Sunday, November 29, 2009

Why Aamchi Mumbai is like Rani Mukherjee

The first anniversary of 26\11 is behind us.The tears have dried. Candles snuffed out. Flowers, wilted. Speeches and parades done with. Mumbai is back to ‘normal’. There will be post-mortems and more. Some will focus on the city’s cynicism. Others will laud its optimism. Television anchors will nurse their sore throats and sigh, “ Thank God, it’s over.” Yes. Truly. Thank God, it is over. And can we please get on with our lives?? Change the subject and move on… just like everybody else?
Mumbai needs a makeover. At the moment, it is resembling Rani Mukherjee at her worst. Rani is one of our most talented actresses. I totally adore her. But somewhere down the line, Rani lost the plot. Well, so has Mumbai.This disgustingly huge , monster-metropolis no longer knows what it is. Rani faced a similar dilemma a while ago. She did what a lot of actresses do in similar situations – she lost weight and climbed into a bikini. The film tanked nevertheless. Or perhaps, because of the bikini. The ‘new’, ‘toned’ Rani failed to impress audiences, even though the movie was constructed for and around her.The bikini did her in. Mumbai is also stuck in the same sort of groove – it desperately wants to reinvent itself and show the rest of India that it is still the sexiest, most desirable city in the country. Unfortunately for Mumbai, the rest of India has moved on. It just ain’t interested! As they’d say in Bollywood parlance, “ Weekend opening bekaar hai, boss.” This is an alarming scenario for a destination that has always fancied itself. But you know how it is in showbiz – the box office is always right. Mumbai has been declared an official flop.
Rani is at a crossroad in terms of her rapidly dwindling career, Mumbai too is wondering which direction to take. Its showing at the box office has been dismal, the collections are depressingly low, and investors are busy looking for the next big thing.Fading actresses try several gimmicks to hang on to their positions – new hairstyles, fresh make-up, hot boy friends, controversies and scandals. What does a fading city do?? Accept its wrinkles and carry on??
There was a time, not so long ago, when being identified as a Mumbaikar gave a special edge to a person. It meant something.Chest-thumping came naturally to those who called Mumbai their home. Today, the connotation is different and Mumbaikars are only too aware of changed perceptions.All that made Mumbai such a powerful magnet has disappeared, or is fast eroding. Money has moved to other cities ( hello, Hyderabad!), and with that, so have several related businesses that once made Mumbai glamourous and seductive. Fashion has fled North.So has talent in other spheres. Today, a Bharti Mittal gets as many eyeballs as the Ambanis. Plus, he is cuter. Power in Mumbai, was never about politics ( sorry, Sharad Bhau). It had to do with the billions in your bank. Now, even those billions are relocating. Not a single politician from this city has the clout of a Pranab, Chidambaram or Rahul. And that is pretty much the current Mumbai story.
The prevalent feeling amongst Mumbaikars post 26\11, is that Mumbai has become marginalized and no longer counts. The indifference shown by Delhi was the first sign that Mumbai, its safety and survival, are low priority for the Big Boys in the Capital.The macabre anniversary of the terror attacks was marked by tokenism and not much more.This may sound like petty carping, but somehow the visuals of Obamaji saying ‘namastey’ to Manmohanji and clinking glasses at a grand sit-down dinner around the same date, seemed a little insensitive. As did the timing of our Prezzie flying high in a Sukhoi while Mumbai was in mourning. Sure, Chidambaram showed up in the city to hold hands, light a torch, make soothing noises and so on. But in real terms, whether fairly or otherwise, Mumbaikars felt short changed and quite cross. As it is , what was equally hard to swallow was the finger- pointing, blame game going on between our top cops, with several innocents caught in the cross- fire, leaving shell- shocked Mumbaikars demanding, “ But… what about us?”
Really. What about us? Right now, we are feeling marooned , abandoned, and pretty unloved. There is an exaggerated emotionalism at work here, combined with a dollop of martyrdom. It happens. Mumbaikars are melodramatic.It is inevitable given our proximity to the movie world. Everything in our lives is exaggerated, and that includes anger. 26\11 has been the tipping point. No doubt about that. Something snapped during those 62 hours, and nothing is going to be the same again. That’s too bad, given Mumbai’s unique position in our imagination. Maybe Mumbai was never really all that ‘different’ or ‘special’. Maybe it was always a dump. Maybe squalor consistently scored over glamour. But it was good while it lasted. The illusion, I mean. It’s time to get real. No retakes, this time. Same as for Rani.
Whoever said Sunday is a day of rest was lying. I've had the busiest one. But I am feeling on top of the world right now, so who's cribbing? Not me. My tween novel titled
'S's Secret' will be launched by the publishers tomorrow. The Sunday Times of India carried a half pager on the book, and an interview avec moi, which you can catch online. This afternoon, I did the tv interview for Times Now with a lively, dimpled reporter called Janice. This will go out at prime time tonight. Even though I've been there, done that, sixteen times over ( 'S's Secret' is my 16th book), I still feel deliciously nervous on the eve of a book launch. This one marks my foray into new territory - from writing adult fiction to writing for young adults. It's a sweet, innocent, uncomplicated story about Sandhya, a 14 year-old Mumbai girl. I am looking forward to reactions from an entirely different age group. Fingers crossed. Wish me luck. And watch the interview !

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Taj rocks again!!

Yes, it is childish and probably super 'elitist' too ( God!! I am just so sick of that word and the way it has been converted into an epithet), but when my husband and I walked into the 'Golden Dragon' last night, I experienced such an overpowering surge of good energy and hope. This popular restaurant which had revolutionised Chinese cuisine in India by introducing diners to the fiery flavours of the Schichuan district for the first time, had been totalled during the terror 26\11 attacks on the Taj . It has taken one year to get it going again in its brand new avatar - and what a fabulous makeover it has undergone! We loved the white interiors - pristine, pure and contemporary. We drooled over the new, bold and imaginative menu. And basically, we were just happy to be back at an old haunt and see so many familiar faces at adjoining tables. Chef Oberoi presided over the evening with justifiable pride and took us through some of the new specialities, like 'The Song of the Dragon', a visual treat even before you taste a morsel! Let it remain a surprise... but don't miss the outstanding dim sum menu, especially a delicate vegetarian version which is served in a peppery soup.
The lobby was once again crammed with gorgeously dressed people - this was such a reassuring sight. The previously deserted corridors were abuzz and alive, as guests strolled around soaking in the delights of all those areas that had remained out of bounds for twelve troubling months of sorrow and fear. Ladies and gentleman - The Taj is back on its feet! And so is Mumbai. Let's raise a toast to us!

Earlier, we'd spent a short time at an elegant Rolex event, which was discreetly structured and held at an appropriate venue. The jewelled watches on display were absolute beauties... but I am very happy with my workhorse model which never lets me down. I met two polite, little boys called Jehangir and Karl and was swept off my feet by their gentlemanly conduct. Jehangir, all of seven ( I'm guessing), expressed a desire to meet me. When his mother asked him ''Why her?" he answered solemnly, ''Because she loves Mumbai" ! Now, how the hell did this little chap know?? It is the best compliment I have received in a long, long time. Thank you, Jehangir.

Friday, November 27, 2009

namastey Obamaji !

I just love the idea of a socially ambitious Washington couple gate crashing Obama's party!! That's just so cool! With all those security systems and scrutiny, these two determined climbers, cleverly dressed for the occasion and brazenly walked in! Nobody thought of checking whether their names had been registered. They 'looked' like legit invitees - and clearly that was enough!
It made me think of how easily a couple of good looking terrorists clad in couture and playing their parts to perfection, could penetrate ANY event under the sun.
The reason I have terrorists on my mind is because of the past few days during which it was impossible to think of anyone else. At the end of the tv marathons, I felt drained, dehydrated and on the verge of a nervous breakdown ( okay... that last bit is for dramatic effect). The one person who really engaged my attention was the Israeli ambassador - suave, sophisticated, clever. He had all the answers - well, almost. He told me one important thing that has stuck - forget about past attacks. Don't waste time on them. Move on and stay ten steps ahead of the next hit if you can. Plan and pre-empt . So far, we've been busy deconstructing the 26\11 strike and not thinking beyond what went wrong. The blame game is on, and it is distressing to see finger pointing in place of solidarity. Cops against cops. Politicos against politicos. Mercifully, the commonman is still hanging together.
A fitting reply to terrorist attacks must come from the government, not citizens. As of now, the onus has been placed squarely on us. Absurd.
Oh hell.... forget the horror for now.
Michelle Obama's sequinned strapless dress was super sexy. Now, if only Naeem Khan had designed Shilpa Shetty's reception outfit!! That golden horror story hurt the eyes. And the bouffant made me wonder if a couple of pigeons were nesting inside.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

women, showers, cell phones...

Paralysed. That's the feeling. Crippled. Helpless. Marooned. Adrift. Bet you know what I'm talking about? Yup - my phone crashed. And along with it, so did half my world. As with a few key events in my life, this disaster took place mid-shower. Why is it that the most important calls in ones life always interrupt a much needed shower? The phone may not ring for hours. The day is going great - lots of writing out of the way. You step into the shower to catch up with your thoughts... cool off a bit. The silent cell phone is carefully placed on a bone dry counter. The reasons it is always near you during showers are practical. What if there is an emergency and you need to reach help???? Good point, right? Oh well.... two days ago, the bloody instrument rang mid-shower. Normally I let it ring. This time was not normal. I decided to answer it. But only after drying my wet hand on a fluffy towel first. Guess what? My hand was obviously not dry enough. Something dreadful must have happened with the few drops that cleverly managed to seep in and short circuit the delicate machine. The phone started to behave like it was Agassi on crystal meth.It went nuts. Rang randomely, switched on and off at will, before spluttering and dying on me. This was insane. I shook it angrily, brought out my hair dryer and almost stuck the phone into the micro. It looked perfectly dry to me. But it had packed up ... and with it, so had most of my life.
My son Aditya told me to stop mourning and bury the phone. He swiftly arranged for a replacement. But my numbers!!! Fortunately, I had them saved on a cd. Smart! My new phone has gone for a fitting - like a model before a haute couture show. I'm set. Sort of. This is my second phone to have suffered a 'Death by Shower'. Somehow, this doesn't seem to happen to guys. What is it about women, showers and phones....?? I breathlessly await personal accounts of this kind from blogdosts. Tell me it can get worse.... and I'll feel better.
Arnab's show tonight between 9pm-10pm. Rajdeep's tomorrow between 7pm-8pm. Then back to Arnab again between 9pm-10pm. Then on to a traditional Thanksgiving and remembrance dinner with the American Consul General. It hasn't been easy for anyone...I am with the Israelis when they remind the world about the atrocities Jews have endured with the words, " Lest we forget..." India must not forget...

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Ajeeb Mumbai Ki Ghazab Kahani

Mumbai seems to be going through a major identity crisis. There are any number of really weird people fighting over the metropolis, like it’s a half chewed bone, left behind by a pack of wild dogs. The scraps left behind are for scavengers of all hues – and yet, everyone is pouncing on them. Why? The answer is obvious – even those measly scraps of this mega city are worth a fortune. And nobody wants to let go of those precious leftovers.From politicians to businessmen , there is just one story worth narrating about this ajeeb city . It is called Real Estate. Take whoever, doing whatever, in whichever sphere - the motive is just one – land grab. Which is why Sachin Tendulkar’s innocuous remark – ‘Mumbai belongs to India’ – has triggered off reverbrations, not just in Sena Bhavan, but across party lines. It has been twisted out of context and given political hues by those who would like to appropriate the city and stake an exclusive claim over it. No other city in India generates this level of possessiveness and passion. And the only reason why Mumbai gets people to froth at the mouth each time the ‘ownership’ issue comes up, is because those who hope to plunder it still further, start feeling threatened. Earlier, this perceived threat used to come from ‘outsiders’ who were determined to acquire chunks of pricey property, using locals as frontmen. Often , these ‘outdsiders’ were underworld kingpins consolidating their hold over their gangs through illegal acquisitions of land in prime areas. The ‘Dons’ continued their dirty games from their hideouts overseas, even after getting chased out during the fierce inter-gang battles in the ‘80s and ‘90s. These old Bollywood- style dons were soon replaced by a new breed - the political dons – but the objectives remained the same – buying Mumbai. And selling it, piece by piece to the highest bidder. Dhanda!
The lines have totally blurred now. Most of the old players are either dead or dying. The new laptop ‘Dadas’ wear Versace ( itself a dying brand, but who’s to tell these designer goons?), and crack mega real estate deals with smooth talking builders in shiny suits. Most of the ghastly construction one sees in suburban Mumbai, is the product of these scumbags who have stripped Mumbai of all aesthetics, in their greed to make a fast buck. I was told by an erstwhile royal who is a globe trotting , card holding member of the Luxe set, that a top Italian designer who visited Mumbai in search of good locations for his stores, actually held his head in his hands and wept after a drive through the city. He couldn’t accept its ugliness. He was appalled by the hideous ‘development’ that lacks character or taste. He kept repeating, “ How could anybody do this to such a historic and important city? Why doesn’t someone stop this horrible growth?” He fled vowing never to return. Yes, he was that traumatized. Mumbai’s ‘ghazab’ story can only get worse. There are no real stakeholders left to protect it from marauders who are determined to exploit every last inch of space available. And these marauders are not the feared ‘outsiders’ , but insiders themselves, who want to hang on to the booty. Helping them in their sinister design are the greedy worker ants of Mumbai – those who sign ‘no objection’ certificates, okay crazy plans, are a part of this dirty nexus . From lowly staffers in the BMC, to hangers- on of MLA’S and ministers, they are all in the conspiracy to own India’s most valuable real estate – Mumbai.
What does the average Mumbaikar do to protect the city… his\her own interests? Very little. The cynicism is so wide spread, the Mumbaikar shrugs resignedly and life goes on. Every time there is a crisis, Mumbaikars are reminded about their ‘resilience’ and the great ‘spirit’ of the city. This is nothing but a cheap alibi that excuses those who are responsible for the safety and prosperity of India’s premier hub. Mumbaikars shrug, laugh and get back to work after each devastation, knowing that if they don’t, they’ll be finished. They read exposes on corruption in high places, in low places, in virtually every place! And are not shocked. They accept that most of the netas they themselves have voted into power are goondas. They don’t react. Nobody wants unnecessary ‘lafdas’, they say tiredly. As long as the goondas get them water in the taps, it’s okay. It’s all a big joke – just like in the current Ajeeb-Ghazab hit movie.Serial blasts, terror attacks, David Headley and whatever else might befall Mumbai in future, one thing is certain – politicians will never get poor. Today, Mumbaikars are willing to say sportingly, “ It’s okay, baba…. paisa banao. Loot maar karo. No problem. Grab what you can while in power. But at least make sure the public also benefits a little.” Is that too much to ask??
I think it is very fair and very practical. It’s time to do a deal. Maybe Mumbaikars should talk turkey with those who are busy plundering Mumbai and work out a formula. We have some of the canniest financial brains in the country in this overburdened city History tells us Mumbai came as part of a ‘dowry’ for a Portugese princess in the early 17th century. Time to file a dowry harassment case, in that case?? It can’t get more ghazab than that for this ajeeb city.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Super 'Manoos' Sachin - Mumbai Indian\Indian Mumbaikar?

Superman Sachin – Is he for real??

Sachin Tendulkar is seriously scarey - can the man do no wrong?? He is perhaps the only icon left in India that nobody but nobody can criticize without inviting the wrath of a billion people. What is there not to like about a guy who appears to be perfect in all respects? As a sportsman, he has no equal. As a family man, his conduct has been exemplary. His charmingly reticent wife, Anjali’s delightful interview in the TOI, said it all. As a son, the whole cricketing world watches him looking skywards to pay a silent tribute to his late father. As a father himself, he is around his kids on a priority basis…. whenever he himself is around, which is not often.As a friend… well…. if one forgets Vinod Kambli’s tiny squeak of protest, he has his loyalists. As a team member, he says he has always batted for India not for himself. As a sought- after model, he has made a lot of companies very wealthy by endorsing their products over the years . And as a living legend, he is acutely aware of the responsibilities that go with such a lofty position and discharges them with dignity. If anything, Sachin is too good to be true! He never loses his shirt – literally or metaphorically ( unlike Ganguly). He remains almost unnaturally cool under annoying circumstances ( early or unfair dismissals). His memory is elephantine (apparently, he can recall every ball ). He doesn’t get provoked, no matter what. He is super careful with his words ( impossible to catch this guy off- guard). He is unfailingly respectful towards his seniors, aloof and correct with juniors. He has managed to stay miles away from controversy, personal and professional. No known ‘lafdas’ , not even as a teenager with raging hormones ( his lust was reserved for the willow). A noble and faithful one woman man.Last week, he even sorted out the ‘asli Marathi Manoos’ debate brilliantly by boldly declaring, “ Mumbai belongs to India.” All along, Sachin has led his life with enviable discretion bordering on boy scout conduct. Does the man have NO vices at all?? Minor ones?? Innocuous ones? Does he breathe, live and dream cricket – just cricket?? Has he ever let his hair down? Got drunk? Danced on a tabletop? Flirted with a stranger in a distant land? Cracked a dirty joke? Broken even a single, teenie weenie rule? Ever?? If the answer is ‘no’ to all the above, that makes Sachin the closest any human being has ever been to becoming Superman – the Invincible One. A God-like creature. The ultimate sacred cow.Wow!!! The halo is intact. And may it remain that way.
We live in excessively cynical times. We refuse to believe there could be hi- profile celebrities out there who are genuinely ‘good’ people. We go in search of flaws and scandals, because we are looking for something to knock the idol off the pedestal. Look at what’s happening to Andre Agassi ( not in the same league, even so). The only other global sportsmen to come anywhere close to Sachin in terms of stature and reputation are Tiger Woods and Michael Schumacher. I had tweeted about conferring a Bharat Ratna on Sachin - it is the only national honour left for a man who has won the unconditional love of over a billion people. The response has been overwhelmingly in favour of the Master Blaster. Who says a recipient of the Bharat Ratna has to hit 70, 80, 90 to win the country’s highest civilian award? Sachin at 36 has hit 100. Several times over. Why not give it to Sachin while he is peaking and in a rare position to reach even greater heights in future? If we want to activate the minds of the youth of India and spur them on to achieve excellence, Sachin’s the guy to hold up as an inspiration. Superman Sachin. Only the cape is missing!!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Minnie Mouse? That's me!!

The Roar of the Mighty Mouse

When I read the absolutely thrilling account of how police officer Kimberley Denise Munley gunned down Major Nidal Malik Hasan during the infamous blood bath at Fort Hood, my hair stood on end. This was not just a demonstration of raw courage, but an exemplary display of ace professionalism. Munley’s presence of mind in the face of grave personal danger must be commended by people across the world. A diminutive (5’ 4”) mother of two, Sgt. Munley followed what is called the ‘active shooter protocol’, when she spotted the deranged, cold- blooded killer brandishing a pistol and chasing a wounded soldier outside the building. Responding to a police alert of gunfire at the centre where soldiers are screened before being sent overseas, Munley did not think twice before she rushed to the spot, even though she was off duty and just taking her car for repairs. Reacting modestly to the praise being heaped on her after the rampage, she said she had received specific training to handle this kind of a situation.
Well, it’s one thing to receive training, quite another to implement it during an emergency. Her grandmother confirmed Munley’s love for her work, and Munley’s record shows she joined the police force after years in the army. She ( like Sarah Palin!), is passionate about hunting and enjoys other outdoor sports. But through this single act of extraordinary bravery, Munley has inspired countless individuals to put their own lives on the line when faced with a dangerous enemy killing innocents.
Recently, in the Kashmir Valley, we witnessed similar outstanding guts shown by our own desi Mighty Mouse – the fearless woman who picked up an automatic weapon and gunned down militants, thereby saving not just her own life, but the lives of other members of her family. It is another matter that today, she has to live in dread of vendetta and the threat of revenge killing by sympathizers of those she shot. Even so, she remains unbowed and fearless as ever. One on level, I am filled with admiration for these female warriors, but on another something inside me says, “ Oh God!! There is enough violence in our world. Do we need women to add to it?”I know this is old- fashioned, gender- specific thinking. I realize I’m falling into the stereotyping trap. But seriously, there are times when I ask myself whether women’s lives today are being rewritten and redefined in ways that are not in the overall interests of humanity at large. Perhaps we are being forced to play or adopt fierce, aggressive roles that are reshaping our essential selves. I look around me, and see so many female gladiators in the corporate space clawing their way to the top. I read reports about women in their thirties dealing with premature menopause, or even younger women in their twenties who are finding it hard to conceive because their hormonal levels have gone berserk. Sure, some of them are super successful and leading lives their grandmoms could not have dreamed of. But they are also dealing with biological issues that did not touch their grandmoms’ wombs.
Chuck Medley, the director of emergency services at the base has described Mighty Mouse Munley as “absolutely a hero.” Well earned praise. But I can’t help looking at this grim scenario from a slightly different perspective. When Munley’s little girl( who is all of three years old now), grows up and hears about her mother’s incredible derring–do, will she perhaps wonder, “ What if mom had been killed? Did she not think of me at that moment?” I know this is silly. Children of great military heroes ( mainly men) , must feel the same way and ask themselves identical questions about fathers they’ve never known. But as a woman, much as I love my fellowmen, much as I care…. I get the feeling I would think of my children first, weigh the odds and only then pick up that gun. That is why I’ll never become a Mighty Mouse. My fate is to remain Minnie!
Spent a wonderful afternoon addressing the women ( and a few good men!) from Central Railways on the occasion of their 'Women's Empowerment' week. The function was held in the auditorium at the CST , Mumbai's heritage station, which has become world famous after the terror attacks of 26\11. Walking past the crowded platforms, my hair stood on end, especially while listening to repeated announcements about unattended parcels. Even though the announcer's voice was calm and matter of fact, the warnings were serious and deadly. Naturally. Given what innocents endured that fateful,dreadful night. I met the motorman who was on duty when the terrorists walked in. He is from Orissa and proud of it. I met four smart , young RPF ( Railway Police Force) constables - three of the young women were from West Bengal, the fourth one from U.P. This is Mumbai. A microcosm of India. Of course, it belongs to everyone. I am not a cricket fanatic.But thank you, Sachin. It needed to be said. Loud and strong.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Ma da Laadla Bighad Gayaa

Manu Sharma and his Maa ke values …
Thank God I am not Manu Sharma’s ‘maa’!! I am sure millions of mothers across India are also thanking the Almighty for sparing them from such a curse! Jessica Lall’s cold-blooded murderer wrote a maudlin’ letter to his precious ‘maa’, before crawling back to prison earlier this week. The contents of the letter are priceless. After raging against the media for being so mean to him ( poor, little killer boy!), he thanked his mother for teaching him the right values!! We’d love to know what those values are, going by Manu’s track record. Do they include murder,bullying, cheating, lying ? Not only did Manu fib about his mother’s health while applying for a parole that should never have been granted to such a person, but his supposedly ailing mother Shakti Sharma, compounded that lie by brazenly attending a press meet in Chandigarh, looking perfectly hale and hearty. The grandmother , whose religious rituals, Manu claimed he was required to attend, has been dead for years. Meanwhile Manu himself was busy attending to ‘neglected’ business matters at various bars in the Capital. Who let this dangerous man out??
Sheila Dixit is in deep ….err…. trouble. Her ‘executive discretion’ in the Manu Sharma parole case is being questioned. It is shocking that someone of her standing and stature should look the other way and shrug off what has been a clear case of preferential treatment and blatant discrimination. Such double standards can only be labeled an abuse of privilege, power and position. Authorities are being accused of ‘bending the rules and procedures.” And, guess what? All this bending and twisting of rules has come to light only because of the aggressive stand taken by the media ( same lot that will not let bechara Manu live in peace, as he cribbed to his maa). Or else, it might have been another instance of business as usual for Manu and all those involved in organising his Delhi picnic. Had Sharma not misbehaved at a popular club that night and got into a scuffle, this convicted killer would have continued partying and lap dancing well after Happy Hours. Who knows - another young girl might have ended up with a bullet through her head for refusing to serve this obnoxious guy a fresh drink after the bar closed. Meanwhile, a so-called ‘tycoon’, Samir Thapar, flew into a rage because the bumbling Delhi cops had the ‘himmat’ to pick him up even though his only ‘crime’ that fateful night was to rev up his sportscar’s engine . Come on, guys, give him a break - it was only 3 a.m at the time –and too bad if sleeping unclejis and auntyjis in the neighbourhood got disturbed by the ear- shattering growls of his fancy Ferrari!
Everybody agrees the justice system is being taken for a ride here. Given the scarey statistics ( 60% prisoners flee while out on parole), there is obviously something not just very wrong, but terribly fishy about the granting of parole to the favoured few. In Manu’s case, the weak official explanation was that a parole gives prisoners the chance to reform and renew ties with family. And with drinking buddies? But in reality, most jailbirds use this as an opportunity to escape, knowing the chances of getting away with it are exceedingly high.Bitti Mohanty, son of a top cop, jailed for rape, has done the skip ( same excuse as Manu – ailing mother) and has successfully evaded arrest for months. Several other hard core criminals are out there on the run, safe and secure in the knowledge that nobody is serious about going after them. The list includes murderers armed with deadly weapons. And this worrying information comes from just one source - the Amritsar central jail which shows that more than 8,200 deadly prisoners are on the run , waiting to strike again. All prisoners are supposed to be equal in the eyes of the law. Obviously, some lucky ones are more equal than the other suckers.
The rest of India describes what happened with Manu Sharma that night as the ‘Delhi Syndrome’. Translated, this means, if pappaji is well-connected ( Manu’s father is a powerful Congressman , known for his closeness to the top leadership) , moneyed (the Sharmas are seriously loaded), or an influential cop, Pappu’s derriere is fully covered. He can do drugs, booze, arms, prostitutes – no problem. Why, he can completely lose it if his drink doesn’t reach him fast enough, whip out a gun and – bam – kill the bar tender. He can rape, assault,mutilate, pimp, kidnap, terrorise,blackmail… you name the crime …he’ll get away with it. After all , what is the point of having a politico as a Daddy-O if he can’t bail him out and save his butt ?Perhaps these are the ‘values’ Manu was referring to in his letter to his mother as he whimpered, “ Maa, I assure you that I have done nothing wrong, maybe it is my fate….”
Just as it was Jessica’s fate to get shot dead by Manu ? What did she do wrong?
Any answers, Sheila Dixit??
I love Mahesh Bhatt. He is passionate, well read, gutsy and impossible. So... when he called me on Friday to talk about my tweet on his son Rahul ( yup, same guy who has landed himself in a spot in the David Coleman Headley case), I was all ears and most interested in his take on what had gone wrong. Mahesh must have really worked the phone lines with the media after the story hit the headlines that day, as is clear from the front page coverage his version has received this morning. " They are making a villain out of a hero," fumes Mahesh in his son's defence. While Mahesh's daughter Pooja reserves her rage for my tweet where I had called the Bhatts a 'dysfunctional' family ( the Bhatts don't exactly exemplify the average Indian family, and that's what makes them unique) . This is a real hot potato - it is a highly sensitive and complicated case, and I do sympathise with Mahesh for having to deal with yet another crisis in the family. Pooja says she has seen her dad age in the past two days. As a daughter, she must feel for him. I understand. But the case won't be solved this easily. There are far too many investigating agencies involved in what has become an international terror investigation, with the FBI leading the war against Headley. It is indeed a pity, if a gullible young man called Rahul Bhatt, has been drawn into the mess because of odd circumstances . Alas, we live in odd times.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Fully bogus...

True, there is no 'printed invitation' for the Puri book launch. The invitation came to me via Mita Kapoor, a good friend from Jaipur, who said she is Nandita's literary agent and wanted me to attend the function. The venue mentioned was the Grand Maratha. That's a mere detail.
Frankly, this whole 'public spat' in print between Om and Nandita is beginning to read like the other, equally sensationalistic stunt staged by Malaika Arora and her husband Arbaz, which talked about their 'separation'. That had turned out to be a poorly scripted p.r. strategy to promote a product they were endorsing as a couple. The idea was for Arbaz to 'propose' to his wife on stage and remarry her. Well, it backfired on both. And Malaika's assignments swiftly dried up.
Loss of credibility comes with a huge price tag.
I have all the respect in the world for Om. I remember being on a London-Mumbai flight with him a few years ago, and was most impressed by his modesty and genuine passion for his craft. It would be a great pity if he has indeed gone along with this strategy to promote his wife's book. Om's admirers will not think less of him for those early sexapades, whether with maids or co-stars. But they will feel letdown if his 'rage and shock' at the contents of the book turn out to be marketing gimmicks and nothing more.
I am really sick and tired of 'explaining' my position vis- a -vis Raj Thackeray. Let me state it flatly and for the last time right here : I am NOT his supporter. I do NOT endorse his methods. And I WILL condemn his party's thinking and actions whenever required. What took place in the Maharashtra assembly was a well thought out plan that made headlines for both - Abu Azmi and Raj. Both must be laughing all the way to the bank at having manipulated the media so smoothly. I said so on 'Times Now' the same night . But... and this is an important 'but' - equally,I will NOT be bullied and pushed into condemning Raj (or anybody else) at each and every stage, and for each and everything , just to 'satisfy' various pressure groups who have their own twisted agendas. As a consistently independent, liberal voice, I will continue to speak my mind, regardless of reactions from various interested parties determined to give a perverse interpretation to every utterance and column. From the word go, my position has been very clear - whether it involves Mayawati, Raj or Narendra Modi. These are the players - they are here to stay. This is what they stand for. This is who they are. These are their words. And these, their actions. Deal with it. I see it as my job to document change as it happens. And write about people who drive that change. Period.Unless we acknowledge what is happening around us in a democracy, how can we address issues related to such phenomena?? Even to deal effectively with ones worst enemy, it is important to understand his\her psyche first. To blank such a person out, is to run away from reality. Plus, it serves no purpose. Today, it is Raj. Tomorrow, it could be someone else. Another bete noire. Another monster. What will we do with such a person? Wish him\her away ? Or ask ourselves why such a person has come up in the first place? What is it about our politics that gives birth and legitimacy to individuals who challenge all that civil society stands for? We must speak up. Silence is not the solution.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Om Puri's outburst...publicity stunt??

Yup. That's what I think. For those not in the loop, Om Puri's wife Nandita, has written her husband's biography, aptly titled 'Unlikely Hero' , which is to be officially launched tomorrow ( could be tonight, I've thrown the invitation card away). I read an excerpt in Tehelka last week and was pretty surprised. I also read Nandita's interview and ... and ... was not surprised. Nandita has always come across as a pushy, ambitious person with a 'star complex'. I recall meeting her when she first came to Mumbai from Kolkata and called herself a journalist. Next thing I knew she had married Om. And from that moment on, her life changed irrevocably. From parallel cinema and art house films, Om made it to international movies via a shrewd agent who knew how to market one of India's most talented actors. Om was busier overseas than in Bollywood. He started making good money. Which was fantastic given his really miserable beginnings with a destitute mother who often didn't have even small change to feed the boy.
Okay. That's enough as a backgrounder.... now here comes the asli story. In an 'angry' interview to a tabloid this morning, Om has expressed his rage and shock at some of the revelations in his wife's book. Especially the ones that recount his sexual exploits with a series of maids, starting with Shanti and moving on to Laxmi. He has accused Nandita of 'reducing a sacred part' of his life 'to cheap and lurid gossip.' He claims he was not aware of the contents of the book and that his wife did not allow him to read the manuscript. He adds he doesn't want to be in the same league as a Shiney Ahuja. Nandita's response has been equally spirited , while admitting her husband is 'livid'. She says - and it sounds like a well thought through quotable quote - "My book on my husband is a biography, not bloody pornography!" Saccch????
If the miya-biwi jhagda in print and across tv channels is indeed real, and Om was completely in the dark about the contents of the book, there is just one acid test left - will Om show up for the launch and promote this 'cheap and lurid' effort?? Will he participate in all the related marketing activities?? And most importantly - will he stay married to a woman he claims has betrayed his trust and exploited him? His sign off line in an interview is pretty telling - " Please don't be discreet. Has she exercised any discretion in talking about my personal experiences? The final decision to put up my life as a tamasha was Nandita's. I can't forgive her."
Over to you, Nandita.... and good look with the book launch. I'm sure you have your sound bytes ready......

Monday, November 9, 2009

Kissa Thappad Ka....

Andre Agassi : Love All, Tell All!!

I am astonished by Andre Agassi’s drug abuse revelations in his just released autobiography ‘Open’ ( great title), aptly dubbed the sports world’s ‘Dope Opera’.
Why now? It can’t be to sell the book – he is a millionaire, and so his wife Steffi Graff in her own right. He doesn’t need the publicity – his fan following is vast.It is a lose-lose situation whichever way one looks at it. He has risked his place in the Tennis Hall of Fame, and shocked his countless admirers by admitting he lied to the ATP, the powerful men’s governing body . And now he is mewing about how all he’s asking for is compassion in place of condemnation. Well, Martina Navratilova for one, is in no mood to sympathise with Agassi and has condemned his conduct, comparing him to baseball pitcher Roger Clemens, who is embroiled in a doping allegation. Boris Becker has accused him of greed.While Agassi himself insists he took
Crystal meth, a recreational drug, to combat depression. As an adult, that is his option. But as a world class sportsman, idolized by millions, his crime is that he lied about it after failing a drug test. That is cheating. And nobody likes a cheat.
The intriguing part of this on-going controversy is why, after so many years, has Agassi suddenly decided to come clean and confess all. One can understand his ‘wig abuse’ admission ( he was balding prematurely and chose to wear a flamboyant, blond wig while playing, so as to impress his fans ). That has to do with personal vanity. It’s perfectly acceptable for high profile celebs to resort to cosmetic tricks in order to keep their followers hooked. What’s a toupee or breast enhancement between friends? Most of our iconic movie stars resort to such props – it is one of Bollywood’s best kept secrets. But deception of the Agassi kind is not acceptable and is bound to create reverbrations in the billion dollar world of competitive sport. Agassi may also be stripped of his past titles, and worse, stripped of all honour and dignity.
So why did he do it?? His tell- all tale has triggered off an international debate. My own theory is that someone in the know must have threatened to expose him. It’s the old blackmailer’s trick. Rather than risk such ignominy, Agassi decided to pre-empt the move by revealing the dirty details himself. Agassi’s ‘misery machine’ ( familiar story of a brutal, abusive father etc etc) may find a few takers. His publishers may be rubbing their hands in glee at the prospect of selling millions of copies. But Andre Agassi has disgraced himself and his family forever. One feels for his kids – can’t be fun being mocked at school for no fault of theirs.How will the scandal pan out?? The next few weeks will be interesting to watch…there goes another personal hero!

From farmers’ suicides to citizens taking their own lives, there seems to be some sort of an epidemic on. As if dealing with typhoid, malaria and cholera is not bad enough, we now have the rather macabre scenario of Mumbaikars who can’t handle the growing stress and decide to say goodbye to it all. The latest one being the 24-year-old Bhandup trader, Dinesh Jain, who killed his wife and two young daughters before hanging himself. An 18- year-old IIT-Mumbai student also shot himself with his father’s handgun, saying he was unhappy with life. All these are ominous signs of a society under tremendous pressure. And we are not at all prepared to deal with panic attacks that lead to suicide.
We have a brand new State cabinet in place. Of course,there are many heavyweight political issues to tackle on a war footing. But what about addressing the human ones, too? Or is that too much to expect from men whose sole obsession is to grab power….and once grabbed, hang on to it!
I can’t wait to watch ‘Natrang’, the Marathi film ( with English sub-titles) that is the talk of the recently- concluded MAMI film festival. Atul Kulkarni has put in another brilliant performance as a wrestler who is forced to become a ‘naachya’ in a tamasha troupe. And Atul is also the star of another Marathi film, “ Sukhaant’ – The Final Wish, which deals with euthanasia and is generating a big buzz in discerning circles.


'Kissa Thappad Ka'. It was bound to happen. It has happened. Abu Azmi is dealing with a slap on his face. And he didn't turn the other cheek. Is Hindi really and truly the ONLY National language according to the Indian Constitution? The debate gets bigger and bolder. Arnab Goswami, Rajdeep Sardesai and Barkha Dutt want me to come on their shows tonight and discuss the pandemonium that disrupted the swearing-in ceremony at the Mantralaya today, when Azmi refused to take the oath in Marathi , pointing out that Hindi is the National language..... provoking Raj Thackeray's guys to attack Azmi and deliver a stinging slap . I am in two and three and four minds.....

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Celebs for sale....

Celebrity Journalism – Desi style

I plead guilty. Thirty odd years ago, I was encouraged by my then bossman, Nari Hira to conceptualise another popular magazine, after having launched and run the path- breaking ‘Stardust’ for a decade. This is how ‘Society’ was born. It was perhaps India’s first honest –to- goodness celeb mag that chronicled all that was good, bad and ugly about the belle monde of that era. Like ‘Stardust’, the new arrival was an instant hit in urban India … and is still around in its original avatar. Having tasted success with these two ‘products’, I foolishly imagined I could launch one of my own. That’s how I started ‘Celebrity’ which struggled to survive for three years before shutting down. I lost money. I felt terrible. It was a terrific magazine. But I was a lousy businesswoman.
Today, the scenario has changed so dramatically when it comes to celeb journalism, I am constantly awestruck by the brazenness of it all. Anybody who has ever made it to Page 3 ( even paid big bucks to get there) is deemed an ‘official’ celebrity. Once that tag is attached to an individual, a free market situation does the rest. There is a biz opportunity in every celeb sneeze and squeeze. Media -made celebs have realized the potential and swiftly moved to monetize what they see as their ‘worth’. Let’s take two or three recent examples, starting with a starlet called Sameera Reddy. Lovely girl, by the way. The original ‘Sexy Sam’. According to reports in tabloids, she threw a royal fit at Mumbai airport recently when she was denied entry into the VIP lounge, which is reserved for – yup – VIPs!! Obviously, the officer in charge of the lounge did not put this Bollywood starlet into the same category as say, a P. Chidambaram. Or more realistically speaking, a Shah Rukh Khan. In their case, there would definitely be security issues to deal with in case of a delayed flight. But that is not the case with a Sameera. How many people even know who she is?? Yet, in her own eyes, she equates herself with bonafide VIPs. How did this end? She was politely and firmly escorted to a business class lounge, which is what her business class ticket entitled her to. The mobs she said she feared, left her alone, except for a few pesky kids who were brushed off by Sulking Sam. Clearly A case of delusional behaviour. But at least it was a cashless transaction – the Lord be praised.
Take a look at the upside. Our lissome and smart Shilpa Shetty is soon to marry. The entire world has been given the minutest details of her romance with a certain Raj Kunder – Jab they Met – and what followed. Shilpa is a charming and an extremely well- liked individual. But her standing in Bollywood is still where it was before she shot to fame as the late- Jade Goody’s bete noire in Britain’s much- watched reality show , ‘Big Brother’. After that win, Shilpa positioned herself as a brand worth investing in. And she found a besotted investor-suitor in the much- married Raj.Realising the commercial potential of their new-found togetherness, both of them decided to hire a publicist to feed choice tidbits of the growing pyaar-vyaar to a hungry tabloid press. No problem. That’s how celeb journalism works in the West ( think Posh Beckham, Madonna et al). Today, on the threshold of becoming man and wife, the blissed out couple is going for the kill ( think Catherine Zeta- Jones and Michael Douglas). Their wedding is up for grabs. Going, going, gone to the highest bidder. To kick off the bidding process, Mr. Kunder has offered a bouquet of photo-ops as ‘exclusives’ to a high end publication. In an email to editors ,he provided precise details about the engagement ring ( 2.5 million pounds, if I remember right), and offered access to the magical moment itself – the proposal!! All this, for a big fat fee , of course.
Wake up, India. We have arrived!!
There is money to be made in dem celebs. Gone is the coy era of demanding privacy. Now is the time to demand money. Nobody is blinking. Scoops, scandals, affairs, weddings, funerals, births…. everything is for sale. Just like in the West. What’s more, everyone is cool with it – readers, viewers, consumers of assorted media platforms.It works great for all the players. It needed a Raj Kunder to show amateurs how to play the celeb game professionally. If his strategy works, it would mean that technically, the wedding comes for free, so does the ring and everything else. A few eyebrows will be raised. Well… bugger them. Kunder is not holding a gun to anybody’s head. If a media house is ready to pay serious money to cover the wedding (honeymoon , too?? Or is that a separate deal?), it’s perfectly kosher. If the couple pulls off the coup, trust me, all the rest will follow. Nothing is sacred in these times of ferocious media wars. Look at Michael Jackson’s father blandly stating that his son is worth much more dead than alive! And demanding free rooms in posh hotels by boasting his presence there would generate great publicity for the property! Bollywood is still taking baby steps. Cash and carry is here to stay. Deal with it, guys.


A day filled with love and longing. Or it could be plain boredom. The sun sets a bit too early and the sky looks ominous, not pretty. Mumbai is gearing up for the anniversary of the macabre 26\11 attacks. A hotel in Pune announced a really , really tacky 'hospitality' gesture that has shocked the trade and everybody else. The management of 'Pride' is offering special deals to tourists who dare visit the city on 26\11. The deal itself is crazy beyond belief - hard cash! Other hoteliers have expressed their horror at this abominable plan and condemned it roundly. Meanwhile Qasab's trial drags on. And newspapers are filled with chilling testimonies of those who were directly affected. The strangest media story comes from a young woman who has finally gone to the press since the cops refused to entertain her all this while. She has given a pretty vivid and convincing account of actually seeing some of the terrorists loitering in the locality (Colaba) two days prior to the attacks. She was shot in the stomach by one of them while eating dinner at Leopold's. When she, bleeding and badly wounded, crawled across the street to the police station, they shooed her away. Isn't that bizarre? Well, now that her story is in print, she has been summoned by the cops finally to record her statement. Am following her account closely. Personally, I am in a bit of a fix. Several organisations have been hounding me to come and speak at various functions being planned to mark the day. But I feel worried and concerned that these do-gooders are using this ghastly occasion as a peg for publicity and that what may happen will be another meaningless farce featuring the usual suspects. Creating an anthem for Mumbai etc ? all sounds phoney to me. And yet, I feel terrible saying, " Sorry. I know you guys mean well. But count me out." Let's see how it goes...

Friday, November 6, 2009

Save those kisses, sir...

Such a strange day. Spent it listlessly looking at old diaries. Yes, I write detailed diaries - always have, since I was a little girl And all the entries sound like columns!! Even at age 12! Well, today I was searching for something specific. But I got so distracted reading about an encounter with Richard Gere a few years ago at Parmeshwar Godrej's palatial home that I fell off my chair laughing. He is quite a character. For all his Buddhist beliefs and closeness to the Dalai Lama, he is far from humble. In fact, I found him sharp, sardonic and arrogant. This was just before he got embroiled in the Shilpa Shetty kissing controversy and had an arrest warrant out for him! I'm not sure about the status of that warrant. Perhaps, his long absence from Mumbai has something to do with it?? That infamous kissing clip is worth studying, though. It was replayed on some tv channel recently, and I still feel it was offensive and downright cheeky, given the context ( an AIDS awareness programme for truckers). This was no friendly peck on the cheek, it was a full-on , slobbering attack, with Gere plastering several noisy smooches all over Shilpa's face. The poor girl looked startled as she awkwardly pushed him away - but he had her firmly in his grip, in that old Broadway position ( amorous man flips giggly bimbo over backwards) - and Shilpa could do nothing but grin and bear it.

There are many desi Geres in our lechy society, and a lot of women find it hard to fend them off when the ridiculous 'mwaah mwaah' nonsense takes place . I resist with all my might ... and succeed most times. I begin by doing a 'namastey' from a safe distance. If that is ignored, I extend my hand. Often, that's the mistake. Once the lech gets that hand, he refuses to let go. Worse, he pulls hard on that hand and shoves his horrible face close to yours. Wrenching the hand away at this point, is rather difficult. That leaves two options : you nimbly dodge that disgusting kiss by sharply turning to greet someone else ( the wrist can get seriously damaged during such a manoeuvre), or the lech ends up kissing the back of your head - and looking supremely foolish! It's better than submitting to unwarranted , unsolicited and totally ugh 'chummas' from randoms.

I decide who gets a kiss from me. It is my option. Anybody who tries that old slimey trick, risks getting publicly snubbed. GEDDIT????


Saif-Kareena. Ranbir-Katrina. Two pairs. Two movies. Lots of money riding on both. I prefer the latter. What's your verdict??

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Suhaag Raat for sale???

Momentous day, in a way. Couldn't have imagined I'd be watching a close relative's eye surgery as it took place - no, not in the O.T. but from an adjoining room, on a tv monitor that was recording each procedure. Dr. Ashok Shroff is one of the best ophthalmic surgeons in India, with impeccable credentials. It was a privilege watching him operate with such elegance and lightness of touch. His fingers moved like a graceful dancer's in a well choreographed sequence that dazzled me. ME!!!!! Someone who is so squeamish about injections and needles. I am seriously needle- phobic and close my eyes when someone is getting an injection - even if that is on the screen. And here I was paying such close attention to Dr. Shroff''s every move ( magnified, of course, and doubly scarey). Now that I know I won't faint at the sight of an eye when a cataract is being pulverised before getting it sucked out , I'll be able to handle myself less hysterically while donating blood.

Playing peeping tom was an awesome experience on one level. Sure. I shed a small bit of my earlier phobia.Do I want a replay?? Hell, no!! Even this was far too upclose and personal for my taste.


I happened to read an email that was forwarded to me by a responsible person, just to give me an idea of how aggressively the celeb game is being played these days. It was from a big fish flogging the rights to various functions that had anything at all to do with his own forthcoming wedding!!!! He was offering juicy details and tantalising teasers about every 'event' associated with the 'shaadi', starting with his formal proposal " on bended knee." How unique and original is that, I ask. He'd also provided payment details of the gigantic rock he'd be giving his lady love, helpfully adding he'd speak to the jewellers about an 'exclusive'. The price he quoted for the ring could buy an island in the Carribean. It made me wonder if the man was plain smart or entirely besharam. If the mags had been crazy enough to actually bid for and buy his story for the price he was demanding, he'd have got the engagement ring and his high profile wedding for free!! I guess some editors have better sense than to fall for such a Cheap Charlie's ghatiya tricks. He was told to go flog his two bit 'exclusive' to some other bakra. So far, nobody is biting. Who knows, he may peddle the rights to his suhaag raat next!!! Now that would be something given the yummy bride.

Monday, November 2, 2009

The buck stops here for Boyle's 'Slumdog' kids...

The business of being ‘slumdogs’….

No more money for Rubina. No car for Azhar. Danny Boyle has spoken. This time, it is final. He is not open to further negotiations. And the two slumdog kids can take a walk.
‘Danny Uncle’ has made it clear that his settlement terms are linked to the kids attending school on a regular basis – bunking classes (as Rubina and Azhar have been doing) means giving up the extra dosh. All this is sound, sensible stuff, coming from a person who has been pretty fair and generous. The scarey part is how such young children are being tutored to ask for more… and more. Assuming it is their greedy family members briefing them to make unreasonable demands and extort as much as they can from Danny, what sort of a nasty effect will such a venal attitude have on the bachchas later? Their lives have been touched and transformed in ways that are complex and daunting. For better or worse, they will never ever be able to adjust to their old, shabby existence of drudgery and abject poverty. But that still does not mean Danny owes them anything more than has been offered. A 25 lakhs flat for Rubina is, by any standards, a pretty good deal. But now her family has upped the demand to a 40 lakhs apartment. Tomorrow they could ask for 1 crore. Where does it stop? Azhar insists he wants a ‘small car’ because he is suddenly ‘scared’ to travel by auto rickshaw! This is not about whether Danny can afford to finance these fresh demands. It is about greed and exploitation. Such a pity that the children are being dragged through this unfortunate mess. Well…. the buck stops here, says Boyle. Go back to school, say his trustees. Or risk losing the promised bonanza. My guess is that the families of the kids will try their best to squeeze every extra rupee out of the two golden geese – education be damned. In which case, they’ll end up losing it all – the money, home or the chance to work with Boyle again.
I must pump Arjun Rampal’s hand the next time I meet him. By speaking up about the fiasco at Rohit Bal’s fashion show in Delhi, he has opened a can of worms. About time someone had the guts to point out just how hideously commercial the fashion scenario has become of late. This whole business of getting Bollywood showstoppers initially started as a gimmick. Designers who had a good relationship with star clients, got their buddies to walk the ramp for them, knowing their presence would generate great press. This progressed to the stars plugging their favourite designers and getting them hired for their movies. What followed was minor and major stars asking for big , fat fees to walk. Sensing the potential of such an arrangement, everybody jumped into the fray. The publicity generated was worth the money spent. Stars realized very quickly that by strutting across the catwalk for two minutes, they could pocket a cool 30 lakhs or more AND make it to the front pages of most dailies, plus hog tv prime time, too. Soon fat cat producers bought into the game and started to use this platform for promoting their forthcoming films. Big money was offered to designers\sponsors to hire a star jodi and derive extra mileage for an unreleased film. This cosy arrangement was working well - till Arjun broke the bhanda, after he and Dino were unceremoniously dumped at the last minute, with Katrina and Ranbir hotstepping it, instead. We are also equally sick of seeing Bollywood stars on the covers of fashion magazines , which somehow make them look ridiculous and unattractive by styling them in an exaggerated way that strips them of their personality completely. Editors claim they are helpless – issues featuring movie stars outsell issues featuring professional models, ten to one! Maybe. But frankly, if readers want to see Bollywood stars on the covers of glossies, they can pick up any one of the countless fanzines. It really is time for fashion to reclaim fashion. And do so on its own terms.
Oh dear, Oh dear.... I fear I made myself MOST unpopular with a group of high school and college students who were running a mock United Nations event at Jaihind College. I bet they wished they'd never invited me! Well.... they had.... so there I was at their concluding function at which prizes were to be given and speeches made. Since I'd been told about their newsletter called 'The Ugly Truth', I asked for copies . Big mistake!! Had someone informed me it was not a newsletter per se, but an irreverent, daily scandal sheet meant strictly for the delegates, I would have saved my fire. But the kind of cheap comments and blatantly sexist remarks I read, made me see red.... and blue.... and purple. I let fly.... especially since most of the cracks were aimed at a guy called Bucky. He was mercilessly mocked for being gay or 'swinging both ways'! I flew to the defence of Bucky....gays the world over, and was frothing at the mouth, berating the editors for being homophobic etc. Guess what?? Right after I'd finished my tongue lashing, some 'delegates' came upto me to say it was really okay to crack those jokes, and that Bucky LOVED the attention. Ooooops! One guy explained in all seriousness, " Gays are totally cool with it. It's like Blacks in America calling one another 'nigger'. It's just a joke - no offence."
I want to ask you blogdosts out there if this is really so ????? Did I miss something??????????

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Why M.F.Husain must come home....

M.F. Husain – Marathi Manoos

Mumbai is the only city in the world M.F.Husain calls ‘home’. Husainsaab is as Maharashtrian as ‘jhunka-bhakri or vada- pav. Mumbai has been the painter’s home for close to eight decades. It is the one destination he celebrated as a very young, very broke aspiring artist when he got here from his birthplace, the holy city of Pandharpur in Maharashtra. He embraced Mumbai and Mumbai embraced him. This passionate love affair continued over the years, with the prolific artist graduating from painting film hoardings to putting India on the international map as its foremost contemporary artist. His horses galloped across the world, breaking records and he himself became the desi art world’s most powerful brand. But through it all, he remained the quintessential Mumbaikar at heart, prowling the city’s gullies ( barefoot, of course), stopping for a quick ‘cutting chai’ at the nearest Irani café, and chronicling every aspect of our drab lives in bold, brilliant strokes that startled viewers with their virility and assurance.
Today, the 94-year-old Mumbaikar wants to come home. The same home he was forced to flee four years ago. He has been living in exile, tormented by the thought he may never set foot in the land of his birth again. Isn’t it time we showed enough grace, courage, courtesy…just plain and simple ‘tameez’… by welcoming him back to his motherland? Yes, the very same ‘Bharatmata’ he stands accused of having desecrated? Without going into the politics of that complex issue, let it be said that those who are vociferously opposing his return and threatening a frail, old man with violence, are the ones who have appropriated the role of the nation’s moral keepers. Isn’t it high time we grew up and took a more enlightened view of the situation…. regardless? One can debate the merits of the numerous cases against the artist till the cows come home. This is not about legality, but human decency. Can we not find it within ourselves to close that ugly chapter and give Husainsaab the benefit of the doubt? Why do his critics assume he had wicked intentions when he chose to paint the subjects he did?What did he have to gain by inviting trouble – big trouble? He has been hugely successful for decades, he doesn’t need publicity stunts to sell his works. Nor is he dumb enough to offend people deliberately and not be aware of the consequences.
Perhaps what Husainsaab had failed to factor in was the growing intolerance in our society – the same society that once prided itself on its acceptance of plurality and diverging views. The same society that still calls itself a democracy but comes down cruelly on anyone who doesn’t toe the line. The tragedy in Husain’s case is that his shrillest and most virulent critics are those who have never seen his work! These are the hired hands of political parties out to create mischief and propagate nasty, narrow- minded theories designed to spread hate, misinformation… and more. It is they who are far more dangerous to our society than any artist. These are the same people who encourage a non-entity with zero artistic merit to ‘fix’ the nonegarian genius by painting Husain himself in the nude! What pathetic levels we have descended to, if we genuinely believe we are punishing one of our greatest living legends by stripping him off his clothes on a canvas.
Husainsaab’s anguished ‘crie de coeur’ has obviously not reached the right ears so far. Political heavyweights in Delhi are said to be sympathetic, but cautious.With the Congress in power at the centre and state, the climate is slightly more relaxed, less paranoid … but as Husainsaab has pointed out, who can protect him if even his art can’t be protected?Who has the guts to stand up for him ( and others in similar situations)? Most intellectuals have lost their voices, his own contemporaries are ‘scared’ of retribution, galleries refuse to show his work since they find it too ‘risky’. That leaves the ‘aam aadmi’ – the most sensible, fair and aware individual in the country. Why not ask him? How about a national debate – should M.F. Husain come home before it is too late? Let the public see his work in its totality – unedited and unprejudiced - and let the people of India take that call unitedly.
Husain is a proud Indian and Mumbaikar. Our city has seen enough violence and venom. As the macabre 26\11 anniversary rolls up, it is time to ask ourselves whether we wish to perpetuate the politics of hate….and at what cost? Why not choose this significant date to get Husain back, and mark his return with open arms… and more importantly, an open mind?Why not demonstrate to those who are determined to persecute him that we are prepared to stand up for a man whose art transcends the narrow confines of religious jingoism and twisted interpretations that serve petty political interests?
If that happens, I’ll be there at the airport to welcome him home.
How many of you are willing to join me??


It is always such a pleasure to be in Pune, especially when the weather is this crisp and delicious. What that means is simple - I over ate - starting with a luscious duck ( from Bangalore), and a rainbow trout ( from the Himalayas ). I was there to inaugurate an art show featuring emerging talent from Pune. It's an annual event called SHLOK, which is put together by young Sheetal Darda. She plans to take it to Dubai and London next.

I met up with family as well - my husband's sister Ratna lives in Pune, and I was delighted to meet her grandson Drik, who is fluent in Marathi at age 7. Raj T. would approve! Ratna and her daughter Rina , produced a Bong banquet, which starred the famous Rui Maach, besides kosha maangsho ( outstanding - must get the recipe), dahi chicken, begun bhaaja and what is popularly known as 'plastic chaatney' (raw papaya in a fragrant, sugar syrup). What a brilliant meal - and let me not forget the roshogullas. No wonder my masseuse told me later I'd put on weight ( instantly???). I totally ignored her unnecessary comment.... and ate some more .

Oh.... in case you notice the weight gain in the Kingfisher Calendar Hunt show on ndtv Good Times ( the repeat is on monday 12 noon and tuesday at 10pm ), please don't tell me about it! I have received great reactions - so allow me to glow!!