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Archive for October, 2012

To visit Moulin Rouge or the ‘Red Windmill’ is to remember things past. The very name of this restaurant, in the heart of Park Street, evokes a Parisian world of lights and music, glamour and glitz. It brings to mind not just the romance of fin de siecle Europe but also the savoir faire of Calcutta, during the 1970’s and 80’s. After all, Moulin Rouge is one of the very few nightclubs in our country that, during its heydays, flaunted cabaret artists and jazz musicians and, attracted an exceedingly sophisticated clientele. This is where the legendary Carlton Kitto jammed with jazz virtuosi, in front of an audience that could appreciate good times and feel at home with pure pleasure.

To visit Moulin Rouge is to also experience a sense of decline, an unappeased yearning to recreate a fabled, rose-coloured era. Every aspect of the place, from the lacquered walls and scarlet tables to the ornate ceiling and yellow chandelier, calls up memories of a past that was famously opulent, sensual, and celebratory. And, memories can make us conscious of passing time and diminishing charm.

Hidden away behind the darkened glass doors of Moulin Rouge are the remnants of a more glorious world. One that is a trifle worn around the edges. The tall chairs are vintage but the plush seat covers are somewhat faded. There are giant paintings of can-can dancers but live performances do not take place any more. Well-to-do customers come and go but the fine patrons, who were known for their impeccable social grace and their discerning ear for music, are rarely seen. Even the stewards are hoary-faced and burdened with the weight of years. The piano stands but gone are the people who once created magic with music. Only the genial-looking saxophonist, Paul Mullick, accompanied by keyboardist, Cyril Manual, arrive during the weekends to give a tantalising taste of the days of yore.

Carlton Kitto, who played at Moulin Rouge during the early 1970’s, reminisces fondly of the past. With a hint of nostalgia in his voice, Carlton remembers the French jazz singer, Delilah, and fellow artists like, Julian Saldanah, saxophonist, George Chater, double bass player, Rudy Rodericks, pianist, and, Johnny Edmonds, drummer. “Regulars and jazz-lovers would queue up for hours because there were so many things to look forward to- the cabaret, the can-can dancers, the music, even the food. The Chinese kitchen was extraordinary. I really enjoyed playing at Moulin Rouge,” says Carlton.

At nights, when the red lights are glowing , it is impossible to miss the quaint windmill sign of Moulin Rouge. The menu is an interesting combination of Continental, Chinese, and Mughlai cuisines. Nondon Bagchi, drummer and food enthusiast, remarks, “Moulin Rouge serves good quality, old style Park Street cuisine. Standard Continental favourites like Chicken a la Kiev or Fish Finger with tartar sauce, are prepared well. Overall, the food is decent.” Nondon also recollects that the present Starlit Bar, adjoining the restaurant, was once known as The Bar Barrel. It shared a one-way glass wall with Moulin Rouge, through which the customers at the bar could enjoy old western melodies, playing in the restaurant.

Considering the many dining options at Park Street, a surprisingly large number of customers still frequent this old haunt. Rich, young couples looking for a cosy corner, aged men and women reliving their bygone days, people wishing to partake of the colourful history of Kolkata, all wander in. The soft, sad strains of the piano and saxophone combine, waft out into the street, and cast an enchanting spell perhaps. Sabita Adhikary, a regular customer, states, “I come to Moulin Rouge because of its old world ambience. It also helps to remember that this is where Uttam Kumar and other glitterati once gathered to relax and enjoy the art of entertainment.”

In a changing world, where progress is, at times, synonymous with trivialness and banality, Moulin Rouge has become a symbol of permanence. There is an illusion of everlastingness about a place that refuses to alter with time. However, as one leaves, one wishes that Moulin Rouge would polish up the interiors and restore the paintings to their original brilliance. Most importantly, one wishes for the music, fun and gaiety, that hangs about like a half-forgotten melody. The strength of Moulin Rouge lies in the glory of its past and the road ahead is to embrace this very past, with passion and imagination.

[I wrote this article for the Good News Tab.]

Copyright © 2012 [Good News Tab]. All Rights Reserved.

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