Mumbai’s iconic Cafe Samovar, one of the favourite hangouts of city artists and art lovers here, is shutting shop on March 31. A big party will mark the folding up of the Kala Ghoda restaurant.
Started in 1964 by restaurateur Usha Khanna, Cafe Samovar in the Jehangir Art Gallery has been an icon of Mumbai’s cultural landscape and, for decades, has served many creative minds like Shyam Benegal, and artists like M.F. Hussain and Tyeb Mehta.
It is said that actor Amitabh Bachchan took his wife Jaya Bachchan to the famous cafe on their first date.
Khanna is nostalgic about the restaurant, as its shutting down has been brought about by space constraints at the art gallery and no legal disputes or tangles.
"When I started, it was to fill a lacunae in the city: Where would artists meet their patrons? Where would poets sit and write without being disturbed? Where would young homesick executives get their ‘home food’?"
"Where would young students go on a date they could afford? I am happy to see that it has gone from strength to strength and been recogniSed across the world. It’s been 50 glorious years and it’s time to say goodbye now," Khanna in a statement, adding that she "never expected Samovar to become such an institution".
Khanna’s maternal uncle, the legendary actor Balraj Sahni, had bequeathed it a name reminiscent of the family’s years in Kashmir, where the Samovar had been the central focus of their daily warmth.
With just two tables and a few chairs, Samovar very soon charmed its way into the hearts of Mumbai’s intellectuals artists, students and office-goers.
Khanna’s elder daughter Devieka Bhojwani said: "We tried hard to stay on, and even went to the Supreme Court for this. But we finally decided that 50 years was a great time to go with grace and dignity."
Jaya Bachchan says Café Samovar holds fond memories for "all us struggling artists and creative people, not only from Mumbai but other parts of the country also, who came to Mumbai to achieve and become successful and who frequented this cafe".
"This place served as a refuge and comfort to us all, a getaway from the harsh reality and stress of our day-to-day struggle," she added.
The cafe was specially known for its ‘pakoda platter’, ‘pudina chai’ and ‘keema paratha’. What added to the cafe’s popularity was the menu and its competitive pricing.
Filmmaker Shyam Benegal says the cafe has been "an oasis for several generations of youth sometimes dreaming, but always struggling to make their mark in the city".
"I cannot think of Kala Ghoda without Samovar. It has as permanent a place in Kala Ghoda as the Gateway of India in Mumbai," Benegal said.