London, June 3: "Bollywood" has beaten the familiar "isms" and struck root in Cuba.
Before the Indian Left jumps for joy, a word of caution: it is an example of private enterprise in an evolving Cuba that has taken a few baby steps towards reforms.
Oh, yes, Bollywood is also Cuba's first restaurant serving Indian food.
Although this Bollywood is about sizzling curry and not heroines, it has all the ingredients of a movie with considerable crossover appeal: it serves Indian cuisine, it is owned by an entrepreneur of Sri Lankan origin who cut his teeth in Britain and who has picked out the unlikeliest of places to try his hand at enterprise.
Cedric Fernando, 48, was born in Britain to Sri Lankan parents, arrived in Cuba in 1996 and is married to a Cuban woman, Oyaky. Fernando does not want to be confined to straitjacket labels like "communist", "socialist" or "capitalist". He prefers "normalist".
Bollywood, set in the smart Nuevo Vedado district of Havana, has become a gathering point for Havana's diplomatic and business elite since it opened on December 26 last year, with its signboard promising "autentica comida Hindu" or authentic Indian food.
The diplomatic guest list will probably get a bit longer from this week as the new Indian ambassador to Cuba, C. Rajasekhar, is scheduled to leave for Havana tomorrow, six days after his appointment. He was earlier the Indian high commission's press officer in London.
In Nuevo Vedado, the sitting room, kitchen, store and terrace at the couple's home make up the restaurant. Bollywood now has room for only 30 people but Fernando is waiting for suitable furniture so he can seat another 20. "Recently, eight people turned up but I only had a table for four, so four disappointed people had to go elsewhere," he told The Telegraph.
But running Bollywood in Havana is not like managing any of the 8,000 to 10,000 Indian restaurants in the UK where all the ingredients are easily available.
"Havana has some Chinese restaurants which are, shall we say, not quite Chinese," Fernando said politely. "But I try to serve authentic Indian food. To ensure supplies, I have to send people out. All my spices come from London."
He is hoping a friend will bring him an emergency consignment: "5kg bags of Rajah tandoori powder, curry powder mild and black pepper coarse".
Oyaky had picked up Indian cuisine from a Sri Lankan chef who worked at Colombo's Taj Samudra. Now the couple are training Cubans to cook curry. Compared with Indian cuisine, Cuban food is, er, non-spicy. "It's better to say non-spicy than bland," Fernando said.
On the spice Richter scale, he has to be gentle with new Cuban customers. "If we gave them a vindaloo, I don't think we would see them again for a while."
By London standards, Bollywood's menu is limited: there are only 12 items. The restaurant is able to offer chicken tikka masala, which is really a British invention. "Then, there is coconut roti 'I got the recipe from the Sri Lankan embassy here."
There are two sorts of prawn dishes: "Bollywood prawns" (uses larger prawns) and normal prawn.
Also on the menu are lamb rogan josh, tandoori chicken, normal chicken curry, tadka dal, Bombay potatoes and an aubergine dish. Fernando is proud of a creation called "fish maharani".
In Havana, Fernando affects a certain style. An MG sports car is parked outside his establishment. He also enjoys smoking cigars.
Speaking of creeping economic and social change, which India is keen to support, he said: "I have seen lots of little cafes turning up, people opening small businesses where they do car valeting and hair salons. Yes, it's moving on."
Although the state remains the biggest employer in Cuba, Fidel Castro's brother Raul, who took over in 2008, is allowing a degree of private enterprise. The Cuban government intends that up to 40 per cent of the island's workforce of 5.2 million will be in non-state jobs by 2015.
Fernando told The Times, London, that he took care not to call himself a "capitalist" in what is still a Marxist-run state. "I am neither communist nor socialist nor capitalist. I'm a normalist. When you say 'capitalist', they think you are going to come and rob them."
Bollywood's opening is not without symbolic value because the mission of Rajasekhar, the new Indian ambassador to Cuba, will be to spice up bilateral relations, partly through a "curry policy" of promoting Indian food.
Rajasekhar has reason to rush to Havana: external affairs minister S.M. Krishna will be arriving in Cuba on June 14, apparently with credit worth $100 million to offer.
Although Castro is no longer involved in government, Krishna has an appointment to meet the grand old man and undertake a nostalgic trip down memory lane with him.
Since India was among the first countries to recognise the 1959 revolution that brought Castro to power, its relations with Havana have been remarkably cordial. Castro visited India in 1973 and 1983 and there have been many return visits by senior Indian politicians, including the late Jyoti Basu who was gifted boxes of the best Cuban cigars by Castro.
On June 15, when Rajasekhar hosts a summit of 20 Indian ambassadors in the region on behalf of Krishna, he will probably need the Bollywood restaurant to help with the entertaining.
"This is baptism by fire 'or feeding hot mango pickle to a baby during annaprasanam," Rajasekhar had said of his ambassadorial appointment during a farewell party in London on Thursday.
Calling on Fernando will be a priority for Rajasekhar, who did a big spice shop yesterday in Tooting, an Indian area in south London.
Do Bollywood stars drop in at Havana's Bollywood when they visit Cuba for shoots?
"The stars have not come to the restaurant but the crew have," Fernando confirmed. "The stars bring four or five of their own chefs with them from India."