Thursday, October 29, 2009

Our Invisible C.M.

Phir Wohi Din Aaye….

Maharashtra has a new C.M. – well, a recycled one. Congratulations Ashok Chavan! Now, will you kindly stand up and be counted?? We, the people of this city would really like to get to know you. At least, a little. We barely recognize you since you have not taken the trouble to interact with the aam aadmi and aam aurat of Mumbai. I have frequently called you the Invisible C.M. – not to put you down, but to galvanise you into engaging with the public.You seem like an affable chap, and clearly ‘Madam’ is pleased with you. But is that enough? Why not please us also? It is important for the chief minister of any state to reach out to its people and familiarize them with plans and blueprints for progress – assuming they exist in the first place. Madam clearly trusts you, and has astutely provided a second chance . Establish your credentials immediately. Your predecessor was an ever- smiling, cheerful bloke who had gone flat out to court Mumbai. Never mind that when Mumbai most needed him ( 26\11), he wasn’t around. Or, at any rate, what came through was ineptness and delayed reactions. His ‘terror tour’ of the hotel lobby, accompanied by a movie man, finally did him in. After that, his fate was sealed. Not that it mattered – he made it to Delhi. And now claims he is perfectly happy being there. The point is, Vilasrao Deshmukh knew the art of making friends and winning people ( maybe he had read Dale Carnegie in a marathi translation ). His social diary was more crowded than a Page 3 perennial, and those who had interacted with him, invariably came away praising his people skills.
You, on the other hand, remain an unknown entity. Granted, nine months in office earlier, were not enough to establish yourself. But come on… you are a second generation politician. Your late father, S.B.Chavan, was an astute politician and Congress stalwart. You have a natural advantage and headstart. You are young (51), educated (science graduate with an MBA attached). You’ve been in active politics since your Youth Congress days. You’ve even worked in Vilasrao’s cabinet as a minister for industries and cultural affairs. You are no green horn or novice. So… get on with it. The people’s mandate is with your party. There are no excuses and escape routes. You have a free hand to lead the state out of its present mess. That’s your job description.
You have your 52nd birthday coming up this week. The people of Maharashtra wish you well. You have made the right noises after your appointment by stating, “…. now in the golden jubilee year of the state, we want to reach the top. That too in a time bound manner.” The operative words here are ‘time -bound’. We are going to hold you to that promise. We will be waiting and watching very closely this time. You may have delivered seats in the election for Madam, for which you are being richly rewarded. So it goes in politics - no issues. But your time starts now. You have also said you want to keep Maharashtra’s flag flying high. It is long overdue.Just as you have declared ‘time-bound’ programmes for our state, we, its beleaguered citizens are also giving you a ‘time- bound’ period to prove yourself. We want action. We want it now. We know, Maharashtra isn’t an instant pizza. But we also know politicians make tall claims. This time, mere words won’t do. Deliver – or we get our money back. Just like with ‘late arrival’ pizzas. Good luck. And Happy Birthday.
I have just come back after watching 'This is It'. This really is it, you know. And I get the eerie feeling MJ knew it, too. The man is extraordinary , hypnotic and rivetting. I couldn't take my eyes off the screen for even a micro second. We are so lucky to get this rare and precious glimpse into a top class professional's preparations for a concert. It shows a person not just dedicated to the highest standards of his musical gifts, but someone who understands every small nuance of that mighty industry we call 'entertainment'. No detail is too small for MJ's critical eyes and ears. When he urges his back -up singers to 'nurture the music', you can sense his tenderness. Or when he asks his musicians to 'bathe the tracks in moonlight', perform 'with love' you understand the poet in him. He looks just amazing - lithe and beautiful. And filled with divine energy. He certainly does not give the impression that he is sickly or pumped up with drugs. MJ NEED NOT HAVE DIED! What a tragic waste of such supreme talent. What also comes through is his generosity of spirit and immense grace. He encourages a slightly overawed lead guitarist to take centrestage and ' shine' , since it is her moment! He constantly thanks the team and applauds the efforts put in by even the lowliest technicians. 'God bless you', he repeats, each time someone does something well. Goodness and love radiate from his being. And so does his genius.
Even though he was working with the world's top choreographers, he knew precisely which dance moves he wished to make - he knew instinctively when to pause, when to linger, and how to maximise a dramatic moment. There is much to learn from MJ.
It made me wonder whether we have anyone of his calibre with the same level of commitment and perfectionism. To watch MJ rehearse is to understand and appreciate the magic of the 'one and only'. God bless him.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


Okay, okay. I did expect strong reactions to the open letter - but THIS impassioned?? The most interesting ones came from non- maharashtrians. The first guy ( MBA type) said flatly, " You have provided Raj with a sound marketing plan - he should thank you for the same." The second one ( from a canny businessman ) echoed the sentiment. This gentleman said, "It's a blueprint for the future. If the MNS wants to grow and establish its credibility, they should read the letter carefully. Your tone is that of an elder sister providing SENSIBLE advice to an impetuous brat brother." Think positive.
Look..... you guys can read whatever you want into that missive. I wrote it because I felt it. I am nobody to offer 'advice'. But as a person who loves Mumbai, Maharashtra, India ( not in that order necessarily), I am glad I got the opportunity to articulate my feelings on a touchy yet potent issue. The entire world is grappling with the question of identity - it is at the core of our being. We need to know who we are - this argument extends beyond Raj Thackeray and politics.
I said what I had to say. Baat khatam.
The cnbc interview ( pretty much the same subject) with Anuradha Sengupta can be watched on Youtube. I would have provided the link.... but you know how terrible I am at all this. In fact, I have asked my friend Aparna to do so in the COMMENTS space, so it can be easily accessed. The programme is called 'Beautiful People', and has featured individuals ranging from Amartya Sen ( my contemporary hero - I have a secret crush on the guy) to Salman Khan ( I don't have a crush on this guy, but I quite like his 'new', 'improved' avatar) in the past.
About my Rakhee Sawant encounter - it was scintillating and electrifying. The context was crazy, and I am delighted to report that my girl Rakhee held her own and kept those rapid fire, hilarious Rakhee-isms rolling. A bit of a wasted effort, alas. The super elite, chi chi crowd didn't get them - or her. But hey, does she care?? She is a big brand now and her show's trps exceed the Big B's. Aur kya chaahiye?? Good on you, gurrrrrl.
I am leaving for Delhi this afternoon. It's useful to check out Dilli ki Garam Hawa periodically. Pune comes next. You may miss me.... but I promise you taaza capital khabar on my return. 'This is it'. I love you, MJ.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Open letter to Raj Thackeray...

Open letter to Raj Thackeray.... From one 'Marathi Manoos' to another...

Dear Raj,

Wah! Kya baat hai. You’ve done it. Proved a point. And succeeded in your main objective, which - whether or not you acknowledge it – was to ‘show Uddhav.’ Well, you’ve certainly ‘shown’ your cousin Uddhav. Now what? That is the key question. And why just Maharshtra, the rest of India has its eyes on you.So, let me, as a bonafide daughter of the soil, spell it out clearly. Treat it as an important piece of communication from one ‘marathi manoos’ to another.
The main job ahead of you is to de-demonise yourself. Baring your teeth, has served its original purpose – which was to get yourself noticed. And subsequently, to get yourself acknowledged as someone who means business. You walked the talk, went for the jugular, advocated violence, condoned your workers who indulged in shocking goondagiri, and created an ever- widening chasm between ‘outsiders’ and those you defined as the ‘asli’ marathi manoos . You were well aware of the provocative and dangerous message you were sending out. My guess is, that was your intention. Within a startlingly short time, you made national headlines and got India talking about you. From being viewed as just a discarded nephew of an ageing Tiger, you transformed yourself into a terror… even a menace. Civil society across the board condemned your brazen tactics, your aggressive, crude ways. I guess, you had the last laugh …. you had achieved one of your key objectives, which was to stake a claim to Balasaheb’s formidable legacy.You didn’t care a damn what anybody thought or even that your ‘dhamkis’ were being seen as ‘Goonda Raj’. You seemed to revel in the ‘Attila the Hun’ reputation, even as sane thinking citizens reviled you and found themselves reeling at the audacity of it all. Virtually overnight, you became the Gabbar Singh of politics. ‘Kitney Aadmi The’ became a familiar chant, as the body count of defenceless, innocent victims attacked by your foot soldiers went up. You remained remorseless and unrepentant, shocking critics still further. A monster was born.
Aata kai, Raj?
Do you want to perpetuate the Monster’s reign? It would be entirely short-sighted and fool hardy to do so. The ‘marathi manoos’ by nature is not pro-violence. No right thinking person is. A lot of us are distressed, embarrassed and ashamed that the ‘marathi manoos’ is getting a bad name, thanks to a small section of individuals who adhere to these undemocratic methods. Accepted that the legitimate grievances of the ‘marathi manoos’ deserve to be heard, addressed and resolved. But certainly not through the means advocated by you.Your party’s impressive showing in the recent assembly elections should not be taken as an endorsement of your methods. All that the win signals is the fact that in certain pockets of Maharashtra you have successfully tapped into people’s frustrations. But from this point on, people expect you to deliver on basics – and that cannot happen through politics of destruction, exclusion and hate. You are a smart, intelligent, thinking person. You have proved you have the pulse of your people. The same people will now be looking at you to come up with programmes and solutions that spell growth and progress. Think you are up for it, Raj?
After a certain point, your differences and volatile relations with your cousin are non-issues. We don’t really care or give a damn, whether you and he are at logger- heads or ‘katti’. That’s your problem.We are more concerned with the quality of constructive criticism your people will provide in the assembly. The actual contribution your legislators will make.In other words what the MNS will bring to the table in its ‘new’, ‘improved’ avatar. Even the Tiger eventually changed his stripes in Maharashtra. What you may inherit down the line will be a totally transformed party – such as it may exist, post-Balasaheb. A true player knows how and when to leverage advantage. Your time to do that is now. Exploiting fear psychosis serves only a limited purpose, as Narendra Modi has discovered. Exploit your charisma instead. Work for the people of Maharashtra. Win their love, and more importantly, their respect.
You, my dear Raj, have a terrible reputation. But this is your chance to redeem yourself. Don’t squander it.
Yours sincerely,
‘Marathi Mulgi’, Shobhaa

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Kaun Banega Maha C.M. ?

All hail Maharashtra’s latest C.M.

Strange, isn’t it?? Chief Ministers of other states come and go, like fluffy cotton balls blowing in the wind. Nobody remembers and nobody cares. But when it comes to the chief ministers of Maharashtra, India monitors the appointment keenly. As keenly as it follows the prime ministerial race. In fact, so closely are Maharashtra’s assembly election results watched, that if one of the short- listed candidates sneezes, the entire party catches a cold. This particular post has always enjoyed a special sheen. It has traditionally been the single most coveted political job for Maharashtrian politicos in search of overnight power and glory (or gaudy Dilli dreams). More is the pity then, that we have been stuck with one mediocre chap after another for the past decade. The people of the state have watched its decline in horror. But done so mutely. They have seen its premier position slip from the top to the present ignominious one at the bottom of the heap. They have observed Maharshtra going from the most prosperous state of the country to a broke one. And they have said nothing.
The recent Assembly elections with a less than a 50% turnout are indicators of the apathy and indifference of voters – nobody it would seem, gives a damn. People are sick of the farce we call elections. They know they have zero say in the way the State is run. They also know nothing is likely to change, regardless of which person’s backside warms that gaadi in Mantralaya. This is the way it has been for far too long, and the pity is, the average Maharashtrian believes this is the way it is likely to remain. As we all know, there were no issues in this election, no real agenda, no blueprint for growth and progress. Not a single candidate spoke in a new, inspiring language. Nor did a wild card neta appear on the scene to galvanise the masses. The only debate revolved around the Marathi Manoos and whether or not citizens should be punished for referring to Mumbai as Bombay ( Karan Johar paid a hefty price for that ‘error’ and had to go crawling to Raj Thackeray’s residence with an apology). Even with all these fiery exchanges, nobody is quite sure as to who this mythical creature – the ‘marathi manoos’ really is?? In fact, I often ask myself the obvious question : do I qualify?? I may be Maharashtrian by birth, and I live in Mumbai by choice. I love the city passionately and would never want to live anywhere else. Is that good enough? Even though Marathi is my mother tongue, I don’t speak it as well as I speak English ( a shameful admission, but then , I didn’t choose my school ). I am married to a Bengali gentleman from Kolkata , who also loves the city equally, has lived here for over thirty years, employs several Maharashtrians and thinks of Mumbai as his home. His fluency in the local lingo is pretty dodgy if not downright embarrassing. He definitely thinks of himself as a bonafide Maharashtrian. But will he be accepted as one? I am still unclear about how one makes the cut, even though Raj and Uddhav Thackeray have both tried hard to spell it out for the aam aadmi. And considering this was the main, perhaps only, plank on which this election was fiercely fought, more straight talk and clarity would have certainly helped.
Most television debates also preferred to focus on just this one aspect ( outsider-insider) of life in Mumbai – not the rest of Maharashtra. It was bizarre. Mumbai alone is not Maharashtra, even though it is Mumbai that keeps Maharashtra from going under. It is Mumbai that has saved the State from ruin time and time again. Despite that hefty contribution to the State’s and the country’s coffers, Mumbai remains a sadly neglected metropolis, running on auto pilot and coping the only way it has taught itself to…. with the indomitable efforts of Mumbaikars who refuse to give in or give up. The last politico who was seen as a ‘doer’ was Nitin Gadkari, credited with having built a record number of flyovers in record time . Well…. Nitin is around, in a manner of speaking. We hear him thundering on various channels, but once his short reign as ‘Flyover King’ was over, he melted into the crowd and was out of the C.M. loop. The others who tried to steal his thunder, fell by the wayside…. and no new flyovers or expressways were commissioned by anyone. Yes, Mumbai finally got its much delayed Sea Link at a crazy price after an insane wait, but the jubilation came with some sobering after- thoughts. Citizens remain grateful for this new, glittering showpiece that has made their commute in and out of South Mumbai that much faster. But do our monster city’s infrastructural problems begin and end with a pricey bridge?
Forget the pathetic plight of suicidal farmers from Vidharba for a minute ( same folk, still ploughing parched fields with yoked bullocks, like their forefathers from medieval times), ask any Maharashtrian from any which part of the state whether he\she is happy? You must have guessed the answer. It is not about appointing a CEO for Mumbai or treating Mumbai as a separate entity. That won’t save either the city or the State. The time has come for divine intervention. The first anniversary of the dastardly terror attacks of 26\11 is upon us. Strange , that not a single political party made security a primary election issue. Do they really feel all that safe? Or are they just smug in the knowledge that once they win, Mumbai will become their personal property, to be haggled over and sold to the highest bidder – caste, creed, no bar??
The verdict is out. The Congress is in.
Hey Jagdambba Devi – may the worst man not win – that is the only prayer left!
Have to rush to keep my date with Rakhi Sawant!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Can it get worse...?

Twin Tragedies

It’s difficult to decide which act was tougher – murdering two female newborn babies still struggling for their fragile lives in an incubator…. or raising them? The grand- mother and mother responsible for their deaths are being held in a prison. But the tragedy continues. What was heart- breaking was the ‘explanation’ given by the two women when the cops picked them up. The mother claimed her husband and his family had categorically told her not to come back to her marital home since she had disgraced herself and them by giving birth to girls – not one, but two! The grandmother stated that she was sure the babies would suffer from deformities after coming out of the incubator, so, in any case their lives were worthless. Two ghastly distortions are evident in these macabre confessions - one, that a mother who gives birth to females is instantly discarded by her husband , as if she has committed some terrible crime, and two, that incubators cause birth defects in normal infants. The level of abject ignorance in this day and age is not just shocking but dangerous. Those two women feared not only for their own lives, but believed killing those innocent babies was some sort of a bizarre solution to the problem.
What will happen? Absolutely nothing. The media will lose interest as soon as something still more grisly takes place, and this shocking case will soon be forgotten. Perhaps, the husband who threatened the young mother will get picked up for questioning. Perhaps his family members will also get hauled in. Then what? The thing is, even the police will be on the side of the husband, even though the law dictates that he be considered a co-accused for instigating the twin murders. Nothing of the sort will happen. For the cops will decide it is a ‘family matter’ and leave it there. Cops are not super humans… most are men from similar backgrounds as that awful, heartless husband. They may put themselves in his shoes and conclude they would perhaps be tempted to take the same route if placed in an identical situation. Babies unfortunate enough to come into the world with vaginas in place of penises, are doomed before they can take their first breaths. This is the grim reality in our country. So it has been for centuries. And so it may remain for a few more.
When we talk of empowering our women, I often wonder which women we are addressing? Women like myself ? Empowered to start with ? Most times we are preaching to converts and wasting our time. No amount of legislation can bring about a change in this archaic mindset that continues to view females as liabilities who drain the family of resources. We can have more and more women in panchayats, more and more women in parliament, but till such time as these sort of brutal killings come to an end, there can be no real hope of ‘progress’ much less, genuine empowerment. I watched the impassive faces of the two accused on tv as they were being led away. They appeared unnaturally calm – almost like they were resigned to spending their days in prison, since life had absolutely nothing to offer them post- the arrival of those twins. And I wondered – what if the mother had given birth to just one, not two girls? Would that baby have stood a better chance of survival? Or would the husband have adopted the same rule? Was it the shock of the double whammy that pushed the women over the edge? And worst of all – did they actually do those babies a favour and save them from an even worse fate - as unwanted, rejected and loathed burdens, not just for the family but society at large? In which case, we are all guilty, each one of us. But where are the courts to try us??
Tomorrow is D-Day for Maharashtra. And I shall spend it hurtling between tv studios, starting with Arnab and Times Now, followed by Rajdeep Sardesai and CNN-IBN. It is horrible to know that our assembly elections are running along IPL lines, with bookies placing bets on the outcome. As of now, there are over a 100 crores riding on the poll results. The aam aadmi is filled with apathy.... even ennui. It is as if we have all surrendered to our collective fate which says anybody can become C.M. at this stage, it's just a question of who brings how much to the table.
Disgusted by these shenanigans, I went off to watch 'All the Best' in the crazy hope that a crazy film would take my mind off the election results. How wrong I was!! It was such an awful film, I was ready to commit harakiri with a fork. Mugda is no murgi (or even mulgi) worth spending five seconds on - horribly styled, with the worst make-up ever, she took away even those few fans she may have attracted post-'Fashion'. Bips - here are a few tips : stay miles away from such bilge, and stop rolling those eyes. Fardeen was the fat farm escapee, while producer-actor Ajay Devgun had all the fun - not just with the chicks but those cheesy lines , too. God! Why am I bothering to key this in ?
'London Dreams' promos look pretty slick and entertaining. But so did the promos of 'All the Best.'' Jeeeez. I need some rest.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Post-Diwali Blues

We had the most wonderful Bhau Beej at home. I am still in a bit of a trance. Since most of the fire cracker enthusiasts had exhausted their stock by Day 4, we were saved from the annoyance of having to deal with noise pollution. I have never understood the 'fun' derived through ear shattering bombs or even the smoke spewing anaars. Marine Drive was a nightmare the previous evening with hundreds of Mumbaikars 'enjoying' themselves while cops looked the other way. Diwali is the time for love ansd peace - not pollution. People show scant concern for animals and birds - so many get seriously injured because of those wretched rockets . Six of our unsung and brave firemen died trapped in an elevator dousing flames in a flat that had suffered a rocket attack. I couldn't bear to read the account, it was so tragic. Ditto for reports of dogs and other pets suffering third degree burns on account of spoilt, careless kids chucking burning crackers at them. I am sure parents of these sadistic brats don't as much as scold ,much less punish the monsters. What about patients recuperating in city hospitals who have to put up with deafening blasts late into the night?? Sheer cruelty.
Next year, I hope more citizens protest and ask for bans on offensive 'distractions'. Soon Mumbai will see new local representatives taking charge of the Assembly. One of the measures we must demand is an end to this menace.
Back to work. .....I am happy my brother Ashok was there for the Bhau Beej last night. As I touched his feet and sought his blessings, my mind went into instant replay as a thousand childhood memories came rushing back.
I missed my mother terribly. Happy Diwali, Aie. Wherever you are....

Monday, October 19, 2009

Diwali .... but where is the 'mithaas'?

Diwali Dhamaka… but where is the ‘mithaas’?

Sorry. But this Diwali, my personal mithaas is under tremendous pressure, and I’m afraid chocolates are just not hitting the sweet spot. There is a serious shortage of mithaas all round, starting with the Chini at our doorstep. No matter that Arunachal Pradesh can boast of an impressive voter turnout ( who can possibly laugh at 72% ), we could do with Chini Kum in that area, as S.M.Krishna will agree. It is a pretty grim situation and distributing laddoos by way of a peace offering is not likely to help matters, when the enemy is baying for blood. Nothing sweet about that. Beijing Duck, anyone? While we get indigestion over this chop- suey and wonder how to tone down the red hot levels in that classic desi dish - Chicken Manchurian - our domestic kitchens are working overtime not to burn the bubbling rabdi.
Brothers Ambani are not quite ready to share a bowl of basundi this festive season, even though Brother Anil has sent out a tulsi branch to Brother Mukesh. Not that investors are complaining – the Sensex reacted to the khush khabar by hitting 17k and beyond, adding much needed mithaas to an otherwise unpalatable share bazaar bhojan.
Bollywood is celebrating Diwali in its own unique fashion – by adding mithaas to the catwalk and modelling for assorted causes, starting with Sallubhai’s Being Human. Couture just got cuter with dinky Aamir Khan strutting his stuff and looking cho chweet as he smiled coyly at front row supporters . Sridevi looked yummier than a hot jalebi as she sparkled on the ramp , her smile reflecting her inner mithaas. Saif Ali Khan and Kareena Kapoor , his lady love, are mithaas personified as gulab jamun show stoppers. There is such an overdose of sweetness in their love kahani, that fans are worried about the saccharine overdose. The ones feeling entirely left out of the Diwali hi-jinks are the neglected professional models, who have been reduced to decorative props at fashion shows ever since the Bollywood Brigade hi-jacked fashion. The bitter taste in our willowy mannequins’ mouths will require more than a kilo of choccies to neutralize…ooops, size zero models don’t do choccies, how could I forget? There goes their mithaas for the season.
In Maharashtra, we have warring cousins who are in no mood to exchange ‘karanjis’ or ‘anarsey’ ( traditional marathi manoos sweets). Sharad Pawar has made matters worse by declaring Raj Thackeray as the winner of the ‘‘Charisma Awards”. This has instigated Uddhav to hit back at the NCP by pointing out there is no real leader left in that Pawar play. These exchanges cannot be called ‘sweet nothings’. They are ‘bitter somethings’ with a nasty after- taste. Meanwhile Praful Patel is trying his best to sweeten the mood of Air India’s angry unions. Chances are they won’t settle for anything less than their pound of flesh, and not even a mound of mithaas will cool down tempers. Away from the obvious political ramifications of the assembly elections, the Maoists in Maharashtra are celebrating Diwali as only they can – by butchering innocents. Not all the mithaas in the world can alter their mindset, or influence their bloody-minded agenda.
The ‘aam aadmi’ is bewildered and upset this Diwali. Sick of being taken for granted, year in and year out, he is unlikely to be appeased with a box of commercial mithai when what he wants is the entire mithai ka dukaan. With spiraling prices and sugar itself in short supply, he is left holding the howling baby, wondering how to pay the neighbourhood kiraanawalla. Forget bonus-shonus, the aam aadmi wants reassurance that by this time next year, the economy will be back on track. Pranab Babu isn’t saying that convincingly enough… perhaps he is enjoying his Diwali mishti a bit too much to pay attention to the aam aadmi’s grievances. No problem. The aam aadmi’s patience has not run out entirely so far. He is looking hopefully at the Good Sardar, whose sweet temperament wins over most critics – did you not notice how well he and his wife are bonding with Obama and his wife? This goes beyond merely breaking bread together - this is called indulging ones diplomatic sweet tooth. If only the Chinese premier would let them eat cake…. Poorey duniya ki mithaas badh jayegi! Happy Diwali. Diya jalao… ek doosron ko nahi.


It is the last day of Diwali, and I'm feeling rather sad - the festival is over before it began! After Bhaubeej tomorrow night, I'll take the lights and aakash kandeels down... throw the marigold garlands away, remove the rangoli at the door, snuff out the diyas.... you now the drill. It has been a beautiful and meaningful Diwali. I just completed the 'Padwa' rituals with my husband. These involve an elaborate aarti, a fragrant oil bath, seeking his blessings, and exchanging gifts. I had observed my own parents scrupulously adhering to this age-old way of heralding the new year, and I have maintained the tradition in the hope that my children will imbibe it. Fingers crossed.

We treated ourselves to a movie earlier, after spending a couple of days at our home in Alibag. Those lights were reluctantly switched off as well, as we got back to make it for ''Wake up, Sid." Midway through the film, I sent a text msg to Karan Johar congratulating him for producing a spot- on movie that captures the 'badey baap ka beta' syndrome so accurately. Ranbir is adorable as Sid, while Konkona is well... Konkona. She plays herself in every film, and I find her acting most monotonous. If you as ask me , it is the dialogue of '........... Sid ' that scores over all else. The story is pretty flimsy, it is the treatment that works. Good scenes are carved out of material that is pretty mundane. With a lesser actor, the film would have tanked since there are no dramatic highs to hold it together. Ranbir is as fresh and taaza as a farm -picked bhindi. Supriya Pathak as his mother who struggles with her english is sweeter than a roshogulla. Definitely a feel -good, cheerful film, even though I didn't care for the cliche ending. Kashmera Shah as Sonia was delicious. But the film belongs unambiguously to the entirely natural and almost edible Kapoor bachcha. Well done, Sid!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Will the real China please stand up??

" Our first 'guide' ( they are all indoctrinated, robotic creatures, as we discovered soon enough) in Shanghai, was female, thirty, single and still a virgin (her version). Our second guide in Beijing was female, thirty, single and still a virgin ( again, her version). Our third guide at Xian was - you must have guessed - ditto ditto. That made me wonder whether the tourism board hired ladies who met the same set of criteria, or whether, like everything else in China, this too was a part of the Official China Story.

The word 'propaganda' has a whole different connotation in that part of the world, since the average person does not now the difference between what the top dogs want them to know - even about themselves - and what the truth is. Talking to these earnest young women, who continued to live with their parents and were not 'allowed' to date or even receive calls from males, I found myself comparing their repressed lives to the lives of our urban women back home. Their Chinese counterparts were so totally fire -walled from the outside world, they had absolutely no idea of life beyond their province. Their concerns had to do with making enough money to look after ageing parents, and perhaps, marry some day. With no access via the internet to news or entertainment, their existence was dominated by some 'shadowy' bosses they lived in abject fear of. Clearly, their brief as guides was to stick to a parroted spiel that gave the impression they were fluent in English. This mechanical hard sell came apart swiftly if the questions went even a little beyond their brief. They were totally stumped... and went blank! Obviously , their knowledge of English was restricted to memorising the standard tourist brochure. I felt rather sorry for these lovely ladies, who spent most of their measly income on fairness creams, believe it or not, and wore full sleeved blouses and sun hats to protect them from the sun ( read: tanning). They were like programmed mice, scurrying around doing their jobs... their dreams never extending beyond the next small promotion. Their parents' lives were even worse - they had endured the Cultural Revolution.... just about survived the purge. With no money, no space to live, no education, and no hope, they were dependent on the one single child the state had permitted them to bear - ladies like these guides. It was worse , far worse, than anything back in India. For the construct of their lives was based on a lie. A huge lie engineered by the State, to keep people like them perpetually servile - like obedient worker ants whose sole purpose in life was to ensure the future of the Great Country.

Frankly, I see a very grim future for China. For, not being a worker ant, I dare to dream. As do one billion Indians. The idea of China is so vastly different from the idea of India, that it is inevitable we will clash one day. And that day may not be too far.Today's China relies on illusion to project its greatness to the world. Nothing is as you see it - not even the 'booming' economy, with all those manipulated figures. Our faultlines lie elsewhere. But at least we don't feel the need to hire bright eyed virgins as tourist guides, 'conversing' in a language they don't know and telling those who ask about Tianenmen Square with a straight face that 'nothing happened .... it is all Western propaganda." And yet, before you step even a hundred metres from your hotel room in Shanghai, away from the watchful eyes of those virginal guides, you are instantly surrounded by teenage pimps offering, " girls, boys, drugs...any shape, any age, any kind." Will the real China please stand up???"


I had written this for the 'Asian Age' on sunday. Today is tuesday, and once again China and India are at the 'Who Blinks First' game. Manmohan Singh's recent pre-poll waltz through neglected and semi-abandoned Arunachal Pradesh has little meaning - a case of too little , too late. It's a miracle voters in the state showed up in respectable numbers this morning. Mumbai, once again demonstrated its indifference by treating voting day as another public holiday and cursing the government for ruining the party by shutting bars and pubs. We really do deserve the goons we get as netas.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Elephants are us....

Ever tried clambering up an elephant's back with the help of a ladder? No?? Well... I did just that a few hours ago, and trust me, it wasn't either easy or fun. The four remaining Kingfisher models had just finished their gruelling shoots atop the same elephant. The pachyderm was not amused. His mahout was even less so. Beach bums at Varca were having a field day gawking at the bikini clad models perched precariously on the elephant, while Colston, the ace photographer yelled instructions like, " Use your arms.... expressions!! I want to see expressions!" These were the politer ones. The girls gingerly stood up on the elephant's back while he twitched and shifted his weight from one foot to the next , and held impossible poses as the cameras clicked and whirred. Who said modelling is easy? Milind, wearing a hot pink tee and white shorts was adding his own bits of advice - " I want better co-ordination... stretch your spine..." Sure. And risk breaing your neck. One model went for a toss and fell off the elephant's back. Another confessed she was terrified of heights.
My own moment of truth arrived when the director asked whether I'd do the link from the elephant's back, just to experience what the models had gone through. I gamely and foolishly agreed. Huge mistake! Just when I joined Milind (who had already clambered up and made himself perfectly comfortable), the elephant decided he'd had enough of this nonsense and was ready to lumber off. Believe me, this wasn't funny, especially when the angry trumpeting began. My nerves just about held till the shot was canned.... and I swiftly came down to earth! The perky models were really sweet - they cheered my 'feat' spontaneously!
Tonight, one more shall be eliminated. That will leave the three top finalists. I have picked my winner. But one never knows.
I met the elephant as I was making my way back to the room. The guy was thirsty - and how. I watched him drink a few gallons of water before heading back to Ponda from where he'd come. As and when you do get to see the Kingfisher Calendar 2010, you'll recognise the real superstar of the shoot - the jumbo!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Who's afraid of the Naxals, huh??

All hail!! India has found a new enemy – and it isn’t our neighbour - it is us!! The latest hate word is ‘Naxal’, and it is almost amusing to monitor how frequently it pops up and how obsessed the media is with this new menace. Night after night, we find Arnab and others getting apoplectic over the newest, most horrific murder committed by the ‘Naxals’. Now the Naxal has a face – Kobad Ghandy’s. We now exactly what the enemy looks like. And horror of horrors, he looks like us! I mean… Kobad?? Aapro Kobad?? A well brought up, well heeled Parsee gentleman, who should be listening to operatic areas in a book- lined den pulling gently on a pipe? What the hell is he doing with those junglees in that jungle… you now…. those tribals? It is impossible to reconcile the visual of this effete-looking person, who claims to be a writer (hello, that is a factoid we can handle), but now stands accused of the most heinous crimes against the state. How could someone like Kobad get mixed up with something like this?? Cherchez la femme. Of course, it had to be a woman. Kobad’s late wife is the one the media is nailing as the instigator who pushed the Mumbai man into a life on the run. A dangerous and terrible life that has led to the grisly murders of innocents. What an extraordinary story… and so unbelievable.
Such is the power of stereotyping, that we refuse to accept ‘someone like Kobad’ could get mixed up with a movement that is threatening to cause mayhem in gigantic swathes of our country. Idealogy of this nature is something one associates with hard core unshaven leftists, carrying jholas, dressed in shabby kurtas and scurrying around shanty towns causing trouble. Kobad does not fit into this grid. Kobad belongs to the elite world of Willingdon Club types - the burra saabs who drink beer on Sunday afternoons, after a leisurely round of golf. Kobad and Naxals?? Baap re baap. What next? The reason why this bizarre story has captured the imagination of the mediawallas is because of these crazy contradictions. Parsee revolutionaries are somewhat rare. I have never come across a Parsee who would walk away from a life of refinement and comfort in Mumbai, and devote long years to working for the upliftment of desperately poor, disenfranchised tribals. As the Kobad story unfolds, more and more information is emerging that is adding to the mystery. The nugget revealed his extensive travels in five countries. This piece of ‘breaking news’ emerged in the wake of the Red Ultras’ beheading Francis Induwar, the Jharkhand police officer, “ Taliban-style”( making me wonder whether the Taliban killers have a patent on this ‘style’ of butchering victims).

Police spokesmen are calling Induwar’s murder a revenge killing linked to Kobad’s arrest. Across channels, the clips of the cop’s young son making a heart- rending call to his younger brother’s school teacher, informing the person about his ‘pappa’s’ death have been played over and over again. Juxtapose that with the clips of a calm and composed Kobad in police custody, and it is easy to whip up public outrage. But towards what end??
For all we know there are several other Kobads hiding in our midst. Your neighbour could be a Kobad. Or the guy you have a drink with at your favourite watering hole. Your tennis companion maybe Kobad’s best buddy. So could the mild- mannered librarian you discuss Tagore’s poetry with. There are Kobads everywhere, if one is to go by the present hysteria. And they have just one agenda – to destroy India. The scariest part of the Kobad phenomenon is that one can be so easily fooled…. so effortlessly misled. Our conditioning prevents us from looking beyond the obvious … we have a readymade picture of what a terrorist is supposed to look like( thank you, Bollywood\Hollywood!). So…. How does one crack the façade? Look beyond the mask? Bewildered by the Naxal war that is being waged against the state, we don’t now how to react. We can understand the threat Pakistan represents. We can gear ourselves ( albeit, clumsily), to handle the Chinese intrusions, we can deal with the LTTE, and pretend we are winning the separatist war in Kashmir. We delude ourselves that we have the 26\11 terrorists on the run because we have Qasab in jail. But what we have consistently failed to acknowledge is the seething unrest that has been gathering force right under our noses for so many years in the form of the Naxals in our midst. Kobad did not suddenly spring up out of nowhere. Had we bothered to notice him ( and people like him) earlier, our ‘haalat’ would not have been this bad. By refusing to acknowledge there was a problem and that mega trouble was brewing, we allowed a mouse to grow into a monster. For decades, those who have had to deal with Naxal uprisings, have warned authorities about the potential danger of ignoring their presence. We shut our eyes, buried our heads in sand, and hoped they’d go away. But,guess what? They didn’t!And today, they are in our backyard, and we don’t now what to do….. either, with them or ourselves.
This is exactly what Kobad and his comrades have been counting on. By patiently waiting for the somnolent State to finally wake up and take heed, the Naxals have won part of the battle. They have consolidated their presence in several states, and made significant inroads into the heart of the political process. We can ill- afford to wish them away… marginalize them. Experts tell us more than one- fifth of India is under Naxal control. Perhaps, they exaggerate.But only a bit…Kobad is one hell of a foxy dude. He ain’t singing. That leaves us with P. Chidambaram thundering away on television, warning the Naxals to lay down arms or face war. “ As long as the CPI(Maoists) belives in armed liberation struggle, we have no option but to ask security forces to engage them. Yeah, right on, bro. A bit late in the day to be issuing this dhamki. But, koi baat nahi. Listening to all these warnings, Naxal bosses in China must be giggling away in glee. Perhaps, this Diwali will see Indian skies lighting up with Chinese crackers.


Eerie and creepy that this appeared on the day 17 more people were chopped up by the Naxals. Creepy that Barrack Obama was given the Nobel for Peace when the world is being ripped apart and he hasn't really earned the honour. I was watching the news in my hotel and shuddering at the irony of it all - Rawalpindi under attack, most pockets of the troubled world reeling from ghastly, insane violence. And here I am in Goa, critically looking at the 5 remaining contestants as they gamely go through some really tough 'tasks' Milind and I assign them - this evening we dunked them into a bathtub filled with blocks of ice and asked them to 'emote' 5 expressions for the cameras. Are we heartless??


My daughter Anandita is with me in Goa, so my mood's up! We managed to sneak out during lunch hour to devour the best masala crab on earth at Martin's Corner. Once there, we couldn't stop at the crab, and ordered half the menu - rawa-encrusted King Fish, dried chilly beef, and of course, Goa prawn curry rice. This is what I call serious pigging out.

Now.... it's back to work. Last night we shot till 2. 30 a.m and the crew rejoiced!! Watch this space for tonight's report!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Gorgeous girls in Goa...

So here's another image of Durban that I shot just outside the museum of Tribal African Arts. I went berserk inside the museum, stunned by the beauty of the products on display, especiallythe Zulu beadwork. Earlier , I had bought loads of painted wooden bangles, this time it would be dozens of earrings and necklaces in exquisite colours. Our own tribal communities also create magic with beads and wood. We see them as cheap handicrafts, when they deserve to be

elevated to being recognised as art.


Here in Goa, the days and nights slip away languidly. I have lost track of time and space. Our shoots seem never ending... but when I see the results on the monitor, the effort is entirely worth it. Since the traumatic elimination rounds have begun, my heart goes out to the girls who have to be packed off at the end of each episode. The bearer of bad news is co-judge Milind Soman. Perhaps that softens the blow somewhat since all the contestants have a huge crush on him.... and at least they get to kiss him a lingering goodbye after taking their time sobbing on his shoulder. Small consolation. I marvel at their spunk and spirit, though. It cannot be easy facing a jury clad in nothing more substantial than the teeniest- weeniest of bikinis (you know the ones I mean - three triangles). There they are, virtually stripped off whatever modesty that's left, answering pretty tough questions about their own imperfections!! But you now what?? These young women are made of pretty stern stuff. They don't blink while listening to the worst criticism and have not cracked under pressure .... so far. The game just got tougher, so let's see who exits tonight. I have been told it's going to be one looooooong episode( which means we may shoot till dawn). I don't mind. I am a creature of the night. The moon is looking glorious and the girls are giggly and gorgeous. Don't you wish you were here??? Come on.... be honest!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Couples who drink together , stay together??

I was really , really lucky to get a grab shot of these two. They'd just polished off a gourmet meal (zebra) and needed to wash it all down at their favourite watering hole. I was less than three feet away.... but did they care?? I think they make a pretty compatible looking couple - when was the last time you shared a companionable drink with your partner, huh??
I have a pretty grisly shot of another, older lioness devouring a zebra leg. Would be happy to share the image .... if you have the stomach for it.
I escaped from my concentration camp at the ZURI in Goa, long enough to rush to my temple, Mangeshi, in Ponda,where the family deity resides. It is mangalwar today, and Shantadurga would have been most unhappy had I ignored her. Both the darshans were soothing and inspiring. There was hardly anybody around at 7. 30pm.... so I had both the deities all to myself, with none of the standard shoving and pushing. I took my time telling them mere dil ki baat. In fact, I enjoyed a long, uninterrupted chat with the Gods after ages. This was such a well earned treat. Last night too, the shoot ended at 3 a.m. Now that Dino Morea has let the cat out of the bag, thanks to the tweeting mania, there's no point keeping the shoot under wraps any longer. All you guys out there are going to envy me.... I am here to judge 'The Perfect Body' for the Kingfisher Calendar 2010.There are 12 girls competing for just one slot. You'd think they had their wor cut out for them - but trust me, it isn't fun waing up at 5 a.m. for a run on the beach , after wrapping up at 3 a.m. the previous night. But.... so far they are still smiling and coping. The elimination rounds have begun.... so I expect the tears to flow , starting tomorrow. I shall keep you posted...

Monday, October 5, 2009

Since you asked....

The lady in the pic is an extraordinary person, and I felt honoured to meet her. Prof. Fatima Meer is one of South Africa's most respected intellectuals. She is also one of the last Gandhians left, and had played key role in SA's freedom struggle against apartheid. As you can see she is wheelchair bound and accompanied by a nurse. But her mind is as sharp and strong as ever. When she speaks, her voice booms across the room, and everyone listens in rapt attention. I so enjoyed my time with her. She was gracious enough to present a signed copy of her book to me, which I shall always cherish. I was fortunate to have met such a remarkable person. I hope you can see my face painting clearly. It was beautiful. I'm guessing it is done with rice paste, but it could be something else...
Here in Goa, the shooting schedule is chaotic and crazy. Last night, I wrapped up my last shot at 3 a.m. This was because of the rain that kept interrupting the shoot. What has impressed me the most is the competence and skill of our technicians. These lighting guys are geniuses when it comes to improvisation and thinking on ones feet. It is a pretty thankless job, besides being a really, really tiring one. God knows how they manage, with virtually no sleep and a lot of heavy stuff to lug around the beach. But the results are worth all the trouble. I wish I could reveal more at this stage. But my lips are sealed...
Madhavan ( Maddy) and Dino Morea have arrived this evening to participate in one episode. I recall meeting Maddy on a Mumbai-London flight two years ago. He'd come across and introduced himself politely and I'd thought what a refreshing change he was from our loud and crude Bollywood brigade. Dino, of course, I have known since his days as a model in Bangalore. He too is well mannered at all times and surprisingly intelligent. There's something old world and adorably charming about movie stars from the South. Just ten days ago I met Karthik , again at the airport. Frankly, I hadn't heard of him... so when he came across to introduce himself, I must have looked a little blank. We got chatting and he told me about his role in Mani Ratnam's Ravana. What a sweet guy.... and so modest!
The weather promises to behave itself tomorrow. If I can get a couple of hours off, I plan to visit Mangeshi Temple, where our family deity resides. It is one ritual I love to observe and I hope the Monsoon God is on my side when I undertake the trip.
I have been clicking lots of pictures in Goa, and shall share once I get back to Mumbai. Meanwhile, my cue sheet tells me I have a make up call at 11pm and the shoot starts at 11 30. What's the bet we are running late and nothing will start till 1 a.m.????

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Dots and dashes

Remember guys, you asked for more pics. Well, here's one I love. I met this beautiful young girl at Moyo's in Durban, and complimented her . The face painting was subtle and stunning. She offered to paint mine and I jumped at the chance. Of course, it didn't look half as terrific on me.... but that's a different story. I'll share that pic with you, too. But only if you insist! I only trust the quality and composition of pics I shoot myself. So, when I request someone else to do the job, I get hyper-critical about their efforts, which is really not fair, considering they are doing me a favour.
It was at Moyo's that I sampled crocodile salami and ostrich samosas, besides kudu kebabs and similar local delicacies. Frankly, once was enough. I have a pretty adventurous palate, but one has to draw the line somewhere. For me, it was with crocodile meat.
I am stuck in my hotel room in South Goa. Some of you may have followed the news about the flood situation here. The shooting schedule has gone for a toss. Production just informed me the main lights are stuck at some octroi point. Shooting by the beach is not an option given the cyclonic weather, and we can't shoot indoors minus lights! Thank God for my life saver - the laptop. While I wait for the clouds to clear, all I can do is watch tv. Something I don't have the time for back in Mumbai. I watched Salman Khan's 'Dus ka Dum' (with Hema Malini and Shatrughan Sinha) for the first time, and enjoyed the episode thoroughly. Salman is an absolute natural, and far, far better as a tv host than SRK or the Big B. He is unassuming and spontaneous, charming and likeable. These qualities really bounce out and touch audiences. I get the feeling it's pretty much an unscripted show , or he is the master of improvisation. It works!! Hema looked absolutely ravishing and Shatru looked like Shatru . I had met Hema a few nights ago at Tina Ambani's Harmony Awards and admired her lovely back ( she was wearing a skimpy chantilly lace choli). As always, she carried herself with grace and dignity. On Salman's show, she was far less inhibited as she giggled, blushed and flirted with both men.
I also caught Rakhi Sawant discussing 'Indian culture' and why she refused to bed her fiance!! It was brilliant! And Eleshe, the poor Canadian Indian bakra who won Rakhi's hand in the show, was also interviewed on camera, defending himself weakly by saying he meant the lady no disrespect. Rakhi has broken off the 'engagement', her chastity intact. I love it!
Both my daughters, Avantikka and Anandita have been weeping copious tears after watching, 'Wake up, Sid'. I guess that means the movie is going to be a huge hit. Tears are good for the box office. Go to sleep, Karan. Your money is safe.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

The sand sculpture says it all!! Do Knot Dishturb!!

I can't get South Africa out of my system. I took this shot in Durban, along a deserted seafront, where I was told it was insane to pull out a camera or cell phone. Well, I did both and am alive to tell the tale. On both sides of the jetty, there were these incredible but disturbing sand sculptures. Locals warned me the artists were dangerous druggies who lured innocent tourists into admiring their work before robbing them. Forget all that - just look at the morbid subject. I thought it was it was pretty apt, given the situation there.
Just to cheer myself up, I went to see my all time favourite actor Govinda in a delightfully ludicrous movie called 'Do Knot Disturb'. What disturbed me about the movie ( which I thoroughly enjoyed, btw), was the luscious Sushmita's enormous girth!! She resembles a tub! Why the blubber? And how does it all vanish when the credit titles roll in the end and she performs a hot item number, ironically called 'Bebo Bebo' ( a tribute to Kareena?). Govinda was adorably insane, especially in the scene where he speaks in a female's falsetto, and shakes his errr, tits ... to a chant of 'Dolly Dolly Dolly' each time Lara comes into the picture. Riteish is really coming into his own as a comic actor par excellence, and looks almost hot on the yacht.It's a thumbs up for me for this madness. It's an instant mood elevator and you can go ahead branding me a philistine for enjoying the film. I'm like that only!
We headed to TOTE, Mumbai's sprawling new eatery ( at 35,000 sq. ft. it becomes the largest stand alone space in the city). Since it was Bapuji's janam din, and the bar upstairs was shut, I shall have to return a la Napoleon, to give you guys a poora poora review. But for now, let me just say, the sous -chef Manish Luthra outdid most chef-chefs in the business and produced a top class meal, starting with an appetising duck burger, lamb shanks, pork chops, and a delicate rissotto. Do I want to go back for more?? Hell, ya!!
But a return trip shall have to wait. I am off to Goa in an hour to judge a sexy reality show ( my lips are sealed!). I'll be holed up there till the 15th. But, worry not... this time, the laptop goes with me!! Ciao Ciao, my lovelies!