Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A few confessions... a few admissions... chalta hai

I am not an fb fan. I just about tolerate the site. It was my publisher's idea - an excellent one - to have my presence on it when we launched 'Superstar India' a year ago. But Facebook is not for me. And my children agree. They don't want me on fb. So one of these days, I may disappear. My irregularity should have indicated my indifference. In case that was too subtle - I am spelling it out for everyone now. Watch the space - I'm gone! There! That's done.
Oh.... I finally discovered SRK and I do have something in common after all - a rotary cuff. He prefers surgical solutions, I like mine to be non- intrusive. His shoulder is fixed. Mine is getting worse. Naazneen , an old friend and journo-colleague ( she's the person who does the Forbes' List out of India), came over this afternoon armed with various remedies - a rolling pin, some tape, a chinese herbal patch for pain, and a powerful gel. I was ordered to perform various tasks that involved my right arm. Naazneen was looking very grim and disapproving as I demonstrated the extent of the stiffness in the socket. '' This won't do, De," she pronounced firmly. The bad news is that my condition is likely to worsen if I don't get away from my lap top!! That's like telling me to stop breathing. But here comes the confession - I have to start work on a new project which involves hours and hours of concentrated writing. I HAVE TO CHOOSE.What do I do? I'll have to cut back on something. What?? The columns can't be dumped. Do I walk away from my beloved blog?
"Yessss!" said Naazneen sternly. " Rest that arm... or else." If any of you have a better idea, keep those comments flying. I am willing to try anything..... even hypnosis.
I watched the debate on Qasab ( whether or not he deserves to be defended) and felt it was going nowhere. On the other hand, the debate on Sanjay Dutt raised several interesting issues, with Abu Azmi insisting Sanjay was a ''gentleman and not a criminal," He also added Sanjay had committed a 'maamuli' offence. And asked, " Itne chhotisi galti ke liye itni badi sazaa?" I am speechless! Priya Dutt was more guarded in her response, while Sanjay himself risked a contempt of court notice with his irresponsible comments challenging the verdict that debars him from contesting the elections. From the looks of it, this is going to be India's bloodiest election. But one good thing has happened - people have been sufficiently galvanised to challenge the status quo and ask bold questions. For now, democracy itself faces no danger. But when my driver Choudhary mentions sadly that with all the talk of progress and development, his village in Bihar has no electricity and no road, I felt like hanging my head in shame. He pays Rs. 3000 as rent for a hole in the wall close to where I live. But, as he says with a resigned, wry laugh, at least he has electricity in that dump, and can watch tv. He blames Bihar's woes squarely on Lalu, and says India is currently in the grip of 'Goondas' and 'Maha Goondas.' Choudhary's prediction?? " There will be as many countries within India in the future as there are languages on our currency notes." Is Choudhary's other name Nostradamus??

Monday, March 30, 2009

Dubai: From dazzling to depressing

I have been a diehard Dubai fan for decades (oooh.... love the alliteration!). The last time I was there (six months ago) , doom had not replaced boom - Dubai was in overdrive, boasting of the world's most dense cluster of cranes. Buildings were sprouting up like wild mushrooms and everybody was in party mode. Particularly the ex-pats who were gobbling up property at attractive prices (cheaper than Mumbai). Even at that euphoric moment, I played the doubting thomas, and asked these born again evangelists what the Dubai story was based on. No oil. No industry. No nothing. Just perception and some dodgy 'services'. They scoffed at my cynicism and challenged, " Wait and see ... Dubai will become the financial hub of the region ... it will overtake London." Ab dekho. London gayaa. Or Dubai dooba.
The sparkling new Emirates terminal is designed to accommodate tens and thousands of visitors. When we landed, there were no more than twenty five bleary eyed desis, including Karishma Kapoor. The place was deserted. As we drove to our hotel, something was missing - what?? I got it! It was the deafening sound of drills and those infernal cranes, digging up the desert and creating monster high rises to house the expected rush of cash rich investors! Well.... the gush and rush are both missing. All road and building activity has come to a grinding halt. The overworked labourers from Kerala are back home, and countless suckers who'd put their hard earned dirhams into Dubai are weeping all the way to the bank. Our chauffeur Saheer is luckier - he still has a job. And - get this - he is Rasul Pookutty's first cousin!! His chest expands as he talks of the Oscar winner. " We did not think much of him earlier - but now the whole village is proud of him." Happens.
Our hotel looks deserted as well, but the staff there suddenly wake up when they spot Anil Kapoor. I'm told he was mobbed at the airport and is quite the darling of Dubai. Anil is loving it!! Which actor wouldn't? His swagger says it all. I ask him what the biggest change has been , post -'Slumdog..." and he says disarmingly, " People take my calls these days..." That's Anil. He will be spending the next six months in Los Angelesdeep in a huddle with agents negotiating the next big deal.
The malls are empty, too!! Imagine, if that can happen in the mecca of shopaholics, what hope is there for other cities? But one place that is thumping on a friday night is ZUMA, the London brand, owned by Sindhis, that is now in Dubai. Spread over 20,000 square feet, there is standing room only at the bar. Our local host goes overboard with the ordering - before we know it, the entire menu is on the table - foie gras, lobster, soft shell crab, black cod,lamb chops, wagyu beef . Don't ask. What's worse, it gets polished off, with gooey dessert to follow, and yet another bottle of vintage Dom. Disgusting!! Gimme more!!!!
At the Cartier polo match, Anil Kapoor in a natty waistcoat, steals the show yet again. He poses with cooing blondes clad in wispy summer frocks, while his wife feigns indifference. The luscious Monica Bellucci does not stand a chance and sensibly stays in a far corner siurrounded by over- officious minders. She has gained a few kilos since I saw her last, but looks smashing nevertheless. Will Anil's agent be talking to Monica's agent anytime soon?? Kyon nahi? Anil ki kismet khul gayi .... but ab Dubai ka kya hoga, kaliya???

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Bloggers of the world unite...!

Guys, this appeared in Asian Age, Deccan Chronicle on 28th March. I am bleary- eyed after Dubai, since the flight gets in at a disgusting hour (2.45am). Lots to report from Dismal Dubai - but break ke baad!!

Blog…. and be damned!

It’s come to a sickening point : I blog, therefore, I am! I am hooked. Seriously. I don’t remember the last time I experienced the same sort of rush from writing. And I write, have written, shall continue to write etc etc etc. But, even after reams and reams of the stuff over so many years, blogging has hit the sweet spot like no other medium. It is freeing…. hugely liberating… and entirely satisfying. I asked myself what it is that I so enjoy about blogging. Take a look at the downside – I don’t get paid for it. The reach is fairly limited as compared to newspapers. The comments posted are often vile and abusive. I don’t even know who is abusing me since the senders remain anonymous or hide behind silly names. So, why do I blog? For precisely those reasons. Since nobody is paying me, I can set my own agenda and deadlines. There is zero editorial intervention. And the responses are immediate. It’s a space I control and I like the autonomy that gives me. Plus, I have made some great ‘friends’ – I call them ‘blogdosts. I have no idea who these people are. Chances remain high we may never meet. Their real identities are a mystery. But I’ve discovered I have more in common with these strangers than I do with real ‘friends’ from the real world. My Blogdosts make a lively bunch of sardonic critics who keep me on my toes. They bitch, crib, trash and praise in equal measure. I value their comments because they come minus baggage or prejudice. It is an equal space. A democratic space. And that’s what makes blogging special.
I have several observations on the sort of reactions Bollywood stars generate in the blogosphere. There is a pattern to the reactions which suggests the stars have somebody monitoring blogs and responding to them in an organized fashion. Bollywood is big on blogging, even though the ardent bloggers who set the ball rolling a year or so ago, seem to have run out of words, steam or lost interest. Today, that space has been taken by the likes of Shilpa Shetty, who use it well, even if the syrupy content ( like the Jane Goody g’bye) gets a bit much sometimes. Fans who follow Aamir Khan’s blog will notice how well timed it is. Aamir is the master of timing – even when it comes to mauling SRK, Aamir makes sure it is done at a perfectly calibrated moment that generates enough controversy in the press to push his own movie or affect his rival’s. If a co-blogger (me!), writes about this tactic, several comments get instantly posted , defending Aamir in a civilized, well argued, literate language. All of them sound like Aamir himself. But even a single critical line on SRK will generate a torrent of filthy abuse, cursing several generations of ones kin in graphic detail. Most comments will end with a taunt , “ How much is Aamir paying you…?” The language is crude , rude and strewn with gutter level gaalis. Most of these comments are from Dubai, as is evident from the cross references in them. With Salman Khan, the reactions are equally swift, but childish in the extreme. Like Sallu bhai himself. Even the abuses are kiddish. His fans are most protective about their hero, and I imagine they are as juvenile as their idol. Criticising Mr. Bachchan even mildly, results in an immediate counter attack– directly from him on his own blog. It is well considered, pedantic and stiff. Praise is generally ignored! Akshay Kumar doesn’t bother. Maybe he doesn’t read. The rest don’t matter.
But it is when one posts something negative on Narendra Modi, that the fun begins. Modi obviously employs several people whose job it is to monitor and respond to everything written or said about their leader. His minders send torrents of mail filled with a detailed deconstruction of why some sections of the media are so prejudiced against this guy who has done so much for Gujarat. The arguments go on and on…. and if one analyses the tone , vocabulary and content of the comments, it’s clear they originate from America.Perhaps Modi’s many supporters in the U.S. trawl the web in search of anti –Modi references which are promptly repudiated. That’s the Modi efficiency for you. Raj Thackeray’s critics ( millions of them – going by the response) never tire of sending me hate mail by the bushel. They also bombard my space by posting links to an interview I’d done with Karan Thapar a while ago, which they insist shows me expressing my ‘support’ to Thackeray (utter rubbish!). The last person to generate heat on the blogosphere is, of course the latest brat on the political scene – Varun Gandhi. I came across a Pakistani blog that took him to the cleaners - but in such a witty way. Since he’d been clubbed with Modi (why not?), the blogger from across the border, urged the world to watch out for the new fascist on the block. Interestingly, his comments’ column is filled with entries from outraged young Indians expressing their admiration for Big Mouth Varun and defending his hate speech. Just this morning I received an impassioned defence of this Gandhi, which attacked his critics and put up an argument accusing his Chaachi (you-know-who) of orchestrating the campaign against him. He quoted from her infamous “ Maut ka Saudagar’’ speech and pointed out how it actually worked in Modi’s favour! Said the staunch supporter, “ The same thing can happen for this 28- year- old brave, young politician called Varun. If a Hindu defends his religion, he is called communal. Why is that so? How come it took 16 days after that speech for the cd to surface? Why is the EC picking on Varun when so many other politicians have said far worse things? Varun had the guts to give a voice to what millions of young, patriotic people feel. We are proud to stand behind Varun.” Makes one wonder about the state of ‘hate marketing’ – someone is obviously doing a good job out there!
Then came this message from a blogdost who pointed out that Shaheed Bhagat Singh’s death anniversary ( 23rd March), was totally ignored by the media. He sounded genuinely agitated by that, and understandably so. Wrote this person, “ A hot- blooded, dynamic, aggressive and brave patriot’s martyrdom was overlooked by all, while an irresponsible, crude and arrogant nobody like Varun Gandhi hogged the limelight with his obnoxious utterings. We should be ashamed of ourselves.” Are we??

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Oye Meera...

Guys. This appeared in Bombay Times yesterday. As you can tell, I have been writing and writing and writing over the past few days. But I did manage a short break in Alibag, where I watched 'Paris' starring Juliette Binoche. What a terrific film. A tad too long, with several parallel tracks. But who cares?? Baudelaire and Voltaire made the City of Lights look even more luminous. The dialogues were so quintessentially french ( complex and over-intellectualised), you want to hang on to every word and sentiment. Pink champagne heightened the experience, i can assure you! I also went back for more lamb confit at what is rapidly becoming my favourite deli for a late saturday afternoon lunch (Indigo). 'Tis the season for crabs, and my husband ordered a beauty ( female, of course - smaller but tastier). The previous night at the beauteous Mandira's artistic home, we'd enjoyed a Bong speciality called 'Bhappa dohi," with mango. 'Bhappa' means steamed, and 'Dohi' is dahi. I haven't done too badly in the food department. Well ... writing needs the right nourishment. That is my excuse - what's yours?

Read my lips : No more compromises. No more bhashans! Only action. It is fascinating to monitor just how pro-active the next election is getting, especially in a political slumbertown called South Mumbai, where the only party worth supporting has traditionally been the cocktail party. Suddenly, South Mumbaiwallahs have woken up to their ‘duties’ and ‘responsibilities’, which is a good thing. And the one binding factor in this newly acquired social conscience is 26\11. That horrific experience has woken us up from our customary stupor and caused alarm bells to ring – no, clang! Qasab is not a phantom. He exists. He is right here. And the unspoken fear is that there may be another attack, another Qasab. How ready are we to deal with it?? South Mumbai is looking for a candidate who can lead from the front, and be a visible, credible individual the people can trust. To find such a candidate is not going to be easy, given that most of the usual suspects are compromised and\or corrupt. Everybody knows as much. In the past this may not have been an issue. Today, it is. After all, it’s a matter of the city’s survival. And so many months after the attack, we still don’t know who is in charge. Nor are we aware of a cogent disaster management plan - does it actually exist? The scenario remains grim. We may have outstanding individual officers performing a herculean job, but when the police force itself is divided and demoralized ( hello … haven’t you been following the DGP shenanigans?? Now, we have two guys for the same job, but with conveniently divided responsibilities – one manages the elections, the other manages security!). Our chief minister is largely invisible – very few people have access to him. The people of Maharashtra knew his father, but nobody knows this Chavan! All this is a sorry indicator of a headless state, with non-stop buck passing and no decisions. In such a chaotic scenario, we get a few brave souls who decide, ‘Enough is enough’, and take the plunge regardless, knowing full well the odds are stacked against them.
Ladies and gentlemen, meet Meera Sanyal – as South Mumbai as you can get. A Sydenham college girl, a Malabar Hill Memsaab , who made a name for herself in banking circles. Now that her hat is in the ring, let’s see how her campaign shapes up in the coming weeks. Of course, ‘people like us’ will lend the lady all the support she needs. But this is not about tea and crumpets, as I’m certain Meera herself knows. She will be thrown into a vicious jungle, slugging it out with slumdogs and slumlords, competing against money and muscle power. She says she will put herself on the line, spend no more than the stipulated 25 lakhs on her campaign, and go flat out to convince the voter she’s the one. Good luck to Meera. It is one thing to convince corporate India, but how does someone with her credentials win over the ‘other’ voters?? The ones who play hardball with candidates and extract whatever they can during elections – mainly money. But also, more permanent perks that legitimize their lives. How will Meera battle the dalals and criminals who ruthlessly cut deals with political parties, intimidate and threaten those who refuse to toe the line? I’m sure Meera has done her homework and is fully aware of the murky side of netagiri. Mumbai is not New York. And South Mumbai, for all its aspirations and pretensions has been converted into a huge slum, ready to compete with Dharavi in terms of numbers. It is a dangerous and complex constituency, with thousands and thousands of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants running several rackets that are hard to crack. Geeta Nagar and Moorti Nagar are virtually inaccessible to ‘outsiders’. Even the cops think twice before venturing into those narrow gullies. And this is but one such area Meera will have to visit. Convincing Cuffe Parade residents won’t be difficult. But how many of them will bother to turn up on D-Day? My guess is this year will see a respectable turnout. But that won’t swing the vote in Meera’s favour either. Even so, the lady must be congratulated for following her conscience and doing the right thing. She has taken the lead in a meaningful and constructive way. The rest is up to us. Are we ready to do our bit??

Shouldn’t the evil Tantrik and rapist father of the two tormented girls hang for their crimes? And what about the devilish, unrepentant mother? Guess what?? Your views or my views have zero value in a case like this, since incest is barely recognized as a major offence in India. The cops have an uphill task ahead of them. Chances are the three perpetrators will receive a light sentence as and when the trial begins. The media will lose interest. And those two young girls will be doomed to lead a life of shame and sorrow.Sad.

Monday, March 23, 2009

A Ferragamo handbag for Mayawati...

Blogdosts, this appeared in HT yesterday..

Why Maya can never be a ‘Memsaab’…

Let’s face it – Mayawati drives us mad. Us??? Who’s ‘Us’? Oh…. us is us! People who count. Thought leaders. Opinion makers. Bull shitters. People still living in some la la land, imagining we are important. Get real, guys. Before you can say ‘Kanshi Ram’, Mayawati will be on that kursi in Dilli. The same one her foes are determined to keep her ample backside away from. And if perchance Mayawati’s derriere does occupy the gaddi, God help those foes. Mayawati will whack their butts with that handbag of hers, whip their asses, and then the asli fun will start. Why does Mayawati bug us so much?? Is it her appearance? Come on , there are worse looking women in politics. Is it her coarse tongue? Her crude language? Or is it something else? Something entirely silly and superficial? Do we despise her because Mayawati is a social embarrassment?Is that why the chattering classes recoil and exclaim –“ She cannot possibly become India’s prime minister!! My goodness… can you imagine her wining and dining Sarko and Carla?? Or meeting and greeting Gordon Brown? Even worse – what will Michelle think of those arms??”
Sounds ridiculous, right? But isn’t there some truth embedded in it? Mayawati makes us cringe, because we can’t handle her rustic personality. Her lack of sophistication. The total absence of refinement…. Oof! Nobody would want someone with that profile in their living rooms…. what of the social barometre? Their ratings on the party circuit? What if she slurped tea from a saucer? Or dunked double roti and biscut into the brew?? Forget wine-shine, cheese-weese, what on earth does one serve her?? How about grilled critics??? Conversation?? Don’t make us laugh…
Sounds horrible. But scratch the surface, and that’s the sort of stuff you’ll get. Nothing to do with ideology. It’s not about Dalits. It’s not even about gender. It has to do with class. Not caste. Which is precisely the reason why the chattering classes may end up with lots of egg on their faces. The next elections are unambiguously about caste. Deal with it. Class does not enter the picture. And when it comes to cashing in on caste, Mayawati’s trajectory is hard to match. She gets it. She has always got it. She knows her USP. And she knows just how to address her constituency – the words, the language, the appearance. That is her. Corruption is a non- issue in these polls. Is there even a single politician who can claim to be clean - and prove it?? So, holding Mayawati up as the Queen of Corruption will hardly dent her chances. Nor will pointing out the many charges against her – there are no saints in the line up. In a scenario of ‘‘Hum Sab Chor Hain,” Mayawati merges in seamlessly. Nobody minds. Nobody can! Sleeping with the enemy? Forging perverse alliances? Ditto. Then why does everybody hate her so much? How is Mayawati any worse than the others in the race – Pawar? Chandrababu?Gowda? Or the other ‘teen deviyan’ – Mamata, Jayalalithaa and Sonia??Will she sell India down the drain? No more than the rest.But that is not the concern of drawing room analysts, is it? What we want to know is will she change that awful handbag to a Ferragamo? Will she hire Abu-Sandeep or Manish Malhotra to redesign that dreadful wardrobe? Discard Poylester? Switch to Chikankaari ? Will Jimmy Choo replace her rexine sandals? Even if she cannot smell of roses, could someone please present her with a flacon of Chanel? And would Mickey Contractor with his M.A.C. team kindly volunteer their services and give the lady a make over?This is the age of designer politicians. Alas, with all the efforts in the world, Maya can never become a ‘Memsaab ’ (that is both, her curse and redemption). But she could become the P.M. Drown yourselves in Dom, guys.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Varun Gandhi - Pamela Anderson of politics

Babes in the woods…

Varun Gandhi is a babe. So is Rahul Gandhi. In fact, these elections are dominated by the Babe Brigade. Nearly all the newbies on the block fall into the babe category. Most are Pamela Andersons of politics, cashing in on the oomph factor. ‘Babewatch’ rules. Pamela had silicone in her breasts. Desi Babes have silicone in their brains. No issues. It’s sexy to be in politics these days. Especially if your surname is Gandhi. You can bank on the family name to save your butt after opening your mouth and stuffing both feet into it. As Varun has done with his recent hate speech. If jaws dropped, he didn’t notice them. Or perhaps, he doesn’t really care. This babe has made it to the front pages of nearly every newspaper , with tv channels greedily gobbling up every bon mot uttered by Maneka Gandhi’s beta. He himself insists love means never having to say you are sorry… and to hell with what civil society, the EC and others think of his outrageous, preposterous, provocative and - pardon the word – rabid comments. Mom Menaka has protected the interests of animals for years. She must know how dangerous a rabid dog is . What on earth was Varun thinking? He now claims it was a doctored cd that got the natives worked up. That’s a babe comment. He also adds he is proud of his faith, not apologetic about it and that he is a ‘Gandhi, a Hindu and an Indian in equal measure.’ Jai ho, bete. Bhagwan tera bhala karey.
I am not a Gandhi ( thank God for small mercies!), but I am also a Hindu and an Indian. Unapologetic on both scores. But I don’t want to cut off anybody’s hand or gouge out eyes to prove my credentials as either. Sensibly, the BJP has promptly distanced itself from the speech and the orator. But that’s the easy part. First you get an out of control babe to go out there and bak bak. Then the big boys back off leaving the babe to face the music. By then the damage ( or the dirty work) is done. Smart! But sometimes being over smart has a nasty way of back firing. As has happened in Varun’s case. This Gandhi Babe is looking bad as compared to the other Gandhi Babe, who dimples away prettily and sticks to the safe and narrow script. The faux pas so far have been harmless and largely inoffensive.Babe Rahul has stuck to the moderate path approved by Mamasita and other party veterans. He has not grabbed too many headlines, but his style of netagiri is distinctly different from his cousin’s. Which is not surprising given the political ideology of their respective fathers.
Gandhigiri is not the sole prerogative of these two families. But try telling that to the faithful. The scarey thought is that Varun’s bluster may pay rich, short term dividends. Just like his father Sanjay Gandhi’s once did many moons ago, when he instigated his mother Indira Gandhi to impose the Emergency ( surely one of the most shameful periods in modern India’s history). Sanjay found takers galore for his demolition drives and other autocratic moves to ‘improve’ Delhi. It was a short and tragic love affair, but ominous while it lasted. Perhaps Babe Varun’s minders are hoping he too will have the ‘Sanjay Effect’ on the gullible who might confuse his aggression and immaturity for dynamism and daring. One can only hope he remains in a minority of one . Someone should remind him that netas like Sanjay briefly streak across the political sky before burning themselves out and disappearing into a black hole. India has always voted with its head and heart and unfailingly chosen moderation over extremism. That has been the pattern so far. And chances are that is how it will continue. Bigotry and hate have been traditionally defeated by those who offered the middle path. That should give us all the hope we require to see us through the coming ordeal. Leaders who challenge democratic principles may succeed as regional satraps ( Narendra Modi, please note), but any leader aiming for national acceptancy instinctively knows it is just one thing that is going to do the trick this time - the promise of stability and security for all. The last two words are key – ‘for all’. Babe Varun has been misguided by his handlers. Winning Pilibhit may be comparatively easy. But winning the hearts of Young India will require much more than a baring of teeth.This babe’s bark had better be worse than his bite. Time to get rid of that silicone, sweetie.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Mallika rising...Nandita shining

I am so delighted that our Mallika Sarabhai has jumped into the fray - finally!! It may be twenty years too late, but what the hell. She has done it! Good for her. Mallika has led her life on her own terms and occasionally paid a pretty stiff price for some of her unconventional decisions. But that has never stopped this feisty woman from putting herself on the line and taking on the likes of Narendra Modi - on his own turf! I have known Mallika forever. I appreciate what she stands for. I love 'amma' , her mother Mrinalini, who continues to be a babe, even now in her eighties! Mallika 's opponent will be the mighty L.K. Advani. A few months ago, I found myself sharing a taxi with Mallika in Paris at some ghastly hour. She was on her way to Boston, and I was headed home. Dressed in lime green khadi silk pajamas and a flowing jacket, Mallika cut a pretty striking figure at Charles de Gaulle airport, where the rest were predictably and uniformly clad in dismal winter greys and blacks. Mallika stood out - she always has.
I heard her on Arnab's show as she tried her best to spell out her agenda while a BJP spokesperson challenged her every utterance. She remained undaunted, if a little vague. She has boldly taken the plunge as an independent candidate ( I respect that). She says it is not about victory, but she definitely intends putting up a tough fight. She is all over the newspapers this morning talking about democratic principles, women, criminalisation of politics etc .etc. It is a brave decision. Mallika - go for it!
Wow! Two attractive, articulate and outspoken ladies, both gunning for Modi. The other one is Nandita Das whose film 'Firaaq' has opened to brilliant notices. Narendra Modi must feel flattered! Coincidentally, the last time I met Nandita was also in Paris. We bonded on a bateau, discussed life, her father Jatin (whose work I've lways admired), and her film. Nandita and Mallika have a lot in common. I wonder if they know just how much. These are the sort of women who can hold their own anywhere in the world. Maybe Nandita should also announce her willingness to take on a neta in the coming elections - why not Modi himself ??

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Loved the Lavni!!

Absolutely and totally had the best time ever! It was one of the most entertaining three hours of my recent life, I can tell you that. There I was , sort of brain dead after an intense interview on how India was responding to the global recession, with Jan Ross, the foreign editor of DIE ZEIT, when boom! I rushed to the NCPA, pushed my way past the entire Maharashtra State cabinet and grabbed my seat in the second row ( first come, first served). I liked Jan a lot, since he 'understood' India. His first visit had been years ago as a 12 year-old boy, whose virgin trip abroad was to Mera Bharat Mahan to see the Taj Mahal!! " It was like a body blow," he said in retrospect, chuckling at the memory of that revelatory trip and the sight of the shabby shanties lining the route to Agra.. I didn't let him finish his chocolate cake since I was so worried about getting lousy seats. How often does one get to watch a Lavni in this part of Mumbai? Yes, I know the context is 'plastic' ( yoo hoo Abhay the Purist!), but it is still better than not watching it at all.
That's the good part...
Lavni is a particularly bawdy dance form from rural Maharashtra... and has been staging a quiet revival during the past few years , thanks to state patronage. The first troupe we got to see featured six pretty girls, but they were clad in ghastly, blingy nine yard sarees with far too much tinsel in their hair. Gone were the traditional 'lugdi' with woven aanchals ("padar' in Marathi). Instead, these buxom ladies wore Bollywood -style stiched sarees that were heavily embroidered and embellished with sequins. Help! That as disappointment number one. The repertoire was equally filmi, but nobody seemed to mind, going by the enthusiastic whistles that greeted their every 'jhatka'. The second and third troupes were infinitely better, even if the dancers were scrawnier and looked in urgent need of Vitamin B shots. Thank Vithoba, the lyrics were deliciously raunchy with all the wickedest double entendres that are so damn difficult to translate. How the hell can anyone convey the naughtiness of " Majhya ooosala lagal kohla ga...." Let me try - " A fox is about to attack my sugarcane." Make any sense?? Old girl Sulochana ( in her late seventies?) sang that live on stage to thunderous applause. As for the MLA's present... they had to be heard and seen, as they got up and boogied themselves while urging the dancers to flirt some more. The ladies happily obliged!! Great evening. I came home and devoured a jowar bhakri stuffed with green moong.... and yes, slathered with pure ghee. Bliss. There wasn't a fox in sight. The 'oooos' was safe! I slept well!!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Govinda Gela Re Gela...

"I am an actor... I don't understand politics," says Govinda in an interview to Mumbai Mirror. The question to ask him then is - " What the eff were you thinking when you contested an election, displaced a veteran (Ram Naik) from the constituency, and let down the people who voted for you?? Why didn't you stick to acting? " This whole thing has become such a monumental farce. And Govinda's brazen talk only highlights the comi-tragedy of Bollywood types cashing in on their popularity during elections, hogging the limelight, winning the seat, and then doing bugger all. I like Govinda, the actor. Rather, I used to like him, till his bheja khiskoed and he lost it totally. I have fond memories of him coming home to interview me for the Stardust Annual some years ago. Of course, he'd turned up late. And of course, he'd hammed it to the hilt. But that's Govinda. The piece was titled, " Class meets Mass." You go figure. It was a hilarious encounter, and one of my most enjoyable interviews.
It's another Govinda one meets these days. He appears lost and confused. His quotes are inane and insane. Sample this one ,"I stood the ground when everyone else was running. Don't ask me how much I walked and why I didn't run." Huh??? There are several similar gems strewn through the story. But I shall spare you the torture. Bottom line? Actors should stick to what they know best. Leave netagiri to netas. And that goes for you to, Munnabhai. Sanjay Dutt put his foot in his mouth - yet again - when he said his 'Begum' was at home, where she belongs, and where all Begums should be, when asked why she wasn't accompanying him to Lucknow.
One of you wanted to know why I hadn't made a comment on the SRK-Aamir Khan verbal duel. Frankly, I am bored to death with their sniping. I really don't care whose pooch goes by which name. Or who threw the first stone. Aamir hit a home run with his dig at SRK'S current insecurity on account of his films not doing well. God knows what SRK's comeback will be. I'd say sharp and lethal. But just to put things in perspective, there was a time when Bollywood was dominated by three mega stars - Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor and Dev Anand. These guys were far bigger than today's Kings and Queens (pun intended). But you never ever heard them bitch each other out. Nobody boasted about being the REAL number one, and they were consistently civil in public. Whatever their personal differences and rivalries, their conduct towards one another was impeccable at all times. A question of class, breeding and basic good manners. But will today's heroes ever learn from those big boys? Naah.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Mumbai Mon Amour

Blogdosts, I had written this for Hindustan Times a while ago. Happened to come across it just now while looking for something else, and thought of sharing it with you. Just as I was busy posting it, my husband called to say he'd had a really frustrating experience trying to book tickets for a traditional Lavni performance at The Tata Theatre. Nearly every single seat had been blocked by the guys in Mantralaya!! In other words, the average, paying fan of this lusty, erotic and entirely amazing dance form of Maharashtra, had no choice but to settle for the lousiest seats, since the government babus had grabbed the best ones for themselves!!
Sharad Pawar has stated grandly that it is Maharashtra's turn to have a prime minister. Really?? What an ingenious way of promoting ones own interests??The day Maharashtra produces a worthy NATIONAL leader, the indian voter won't need prompting. Nor will Pawar have to come up with such alibies. No quota system for Prime Ministership, please!!
Mumbai , Mon Amour
Call me an over indulgent, blinded by love mother… but when it comes to Mumbai, I become a marshmallow….. an over wrought “Deewar”-type ‘ maa’, all quivering mouth and moist eyes. In other words, I turn to mush. Mumbai is my spoilt child. The one that can do no wrong – sab maafi hai. Mumbai is my blind spot. My secret weakness.Mumbai makes me vulnerable, irrational and illogical. I am prepared to overlook any and every flaw, because at the end of the day, Mumbai has made me. I owe Mumbai a big one.
Sometimes, I joke with foreign journos when they ask me about my on going love affair with my beloved metropolis – the one I call home. I tell them jauntily that no other city in India would have tolerated me! There is some truth in that. When I talk to other female writers from say, Delhi , they have nothing but horror stories to recount. Just a few days ago, a beautiful reporter from Pune came over for a story. She was the first woman to work in the newsroom of her stodgy paper. She had tears in her eyes when she recalled the insinuations, slights and putdowns she’d encountered at the time. I remember my own early days as editor of ‘Stardust’ and later ‘Society’. Or subsequently, when I started writing columns, followed by books. Like Frank Sinatra, I’m proud to say I did it my way. No compromises, no regrets. This was possible only because I was based in Mumbai, where professionals are genderless…. we are a family of happy eunuchs who are expected to perform on cue. Again and again.If not – out! There are at least a hundred others waiting to take the vacated spot. Hungry, impatient and even more talented.Nobody gives a damn whether it’s a man or a woman delivering those goods. It’s only the goods that matter.
Ruthless. That is the frequently used adjective to describe Mumbai. An apt description. Mumbai does not tolerate failure, which is why the success rate is so high. Mumbai is for winners. If you’ve got it, you’d be an absolute fool not to flaunt it. Rags to riches? Yes, it happens in Mumbai all the time. Where do you think Subhash Ghai, and more recently, a Madhur Bhandarkar get their inspiration from? These racy scripts were born out of realities that seem fantasy-like to those who’ve not experienced Mumbai’s magic. From a Dhirubhai Ambani to a Kangana Raut – take a look at their trajectories. Inspiring? Outrageous? Audacious? Why not? Both arrived penniless in this city, with nothing more than fierce ambition and a raging fire in the belly. Both were blessed with an incredibly lucky streak Both worked their respective butts off to get ahead. Both were seen as ‘outsiders’ trying to crash an elite club. Both used any and every opportunity that came along. Both grabbed success greedily when it finally showed up…. And the rest , as they say, is history. These are but two examples of what is possible…. achievable, in this amazing city of big dreamers and even bigger losers.
Mumbai is a harlot at heart. A harlot with a big heart. Just like Delhi is a safari-suited, oily and unattractive ‘babu’. Or Kolkata is a decadent zamindar, swishing around in a frayed dhoti. Good hearted harlots ensure nobody who visits, leaves hungry. Well….nobody starves in Mumbai, either. It is a city of scavengers, for scavengers. It succeeds in satiating all sorts of appetites and hungers.... like it is said, ‘ Idhar Rice Plate Chaalu Hai….’ Whatever the hour. Try looking for that in other city of India.
Mumbai’s generosity has been hugely misunderstood, even abused in recent times. This fragile, narrow, loosely interlinked cluster of seven islands is just about hanging in there. It has been taken for granted by successive governments at a huge cost to its long suffering people. Today, the ignorant and callous city fathers are all set to destroy an outstanding landmark – the magnificent , historic Crawford Market. And this evil deed will take place without Mumbaikars themselves having a say in the matter. All over a few pieces of gold. No doubt the sale will enrich quite a few corrupt councillors and their shadowy keepers. Alas, the average Mumbaikar will be far too preoccupied earning his\her daily roja to get actively involved in saving the city’s symbol of commerce and early trade, to stage a protest or move the courts. Our chiffon-clad socialites whose job descriptions state that they should be in the forefront of a move against such an act of atrocity, will be nowhere in sight when they are most needed. That is Mumbai’s biggest tragedy. All those who proclaim their love for the megapolis, remain passive admirers, and not action heroes ready to rescue a distressed maiden from certain doom.
Yes, of course, Mumbai is in trouble. It is broke. And broken. Despite Dalal Street celebrating an early Diwali, the mood in the gullis of the over burdened, over crowded city is far from upbeat. The Sensex is hot, volatile and sexy. Just like Rakhi Sawant. But how many Item Numbers can Mumbai perform to entertain the rest of India? “Paisa pheko…. tamasha dekho,” has been the catchy theme song of our ever- accommodating City of Dreams, for centuries. Now it is being forced to perform a strip tease, phookat mein. Like those poor bar girls who were rendered jobless overnight. Sorry, Boss. That’s not how it works. If anybody is sniffing around for a freebie, go elsewhere. This party’s over. Mumbai believes in just one eternal truth – show me the money. Mumbai, in return promises ‘Paisa vasool’. Or full refund. Unlike RGV. If you want to stay – pay up. Invest in the city, financially and emotionally. It’s got to be this way… or the highway. Any other way, and Mumbai may collapse. Phir tera kya hoga, Bhaiya???

Saturday, March 14, 2009

India needs a two party system.... ha!

Blogdosts, this has appeared today in the Asian Age \ Deccan Chronicle.
As you will discover, I had the best time writing it....ha ha...

I haven’t paid a crore of rupees to acquire the rights to what has rapidly become the nation’s anthem - Jai Ho! So, sue me guys. I must hand it to those smart Charlies who handle the image business of the Congress party. That was a clever move – excellent timing, too. Now I hear they’ve roped in the bachchas from the award winning movie to sing and dance for them at various poll stations. Don’t know what is more ludicrous – Mayawati’s idea to put up gigantic statues of elephants across her state, or to parade these slum kids as a vital part of the Incredible India campaign. The next elections? The pits. The absolute pits. Nautanki at its worst,in terms of strategy – when all else fails, pull out the jokers! I remember an Italian diplomat snorting disparagingly into his vino as he recalled his encounter with Mayawati in Lucknow last year. What he couldn’t get over was the handbag-statue!! He had yet to see anything like it in all his long years of service, and at any of the many destinations he’d been posted to. “ Why is she so attached to her handbag? Even the Queen of England loves her purses, but one doesn’t see statues of her hanging on to them for dear life.” I assured him it was a deeply symbolic representation invested with layers of meaning, and left it at that.If Mayawati and her bag can never be parted, doesn’t it say something? He drank the rest of the vino in one quick gulp and disappeared to ponder over the remark. I bet he was thinking, “Mama mia! These Indian women…. they are quite crazy.”
‘Crazy’ is likely to be the operative word in the next elections. Seats are being sold like peanuts…. very, very expensive peanuts , of course. ‘Paisa lao. Ticket le jao.” Cash and carry. No fuss. No nakhra. And most importantly, no bulls*#* either. Nobody is even trying to pretend this is about competence and qualifications. If you have the curves and the cash – you are in! Nagma – yes, Sourav’s Nagma, also wants to serve the country all of a sudden. I want to tell her, “ You already have, honey. You really have.” Sourav’s game improved radically after his brief liaison with the bombshell. There are several other glam dolls who are keen to serve the country. In what capacity? Don’t ask. Preity may. Which is not a bad thing. There’s not much of a career left in Bollywood for the talented lass. Cricket and politics make great bed fellows, as Pawar will tell you. Tomorrow, it may be Rakhi Sawant’s turn. Or Monica Bedi’s. Molls welcome, ji. They know how to survive in jungles. And if cop rumours are to be believed, Monica is sitting on one hell of a lot of dosh – never mind that Abu Salem is getting increasingly antsy about it. The logic is simple, as Amar Singh has pointed out – glamour sells. People will vote for anybody they can recognize. This only goes to prove the absolute and total power of Page 3. And television, of course. If you are seen frequently enough, you really don’t require any other attributes. The next parliament is likely to be the most photogenic one in India’s history. Packed with movie stars, models, tv presenters, anchors, reality show judges , lawyers and other ‘been there, done that’ types one visually encounters on a daily basis. It’s a good time to be photogenic. And invest in Botox. Seriously.
The scarey part comes in when criminals (official and non-official) get into Parliament. There are several from the current crop with criminal records. We also know many other M.P.s who are even bigger crooks.But there’s nothing on paper to nail them. The monies involved are staggering, and chances are the forthcoming fights will be fiercer than anything India has witnessed earlier. Political sleep- ins have become so shameless, that even the raunchiest madams in the world’s sleaziest brothels would blush at these strange, even perverse couplings. In Mumbai, the party has just begun. Assorted ‘concerned citizens’ are busy organizing wine and cheese evenings for their chosen candidates. Excuse me, is it a store opening? A fashion event? An art show? Same thing, yaar. Most of the questions raised are as faltu and fake as the candidates themselves. But that hardly matters. There is talk of Poonam Mahajan revving things up. Tomorrow, the other more notorious Mahajan (Rahul) may throw his hat into the ring , too. That should be fun. Surprise, surprise - Mumbai has suddenly discovered it’s a part of India, after all. It is most amusing to overhear earnest conversations about which ‘brother’ is backing which candidate. There are only two ‘Bothers’ in India, right? Overnight experts have sprung up, and all of them talk rubbish. People walk upto complete dolts to ask, “ So…. Which party do you think will win?” The dolts look extremely worried, as they pronounce their verdict - “ Mayawati is too corrupt. On the other hand, the others are no better. Everybody is corrupt. But we must not give up hope. This is the time for systemic change.” Yeah?? No kidding!Aaaaargh!
Frankly, there should be a two party system in India - Bollywood and Cricketers. That will make life so much easier for voters. We are nearly there. We just need to go official with the agenda. Nobody wants to consider those thakela stalwarts, who look ready to shift to a better place in heaven, where they can finally rest their tired bones and give up the good fight. They’ve all had their innings…. done their bit…. served the country, but in significantly different ways than Nagma and her ilk. Bahut ho gaya. Atalji, Manmohanji, Advaniji, Pawarji – take five, you guys. We worry about those stents, the hardened arteries and twisted hernias. Why push it beyond nature’s kindness? Give the bachchas a chance. Because the folks we call ‘bachchas’ are well into their forties. Just like Barack Obama. And look where he is today. Do we really want our Young Turks to be seventy before we think they are old enough to run the show? Let’s face it, Omar may spend more time on the ski slopes in trendy gear than in addressing other issues in his beloved valley. Rahul Baba may decide to visit Dharavi and go for a ‘Slumdog…” photo –op with Jamal and Latika in tow. But at least these guys look good. Talk good. Like John Abraham or Ranbir Kapoor or Hritik Roshan. Do they know what’s going on?? As much as Uncleji or the next Johnny. Do they have bagmen to collect the loot on their behalf? Come on, they’ve learnt something from the oldie goldies, surely. Are they capable of converting India into a land of milk and honey?? Is India safe in their hands? Arrey baba, don’t make me laugh.India has been on auto pilot for years. God knows who’s in charge, who calls the shots, and how we’ve survived. I believe in karma. So must we all – that’s all we’ve got!! Jai Ho!! Jai Hind!

Friday, March 13, 2009

On a day like today...

It was one of my favourite Pat Boone numbers. Aaaah - nostalgia.'On a day like today'.... but that's where the lyrics end as reality kicks in savagely. It's a weird day. Almost pre-monsoony. I can spot rain clouds on the horizon. How strange is that? And there are war clouds looming across the border. It is not looking good. Zardari's on the run - or should be. The Generals are restless. Nawaz Sharif looks ready to assume control. The Long March sounds ominous. Anarchy appears to be round the corner. Holbrooke is making all the right noises about America's 'concern'. It seems somehow stage- managed and phoney. From India's point of view, this is not a great development. No matter what those Generals claim night after night on Arnab's show, democracy looks doomed in Pakistan. The Begum in Bangladesh is equally insecure. Sri Lanka is permanently on the boil. What more do we need? Tibet and the Chinese to perform the Dragon Dance?
At such times I turn to the one constant that always guarantees comfort and provides an instant fix - food. I have taken to crushing fresh Mahableshwar strawberries into my lunch -time lassi. These strawberries are the real thing - small, succulent and sweet. They don't look as sexy as their pumped up cousins - the botoxed variety that's imported and pricey. But they sure as hell beat them hollow in the taste stakes. My salad is getting adventurous , too. Pears, iceberg lettuce and rocket leaves, combined with walnuts and pumpkin seeds, lavishly doused with classic French dressing. Oh, I forgot ... shavings of Parmesan cheese on days when I am hungry - really, really hungry. Try it. Chef Abhijit Sahai who used to be with I-Talia, the splendid Italian restaurant at the Park Hotel in Bangalore, introduced me to this combo years ago. Well, the talented chef has moved on and is poised to open his own restaurant later this month. He claims it's India's first that serves molecular food and authentic Spanish tapas. I'll let you know just how authentic after I sample his fare.
I'll be addressing the Indian Association of Secretaries and Administrative Professionals (established in 1970) later this evening. I've chosen to speak about - women!! What else?? The focus being on how women can make themselves heard MORE EFFECTIVELY and fight back when attacked. I'll be carrying our S.I.T.A. Sena posters with me.What is astonishing and disappointing is that not a single political party so far has thought it important enough to spell out an agenda designed to address and aid this specific constituency. Do women not count??At all?? Girija Vyas, who heads the National Women's Commission, spoke so casually about ' women-related issues', she actually reduced women to a mere statistic, on Karan Thapar's incisive show last week. She sounded like her last priority was doing something CONSTRUCTIVE for her own kind!!I am convinced an enlightened man would do a far better job than this lady whose heart is obviously not in what she's doing. Oh dear, oh dear...the mood is getting gloomier. How long can I continue to make the weird weather an alibi??

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Lang Lang

I heard him being described as 'The JLo of the piano' and was hooked! Zubin Mehta conducting the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra at the Homi Bhabha Auditorium was the initial attraction. But with the 26 -year- old musical genius from China thrown in, wild horses couldn't have kept me away. Described by the New York Times as the " hottest artist on the classical music planet," Lang Lang is a phenomenon. He started playing the piano at age 3. By the age of 5 he had won his first prize and given a public performance.By 17 he was a star. Over 5 billion people viewed his performance at the Beijing Olympics. Some of you may have watched him at Obama's Inaugural.... but one has to be right there when he hits the keys to understand - no, to feel - the magic. Understand the passion. It is powerful enough to make you want to rip out your heart and lay it at his feet! Such virtuosity, such confidence, such showmanship! To hear him play Chopin (Piano Concerto No.2 in F Minor Op.21), is to hear a personal angel caressing the ivory. Lang Lang plays with his heart, not fingers. He emotes as he plays... his facial expressions and body language are a treat to watch. That's the big difference. I don't know how those slightly stuffy Austrians in the orchestra reacted to him, but it was obvious from the rapturous response he received from the doting desi audience that Mumbai had fallen head over heels in love with the man often called " the most exciting keyboard talent in the world..." I noticed Aamir Khan along with his wife, the delightful Kiran Rao, giving him a standing ovation. We exchanged notes a little later, and the expression in Aamir's eyes said it all. Perhaps Aamir will be inspired enough to play a musician in his next movie?? While on Aamir, it is really so refreshing to see the man who has been voted 'the most powerful person in Bollywood' behave like a regular guy at all times. Here was was mingling easily and casually with the snooty Mumbai elite. No fuss. No atempt at drawing attention to himself. Aamir was clad in a trendy jacket. Lang Lang in a bandgala ( Mao suit?).
At a Moet and lobster dinner following the concert, Zubin took time off to thank the sponsors - Rolex - as only he can, by being direct and unembarrassed. Lang Lang, who had stuck to Indian cuisine during his stay at the Taj, remained low key, even as a few members of the orchestra improvised a version of 'Happy Birthday' and sang for a colleague. Our hosts, Dorab and Verra Randeria ( second generation Rolex representatives), made sure all was well, adopting discretion that emerges from generations of quiet refinement. Aaah.... in these troubled and awful times, nothing like divine music to soothe the soul. Music and Moet .

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Holi hai.... par kiske liye??

A candid confession: I detest Holi. Always have. Even as a child. Perhaps I didn't have the required joie de vivre to appreciate the festival of colour. But I did enjoy the jalebis and puran polis served on the occasion. Another confession: I have added a dollop of home made ghee to my daily diet. And I'm loving it! Our grand mothers swore by its health boosting qualities. It worked for them. Why should it not work for us equally?? I shall let you know a month from now , and tell you the absolute truth. If I blimp out, I'll stop. If not... the dollop stays.
I needed more than a dollop of pure ghee to deal with a very angry call this morning. The lady announced, " I am dissed. Very, very dissesed. I tried to reach you thrice yesterday... and couldn't." Well.... that can happen. I'm perfectly accessible under normal circumstances. But yesterday was not an ordinary working day. Did I tell you I taped an amazing interview with an amazing woman called Robin Roberts for ABC'S 'Good Morning America?" It is slated as a two hour special on Mumbai, and Robin had packed in so much during those few short hours she was in India - she had played cricket with 'Slumdog.." Tanmay, and sat in an autorickshaw at Sion - no, Salman Khan was not the driver. She was scheduled to meet Ratan Tata later the same evening. And here she was at my home, with a crew of eight very hard working people.The interview crackled and is likely to be telecast either today or tomorrow at 7 a.m. U.S. time. It will also be up on the ABC site soon, so we can all check it out. She was terrific. Those of you who caught her Barack Obama interview must know just how terrific she is. At the risk of sounding immodest, I have to say I was touched and flattered when she reached out , held both my hands and said with tears in her eyes, " I'll never, ever forget you... you are an extraordinary woman. Too honest for politics." We hugged and kissed. Cried and laughed. It was a perfect 'woman-to-woman' moment.
Well..... which is why I couldn't take Thritty Strafford's call. I was in the middle of an interview. After Robin left, some mysterious bug hit me, and I collapsed ! Like, really keeled over, and couldn't get out of bed even after four Crocin's. Which is also why I couldn't take Thritty's other calls. I was knocked out. I wasn't taking ANY calls. Nothing personal. But would the lady listen? She was livid as she talked about the SALAAM BALAAK Trust that she runs, and how difficult it has been for her to rustle up funds to feed all those street kids. And how insensitive I've been to the cause etc. She has a charity movie premiere coming up this week..... and my remark has seriously affected the sales of her tickets. I requested her to re- read my column. That remark was based on a published interview of the main actor from 'Salaam Bombay' who sounded very bitter .Even so, I can understand Strafford's rage. I asked her to calm down and wished her well. This was after she had gone apoplectic about 'rich ladies in their fancy drawing rooms, who are seen at parties featured on Page 3, who won't spend 2000 rupees on a premiere ticket...." She thundered on and on, wondering where she'd find the money from, now that I had written one line about 'Salaam Bombay' and those obviously upset cast members who had featured in it?' Oh dear. She needed to deep breathe. I was genuinely concerned about her health at this point. She challenged me to sell some of those premiere tickets and attend the premiere myself. Phew! Strafford has indeed worked exceedingly hard for the trust, which is looking for 40 lakhs right now, so that those street kids don't starve. Donations welcome. It's been 20 years of dedication. But Shaikh, the actor who was picked for the lead role, is 32- years- old now, in dire straits and stands by his story. Who does one believe? Strafford told me her mother said ," If Shobhaa De has an honest bone in her, she will set the record straight." I have just done that. I hope it makes Strafford (and her mother) feel better. And that Thritty continues the excellent work. As for me, I'm planning to crawl back into bed and not take calls. But then , I doubt Strafford will be calling again anytime soon. And fortunately for me, most other callers are more understanding.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Feminism's Last Sigh...?

Women’s Day . this has appeared in TIMES LIFE on 8th March, Sunday.

Feminism's Last Sigh....??
There are days when I say to myself, “ Wow!! Being a woman is the best thing that has happened to me.” Such days used to be frequent. Say, in a calendar year, these words would have echoed my sentiments at least 200 out of the 365 days. Not anymore. They average 100 at best. And even then, I catch myself asking, “Just who am I kidding?” Sad. If I can say or feel or think such a thought, imagine how utterly awful life must be for the vast majority of women in our country. Those anonymous, nameless, faceless, futureless females who wake up each day of their wretched lives cursing the Gods that brought them into this world as women. Isn’t it shameful that this is so? I look around me at so-called elite, educated, empowered ladies and wonder just how ‘empowered’ they really are behind the sham of being power ladies and women who ‘have it all’. The sad truth is women are the world’s most marginalized minority. And unlike other minorities, there is nobody to represent this target group - where it counts and when it counts. We continue to get beaten, raped, sold, murdered, traded,burnt, stoned, maimed, humiliated and exploited on each and every level, each and every day. Our crime? Gender.
Which is why I can’t write a jaunty, cheerful piece about how wonderful it feels to be a woman and how we should all be celebrating this great day, reserved especially for us. I’d be lying – once again – to myself, if I did that. Perhaps I’ve picked the wrong day to pen this. Perhaps I should have waited for the present mood to pass. That is what I’ve taught myself to do. That is what most women do. They wait. We have been waiting since the beginning of time. And where has it got us?What has changed?Please don’t flaunt the usual suspects and say, “Oh…. but look at Hillary Clinton, Sonia Gandhi, Oprah Winfrey…. such accomplished, successful ladies, who have achieved so much – much more than most men.” Sure, go ahead and look at them. Do you see yourself? No? Surprised that you don’t? Or worse, resigned? That’s just the point. For every Hillary\Sonia\Oprah, there are millions – yes, millions – of women who live and die in grief. Daily grief which falls on them like steady rain that never lets the sun shine through those brooding dark clouds.Besides, who can look into the hearts and souls of our female icons to find out just how happy they are? We love to hang on to the many myths surrounding highly successful ladies – that they have mastered the life-balance ratio, that they are the way they are because they’ve challenged the status quo, rewritten rules, broken barriers, shattered glass ceilings. If so, good for them. But how does that help the rest of us? The ones who continue to struggle each and everyday just to stay alive… breathe…. eat… without getting crushed…. verbally, emotionally, physically, financially?
Sorry if this is reading like an epitaph for the Feminist movement that my generation had invested so heavily in. Most of the movement’s leaders are dead or in retirement. The few still left, appear weary and morose. They tried. They really tried. But their efforts weren’t good enough. It isn’t about legislation. It isn’t about money. And it certainly isn’t about sex. True and lasting liberation is about the evolution of the species. So long as inequality rules, there is no hope for real freedom. Female emancipation in such a scenario is doomed to remain where it has been stuck for centuries. Man is not known to willingly give up a single inch of territory. He can’t. He won’t. So… where does that leave us? Aha – now here’s where we can and should score. We have spent enough time on our brains. It’s the womb’s turn now. The womb is a women’s most lethal weapon. It creates life. Till such time as a substitute can be found for it, women are comparatively secure. Remember : Wombs are our monopoly. Exploit the situation. Play to win. Your time starts NOW!



To add to the angst, I watched two disturbing movies back to back. Both featured the invincible Kate Winslet - this decade's Meryl Streep. What courageous performances, particularly the one in 'The Reader'. Dus janam main Bollywood will not be able to get there, either in terms of content, treatment or performance. Even though her role in The Reader was far more nuanced, I thought she was equally brilliant in 'Revolutionary Road'. Di Caprio was no match, even though he valiantly tried to keep up.


The only uplifting moment that saved the weekend from being a total washout was the inspiring fashion show staged by the very special students of the SPJ Sadhana School for mentally challenged children and young adults that I attended. Put together most ably by Hemant Trivedi and his design team, 'Because.... I am,' brought tears to my eyes each time those wonderful people walked the ramp to thunderous applause. The sad thing is, even after 35 years of dedicated and difficult work, the school is short of funds, and this year, even the event sponsor backed out at the last minute. But the show went on - and what a show! It would be great if all of us supported the efforts of the team that works tirelessly to assure dignity to the lives of the less fortunate. You can email : spjsadhana@gmail.com for more info. All donations are exempt under u\s 80 G. Come on Blogdosts. Go for it.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Marathon matters...

The BMC has suddenly woken up to the fact that the Mumbai Marathon is a commercial event. Come on, guys. What did you think? That the Standard Chartered Bank was deeply, truly, and genuinely concerned about Mumbai's hamstrings? Marathons all over the world attract fat cat sponsors since they receive so much publicity. Simple. The organisers who rope in the sponsors get a juicy fee, perhaps a generous cut of the action, and the host city gets a dollop of prestige , lots of publicity....provided it looks good on camera. As Mumbai undoubtedly does. Then there is the question of prize money - all those inexhaustible Ethiopian runners who invariably walk away with an attractive purse. Of course, the Marathon is about money. And it ought to be treated as yet another commercial, revenue generating event. The BMC is demanding a hefty fee from the organisers, for getting the roads ready for the Marathon, and also claiming expenses to the tune of several crores. Why not?? Entirely legitimate and justified. There's no such thing as a free lunch ... or a free Marathon.
Isn't it shameful that it needed a sensitive Englishman to draw the government's attention to the most horrific aspect of 'Slumdog...' which involves Mumbai's notorious beggar syndicate and the maiming of street children . The British gentleman must be congratulated for raising the issue and demanding answers from the authorities. But what about us? We see these kids day in and day out at traffic lights, we barely notice their amputated limbs or gouged out eyes. In fact, we barely notice them! These are invisible children, known by their voices and the 'annoying' thumping on car windows. Who 'owns' these bachchas?? Do you really want to know??
I find it an absolute abomination that the IPL matches are still going to happen, come hell, elections, bomb blasts or high water. The elections are finally upon us. India is gearing up for the polls. But all that those Cricket satraps are interested in is going ahead with the matches, since so much money is riding on the fixtures. It is shameless and insensitive to be this brazen about safeguarding ones commercial interests, given what happened to the Sri Lankan cricketers in Lahore. I cannot imagine the mind -set of players considering the high risks involved - how the hell can any sporstman perform knowing there could be a bomb ticking away in the dressing room\ team bus\hotel. Or that a suicide squad may crash into the venue and blow up everybody . Will spectators turn up?Are we seriously that mad? Cricket mad?
Guys, I have been missing the caustic comments of ' Another Kiran'. Where are you, lady? And yes, the Karan Thapar interview happened. In case any one of you is interested, it will be telecast on Monday at 10 30 pm on CNBC.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Sach suno....

This appeared in Bombay Times today. Meanwhile, Aham is getting a fantastic response . So am I. Two German journos who were here for an interview last afternoon are keen to cover Aham's Gateway of India peaceful protest on sunday after I spoke to them at length as to what our objectives were.

I'm doing an interview for Karan Thapar ( yes, again!), tomorrow afternoon, along with Girija Vyas, who heads the National Commission for Women, on an even more terrifying subject - according to a recent study conducted by the British medical journal The Lancet, 10 women in India are burnt every hour on average, most of these deaths are tied to domestic abuse.

Wake up, women. You too, men.

On a lighter, brighter note, I watched Pink Panther -2 last night and fell off my chair laughing. Our Ash has a decent enough role in the movie and has done a decent enough job, given that it is a crazy, illogical, silly spoof. I only wish they'd hired a better make up artist for her ( who's the villain?), a better lighting director ( no amount of concealor can take care of those dark rings under the eyes, but great lighting helps reduce them on camera)), and of course, a better stylist ( frumpy, unflattering suits? For Ash??? What were they thinking?). Anyway, from all her recent interviews it does appear that Bahurani has thrown in the towel as far as Hollywood is concerned. Ab Freida ka waqt aa gayaa hai, doston. Mind it.

Slumkids from Kadka-nagar

They still live in Garib Nagar. That pretty much says it all. Garib Nagar is such a cruel, direct and obvious name for a shanty town. A wretched slum. The one that has produced those incredibly talented kids the world is going gaga over. Yes, I know Boyle and the producer of the multi –million- dollar –and- still- raking- it- in global hit, are sincere about plans to educate these kids and provide for them. May Boyle’s efforts yield better results than Mira Nayar’s a few years ago. Her actors were also promised many wonderful things following the success of ‘Salaam Bombay’. But just last week, the main guy, who is now 32, gave a scathing interview to a tabloid in which he claimed he was thrown right back into the gutter from which he’d been fished out by Mira to star in her film. He’s a lowly auto rick driver now, and pretty bitter about the experience.Whatever happened to the trust that had been set up amidst much fanfare at the time? I remember the premiere at Eros cinema clearly, when these street kids had arrived at the venue in brightly decorated ghoda gaadis, wearing Salaam Bombay t-shirts, and been greeted by cheering fans as they danced to the soundtrack with gay abandon. During the intermission, Mira had got them up on stage with her and danced along as cameras rolled. Everybody agreed it was a fantastic moment and how happy those kids looked. Then what happened ? Sab log unhe bhool gayey. Well… Mira went back. She went on to other films, other concerns. Everybody else lost interest. And that was that.
How different is it likely to be this time? Let’s wait and watch. There are other questions to consider – for example, one argument goes that Boyle’s producers have paid the kids whatever amount was agreed upon. According to them that amount is very generous and much more than the kids would earn otherwise. They’ve been quoted as saying it is three times the money an adult from that background would make in a year. I’m sure they are right. That takes care of the legalese. But now comes the trickier question of dealing with a moral obligation. Should Boyle be stuck with these bachchas for the rest of his life? After all, they have been paid for their work. Right now, with emotions running high, Boyle has gone out of his way to ensure the kids get a fair deal. His plan on paper looks very sound and well thought through. Setting up a trust with clauses that safeguard the kids’ interests and pays for their education is noble of Danny indeed. Is that enough? Will it work? Why be cynical. Perhaps it will, if the kids want it to, and if their minders don’t turn greedy\exploitative and plain cussed. We saw how Rubaina’s biological mother nearly clawed her way to grab the daughter she had turned her back on. We watched in horror as the family fought over this tiny child, suffering from jet lag and a major culture shock. We saw Azharuddin cowering in a corner of his hut after being slapped by his father for not obliging presswallas. Was anybody really thinking of the bachchas? These are highly vulnerable tots who have been through an extraordinary , life- transforming experience. But the fairy tale is now over. What’s next?
I find it somewhat grotesque that the state government has promptly jumped on to the band wagon and offered flats to two of the kids. What for? “ For bringing glory to India,” said a minister. Such irony! What of the other kids? What of millions of homeless kids like them which Mumbai is full of? A case of misplaced charity. These two are super privileged kids in comparison to countless others. In fact their transformed lives can lead to a Slumdog -2 script. Child psychologists may have an interesting perspective on what this incredible experience has done to the psyche of these young actors. It goes beyond a fantasy. From the sewers of Mumbai to the swishiest boulevards of Hollywood , and on to the most glam awards ceremony in the world! Wow! Imagine the dizzying pace of LA - being greeted, feted and hugged by some of the most famous people on earth, visiting Disneyland and dancing on stage for a global audience, this has surely been one hell of a trip. Uske baad? Back to the squalor they’ve been born into? How disorienting and depressing is that? Can they ever reconnect to that sordid life without something snapping inside their heads? Never! These children have changed, perhaps forever. What they need is counseling. Once reality kicks in, they are going to ask questions and demand answers. That could lead to frustration, depression … even something far more drastic like a major mental breakdown. Boyle won’t be around to handle such a crisis.So, before we go any further with our OTT conduct, it’s time to evaluate a few things soberly. We are dealing with tender lives, not commodities. Boyle has done his bit. It’s time for us to do ours.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Survival skills in one easy read...

Strange. I was going through a slim volume titled Disaster Survival Skills compiled by an ex-Army man, Captain Vinod Nair, when I received a text message about the attack on the Sri Lankan cricketers in Lahore. I rushed to catch the breaking news on tv, and was sickened by what I saw. Apart from the injured cricketers, five cops have lost their lives battling those heavily armed beasts who opened fire on the innocents. Why? Perhaps the' why' is irrelevant. It is open season all over the world, and we are all sitting ducks. With the IPL matches round the corner, my fear is that a similar attack could take place in any one of the crowded stadia, leading to several more casualties, and this time their targets will include the superstars of the game. But who are 'they'? Another pointless question. Shadowy demons with hearts of stone.
I re- read the manual sent by Nair, and said to myself, a book like this has become required reading in these violent times. It provides practical and easy to implement tips on how to handle most 21st century emergencies - hi jacking, hostage situations, car bombings, grenade attacks etc.Scarey!! Nobody prepares you to deal with such scenarios. But like they say, 'A person does not build character during a crisis, he\she reveals it." I reccomend this book and you can access more info via the website www.kimmaya.com. Captain Nair in his covering letter mentions that he runs a consultancy and training service . I don't know the guy, and am not vouching for any of this. Just that I found the tips offered very easy to take forward. God knows we require road maps to negotiate all the land mines strewn across our paths these days. I wish the Sri Lankan boys a speedy recovery, and offer sincere condolences to the families of those slain cops.
Aham is all set to take his protest national on Sunday at 5pm. More power to him and all the supporters who have written, called, mailed. I was rather disappointed to receive an interview request from a newspaper in Bangalore which asked why we were bothering to protest against incidents that were taking place in another city, and whether the protest would give Bangalore\Mangalore a bad name!! Is it about geography... or humanity??

Monday, March 2, 2009

Seeti Bajaao...!

How does one shame the shameless? I have just written a column for International Women's Day , and that's basically what I am asking myself and others? I shall post it in this space next week, but it is important to address this key question as a run up to the 'GREAT EVENT' which has been reduced to a pathetic, commercial joke, with several opportunists jumping in to take advantage of the female consumer. I saw several saree stores offering special prices to mark the occasion. And I was appalled when an event company asked me whether I'd be free to participate in a televised panel discussion on domestic violence, sponsored by a leading jewellery brand! The fat man who drives this brand is a cunning fox who misses no opportunity to milk any and every chance to 'upgrade' his image. What better way than to associate himself with a bleeding hearts issue that will make him feel good about himself?? Jewellery and domestic violence?? Isn't that obscene? Everyone will hope to make money out of this programme - the event management company, the channel and of course, the fat man himself. Prominent ladies will also fall over backwards to show how socially committed they are ( besides - doesn't it feel great to be on tv?). Another media savvy jewellery designer has managed to rope in the usual suspects to walk the ramp for her ( I am sick of these meaningless shows, and do I really want to see a bunch of ghastly , over made up socialites preening on the ramp , pretending they are doing this for 'charity'?) Such bakwas! If these ladies would 'sacrifice' just one pampering massage (upwards of 3000 bucks) and donate the amount to paying the annual school fees of a slum kid, that would be more laudable. I always suspect the motives of these do gooders , who are out to garner publicity through their supposedly 'charitable' endeavours. Nobody bothers to examine their accounts or demand transparency from them . Who knows where that money goes?? Though I can offer a few guesses. Weekend Bazaars etc are a part of the same racket. Affluent ladies of leisure get their darzis to make two dozen kurtis, mark them up ridiculously, sell them to friends, recover their costs, keep a hefty profit, and donate a pittance to charity. The media dutifully covers these events and talks about the 'cause' and how wonderful it is of these women to participate etc etc. The 'cause' is them!
Glad to note 'Aham' is going full steam ahead with the S.I.T.A Sena. The 'Seeti Bajaao.... Khud ko Bachchaao' slogan I've suggested to him, is being worked on as well.
Oh.... what did I think of our local Red Carpet looks on Saturday? The only people who got it right were Shah Rukh Khan and Gauri.

Sunday, March 1, 2009


Aham and other S.I.T.A sainiks. I thought of a simple yet effective way of attracting attention when faced with a potential assault. How about a really loud whistle - the kind one hears during football matches? For one, it would startle the goons with its ear splitting intensity, for another, it might attract others. It is a safe and legal way to register a protest. The whistle is also a great symbol, since most times women are at the receiving end of cat calls and seetis. I also thought of a dog whistle, which would get all the canines in the neighbourhood barking. It is easier to 'blow the whistle' on goondas than start looking for mace sprays, pepper or chilly powder tucked inside ones handbag. Ladies planning a night on the town could wear their whistles around the neck or wrist and make it a fashion statement too. By the time one phones a dedicated helpline it is already too late. Though a helpline is a must. Community Sainiks are needed to implement any plans. But the whistle could be a start. What do you think??