I got back from Baroda this afternoon to find street vendors selling pirated copies of my latest book (' Shobhaa at Sixty' ) at the traffic lights. Two of them tried to sell that shabby copy in a crude cellophane cover to me! Is there anything that can't be duplicated and recycled in India? Did I flip out? Naaah! In a perverse and crazy way, a pirated copy is a sure sign of success and bestsellerdom!
Back to Baroda and the frenzied Navratri celebrations. My only precondition to the organisers of the 'Master Talks' series ( ABS - short for Association of British Scholars) was that they should schedule my talk during Navratri since I wanted to catch the Garbas. I was lucky. We were escorted to the gigantic United Way of Baroda Garba ( they're aiming for the Guinness Book of Records) where my jaw dropped .... and remained dropped! Over 22,000 dancers in the most creative and colourful traditional gear ( chaniya cholis for the girls and dhoti -kediyas for the guys ), swirled and twirled to the insistent beat of the live orchestra. No Bollywood naach-gaana, no item songs, no disco dandiya. Just wonderful singing and a mass of young people dancing away under the stars . The best part? Hindus and Muslims swaying together to the in Narendra Modi's Gujarat. The heavens were smiling.... and so was I.
This appeared in Bombay Times on monday....
The Magic of Numbers….
This week has been all about numbers. Starting with yesterday’s once-in-a-lifetime occurrence at 10 seconds, 10 minutes past 10 a.m. on the 10th day of the 10th month, during the 10th decade of the century. Did the world stop spinning? Did something miraculous happen? Will babies born\ conceived at that precise moment be born as angels with wings? Numbers are as exciting and relevant as you want them to be. People often wonder why I added an ‘a’ to my first name so many moons ago. All I can say is that I like the addition… but I have still to crack the Forbes’ List! Other than celestial configurations, we also kept a track of the CWG medals’ tally. But like someone joked – since most of the top athletes had pulled out anyway, and the rest were sick with a Delhi Belly, India was sure to collect a rich haul! Then came the numbers for recently released movies and how many crores each one had picked up over the weekend. Even though with Rajni Saar around, nobody else stood a ghost of a chance, we still got those full page ads boasting about record breaking box office collections of some absolute turkeys. Rajni also created new records for the number of sms es and tweets ‘Robot’ generated. The one I liked the best stated that Rajni’s next film should be titled ‘Twitter’ in which he gets to play all 140 characters! Couture, such as it is in India, continued to rack up the numbers, if not in sales than in the basket of movie stars on the ramp. This obsession with numbers will continue through till Diwali – the number of taash parties in Bollywood and similar figures, while the Sensex jumps up and down randomly and the price of gold\ silver sets new records and gets heads reeling in disbelief.
This week’s foreign films’ established one thing : even the biggest Hollywood names can’t salvage terrible scripts. My heart went out to ‘Pretty Woman’ Julia Roberts as she grimaced her way through this utter embarrassment of a movie, which needs to be retitled ‘Eat, Pray, Love…Sleep.” The segment shot in India ( packed with stereotypes – from ashrams to elephants) was by far the worst. While Julia finding love in Bali, after a takkar on a cycle, is worse than the stupidest Bollywood cliché from the distant 70’s. Javier Bardem has got to be the most attractive male on Planet Earth… and yet this silly cow ( Julia) is ready to walk away from him. Insane! Bardem is also a phenomenally good actor, and in this dud he shines in every scene, every frame, but most so when he’s saying an unabashedly weepy goodbye to his lanky, young son before kissing him full on the mouth, Brazilian –style!
George Clooney displayed nothing beyond his vanity and megalomania in ‘The American’, co-produced by him. Endless close- ups of the man frequently described as the ‘Sexiest Guy Ever Born’ ( in reality, it is Bardem, but he doesn’t have p.r. people to propel him to this position), only allow the audience an intimate glimpse up the man’s nostrils… perhaps they could have thrown in more shots of him doing push-ups to get the drool levels going? Slow, pointless and unremarkable, it was one wasted Sunday afternoon!
From the mundane to the divine – watching Alarmel Valli perform at the NCPA after several years was to waft away into another zone as the lithe and scarily confident dancer enchanted her Mumbai admirers with ‘nritya’ that more than lived up to her claim – “ When I dance, I sing with my body.” Did the combo of English poetry and bharat natyam work? As the connoisseur behind me commented, “ It was jarring and discordant.” I second that.
Just as I second the right thinking position taken by Father Frazer, Principal of my alma mater, St. Xavier’s College. By putting up a notice challenging Mumbai University’s decision to withdraw Rohinton Mistry's superlative book ‘Such a Long Journey’ from the curriculum, the University has caved in to political pressure and sent out a wrong message to those who value freedom of expression in a democracy. Father Frazer Mascarenhas has pointed out the obvious – civil society must resist such attempts to suppress and muzzle voices . Young people in particular, should show their solidarity and support by backing the well respected Principal and demanding an end to this arbitrary ‘emergency withdrawal’.