Aurangabad-based Tara Pan Centre’s Rs 5,000 paan has the whole world excited
When Bollywood, betel leaf, and business mix together, it makes for a potent story, as entrepreneur Mohammed Sharfuddin shows.
Aurangabad, the city famous for its historical Ajanta and Ellora caves made during the reign of the Rashtrakuta dynasty, is fast becoming popular on the tourist map for another totally different reason.
People used to make a trip to this dusty old town in Maharashtra’s Marathwada region only for the Unesco world heritage sites, but these days they are making a pit stop at an innocuous-looking shop Tara Pan Centre in the bustling Osmanpura gally of the city known for its world-famous (yes, world-famous) Kohinoor paan that costs Rs 5,000.
This betel leaf is no less precious than the Kohinoor as it comes loaded with a secret ingredient that has the capability to not only lift your mood but the libido too.
Considering no one has yet come back to the shop with complaints, it is safe to say that Tara Pan Centre’s paan is delivering complete satisfaction to its customers.
The famous paan has now become a must-gift to newlyweds across the world and is transported not only to Mumbai, Delhi, and Lucknow but is also exported to Dubai, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia.
On any given day, the shop sells upwards of 10,000 paans, which also includes the Kohinoor paan, the most expensive item on the menu. During the wedding season, the daily sale can easily rival any ecommerce site’s mega sale.
So what goes into the Kohinoor paan that people refer to as the ‘desi Viagra’ in hushed tones? It apparently contains a special kastoori (that costs a whopping Rs 70 lakh a kilo), saffron (that costs Rs 2 lakh a kilo), rose extracts (that cost Rs 80,000 a kg), a special liquid fragrance, and a super secret ingredient.
The Kohinoor is a twin paan -- one for him and one for her -- and comes in a special packaging on a bed of roses along with a bottle of ittar.
Tara Pan Centre has many other varieties of paan in different price ranges on its menu. Such has been its popularity that many other paan shops have sprouted in the area bearing the same name.
A paan star is born
Seventy-two-year-old Mohammed Sharfuddin, who started the shop after he came back home from Mumbai failing to make it big in Hindi movies, is the undisputed star of the shop.
While his sons and staff labour behind the scenes rolling the betel leaf with the sweet fragrant ingredients, Sharfuddin can be found engaging with tourists keeping them amused with the tales of his product’s potency.
He tells me that no one besides his mother and him know the ingredients of the secret powder in his Kohinoor paan. “I started selling this item only after my wedding,” he says, looking at the crowd that is slowly gathering around to listen to his story. He sure is a performer and it is not hard to see the showman in him come out at the sight of a rapt audience. Truly Bollywood’s loss.
So the story goes that his mother gave him a special paan on his wedding night and told him if he liked it, he could add it to the menu in his paan shop. Need I say anything more?
Besides being a canny businessman, Sharfuddin is an entertainer. He has a lot to tell, now that he knows the crowd is looking for more. He indicates at a stool near him and tells me to sit. As he warms up to tell his story he slowly scans the faces around him. Satisfied, he begins to talk.
“I studied till Class X and then ran away to Bambai as I was crazy about Hindi movies,” he tells me. He had heard of actors like Dharmendra and others who despite their humble origins had made it big in the movies. “Maine socha main bhi apni taqdeer banoo aur Bambai chala gaya. Thode din baad mere paise khatam ho gaye, toh meine hotel par naukri kar li (I wanted to also give my destiny a chance. But after a few days my money ran out so I took up a job at a hotel in Mumbai).”
He did not want to return home a failure and hence thought he would make some money before he went back. While serving tea, he came across a gentleman who would frequent the hotel, and was often seen writing there for hours. “Maine usse poocha, kaun hai aur yeh kya likhte rahate ho (I asked him who he was and what he was writing all the time)?”
The person turned out to be a dialogue writer named Sharma. “Maine socha, yeh Salim-Javed aur Kadar Khan ka naam suna hai, yeh Sharma kaun hai (I thought to myself that I had heard of writers like Salim-Javed and Kadar Khan, but who was this Sharma)?”
Sharma turned out to be a staff dialogue writer under Kadar Khan (celebrated dialogue writer in Bollywood who passed away recently). He was getting paid Rs 35, and Sharfuddin, who was around 21 years of age then, asked him to get him a writing job.
It so happened that Kadar Khan was around in the Andheri office on young Sharfuddin’s first day. Not convinced that a hotel boy from Aurangabad could deliver the kind of dialogues he wanted, Kadar Khan put him to test.
“Ek ladka aur ek ladki takraa jate hai...ab dono ke beech kya dialogue hona chahiye (a boy and a girl collide accidentally, what dialogue should follow between the two)?” he was asked.
“Maine thoda socha, phir bola, ‘ladki bolegi, tere ghar mein maa, behen nahi hai kya? Toh ladka bolega, maa, baap, behen, bhai sab hai. Tumhari kami hai (I thought for a bit and then began ‘the girl would ask angrily don’t you have a mother or a sister? The boy would reply, I have a mother, sister, brother, and father. The only one missing is you’).”
Kadar Khan laughed and asked him to take the scene forward. So Sharfuddin added, the girl would say, “Meri kami hai tere ghar mein? Mere chaar bhai hai, malum hoga teri kami ho jayegi (you think I am missing from your family? I have four brothers, very soon you will be missing from yours).”
Dream come true
His audience explodes in laughter. I ask him why he did not continue writing dialogues. Sharfuddin had to return home as his mother called him back. He may not have tasted Bollywood success, but after all these years, he is living his dreams of being a celebrity now.
His sons tell me that when cricketer Virat Kholi and Bollywood actress Anushka Sharma got married, Tara Pan had shipped the Kohinoor paan to them. “Many Bollywood celebrities are our customers,” claims Sharfuddin.
For mere mortals like us, we had to be content with the Rs-5 paan. But the story we got out of it was priceless.
(Photos by R Raja)