Wednesday, September 30, 2009

How many colours in the rainbow nation?

How many colours in the rainbow…. ask the people of South Africa!

At the time of writing, our ‘Boys’ are in South Africa doing what they do best – avoid losing matches. The ICC Champions Trophy is on in the Rainbow nation, and chances are, Dhoni and co. may end up like the zebras fed to lions in the famous park just outside the city limits. I bite my tongue while making this prediction ( for one, I know very little about cricket, for another, I’m certain if nothing else motivates Dhoni, the world’s highest earning cricketer, at least the desire to hang on to his juicy endorsement deals will get him to perform. Oh, even Kirsten’s sex dossier may not get it up for the guys). I was in South Africa last fortnight, and it was my second trip. The first one doesn’t really count, since my husband and I were Vijay Mallya’s guests. Which means, one travels in a bubble minus any meaningful contact outside that pampered space. It is a great way to travel ( it doesn’t get any better!), but for all the luxuries and privileges that Vijay lays on, it is impossible to wander off and connect with the real world. As it turns out, Vijay was absolutely right. You really don’t want to wander off or have any contact with the outside world while in the Rainbow nation. Unless you like the idea of getting your head blown off. He’d insisted on a gun toting body guard accompanying us at all times. Now I understand why. South Africa, where the Father of Ahimsa was born, is now one of the most dangerous destinations on earth. And Gandhi himself, is seen in a totally different light ‘back home’, even by the Indian community. As one scholar explained, “ We gave you M.K. Gandhi….. and you gave the world a Mahatma.” I am not sure whether that was a loaded remark, so I asked around and most people nodded their heads and stated, “For us, Gandhi is a second tier leader… nothing more, nothing less.’’ That was revelation number one . I had imagined Gandhiji was revered and worshipped across South Africa, and was right up there with Nelson Mandela. (Mayawati has obviously not seen Mandela’s monstrously large statue at Mandela Square… or else!) But that is not so. Mandela himself, is a shadow of his former self. He remains incommunicado most of the time, protected by his over zealous minders, who insist he is too frail at 92 to meet visitors. And I promptly think of our M.F. Husain, who jets around the world attending art events and dancing at his birthday party over jalebis and a lot more. Perhaps, South Africa does not want the international community to know just how frail their ‘most recognized brand’ really is ( dedicated boutiques sell the famous Presidential Shirts, marketed by Mandela’s personal designer). For , without Mandela, who or what does that nation have to boast about?? President Zuma may have survived rape charges ( imagine the ignominy of the head of state being accused of rape!!) . But that’s South Africa – a brutally violent society at war against itself.
Yes, it is indeed dangerous to venture out on ones own, at any time of the day or night. Our very polished diplomat, Navdeep Singh, based in Jo’Burg, kept reminding me that this was not Mumbai ! He was spot on. I was staying at a charming guest house no more than half-a-block from his sprawling mansion ( one-and- a half- acres of luxury, with tennis courts and a swimming pool), and yet, strolling over was out of the question. Shri Bhatia, our seasoned high commissioner drove down from Pretoria for a sit down dinner, and was instantly gheraoed by a prominent diamond merchant and other businessmen. Mr.B walks a tight rope. While the TATA name is highly respected ( I spotted their large, gleaming corporate office ), I’m sure it isn’t easy doing business with locals. I’d wondered why most shops and establishments pulled down their shutters by 4.30pm, and remained open for just a few short hours over weekends. “ Because of armed robberies,’’ South Africa’s most famous and controversial cartoonist, Nanda Soobben told me bluntly, as he drove me around in Durban in a gleaming black Mercedes. He had hardly got those words out of his mouth when, at a traffic signal, a drug addict lurched up to the car and thumped on the window aggressively. Nanda remained unfazed as he told the man to go look for some work. He turned to me and grinned, “ People are very jealous of my car here. I tell them I’ve worked very hard to buy it. They can own a Merc too, if they work for it.’’ Two days earlier, at ‘Soi’ a chic Thai restaurant in Jo’Berg, a group of men had walked in through the glass doors, demanding alms from well -heeled diners. An armed bouncer had promptly chased them out, but I can tell you, that was the end of my gourmet meal.
I asked a prominent crime writer I was sharing a panel with in Capetown, what the explanation could be to this ugly phenomenon. She lowered her voice ( there was a predominantly Black and Coloured audience, while she herself was White ). Her response was scarey and troubling. She told me, “ My father is a pediatric surgeon. Most of the surgeries he performs are on little girls – their private parts…. to reconstruct torn vaginas. Open the papers and you will find at least seven or eight reported rapes a day. Most victims are underage kids. Ours is a very, very unstable society. I put the blame squarely on apartheid and what it did to destroy the human spirit. Our people don’t know the meaning of love.’’ Mridul Kumar, India’s Consul in Capetown, mentioned how unthinkable it was for his wife and young daughters to go jogging, even with an armed guard.To make matters worse, aggressive baboons often arrived at their doorstep in search of food. I recalled another conversation with the deputy mayor of Durban ( a person of Indian origin), who made an eloquent speech at a dinner hosted by the dapper Harsh Shringla, India’s Consul General in Durban. The speaker candidly admitted that his grandfather and father were slaves till South Africa became a democracy just fifteen or so years ago. Slaves!!! Ghulams!! That word made my hair stand on end. I couldn’t believe that in this, the 21st century, I was listening to someone calmly referring to his immediate family members as slaves. It was the matter of factness with which he dealt with his past, that was most admirable. But, it was equally disturbing.
After that dinner, I spoke to several other people, including ‘Coloureds’, who seem to be the most bewildered of the lot. They look White, think White, act White. But fall into the Coloured category. Even they can’t explain how they got there. All they know is that they were relocated ( “regrouped’’) to designated areas meant exclusively for them, their lands seized, their homes destroyed…. and that was that. Do they feel bitterness and hate? ‘It’s inevitable’, replied a college professor, who pointed out the ghetto in which he grew up after his family was identified as Coloured by the regime. “Neighbours deposed against neighbours. People like us were ‘outed’ by those who envied our success.” Perhaps the positive fall out of that ‘regrouping’ is the existence of mosques and temples standing cheek by jowl in crowded areas sans any signs of ‘disturbance’.
For all that, South Africa remains a dynamic and ambitious nation. FIFA is round the corner, and the entire country is gearing up for the world event, which is expected to boost tourism in a big way. People are also very proud of the IPL coup, which was handled with great success at short notice. “ If we could pull that off in such a short time, we can definitely score big with FIFA.” The countdown has begun, and there are gigantic electronic boards at strategic places that display the exact number of days still to go before the World Cup. The super fabulous stadium at Durban stands testimony to this grand plan. It resembles a graceful basket that can be wafted off by strong winds. Understandably, South Africa’s latest show piece is a matter of great pride to the locals.
I sorely missed running into any Black Diamonds during my week long stay there. This is a mocking reference to the posh, westernized ladies-who-lunch , flashing the latest fashion labels and wearing pea- sized solitaires. There is a lot of money hidden in South Africa – a lot. But it remains out of sight. Tanya, a beautiful woman ( but not a Black Diamond) repeatedly warned me not to speak on the cell phone while in a car, or open my handbag and flash cash – not even small notes. “ People here kill for less than that.” Sure enough, while driving back from the Cape of Good Hope ( or, more appropriately, the Cape of Storms ), Calvin, my tour operator, did a sharp about turn as we approached what may possibly be an even bigger urban slum than Dharavi on the outskirts of the city. ‘What’s wrong?” I asked. He pointed to a few cars in the distance , “ Look… it’s shoot- out… a hold up. Most vehicles are bullet proof, but these days, burglars pump bullets into the tyres, and then into the occupants.” Phew!! Thanks for the explanation, buddy. And for the presence of mind, I croaked, as we sped off in the opposite direction. Just as we were laughing about our narrow escape, his cell phone rang. It was one of his employees reporting that his brand new mini van had been broken into the previous night and stripped off all removables! His face blanched. As did mine. I was suddenly glad I was taking the flight back to India at dawn.
That said, let me explain the pictures. The group shot should have appeared first, since that was when I was hard at work. The three lovely ladies in the pic include the editor of a woman's magazine, and two feminist writers who have shaken up South Africa with their cheeky novels ( Zuki, the lady with the shaved head has recently published 'Madams'). I thoroughly enjoyed the panel discusion and am hoping we can get the writers across to India for the Jaipur Lit Fest next year.
The more relaxed pic was taken at 'Soi' , a chic Thai restaurant where the food is almost as good as the massage. The lady had just finished working on my tense neck muscles when I looked up and smiled for the flashbulb.
I've had a pretty long day, and want to crash early ( by my mad standards ). But not before watching a movie. Last night, I drooled over John Travolta and 'Saturday Night Fever.' I was watching it after ages.... when boom!! mid-way through it, suddenly the thought hit me that this was no ordinary dance flick. If anything, SNF is a deep, dark and disturbing film, filled with morbid moments and enormous cruelty. It is just that Travolta's moves on the disco floor are so mesmerising, one forgets everything else. Oh,,,, just the innocence in his eyes as he blow dries his hair, is enough to break a million hearts. And that's exactly what happened.... still happens.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Mandela - a giant of a man!!

Attn: Nicole, Mark,Deepali Shobhaa’s World For 21st Sept 2009

Phashion Phaux- Pas….?

Heave ho and here we go! Phashion, phashion everywhere, not a frock to wear!! One more Fashion Week ended. Another one looms. No. Not just one, but several Fashion Weeks loom. Very niche. Very focused. For Men. For Women. For Kids. For dogs.For Bridal Wear. For Lingerie. For Jewellery. For Shoes. For Handbags. For Accessories. For Toenails. But the irony is that like everything else, the fashion industry has been hit really, really hard by the global meltdown. And let nobody fool you into thinking otherwise. It has happened all over the world.From Milan to Tokyo, couturiers are reeling, wondering when the turn around will take place. Closer to home, all those fancy international labels that had marched in with so much hoopla, not so long away, have beaten a hasty retreat and pulled out of what was going to be their dream market along with China. But even more than these guys, the ones directly affected by the recession are our desi designers. As a sharp retail guy with a lot of money riding on his various labels told me, “ Even though some really swanky foreign brands pulled out because of the downturn, they managed to kill a whole bunch of talented local designers who were at the take off stage. Even the established names are finding it very hard to hang in there and attract big ticket customers.” As he explained it, consumers were ready to shell out a pretty packet for a foreign frock, on the basis of its snob value and little else. But suddenly started to feel conned by local designers asking for similar prices, that too for obvious knock offs ( red carpet inspirations, zindabad!). That effectively took care of those people who had a wildly exaggerated notion of their talent and appeal. Apart from splurging on pricey trousseaux, buyers resisted paying ridiculously inflated prices for mediocre clothes. The so-called ‘pret’ lines could not scale up sufficiently. And couture attracted but a handful of regulars who had their pet designers waiting hand and foot on them. In other words, the fashion business, which was at a promising take off stage two years ago, and had graduated from being seen as an indulgence for people with extra garage space, has now gone back to where it started - as a boutique model, catering to neighbourhood socialites.
This is such a pity, given the explosion of bright, young talented designers who were beginning to make their mark and carve out a market for themselves. These kids had trained at the best institutes, and knew their craft, unlike their predecessors who’d cut their teeth on the job, dealing with ‘masterjis’ and darzis who couldn’t go beyond cholis, chaniyas and churidars. It is discouraging, to say the least, that the present doom and gloom scenario may take down a lot of budding designers who deserved recognition far more than some of their seniors in the rag trade. I’m told glitzy, multi brand fashion houses that had thrown their doors open not so long ago, are in trouble as well. Unable to move those pricey frocks from the racks, they are waiting to be bought out by just about anybody who has the lolly.Despite this depressing picture, those whose core business it is to keep the fashion bubble from bursting, are still pretending it is party time! So… brace yourself… do not moan and groan…. the fashion hype is back, with or without buyers!
Just to give you an idea of the scale of my hero's statue at Mandela Square!! Mayawati will be soooo jealous. The dwarf at his feet is moi!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Now do you believe me???

Guys, I am astonished by the number of strange responses to the earlier pic! Here's another lion cub and more 'proof' ' ! Perhaps I am crazy... but I do love animals and the cubs were adorable. The first one is NOT stuffed, and was a bit too 'playful'. I was told not to touch its nose or tail.... or risk getting my head\hand bitten off. But as you can see, tummy tickles are permitted! I hope my credibility is back on track now!
Unlike Mr. Bachchan I had to wait for nearly 24 hours to blog after attending the same function last night. He was at it minutes after leaving the venue. He was kind enough to provide useful tech-tips on how to upload pics from my phone, but I'm still light years away from mastering that skill. I always enjoy running into Mr. B, even when we are spatting. For one, he has a sense of humour. For another, he also has a way with words. At the stylish GQ Awards, where he was given yet another Lifetime Achievement recognition, he was at his debonair best and certainly had the last word when he plugged his own blog as a parting shot. I'm wracking my brains to come up with a suitable blogwar with him in the near future - the issue has to be strong enough. Now that Amitabh is doing his Dr. Freud number in the Bigggggg Bossssss, I'll watch my thoughts before posting them!
Kareena Kapoor handed over an award (same event) to beau Saif Ali Khan with a priceless sign off line . Gushed the maiden while declaring not-so-coyly , " I am so lucky... the winner will spend the night in my arms!" How's that for straight talk?? Are you blushing??? More prude, you!!
Here's the bad news about posting my speech at the Leadership Conclave in Delhi. It was extempore and unscripted. I hate prepared texts and always speak spontaneously after jotting down a few key points on random slips of paper. I am sure the Wockhart Foundation has a video recording, so I'll just ask for it to be uploaded and give you guys the link. All I can tell you is that I spoke from the heart and in my experience that's what works best.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Tigress with a lion cub....

Guys, I managed to upload this image after quite a struggle! But like Ash says in the L'Oreal ad - because it's worth it! This is NOT a photo shopped image. So, please be impressed!! Or at least fake it!
I also tried and failed to attach the lengthy column I'd written for The Asian Age yesterday. Shall give it another go once I'm done at the Pujo Badi (Tejpal) and Maa Durga has blessed me. This is an annual ritual I hate to miss. It brings out the Bong in me!
I was referred to as "the female Al Quaida'' by Mohan Pai ( Infosys wizard ). This was right after my address at the India Leadership Conclave in Delhi. I assure you , he meant it as a huge compliment! After listening to half a dozen uninspiring and politically correct speeches delivered by assorted 'captains of industry', I felt obliged to shake things up a bit! The newly awakened tigress in me did the rest! I was glad to be there, Delhi being such a stuffy place, a bit of Mumbai fireworks didn't harm anybody! Besides.... topic ko dekho!! - " Has the Indian woman finally come of age?" Would you agree anything less than a 'female Al Quaida' approach would have been a let down???

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

National Film Awards.... Jai ho!!

Southern sensibilities score over Sarson da Sagas….

There is reason to rejoice, after several years of stupefying selections at the 55th National Film Awards, finally the latest list provides some measure of optimism. There was a time when lovers of good cinema would pin their hopes on these prestigious awards, believing they were the only ones that cared for quality cinema and shunned the crass commercialization of Bollywood films. Fans also believed these awards were fair and reflected the honest opinions of jury members, without prejudice. At some point, even these awards collapsed in the face of populist pressures and were reduced to being seen as just one more meaningless recognition - another trophy to add to the collection.This year, the awards have gotten back at least a little of the lost glory and sheen. More importantly, they have regained credibility and redeemed the tainted reputation. Jai ho!!
I couldn’t believe my eyes and ears as I watched the news announcing this year’s winners. What??? No big, fat Bollywood blockbuster? No superegos? No scandal or controversy?? I listened as third time winner Prakash Raj, (best actor award), made a modest and sincere sounding speech, without strutting around smirking and crowing, “ I am the best!” I can’t wait to watch ‘Kanchivaram’, Priyadarshan’s award winning movie which he admitted candidly he’d made for himself, after a string of commercial films.
Adoor Gopalakrishnan, that brilliant director from Kerala, whose work I have long admired ( so has the discerning world, the one that exists outside Bollywood’s spell), won for ‘Nellu Pennungal’. This is his 9th National Award. And yet, ask around and check how many film- goers have heard of this genius or watched any of his movies. I am not aware of Umashree or her work, I am ashamed to admit, but would love to catch, ‘Gulabi Talkies’ to see her award- winning performance in it.
Even the ‘new, improved’ National Awards couldn’t afford to snub Bollywood or ignore it totally. A terrific compromise formula has obviously been arrived at so that nobody feels left out. This includes the creation of fresh (comical, according to me) categories, such as ‘Best Family Welfare’ award ( pray, what exactly does that mean?) for ‘Taarey Zameen Par’. While Yashraj was given the ‘consolation prize’ curiously titled “Best Film in Overall Entertainment’ ( if you please!), for ‘Chak de, India.”
Now that the biggies are behind us, here’s hoping equally good sense prevails when India selects a movie to send to the Oscar’s ( first round of the screening process). Films that reflect the true social ethos of our lives and not some completely bizarre, OTT representation that passes for ‘entertainment’ are the ones we should be short listing in the first place. Sure Bollywood produces hugely entertaining masala movies, and I adore the original formula. But if we want to compete in the international arena, it is important to focus on films that are relevant, powerful and cinematically excellent – content-wise and otherwise. This year’s national award- winning movies meet all critical criteria. I hope and pray, we have the good sense, judgement and courage to send a ‘Nallu Pennungal’ or a ‘Kanchivaram’ or a ‘ Gulabi Talkies’ as our choice. India stands a far better chance with any well-crafted regional film than with the slick, glossy, superficial junk that has been sent for the past few years, accompanied by the usual big noise even before the actual selection process has begun. Though frankly, why we obsess over the Oscars remains a mystery to me.

I have mixed feelings about Rani Mukherjee’s latest avatar. Rani is a terrific actress – I’d put her in the Kaajol category. Does she really need to reinvent herself in order to stay in the race and compete against the Kareenas and Katrinas?? Khair, if her new ‘fit and toned’ self makes her feel better, why not? But Rani in a bikini top makes no sense. It is a lousy brand fit that goes completely against her USP. However, it’s the market that rules. My gut feeling tells me the Shahid-Rani combo is going to work big time. Both are talented, ‘wholesome’ actors capable of delivering high voltage performances, if the project and positioning are right. We shall know soon enough.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

YSR... YSL??? Same same, la!! And Sallu's so wanted!!

From YSR to YSL - do Mumbai socialites know the difference??

I swear I am not making this up. The day YSR’s chopper went missing and the media was going overboard with the coverage , there was a typical Mumbai soiree on in full swing at one of those dark and terribly chic lounge bars where black is the only colour worth flaunting and the cocktails are customized. Someone stupid, but trying to sound intelligent, mentioned that YSR was missing in action. The initial blank looks were soon altered to more suitably informed ones. “ But I thought he died some months ago?” exclaimed a lady wearing a bum-scraping dress and lots of pearls. More blank looks. She giggled, “ I’d seen the funeral pics in Vogue… Harper’s…. somewhere.” The man in too tight jodhpurs and black bandgala , coughed discreetly, “ No. You must have seen it in ‘Vanity Fair’ - that double issue dedicated to him.” Ms. Bubble Dress looked seriously worried , before adding, “ You are right, ya…. I was at the salon…. no…. nail spa… flipping through some mags and saw it there…. too sad…. but the tributes were great… especially Carla Bruni’s.” The original bright spark who’d been silly enough to bring up the subject in the first place, swallowed yet another designer cocktail ( vodka-based), and coughed some more . Someone else had joined the conversation by now, “ Wasn’t he the one who invented the LBD and put women in tuxedos?? That’s just so cool!” Huh? Were they talking about the same man??

Oh oh… before any more faux pas were committed, Bright Spark swiftly interjected, “ YSR, ya. Not YSL.” It was the turn of all the Bubble Skirts to swing around and chorus in unison, “WHO?” Bright Spark was trapped. He mumbled apologetically, “ Politician. Andhra Pradesh. Chief Minister. Chopper crash. He may be dead.” Blank stares. Finally, one of the Bubble Dresses broke the silence by saying, “ Oh…. really??Okay….. but we don’t know any politicians. Of course, we know Praful… but he’s a buddy. Who’s this guy you’re talking about?” This is no exaggeration. Most people in Mumbai had never heard of YSR. The first time they did , was after he was dead. But to put things in perspective, the same lot has not heard the name of Maharashtra’s Chief Minister, either. These sort of individuals do not impact their lives on any level. YSR’ s existence was a matter of zero consequence. But YSL’s is. Their fashion quotient is judged on how well they know YSL’s contribution to couture and how well up they are on his breakthrough collections over the years. If they goof up on that, they are finished – dead meat in the fashion circles they court, obsess over and revel in. Never having heard of a dynamic chief minister is a bonus. It shows how isolated they are from the ‘dirty world’ of politics. And a reflection of the pride they take in their self-imposed isolation. This is a growing breed in urban India, and in order to better understand the mindset of the mindless, it is key to figure out why the politics of this country do not touch them at all. The same set of super elitist idiots can be found in the grand salons of Delhi and Bangalore. They know nothing beyond their fashionably-fixed noses. And are unabashedly, unapologetically ignorant. The YSR tragedy merely highlighted the extent of their apathy. In response to an innocent question as to how they can live in a blind alley, their indignant riposte says it all - “ How does it affect our lives, ya? Whether it is YSR or any other politician. Who cares? We are sure YSR must have been one hell of a dude. Good for him. But puh- leeze, can we change the subject now?”
The worry lies embedded in that single line - ‘Can we change the subject, now?” It has become a common refrain across India. With attention spans shrinking, nobody wants to look beyond the next development that is directly connected to their own lives. That, and the distressing media habit of remaining steadfastly focused on trivia and trivia alone, have resulted in an overall deadening of what’s going on in the rest of the ‘boring’ country. I would have glibly blamed it on stepped up regionalism ( some truth in that argument ), but it goes well beyond that sort of narrow mindedness. Most of us really and truly do not give a damn. If people in Mumbai fail to understand the mass hysteria unleashed across Andhra Pradesh in the wake of YSR’s death, and state confidently, “It would NEVER happen here’, it is equally true that folks in Andhra Pradesh would not ‘get it’ or care if anything were to happen to one of our local icons. But if a top Bollywood hero copped it…?? Hmmm.
When I wrote about YSR on my blog, the comments that came in were pretty revealing. Especially from South Indians who have settled overseas. Most said one has to be born a South Indian to understand the love and passion people bestow on their political idols ( examples cited – NTR, MGR). It made me curious. There are any number of Maharashtrians who adore Balasaheb Thackeray, any number of Gujaratis who love and adore Narendra Modi. But enough to kill themselves over them? Naah. Not a chance. Frankly, it sounds crude and cruel to be saying this, but most people in the city have moved on from the YSR story, already. Who succeeds him who doesn’t. What happens to his legacy. What happens to the money? How his death affects the future of Ramalingam Raju. Yup, same chap who is in the ICU and was seen as YSR’s principal bete noire. Who replaces YSR as the Congress Party fund collector in Andhra. Whether all those schemes for farmers will continue on schedule.Or what happens to the vast tracts of land controlled by YSR ( worth 80,000 crores and still counting, according to conservative estimates, even after prices crashed by 40% there). None of these issues bother the aam aadmi. It is back to business as usual. What is far more interesting is Amitabh Bachchan’s new role as a pop psychologist in The Bigg Boss. Rani Mukherjee’s hot new bod in a bikini. Akshay Kumar’s tough talk in Fear Factor, Shahid Kapur’s new puppy\parrot\kitten\tortoise, Saif Ali Khan’s latest gift to Bebo. Bebo’s latest gift to Saif. All this is breaking news. It breaks several hearts. Everything else can wait. But at least, a few key priorities do manage to slip in between Bollywood gup- shup. The proposed multi-crore statue of Shivaji Maharaj, for example. It is being avidly debated by the chattering classes. And this is a positive trend. One of the many alternative suggestions involves using the same funds ( even half the staggering amount will do) to set up a meaningful and permanent memorial to those who lost their lives during the 26\11 terror attacks on Mumbai. This could be a hospital or a shelter that provides a much-needed service to the city that is perpetually reeling under various threats. It is an excellent suggestion, but guaranteed to find no takers in government circles. It is so much simpler to erect monumental statues at a monumental cost. Granted, Shivaji Maharaj is Maharashtra’s greatest hero. But imagine how much greater he would be seen as, if along with him, we could also honour some of our other heroes – people like Tilak, Gokhale and Ranade, who fought valiantly for India’s freedom? Why not a pantheon of Greats? A gallery with impressive statues of all those mahaan individuals who brought glory to Maharashtra.

It’s a question worth asking Mayawati – the statue queen. It’s also a question YSR’s followers should bear in mind before the craze to erect his statues all over Andhra Pradesh goes completely out of hand . We love to deify our leaders. And turn them into modern day Gods and Goddesses. But these attempts to create personality cults need to be curbed right at the start. Here’s hoping the good people of Andhra Pradesh show the way.


I have just come home after watching 'Wanted'. Did I 'want' to see such a 'crappy' film?? For sure!! I love crappy films. They are my ultimate stress -busters. Salman Khan's muscles did all the talking\emoting, as did Ayesha Takia's impressive chest. Between these body parts, there was a great deal of action... no, make that 'ackhshun'. Prabhudeva should dance more and direct less. And Boney Kapoor should just escort Sridevi to Fashion Week now and then. What a combo these people make! This is the sort of movie 'chavvani' audiences back in the 'seventies used to love - good cop, bad cop, vardi ke vaastey kuch bhi karega yada yada . In this crazy film that involves pulping two dozen thugs, one of whom is called 'Golden' ( but ' Charcoal' may have been a more apt 'dak naam'), Salman plays Radhe - an undercover cop who specialises in bump-and-grind routines and eats chaklis between crushing skulls. Ms. Impressive Chest just has to breathe - we are watching you breathe, girl. Don't stop!!! Mahesh Manjrekar plays the lech like its second nature to him ( perhaps it is?). The rest don't count. Salman keeps his shirt on till the very end - when he finally rips it off, the audience climaxes collectively along with the film. Paisa vasool.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Tweeter.... and be damned!

From the Chattering Classes to the Twittering Classes, the transition has been seamless. Today, the world is divided into ‘Those who Tweeter’ and ‘Those who Tweeter not.” Shashi Tharoor belongs to the ‘Oh to twitter, now that autumn is here! I twitter, therefore I am….’ Category. But S.M. Krishna doesn’t. This is leading to a bit of a situation.A diplomatic impasse, that needs Pranab Mukherjee’s intervention once again. Poor Pranabda. First he had to boot out our Seven Star ministers from their five star dens. And now, he may have to curb the enthusiastic tweeter addict in Tharoor. These two fancy gentlemen ( Krishna and Tharoor) have added so much panache to boring briefings. When it comes to the beauty stakes, Tharoor ( younger and prettier), has the clear edge over Krishna.But, sartorial stakes? All those of us in Mumbai who interacted with S.M. Krishna, know that at heart, our dapper Foreign Minister is a closet fashion designer who loves his trendy gear enough to seriously consider launching his own line of men’s wear. This is not a dig or a joke. In a way, both these guys represent a new breed in politics. And we should welcome their kind. So what if they chose to stay in plush suites with staggering tariffs? As Tharoor promptly twittered, “ I would be ashamed if I was spending the people’s money. But I am not. I am spending my own savings.” Good boy. Krishna was equally forthcoming when he retaliated, “ I have made private arrangements.I will continue to do so till I get my house fit enough to be occupied.” Right on, buddy.Yeh log aam aadmi nahi, balke raja aadmi hain. Give them credit for being upfront about their creature comforts. Tharoor has two basic requirements – a state- of- the- art gym ( staying pretty is not easy!). And privacy (but of course – public figures are entitled to their personal lives). Fair enough. Why should these two high flying chaps hole up in some shabby bhavan without basics….. like a bidet? Or room service? There’s a huge difference between a valet and a ‘ramu’ who can’t tell between cutting chai and a fine Darjeeling. Really, Pranabda… you are being too mean. Not everyone can be a Rahul Gandhi and spend nights in jhopdis sleeping uncomfortably on chattais, eating frugal farmer fare. Give these guys a break!! They are handling Foreign Affairs – positioning is everything, ya!!
Seriously though, isn’t it monumentally hypocritical to make such a big number out of such a maamuli incident? Even if these two were shelling out a lakh of rupees per day to stay in the style they are accustomed to, so what? So long as they were footing their own bills, nobody has the right to object. In any case, if one digs deeper, what’s the bet those other ‘holier-than-thou’ pseudo-Socialists in government spend an equal amount on their lifestyles, but not as conspicuously. Who knows where that money comes from?Or how kosher the payments are? I recall breakfasting with the ultimate Gandhian, Shri Morarji Desai, many moons ago. I was staggered by the lavish spread of satvik items, including badam-pistas, assorted fruit platters, fresh butter and goat’s milk. For as austere a person as Morarjibhai, this was a repast fit for a king! It is time we stopped wasting our time on such meaningless exposes. Let’s face it, our netas are the new royals. They live far, far better than the people they claim to represent. We, the tax payers, provide the funds that keep them safe and well- fed. We don’t grudge them their perks. So, why harrow just these two shaukeen, high profile men who believe that living well is still the best revenge? For some odd reason, politicians have built up a strange case against what is cutely called the ‘Five Star Culture’. Yet, they are the ones who revel in it the most – and worse – expect us poor suckers to pay for their excesses most times. At least Tharoor and Krishna are being entirely upfront in this regard. They are posh people, and they make no apologies for it. If they refuse to reside in those Bhavans, as suggested by Pranabda, they are entitled to do so. And if the real worry is about the ‘wrong signal’ their five star lives may send to the unwashed masses, give us a break! Does anybody out there really give a damn? What people want is deliverables at any cost. And this is where my case weakens. Krishna and Tharoor have not exactly covered themselves in glory in their sensitive posts. Perhaps the temperature of the water in the hotel jacuzzi was not quite right??
Let’s hope their new temporary digs are comfortable enough . No khatmals in the khatiya. No frogs in the loo. Now if only Tharoor would twitter less and do more, all will be forgiven. Promise!
Is it wits who tweet.... or twits ? You decide!
I have had a long day.....but a productive one. I inaugurated 'ETHICUS' wearing one of the most exquisite sarees produced by master weavers from the Kabini reservoir area and dyed with eco friendly, organic dyes . The weaver, Shri K.Nagaraj took four days to weave this 'ethical' saree, and it is truly a masterpiece. I felt so proud of our rich textile traditions which go back centuries, when I lit the ceremonial lamp and met the talented weaver in person! In case you are interested in learning more about this label ( I call it a movement ), visit
It may interest you to know that the label has been launched by a third generation cotton family from Coimbatore, involved in sustainable agriculture.

Dil Bole 'Wah Wah'......!

In other words, I LOVED the film, even if the title sucks, and Rani is more Bubbli than Veera! But it is Shahid who captures hearts with a slick and cerebral performance in a movie that is supposed to belong to (ghar ki) Rani. Not that Aditya Chopra's girl does not deliver. Rani is superb as Veer Pratap, but as Veera, it is yesterday once more. Plus, the close- ups are a little cruel. The thing about Rani is that she has blinded us with her wholesome appeal over years, and it is impossible to switch gears and accept her in an ill -fitting gold bikini top. Kyon???? You want to scream. Leave that to the hungry bimbettes who need the exposure ( pun!). Rani is way above the rest in the histrionics game, and she isn't going to woo new admirers by stripping. By the time the credits roll and the bikini-harem pants finally come on, the audience is already in love with her. Besides, the work that has gone into her performance is equally evident, when she hits those balls out of the field. The script is king , here. What an unusual story, and how cleverly executed, minus any artificiality ( if you can ignore Rakhi Sawant and some horsy creature called Sonia, clad in lame hot pants). This is the sort of 'family entertainment' that has been ignored for too long by our hot shot producers busy chasing ludicrous plots and action thrillers sans logic. It is very much an old- fashioned, sweetly chaste, unapologetic 'sarson da saga', more Punjabi than makki di roti, but equally palatable. The OTT Yash Raj touches are everywhere, particularly in a silly 'date' sequence, in which Shahid takes over a typical dhaba to woo his 'Buffalo Girl', no, not with lassi , rabri and jalebis alone, but a chilled bottle of Moet!
The 'Nautanki' dressing room resembles a Baz Lurhmann set from 'Moulin Rouge', or at least the dressing rooms of the ongoing Lakme India Fashion Week. Some nautanki company, this!! To justify it, Rakhi Sawant performs a sizzling item number that leaves Bipasha Basu's 'Bidi', in its packet... or at the gatepost. Rani as Veer Pratap, matches her step for step in this wonderfully choreographed number. As for Shahid's hot moves and his SRK take- off - the man struts his stuff with absolute panache. He could so easily replace ALL the Khans with his freshness in this role. Far more convincing here than in that embarrassingly gauche, stutter-lisp 'Kaminey' double dholki. His bod looks hot - all compact abs and strong tennis wrists. Let's hope success doesn't corrupt this young actor. He could be the 21st century Dilip Kumar.
As for Rani..... darling, you proved your point. You are the best. Now, will you just go off and get married, please?
And yes, leave those LBDs to the wannabes. Stick to patialas and mojris - nobody wears them better.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Out of Africa....

Believe me when I say this - I missed this space more than any other!! And I tried every trick in the book to schnuck away and post a blog. But my minders would have none of it! Given my frenetic schedule and the slower than slow internet speed in South Africa, it was a seriously frustrating experience. Though, I have to say, our very charming diplomat , India's Consul General , Harsh Shringla, in Durban, did invite me to use the internet facilities in his sprawling, colonial mansion ( all stained glass and polished teak ), but given that the dinner was being hosted for us, it would have appeared mighty rude to sneak off and blog! His 'Exalted Highness' ( as someone referred to him !), was at his urbane best at the Q & A sessions , post- our readings at the DTU, where Ilaben Gandhi ( yup. same family) presides in all her khadi saree glory. Considering I was sharing the platform with two outstanding scholars from India - Ramchandra Guha ( rated as one of the most influential intellectuals of our time by the mighty 'Economist' no less),, and my old friend Arshia Sattar ( who has a doctorate in sanskrit from the university of Chicago - earned so as to enable her to translate Valmiki's Ramayana), it was an exhilerating experience to be steeped in the rarefied world of academia for 8 days.
Since this was my second trip to the Dark Continent, I was somewhat prepared... but not entirely, as it turned out. When I asked why shops shut by 4 .30pm and remain closed over weekends ( more or less), locals explained it had to do with safety in a terrifyingly violent society, which sees armed robberies on a daily basis. The streets are empty after dark, and visitors are advised never to flash their cell phones or any cash. Public transport barely exists and cabs are unsafe. Night life comes to a standstill by 10pm ( that's when Mumbai gets into first gear!). Despite that, there are some fabulous restaurants like Harvey's, and once the South African Sauvignon Blanc starts to flow, nothing matters, not even the possibility of getting mugged en route to the waiting car!
The whales in Capetown greeted me by name, and the penguins rushed to shake my hand. It was only the baboons who refused to make eye contact, but I wasn't interested in flirting with them either. After eating kudu samosas at Moyo's, and ostrich fillets at a superlative restaurant in the Tokwara vineyard, my palate had broken free and was feeling adventurous enough to sample anything - from wilde beast steaks to zebra medallions. It is easy to be seduced by Capetown's many splendours. But I left my heart in the prestigious Stellenbosch university campus. To call it 'pretty' is to undermine its spectacular beauty, spread over acres of flowering trees and lushly landscaped gardens. I was bewitched. So, when the erudite Rector of the University asked whether I'd like to come back and take a few creative writing classes there, I jumped at the chance and said 'yes, yes, yes' instantly.
The skies over Capetown are like no other in the world ( Paris comes in at second spot). Driving to the Southern tip, better known as the Cape of Good Hope ( or, the Cape of Storms), I couldn't get over their vastness, as the two oceans ( Indian and Atlantic) collided angrily along the rocky shore, while in the distance, the waters merged with the heavens above. I balanced uneasily and unsteadily over the rocks, while Calvin, my charming minder, clicked pictures for the album.
My flight back was rather dramatic.... but more on that tomorrow. I am satiated after a hearty meal of desi ghar ka khaana ( velvety baigan bharta and garlicy toor daal ). Babita, my masseuse , had pounded my weary bones for an hour earlier. Sleep beckons.... if I were Shashi Tharoor, I'd tweet .... cho chweet!! But mercifully....I am not. If I can upload my amazing pictures cuddling lion cubs, I'll do so tomorrow. But for now.... good night.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Greetings from Jo'Burg !

First the awful news - I had written a l-o-n-g post that is somewhere in cyber space! As all you super smart guys out there must know, the internet in South Africa is slower than a carrier pigeon!! I swear ! So, here i am, sitting in the sunny drawing room of a lovely villa, keying this in on a borrowed laptop. Fingers crossed, this time. My one big dream to meet my biggest hero, Nelson Mandela,will remain a dream. He lives one street away, but is frail and not allowed visitors by his minders. I dried my tears when I heard that and bought myself a Mandela locket and cushion cover - small consolations.
'Words on Water', the Lit Fest, kicked off on a high note. I was delighted to meet contemporary writers from this vast and intriguing country. Our dynamic Consul General Navdeep Singh, has been the driving force behind 'Shared Histories', now in its third year. Do locals love Indians? Not really. And I'm not surprised. It was the IPL that drew people's attention apna desh and that's where it remains. Sachin Tendulkar is God. And therefore the Mumbai Indians are the hot favourites. The diasporawallas are far, far removed from what is going on back in India. Their version of life in Bharat comes straight from Bollywood. I didn't want to disillusion them!
Aaaah - the khaana peena scene is outstanding. Very refined, international and imaginative.Of course, all wine lovers are aware of the exceptional wines of South Africa, it is the food that is a big surprise. But it is meant strictly for meat eaters. No ghaas phoos in sight. Imagine restaurants called 'Carnivore' and the 'Butcher's Shop'. Before, I run off ( I have a flight to catch to Durban), let me just say, South Africa ( my second visit) grows on you... and grows on you. Right now, I have a date with the lions. More in my next post. Possibly from Durban. If not, then from Capetown, for sure!!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


Darlings, I tried hard to paste and post the relevant information.... but with no Arundhati ( my technical advisor) around, I am handicapped! So the best I can do is to point you in the right direction. Which is this :
Visit the website and GIVE!! Donations can be made directly.
I am off.... more from South Africa!
P.S. Even if I say so myself, 'Savvy' is worth a looksie and a read!
Reactions welcome!

Bimbos and Rambhas...

Bimbo Bullock…?

Sandra Bullock happens to be one of Hollywood’s more intelligent and accomplished actresses. Audiences love her playing a tough cop or the female boss from hell.That has always been her positioning – “Bullock has ‘b@#*@s of steel”, declare her admirers in awe. It is true. Bullock has built her rock solid career on roles that emphasise her ‘macho’ appeal. So, if such a high profile star starts shouting from the rooftops that she “wants boobs” as she can’t wait to become a “sex object”, one should understand the irony built into the remark. Of course , she’s joking!! At least , one hopes she is! After Bullock went on and on about how disappointing it was that her brains were in her butt, and not in her boobs, she was asked about opting for silicon implants in order to rectify the problem. She gushed she was entirely open to the idea, and stated she was shopping around for enough silicon to qualify as a legit, honest to goodness bimbo with bumps in the right places. I thought it would end there. She’d made her point, and could we just get back to her next movie, please? Now comes a fresh set of quotes about Bullock’s liposuction fixation! When a journo asked her the secret of her toned body, she confessed it was “loads and loads of lipo.” Maybe she and her publicist have jointly decided it’s cool to talk down on the subject and make a monumental joke out of the current obsession for the Body Beautiful. But you know what, Ms. Bullock? These sort of send- ups tend to bite back. Fans take star quotes at face value and may not possess the requisite intelligence\sense of humour to laugh over these clever remarks. Unless of course Sandra is not jesting in the first place! Oh dear!
In our own context, our sense of humour is distinctly different. I watched ‘Quick Gun Murugan’ and realized I was the only person in a largely empty cinema hall who was laughing at Mango Dolly’s double entendres. Mango Dolly is played by the luscious Rambha in a Dolly Parton-style blond wig ( cleavage to match). Since the entire movie is a spoof ( not that funny, alas!), Rambha’s cheesy lines as she tries to seduce the hero, come off sounding slightly ridiculous instead of tongue-in-cheek. Our audiences cannot handle this sort of broad comedy, especiallycoming from a woman mouthing wicked lines. Rambha fell flat on her face along with the rest of the cast. Why? Her gangster’s moll portrayal played against the stereotype. The big difference between a Rakhi Sawant declaring her ( plastic) assets in print and a Sandra Bullock lamenting the absence of hers, is not the same thing. Rakhi’s silicon boosters are used blatantly to further objectify her sex appeal. Sandra mocks society’s pathetic hang -up on women’s bodies.Two dramatically opposed ends of the spectrum.

A couple of years earlier, our trusting fans were brainwashed by Kareena Kapoor into turning their backs on normal figures and embracing Size Zero . They were successfully deprogrammed and weaned away from their earlier fascination with the heroines’ generous curves. Bollywood depended heavily on padded bras before the advent of silicon. And no matter how generously endowed the leading lady may have been, it was mandatory to fill her brassiere with enough cotton wool to stuff a sofa. We loved our super voluptuous apsaras, and any woman under Size 12, was considered anorexic, even consumptive. When a producer said he wanted his heroine to look ‘healthy’, it meant just one thing – and the costume department swiftly got the message – pump up the bra. Today, our leading ladies give countless interviews on drastic weight loss programmes constructed by personal trainers so as to conform to the latest Gay director’s notion of a desirable female form (strictly no curves!). Poor Rani Mukherjee is resembling a dehydrated prune in her new release all because of that bloody diet she was put onto. We want our curves back – cellulite and all! We want the old fashioned ‘healthy’ heroine running around trees with body parts jiggling in time with her wriggling. To hell with Size Zero. Thank you, Sandra Bullock for providing a much needed debate on the subject. Rambha rocks, I say. Mind it!


Okay guys. I am going to love you and leave you. I am off to Jo'Burg tonite, though why I'm flying Qatar Air to go to South Africa completely beats me!! I love the theme of the Lit Fest - it's called 'Words over Water', and apart from readings, interviews and other such 'literary' events spread across universities in Durban and Capetown, there will be music, dance and cinema, too. I'm greatly looking forward to meeting other writers, particularly those from South Africa. My laptop stays home. So, that makes me incommunicado till the 17th or 18th. But I have a feeling I won't be able to stay away from this space for such a long time. If you do hear from me, consider it a bonus - for me! But before I bid adieu, dear Blogdosts, here's a tip - check out the September issue of 'Savvy'. You may - ahem- recognise the cover girl.... and be interested in her story. Hint: Her name begins with an 'S'. Ha ha.... yenjoy!

Oh... one more thing. I'll be posting again, later tonight. The Mumbai Marathon will soon be upon us (17th Jan 2010). I 'd bravely attempted the Dream Run a couple of years ago for 'CHILDLINE' - an NGO that is doing exemplary work in the area of child protection. Please help me break a few records this time!! Not speed. Funds ! More in the next post. I've spoken to Shahid Kapur this morning and requested him to run for us. Dil Boley Hadippa..... I hope I got that right!


Monday, September 7, 2009

Rakhi Ka Swearing -in....

Elections – Maharashtra-ishtyle - Rakhi for C.M.!!

Maharashtra has a great folk tradition of Tamasha. Just like West Bengal has ‘Jatra. Next month our mahaan state will host one of the biggest tamashas - it’s called the elections. The characters vary, but the mood doesn’t. We’ll watch the build -up, hoping for some newness… change…. dynamism…. sincerity of purpose. But what we are likely to get are the same old ‘paatrey’, in different garb. As of now, various parties are in the process of identifying appropriate candidates. Known Devils are preferred – never mind their credentials. Any ‘face’ will do – winners of reality shows, small- time tv stars, failed singers, has- been Bollywood actors, koi bhi chalega! But if you ask me, the real coup will be to rope in Rakhi Sawant – not as a campaigner but a candidate. I’d like to see her perform her inimitable ‘nautanki’ as she goes from taluka to taluka asking for votes. Rakhi is as Maharashtrian as vada pav and equally yummy. I think she’d make a great chief minister. Don’t laugh! The woman has guts, is practical and can communicate with the masses. She doesn’t take ‘no’ for an answer, and remains undaunted at all times. Since the present guy (Ashok Chavan) is largely invisible anyway, Maharashtra could do with a high visibility, phataka of a C.M. who bonds with the best and comes up with highly original one liners ( “jo dikhta hai wo bikta hai” ) . With Rakhi at the helm of affairs, there will be photo-ops by the micro-second, and with some luck, maybe a wardrobe malfunction or two. Policy matters?? Oh come on, when was the last time anybody in Maharashtra was concerned about such basics… such mundanities? Rakhi can hire the creative directors of her ‘Swayamwar’ show to provide a daily briefing ( and de-briefing). She is unbeatable when it comes to dialogue-maaro-ing. Her hand- picked cabinet can feature all those guys who were vying for her hand in the top-rated tv show, but didn’t make the final cut. Her current fiancé, the man from Canada ( what’s his face?), could open up trade channels with his country if given the Industries portfolio. The other beefy types could handle Sports, Law and Order, Social Welfare(especially, women’s issues), Labour, Education ( liberal arts, in particular) . Finance will stay with Rakhi herself, since she has done a pretty good job of climbing to the top of the heap from a lowly, humble start. Her OTT dress designer could easily handle Home Affairs ( ha!). This is going to be fun. I’m lovin’ it!! What a fantastic future awaits Maharashtra…. Rakhi could persuade those poor farmers in Vidharba not to commit suicide with just a personal visit and a few jhataks - mataks … to say nothing about fake promises of better times to come. Our broke State could do with some serious morale boosting and a pumping up of low ratings, with Rakhi sitting on the main ‘gaadi’ in Mantralaya. She is hot, ripe and ready for the role … err… job. Now if only some smart political party is clever enough to rope her in. Raj? Uddhav?? Go for it, guys. Think out of the box. Forget the usual suspects. The public is bored to death with the same, thakela candidates. Besides, look at it this way – who but a Rakhi Sawant can take on a Mayawati in our backyard? Behenji’s formidable financial assets are known to all….. but what are those when compared to Rakhi’s phenomenal assets? Asli or nakli – it hardly matters these days. Remember – jo dikhta hai, who bikta hai. Kyon, Rakhi??
Have been receiving the funniest emails after this appeared in Bombay Times today. Prasad Bidapa, one of my wittiest friends, has a few superlative suggestions for a Rakhi ka Swayamwar' sequel. He has suggested 'Rakhi Ki Suhaagraat'. He added cheekily, " To participate,contact NDTV IMAGINE. Hurry!! Limited beds."
I saw 'Chintuji' this evening, and found it the sweetest film. Innocent, simple, entertaining and pertinent. Rishi Kapoor, I read somewhere, was miffed with the producers about the lack of promotion. And rightly so. 'Chintuji' is a far more worthy effort than most of the ridiculously hyped films that are generously given 3 and 4 stars by the easy-to-impress critics. It has originality , for one. And a pretty neat script. The performances are passable, but never cringe- making. And the crazy song with a list of internationally renowned directors ( Kurosawa, Truffaut, de Sica to Satyajit Ray) is just so clever! The silly love story that forms the parallel track was entirely unnecessary. It is Rishi Kapoor's film all the way - and just as well. He is one of our most competent actors and it is good to see him in a full -fledged role - spoofing himself ! What can be cuter than that??

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Y.S.R. - r.i.p

Sach Ka Saamna, anyone??
The man was comparatively young. Comparitively dynamic. And now he is dead. There have been speeches galore. Tributes galore. A state funeral. But all in vain.Bad timing, bad karma and bad judgement did YSR in. Whether you were his foe or friend, there is no denying the tragedy – an avoidable tragedy at that. Of course, there will be the usual enquiries and buck passing. Of course, conspiracy theories will do the rounds. But for those with no axe to grind and nothing to gain or lose from the death of Andhra Pradesh’s newly- minted chief minister, several troubling questions may go unanswered. Apart from anything else, four other lives were lost along with YSR’s. Nobody has paid the slightest attention to the sorry plight of their families. Whose decision was it to take the doomed flight into hostile terrain in miserable weather? Do the loved ones of the pilots, group captain S.K.Bhatia, captain M.S. Reddy and the relatives of YSR’s principal secretary S. Subramanayam, plus his chief security officer A.S.C.Wesley, have no right to question authorities, demand explanations? Or are their lives less valuable, somehow?
Watching the coverage across television channels, it was distressing to note that the disaster was covered in such an insensitive and lopsided manner. Granted, a VVIP was killed and deserved extensive coverage – but to the exclusion of the others? That is the trouble in India – this is but one example of our feudalistic mindset that only recognizes and values Very Important People. We forget them equally fast, but that’s another story. In this case, the ‘Tiger of Cuddapah’ was felled under circumstances that remain unclear. After all that speculation about the chopper being shot down by armed Maoists lurking in the Nallamalla hills, there are other self-styled theorywallahs who refuse to accept that it was nothing more dramatic than perhaps a pilot error that caused the devastating crash. Such is the vitiated and vicious political climate in the country, that people are willing to believe the worst rumours. YSR was the star fund collector of the Congress party. In a way, he was also the ‘anointed one’ – a recent development that did not suit several well- entrenched members of the inner coterie. In much the same way that Madhavrao’s rapid rise in the party hierarchy upset the top Chanakyas in the cabinet at the time.Ironically, the erstwhile Maharaja also died in a crash.
This is India, boss. We can’t help it if we search wildly for clues that satisfy us when tragedy strikes. Some consult the stars – as has happened in YSR’s case (inauspicious muhurutam for the swearing- in ceremony, it seems!), others use their robust common sense ( why would an intelligent, educated , dynamic leader insist on flying into hostile territory given the hideous weather?). And then there are those who claim to be ‘in the know’. These are the dangerous ones who parade hearsay as the gospel truth and propagate malicious bazaar gossip that we so love! Whether or not poor YSR met his ghastly end on account of several collective errors of judgement rather than a sinister conspiracy to bump him off, the speculations will carry on – sorry – but that’s how it is when any prominent person suffers an unnatural, untimely death. And frankly, politicians should learn to deal with the muck that follows rather than suppress the voices of those asking uncomfortable questions. YSR’s followers have the right to know how it happened, why it happened. Plus, citizens would appreciate an honest response to the question, ‘After YSR, who?’Again, it is such an Indian thing to do when a politician dies in office – authorities promptly install the son \ widow \ daughter \ girlfriend on his gaddi. This is desi sentimentality at its ickiest. It is hoped better sense will prevail this time. YSR was a unique character, described admiringly as ‘stubborn’ by his fans. It was this trait that got the Congress its stunning tally of 33 seats in the last elections. Clearly, his 1,400 kms ‘padayatra’ in 2003 paid rich dividends. And had impressed 10,Janpath sufficiently to promote YSR - from just another regional satrap to a valued national leader, capable of mobilizing not just megabucks for the party, but mega supporters, too. Such an elevated and pampered position comes with its own risk factors. YSR was flying high – really high. But not high enough this time. The ill-fated, 11- year-old helicopter taking the chief minister to the launch of his Rachcha Banda ( village camp), crashed into a low hill and was instantly smashed into smithereens. With that ended the fascinating saga of YSR – the aam aadmi politician whose life was abruptly cut down on a stormy morning, leaving the perplexed nation wondering whether such a horrific accident could have been avoided. It’s a shame that it takes a tragedy to raise tricky questions. But going by the sms-es doing the rounds, here’s one that needs to be addressed in the spirit of fair and free enquiry - “ Billed as ‘India’s biggest ever search’ 5,000 jawans, an ISRO remote sensing aircraft, a Sukhoi, 14 search and rescue choppers, the forest department police, paramilitary forces, Chenchu tribal guides…. all mobilized within 3 short hours for a missing C.M. Was the Central Government sleeping during the 60 hours of Mumbai terror attacks on 26\11 ?”
Saach Ka Saamna, anyone??
Clearly this column has touched several chords going by the response. I was away in Alibag over the weekend - a very wet and very quiet weekend. Strangely, I had Michael Jackson on my mind . Perhaps his funeral ( finally!) re-triggered the memories, but I just had to watch something that brought him alive once more. My husband produced MJ's concert in Bucharest, recorded live, and I devoured it for two straight hours, unable to tear myself away even for a popcorn break. Just watching him dance and sing his way into thousands of hearts that night, made me vividly recall his concert in Mumbai ( thank you, Raj Thackeray!!), when he'd cast a similar spell on all those of us Mumbaikars who were blessed enough to hear him that wonderful night. Magical Michael!You were and remain the best

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Genuine 'Sadhna'....

Last evening, I went to the Coomaraswamy Hall (attached to the Prince of Wales museum), to inaugurate an exhibition and sale of work produced by the 600 women artisans who make up 'Sadhna' - which was started in Udaipur in 1988. The remarkable thing about 'Sadhna' is that all the women are co-owners and stake holders, who have worked exceedingly hard for their modest rewards. Today, their exquisite, hand -crafted quilts, home accessories as well as trendy apparel, have found markets in upscale stores like FABINDIA. But despite that, they lead a pretty grim existence, and I believe they deserve far greater recognition for their wonderful creations. Anywhere else in the world, consumers would have valued the beauty of their skills - after all, we are talking about one-offs that are embroidered and embellished by human hands, not machines. There is such a premium on such material in the West. Here, in India, we take it entirely for granted. Months of painstaking labour goes into a bright and beautiful patchwork silk quilt, held together by a simple running stich. Or the precision involved in the appliqued tussore sarees that drape like a dream and are timeless in appeal. I could have gone completely berserk buying every stole, dupatta and saree in sight. But I controlled myself and restricted the purchases to just three items.
The other good thing about Sadhna is that these women have now become decision makers within their community. They operate their own bank accounts, save for the future and are covered by insurance policies. Most importantly, they can hold their heads high and live a life of dignity. I was particularly impressed by one lady, a young widow who' s raising her son under daunting circumstances. Thanks to 'Sadhna', she is financially self- sufficient and free of tyranny that a closed society subjects helpless women to. While listening to her story, I found myself weeping along with her.... but my tears ( and hers!) dried soon enough when we saw the response to the works on display. There is hope - there is always hope.
Suchitra Krishnamoorthi ( Shekhar Kapur's ex) is often in the news for all the wrong reasons, poor girl. Last week it was a case of misinformation and a mistaken identity ( employing an underage maid), this week it is her revelation that she was propositioned by a big time producer( she has not named the guy), when she tried to make it in movies. The casting couch exists!!! Guys this is news!!! Geddit? It's a little like the Loch Ness monster. Or the Yeti. Nobody wants to confirm their existence, but nobody cares to deny it either. How very ho hum. Had she nailed the man openly, I'd say, 'Bravo!' This late revelation doesn't mean a thing. Film folks must be laughing their guts out - has even a single heroine been spared?? If you can't stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen. If you don't want to bed a producer\director\music composer\actor\actor's chamcha\actor's spotboy\actor's father\chaiwallah\make- up man\cameraman\publicist\ - the list is endless, and could possibly include the dhobi on the set, stay home and as far away from Bollywood as possible.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Lalbaugh Ganpati must be weeping....

Our visit to pay homage ( He is the Raja of Rajas, remember) this year, was an unmitigated disaster. The entire experience was unpleasant and awful, making one wonder why chaos rules even though the authorities are well aware of the burgeoning numbers. There are no systems in place, zero crowd control and to make things worse, nobody seems to be in charge! This is a dangerous zone, and I am amazed there have been no casualties so far. I was told over 16 lakh devotees rushed to Lalbaugh on sunday, leading to a complete breakdown of whatever arrangements had been made. I went on a monday afternoon, to discover lakhs of very frustrated people being shoved and pushed around by over zealous 'volunteers', who behaved like the worst bullies on earth. There were infants and young children with hapless parents trying to protect them from falling down and getting trampled in the melee. All those bewildering queues meant nothing at all, as the crowds surged forward aggressively, nearly knocking down the metal detectors. Madness! Once inside, there was no way out. No emergency exits, no exingency plan. Had there been even the smallest crisis ( someone fainting ), there was no way any help could reach the person. People were throwing coconuts at the deity's feet unable to get close enough to hand them over to the priests. These coconuts were lethal - like missiles that could kill an unsuspecting pilgrim. The atmosphere was tense and miserable. Ones thoughts could not possibly turn to God under these stress -inducing circumstances. I wanted to escape.... but how? Once in, people were trapped.Scarey and disturbing. When it should have been uplifting and divine.
I have been keeping my tryst with the Raja for years. The pandemonium this time has given me such a jhatka. This is really not how it should be. There is enough money in the kitty to make better arrangements and get some professionals on board for some serious crowd managemenet. The cops were too over- worked and sleep- deprived to care. The commandos were hanging around looking confused, leaving all arrangements to officious organisers who only seem to get their act together when a Katrina Kaif comes by for a photo-op. Can we not anticipate the numbers and ensure there is some regard to the safety factor? This year, we were also combating Swine Flu, and yet no attempt was made to educate the lakhs entering a narrow lane crammed with mask-less believers, who kept naively repeating, " But Ganpati will protect us." Add to that the on - going security threat, and the entire exercise became a horror story. Tomorrow is the Visarjan day. A friendly cop called this morning to ask whether I wanted to take another shot at saying goodbye to Ganpu at Lalbaugh today. I hastily declined. I'm sure Ganpati had heard my prayers on monday. They were for him! We cannot do this to Mumbai's beloved God. Let us find ways to restore lost dignity so that next year, devotees can enjoy a better and safer access to the Benign One.
Here's the promised feedback to 'Quick Gun Murugun" - it was a letdown, I say!! A few good lines (good, not brilliant!), cannot hold a flimsy script together. Dr. Rajendra Prasad was sincere, loveable and innocent in a poorly written role. The problem with QGM is the timing. Those of us who remember the early MTV promos went to the movie hoping to revisit the madness and originality of the concept. But does a cool concept necessarily travel well across decades and generations? To me, it was a forced and dated attempt at inducing magic into a dead idea.Apart from the hilarious names ( Rice Plate Reddy etc), nothing else made any sense. The one promising dance track right at the beginning, was chopped just as we got to the 'Gimme a thumka' .Worst sin of all - nobody laughed!!