La Cage Aux Folles

Mumbai, India
March 25, 2003

The first person we meet at Ling’s is Johnny Chi, a charismatic and flaming queen right out of “La Cage Aux Folles”. Hey… it’s Cheuk’s fantasy come true… it’s not the appropriate location… but maybe he can Bollywood dance or maybe he has a tango lover somewhere in Buenos Aires… you never know… our world is getting smaller as our global documentary family grows bigger.

Ajay and spectators at market
Ajay and spectators at market

At first sight, I mistook Johnny for the owner Nini. This gracious and extroverted host in his silky Chinese robe looks more like a gentleman of leisure than a waiter. He has been here since Ling’s doors opened. He acts like he owns the joint… in a good way. He adores the Lings and takes pride working here.

While the more reserved Nini takes a back seat in the office, Johnny plays ambassador in charming the customers with his knowledgeable instructions on the art of ordering Chinese food. He takes pride in the food like a chef boasting about their freshness and hams around with live crabs and fish that just came in fresh from the coast off Mumbai. I jokingly mumble something about the pomfret fish not moving and he proceeds to flap and jiggle it in front of my lens breaking me out in laughter. This is gonna be a funny “La Cage Au Johnny” shoot.

Back in the kitchen, I film an orderly military operation reminding me of Soong’s in San Fernando. It’s bright, spacious and clean. The ingredients get thrown together by the Indian help and passed on to the Chinese line cooks all personally trained by Baba and Nini. At Cantonese speed and efficiency, everything gets wok’ed up for the serving counter where Johnny and other waiters pick up for the dinning room.

I follow Johnny down the street on his lunch break. Everybody knows him. He tells us about Bollywood stars dinning out at Ling’s in-between bites on his butter chicken and naan. I was disappointed that he didn’t break out in a Bollywood song and dance number right there for his friends in the busy jammed-packed Punjabi eatery.