By Probir Pramanik
Mumbai, Oct 18 (IANS) It is that time of the year when their hearts yearn for Durga Puja festivities back home. But with 100-odd pandals in Mumbai and its outskirts, Bengalis in Bollywood and elsewhere plunge themselves into the celebrations here.
Be it actors Bipasha Basu, Kajol or Rani Mukerji, singer Abhijeet or director Basu Chatterjee, the festival time is always special. For there is nothing like Durga Puja to elevate the sprits of Bengalis living outside Bengal.
Festivities range from the very sedate Khar Ram Krishna Mission puja to the more elaborate community and private pujas at upmarket Lokhandwala and Bandra.With the five-day puja kicking off Wednesday, both tinsel town and local Bengali associations have recreated "the magic back home".
Singer Abhijeet and his Bollywood colleagues, including director Anurag Basu and some A-list Bollywood actors, have turned the upmarket Lokhandwala puja in the western suburbs into one of the most talked-about here.
"The reason I convene this puja - that is in its 16th year at Lokhandwala - is I recall it as the only major annual event in my hometown Kanpur. It was the only time when we non-resident Bengalis got together and celebrated the festival in a heart-warming way," Abhijeet told IANS.
"When I came to Mumbai, I missed this puja spirit, so in 1989 I decided to start this puja in Lokhandwala. During the festival, which is unlike any other, I ensure that everything is perfect."
Bipasha too pines for the 'para' (neighbourhood) puja back home in Kolkata but will be going to the puja organised by the Mukherjee family - of Kajol, Tanisha and Rani - in Santa Cruz.
"Though I will miss our para puja back home in Kolkata, I am very happy that I will be going to the Mukherjee family puja. In fact, my parents have gone to Kolkata for the pujas, but work has kept me back in Mumbai this year," Bipasha said.
"I will be there to offer anjali on 'ashtami'," she said.
That is where Prashanta Kundu, a journalist from a Bengali TV channel, is headed too.
"If you want to see the largest congregation of Bengalis in Mumbai, then you should go to the Podar School puja organised by filmmaker Ram Mukherjee (father of Rani) and his brother Som Mukherjee (father of actor Kajol and Tanisha)," says Kundu.
"You can catch Jaya Bachchan, Moushumi Chatterjee, Rani Mukerji, Kajol and a host of other Bollywood stars offering anjali together.
"Yes, that is true. This is the 50th year of the family puja. It is like an annual family pilgrimage when the entire Mukherjee clan gets together," confirmed Ram Mukherjee.
But Abhijeet plays down the rivalry between pujas organised here.
"Why, don't they have puja committees competing with one another in Kolkata? Aren't awards given for the best pandals there?" Abhijeet asked.
Another must see Bollywood puja is that organised by director Basu Chatterjee and yesteryear movie mogul Shakti Samanta on Bandra's Linking Road.
Yet it is the Bombay Sarbojonin Durgoutsav Committee pandal at Shivaji Park in central Mumbai's Dadar that truly gives the feel of a Kolkata puja.
Organised by the Bengal Club and in its 70th year, it is one of the oldest community pujas in the metropolis.
"We organise music and dance competitions in the mornings and evenings for children and dhunuchi dance and shonkhodhwoni competitions in the evening for adults in a very traditional way," said a Hiren Bose, a puja committee member.
The New Bombay Bengali Association Puja at Vashi in Navi Mumbai and the Bengali Cultural Association too are crowd pullers.
Organisers here have decided to go eco-friendly this time using innovative materials, including silt, clay, jute, water reed and even spices, for their Durga idol.
"Our 25-foot-high idol is made of silt and clay brought all the way from the river Ganga in Kolkata. We have not used any plaster of Paris. The idol's hair is made of jute and the attire is made of 'shola', a special water weed found mainly in rural Bengal," said Asit Gosh of the association.
"We have not used any artificial colours or chemicals to decorate the idols. In fact, white elaichi (cardamom) has been used in the weapons and ornaments (used to bedeck the goddess) and black rye for the hair," said a member of the Bengali Cultural Association.
There are a 100-odd Bengali pujas in Mumbai and neighbouring Thane. The oldest community puja here is the one at Zaveri Bazaar in south Mumbai organised by Bengali goldsmiths.
Not to be left behind, corporate Mumbai too has its own Durga Puja, organised by business head honchos at the Tel Pal Hall, adjutant to the historic Azad Kranti Maidan off Grant Road in south Mumbai.