Nandita Das

El Somni in Barcelona

  • May 1, 2013

I have to say, this column allows me to document experiences and process them more deeply, saving many from fading with time. One such recent experience was in Barcelona, where I attended a project called El Somni (The Dream). In less abstract terms, it was about having a 12-course meal prepared by the three Roca brothers, of El Celler de Can Roca, recently named the best restaurant in the world. But to reduce El Somni to just a meal would be a great injustice to what was to be ‘an opera in 12 courses, a banquet in 12 acts’. All this, for just 12 individuals!

I was relieved to know that I wasn’t the only one wondering what I had done to deserve this treat. Others, too, from different parts of the world and different walks of life, like the physicist, anthropologist, AIDS expert, robot engineer, philosopher… were all equally amused! Though the famous Spanish artist Miquel Barcelo, whom I had the pleasure to sit with during dinner, and Ferran Adria, named the best chef in the world, were probably not as surprised as some of us.

Growing up as the daughter of an artist who is also an amazing cook, I have always taken the culinary arts quite seriously. But this convergence of music, poetry, gastronomy, painting, film and opera was truly unique and way beyond my notions of art. Course after course, our senses were stimulated… all five simultaneously. There were video panels all around us, on the ceiling, forming patterns on our table, with images such as fish swimming and flowers blooming. Each of the serving dishes was a piece of art, hand-crafted by an eminent artist. The music was by the likes of Zubin Mehta. 

I could go on and on about each of the elements. But once it had sunk in, I thought this project was rather elitist and ostentatious. However, I was relieved to find out that the Roca brothers, Mediapro, a television company, and Franc Aleu, a multi-disciplinary visual artist, had all privately funded it. As long as the public money is not at stake for such indulgences, I am all for experimentation in the arts. After all, new things emerge because of the few individuals who dare to dream differently.

A tradition of creativity must be in the air of Barcelona, a city where Gaudi, the maverick architect and dreamer, designed buildings that were way ahead of time. So, El Somni, too, was no superfluous dream. The project took more than a year of preparation and the talent and time of many people. Their work is to further manifest in a feature documentary, two exhibitions and a book.

But this was not the end of the experience. After Barcelona, we travelled to Girona. Franc Aleu, one of the conceivers of El Somni, who lived in a nearby village, offered to be our guide for the day. He took us to the Roca restaurant in Girona, but of course it was impossible for us to get a table at such short notice. It was fully booked for a year! But we were more than happy to walk across the street to Mama Roca’s casual, warm and small bistro. We met the proud and happy Roca parents, who were busy cooking. We didn’t speak each other’s language, but it was clear where the three Roca brothers got their simplicity and warmth. No wonder the Roca brothers, despite many propositions to open in New York, London, Tokyo and, of course, Barcelona, chose to remain in Girona, a small, beautiful town, where they grew up. 

I have always felt that the more you get to know about something, the less you judge it. I will always remember the 12 courses and the 12 guests, but along with the people behind it. It was a clear message that the intent cannot be separated from the action. And now, I head off to Cannes, for another kind of El Somni!

Virata Parvam


Director: Udugula Venu

Language: Telugu

Character Name: Shakuntala

Key Cast: Kundan Alexzed, Chakrapani Ananda, Banerjee

Feastivals and Awards: NA

Film Stills: 9

BTS: 11