Nearly 50 years since its invention, the story of the vada pav hits the big screen at Jio MAMI

Asha Mahadevan

Oct,30 2015 11:11:56 IST

Think Mumbai street food and you are bound to think of the vada pav.

A potato vada wedged between two pieces of bread is the favourite on-the-go snack for many Mumbaikars, yet, few know about Ashok Vaidya, the man who is credited with coming up with the idea for the snack at his stall outside Dadar railway station in 1966. Now, a new short documentary tracing his legacy has been selected for the Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival.

Vada Pav Inc. is a 5-minute-long documentary that is an official selection in the film festival’s Dimensions Mumbai category. Directed by Siddharth Aalambayan (a video producer with Firstpost), the film shines the spotlight on Vaidya’s family, who still continue to sell vada pavs from the same stall that the snack’s inventor did.

Narendra Vaidya, son of vada pav inventor Ashok Vaidya.

Narendra Vaidya, son of vada pav inventor Ashok Vaidya. Screengrab/ Vada Pav Inc

Vaidya passed away 17 years ago and his son Narendra Vaidya is busy keeping his father’s legacy alive in a highly competitive market “Everyone thinks it is easy to have a food business, but it is not,” Narendra, 37, told Firstpost during an interview at his Dadar home. “Hygiene, cleanliness and safety (of the customers who eat his food) are an issue.” He added, “What you make must be tasty, the customers should be content after one bite.”

Everyday, Narendra and his mother Mangal, begin making the vadas at 4 am. The recipe hasn’t changed in the past 49 years, since Mangal first made the Vadas for her husband Ashok to sell. For Narendra, the recipe is as much a part of his father’s legacy as is the business, which he continues at the same spot. Not that he always appreciated it. “My father used to tell us, ‘Your father has started this. Remember that. It is Shiv Sena’s first vada pav’, but we never took him seriously,” said Narendra as he recalled that his father was inspired by Balasaheb Thackeray's call to Maharashtrians in the 1960s to become entrepreneurs the way South Indians had by setting up Udupi restaurants. He and his brother used to help out at the stall during evenings and school holidays. In those days, mill workers were their main customers. Watching the vadas being made and helping sell them was part of their day-to-day life. Following in his father’s footsteps was not a planned career choice.

“I wanted to be a fashion designer,” Narendra reminisced. Fate intervened. On July 6, 1998, after Narendra had completed his Bachelors in Commerce degree, the senior Vaidya passed away at the age of 52. Since his brother was busy with his MBA studies, Narendra took over the business for what was supposed to be only a short time. Instead, he has been immersed in it for the past 17 years. He shares his duties with his business partner Abhijeet Samel, whose father Vijay was Ashok’s partner. It’s such a part of his life now that “if I get one day’s holiday, I become restless,” he said.

Aalambayan says that what drew him to make the documentary was the fact that while everyone enjoys vada pavs, no one really knows what gave Ashok Vaidya the idea to put a vada between two pieces of bread. “That story died with him,” he says, intrigued by the element of mystery behind this popular invention.

Aalambayan also feels strongly about the fact that this landmark will be destroyed because of the BMC’s plan to remove hawkers. The municipal corporation is urging all hawkers outside Dadar station to relocate to a building down the road. Soon, the landmark stall where the vada pav was invented will no longer exist. “Food chains like Jumbo King, Goli vada pav are making crores out of this invention, while Ashok Vaidya’s family has received no recognition,” said Aalambayan.

If you want to bite into the original vada pav at the spot where it was first created, hurry up and head to Dadar station. The Vaidyas’ stall is right outside Platform No 1 on the Western Line.

Vada Pav, Inc. will be screened as part of the Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival on 31 October at 1.30 pm at PVR Juhu, on 2 November at 4 pm at PVR Ghatkopar and on 3 November at 3.30 pm at PVR Phoenix. Siddharth Aalambayan will be present at the screenings in Juhu and Phoenix Mills Compound, Lower Parel.

Reliance Jio Infocomm Limited is a venture of Reliance Industries, which owns Network18 (of which Firstpost is a part).

Updated Date: Oct 30, 2015 11:11 AM