Tuesday, December 28, 2010
Santa has come and gone. If rumours are to be believed, most of the super pampered star wives asked dear Santa for for just one thing - snow!!! Sacks of it. Why ‘snow’?? Because they love to ski and can’t in Mumbai? No, no , no – this is a different kind of snow. And these ladies don’t make snowmen out of it for their kids. They snort the stuff. It goes up those perfect nostrils of theirs and makes life a little more bearable for them. It’s not easy being a star wife as any number of women married to narcissistic movie stars will tell you. Bollywood wives are having it particularly tough these days, which may be why their behaviour has become so strange and strained. It can get pretty savage out there, and only the toughest survive. The rest exist on snow and other recreational drugs. Scarey scenario, especially for star kids who grow up watching their mothers ( and a few fathers ) throw everything away for those few moments of ecstasy and oblivion.But there are a few good women still left in Bollywood… and it’s a pleasure to interact with their kind. Women who know how to conduct themselves with grace and a sense of decorum, women who know when to open their mouths and more importantly, when not to! Women who remember to wear panties when they step out of the house… you know – the basics! They may speak shaky English, but they are sensible enough not to fake it – either an accent or a relationship. You don’t ever hear them taking pot shots at their contemporaries ( they don’t need to), nor do they bad mouth co-stars ( ditto). They generally mind their own business and go about their lives in a no-nonsense manner, sans drama or extra rona dhona, no matter what the circumstances. The message is pretty clear - ‘Don’t mess with me’. And people generally get it. Does that make these ladies ‘boring’ in an era where you have to be either an obnoxious brat or an out there hottie in order to get noticed? Some would say ‘Yes’. In today’s hyper competitive times, desperate glam girls adopt desperate measures to stay in the news. They know how the game is played these days - talk big, talk dirty, talk rude – and you hit the headlines. Controversy is king. So one can’t really blame the desperate ones for courting trouble, no matter what the cost. But even in such a cess pool, it’s reassuring to come across someone who gets it right, and remains dignified, classy and calm, especially through difficult times.
I was thinking of this while following Liz Hurley’s shenanigans across various platforms last week. Liz is in a league of her own. But at 48, she really does not need to resort to cheap tricks to stay in the news. Having a fling with a serial womanizer is one thing ( she won’t be the first or the last ), but to jump the gun and announce her affair to the world over Twitter, while claiming her marriage is over, is beyond tacky and juvenile. Apparently, nobody who has ever known Liz, is at all surprised by her utter lack of good breeding. This is no lady, laugh her acquaintances, even as she goes in for heavy duty damage control. Poor Mr. Bandhgala ( Arun Nayar ) – some would say he asked for it. But then again… he does emerge as the bechara. And we know how much the world loves the underdog. We need a Bollywood version of Liz Hurley to perk things up a bit. Our married heroines have always played it a bit too safe – at least in public. They specialize in perfecting their boring acts as dutiful, obedient, loyal wives – never mind if they fool nobody, not even their husbands. Imagine if Liz were to fancy one of our top married heroes and swoop down on the guy. Chances are, Bollywood biwis would promptly close ranks and arm themselves against the foreign invader. Who knows? It may still happen. New Year’s Eve is round the corner… and Liz is lonely. A restless Liz is a dangerous Liz. Watch out!!
Monday, December 27, 2010
Guys, this appeared in Sunday Times yesterday....
Will Miraya be the one in 2020….?
Lemme introduce myself – my name is Miraya. I am your new Prime Minister!! Chillax, guys. That was just a joke. But seriously all you people…it’s time you got to know who I am. The real me. Uncut. Let’s not get into the surname at this point. I am 18 years old. Which means I am old enough to decide. Old enough to know what I want in life ( everything!!!). Not because I am a spoilt brat. Not because I believe it’s my birthright. But because I am worth it! Well… are you ready to hear this??? I want to be a politician. A top, top, top politician. Like the rest of my family. We start at the top, and stay there! Lucky, na? My uncle has been an amazing P.M. My grand dad was super amazing. As for my great grand dad – come on… he’s a legend. My great great grand dad … never mind. I don’t want to show off. Especially not about my Granny … btw, she is still the most powerful person in India…. sooooo strict and sooooo fantastic. She could have been the P.M. too. But she preferred to let someone else get there. My Granny listened to her inner voice… and look where it took her! She has taught me to listen to my inner voice as well. And that voice is telling me to take the plunge into politics – why wait? Ummmm…. Politics is kinda a family biz, if you know what I mean. It’s certainly in my jeans… err… genes. Everybody in my family is connected in some way to politics. I find politics really, really cool. Dunno how my mom feels about my career choice. But Dad’s such a dude – he’ll be totally good with the scene. Not so sure about Granny’s reaction,either. She wasn’t too hot on my mom jumping into politics way back when…and maybe Granny was right. But it’s a different story today - she knows there’s nobody else to take our dynasty forward at this point. My bro Raihan is way too young…. that leaves me! I really love my Granny - Ciao Bella!!
India is like… a really, really young country – right? I am young! You know what ?Our generation is fully fed up. We can’t stand those old ‘Unclejis and ‘Auntyjis’ who are forever giving us bhashans on how to run India. Considering the big, fat mess they’ve made of this place, it’s time they handed the nation over to us. Guys… I want to make one thing clear at this point. Trust me – my getting into politics has nothing to do with power, money and all that. I just feel politics is in my blood and I’ll be brilliant at it! Why pretend to be modest, na? Dad thinks so , too. Last time we went to a polo match, he told me he had a lot of faith in my skills and abilities ( I ski really well!). He also said he is very proud of all my achievements. Mom keeps nagging me to study, study, study. But let’s be honest – nobody has studied all that much in our family, except for our ancestors. And we’ve all done just fine. I know I’ll have to prove myself in politics and all that – but I have to start somewhere, right? Granny says, start at the top – that’s the best place. I agree. Grassroots work can come later. See how well my uncle did… he just took a few helicopter rides to small, small villages across the country, talked to some poor people there, ate watery daal out of mud katoris… and quickly understood their problems. That was it! People appreciated his sincerity and hard work. He told everybody the true meaning of ‘aam janata’… I want to carry forward that legacy. See… I don’t need ‘contacts’, right? I understand how to get things done – my mom says I have inherited this trait from my great grand mom. Frankly ,I think I get it from my dad. Whatever!
In this day and age, we need to speak a new language, we need to communicate better. 2020 is a landmark year for the world. India is a superpower today – all thanks to my Granny’s and Uncle’s efforts. But there are still a few old issues that need to be sorted. I am not talking about corruption. We all know that will never go. My focus is going to be on other stuff… I studied micro-financing in high school – damn good teacher! My campaign is going to be based on this concept – good one, na? I’ll beg of Mom to become my campaign manager. She’s the best! Dad will handle everything else – he’s also the best. I have already picked my team – you guys are going to love this – loads of Bollywood stars in my future cabinet. These people are the only ones who understand the pulse of India. Our entire strategy is youth based – forget issues. Our candidates will be chosen on their box office performance. They have to be tops in the looks department. Hot Bods make a huge difference on posters and in tv commercials. Our research shows voters want candidates in designer gear – they are sick of tolerating those old, pot bellied netas in crumpled kurta -pajamas who have dominated the political scenario for over sixty years. Imagine how super cool and colour co-ordinated Parliamentary proceedings will look during live broadcasts with my team. We want India to seriously rock – that’s our motto.
This is my party’s promise, guys. Party on! As in political party, yaar – what were you thinking! Our time starts in 2020 – may the cutest hotties win!
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Guys.... I am taking a short X'Mas break with family. See you on the other side.... stay safe over the festive season. I spent the entire evening decorating our tree - it is looking AMAZING!
Am feeling like the glass angel on top of the tree.... right next to the silver star.
It's going to be a year of dramatic change - I can feel it in the air.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yj5NGKZJ1r8
Monday, December 20, 2010
This appeared today in Bombay Times.....
Why Woody Works….
Okay…. ‘You Will Meet a Tall,Dark Stranger’….. is a tantalizing title, a prophecy and a promise. I mean… who doesn’t want to meet a tall, dark stranger, regardless of age? The premise is strong but this is not Woody Allen’s most inspired movie. But since I happen to be a die hard fan of the auteur, I can safely state that even at his worst, Woody is still streets ahead of almost anybody else in the movie business. Which is precisely why he has a world wide cult following and is worshipped in France as a genius. His latest film may be flawed, but even his flaws are superior to those of other film makers.The problem with this film of his is that audiences expected a light, frothy, feel good comedy ( given the title), but what they got instead was a slice of life ( with loads of exaggeration ). It’s actually a pretty sad and sardonic movie about growing old.About disappointment and disliiusionment.About our futile search for love. Woody’s forte has always been to unmask and expose society’s many foibles. He has made a career out of tapping into our myriad insecurities and hang ups. Earlier, the themes revolved around male neuroses – performance anxiety,the impossible longing to bed countless beautiful women, infidelity and betrayal. This one too deals with all that and more, but in a more thoughtful way. Woody’s penetrating insights are all there in the superbly calibrated performances, led by Anthony Hopkins ( can this man ever be less than brilliant, film after film?) playing Alfie, and Gemma Jones playing his divorced , dotty wife Helena.The only person who disappointed big time in an otherwise top class ensemble cast (Antonio Banderas at his yummiest), was our Freida Pinto. To be fair, hers was also the worst written role… and she looked far from alluring as Dia – the desi Lady in Red. Naomi Watts as Sally, was outstanding, especially in the blow out scene with her depressive tippler mother ( Helena) who refuses to loan her more money to start an art gallery.Watts’ savage desperation comes through as she calls her mother an ‘imbecile’ for listening to a charlatan called Crystal. Paradoxically enough, nearly all of Crystal’s calculating ‘prophecies’ eventually come true, including the one about Helena meeting a ‘stranger’ and starting life all over again. Everybody in the movie meets a stranger who alters the course of their individual lives…inevitably with disastrous consequences. But it is Anthony Hopkins’ portrayal of a Viagra-popping old man who gets conned into marrying an avaricious hooker , that underlines the pathos faced by ageing roués across the world – men who delude themselves into believing they can still ‘do it’. Charmaine,the trashy, brassy blond ( Lucy Punch) who plays the ambitious hooker, puts in a great performance as she hoodwinks Hopkins into parting with vast sums of money to buy her baubles and fur coats even as she is two timing him with a hunky gym instructor. Like they say, there’s no fool like an old fool! Woody Allen should know!!
Whatever the Cathedral & John Cannon School undertakes, it succeeds in pulling it off with enormous panache and style. As is evident in the hefty and very handsome tome titled ‘Undefiled Heritage’ that was recently launched when the school celebrated 150 glorious years. Superbly designed by Gita Simoes, and ably put together by Mridula Maluste and Viral Doshi, this richly illustrated history of the school is a collector’s item. It goes to show what is possible…. achievable… when the right talents combine.
I am winding down.... I swear I am. On sunday I managed to stay away from my lap top for at least four hours ( a feat!). I took a much needed snooze in the afternoon. My maalishwali ditched me, but I didn't weep. I ate a heart dinner of turkey and baked alloos without feeling guilty! I even pretended to watch and enjoy football with my husband, who seemed beyond himself as he whooped and roared at the goals ( there were some, right?). Soon I'll be off with the family on a X'Mas break. We are taking the Secret Santa route to gifting - safer, cheaper!
You guys have a good one!
Saturday, December 18, 2010
India needs a Santa to clean up the mess…
Santa Baby, this is an SOS…. hurry down the chimney…we need you. This has been a year of serious golmaal, and as 2010’s credit titles roll, the fate of the masala movie called ‘India’ at the international box office, looks khalllasss! When mega blockbusters bomb big time, everybody suffers. But those who suffer the most ( apart from stake holders ) are people – the all-important audience. Those trusting, optimistic viewers who come away feeling cheated and disillusioned. We are a nation of ‘paisa vasool’ types. We definitely want a big bang for our buck. When that doesn’t happen, we get angry… we sulk. Right now we are sulking big time. 2010 was supposed to deliver. India was on a roll. Good things were happening… the economy was expected to boom ( Pranabda – you promised!). Overall stability was taken for granted, and no great upheavals were on the cards.But something went horribly wrong at some point. Script ka problem ho gaya, boss. And not all the so-called superstars of the political firmament could put India back on the track as 2010 drew to a close.
Obama’s visit counted for little. It was a very expensive photo op, that’s all. He came, sang and danced with school kids in Mumbai ( Michelle’s moves were hotter), got his bheja fried by a cheeky student who brought up the P-Word ( Pakistan), and went off to impress Dilliwallas with his teleprompter oratory. We were expected to keel over backwards because the mighty President of the United States of America knew who Vivekananda.Hello!! But we were the bakras who ended up paying through our noses for his visit ( he went back with billions of dollars committed by us – we got ‘illey’ in return). Our fashion designers sniffed at the First Lady’s wardrobe and everybody declared Mme. Sarkozy as the undisputed winner of this sartorial race ( I thought Carla was dressed like a prim school marm and could have flashed more cleavage). Of the two presidents, my vote goes to Sarkozy, who was far more spontaneous, forthcoming and direct. Besides… we got something more than a vague promise of a permanent seat somewhere in the far distance out of the Frenchie. We are unashamedly crass in India – we only understand ‘rokda’ ( “Show me the money . In cash! Now!!” ) Then came the Chinese premier with a WenWen agenda on his mind. Our reception to him was far more restrained, which is really kinda stoooopid, given that we could do with some PDA with this guy who has designs on India and needs to be wooed with something more than just a traditional, thanda welcome. I wonder if someone was dumb enough ( lots of Dilliwallas to pick from) to offer Wen our second favourite national dish ( after murg massalam) – Chicken Manchurian? And did Wen puke at the sight of it? We excel at making such faux pas. And then we crib when Brit hosts offer us ‘Indian curry’ ( an astonishingly disgusting yellow paste) when we visit London. Perhaps Santaji can help us to reclaim Arunachal Pradesh from China and sort out other highly vexing issues with the fire breathing dragon next door.
But even Santa will forget his ‘ho ho ho’ in a hurry and clamber right back up that chimney leaving his sack of goodies behind when it comes to domestic messes. 2010 stands out as the Year of Corruption. It wasn’t just Munni who got badnaam this year. And as for Sheila’s ‘jawaani’ – well, the Delhi c.m. demonstrated she had a lot of it left in her when she took on all her detractors during the CWG scam… and sailed through without a scratch. In this Champions League, there were just too many top players all vying for the Crook of the Year trophy. With the spotlight on Kalmadi, most people forgot all about Modi. And by the time Kalmadi waddled back from the Asian Games, we were already busy with a brand new mother of a scandal… the one that featured a Raja. And a Rani! The timing couldn’t have been better. As more and more dirt emerged, and the Radia tapes vomited out names ( oooof! What names!), everybody was left shivering in their underpants, stripped off credibility, dignity, modesty - totally nanga in public! How many fig leaves can poor Santa carry in one sack?
As we sing X’Mas carols next week, let’s spare a thought for the aam aadmi and the aam aurat of India. We have been conned big time by the very people we’d invested our faith in over all these many years. People we have been foolish enough to elect. People we have naively trusted. The scenario for 2011 is looking bleak. Politicians, bureaucrats, cops, journalists, army men, corporate leaders…. and horror of horrors, judges, too, are suspect. Virtually everything is bought, rigged and finally sold to the highest bidder. Sleaze is the single common denominator dominating today’s India. But – hallelujah - there’s one small hope left as we get into the new year. Santaji should hand over his garb to Manmohanji immediately. If Singh wishes to remain King ( of hearts), he needs an image make over – and fast! Oh oh – what am I saying - the best in the business of make overs has just gone bust. Or has she ?? Only her Secret Santa knows for sure ! Ooops… have I said something wrong?
Santa honey… don’t bother to slide down the chimney this year…. it’s clogged with soot. And India doesn’t have enough chimney sweeps to unclog it!Aayi baat samajh main?
Merry Christmas readers, and a transparent New Year!
I admire people who give themselves generous gifts on their own birthdays. Today is Vijay Mallya's janamdin, and we went to his birthday brunch as we do every year , only to find the most exotic and beautiful creatures floating around the place. Vijay had clubbed two celebrations - the launch of the Kingfisher Calendar ( a drool worthy effort) and his own big day. Models with impossibly long legs, dotted the lawns like so many birds of paradise or flamingoes. It was all rather surrealistic and wonderful. God bless Vijay. I know he is the King of Good Times , with his understudy (young Siddhartha) doing his bit as the Prince of Even Better Times, but Vijay's unflagging enthusiasm and energy exhausted his guests.... not him. At sundown, he was preparing to sail out of the harbour in his magnificent yacht. Destination : Goa.
It's a hard act to follow. And nobody should attempt it....
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
The empire must strike back!
Edit Schlaffer means business! It was easy to tell as much when she strode into my home late one afternoon. Her stride and voice indicated she was someone who was determinedly focused on issues that concern her deeply – her organization - SAVE (Sisters Against Violent Extremism) - reflects that unflinching commitment. Accompanying the Austrian lady was a beautiful assistant called Elaine. Both were unambiguously “ Ladies With a Mission” . After an hour long chat, I got a better understanding of their extraordinary mission. Often, it is personal tragedy that ignites such fervour. While, I didn’t probe, I did pick up on Edit’s own loss ( her son) , which may have motivated her to set up SAVE. She talked about empowering and inspiring women to stand up against violent extremism. She mentioned how society could transform itself if women were consulted on policy. She asked me several difficult and perplexing questions that demanded a great deal of introspection (“ What solutions can women offer to combat terrorism?”). As we chatted – easily and naturally – I began to understand her concerns better . Edit travels around the world meeting women who have suffered at the hands of violent men representing special interest groups of all hues, religious and political. The stories of those battered women are what she wants to highlight and eventually find peaceful resolutions to. She points out, “ Violent extremism is not a distant, abstract threat. Acts of terrorism could happen at your grocery store, your bus, your plane….” Scarey! But it is important to move beyond victimhood, her brochure states. “ For too long, in too many places, the potential of women to make meaningful change has been ignored and overlooked – this is a grave mistake.” Hear! Hear! She also stresses on reconciliation and dialogue, pointing out that “without the knowledge of the other, how will we ever live together?” She believes that without genuine contact and communication, the process of healing and moving forward remains incomplete.
The response mechanisms she recommends involve alternatives that reach out to young men and women who feel frustrated, confused and isolated in societies without adequate support systems. She talked about providing women with the required tools for critical debate to challenge extremist ideologies. As she points out, women are at the heart of the family. They are the first to recognize signs of anger in their children.Change starts in the home…. change starts with women. As she continued talking passionately about her work, I was moved to note her level of intensity as she described meeting the mother of the sole terrorist in custody after the 9\11 attacks in New York. At a conference in Vienna earlier this year, 15 courageous women from Yemen, Pakistan, India, Israel, Palestine, Northern Ireland, came together to share their experiences and work towards a safer future. The thinking behind Edit’s remarkable initiative is pretty simple : “ Women can transform society by sensitizing and mobilizing their own children susceptible to or already trapped by ideologies of violent extremism.” She has successfully launched ‘Mothers for Change’, a world wide campaign to involve women who can ensure safety and security in their immediate surroundings…. and act as an early warning system.Representing India is Vinita Kamte, the outspoken, fearless widow of the legendary Police Commissioner Ashok Kamte, who was killed during the Mumbai Terrorist Attacks on 26\11. From Hatred to Hope, is the apt heading for this segment that chronicles the efforts of women like Vinita, lone voices in a hostile environment, struggling to be heard. Despite the odds, these extraordinary women are managing to push for reform and change, no matter how daunting the task. There are several other ‘Vinitas’ across the world, most of them linked by a single common factor – the loss of a loved one at the hands of senseless terrorists. Tragedy is the ultimate leveler. But Edit’s tireless efforts are about the triumph of the human spirit … she wants to change the world, and fervently believes that her organization - ‘Women Without Borders’ - will emerge as the most effective agent of that change.
How right she is!
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
This appeared in Bombay Times on Monday.
YRF Ka Dhinchak Band Baj Gayaa….
Go watch this feel good, fun film that has slipped in quietly into multiplexes minus any band baaja, shor-wor, marketing-sharketing… and stolen hearts. Goes to prove one simple truth – an original always scores.You don’t need obscene budgets, item songs, mega stars or aggressive\innovative promotional activity when the movie itself is terrific. Word of mouth is by far the most powerful tool in this business. And going by the buzz, last Friday’s modestly made ‘Band Baaja Baraat’ is bound to score a bull’s eye at the box office. It may do the trick for Yash Raj Films, the same way that a sleeper hit once salvaged R.K.Films with ‘Bobby’, which starred an unknown called Dimple and the bossman’s teenage son( Rishi Kapoor) as lead players. In BBB, Aditya Chopra has sensibly picked a taaza mazedaar team and introduced a kudda ( Ranveer Singh) who is as Panju as a tandoori kukkad. Here’s a debut that holds much promise and is worth noting since the young man is not a filmi son, brother, son-in-law, nephew, cousin, step-son. But the guy can act and dance with the best. His sense of timing is terrific, and his macho-crudo character who insists on talking with his mouth stuffed with bread-pakoras, is as authentic as sarson da saag.But beyond the lead players ( Anoushka Sharma’s spirited Shrutti is adorable), it is the crackling dialogue (Habib Faisal) that’s the real star. Maneesh Sharma, the debutant director rarely misses a cue - the casting is spot on, especially the flower supplier and the snooty-bitchy Sainik Farms wedding planner who cons her clients by short changing them all the way – whether it’s on the lilies or the lights. Combine this simple story of two Dilliwalla youngsters who are partners in a ‘binnas’ ( ‘Shaadi Mubarak’) and dying to move up the pecking order, from dhinchak Janakpuri weddings put together for a couple of lakhs to staging multi crore super extravaganzas at massive havelis – and you get a charming, uncomplicated, zabardast entertainer. A veritable kitschy mithai shop brimming over with hazaar goodies.The director and art director have got every tiny detail right, and even the ensemble cast ( guests at all the shaadis) are well picked and perfectly costumed. Vaibhavi Merchant’s choreography sizzles - and how. Don’t be surprised if Anoushka displaces Sheila and Munni with her tawa hot moves. And yes – Ranveer can dance, saala!
I watched Ashutosh Gowarikar’s movie ( can’t even remember the name) and my heart sank. That it would tank was obvious from the first few shots – yes – they were that cringe making. And I felt really, really bad for Gowarikar, who is one of our very few sincere and competent film makers. Such an awesome subject… and such a dheela film! After watching BBB, once again I thought about all these ‘important’ movies with monstrous budgets that sink at the box office and everybody loses money and face! What a colossal waste - of talent and big bucks. Then there are the other time pass ‘entertainers’ with Godzilla budgets that also flop miserably and money goes straight down the tube. The other weird category involves super productions running into crores and crores where audiences don’t ‘see’ the money ( meaning, while watching a ‘Jodha –Akbar’, the scale and vision are enough to justify the stated cost. Ditto for a ‘Robot’). Most of the rest are pure junk – shabby at all levels. It is the superstar actor who eats up all that lolly – and then doesn’t deliver. Which is why the success of a BBB is vital to keep the film industry machine well- oiled and moving. Here, the script is king. Which is really what defines cinematic success. BBB demonstrates yet again ( like DDLJ once did), that if a production house sticks to its core competence and to subjects that are in its dna ( Panju shaadi-waadis, bhangra beats and gori gori kuddis in patialas romancing hard core pappeys in tight- tight jeans ), the formula works big time. Delhi has never looked this irresistible, seductive and fun – a major feat in itself.
Monday, December 13, 2010
I have been receiving calls and mails from various people to say that my name does indeed feature in the Radia tapes! And I am immensely flattered that Ms. Radia has a very poor opinion of me.... she is overheard telling someone I am not her kind of journo!!! Should I throw a celebratory party??? I take it as a supreme compliment!
This appeared yesterday in the Sunday Times of India.....
Insaaf for Raja - Rakhee Sawant- Ishstyle….!
It does not matter whether Rakhee Sawant knows 2G from ‘Haanji’. People outside the telecom industry are equally clueless, including those experts battling it out on national television , night after agonizing night. All we know is that there has been a major gadbad ghotala involving some really zabardast corporate guys, and that the country has been looted of lakhs of crores. Naughty, really naughty. These sort of ‘rascalas’ need Superstar Rajni , not Kapil Sibal to rescue them . There are so many versions floating around about these bad guys that even Brahmadev’s personal intervention won’t help us to get our heads around this mega scandal. If Brahmadev is sensible, he’ll stay out of the mess and watch the drama unfold from his lofty perch in Swarag. But this indifference from heavenly bodies should not deter the bloodhounds of the legal system from going for the kill. So far, their efforts have been, clumsy, comical and amateurish. It’s like being forced to sit through a black-and-white Bud Abbott and Lou Castello film with bumbling cops tripping over their own toes as they chase nimble robbers. Look at the modus operandi employed so far - those meaningless ‘raids’ on Raja’s properties , months and weeks after the guy has cleaned out and cleaned up ( someone obviously forgot to tell the sleuths the horse had bolted weeks ago). The craftily timed leaks ( what fun – we are in sync with Julian Assange finally!). The charges and counter charges flying around in this absurd ‘whodunit’ that boasts of a stellar star cast. And grabbing all the headlines (but staying out of serious trouble) is India’s own Mata Hari or Hunterwali – Fearless Radia.
We are told by those-who-know, ‘You ain’t seen nuthin yet.’ Miles and miles of tapes still remain in those cans, with more names, more revelations , coming up. The idea is to release key leaks when attention levels in the scandal start to flag. Sitting on stuff that can potentially destroy careers and reputations in one swift stroke, is a priceless khazana for government agencies to hang on to.Confuse the enemy, advised Confucius centuries earlier. Let the scamsters sweat, say our Babus! Those shivering in their pants, saris and salwar kameezes, waiting for the next bombshell to drop, can make life slightly easier for themselves by hiring interlocutors ( love the word!). Any Bollywood style ‘setting’ needs swift and efficient damage control. This is the time when powerful touts make the real bucks. As we have seen in the ‘Adarsh’ case, key files can and do disappear ( a large window to facilitate easy disappearance is always factored into the deal, even as noises are being made about taking action against culprits). Once evidence is destroyed, what remains??
Aaha – this is where Rakhee Sawant comes in. Anybody who has watched this unstoppable force of nature in action on a show that sees her meting out instant justice to cowering participants, will tell you she is the most admired ‘judge’ in India. Forget ‘law-shaw’ and other such formalities.Rakhee single handedly skewers, grills and punishes those she thinks deserve no mercy. A suicide here and there, doesn’t bother her. The sentence is passed remorselessly…. and God help you if you think there has been a total miscarriage of justice – there is no higher court than Rakhee’s in the land. Wonder of wonders – Rakhee has more credibility than some of our real life judges. People who watch her show, believe in her and agree with most of her ‘verdicts’.
Which is more than can be said about the way the 2G expose is being handled.All of India is stupefied and laughing out loud at the absurdity of the ongoing battle royale between mighty industrialists and powerful politicians. Kapil Sibal has the worst job in the cabinet. He has announced a one man ‘committee’ ( surely more than one person makes up a committee?), to ‘examine appropriateness of procedures adopted by DoT in the issuance of licenses and allocation of spectrum during the period 2001-2009…..” Yada yada yada. We pretty much know the outcome – how different can it possibly be to all the collective outcomes of similar, well -intentioned enquiries of the past? Nobody believes in those pointless show cause notices. Nobody believes that any of the high profile rogues floating around will ever see the inside of a jail. And nobody believes the truth ( such as it is) will ever come out. So why not spare the time and expense involved in this mockery of an investigation ? Whether it was the BJP or the NDA, whether Rajeev Chandrashekhar is wrong and Ratan Tata, right… as of now, everybody is in the same over stuffed basket filled with ignominious charges.
What if Rakhee Sawant were to summon the main players into her ‘court’ and invite
the people of India to judge for themselves, there and then? On the spot verdict! That would be the ultimate reality show with ratings going through the roof. Imagine the visual – Rakhee as Judge, clad in her trademark cleavage revealing outfits, spouting priceless lines as she cross examines Raja and Co.Her over glossed pout puckering up as she creases that tightly stretched brow, leans forward, tossing masses of hair extensions, and asks provocatively, “ Ab tera kya hoga, Raja…?”
Raja may chortle and say, “Mere paas bungla hai, gaadi hai, daulat hai…”
That will be Rakhee’s cue to summon her ace witness who will then demolish Raja by thundering ,‘Mere paas Amma hai.”
India will go back to sleep.
Thursday, December 9, 2010
Since there is a meaningless sartorial debate raging..... here's my take on the American First Lady. As for Carla.... I hope and pray she and hubby Sarko do produce their 'Made-in-India' beta - the one they prayed for at the Ajmer durgah .
Forget her funny frocks (whatever happened to the famous Lady O style?), and focus on her funny lines (“Ask my husband tough questions,” she urged students in Mumbai – and they did!). Michelle Obama won the popularity stakes hands down even as Barack, the ‘Most Powerful Man on Earth’ (still?) attempted and failed the charm offensive. You know why? Michelle was herself, while the President was programmed. He may have one of the toughest jobs in the world, but hey – hers is not that easy either. If anything, it’s equally demanding and less acknowledged. Being First Lady is not what it used to be. The birdlike Mrs. Reagan had perfected the ‘the gaze’, Mrs. Clinton, the scowl, while nobody remembers what it was that Mrs. Bush contributed to her husband’s presidency. But here comes Michelle – a strapping, handsome woman with a Harvard law degree, who started her innings rather shakily with a couple of unorthodox remarks that shook the establishment and got the media on high alert. Perhaps the President’s minders advised her to back off and zip up, for after those early, unguarded provocative comments that were dubbed ‘racist’ ( sweet irony), the first Black American woman to occupy the White House has won admirers across the world for her warmth and spontaneity. In fact, her ratings are at an all time high, even as Barack struggles to deal with a major setback in Congress back home. His India visit couldn’t have been worse timed – for him and us. He picked mid-Diwali to visit. It’s a little like Manmohan Singh picking a X’Mas or Thanksgiving weekend to call on the Obamas and expecting the average Joe in Washington to hang around and welcome him. Well, Singh may be King in India, and the comparison isn’t too apt, but you get the drift. Michelle was expected to make up for her husband’s glumness and lack of charm, which she did in abundance. Now here’s the catch – she did not take the old route where all the First Ladies were required to do on state visits was look good and smile a lot ( yoo hoo Jackie O!). Michelle, in her own special way, demonstrated an important trait – she was convincingly her own woman, speaking her mind spontaneously and reaching out generously to one and all. Michelle won our hearts. Obama’s job was to win our minds. Between the two, it was clearly Michelle who emerged the real star.
It takes a great amount of intelligence for a woman in her position to underplay her own personality without it appearing fake. My guess is the Obamas are on to a good thing in their marriage. She has no ego issues, and neither does he when it comes to his wife. Unlike Hillary Clinton, who often came across a bit too strongly and appeared unattractively feisty, Michelle’s personality is appealingly non-threatening - to men and women. Kids, of course, adore her – she speaks their lingo and accesses their world effortlessly ( playing hop scotch in Mumbai didn’t look like a staged photo-op at all ) . Her smile reaches her eyes and when she listens to her husband, she does so attentively but not rapturously. This pleases the feminist in all of us.
Much has been written about her dress sense and how local fashionistas were disappointed that she picked frumpy ‘safe’ outfits in drab colours for her India trip while her myriad fans had hoped for brights and bling. I had visualized her in a vibrant rani pink saree with chunky accessories or something a little more exotic (would have happily settled for a peacock brooch!). But it was her extraordinary ability to connect in a sincere and transparent way that shone through. If her husband ( Mr. Teleprompter ) managed to salvage his rather lackluster Mumbai chapter when he addressed both Houses of parliament in Delhi and came up with a few sparklers, it was Michelle Obama who walked away with our genuine admiration. As she waved her final goodbye, I found myself singing an old Bollywood hit picturised on Zeenat Aman several moons ago…. “ Chura liya hai dil…”
Barack Obama – we love your missus.
Wednesday, December 8, 2010
Had dinner with Cherie Blair last night and frankly, she didn't blow me away. Dressed in an ice blue salwaar kameez ( some Delhi designer called Jain - her favourite), the Blair lady came through as a competent , clever but cold woman. She is a successful lawyer, and she never drops her guard. She was in Mumbai as the star attraction at one of those high profile conventions where earnest, determined ladies talk about 'empowerment' and then go off to some wealthy person's mansion to take those discussions forward over chilled wine and hot food.
Of course, they mean well... and I am being cynical...
This appeared in Bombay Times on monday...
A good reputation is a little like pregnancy…or lycra( either you have it, or you don’t). Similarly, either a woman is pregnant or she is not. A woman cannot claim to be ‘ a little pregnant.’ The last couple of weeks have been tumultuous for those of us in media, with Barkha Dutt getting the worst of it! To extend the earlier argument – the Radia tapes furore was like a virginity test in which the ‘badnaam’ woman ( Barkha) had to ‘prove’ to the world that she is indeed ‘pure’ and untouched. A tough exam for a seasoned journo to undertake, given that everybody with even half an opinion had already jumped into the fray and pronounced her ‘pregnant’….. err….. guilty. She herself was ready for the agni pariksha, as is evident from the grilling she subjected herself to last week – a grilling by peers, at that. Never mind if the dramatic show yielded nothing of consequence and Barkha’s detractors crowed it was a load of baloney that did not salvage her tattered image. Her frequent references to ‘an error of judgment’ made it worse for her… after all, a person at her level gets there because he or she possesses an invaluable asset - credibility.The faith and trust of viewers is built on believing that their favourite anchor is like Ceaser’s wife – above and beyond suspicion. Once that delicate bond is broken – what remains? A face saving exercise? Barkha has been a formidable force in Indian journalism. She has expertly steered her television channel for years and established an image of a feisty, fearless journalist, unafraid of taking on the biggest and scariest in public life. She has carved out a fan base across the world… but equally, she has attracted her share of detractors ready to pull her down ( remember the vicious and sustained hate campaign launched against her post the 26\11 terror attacks?). Barkha is a pretty tough, exceedingly well connected person. She will ride this crisis out as well. And hopefully, vindicate her position… prove her critics wrong. That is not the point. The fact that she has found herself in this sorry situation in the first place, has shaken up the media world and led to the sort of public discourse about ethics in journalism, that has not been witnessed since the Emergency. If Barkha is squirming, she has every reason to. From being the Untouchable, she finds herself on the other side of the kind of fiery debates she has expertly presided over in the past.
Sympathetic colleagues and columnists are talking about ‘witch hunts’ and public lynching. To some, Barkha is the unfortunate victim, the obvious target, of a scandal which remains hazy even now. That’s how it generally goes… in any controversy, it is often one single individual who emerges as the face of that sordid mess. Pity that face belongs to Barkha and not any of the other, equally high profile players whose conversations on those debatable tapes are far more lethal and dodgy. To Barkha’s credit, it must be said, her comeback to all the accusations has been spirited (if not entirely convincing). She has taken the grilling on the chin, and continues with her life on camera, like a good professional. But larger questions still remain – when does a journalist sell out??? Is it only about scale ( a gifted designer bag worth one lakh is acceptable, but diamond jewellery or a gas agency is not)? Bribes are bribes – and frankly, everybody recognizes one, regardless of the price tag. In Barkha’s case, it isn’t about financial gains. It is about ethics. Power is indeed heady … how a person wields it, defines character. A journo may claim he or she is completely honest and has never accepted even a free pen from someone. But if that person has traded information or attempted to interfere in political decisions that impact our lives – that sort of influence peddling has far reaching implications which are worse than a gushy film review or a plug for an unworthy fashion designer.
We live in dangerous times.
There is something awfully sweet, old fashioned and loveable about Rishi Kapoor.Baap ho to aisa.
Sunday, December 5, 2010
Welcome to the latest Reality Show in town. It features mediawallas of all hues, shapes, temperaments and sizes in a delicious free-for-all in which accusations get hurled, excuses are trotted out and participants indulge in a kiddish ‘mine-is-bigger-than-yours competition.. unfortunately, so far, these shows have not thrown up a Dolly Bindra. But we do have our Fearless Radia ( Hunterwalli) to fall back on, once she’s done with being politically correct and ‘propah’.The funniest aspect of the current Radia imbroglio is that outside media circles, nobody really cares one way or the other as to who peddled influence, who traded information, who squealed, who leaked, who was whose chamcha.In fact, I received a pretty telling email from a friend who happened to be traveling in a local Mumbai train this week and merrily eavesdropping conversations.That was the day some hysterical news anchors were banging on about ‘Barkhagate.” Apparently, one young commuter turned to the other and asked, “But who is this Barkha Gate?” The other answered confidently, “Oh, she is Bill Gate ki wife.” The first one vigorously shook his head and said, “No yaar… that one’s name is Melinda,” To which the second fellow replied, “That’s the first wife, yaar. Barkha Gate is the new one. Melinda left Bill because he was giving away all their money to charity.’’ This is the level of awareness and ignorance. That too in our cities. Do you really believe the small town Joe is bothered by all this tamasha over lobbying-shobbying… who said what… who is on buddy terms with Rahul… who is in Ratan’s inner circle… who can make or break politicians… who can guarantee cabinet positions. Come off it. This is complete ‘dikhaawa’. As a powerful media guy commented in a droll, bored fashion while watching Joan of Arc ( Barkha) defend herself in front of a pretty ‘phoos’ panel of mighty editors ( Vinod Mehta sensibly opted out of this ‘unedited’ farce). Why was this exercise undertaken in the first place? Said the media man, “It was to prove how bold and transparent the channel is…” Did it serve that purpose, assuming that was the intention? And is a Media on Trial reality show going to be the next big thing on television? Pleeeaaase! Spare a thought for those poor viewers ( a paltry number to begin with ), who have had enough of all this worthless chest beating in public. Are we running Kangaroo Courts all of a sudden? Why do we want to burn star journos at the stake? Crucify a few, spare the others? Simply because some journos capture public imagination more than others. When the going is good, nobody complains. Stardom is like that – up one day, gone the next. Why crib? Barkha’s usual jauntiness was missing as she got all teary eyed and ended her impassioned defence by admitting she had been ‘silly and gullible’… implying that’s no crime! Honey….when you are in such an exalted position ( editor-in-chief), you really have no business being either ‘silly’ or ‘ gullible’. That is the real crime! Even rookie reporters know their jobs are on the line if they goof up on camera or in print. One simply can’t hide behind something as flimsy as naivete. The immense responsibility of the job dictates otherwise. One hell of a lot was at stake in these recent disclosures. Any senior, seasoned journalist knows how this game is played. To seek refuge in ‘gullibilty’ is to shirk responsibility…. and stretch credibility. I expected better from Barkha. Over the years I have been a staunch supporter and fan, particularly during the after math of the 26\11 terror attacks when she was being blasted by critics baying for her blood ( I still think she is bloody good at what she does – therefore the disappointment).But I really didn’t think she would fall back on that stale,over- used girlie cliché - ‘Why me?’ - in this ongoing scandal. Sorry, that weak line of argument does not wash. Ever. Worse, I certainly didn’t want to hear one of the panelists making an idiotic comment like, “ Maybe it is because you are so pretty.” Aaaaargh! There went the entire ‘gravitas’ of the show…. right then… right out of that studio floor…. as Barkha simpered, blushed, grinned and said, “At last a compliment from you…” Several hearts sank at that moment. Mine, for sure. What could have been a truly seminal television moment was reduced to a sexist joke. A pity…. because there was Barkha’s bete- noire (and media’s latest darling), Manu Joseph ( editor of OPEN) all set to play the matador about to slay the bull with a final sweep and dramatic thrust ….when poooof! all the garam hawa was taken out of the show, which was then hastily wrapped up by a visibly distressed Sonia Singh, much to the viewer’s annoyance and frustration.
What happens next? Precisely nothing. Media big wigs will go into a self righteous mode and claim to clean up their acts by showing lobbyists and touts the door. Other tv channels will come up with their own media reality shows that they hope will beat the breast beating and emotional atyachaar on parade on rival channels. TRPs will still remain thanda…. what to do, yaar? Viewers would much rather watch Sheila ki Jawani than Barkha ki Diwani.
‘We, the People’ are like that only…..
Hell .... I'm pooped! Have been on a whirlwind book tour. Bangalore and Chennai. I enjoy both the cities... especially at this time of the year.Gitanjali Kirloskar and Kiran Majumdar Shaw shared the dais with me in Bangalore. While Anita Ratnam and Jayanti Natarajan did the honours in Chennai . The level of dialogue at both the venues was superlative, stimulating and FUN!
Monday, November 29, 2010
Enjoyed an arty Sunday after a long time. First halt was at the Jehangir Art Gallery where Viveek Sharma was hosting his one man show. I have been following this young man's work for over five years and have enormous faith in his future. Today, he is represented by top galleries in Europe and is in residency programmes at various international universities . I am really happy for him. Recognition has come to Viveek at the right time. The current show titled 'My City.... My Dreams', is his tribute to Mumbai. Viveek, a nocturnal creature, captures the city after midnight in a series of 'electrifying' paintings - almost neon. Born in 1968, Viveek resembles a modern day Christ, speaks fluent Marathi, and is good looking enough to make it as the global face of a top fashion brand.He values his work but is realistic about pricing it right. I told him to rechristen himself - "Why not Gandhi-man?" I suggested, after he told me about his Gandhi paintings which sell very well across Europe. And we all know how hot the Mahatma is right now!
The other art experience was less direct. I was talking to Margaret Mascarenhas, my coolest friend from Goa. She has just finished curating Prison Art - a show she has been diligently working on for more than a year. Inmates of the Aguada Jail in Goa have produced the most unexpected images, writings, even performance art, that goes on display in Goa on 9th December. I'll be right there. It is a part of Raj and Dipti Salgaocar's charity- linked art initiative, and frankly, anything Margaret undertakes, has to be pretty damn good!
"This appeared in Bombay Times today...
Jaago Mumbai, Jaago….
Strange how impassive and unmoved the average Mumbaikar was during the second anniversary of the 26\11 terror attacks. A foreign journalist who had come over for an interview the same afternoon, mentioned she had gone to Marine Drive in the morning to watch the Police Parade. Shocked at the miserable attendance, poor participation and obvious indifference of citizens, she asked why we are such an apathetic lot in a city that remains as insecure today as it was two years ago ( latest scam involves state ordered speedboats that aren’t bullet proof!). She also mentioned her disappointment at the parade itself which was listless and far from impressive. If anything, it showed our cops in a shabby light. They looked ill equipped and far from smart… hardly an inspiring image to project in a vulnerable city. But then, that is how we are. Accompanying the journo was another person who was staying at the Taj ( she’s a regular there) and talking about feeling spooked with all the gunmen ( security forces) prowling around in the corridors while the windows in her room were being covered with black out papers. Obviously, no chances could be taken that crucial day, especially since aerial attacks had been mentioned in the past. Even at this sensitive venue, our cops were just about visible.Unless they were in plainclothes and pretending to be guests. Perhaps our apparent lack of interest in our own safety has to do with frustration and deep disappointment . The average Mumbaikar is a highly disillusioned person, who believes his\her fate is now in the hands of the Almighty, since clearly, nobody in government ( state or at the centre) is treating Mumbai’s security as a top priority. C.M.s come and go – they change as frequently as the unpredictable weather. The brand new Mr. Clean has yet to do or say something of any consequence. He seems more particular about keeping his hair neatly combed during photo ops. The deputy C.M. is being watched closely by those who aren’t sure about his moves, given the history ( Uncle Pawar and Cousin Supriya looking over his shoulder). While all these political and family dramas are being played out, the Mumbaikar waits for some good to emerge and may even have started to actually envy Nitesh Kumar’s Bihar and the Biharis!!! Who knows…. if things continue to deteriorate at this speed in Maharashtra, soon we’ ll see a reverse migration – out of job, angry Maharashtrians heading to Bihar in search of better opportunities!! Now that would be something. Right, Raj?
I like Bhansali’s ( SLB to you) attitude. He claimed in a recent interview, “ I don’t make money, I make movies.” Spoken grandly like a great master with an authentic oeuvre a la Fellini. Antonioni.Polanski.Ghatak.Ray. If there are besotted financial fans of a film maker out there willing to shell out crores for someone’s monumental ego and self indulgence, nobody should grudge the generous gesture. But I always thought commercially released movies were about attracting an audience, recovereing the huge investment involved, and heaven help us - even raking in profits!Movies are a shared
experience in which the filmmaker draws the audience into his \her world.If it’s personal cinema Bhansali is referring to, then you make home movies for family and friends. In which case, money ( someone else’s at that!) is not the objective . Bhansali reminds me of authors who claim airily that they don’t write ‘commercial books’. If a book is published, put into book stores, and has a price tag on it, it automatically becomes a ‘commercial’ book. Or else, why not write memos to yourself, keep diaries?
Break ke Baad? Boredom, boss. Break ke Peheley, bhi.
Saturday, November 27, 2010
Valhalla? Xanadu? No. It’s Awesome Antilia that’s Mumbai’s newest landmark!
“ This is not a home – it is a statement!” gasped an invitee ( one of eighty hand picked guests), standing on a windy terrace garden in the world’s most expensive private residence. There was shock and awe in his voice. Absolutely no debate there. It is indeed a major statement! The same guest continued, “ Some cities are known for their spectacular airports, Mumbai will be known for this landmark Ambani house, which is bound to become iconic.” It is already one of the most controversial buildings in the world, for reasons that go beyond its unconventional architecture. Mukesh and Nita Ambani played hosts to an interesting mix of people at their lavish housewarming party put together at short notice on the 25th night, in order to pre-empt an anticipated paparazzi attack on Altamount Road on 28th November, where ‘Antilia’ , is located. Smart move. After months of speculation and even published reports last month of the ‘party that never happened’, guests at this super exclusive dinner, were requested not to reveal the date for the official unveiling of the most opulently appointed residence ever created. Rising dramatically, 300 metres above sea level , and built at a staggering cost of over a billion dollars, ‘Antilia’ ( the name is likely to be changed to ‘Anandam’) can be described as the Taj Mahal of the 21st century. Cantilevered and colossal, it easily dominates the skyline of the city. From the exquisite Krishna temple on the ground floor to Mukesh’s personal library on the top floor, it is a staggering feat! As Shekhar Kapur, one of the few Bollywood invitees ( the others being Preity Zinta, Aamir Khan, Karan Johar, Karishma Kapoor and Vidhu Vinod Chopra) commented from the roof ( no, there isn’t going to be a helipad here, the new plan is to transform it into a lush terrace garden), “It’s great to breathe fresh air at this height and leave Mumbai’s pollution down below.” A telling remark that can be read on many levels! From that impressive height and with those panoramic vistas, Mukesh and Nita are clearly the undisputed masters of all they survey – east, west, north, south.
But as the proud owners of this coveted property pointed out, this is their one and only residence, and unlike some other industrialists (nameless, of course!), the Ambanis insist they do not have villas tucked away in exotic destinations across the world. Point taken by Corporate India and critics! Representing the big biz segment Deepak Parekh, Kumarmangalam Birla, Anand Mahindra and Gautam Singhania were seen walking around on the mother of pearl floors and taking in the marble Mughal style canopies in the middle of lotus pools, as the dulcet strains of Rahul Sharma’s santoor wafted across the lawns. “Welcome to India…. welcome to our home,” said Nita to internationally renowned sculptor Anish Kapoor and Yves Carcelle of the luxury brand LVMH. The artists’ community was headed by Satish Gujral (accompanied by the entire Gujral clan), Subhodh Gupta, Atul and Anju Dodiya, Jitesh and Reena Kallat, Bose Krishnamachari ( Nita is keen to support emerging artists). Sipping her favourite red at the bar, Parmeshwar Godrej in trademark black, held court with the likes of Abu Jaani and Sandeep Khosla ( who had designed the traditional chikankaari outfits worn by all the Ambani ladies). Champagne and conversation continued to flow till dinner in the ballroom ( yes – that’s right, ballroom!)was announced by Nita. High speed elevators manned by polite, bandgala–clad attendants, took invitees to what has got to be the biggest, glitziest ballroom in India ( Versailles Palace is a poor cousin!) with a single, dazzling chandelier ( shades to cut the glare recommended!) that covers the entire vast ceiling .Gliding down the gigantic stairway leading to the expansive space, it was possible to believe for one mad moment that we were all at Cinderella’s Ball. Buffet tables ( shudh vegetarian fare) lining one of the unending walls, offered Gujarati specialities along with unusual desserts like ‘sitaphal halwa’. Dominating yet another lawn ( there are three main gardens, plus a bird park) outside the Ballroom, a gigantic Vishnu sculpture by Satish Gupta, looked on benignly at Sachin and Anjali Tendulkar, while Uddhav and Rashmi Thackeray chatted with Hema and Milind Deora.
It was good to see Kokilaben Ambani ( who has an entire floor to herself), arrive in time for dinner, perhaps after attending her other son Anil’s parallel party which was being hosted at the original Ambani residence ‘Seawind’ ( where she also has her own floor). Here’s one mother who has a great deal of commuting ahead of her – just like other Mumbaikars. What great levelers our pot-holed roads are!
Thursday, November 25, 2010
We are children of our era;
our era is political.
All affairs, day and night,
yours, ours, theirs,are political affairs.
Like it or not,
your genes have a political past,
your skin a political cast,
your eyes a political aspect.
What you say has a resonance;
what you are silent about is telling.
Either way, it's political.
Even when you head for the hills
you're taking political steps
on political ground.
Even apolitical poems are political,
and above us shines the moon,
by now no longer lunar.
To be or not to be, that is the question.
Question? What question? Dear, here's a suggestion:
a political question.
You don't even have to be a human being
to gain political significance.
Crude oil will do,
or concentrated feed, or any raw material.
Or even a conference table whose shape
was disputed for months:
should we negotiate life and death
at a round table or a square one?
Meanwhile people were dying,
and fields growing wild,
just as in times
and less political.
This appeared today....
Writers Bloc…. Journos go where angels fear to tread!
Is journalism going glam –sham…?
Come on, guys, let’s cut the crap and say it like it is - we are up excreta creek! By ‘we’ I mean our tribe. Journos. Hacks. Commentators. Opinion makers. Thought leaders. For once, the shoe is on the other foot, and it is pinching like hell. We are not used to this. Us!! Self righteous and smug! Lofty creatures, who are forever sitting in judgement over the world and puffing out our chests for saving it! Suddenly, we find ourselves on the other side of the fence, at the receiving end of serious flak, and we don’t like it at all! In fact, we can’t handle the heat, and we are in a state of either defiance or denial. Guess what? It is time to square our shoulders and take it on the chin. Same as we expect others to, when we run our explosive exposes. Are we mature enough to do that? Are we ready to turn the searchlight inwards and ask ourselves the one question we have been dodging : What went wrong and why?
Something is clearly amiss, and the time to address that ‘something’ is now.
Let’s get a few things straight : Journalists are not demi-Gods, even if they like others to think of them like that. They are as human, as vulnerable, as greedy as the next person. Some more than others. Journalists have always brokered power. Always. Not just in India but all over the world.As power brokers, they have frequently played a key role in exposing corruption, mainly because they’ve had access to privileged information. Morally upright journos ( and they do exist!), have used this information towards a greater good and not as a means to either blackmail others or enrich themselves . The line is thin – most don’t realize they have crossed it till it is too late. Sure, power is an aphrodisiac ( thank you, Henry!), and some vain journos have taken the aphrodisiac part literally, to errr…. screw their detractors ! Others have limited themselves to soaring high on ego trips…. but strictly sans price tags. Either way, it has made a lot of heads swing… and swell. Being close to the centre of power in Delhi has been both, a curse and a boon to scribes who live there. Capital cities are like that ( think Watergate and Washington), and nobody remains immune to that heady proximity to politicos – not even self declared, hard bitten cynics. Delhi journos are a breed apart. Gone are the days of the slouchy jholawalas pounding the pavements, or prowling those corridors of power in search of a scoop. Delhi has spawned a generation of super glam Designer Journos – they dress sharp, talk sharp, are sharp. Well traveled, urbane and sexy as hell, these hotties are as much in the limelight as the people they grill in print and on television. They have their counterparts worldwide – the nature of today’s media business is such .We love our celeb journos… we are their devoted groupies. These people are legitimate stars .Why not? They write well, look great and party hard. Nobody grudges them their perks . Their lifestyles rival those of Bollywood stars – but then again, they have as vast a fan following, too. It’s all good.
Or…. is it?
Readers and viewers were in for a shock last week when the Fearless Radia tapes revealed more than was anticipated. The biggest jolt was not about the lobbying per se. It wasn’t about money either, since there is zero evidence of any financial gain. It was the unbelievable naivete of the main players. They sounded alarmingly amateurish as they discussed their modus operandi with Radia. That such seasoned journos would blab so much over open phone lines ( given how porous every aspect of personal security is these days), was the absolute shocker. Political lobbying is an entirely legit career and Ms. Radia was only doing her job. That job involves courting friendly journos and getting them on board to influence public servants and public opinion. It’s about working ones buddy network. Journos are used to being approached by touts whose job it is to plant stories on behalf of their clients. This is the tricky part : How a journo responds to such overtures is the acid test. There are those who show touts the door, and then there are those who let them in. Canny lobbyists are quick to zone in on the latter - like minded scribes - and get down to business. Big business. This is how the game is played, folks. The rules are known to all.
That depends. Broadly speaking, everybody in the food chain. Manipulating policy , pushing agendas, blocking rivals, disseminating ‘news’, misinformation and even blatant lies – it’s all a part and parcel of the game. Non-alignment is only a theoretical concept. All opinion is necessarily subjective. Often prejudiced. Sometimes mischievous and frequently malicious.A good journalist knows when to step back from landmines. And frankly, every journalist knows the difference between compromise and the truth. Either you are on the make and take or not. Either you are one hundred percent honest or not. Either you display professional integrity at all times or you don’t. Unless the person is dumb. Seriously dumb. In which case, journalism is the last place to be in…. though , going by the latest revelations, it would appear some of journalism’s best and brightest may have been had.
Ab hamara kya hoga, Samba???
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
The media world is on fire ! The wildest and weirdest rumours are doing the rounds, about the unlikeliest of people ( I want to believe them all - that's what rumours are for!). Let's call it 'Silence of the Lambs - Part 2' . Or better still, 'Sleeping with the Enemy's Enemies." But mediawallas have suddenly turned coy and principled about delving further into the dirty controversy ( potentially bigger than 'Watergate'), even though by now it's a khullam khulla' affair. Let's just call it an 'Open' book ( take a bow, Manu Joseph!). It's out there in the public domain - and nobody has denied the contents of the (planted?) transcripts so far. Amazingly enough, even the usually belligerent and\or shrill tv anchors are soft peddling the issues raised ( senior journos pimping for corporates and political parties ). But... worse, much worse than anything on those incriminating tapes ( how I love that Roberto Cavalli gown tid bit!) is the scarey scenario involving wholesale and entirely illegal\unconstitutional phone tapping of citizens. Despite the seriousness of this scandal,suddenly, scoop hungry mediawallas have discovered a conscience and claim to be hugely conscious and aware of 'ethical' issues while waiting to 'authenticate' those damaging tapes. No such reservations in the past while going ahead with other sensational exposes involving non-journos. Could it be a case of everybody being nanga in the hamam? Who will bell the cat? Who can afford to ?
This appeared in the Bombay Times on monday.
Forward March…. one- two, one-two…
Here’s the good news first …. to my vast and eternal relief, after my FB column last week, I have been ‘unfriended’ by loads of people who weren’t my friends to begin with. This week I plan to lose a few more internet pests…. the ‘Forward-wallas’. I’m sure there are many of you reading this who feel the same way about those infernal ‘forwards’ that crowd the inbox and eat into precious time – forget about reading the stuff, deleting all that unsolicited rubbish takes hours as well. Besides…. It seriously affects my blood pressure! I definitely don’t want to read idiotic, mainly sexist jokes ( which jerk thinks them up?). I don’t want to acquire instant ‘knowledge’ through processed info, I have zero time for nostalgia and listening to a compilation of songs from the ‘sixties, I feel totally bugged when someone sends chain mail featuring kitschy images of Gods and Goddesses ( “ forward this to 15 friends and wait for the miracle”), my stress levels cannot handle alarmist faux medical stuff ( with grisly images of shredded heart muscles, pulped brains, mashed up limbs), warning me about all the stuff that could go horribly wrong…. if I didn’t pay close attention.Morbid and badly written poems ? I’ll live. ‘Then and Now’ homilies? Keep them. ‘This is a good one’ – generally isn’t! ‘Don’t miss this one!’ screams , “ Hit ‘Delete’ instantly!” And to think most of these useless emails are sent by people you know! Maybe, even like!! Admire!!!
I am all for setting up a ‘Ban those Forwards’ Club. I wonder about the compulsive ones who send out ten or more of these nuisance value mails per hour. Don’t they have a life? Worse, do they think you don’t? Do they also have nothing better to do but hit those keys? Would they bother to send out these horrible, intensely annoying communications if they had to pay for them? I doubt it. Bhejo, bhejo… because it’s free, boss! In my experience, men are guiltier than women in this department. Perhaps it is their way of bonding\ flirting… but there are far many more men out there, spending valuable time, effort and energy forwarding and re-, re-, re- forwarding junk. The same chaps recycle gyaan from all sorts of obscure sources and bombard the unwary. Male columnists more than their female counterparts, carpet bomb the unsuspecting with their pearls of wisdom week after tiresome week. There is just no escaping the onslaught. Come X’Mas and remote acquaintances from across the globe begin the annual torture – sending a month-by-month newsletter informing mainly indifferent, unfortunate recipients about Cathy’s tooth extraction and Uncle Eddy’s prostrate problem. Do we want to know? Do we care a rat’s err… bum? The time for making New Year resolutions is upon us. Come on everybody… let’s be nice to one another. Let’s stop this nasty anti-social activity in the coming year. But I am making one exception : Rajni jokes. Keep them rolling.Why? Don’t you know? We are, because Rajni is. Mind it.
It’s all about timing. I’m talking about ‘Guzaarish’. I’m sure it’s a terrific film – deep, dark and allegorical. But give us a break, Bhansali. Had it been pitched as a ‘X’Mas release ( Hrithik as Jesus, Aishwarya as Mary Magdalene ), at least the believers ( in and out of Goa) would have watched it, curiosity ke vaastey. Euthanasia? Most people can’t pronounce the word, much less understand what it means. Tough subject to pitch to an audience still high on ‘Golmal -3’. Brave man, our Bhansali. But he needs that magic wand more than his hero for a box office miracle to happen.
Thursday, November 18, 2010
Well... here I am with Mukkaram Jah, the elusive Nizam of Hyderabad. It is my very own 'royal' moment. He has a majestic presence, and it required a little strategic positioning to get this shot to happen. We were at the spectacular opening of the Taj Falaknuma Palace Hotel ( richly and lovingly restored by Princess Esra Birgin of Turkey, ex-wife of the Nizam saheb ). It has taken the Taj Group ten long years to reopen this magnificent palace that was lying abandoned and neglected since 1911. With its countless Venetian chandeliers and priceless antiques, is it any wonder that its themed , opulent, and wildly extravagant suites go for 5 lakhs a night, making this one of the priciest palace hotels in the world?
'Falaknuma' means 'Mirror of the Sky ."
Some sky! Some palace!
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
It's been a rough ride for our P.M. who seems to have taken a permanent 'maun vrath'. The Silent Sardar is under heavy duty fire from the Opposition. But is he opening his mouth to clear his 'good name' ( in India, we all have 'good names' - ha ha ). All this is just such a total sham and charade.... as if those BJP guys are any different. Every desi neta is cut from the same cloth. So.... let's drop the pretence and get on with the business of ruining ... oops.... running the country!
Meanwhile , all kinds of keedas are crawling out of the OPEN can. Media keedas, at that. God knows what lies behind this expose - but since we live in a dog doesn't eat dog, and bitch doesn't eat bitch duniya, I'm guessing the lid of this particular can will be firmly shut and soldered by tomorrow. 2G.... HELLOJI!!! There are several more 'G's'.... kyon, P.M.ji??? You know who they are... we also know who they are..... but where is the blessed proof? Raja ki aa gayee baraat....
Who’s afraid of Pamela’s boobs….?
Poor Pamela Anderson. Imagine the woman’s plight…her entire identity is located in her mammary glands. The world largely knows her for the size of her breasts. It is as if the rest of her doesn’t exist… doesn’t really count. Pam is a woman attached to the world’s most talked about boobs. And most people talk to her chest. Good sport that she obviously is, this famous Playboy Bunny is not complaining. She admitted candidly to a Mumbai reporter, “My assets get me in the door.” That’s truthful. But that’s also smart. Here’s a woman who has made a small fortune flaunting her twin peaks. Her cup size is what has taken her places. She is not embarrassed to admit as much. If anything, her bouncies are her best friends. The ‘Baywatch’ star is finally in the land of the Kamasutra… clad in a clingy, diaphanous white saree, Pam richly deserves the nearly 1 crore of rupees a day she’ll be earning as a participant in a much watched reality show. With her entry, all the other Bigg Boss bombshells ( past and present) appear totally pheeka…. under developed. Perhaps, it is the arrival of Bazooka Pam that prompted the Indian government to suddenly wake up to the ‘X- Rated’ content of some shows and clamp a few meaningless restrictions on them. By pushing back the slots of shows that beam ‘objectional and vulgar’ content to 11pm, some prudish babus must be patting themselves on the back for saving the country from moral degradation.Give us a break, fellas. The I & B ministry officials should get a few basics in place first. Bared breasts and crude abuses no longer send shock waves across the nation. We in India are used to the sight of uncovered bosoms ( women happily breast feed their babies in crowded train compartments) and the gaalis Raakhi Sawant spouts on her show are mild compared to what one hears from politicians and members of parliament in public. Balasaheb Thackeray spares nobody when he decides to lash out – his abuses cover generations and involve animals, sisters, mothers, brothers, friends and enemies. So what? Does that lead to rioting on the streets? If this silly directive is designed to protect our children, someone please tell those fellows, desi children rarely sleep before midnight. We are not British. Our kids are seen and heard. Annoying but true. In which middle class Indian family are the bachchas packed off to bed at 7pm after supper at 6pm? Television time largely remains unmonitored and unrestricted. It is considered bonding time. Families that watch heaving bosoms and hectic pelvic thrusts together, stay together. Big deal. What kids watch (or aren’t supposed to) ought to be the parents’ and not the government’s responsibility. Going by this new ‘Adults Only’ ruling, what about commercial Hindi films that feature the most provocative ‘item songs’ and are peppered with abuses with actors screaming ‘Bastard’ routinely? Kids watch those and worse… so why the double standards? One set of rules for television programming, another for cinema?
Our society is schizophrenic and confused. News bulletins carry detailed reports about a villainous cop called S.P.S. Rathore, who molested Ruchika Girhotra, a teenager, but are not allowed to carry clips from reality shows that are deemed offensive. What could be worse or more obscene than the smug smile of a sexual predator whose defenceless victim ( Ruchika) committed suicide? There are rapist cops on the loose in nearly every city of India. The tv reportage of such cases is anything but coy, restrained or discreet. Sensationalising news while focusing on the gory aspects of crime has become the rule, given the unhealthy TRP wars being fought fiercely by the big players. So called ‘talent hunts’ on television, featuring precocious kids indulging in the most risqué dance moves, remain unmonitored and accessible to any and everybody. In any case, what’s the internet for if not to surf? How many parents check what their precious bachchalog watch obsessively for hours on end?
This new government diktat is meaningless and unfair. All reality shows are phoney , most are fixed. This is the space in which appalling taste meets eager eyeballs. So be it. The ultimate power remains in the hands of viewers. The person who holds the remote control, is the sole decision maker as to what is acceptable viewing and what isn’t. Indians are not sheep. Let us , the viewers, be the ones to take a call on whether or not we wish to ogle Ms. Anderson’s ample assets or clean our ears after Ms. Sawant is done with her raving and ranting on camera. Whether it is the bleeped out cuss words on ‘Emotional Atyachaar’ or the aggro attitude displayed by Roadies on a rampage – this is the 21st century, folks. Anything goes! So long as it sells. Before the government gets into the act and dictates what our kids can watch and when, how about a thorough scrutiny of what constitutes actual pornography in today’s transparent times – like the live telecast of parliamentary proceedings? That is perhaps the only time concerned parents feel like shielding the eyes and plugging the ears of impressionable kids. Pamela’s boobs harm nobody. But the atrocious behaviour of some of our netas definitely damages the delicate psyches of India’s youth. Pamela will pick up her pay packet and jet off to Malibu to be with her two sons Dylan, 13 and Brandon, 14. We, in India, will be left panting for more. Unless , of course, those amazingly canny tv bosses locate an international has- been with even bigger body parts, or a local starlet with a filthier vocabulary than our Raakhi’s.
Toba! Toba! What will those moralistic masterjis in the I & B ministry do then? 3.30 a.m may become the new slot for prime time viewing. Even at that ghastly hour , our pesky kids will be wide awake and watching.Bottoms up, everyone.
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Am planning to watch 'The Social Network' all over again tonight.... just to catch those rapid fire dazzling one liners I missed the first time. The mood is somewhat low ( five out of six kids not in town). Besides, on the political front, I am seriously sick of the charade of 'nabbing' the wrong culprits.... and letting the big fish get away . Scamster Raja needs an interpreter. Why can't these chaps just stick to their mother tongue? I'd much rather read the ticker than strain to decipher what they are struggling to say in their brand of English. Kapil Sibal is an inspired choice - he is the new miracle guy on the block - the man for all seasons and portfolios. Meanwhile, no Chinese torture for Kalmadi in sight.....only patsies get caught in India. The others merely 'step down' and enjoy the spoils of their looting and cheating the nation. We deserve them!
This appeared in Bombay Times ...
How many ‘Friends’ do you need….?
This is a sheepish confession: I do have a naam ke vaastey ‘Facebook’ presence. It was created by my canny publishers a few years ago since they believed it was important for their authors to have a presence on social networking sites (“ It is the future…’’ I was assured by the marketing team). I took their word for it and withdrew my protest. The children were aghast and alarmed (I was seen as an intruder into their space), till I assured them I had zero intention of being active on that site . Relieved but not totally convinced, they went back to FB, hoping and praying I’d stay out of their hair and turf. I did. But would my publishers have any of it? I was told my FB account would be managed by someone responsible… and that was that. Or so I thought. Weeks later I found myself in an elevator with people who were total strangers. One of them extended his hand and greeted me familiarly, adding “ We are Facebook friends! You accepted my friends’ request recently… thanks a lot.” I gulped, recovered a little, smiled weakly and hastily got off on the wrong floor. This became a ridiculous routine till I asked for help. “ Take me off the damn thing,” I pleaded with my minders. But would they listen? I finally managed to access the home page only to discover to my absolute horror that I now had over 5,000 new ‘friends’ and several ‘friends’ waiting for a green signal to go ahead. There were hundreds of ‘common friends’ and God knows how many people in different categories pushing products, ideas, paintings, poetry, themselves!!! This was the world’s biggest flea market… and I was one of the fleas!
Terrifying, right? Precisely . I was so traumatized by the discovery of all these newly minted friends, I promptly went into denial and refused to access my account after that. It’s a terrible admission, because I know it is still there – active, alive and kicking. I meet people who tell me they’ve read my columns on Facebook… and I smile vaguely. Obviously those marketing chaps are on the job, updating, chopping, changing, responding, ignoring, ‘unfriending’, poking, gifting… and generally indulging in whatever it is Facebook addicts are hooked on to. I’m out of it…was never on it… and after watching the absolutely brilliant film ( ‘The Social Network’) currently running at a friendly neighbourhood multiplex, I am mighty glad I resisted the temptation to lose my mind and steered clear of what has become a global social disease that spares nobody. People my age coo and gurgle with delight after tracing some long lost creep from their youth or connecting with old school friends, decades later. “It’s amazing! I’ve found soooo many long lost friends after years,” they declare proudly. I don’t have the heart to say , “ If they’d meant anything to you , you wouldn’t have lost contact in the first place.”
And to think it was one crazy genius from Harvard named Mark Zuckerberg ( a billionaire at 25 – top that!) who started it all. Culprit? Devil? Angel?
‘The Social Network’ will do for Facebook what ‘Wall Street’ ( the original) did for insider trading. Move over Oliver Stone. David Fincher is the main man now. As for Jesse Eisenberg’s eerily authentic performance as Zuckerberg – what can I say? Oscar??????
Monday, November 15, 2010
This appeared in the Sunday Times...
Why ‘Amma’ always knows best…
Let’s hand it to Amma – she is nothing if not a force of nature. J.Jayalalithaa with her calm, Buddha-like expression, and the slow, measured speech, is a phenomenon in the murky world of desi politics. And…trumpets! bugles! – the Caped Wonder from Tamil Nadu is back in the game once more…with her entrée, the stakes have suddenly gotten sexier. Written off, diminished and lying low for a while, she made a dramatic reappearance in the political arena by offering an exclusive interview to Arnab Goswami on Times Now. If her calibrated quotes were designed to cause major ripples in Delhi, they certainly scored big, with partners in UPA’s assorted bread basket scrambling for cover. Ostensibly, Amma was after Scam Meister 2G Raja’s head. But was that her main or only objective? Analysts think not. The 2G scam has been around for a while. Amma had refused to get drawn into it at that stage. Raja brazened it out and laughed all the way to various banks, even as his countless critics thought the nation was diddled out of something close to two lakh crore rupees. It is a number most people would find next to impossible to fathom. How much those 122 licences issued during the auction could have fetched… should have fetched… remains in the domain of conjecture. By demanding his sacking at this critical point (when the Congress party is sweeping its stables clean of notably corrupt netas), Amma caused a mini-quake. Her serene and controlled demeanour as she outlined her plan to save the UPA and India from a possible mid-term poll, was perhaps this ex-actor’s most convincing performance to date. Not a muscle moved on her face as she went through her game plan emotionlessly, listing out her reasons for going public with her outrage. She spoke impassively while expertly crunching numbers and assuring everybody she could produce the 18 MP s needed to fill in the gap if the DMK withdrew its support to the UPA. She refused to reveal the identify of the ‘friendly parties’ on stand by, but it was abundantly clear Amma was on a roll! And there are very few politicians left who can match Jayalalithaa in full flow. She speaks eloquently and with complete authority that does not tolerate a single interruption ( for once, the garrulous Goswami was rendered speechless). She refused to get cornered on a single issue, including the prickly one involving her far from cordial relationship with Sonia Gandhi (Amma’s response was mild and philosophical). Jayalalithaa stayed resolutely focused on corruption – mega corruption - and didn’t shy away from naming names ( Ashok Chavan, Suresh Kalmadi). The message got through - when Amma means business – watch out!
What was remarkable about Jayalalithaa’s scintillating interview ( monologue is more like it), was the politically incorrect content she opted for. Blunt. To the point. And refreshingly outspoken, she delivered punches that were perfectly on target. Her bombshells had very little to do with Raja per se. This was Amma telling her admirers and opponents she’s done with sulking in the shadows and licking her wounds. She’s done with being pushed around and marginalized in her own state. And most importantly, she’s done with being petulant vis a vis the Madam in Delhi. Jayalalithaa is ready to rock! And people who know the lady insist she is one tough customer. Known to be ruthless and unsentimental when it coming to decimating those who stand in her way ( loyal friends included), this is Jayalalithaa’s moment to recover lost ground and reposition herself at the state and national levels. She candidly admitted she’d taken a few hits in the past, but asserted quickly she was ready to go into battle with renewed ferocity. She spoke about ‘weak leadership’ ( Oh- oh…. Manmohanji!), and our soft stand while dealing with Pakistan and China ( hear! hear!). She also mentioned her desire to pump up defense budgets since our army was nowhere close to China’s in terms of strength and sophistication ( too true). When was the last time we heard a politician state something as explosive on a national channel ? Jayalalithaa’s decision to go public with her politics is a staggeringly bold one. In a single shot, she conveyed several messages that will be hard for the Centre to ignore. She also issued veiled threats in the bargain – suggesting the rise of people power that could trigger off an unstoppable protest movement. Amma grandly offered to lead it if Raja’s head was not delivered on a platter soon.
While DMK bosses go into a huddle, and others wait and watch, Amma has already achieved her objective. “ I am back!” is Jayalalithaa’s war cry. Weak hearted ninnies are busy ducking and looking for places to hide. Oh…. about Raja and the multi-zulti crore scam… all lines are busy on this route. Aap qatar main ho…