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Kulwant Kohli, owner of legendary Pritam, dies The famed hotelier introduced the city to butter chicken through his Dadar-based restaurant

July 19, 2019 06:36 AM

courtesy  MIROR JULY 19

Kulwant Kohli, owner of legendary Pritam, dies
The famed hotelier introduced the city to butter chicken through his Dadar-based restaurant
Anuka Roy@timesgroup.com
TWEETS @MumbaiMIrror

Kulwant Singh Kohli, a former sheriff of Mumbai and the legendary hotelier who introduced the city to “butter chicken” through his Dadar-based legendary eatery Pritam, died on July 17. He was 85 and was ailing with a heart condition.

Kohli had been admitted to the Hinduja Hospital five days ago, where he breathed his last. His last rites were conducted at the Shivaji Park crematorium late Thursday evening.


“He was an enigmatic man,” entrepreneur Abhayraj Singh Kohli, his grandson, tells Mirror over the phone. “He had this magical ability that people would be naturally drawn to him. Even when he was in the hospital these past five days, he was popular among all the nurses and doctors. He even had pet names for them. He taught us the value of money. He would say that even if half a lemon was wasted in the kitchen, it could greatly affect the business.”

The history of Pritam goes back to pre-Independence India. Set up in 1942 by Rawalpindi entrepreneur Prahlad Singh Kohli – Kulwant’s father – who was re-entering the hospitality scene after his Punjabi eatery ‘Pritam Hotel’ in Kalbadevi failed miserably. Prahlad then decided to move to the ‘labourclass’ populated Dadar with the hope of cashing in on the upcoming movie studios in the area.

And his gamble paid off.

Kohli was known to go out of his way to help struggling actors of the time.

A meal then would cost Rs 19 and Rs 38 for two. When Pritam was refurbished as an air-conditioned restaurant in 1975, it was the legendary Raj Kapoor who inaugurated it.

Over the years, the iconic eatery was patronised by Dilip Kumar, Manoj Kumar, Sanjeev Kumar, Raj Kapoor, Raaj Kumar, Sunil Dutt, Dharmendra, Rajendra Kumar, Dev Anand, Jagjit Singh, Anand Bakshi, Shanker-Jaikishen, Chetan Anand, Kamal Amrohi, BR Chopra, Yash Chopra and many more, who craved North Indian cuisine, and would regularly frequent his joint.

“It is really sad. I had known him for years. He was always good to me,” veteran actor Dharmendra told Mirror.

“He was a thorough gentleman. I didn’t even know about this news. I was planning to visit the restaurant soon. He was a very handsome sardar and a very positive person. May his soul rest in peace.”

As news of his death became public, tributes started to pour in. Maharashtra Governor CV Rao said: “He was a lively and cheerful person. He was a successful business leader and a witness to the socio-cultural and economic development of the state. He was a pride of the community. In his demise, Mumbai has lost a popular ‘samaj ratna’.

Pankaja Munde, minister for rural development, women & child development, guardian minister for Beed, Maharashtra tweeted: “Deeply saddened by sad demise of Mumbai’s iconic Pritam Hotel’s owner Kulwantsingh Kohli ji A very close friend of my parents. My mother used to tie him rakhi. A wonderful n gentle soul will forever remain in our hearts. Our prayers are with Kohli Uncle’s family Om Shanti.”

The family over time expanded the business by adding a typical Punjabi-style ‘dhaba’, a fine-dining, the four-star residential Hotel MidTown Pritam to its kitty.

Kohli also ventured into the film industry with Sangeeta Films Corporation, which acquired the world distribution rights for some of the most popular films of the era such as “Pakeezah” and “The Burning Train”, among others. “Sunil Dutt and Dharmendra were strugglers when he was starting his business. At the time even they couldn’t afford to pay. The relationship was such that they would eat, and pay later when they had the funds,” says Abhayraj.

His grandson also shares lesserknown facts about his grandfather. “Not many people know this, but he was one of the reasons why the Sikh riots did not affect Mumbai. When the riots took place, Balasaheb Thackeray called him over, and together they organised a big event in Shanmukhananda Hall, where all the top city politicians were called, and with the help of Balasaheb, Pramod Mahajan and Gopinath Munde, they made sure Mumbai went unscathed. The community still respects him for this

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