Sunday, November 15, 2015

Does stealth always works ....?

What Awaaz Network achieved on Remembrance Day in London is an unprecedented advertising/marketing coup! As pure strategies go, this was brilliant. It was doubly brilliant because it was a scrupulously planned stealth attack which took Narendra Modi ... and the world by surprise. It also left several British politicians red-faced and speechless! The sheer audacity of the protest (which instantly made it to the global media space) stumped just about everybody. How on earth was such an imaginative, complicated and super technical feat pulled off in the first place? Well, it has been carefully dissected, deconstructed, and lucidly explained by Shri Suresh (who dat?) Grover himself. I am not sure whether it was his brainchild, or a collective effort planned in utmost secrecy by a highly skilled team, virulently opposed to Modi’s politics. Now that a coup has been successfully pulled off, perhaps other iconic structures will be next? Empire State Building, the Louvre or the Pyramids ? Awaaz Network has just created a brand new platform for protestors of all hues to make a bold and daring statement that instantly grabs eyeballs across the world. That’s an awesome achievement in itself!

As for the Om- Swastika controversy, yes, it is deliberately provocative – as it was designed to be. That it was met by shock and revulsion, underlines the original objective – which was to draw the world’s attention to the troubling developments in India. The alarming incidents of violence, murder and brutality against dissenters opposed to the ruling party’s political thinking has led to a range of protests within and outside India. The thing is, I am slightly suspicious about this particular one - which appears to be a pretty well organised offensive against Narendra Modi himself. Yup. The man. Not so much his party. Modi is the chief target. And I find that a bit dodgy.Targeting Modi and shaming him in this way, will not solve a thing! Awaaz Network has equated him directly and blatantly with Adolf Hitler, and created a Nazi Om. Even Modi’s most strident critics are saying this comparison is excessive and odious. It is deeply insulting to the people of India. Even I recoiled at the image, despite my very vocal criticism of all the negatives Modi stands for. While the Awaaz Network’s message was basic and overdue (reject politics of hate and intolerance), the method to convey it ( on the facade of the House of Commons) , was pretty crude. It was designed to humiliate a visiting Prime Minister... and India. Call me an over-sentimental fool, but I felt really, really terrible when I saw it on Twitter! For the first time ever, I felt a little sorry for Narendra Modi! And I recalled Sambit Patra’s miffed response when I had referred to Mr. Modi as a ‘poor chap’ on a panel discussion. Patra had bristled and raged. He had jumped in loudly and rudely to defend his boss. Patra had made out like I had called Mr. Modi names and been highly disrespectful towards him. My innocuous ‘poor chap’ comment must have upset Patra so much, that he brought it up months later on another panel discussion, this time still more emphatically, as if calling someone ‘poor chap’ was the worst form of abuse. If Patra had overreacted back then, what can Mr. Modi’s minders and loyal troops do by way of damage control now?

The thing is, Narendra Modi on foreign soil appears far more vulnerable. He goes flat out to impress ( the frequent costume changes, the 5 lakhs walla, monogrammed suit) and sometimes the strain and effort show. Despite the Om-Swastika-Hitler-Fascist attack, Narendra Modi had to jolly well keep the flag flying, make sure his chin was up, and respond to tough questions with a forced smile. But, the original bluster was definitely missing, as he trotted out the tired Mahatma Gandhi, Gautama Buddha clichés as a response to the predictable ‘rise in intolerance’ question . Possibly, still smarting from the Bihar election results, he was not his usual self, and seemed distracted and out of sorts. Fortunately, he chose to speak in Hindi ( Gujarati would have been even better), and mercifully refrained from hugging, embracing or cuddling David Cameron. Someone from his team has obviously advised him to go easy on the ‘jaadu ki jhappis’, considering he had overdone the touchy-feely bit with other world leaders in the past.

It can’t be easy to make the transition from a feted, warmly welcomed Prime Minister of India, to a person described as ‘the epitome of hatred, destruction and chauvinism’. He has a monumental image problem ahead of him, and this open and public display of derision and contempt, may soon become a pattern as he jets from one international city to the next. Foreign media is having a field day mocking his Madison Square Garden and Wembley appearances for local desis. Had Narendra Modi been a little more sensible and sober on those first few phoren jaunts and not taken the ‘’rock star ’’ rubbish as seriously, perhaps he would have paid more attention to voices back at home, reminding him of all that was going off the rails in his backyard.In retrospect it certainly appears like Narendra Modi was being used as a wind- up toy by his shrewd minders, and sent off into the big, bad world to dazzle and influence global policy makers, while they themselves went about their domestic hate politics with murderous efficiency.

A weakened Narendra Modi is not good for India. A demoralised Prime Minister generally makes expensive mistakes... or worse, meekly surrenders to his puppeteers. In such a scenario, outside forces are quick to pounce and take full advantage of the situation. The BJP is at war with itself. So far, nobody has been able to contain and handle the crisis within... or, without. Narendra Modi’s brand of big talk has more or less collapsed without outside assistance. Losing Bihar is but one sign that the long term picture for Modi as an individual and the party as a whole, is not particularly upbeat. The alternative looks even worse! Rahul Gandhi is thumping his chest and strutting around like he has won a major battle and achche din are just round the corner for the Congress Party! Koi baat nahi. Bachcha hai! Nadaan hai.

Meanwhile, Narendra Modi needs to pay more attention to his rapidly deteriorating public image. Like a canny Congresswalla commented, “Make is India, is fast turning into Hate in India’. It sure likes the average Indian is being fed the old line,“ If you can’t make it, fake it!” Except this time nobody is falling for naqli maal.

I feel like a lost soul!
Back in this incredible, sacred space as if by magic.
God knows what went wrong... is wrong... may go wrong again.... but I just couldn't access my blog all these many months.
Not sure I'll be able to in future, either, but now that I am here - a bog shout out to all of you! Hope you have been well.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Flood of Fans for Amitav Ghosh

          What a dazzling launch it was in Mumbai !Amitav Ghosh was an absolute delight!  
     19th June 2015
L’Affaire Lalit Modi: Theatre of the Absurd.
“It’s war!” declared the man du jour via a tweet. And several very powerful people ducked. It was too late by then. Those who ran for cover, found there was no place to hide. The bombardment  was underway...while the peace of the azure Adriatic Sea was temporarily shattered, as India’s best travelled ‘fugitive’ began his ‘mahayudh’ on frenemies, enemies, family friends and randoms. Wow! India woke up to various hues of international notices – red, blue, even light blue. All sorts of conspiracy theories got recklessly tossed around as Lalit Modi kept up the fusillade, making sure he didn’t skip a single name from his little black book.
I clearly remembered our solitary meeting from way back when. It took place years ago, much before Lalit had bestowed some very fancy titles on himself ( Czar, Commissioner, God... being just a few!). The meeting took place at my residence. The quaking intermediary was distraught. He whispered, “..... but.... but ... but... Mr. Lalit Modi doesn’t go to meet anybody. People come to meet him.” I was a bit surprised – errr... it was he who wanted to meet me with a proposal to write scripts for television. I didn’t particularly want to meet him. A well- connected business lady had set this up and told me grandly, “He really wants you on board. He has lots of money... just name your price.” As things turned out, the meeting was a total flop. He turned up huffing and puffing, made me an offer I didn’t find at all difficult to refuse, and that was that. No hard feelings.
Cut to a couple of years ago. His extraordinary life on the run, was worth documenting. I got his London number and phoned him with my own proposal this time –  I wanted him to write a tell all book. He was voluble and candid. And ready to do it. We did a few con calls...  but things just petered out. During those calls, Lalit was feisty, furious and out there -  he had his facts and figures. And most importantly, he was ready to name names. Our lawyers had to take a call – and they did. It was felt Lalit’s book - a real hot potato – would be too hot to handle. The prospect of battling several law suits discouraged the team from taking this any further.
“Bring it on...” tweeted Lalit Modi earlier this week. And did he bring it on! Brash, brazen, brainy. This  daredevil of a man is a force of nature, as several victims are reckoning,  while they hastily consult top legal wizards, hoping to save their own skins. Lalit has done the unpardonable in such circles – he has ratted on bffs - openly named people. Howcome? Did he not think of the grave repercussions? Is this man a nut job? I don’t think so.  Today’s Lalit Modi is a man with nothing to lose. Not even personal honour. In such a scenario, what option does he have? Keep quiet? Why? Fight back? Why not? Take a look at his high profile targets. At some stage, these were the very people he was in bed with ( figuratively speaking, okay?).Everybody was happy with the arrangement. Everybody made money. Lots and lots of money. So ? Everybody is still making money. Perhaps, even more money! If Lalit Modi  is being referred to as the Robert Vadra of the BJP, how off the mark is that tag?
How about another angle to this sordid saga? What if it is Lalit Modi who is being used? Think of him as the victim and not the villain. I know... it’s like asking audiences to feel sympathetic towards Gabbar Singh or Mogambo. These are our society’s stereotypes. We refuse to break moulds. But, hey – if Lalit is a blackguard, what about the rest? If he is being called a crook – what should we call the others?  Yup. Those shameless looters? The very people going hoarse, condemning the guy from various platforms? A peep into their cupboards would reveal countless skeletons. We are talking about Lalit’s  Rs.1700 crore ‘fraud’. For some of those ministers, ex-ministers, cricket administrators baying for his blood, that’s play money! At least one heavyweight mantriji probably makes more than that amount in half-a-day! Granting favours is a fine art which comes with an astronomical price tag.  It’s not just Sushama Swaraj. “Indian helping Indian” has many connotations and interpretations ! So many netas have bent and twisted the rules on ‘humanitarian grounds’. What’s different now? It’s all about convenience and  timing. ‘Lalitgate’ is a pretty stale story which has been lying around for close to five years. Nobody bothered to pick it up. All of a sudden, it is being projected as the biggest expose ever? Absurd!
The average citizen really doesn’t give a damn whether Lalit Modi continues to lead a hedonistic life partying his socks off  in Havana, Ibiza, Venice... wherever. Nobody cares whether he is a playboy, liar, cheat, absconder, madman. There are far bigger issues to worry about. Let him turn those knives and nail a few more culprits back home. We need such diversions from time to time, to distract us from the real issues. Whether Sushama stays or goes, whether Vasundhara Raje resigns or doesn’t, neither decision is likely to impact the dismal lives of the majority? Frankly, kuch nahi hoga. Both ladies will stay. And a  few earnest citizens will shake their heads and say, “Very bad, very bad... these people must be punished... the country is going to the dogs...” Citizens have been singing the same song for decades. Has anything changed? Naah.
 Sorry, Prime Minister Narendra Modi -  Log khaaengey bhi, or khila yengey bhi. This is how it works in our Bharat Mahaan.
But since we always look for a foreign hand behind all that goes wrong in India...and since we need phirangi scapegoats whenever there’s a huge scam in our backyard, let’s blame Murdoch for this mess and be done.
As for me, it’s International Yoga Day today. I will be doing my bit and performing the very challenging and complicated shavasan – the corpse pose .

  Meanwhile...Bon Appetit, Lalit! Sante...apres le deluge and all that...
     Asian Age              25thJune 2015
             Battle Royale : Who’ll blink first ?
Phew! What a lot of unnecessary dramabaazi week this has seen! Look at the  multistar cast – the main players, the cameos, the side kicks, the comedians, the villains, the amazing twists and turns. A more action packed script would be hard to find. This is the real thing. The ultimate blockbuster. “Hum Aapke Hain Kaun – Part 2.” If only the lead actors had been better looking!
At the time of writing, there are leaks and tip- offs rolling in by the minute even as I key this column. Lalit Modi,our very own desi Whistleblower or Julian Assange with a darker mop of hair, is sitting pretty in London / Ibiza/ Rio/ Mykonos/ Venice and tweeting away. It is being said a smart publisher wants to bring out a quickie with just the emoticons in those countless tweets. Lalit Modi today, is dominating mind and media  space and scaring the daylights out of anybody who has ever been within a 5 kilometre radius of the former Czar of the IPL. The man’s meticulously kept records of every encounter, phone call, email exchange ... just about any form of communication, are so staggering, it’s no wonder so many people are diving for cover. It’s quite comical. Some say they met him for fifteen minutes. Others call him a ‘brother’ to his face and later deny knowing the man. But, in today’s times, there really is no place to hide! Lalit knows it. His targets know it, too.
Is this the way to treat friends? Singed victims are asking. Errr – yes! If, by ‘friends’ you mean those who were around smelling money, opportunities, fun times, while the going was good. If they now accuse Lalit Modi of ‘betraying’ them, nobody is interested in their collective whingeing. This is how it goes when the stakes are as high and the end-game , as dangerous. Those badly hit by Modi’s startling revelations, also know they have zero cover left. Lalit has pretty much stripped the lot naked. It’s possible he is hanging on to more dirt and may unleash the final instalment at the right time. Political Pundits are holding their breaths and wondering when that time will come. For if there is still  some lethal material left in Lalit’s armoury, it can only be a  devastating political nuke that will take  down everybody. That includes the government in power.
Swaraj and Raje   can relax. Lalit Modi has done his worst and they have survived. So far, Rajnath Singh is the only BJP bloke to have astutely handled a maha dhamaka capable of blowing up in several prominent faces. As any shrewd politician knows, the trick is to buy time and wait for the storm to blow over. Raje is sitting tight, as she can well afford to. She is far from dispensable. If she is coerced into stepping down, there will be an open revolt in Rajasthan, where she is worshipped by people, who willingly acknowledge the good work she has done for the State. If she stays, that will be a tough one for Narendra Modi to ‘manage’ – it will prove what his critics are saying – he is soft on corruption within his own party.
Whichever way this pans out, citizens are justifiably disgusted. This is not what they had voted for. Cleverly enough, Lalit Modi has both parties in the same corner. He has enough dirt to dish out on all leaders - Congress, NCP and of course, the BJP. He also has Sushma and Raje on the backfoot. With so many walking wounded around, who the hell is running the government? Let me take a guess – no one??? It is on auto pilot, running itself, with the Babus rejoicing and gloating, now that the reins are back in their hands.
 Take Lalit and his target practice out of the picture, and the story is still bad. Smriti Irani is back in the dock , forced to clarify a ‘typographical ‘ error about her educational degree. And there is Pankaja Munde in Maharashtra battling charges of corruption over the sanctioning of contracts. Ms. Munde is either super efficient  at clearing government tenders amounting to 208crores  in under 10 minutes, or... or... your guess is as good as mine. Maharashtra mantris, have been notorious and brazenly corrupt for years. But Ms. Munde’s indiscretion is being cited as a huge black mark against a government that constantly boasts in self righteous  terms about its  policy of zero tolerance for corrupt practices. Going by the snow balling of charges against four prominent women from the party, this appears not just hypocritical but paradoxical .
In such a volatile and highly combustible environment, it’s hard to predict anybody’s next move. But one thing is for sure –  whatever that next move  is, it has to be Narendra Modi’s. He cannot afford to hide behind  studied silence. Citizens waited patiently for him to finish demonstrating  his prowess at Yoga asanas. People also considerately gave Sushma Swaraj enough time to recover from her jet lag and say something about the controversy. Anger is bound to build up, if the top leadership continues to be evasive. Arun Jaitley jauntily declares nobody in the party is ‘tainted’ . Achchaaaa???? Unless , of course, Sushma indulges in the oldest political trick in the book – and is rushed to hospital for some unnamed medical condition. By the time she emerges, this will no longer qualify as ‘breaking news’. And as we well know, it’s no news unless it is breaking.
This means it will be business as usual for all the main players – Lalit Modi included. There is just one thing for the Prime Minister to do at this tricky point : Get Lalit Modi back to India. Period.
The truth may surprise us all.
       Mumbai Mirror              26thJune2015
                       Damsels in Distress....? Hardly!
Who would have imagined that  four of the country’s most influential,dynamic, powerful, attractive and intelligent women in politics would be facing such an embarrassing situation today? There they are – like a gallery of  roguettes – putting on a brave face, but not quite coming clean about the charges against them.  In feudal India, royalty is still royalty, so one can understand the imperious disdain on display, as Vasundhara Raje  does not deign to respond to questions posed by ordinary mortals, and goes about her business like nothing has happened, her royal brow enviably un-creased. Wow! That takes a lot of ... how shall I put it delicately – impunity? At the time of writing, the popular Chief Minister of Rajasthan was still on her throne, daring anybody – even Amit Shah – to dislodge her. Such is Raje’s super confidence. And such is her faith in her loyal subjects ( can’t call them mere MLAs, can we?).
Sushma Swaraj is amazing. Yes, she may be an amazing law breaker, too. But that’s for the authorities to decide. Given a job she didn’t particularly want, working for a leader she doesn’t particularly like, Sushma has done very well for herself, hopping from country to country, offering firm ‘manly’ handshakes to world leaders, matching her hand- picked silk sarees with those peculiar desexed jackets, bright red sindhoor blazing its own trail in the parting of her hair. Ever since she came back to the motherland after the Lalit Modi scandal broke, Sushma has taken to hiding behind huge, wrap around sunglasses. Perhaps the media glare is getting to her.
Smriti Irani is dealing with a ‘typographical’ error, in her typical style. First, it was amnesia about her college degrees, and now the confusion has been cleared – it was only a careless typo all this fuss is about, as distinct from Tomar’s forged certificates. Her body language has not changed this week. Though her stride is far brisker as she dodges the press, and rushes to Parliament, without bothering to make eye contact. The fact that a Delhi  court has taken cognizance of  a complaint filed against her, has obviously not dented her self-esteem. She wants the country to know she is a lady on a mission to save some of our most prestigious educational institutions, and introduce Yoga in schools etc etc. Teacher’s pets have all the advantages.
Pankaja Munde’s story is different. She is young, brash and possibly in a  tearing hurry to establish her political credentials. Here’s a greenhorn politician who had staked her claim to be anointed the Chief Minister of India’s premier stake – Maharashtra – on the basis of heaven knows what qualifications. Had it not been for internal bickering, the job would have been hers for the asking. You know what softies we are when it comes to casting a sympathy vote. Despite being an absolute novice, Pankaja was generously given a berth in Devendra Fadnavis’ cabinet. If you think there are no perks attached to the Women and Child Welfare portfolio, think again. Pankaja didn’t waste a minute before clearing purchases worth Rs.206 crores in a single day, without inviting tenders. Business as usual? The young lady is holidaying abroad, and will provide ‘explanations’ on her return.
In all four cases, the ladies embroiled in various messy allegations, have put on an impressive show of bravado, preferring to brazen it out while the dust settles. Observers have pointed out that is one hell of a coincidence four women from the BJP are under scrutiny all at the same time, suggesting there is a vile conspiracy to ‘fix’ these ambitious mahilas and cut them down to size. It is also being said  that hounding these ladies demonstrates the deep seated misogyny which dominates the party.
Women in politics never have it easy. Look at Hillary Clinton. But this breed of desi female leaders are not withering violets, nor are they the coy, simpering behenjis  hiding behind powerful men. These are feisty women, who have always called the shots in their personal and professional lives. It’s  the men who need to hide from them! And do. Which is why it’s a little disappointing to note their deliberately passive stance while controversies rage around them. Smriti, in particular, ought to be so secure about her special place in the P.M. ‘s heart, she  can aggressively give it back to anybody who  takes her on. This time, she is uncharacteristically subdued.
We wish all four of them would boldly speak up and clarify matters themselves. Why bring Rajnath into the picture to issue character certificates? Why corner Arun Jaitley and get a lukewarm “ Nobody is tainted’ comment out of him? Come on, ladies. Row your own boats. Own up if you’ve transgressed. It’s so much more honourable to do that. And if you haven’t, clarify your position, and there the story will end. The thing is, all the charges sound pretty credible. I won’t say, ‘Be man enough about the crisis and take it on the chin’. Instead, I will say , ‘Be woman enough to deal with it...”
The era of Damsels in Distress ended with Cinderella...

                NDTV Blog 34                24th June2015

                                  Ranveer Aala Re, Aala...
I have been a die hard Govinda fan for years. Can’t say the same about Ranveer. That they are both naturals, goes without saying. But in my mind, Govinda is more like ghar ka khaana –  Govinda is comfort food. Ranveer is a hybrid. Ranveer is Chicken Manchurian. Both men have a brilliant sense of comic timing. Both are highly intelligent. But being products of an entirely different era in Bollywood, it’s unlikely their career paths will run parallel.
Govinda liked to be referred to as the Virar ka Chhokra. This deliberate positioning was no fluke. Virar is an outpost of Mumbai. The ‘real’ Mumbai doesn’t recognise the existence of a suburb called Virar. Nobody boasts of being from Virar. At the time Govinda was the big hero with several commercial blockbusters under his broad rexine belt, his rivals were Bandra Boys – the Pali Hill , Juhu-Khar lot, with well-connected patrons in the film industry. They fancied themselves ( still do!). And were seen as being upmarket and posh. Then there was Govinda – Chi Chi to friends. A podgy, unlikely hero, with a disarming smile.  Unapologetically middle class and minus starry airs ( those came later), Govinda was hailed as the aam janata’s hero – a basic, daal chawaal type of guy. Nobody could explain his success. Suddenly Govinda was everywhere! He had delivered! He was a bona fide star! His style of dancing was the rage, and the same snooty heroines who had refused roles with him earlier, lined up eagerly to match steps with the latest box office wonder. His dialogue delivery was referred to in reverential terms and admirers made the lyrics of his incredibly vulgar songs, appear cool and catchy when they were seriously offensive and ludicrous.
 I met Govinda when he had already become a bloated monster. His habitual lateness (10 hours was normal), lack of discipline, and delusions of grandeur , had producers fuming by then. But so long as the hits rolled in, lips stayed sealed. I had warned the enthusiastic Stardust Annual team  that even though I was the actor’s fan, and happy to do a special shoot for the magazine, I wasn’t willing to come to a studio or wait around at home for him to show up. As it turned out, the  photo session and interview were fixed at my home, and a minion was assigned the job of tracking Govinda who was shooting in the suburbs.  Two hours after the stipulated time, when there was no trace of the man, I told them I had had enough and to pack up. Just then, there was a flurry of excitement – Govinda was in the building! He walked in wearing a cop’s uniform and apologised for being in costume. He must have been feeling pretty sheepish about his lateness, for without wanting to waste more time, he started stripping right there in my living room, as his wardrobe guy  fluttered around with a fresh shirt. Minutes later, he was ready. And that’s when the Govinda Moment took place. The editors had thoughtfully prepared a set of questions he was supposed to ask me (“ Class Versus Mass’’ was the rather insulting peg). Govinda stared at the sheet of paper and promptly tore it up. He turned to me with a big grin and asked politely, “ Shall we start?”
That’s the essential Govinda – spontaneous, endearing and very nuts.
I don’t know Ranveer at all. The only time I saw him was at a formal function where he was seated across the aisle. This was just after he had signed his first film but was not famous. His conduct was exaggerated, exhibitionistic, loud and attention seeking. He was also ridiculously dressed. Who is this guy? People were wondering, watching his antics. It hardly mattered. Once his first big movie was released, nobody needed to ask that question. He had aggressively and very quickly established himself in Bollywood. And he wasn’t going anywhere! Well, he’s still around. And getting better with every role. His public conduct continues to be brash, but nobody cares so long as audiences love him.
A few months ago, he was invited to a rarefied Conclave in Delhi. He was in the company of some top class professionals from various fields. Of course, there was a full house for him  ( he’s a big star today), but not too many people in the audience were expecting anything more than light Bollywood banter from the young actor. Imagine then, their shock and awe when Ranveer came through with what was dubbed one of the most polished presentations of the Conclave! Beyond the swagger was substance. Beyond the sharp suit  was a thinking, alert,  energetic mind. In a flash – Ranveer had transformed himself from a rakish Bollywood caricature to a polished brand ambassador representing the Future of Bollywood.
Is he the next Govinda? Not really. So much has changed about the movies from the time when Govinda was thrusting his hips and shaking his booty with Bollywood lovelies. Govinda was never given the chance to unleash the supremely sensitive actor in him. Ranveer should learn from this and save himself from falling into a similar trap. For that, he really needs to lose those idiotic monkey suits he wears on the red carpet  - fast!
     The Sexes                         23rdJune2015
                              “Wear a yellow saree tomorrow... or else!”
Yet another story revolving around power play in the work place surfaced last fortnight. This time it was about a female PhD student accusing her mentor/ guide of sexual harassment. The rest of the script was pretty standard – by now, we are all very familiar with the drill – a man in a ‘superior’ position, decides to make a junior’s life miserable. It happens constantly – to  men and women who are juniors. It’s like dogs indulging in territorial wars by urinating on specific spots. I don’t know what’s worse – human beings threatening to throw acid  on victims to establish supremacy, or a few harmless puddles of  dog piss?
But this particular case, is worth examining more closely since the college in question happens to be St. Stephen’s, and the Principal himself is sounding a bit iffy. Had Principal Valson Thampu taken action against the offender, one Satish Kumar, Assistant Professor in the college’s chemistry department, and been more sensitive to the complainant, perhaps one more case of gender harassment would not have gone unpunished. Today, that molestation charge has snowballed into a national scandal. Principal Thampu has made matters worse by saying he had offered to change the female student’s guide, but she had refused! That puts the onus squarely on her and makes her sound like a stereotypical manipulative woman out to wreck her professor’s career.
Now here’s the thing: The student says since 80% of her research had been completed, there was little point in switching guides at such a late stage. What would any other student in her position have done, faced with a stalker who passed lewd remarks and made inappropriate physical contact with the victim? She states that at one point, this deranged sounding academic threatened to pour sulphuric acid on her if she didn’t wear a yellow saree to college! Why would any woman make up such a story? And – hello!  this doesn’t qualify as a case of ‘sexual harassment’ to the Principal? To me it sounds like a murder threat.
A Nobel Laureate ( Tim Hunt ) recently lost his job after making loaded sexist remarks about ‘pretty’ women who work in labs and distract men. There was world- wide outrage at his clumsy ‘joke’, cracked during a scientific conference in Japan. Women scientists mocked Hunt for his silly remarks. But at the end of that outburst, there was also a surge of sympathy for Hunt, from men and women, who felt he had been crucified without giving him a fair chance to respond to the strong charges thrown at him.
The environment today demands a high level of vigilance. Men and women working together without sexual conflicts coming up occasionally, is, of course, the ideal scenario. But there will always be some idiot who decides to take his chances with a reluctant female colleague. The Assistant Professor’s case is extreme – it involves a physical threat. To think an educated person employed by one of India’s most prestigious colleges could attempt to bully a student under his care in such a violent way, is shocking! It is generally illiterate hoodlums and goondas who resort to pouring acid on women who resist their sexual advances. This is perhaps the first time we are dealing with someone from Kumar’s academic background issuing such a bizarre command.
Is the man kinky? A yellow saree fetishist? Some sort of a control freak? What kind of a family does he belong to? How have family members reacted to the scandal? If he does indeed reside with them, how does he even look the female members of his parivaar in the eye? Does shame come into the picture at all? It was a similar story with Pachauri... and look what happened to that man! Disgraced across the world, nobody gives a damn about him any more.
Satish Kumar ( who also discharged the duties of the bursar), has his whole professional life ahead of him. So does the student. She’d feared she’d be jeopardising her degree by going to the Delhi University’s Grievance Redressal Cell. This sordid debacle has left two people in deep trouble. Trouble, that could have been easily avoided had Satish Kumar behaved himself.  Professors sexually harassing students is becoming a serious menace in campuses world- wide. Tragically, most such complaints aren’t taken seriously. And victims are asked, “But... he didn’t actually rape you, did he? Then, what’s the big deal? Why are you ruining the poor man’s life? Besides... are you sure you didn’t encourage him? Lead him on?”
No matter how a woman in these circumstances emerges from the battle , it is she who pays the price – even for victory. Future employers say, “Good God!  Isn’t she that trouble maker from St. Stephen’s? Avoid!!” Paradoxically enough, even other women may not stand by her. So what?  So long as she stands up for her dignity. That’s all that matters.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Long time no see!! Sorry!!!!

Just back from the splendidly conducted 'Words on Water' Festival in Thailand. This a  is an image featuring the man who has put India's Jaipur Lit Fest on the literary map of the world - Sanjoy Roy. He was 'In Conversation' with me, in the presence of the beloved Princess of Thailand, and several invitees, who had come to listen to four writers from India talk about their work.
Sorry about the extended absence from this space. I was experiencing serious technical problems - snce resolved, I hope! Here are a few columns you might enjoy.

Hamarey Pyarrey Pradhan Mantri...

Dear Modiji,

The sizzling summer heat in India must be getting to you, now that you are back in the country for a brief visit after several foreign jaunts ( 18 in 12 months) to cooler climes. Unfortunately, the welcome home hasn’t been terribly enthusiastic.... even though it is Janamdin Mubarak time for your party. Look at what have you come back to : Criticism and taunts. Brickbats and accusations . Your report card is being written by hundreds of experts, who believe they know much more about fixing India’s myriad problems than you do. Policy analysts, economists, television anchors, defence experts, educationists, lawyers, religious heads, professors, scientists, bankers, businesspersons, tycoons, management gurus – even Bollywood actors. Phew ! Your 365 days in office have been deconstructed bit by bit, studied closely, and pass/fail marks given. Poor you! Or... poor us!

Frankly, this annoying ‘report card’ exercise has become a bloody bore – don’t you agree? You are definitely not getting the ‘Student of the Year’ award – but, so what? Your fans (ummm - rapidly dwindling and disillusioned) are still supporting you as the Head Boy of India. But even the most dynamic head boy in a patshala, needs a supportive team to win inter-school and international events. You are Head Boy, Class Monitor, Games Captain, House Captain, Prefect and Librarian...everything rolled into one. Great! But your strict Principal , is just one entity – the citizen of India. And at the moment, the Indian citizen is disgruntled. And naraz. Very naraz.

Citizens can be annoyingly impatient, unreasonable and demanding. The thing is, when you promised ‘Achche Din’, people believed you! They waited for an entire year to see a faint glimmer of some of those early promises. Radical plans were announced to get India get back on its feet, after decades of apathy. Your way with words charmed everybody – we fell for the slogans and wah-wahed. ‘Make in India’ was catchy and inspiring. World leaders started to acknowledge us... that felt fantastic! You went racing to visit our neighbours – that was a good move. You invited khaas mehmaan to India – starting with Pakistan’s Nawaz Sharif. And then came the biggie – Barack Obama.President Obama rejigged his insane schedule and singled you out – not once, not twice, but thrice! This was a gigantic international signal Everyone was maha impressed. While these heady shows of diplomacy were in full flow, it appears you forgot all about India! There you were rushing from one foreign Capital to the next , walking the red carpet like Aishwarya Rai at Cannes – and changing as many outfits, too! Your vanity crossed all limits with that tasteless monogrammed suit, which some say was turned out to be far more expensive than its reported 10 lakhs tab - it cost your party the Delhi election!

Uske baad, it has been downhill all the way...

Image and perception make or break leaders. The early expectations have been replaced by dejection and disappointment. No matter how efficiently you responded during the Nepal crisis, no matter how aggressively you set the agenda for India’s foreign policy, the home truths have been different. People need jobs. Period. And they had hoped your economic policies would create them. People want spiralling prices to be checked. That hasn’t happened either. If anything, collective morale has been sliding rapidly – the cost of living has never been higher. Taking advantage of the disenchantment, Rahul Gandhi has suddenly woken up from deep slumber and gone ballistic with the same old ‘Jai Jawan Jai Kisan’ , pseudo-socialist rubbish that had fooled citizens during his grand- mother’s reign. You had claimed you wanted to take India forward – that too, hasn’t happened. Rahul Gandhi wants to drag it backwards – that is more likely to happen.

Narendrabhai, it’s time to wake up and smell the masala chai. Your one year in office is over. So is our patience. There is just so much irate citizens can take. The trait you most need to check is your conceit. Enough already! Foreign trips are not a fancy dress parade. And there are umpteen jokes about you acquiring a second selfie stick to click yourself taking those silly selfies with world leaders. We understand all this sho-sha is very new for you. It’s cute to see your child like excitement when you are being mobbed by desi fans in South Korea. You have mastered the royal wave from the doors of your Air India aircraft. But India needs more than self-indulgent photo-ops of their Prime Minister jetting around the globe in sorbet coloured designer gear.

It’s time you got down to business. Real business. And real politics. There’s Arvind Kejriwal running around in your backyard playing kindergarten games. This is but one tamasha happening under your nose. Everything else is where it was – Bharat is as un-Swachch as it has always been. Crimes against women have not been curbed. Foul mouthed Sadhvis and Maharajs continue to spout hatred. Our Armed Forces are waiting for sensible budget allotments to provide modern day basics to their men and women in uniform. Defence deals still attract suspicion. And the Kashmir issue is where it has always been – stuck in a rut.

Despite these overwhelming odds, Indians are a buoyant and optimistic lot. We don’t give up easily. In fact, we are pretty damn amazing when it comes to survival. Which is why we were deeply and hurt and appalled by your insensitive comment about us, during your recent trip to Shanghai and Seoul.

Sorry to say, Modiji, but you should never have made that remark about people feeling ashamed to be born in India.

No Sir, despite what you imagine, we are very proud to be born Indian. But the one thing we definitely need to be ‘ashamed’ of is the fact that we keep voting for people who let us down.

Bring on the ‘achche din’ Narendrabhai...and all will be forgiven. Kasam se!

                                                                      ************* Attn: Meenal,Sudipta,Jaideep Mumbai Mirror 22nd May 2015

Shikha Joshi suicide: No way to treat a friend!

I am still baffled by Shikha Joshi’s ‘suicide’. That she was a woman on the edge, is obvious enough. There are hundreds of Shikhas in showbiz, desperately hanging in there, trying hard to survive in a city that generously celebrates success and cruelly damns failure . The worst epithet to throw at anyone in Mumbai is ‘loser’. People can call you any and every name...abuse generations of your family... that’s ‘normal’. But if someone describes you as a loser – that’s it! Very young school kids are suffering because their classmates jeer ‘ loser’ whenever they are around. Mumbai is as ruthless as it is giving. Which is why it is important to understand the many dynamics of 42- year-old Shikha Joshi’s troubled life – the awful truths that finally pushed her off that cliff.

I have known women like Shikha , who come to Mumbai hoping for instant success. They project a jaunty confidence they don’t really possess. They meet people – some good eggs, but mostly, bad. If they are lucky, they get early breaks that pay the bills and keep their hopes up. If not, they start getting desperate... compromise kicks in. They lower fees, promise higher cuts to touts who bring them chhota-mota assignments, attend ‘parties’ of strangers who offer free alcohol , an expensive bed, and the chance to network with ‘big’ names. Soon, even these invitations dry up. But the bills still have to be paid – rent, food, laundry. The biggest expense rarely gets factored in – the nebulous ‘lifestyle’ tab. By this point, the newbies have tasted life in the fast track in Mumbai. It’s a pretty lethal cocktail that extracts its own price. And that’s when trouble kicks in. As it did for Shikha. She was probably told there is a market demand for bigger breasts, flashier clothes, ceramic smiles, coloured eyes, coloured hair, designer handbags, the latest car. .. the list must have grown and grown. But her income didn’t. And depression became her best friend.

In such a brutal scenario, many young people crack. Their vulnerability is instantly pounced on. Dalals appear out of nowhere, and offer hope – ‘I will make you the next big thing... but first, you will have to please that big shot.” God knows how many ‘big shots’ Shikha had pleased. Were they the married men she referred to before she gasped her last breath?

Far more disturbing than Shikha’s untimely death, is the video recording shot by her friend. When I read the account of how swiftly Madhu Bharti, the woman who Shikha was staying with, alerted Anu, another friend, and got to work – I was stupefied! Is that what people do these days when they discover a good friend, a house guest at that, lying in a pool of blood in the bathroom? It is such an appalling, revolting thought! Practical, yes! But inhuman in the extreme! Picture the scene : an emotionally broken friend, who allegedly smokes weed and enjoys rum, goes to the toilet and doesn’t emerge. You hear her mumbling from behind the closed door, ask her to open it and find her swimming in her own blood, a kitchen knife, next to her. And what is the first thing you do? Summon help? Call the police? Dial an ambulance to try and save your friend’s life? Nope! You grab a cell phone, and start recording the the woman’s dying declaration! How cold blooded is that! Demonic, is the word that comes to mind.

Reading the accounts, my own blood ran cold. God save me from such ‘friends’!

Not only was the dying statement duly recorded, the badly injured woman was instructed to stem the blood pouring out of her neck, by using her own dupatta. Leading questions were asked, even as life was slowly ebbing out of her. Questions like, ‘Who do you blame for this? Why have you taken this step?’ The police were fed the suicide story as soon as they arrived. Shikha was pronounced dead at the hospital. Dr.Vijay Sharma,the person named by Shikha , who had enhanced her breasts in 2005, and whose house Shikha had pelted with stones, initially went missing, but has resurfaced. In this sordid saga, one thing becomes abundantly clear : Shikha’s life had become entirely dispensable. The sad part is that Shikha leaves behind a 19 year-old daughter. What about her life?

The fatal attraction Mumbai has for glamour-struck out-of-towners, has claimed one more victim. One can understand Shikha’s tragedy. There were Jiah Khan and Viveka Babajee before her.... and Nafisa Joseph before them. There will be others who will also die in equally gory circumstances. But the unbelievable response of a Madhu Bharti and her friend Anu, will be far harder to accept. Is this what we have come to? A profusely bleeding ‘friend’ is not to be helped or rushed to hospital (her life could have been saved had Madhu done what normal, decent people do), but forced to speak into a recording device to get her loving friends off the hook! Oh yes - she is free to die after that!

This is by far the saddest statement about urban ‘friendship’ I have ever come across! Who needs enemies???

******************* Attn: Suparna, Jayanti, Olga Asian Age For 30th May 2015

Who is a “big shot’’ ?

The central thought behind ‘Bombay Velvet’ was powerful enough. Such a pity it was tossed aside to make an unappetising khichdi that has been declared the biggest turkey of 2015. It is a record that is likely to remain unchallenged for a while to come. Gangster Johnny Balram, morosely played by Ranbir Kapoor,has just one ambition in his troubled life – he wants to become a ‘big shot’. I smiled when I heard those two words – big shot. They reminded me of my father. He was definitely not a big shot. But he met several big shots, being a senior bureaucrat in the Government of India. Each time he came home and told us about some ‘big shot’ he had met, we would exchange knowing smiles. ‘Big shot’ did not have the best connotations in our home . Big shots were bullies. Big shots were people very aware of their power and position. Big shots were to be avoided. Big shots made their own rules. Big shots broke the law. Big shots got away with anything and everything – including murder. In other words – big shots were not nice people.

Today’s big shots are no different. The definition remains unchanged. India has many big shots. A lot of them live in Delhi and run our lives. The beacons on their cars have gone. The number of security guys surrounding them has been scaled down. But one can always tell a big shot from the way he strides into a space like he owns it. Female big shots adopt a slightly different body language. But there is no messing with these formidable ladies. Amma is the biggest shot of this tribe. She knows it. She wants the world to know it. Didi is also a big shot and don’t get fooled by her crumpled saree and uncombed hair ( that’s what makes her a big shot – the don’t-give-a damn attitude).Smriti Irani perhaps fancies herself as BJP’s biggest female big shot. But India sees her differently – as an ambitious, driven, intelligent person, who has been given the wrong job. Sushma Swaraj is the Behenji Big Shot. Her forceful way with words gives her a special position. We miss her on television, and during fiery parliamentary debates.

Right now, Delhi is still struggling with the Big Shot Vs. Big Shot issue... who’ll blink first? Arvind Kejriwal is a closet Big Shot. He only pretends not to be one. Heck, even he realises the irony of an Aam Aadmi behaving publicly like a Sultan – a lot like the very people he condemns. But wait... scratch the surface and the asli roop of Kejriwal emerges– tyrannical, dictatorial, intolerant, stubborn. These are the precise negative traits of rivals he says he is fighting. Yes, it is to tell them apart. The BJP of today is not all that different from the Congress of yesterday. It’s as top heavy and hierarchal as the Congress, with the old satrap system firmly in place.

There are no ‘maamuli log’ in status-obsessed India. If someone starts an Indian Premier League for Celebrities, it will be an absolute winner. Inflated egos abound – from over paid cricketers to over exposed movie stars. Airport pics of Big Shots arriving or departing, have become staples . Never mind that most images are scrupulously doled out by P.R. agencies employed by the celebs. Every possible photo-op has spawned a mini-industry – from catching big shots ‘off guard’ while leaving funerals, hospitals, restaurants, screenings, sporting events, shopping malls, to catching them waving to fans from their balconies like the Pope or British Royals . Since there is no Vatican equivalent here, we create our own version with orchestrated visits to pilgrimage sites. Ajmer is big with Bollywood. Badri-Kedarnath with politicians.

In Corporate India, every CEO/ CFO is a Big Shot. Till he/she gets fired. In earlier times, it was the ‘maalik’ who enjoyed this privilege. These were the new maharajahs, worshipped by employees, who hired caparisoned elephants to please their bosses on birthdays. Others travelled with their top dogs, whose job on international flights was to stand outside the airplane loo, holding the boss’ whiskey tumbler, while he relieved himself. You’d think such abject displays of servility have disappeared. No chance! On any given domestic flight, every seat in the business class section is taken by self styled Big Shots, with minions seated in the front row of cattle class, ready to leap in and assist the VIP.

Arnab Goswami’s frequent television exposes of this nauseating VVIP culture in India, has definitely generated greater awareness in the minds of the general public. But the ground reality remains the same – those who are caught and shamed, brazen it out by stating such a blatant misuse of privileges is a part of their hard won success! It is often the bratty children of such individuals who zoom off in daddy’s Ferrari and run over a pedestrian or two. No problem – it can be ‘managed’.

Yes, Big Shots can ‘manage’ virtually anything in India.

Which is why the Biggest Shots of all are our superstar lawyers. The best dowry gift these days is not kilos of gold, a penthouse, a sports car! Oh no! Nothing tops the gift of providing pricey the services of a brilliant lawyer to your beloved beti. That’s described as true class and clout, in an India where money is no longer sexy. The only game of oneupmanship worth playing, involves retaining the sharpest legal eagle around. If you don’t have a Big Shot Fixer at your beck and call – you’re nothing!

‘Dhadam Dhadam’ goes the song in ‘Bombay Velvet’. Who says Big Shots have it easy?

******************** Attn: Meenal, Jaideep, Sudipta Mumbai Mirror 15th May2015

Trial by fire...

Mumbai lost three heroes last week in a devastating fire that destroyed Gokul Niwas, a 100 year old building in overcrowded Kalbadevi. The three firemen who bravely went into the heart of the inferno, will be remembered with deep gratitude by the city they faithfully served. The last one to die was the affable Deputy Chief Officer, Sudhir Amin, a man who had been awarded the President’s Gold Medal for bravery, right after the 26/11 attacks. The other two men, who lost the valiant battle they were appropriately honoured in death by their grief stricken colleagues and families. But what the hell – this terrible tragedy could have been avoided - easily avoided – had the authorities not been as callous, as indifferent, as cavalier. It is shocking that our firemen are not given the basic protective clothing they are entitled to. That these firemen are stuck with a manual from the British zamana, dating back to the 1940s. Even worse is the administration’s apathy to the abysmal conditions these extraordinary men work under. Nobody really gives a damn. And charges of corruption are rampant. Just like our soldiers and police officers who are deprived of basic equipment and provided sub-standard weapons to fight on our behalf. Clearly, somebody in the food chain is getting a big fat cut on contracts. Mumbai firemen are treated with scant respect and expected to perform miracles during emergencies. The city lacks the infrastructure to fight major blazes – especially those that engulf high rises. We don’t have the required water pressure. Nor do we have snorkels that can access top floors of skyscrapers. New residential /commercial complexes are given municipal clearances without adequate scrutiny. Nearly every building in Mumbai is a fire trap. The old ones made of timber ( like the gutted Kalbadevi building) are dangerous tinder boxes ... time bombs ticking away. But our authorities have other priorities. What’s a few lives lost here and there? Hota hai...they shrug, and wait for the next bribe.

In the midst of this tragedy, there are also inspiring stories of hope and good neighbourliness. One such involves a young couple , Priyanka Pol and Swapnil Surve. The wedding date was fixed for May 30th. As in most traditional families, the wedding trousseau, gifts, and jewellery collected over months, had been carefully stored at home, only to be devoured by the flames that reduced their precious possessions to a heap of smouldering ash. Moved by the plight of the 24 year-old bride-to-be, her thoughtful neighbours , led by Mahendra Pansare, a local merchant, decided to contribute money, kitchen utensils, household items, so that the young couple can start life afresh. What a heart warming story !

The same Kalbadevi merchants have also come together to help the families of the three firemen who lost their lives, and are hoping to collect sufficient funds to give 2.5 lakhs to each family. Once again, it is left to the people of this great city to rise up and confront a calamity. That Mumbaikars do it time and time again ( terror attacks, monsoon floods), says a lot about our citizenry. But what about the lack of response from the heartless administration that refuses to reach out to its own people – the very people who pay taxes and expect just basic services in return for their hard earned money ?.

Priyanka Pol and her fiancé will make it to the mandap on time, I’m sure. And their large hearted neighbours will, no doubt, be an important part of the celebration. Amidst the subdued revelry, there will be fears about the state of the other precarious buildings in the area. Will this terrifying blaze force the merchants to remove highly inflammable chemicals stored in gigantic cans, right next to gas cylinders and exposed electrical wiring? Will concerned citizens lead a morcha to Mantralaya and compel the government to address safety issues, not just in Kalbadevi, but across Mumbai? Will Kalbadevi corporators bother to conduct meetings with representatives of the area and push them to take quick, remedial action?

What about re-examining permissions given to all new towers across Mumbai? Does any officer have the guts to insist on it? The Builders’ lobby functions as a parallel government, answerable to nobody. It can afford to – given that it is run by politicians who are Mumbai’s biggest and blatantly land lords.

There are thousands of similar infernos waiting to happen. Why should brave firemen have to sacrifice their lives because building societies flout fire safety rules? Who will rewrite the 1940s manual and update antiquated laws? I guess we all have the answers to such questions. A few token transfers of negligent officers will not solve the problem. As citizens we have our rights, too. Most of us are not aware of them. Those who are, don’t want to fight for them. Which is why we are stuck with thugs who parade as our representatives. The power we give them over our lives, is the power we have meekly surrendered to them in the first place. Isn’t it time we displayed the much needed collective will to reclaim what is rightfully ours?

               88888888888888 Attn: Meenal,Sudipta,Jaideep Mumbai Mirror For May30th2015

Padma Iyer : Maa Ho Toh Aisi...

It took one incredibly gutsy desi maa, to break through the final homophobic barrier. When Padma Iyer (58) decided to place a matrimonial ad seeking a groom for her 36 year old son, perhaps unknowingly, she had begun an important social revolution. Within 24 hours, Harish Iyer, Padma’s son, had received 73 proposals over email! The number has gone up considerably since then. Padma, on the other hand, had received over 300 hate mails. The response to the unusual ad, is in itself an indication of how polarised people are about accepting gay marriages – not just in India, but across the world. Harish Iyer, a jaunty, cheerful gay activist, has been featured in the 100 most influential LGBT people in the world by The Guardian, in 2013. Harish and I have been virtual friends for a long time. Today, Harish’s life is exceedingly busy, and the work he has undertaken, is earning him international recognition.

Harish would not be the Harish of today, had it not been for the support he has received and continues to receive from his extraordinary mother (and grand mother). Yes, Padma has attracted her share of flak for mentioning ‘Iyer preferred’ in the ad. But like she explained, that was included half in jest, and in any case, she insists, like any other mother, she also wants her child to marry into a family with a similar cultural background and shared values. Why not? We don’t make the same value judgements when we read other matrimonial ads that specify not just a particular caste, but also a sub-caste! Is there another set of social rules for straight people ? Since Padma is looking at an arranged marriage for her son, she, like any other protective, conservative mother, also wants a compatible lifestyle for the couple. Which is why her ad also mentioned a preference for vegetarians. Harish laughs and shares that some of the proposals he has received from international grooms are from meat eaters! Yup. That is a major issue, whether or not it’s a same sex marriage.

If Harish Iyer does meet his life partner , thanks to his mother’s valiant efforts, and he decides to go ahead with a public ceremony ( sadly, not legally recognised in India so far), this will be one wedding I definitely won’t skip ( invite me, Harish!). But before that, I’d like to meet Padma and congratulate her.

How many mothers in our hypocritical society are willing to stand by their gay children? Not too many. Laws are quoted and other excuses trotted out for the lack of acceptance. Yes, families are afraid their child could be black mailed, prosecuted, even jailed. Yes, there have been several attempts to push for the law to be amended. Till that happens – if it happens – thousands of families live in fear and shame of exposure. Several families are in permanent denial about a child’s sexual preference. Recently, I watched a bold and disturbing film titled ‘Unfreedom’. The film maker ( Raj Amit Kumar ) had arranged a special screening soon after the movie was banned by the Censor Board. He was acutely disturbed by the rigid attitude of the members of the revising committee ,who refused to certify this film which deals with terrorism at several levels – emotional, religious and sexual. One of the stories features a lesbian love affair and marriage. It has already won 19 international awards and has been screened in America.

Watching the movie, I thought of several parents of my generation, who refuse to come to terms with the sex lives of their children – straight or gay. I know young men and women who have been forced into marriages, after being threatened, beaten, and sent for ‘treatment’. I have seen the emotional turmoil the entire family has subjected itself to, in a wasted effort to make the gay child ‘see sense’. Well, the only ‘sense’ involves unconditional love. That’s it. What Padma Iyer has demonstrated so courageously is her devotion to her son. She says she doesn’t want to see him lonely in later life. And considers it her duty to find him a husband to share his life with. This is how it should be. Perhaps others will learn from Padma’s example and follow suit. Every human being deserves a shot at happiness and love. Who is anybody to decide what that should be?

Good luck Padma and Harish. I can hear wedding bells chiming soon. Whoever marries Harish will be a really lucky man. Together they will be creating history. And in the process, they will also be helping countless other same sex couples to live happily ever after.

*************** Attn: Stan, Lukose, Mathew The Week 11th May 2015

“Paa” – rebooted!

Here’s the big consolation regarding this column : It’s not about Salman Khan! But it is Bollywood related. And here’s why. After a really long time I watched a mainstream movie featuring three accomplished actors – Amitabh Bachchan, Irfan Khan and Deepika Padukone, enacting roles that appeared alarmingly true to life. So damn real, in fact, they were almost embarrassing! “Piku’’ made several people uncomfortable. Two of my children hated the film. One, even walked out mid-way. My husband and I are planning to watch it for the second time to catch some of the finer nuances. But that has to do with my husband being Bengali. And as we know, according to the Bengalis, the world is divided into two kinds of human beings – Bengali and non-Bengali. ‘Piku’ highlights and even celebrates this idiosyncrasy in an affectionate if occasionally annoying way. Fortunately, nobody keeps saying “ Eeeeesh!” a la Aishwarya Rai in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s ‘Devdas’.

Why is ‘Piku’ worth watching? Well, for one, it is an original. In Bollywood, that’s pretty rare. Viewers expect nothing less from the talented combo of Juhi Chaturvedi and Shoojit Sircar who’d earlier collaborated on the brilliant ‘Vicky Donor’. This time they tackle an equally quirky subject – a modern day father-daughter relationship. That’s unusual to begin with, given our movie obsession for the other tear jerker combo – the mother-son bond, which is generally glorified to the most ludicrous extent. The father-son angle has also been done to death, with tired scenes of filial duty/sacrifice. But the more complex equation between a crotchety, selfish and demanding dad of today, behaving like an absolute jerk ( read: tyrant) towards his single, attractive architect daughter, is fresh territory. It has been tackled with supreme confidence and finesse by the director, with hardly a single misstep. An intelligent script with dialogues to match can sometimes salvage a flimsy story – like ‘Piku’. But that’s a small quibble when balanced against the subtext of how difficult it is to negotiate the delicate dynamics that govern such a relationship in our society, to begin with.

Several social issues get thrown up in this charming narrative. But the one that interested me the most was the sharing of power between the father and daughter. It is rare to come across a 70- year- old widower flatly warning potential suitors of his lovely but uptight daughter that she is independent on all levels – financially and sexually. He spells it out in public that Piku is not a virgin. That he does so with a devilish, scheming , selfish heart, is obvious . But that he can shamelessly go public about such an intimate aspect of his daughter’s life , is the real shocker. In a society like ours – exaggeratedly patriarchal for all the wrong reasons – any father giving away his daughter’s sexual status so casually to strangers, is just terrible! This is what it is. Take it or leave it. Preferably – leave it. That’s the manipulative dad’s nasty message.

The daughter’s mixed up feelings about her bully of a father, are also depicted truthfully. She loves him. She hates him. He bugs her. She resents his control freak behaviour. But she is one hundred percent committed to looking after him.... even tolerating his anal fixation at the expense of her own personal happiness. Yes, the relentless toilet humour gets on your nerves after a point and becomes most revolting. But that again maybe by design. How many movie makers have the guts to create a story around the hero’s erratic bowel movements? Not only are Bhashkor’s daily motions discussed in vivid detail ( amount, consistency and colour ), but in this quirky movie, the many shades of defecation share equal space with the many shades of the star cast’s characters! If this sounds yucky, believe me, it is vomit -inducing in parts. Perhaps that is the whole point – how far can you push the audience into dealing with as indelicate a subject? Why are we so turned off by an act that is completely ‘natural’ ? We all have to “go’’. And yet, it’s considered a big no-no in polite society to make any reference to our daily ablutions. Like virginity, shitting is also a taboo topic. Shoojit breaks both taboos with unconcealed glee!

Surprisingly, this modest movie has been declared the biggest hit of 2015 so far. It has made audiences examine their own feelings about two key subjects –children’s attitudes towards aging parents in a society where young, urban professionals simply do not possess the time or patience to look after the old. And the squeamishness which makes us recoil from addressing a dirty four letter word – SHIT. Shoojit tables both messy issues with the same level of assurance. Amitabh’s unpredictable gut plays as big a role as his guts in taking up such an unusual role. Irfan Khan and Deepika Padukone are an unusual romantic couple in an unusual film. It’s time we looked at both – the baap-beti equation and our revulsion to errrr... crap, using an entirely different filter.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

10 Tight Slaps!

    Apologies, Blogdosts... have been travelling extensively. Attended the India Today Conclave 2015 in Delhi... and that was pretty exhilarating. What a superb line up of speakers and performers!
             Politically Incorrect             13th March2015
                               Oh please... spare us the dramabaazi, Leslee!
Here’s the bald truth, Leslee Udwin : Your controversial documentary is no “gift” to India. If anything, it’s a whopping big gift to yourself! Not too many people had heard of a filmmaker called  Leslee Udwin till ‘India’s Daughter’ blew up in our faces. Yes, we handled the whole thing badly. Yes, the ban was entirely unnecessary. Yes, Indian media went into overdrive. But hey – the last one to be complaining  should be you, my dear Leslee! Overnight,you, Leslee Udwin , were all over the news. In India. Across the world. And what you were claiming through television channels sounded so darn fake, you did yourself and the documentary you made, enormous disservice. So, will you stop going on and on about this ‘selfless’ act that saw you, mother of two, spend two years suffering in a  hostile environment, enduring all manner of desi discomforts , all because you wanted to give  India an invaluable  present ! That’s rubbish, Leslee. That’s utter rubbish. ‘India’s Daughter’ was made by you for yourself.Today,your gamble has paid off. You are famous. Enjoy your moments under the spotlight, by all means. But please  spare us those tiresome sermons.
Try this script – it’s pretty uncomplicated and straight forward. You are a commercial documentary film maker in search of original and interesting subjects. That does not make you unique in the least. You belong to a large international tribe. All of you travel the world searching for subjects to sell. No  issues. When the horrific Nirbhaya rape took place in Delhi, you sensed a great opportunity. Yes, of course you were deeply disturbed. Yes, of course you felt a strong sense of outrage. So did millions all over Planet Earth. Nobody thought of making a documentary on the subject at that point – you did! Brilliant! You came up with a great idea . You persevered.   You raised the finance. You packed your bags. And you came to India. That’s what documentary film makers do for a living. Nothing new in any of this .But here’s the thing. Others may have thought of making a similar film - but you got it done. Period.  More importantly, it was a business risk you took. Let’s be clear. That’s not a crime either – it’s your bread and butter! As a professional film maker, you make documentaries for a living. This is one of them. Baat khatam. And as an ambitious film maker, you naturally wanted  to get the biggest bang for your buck. Which is also, fine. That’s how the business works. You had a budget. You invested time, energy, money in pursuing a case that had made international headlines in 2012. What stopped someone else from India / Sri Lanka/ Sweden/ Australia / Outer Mongolia from tackling the same subject? You beat everybody else to it – good for you! That’s where it should have ended. But didn’t.
            What we are dealing with is a bunch of really nasty developments. Nothing seems to add up. The documentary, per se, is not particularly impressive. Most would call it pretty shoddy , even shabby. But this isn’t about your talent or competence as a film maker, it is about the access you were given. An access your detractors feel you misused. Several articles have appeared questioning your motives. Let me jump into this again and say your motives are pretty obvious – your motives were unashamedly, unambiguously commercial. Every ambitious filmmaker dreams about landing a scoop – a world exclusive. Every film maker works for awards and recognition. Why not be upfront about this, and stop whining? The silly ban has worked for you big time. In terms of marketing, you couldn’t have asked for more prestigious platforms than the ones you have got – and smartly exploited. I mean, come on... valuable endorsements from Meryl Streep? Freida Pinto? Your documentary has been elevated into a global cause celebre. You can probably feed off it for a few more  years. Till you stumble upon another tragedy and milk its potential. For the sake of your art, of course.
Frankly,all this doesn’t make you sound like a very nice person, Leslee. And that’s a pity. You are safely out of the country. But some of the puzzled and hurt people featured in your film, are feeling terribly let down, even betrayed.They trusted you, Leslee. And you have trampled on their trust. Blame it on hyper sensitivities, if you wish. Yes, we Indians are thin-skinned.  So? And thank you, very much, but we also possess our own mirrors. The most awful aspect of the mess is how twisted and strident the debates have become. There have been attempts to make it a racial issue. I don’t buy that for a minute. There are also those wondering why nobody makes similar documentaries about ‘ America’s Daughter or ‘Denmark’s Daughter?” Indignant critics ask, “Aren’t there rapes taking place in foreign countries? Let me give you statistics!” This is to imply there is a huge international conspiracy to tarnish India’s image. Again, I don’t agree. Why doesn’t an Indian documentary maker try and find an equally   powerful  to film in Finland, for example?  Every single country has its quota of shameful incidents. You, Leslee were  fascinated by one such that took place in India. That’s all.

Should we be saying , “Thank you, Leslee?” Why not ? Sometimes, an outsider’s viewpoint can be the required trigger leading to reform and change. Of course, you edited the ghastly ‘truth’ to suit your objectives. That’s your prerogative. What we do about you and those truths – is ours. 
Attn : Meenal,jaideep, sudipta      Mumbai Mirror   12th March2015-03-12
                          Size 18...? Not a problem!
The best thing about the sleeper hit, ‘Dum Laga Ke Haishaa’, is not  the heroine’s  size, but her terrific, larger than life attitude. Bhumi Pednekar, playing the unambiguously overweight girl, who gets married off to a regular chap (Ayushmann Khurana delivering yet another, polished, nuanced performance), is entirely comfortable in her skin throughout the film. At no point does she question her body type or apologise for being grossly fat (sorry, there is simply no need to find a polite, euphemism for that word in this utterly charming movie’s context). Bhumi plays an educated girl, stuck with an unpadh whose family forces him to pick her at a mass wedding programme because they want a daughter-in-law who earns well in a government job. The problem is with the bride’s formidable girth... and an equally formidable mind. Not one to give up without a jolly good fight, she tries every trick in the book to get her newly minted husband to perform his conjugal duty. She even buys an ice cream pink nightie from the village ‘Novelty ‘ store, gets hold of a ‘hot’  video, sets the mood with appropriately suggestive music, and when nothing works, finally jumps on top of the crushed fellow to plant a juicy kiss. Nada. Illey. No can do. Undaunted, our girl carries on with her life, determined to make her marriage work. Losing weight for starters, does not occur to her. In fact, weight loss is the last thing on her mind!
Millions of  sympathisers must have cheered at this point. For once, here was a modern woman not obsessing over her extra kilos. Even if she has heard of Size Zero she really doesn’t care! The fact that she does not equate self-worth exclusively with her hefty weight, is the biggest  message of the film. We live in such warped times that all one hears at social events is this extremely  annoying conversation which goes: ‘ OMG! You’ve lost so much weight! Wow! Pilatus? Hot yoga?” Or the even more personal, “Babes! What’s wrong? Hormones acting up? I can send you my amazing trainer. Try kick boxing! You’ll lose all these inches in a month!” Most women (and a few super narcissistic men)  walk around looking pinched, gaunt and seriously miserable. The demand to appear fashionably starved and impossibly thin  is so overwhelming, I often feel like marching off victims to the nearest bhojanalaya and  shouting,“Eat!”
It is not as if debutant director Sharat Katariya’s  film glorifies/ celebrates being fat. All it says is don’t condemn a human being for just that one issue – weight. Look beyond the size. And surprise yourself. The pressure to conform to a false and over-idealised body frame has become an international disease. In India, we have several ways of camouflaging our prejudice, especially when it comes to arranged marriages. The minute a potential candidate is described as “healthy’’, you know the reference is not to the state of the person’s heart/ lungs. It is to girth. “Dum Laga Ke...” says sweetly and subtly, “Get over it already!” It’s a sub-text we shouldn’t ignore. When the frustrated and still virginal bridegroom harshly describes his bride as a ‘Saand’  to guy friends, after knocking back a few stiff whiskies, audiences recoil at the harshness of the description. But they also sympathise with the young man’s predicament.  He cannot consummate his marriage  for obvious reasons – the woman all but pushes him off the marital bed. It is a serious turn off. Poor guy!
This is Bhumi Pednekar’s film! What a truthful and brave performance. Since, no extra padding has been used ( or so, I’m guessing ), it certainly made me wonder how many times in her own life she has been at the receiving end of cruel jibes? It’s easy to play a ‘fatty’ when you aren’t one. That’s an actor’s job. But here, is a classic example of inspired casting. Talking to one of our most accomplished actresses earlier this week, we both agreed that casting is king these days. The real star behind several off beat movie projects recently is not the producer/director, but the casting agent! When modest but ambitious movies recover their investments in a crowded market, it’s good news for the film industry. And for the hungry-for-quality audiences , of course. It can also be taken as a serious wake-up call for studios reeling under inflated budgets and staggering star fees. Six wonderful movies ( like this tiny gem) can be made for the price of one monster mega film , which may or may not strike gold at the box office.
There really is no substitute for a strong, original concept that applauds  human vulnerability – in this case, a bride’s plus size causing the groom’s sexual indifference to her. How this gets resolved in the end, is in itself quite a story! But I wish the director had done away with the mandatory gaudy dance routine while the credits rolled. It wasn’t needed. Worse, it took away from the authenticity of the earlier narrative.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Lahore Lit Fest

Sorry! Sorry! Sorry! I have been away from this wonderful space for way too long! No excuse is a good excuse! This is a lovely, relaxed pic from the just concluded Lahore Lit Fest, which I thoroughly enjoyed! Great sessions and daunting odds...  security issues and the threat of suicide bombers apart, what a rich feast it turned out to be.
Attn: Meenal, Jaideep, Sudipta          Mumbai Mirror              19th Feb 2015
                         Toast the Roast! And do “Shut up”, everyone!
Aamir Khan is a cool customer. He says what he has to, and then retreats. The wars carry on, but Aamir stays out of the battlefield. When imported Comic Russell Peters asked India’s most well known ‘thinking actor’ to “shut up”, Bollywood was stunned! Nobody asks Aamir to shut up…. nobody! And who the hell was this Peters chap anyway to have the audacity to publicly insult one of our icons? This was one set of outraged reactions. The other lot gloated and crowed, “About time someone told Aamir where to get off.”
Amazing what a  Roast can trigger off !
 Now here’s the really funny part. So many people one has met after the Youtube video went viral, have zero idea what a ‘Roast’ really means.  Quite a few assumed it was a dinner party featuring grilled food. Which made me wonder if, in its “new, improved’ avatar ( assuming there will be one soon), those clever boys at AIB (provided they aren’t thrown into prison  ), will rename their immensely popular event  “Tandoori Nights” – not only will more people get the meaning, but it will sound less derivative, too. Participating in a live grilling requires guts and an uber cool quotient to go with the spirit of the show. If you lack these essentials, stay away – from watching or being a part of it. There is no hidden agenda here  –   aggressively breaking moulds and mocking establishment mores , are the stated objectives.Of course, offence is given! That is the whole point! The script is vetted by participants, and yes, some of the more risqué jokes are designed to shock and awe. So what?
So what???? A lot! Going by the holier-than-thou reactions still raging. Cases have been filed.  There  have been several public outbursts. Hostility, rage, accusations, hysteria. My question is: Is this backlash genuine… or manufactured? Politically motivated or spontaneous? Going by the well orchestrated campaign against AIB, I’d say there is an organized attempt to scuttle something that can capture the public’s imagination and grow into a powerful entertainment property. Sounds like plain , old jealousy to me. Which is a pity. There is space for Roasting in a country that prides itself on its sanctimonious, self-righteous, pious ‘values’ , but in reality, demonstrates exactly the reverse. We insult our women routinely – and nobody finds that offensive? We discriminate blatantly against the LGBT community. And that’s okay? Our top stars endorse fairness creams – no problems with that? We burn churches, stone temples, raze mosques, but refuse to apologise for our violence. Violence against people we don’t accept, approve of, understand.
 And Aamir Khan found the Roast ‘violent’ ?
Aamir is a  highly privileged VVIP in India. Those AIB guys are not! If someone decides to go after them, there isn’t much they can do to defend themselves. Their budding careers can go for a toss, and chances of getting gigs in future are pretty remote. Is this a fair war? Every interest group is jumping on the AIB band wagon and demanding apologies. Apparently, there is hardly anybody left in the country who hasn’t been “offended’ – from forgotten character actors to religious leaders.
What a fantastic coup for AIB! Overnight, a brand is born. Never mind the inbuilt  threats to its existence, going forward. It’s a brand that has the power to influence mind sets across the board, and if correctly leveraged, it can also impact entertainment policy. How far is ‘too far’ is something only a society can decide – not moral commissioners sitting in judgment and condemning anything and everything that does not conform to their personal thinking. These very people could be considered deeply offensive by their targets – who knows what they actually stand for, other than tyranny?
There has been a pretty energetic attempt to create ghettos of  ‘Liberals” and isolate them. Almost as if these ‘culprits’ belong to a new class of social pariahs who are ‘bad for society’. But what about the lives and ‘values’ of those persecuting the AIB ? What if their ‘bhandas’ get broken? Or is that the actual problem? Are they really concerned about the delicate sensitivities of the public at large… or worried about their own skins?
Often, I hear absurd and patronizing arguments about  “Indian society not being mature enough” to understand humour! Really? Who decides? AIB  folks are soft targets. If their critics have such a socially developed conscience, they should go after the real villains in our midst – rapists, sadists, and all those Godmen and Godwomen, maulanas and  religious fanatics who use vile language and abuse everybody. Go on… prosecute them, too!

Will anyone dare? You bet not!
Attn: vandana, neelam         Politically Incorrect             14th Feb 2015
                        From Baap ka Raj to Aap ki Seva…
My short trip to Delhi couldn’t have been better timed. This was exactly a day after the dramatic election results that astonished everybody – Arvind Kejriwal included. The old school Dilliwallas I met were in a state of shock. Frozen. They weren’t thinking about Arvind Kejriwal – they were thinking about themselves. Suddenly, the heady, giddy fifteen year old hedonistic party was over. It was abruptly aborted, and bar was declared shut! There was no time for a last minute ‘chhota’ or  even a decent hangover. And people were holding their heads in utter disbelief, wondering what had hit them. Those I spoke to, were candid enough to admit their personal and professional lives were shaken and stirred like never before. Nothing was going to be the same again, they lamented. Making me wonder what exactly they were talking about. A swash- buckling tycoon sighed,“ We were just about coming to terms with Narendra Modi’s style of functioning…. that wasn’t too worrying. He is new to the Delhi game, but a few of his trusted aides are old foxes. We had dubbed this the UPA -3 sarkar – the worst aspects of  NDA and UPA combined went into the formation of this motley bunch.  They look tough and different from the outside, but are essentially cut from the same cloth. Cracking their code would have been a cake walk. But with Kejriwal on the scene – the dynamics of power have changed. Nobody knows how to handle this topsy- turvy  new lot.”
 Unknowingly, the man had hit the nail on the head.
Overnight, it’s the person on the street calling the shots. Yes, the very person who had been treated like dirt for decades. Taken for granted. Ignored. Delhi is not used to dealing with the common man on equal terms. Uncomfortable with those viewed as the unwashed masses, the Capital’s “koi hai” crowd is totally unhinged and unsure how to react to altered  dynamics. First, a Chaiwalla turned up and made it to the top job as India’s Prime Minister when nobody was looking. And now a Jhaaduwalla  is the Chief Minister of Delhi!Really! This was too bloody much! So damn unsettling! Even the bearers in the Gymkhana were acting cheeky these days!
So, what does the ‘other’ Delhi want? What does the ‘real’ Delhi expect from Arvind and AAP? Actually, it’s pretty simple stuff. The requirements aren’t unrealistic, nor are they all that lofty. The people of Delhi want basics. Period. Just basics. Like people elsewhere in India or the world. And honestly speaking, they don’t really care about the price tag on Narendra Modi’s comical suit. They want roti kapda makaan. That’s it. Had the BJP focused on these three essentials, perhaps, they would not  have suffered such a humiliating double loss. The Congress, of course, can safely go back to twiddling its thumbs for the next 20 years – it’s something they are very good at, even when they are in power.
For Arvind to retain the faith in him and his party, he has to do far more than make hard-to-deliver promises. When he announces fantastic sounding schemes or says he is going to take on corruption on a war footing, people have to believe he will actually succeed… and succeed quickly. A  corruption hotline, seems like a good place to start. But how practical is it? Given the staggering extent of corruption, the hotline itself may crash! Introducing the Lokpal Bill or demanding Statehood for Delhi  are trickier issues. The trouble with a mandate like this, is that voters expect miracles. Arvind has a jhaadu in his hand, not a magic wand. His stated objectives are all praise worthy, but, as everybody knows, getting anything done in India, requires more than just honesty of purpose. A 70 point agenda sounds impressive. But hey – how come there are no women in the cabinet so far?
Arvind’s  aggressive anti-corruption campaign will be stalled at all levels, not just by the entrenched interest groups in Delhi. His win has shaken the entire political system ,well beyond the City of  Djinns. Nervous Chief Ministers across India are watching Arvind closely, worried about their own fates and skins. If this can happen in the country’s Capital, it can happen anywhere. This is the real triumph of the Delhi election. More than the victory of Arvind and AAP (“ Janata ka CM hoon”, he sweetly dimples)  it has been a stupendous victory of the people. Sick of the government’s ‘ I am your Baap!” attitude, it is now time for AAP – a party of regular folks, representing regular aspirations. All they want is an improvement in the miserable quality of their lives. They pay taxes. They underwrite the running of the State. They are in a position to demand they get what they are paying for. It is their money that has been systematically looted.
Payback time is here.
Is Arvind the man who can do that?
Nobody knows for sure. But he certainly has the rest of the country rooting for him right now.
From  nightly whiskey-sodas to all day  cough syrup, Delhi is slowly coming to terms with politics,  Arvind-ishtyle! Cheers, everybody!