composing for ad jingles, TV shows, plays and even an occasional film. But these days, she is the Machher Jhol girl. Her vlog, called The Metronome, sees her dishing out traditional Bengali recipes through quirky songs sung with a typical Bengali accent, and has YouTubers drooling. Sample this:

Heat mustard oil, till it smokes in the pan
Fry fish and potato as lightly as you can
If every now and then you forget to turn,
It will be very bad, your potatoes will burn
What is our goal? To make macher jhol...

How to be a Bengali

Dutta’s vlog stereotypes Bengalis, not only using food, but other cultural constructs like Boroline (the ointment for everything) and of course, the monkey cap. In fact, it was her Ode to Boroline that put her on the youtube map. “I worked much harder auto tuning the donkey than I did for Boroline. I was just sitting in my room and came up with the lyrics and recorded it. One of my friend’s 13-year-old kid suggested I do a video of it as it will be more impactful. I took her suggestion, it worked and how!”

As for her look, she says it is her alter ego. “Maybe if I had lived in our North Kolkata house all my life that is how I would dress!” she laughs adding rather nonchalantly, “If you notice, in every video, no matter what the colour of the saree is, I am wearing a black blouse. That is because I have only one blouse! And sometimes I wrap the saree around my short. The videos only capture the top half, who would know what you are wearing underneath?”

But how does she get the typical Bong accent so spot on if she has never stayed in Kolkata? “Oh I watch a lot of Pranab Mukherjee and Mamata Banerjee videos to get the accent right,” she says with all seriousness. And despite the popularity of her recipe songs, she is hardly into cooking. “I know the basics, but I hardly cook. And when I do, I have to call my mom and ask for instructions!”

In fact, one of the reasons why she started doing Bong recipes was because staying away from home makes her crave for Machher Jhol and Shukto all the time. “I am an ilish maach (hilsa fish) fanatic. I can polish of a dozen of pieces at one go. But you don’t get good quality ilish in Mumbai,” she sighs. Apart from missing ma ke haath ka khana, she cherishes the memories of the occasional visits to Kolkata and its food, especially the elaborate Bengali platter, consisting no less than 10 different dishes, served at her grandma’s house. “Our feasts never end until you are down with an upset stomach. Then the diet shifts to medicines – and rosogollas. These are considered perfect for a weak tummy, so you are allowed to have as many as you want!” she laughs.

Rock of ages

Dutta not only writes, composes, produces and performs the songs on her vlogs, she also conceptualises, shoots and edits the videos: a lot of work for a self-confessed lazy person. But she has worked even that to her favour. “Many people have told me that love the fact that I sing in such a low voice, according to them, that creates a very intimate atmosphere. But to be honest, the credit goes to my laziness. I keep the camera close to me so that I don’t have to get up every time to check the video or change the settings. I prefer to keep things simple and comfortable, “she says.

And while most social media stars are in their 20s, Dutta believes her age works for her. “ Earlier, when I was trying to make a career as a solo musician, there were too many people suggesting too many things. I got confused in the din. Today, at 45, I can say, f**k that shit, I am what I am and I will sing what I want to sing. I can wear a crumpled sari over shorts and still rock it!”

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From HT Brunch, March 19, 2017

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First Published: Mar 18, 2017 21:43 IST