Guys, This is what I had to say about Nita Ambani for the 2nd Anniversary Issue of Hello!!
Some of it got edited ( space constraints.... or???). I had a lot of fun writing the piece. I'm sure you'll enjoy reading it as well. Nita leaves for South Africa tomorrow. She will be away for 45 days. When she called to say 'bye', she joked she'll become a local by the time she returns. If her team makes it to the semi finals, I promised I'd go and cheer. Good luck, guys !
Nita Ambani : “ I don’t think I’m on any pedestal…”
She is often referred to as the ‘Empress of India.” Perhaps Vicerine is a more apt title. At a recent dinner party hosted by a diplomat with a terrace apartment overlooking the $ one billion, 67 floors ‘home’ of the richest Indians on earth, awestruck guests couldn’t get those agape jaws to close as they stared at the high rise in the heart of Mumbai’s super snob neighbourhood of Carmichael Road. The host commented sardonically that he had just returned from Simla after a stay at the former Viceroy of India’s grand summer residence - ‘Wildflower Lodge’ – where he’d unearthed an interesting factoid. The Viceroy had 600 people on his personal staff. And so does the new Ambani residence, he chuckled, alluding to Mukesh as the neo- Viceroy of 21st century India. All true?? I asked Nita about her dream home… she had an interesting response to that and other questions. But first, the prelude…
Blame it on traffic snarls caused by high security measures required along the Chilean President’s route. Nita was stuck at the Taj Mahal Palace and Hotel, and was likely to be a few minutes late for our appointment .What did she do?? Phone and apologise? Make excuses? Nope. She decided to dump the car … and walk! That too,down one of the busiest areas of Mumbai – Colaba Causeway. Sure,she was accompanied by a retinue of very nervous security personnel ,but Nita being a stickler for punctuality, ignored their advice and resolutely marched on, stopping to admire beads and baubles being sold by pheriwallas (pavement hawkers) on those dusty footpaths. She herself was wearing a 6- carat diamond pendant, a 5- carat ring, and 4-carats on each earlobe (call them her ‘casual, power lunch ‘jools’). I asked whether people had stared . “ Yes. Some people did recognize me… but I think they were looking at my dress,” she laughed, a trifle out of breath after half- running the short distance. Nita was clad in Chanel. Meet the New Nita – corporate lady. She definitely doesn’t want to discuss her legendary diamonds. Nor does she want to talk about her controversial residence. That’s crazy. A little like a top model refusing to discuss fashion shows. Nita explains, “ I cringe when the subject of money comes up. I feel like diving under the table.” That must make her a competitive diver by now. Like it or not, people are obsessed with the Ambani wealth. Everybody wants to know how much they really, really possess. And how they spend it. F. Scott Fitzgerald had famously said, “ The rich are different – they have more money.” Sorry, Nita. There’s no getting away from that topic - a billionaire’s life is not easy!! So… how difficult is it being Nita Ambani? “ It used to bother me, when I first got involved with Mukesh’s projects and people in Jamnagar would talk behind my back… wait for me to leave, hoping I wouldn’t come back and ask too many questions. It hurt to be treated like a rich man’s wife.Same thing happened when I started my school. People only talked about the 27-crore building. They didn’t expect me to succeed. You see, I take my work very seriously.” Right now that involves asserting herself as the owner of Mumbai Indians, the IPL cricket team her husband acquired last year. “ We lost four matches in a row. The team was so discouraged. Then I went to Kolkata – we won there against Shah Rukh’s team… and then won six more matches after that. I’m confident we’ll do better this time.” She is far more visible this season and can be seen handling the tricky imbroglio created by the BCCI’s decision to shift the matches out of India, with her customary calm.
Nita is known to be ambitious and focused. A complete No. 1 personality ( her birthday falls on 1st November). She describes herself emphatically as ‘decisive’. Driven maybe a more apt word. Others see her as a natural born leader. Ruthless when required. She’s fastidious enough to forgo sleep ( bedtime is between 1 30am and 2 30am), and gets up at 6 30 am, to hit the road running after supervising all the various dabbas and diets( Mukesh’s, her own, her kids’).She arrives at her school at 8 10am, so that the schoolkids can’t say, “ But ma’am , you are late yourself!” Her kids are also her eyes and ears and she values their ‘fearless and frank feedback.” Used to cat- napping in the car, she says, it is the only ‘me time’ she gets. “ I wait to have dinner with Mukesh, no matter how late he comes home. We often eat after midnight.” And what do billionaires sup on?? I love my two gheeless theplas, Mukesh prefers bajra rotlas, lasoon chutney, daal, onion sabzi.” Sounds more like a Gujarati farmers’ hearty fare. Nita smiles, “ We aren’t foodies. Our Sunday treat is a South Indian breakfast of idlis and dosas. Even when we are in New York, Mukesh goes to his favourite rassam joint.” And no, their personal chef ( or a Gujju maharaj) does not accompany them, not even on their aircraft, which Nita insists was not a birthday gift! “It is a Reliance jet, we all use. Mukesh takes it for meetings in America, turns around and flies right back when done. Others in the company use it too.” So… if the plane was not her birthday gift, what was? “ Mukesh is very, very romantic… unlike me. He cannot keep surprises a secret, but this year he did. He pretended he had forgotten my birthday. I sulked and said, “ You are really taking me for granted these days. He said ‘ I’ve been so busy. Let’s go to the Taj… I have to meet some government people there.When we walked in to the Bell Tower suite, there were all my friends! And a band!” Aaah friends…. Who are these special friends?? Nita thinks hard and names one - Meeta Doshi, a dentist in America. They speak twice or thrice a week, and have known each other since their school days. That’s it?? Nita thinks some more and adds, “ Well Ananya.. Anu…” I guess she is referring to Ananya Goenka and Anuradha Mahindra. Ditto for Mukesh, who prefers to hang out with school buddies more than corporate czars. His idea of chill out time with Nita is long drives, late at night, to Worli Sea Face and back. Drives made special by the choice of music in the car stereo – cd’s hand picked by Mukesh and loaded by Hari, his man Friday, who knows which track to play for madam. On the way back, there’ s a short ice cream halt at Natural, their ice cream joint of choice.
Nita candidly admits she doesn’t cook these days. To the question, “ Do you know the current price of bhindis and kaddus?” She shoots back that with Reliance Fresh in the basket, she’d better know. But she does go to the kitchen first thing in the morning, and says with pride, “ I run my own home. I know exactly how much Rasikbhai Bhaajiwalla charges for everything.” God help Rasikbhai the day he overcharges Nita by even five bucks per kilo of anything. Rasikbhai is the veggie vendor in Cuffe Parade. Pricey, but reliable. Nita’s youngest son, Anant, only trusts Rasikbhai’s organic, non-toxic veggies to feed his own pet cows and goats. The bill comes to 35,000 a month, but Mukesh does not mind, since he sees it as Anna’s good karma... an investment.Hard to believe, but the Ambanis are cost -consciousbillionaires, with Nita asserting that they refused to stay in the Presidential Suite of the Four Season’s Hotel in New York, because they found the $5,000 dollars per night tariff too high!! “ Mukesh and I just looked at each other and said, “ an Executive Suite will do fine.” Similarly, she says when some girlfriends tried to ‘chadhaav her into buying a croc bag ( I’m guessing it’s the Birkin) for $45,000, she nixed it. Also, she proudly declares, when she planned her mother-in-law Kokilaben’s recent 75th birthday bash, she sat with Manish Malhotra and Abu-Sandeep, going over all the costings with a tooth comb before okaying the budget for the fashion show. Old habits die hard, she shrugged - “ Those initial cravings have gone. I have no appetite left for spending crazy amounts these days. You shop to feel good. But I don’t feel good wasting money.” In fact, so thrifty is Mukesh, that he continues to wear Vimal pants. His black bush coats (standarised evening wear!), are still stitched by Kachin’s ( who has been his local tailor since the age of 17). He continues to head to Macy’s, a proletariat department store in downtown Manhatten,believe it or not, to buy his favourite, 5-pocket Docker’s. Nita explains, “ You don’t have to spend a lot of money to be well- dressed. You have to look and feel fresh. I’m only particular about my nails and hate chipped polish. Otherwise, I put myself together in fifteen minutes.” With a little help from Alpa and Pratibha, who are her faithful handlers. Mukesh travels light, with just one suitcase for his clothes ( bag packed by Hari, the handler) and two more filled with books. Nita avoids answering which credit card she carries or what her card limit is. Demurely, she states, “ Why do I need a card? Like any wife, my husband pays for everything when we are traveling.” Mmmmmm.Perfect husband. And when Nita is in Mumbai, one phone call is all it takes to refresh her wardrobe “ Flecka ( the efficient major domo at Abu-Sandeep’s store) keeps things out for me. They know my taste. I pick it up from the store myself… but I can’t sleep till the full payment is made … that’s how I was brought up.”
There was just one craving left in Nita’s life…. and now even that craving has been taken care of. “ As a young dancer, I used to wear a fake ‘mangmala’ and dream of owning a real one someday. I just found a beautiful, antique one with lotuses, and am so thrilled.” She refused to divulge the price, though. Fakes and Nita? Why not?? “ Recently, my friends threw a party and presented long strands of plastic pearls to guests, just for fun. When I wore them other women came upto me to gush how exquisite the pearls were and asked me where I’d got them from. Those pearls cost just fifteen rupees!” However, money is no laughing matter to Nita. She is touchy about the rumours surrounding their new home. “ I don’t know why people are making such a big thing out of it. The figures being thrown around in the media are exaggerated – they are nowhere close to the truth.” So, what is the truth? “ Right now we occupy two floors in ‘Seawind’. The new house will give us four floors on top. That’s all.” What about the remaining 60 odd floors?? “ “Actually, the building has been constructed like an oil rig…” One hell of an oil rig, I’d say . We leave it at that.
Nita, who grew up in suburban Mumbai, recalls those early days without a trace of embarrassment. Once their marriage was pucca, Mukesh wanted ‘Murli Uncle’ (Deora) to see Nita. She remembers, “ I took a train from my home in Prabhat Colony, got down at Churchgate station, jumped into a cab and reached Murli Uncle’s office. At heart I’m still the same middle class girl. I don’t think I’m on any pedestal.” Well…not to worry… Eva Peron felt exactly the same way.Nita remains very close to her mother, who wanted her to become a chartered account, so that Nita could ‘earn a living’ when she grew up. If Nita has a single regret, it is that she could not study in America, being a good student. “ I wanted to pursue a career in dance, but my mother wanted me to appear for my CA entrance exam. I told her, “You wait and see…I’ll dance all my life.” The biggest compliment Nita has ever received came from her dance Guruji, who recently told her daughter Isha, “ Your mother at 45 dances like a 27-year- old. She is my most sincere and regular pupil.” Isha’s opinion matters tremendously to Nita. Isha was a precious baby, and Nita’s eyes cloud over when she recalls details of her difficult pregnancy and the birth of the twins (Isha and her brother Aakash) in America. “ Imagine being told at 25, after years of being married, that I could never have biological children! I was shattered. But today, when I look back I can really say that my three children are a true testimony that miracles do happen. I am a devout Krishna bhakt. Mukesh and I pray together every single day.” Nita does not tolerate sycophants, she says, adding firmly, “ I don’t get taken in by anyone or anything.” She’s tough and very much her own woman, aware of her position, but smart enough to play it down as and when required. She says she gets high on life and relishes every moment, often breaking off in the middle of a meeting to stare at gaily decorated fishing boats visible from the large picture windows of her own office, which has a simple ‘Nita Ambani’ (no designation), on the door. It is the size of a luxury flat… but then it is N.A’s office! Since life itself gives her a kick, she refuses to touch alcohol (Mukesh is a teetotaler, too), though she serves Chateau Margaux, thanks to N.K. Uncle ( Singh).
Nita Ambani is peaking. You can see it in her body language. Through her words. And via the incredible transformation in her appearance. She has lost weight, and sensibly discarded most of her old ‘Gujjuben’ wardrobe that made her look like an auntyji from an Ekta Kapoor saas –bahu serial. Mukesh loves the reinvented Nita ( he loves ANY Nita, let’s face it!). She is sure of her role and confident of playing it to perfection. As a heavy duty power lady, Nita is all set to assume fresh responsibilities on all levels. Please note: ALL. About the infamous rift in the family, she says carefully and cautiously, “ I believe in destiny. Some things can be in your control… some things you leave to fate. On a human level, you wish for a perfect world. I have taught myself to take each day as it comes.” Bravo.What saw the couple through those terrible times?? Phat comes Nita’s answer , “ Each other.” What else can one say but ‘Rab ne Bana di jodi.....