Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Sex and Our Cities....

This appeared in The week. Please treat it as the promised review. Slightly late... but what the hell!

Agreed, SATC-2 shot in Abu Dhabi was a bit of a turkey, and even the super stylish gal pals clad in designer harem pants, floaty caftans and ridiculous head gear, couldn’t salvage the move from box office disaster. But I have to confess I enjoyed it, much to my daughters’ collective amazement (the girls found it seriously dumb). ‘What is there to like?” they asked. “A lot!” I answered, a trifle defensively. And I heard a man groan, “ Dude… do I really want to know about a woman’s hot flashes or listen to her menopausal rantings?” Well, why not? SATC has always gone into uncharted territory, be it a woman’s confusion about her sexual urges, her mixed feelings about having kids, her dryness ‘down there’, her fears of rejection on account of her small breasts, her reluctance to get into a committed relationship … even her odd PMS conduct. It was always out there in the popular television series, and later in the movies that followed the rather complex love\sex\ professional lives of four feisty females in New York. Just the fact that these couture-clad Manhattan chicks with all their combined neuroses managed to connect with regular women across the world, was a big enough signal heralding major change.
This is not as superficial as it sounds. While watching the latest SATC at my favourite multiplex, I was busy scanning the packed auditorium to see who was laughing and at which jokes. Interestingly, the film opens with an elaborate gay wedding sequence with Carrie playing the best man. Her husband (Mr. Big, if you please!), cracks several politically incorrect jokes about gays, and it’s okay to do it – yes – just as movies crack jokes about other minorities. Nobody is spared these days – Jews, Blacks, Hispanics, Asians. So why treat gays with kid gloves? This openness is entirely welcome and it was good to see so many gays in the audience laughing with everybody else. That’s confidence.
Two weeks later, I was at a lunch with a mixed group of professionals who happened to be discussing SATC avidly. One of the men said he had learned so much about women from SATC – their really, really personal secrets and sexual foibles that men rarely get a chance to figure out on their own. He claimed that as a student in America during the heyday of the tv series, he would watch Carrie and her friends closely to pick up a few cues about dating on campus. Later in life, when he decided to get married, and the SATC ladies had also moved on to dealing with domesticity, he was glued once again to their new selves as they negotiated various marital hurdles. He gave the example of Carrie’s failed wedding the first time round, when the wedding preparations turned into a public circus and became much bigger than the ceremony itself. It reminded him of his own despair as he watched his bride-to-be getting caught in the familiar trap of staging a full on ‘designer wedding’ at which the two of them would be reduced to playing puppets in ridiculously extravagant couture.
Similarly, I exchanged notes with a few post-menopausal friends who had chortled and choked through the accurately hilarious scenes featuring the 50-plus sexual predator Samantha popping a cocktail of multi coloured pills to balance her yo yo-ing hormones. There was another telling scene which showed Samantha hastily applying a lubricating cream to her private parts before setting out on a date. Too personal? Too gross?? Of course! But… hey …. too true, too!
Would a desi SATC work in India? Nope. I remember being asked to write a pilot for a major channel a few years ago. I did take a crack at it – but the female boss baulked at what I thought was a pretty tame version of the original. She was right. It would never have worked. We want our own lives to be presented in a sanitized, air brushed way – like none of this ever happens to us. We don’t want to acknowledge that our urban selves are not all that different from Carrie or Samantha or Charlotte or Miranda. Well, let me tell you we have them all in our vibrant society. Only, we want to pretend they don’t exist. Which is also why our top rated soaps today celebrate rural ‘values’ and applaud child marriage along with other ‘traditional’ virtues. India is way too hypocritical to own up to its own Carrie Bradshaws. But show me one local fashionista who wouldn’t want to be in her Louboutins!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Pining for Pune....

I had a much needed and entirely divine break in Pune - a city I am most partial to. The weather was glorious. Fluffy clouds against a startlingly blue sky. Light drizzle, a full moon - what more does anybody want over a relaxed weekend? Well - great food and extraordinary comfort help the cause. We stayed at a worldclass property - The Oakwood Linear at Mundhwa. Our perfectly appointed suite was just what we needed to unwind. The girls used the gym and pool. I restricted myself to the the super efficient 24 hour restaurant 'Senses', which sees the well-heeled of Pune, driving up in swanky cars ( Aston Martins, Lamourghinis, BMWs, Audis and Mercs by the dozen). The ladies who lunch clearly love the venue - I watched them trooping in clutching their Ferragamos and Birkins ( such an over rated 'It' Bag.... really!!). Later the same night, the bar was rocking till dawn with charged up football fans. The next night,we went back to our favourite place 'Stonewater Grill', across the road, where the executive chef Shailendra wowed us yet again with his culinary flair ( superb duck salad ). He has recently introduced 'Le Kebaberie' ( don't you just love the clever name?), with desi khanna. The biryani was perfectly cooked. But I preferred the kebabs grilled by the chefs at Oakwood in our private garden. What a splendid evening that turned out to be, with Varsha, Atul, Ranjanadevi , Resham, Sania - our fun Pune friends. The spanking new Westin gleaming wickedly in the near distance looked pretty deserted on a saturday night. We checked out 'Prego', the Italian restaurant at this property, and to our great disappointment, the only worthwhile item on the menu was a pizza ! Though in all fairness, the mushroom soup wasn't too bad. But to not serve a decent Pinot Grigio by the glass , is a trifle short sighted. Perhaps we can excuse the show- off hotel this time ( teething trouble?). Next time guys, get your act together. The prices are steep.... customers expect the best.
This appeared in Bombay Times yesterday.

How young is too young…?

Do you know how old Miley Cyrus is? Who Miley? What Miley? If that was your reaction, you effectively revealed your age.Millions of young people across the world adore Miley and are nuts about her professional persona ( Hannah Montana). Miley is all of 18 now, and was an international star at 12. Similarly, Justin Beiber, the mop haired 16- year- old pop star who is the music world’s current darling, has been spectacularly successful ever since he composed and sang his first song ( cleverly launched by him on the internet) which subsequently went on to break all sorts of records. Yup. They start that young these days. And if you think they are ridiculously underage, think about Michael Jackson at 5, performing like an absolute pro on stage and stunning the world. These may be exceptional talents. But even here on some of our better quality reality shows, one comes across scarily gifted kids who effortlessly blow the competition away.
A few weeks ago, I had two earnest visitors at home who were representatives of entertainment channels and were looking for people to plead their case. I told them they’d come to the wrong address and the meeting ended abruptly in under ten minutes. I have a problem with precocious children gyrating suggestively to adult songs. And I wonder about the kind of parents who encourage them. Amazing as it sounds, these child wonders from small town India, do not suffer from any kind of inferiority complex and frequently out perform city kids from more affluent homes. What on earth happens to these bachchas once the shows end and reality of a less glamourous kind kicks in? It’s a subject for a well- researched documentary, that’s for sure.
Bollywood runs on an entirely different track – nobody grows up! The heroes continue to play college boys even though they are well into their forties. And the heroines stay fixed at the magic number of 27 for at least twenty years. Then one fine day, they announce they are 30. And they remain 30 forever. Kangana claims she is 22, Anoushka claims something similar, as do Genelia , Katrina and Deepika. The numbers game gets interesting when these ladies start referring to others as their ‘seniors’ and attach a ‘Ji’ at the end of that person’s name. I am not sure whether colleagues address Lara as Lara or as Laraji. If it is the latter, Lara is in trouble.
It has been a dull week, movies-wise and otherwise. After the ‘Raavan’ debacle, industrywallas are looking nervously at forthcoming releases. All eyes are now on Imran Khan, who should really stop giving interviews. If he has been with the same gal for eight years, good for him. But why talk about it while promoting a frothy new romance with a dishy co-star that’s slated to hit the screens shortly? And then the lad makes it worse by showing off a platinum engagement ring like it’s a chastity belt or something. Really Pappu! Today’s guys should sit at Shammi Kapoor’s feet and take a few key lessons in wooing their leading ladies – on and off the screen. Nobody did it better than the ‘Yahoo’ man. Most of our present day heroes insist on flashing trophy wives who are as hot as their heroines . This is a seriously dumb move. They also insist on putting their babies on display, which further erodes female fantasies. Look at Akshay , Hritik, Arjun, Srk, even Saif. Come on guys – hide those gorgeous biwis and bachchas. Get smart! Look at Salman – hardum single and ready to mingle. Like George Clooney. And now along comes the news that Munnabhai is ready to become a real life dad again. Reports say his wife got a seriously huge solitaire for her efforts. But what should we give Sanjay for his?? How about some rest??

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Once Upon a Time with Shobhaa

Friends, I shall be writing these blogs as a part of a promotional campaign for a movie titled, "Once Upon a Time in Mumbaai." These are the first two....

Mumbai is reeling once more from what is being described as ‘Another era of Gangwars,” after the brutal murder of Farid Tanasha earlier this month.Seven men arrived at the gangster’s house where he was relaxing after dinner, getting a foot massage from his second wife Reshma, as their toddler daughter played close by. Eight rounds were fired out of which five hit the gangster, killing him instantly. The police declared it was a 7.65mm bullet that killed the person believed to be Chhota Rajan’s main hitman.
The report generated a distinct sense of déjà vu for those of us who have lived through the fierce gangwars of the ‘70’s when Bombay was still Bombay, and the underworld ruled. From matka dens to gold, silver and currency smuggling on a scale that might have embarrassed Al Capone, Bombay was run by ruthless mafia bosses, who unlike the gangsters from the 80’s and 90’s, didn’t bother to remain in the shadows. Or play coy with the press and public. They were very visible public figures who ran their various ‘dhandas’ brazenly and openly. But most interestingly, they were an accepted part of Bollywood society – coveted trophy ‘mehmaans’ who’d show up at premieres and mahurats and mingle freely with all the top stars, producers and directors, even posing nonchalantly for pictures which were subsequently published by popular magazines and trade papers of the time.Nobody thought this open show of bonhomie as either odd or even indiscreet. Perhaps the filmwallahs dared not snub or shun those shadey men in shining white polyester, who called the shots – not just in Bollywood, but Bombay. Violence had become a way of life…. and death, a familiar companion.
Here’s a teaser trailer from me to you – one of those much feared men who controlled this teeming, volatile, corrupt and venal metropolis was the dreaded Don called Haji Mastaan.
And I’d met him!
More in my next post.
The Sensational ‘Seventies sizzled and seethed.
There was blood on the streets…. but nobody willing to mop it up.

Men in White….

What is it about men in white that startles the unwary? Is there a rule somewhere that says ‘White Not Allowed’ if you’re a guy? Bollywood Baddies have always had a penchant for the colour one generally associates with vestal virgins. Pran frequently wore white for his villainous roles, and I’m pretty sure Amrish Puri growled, “ Mogambo khush hua ,” clad in pristine white breeches. It was , of course, Jumping Jack Jeetendra who patented the all-white (down to the pointy, shiney shoes) look in Bollywood… and he wasn’t even a baddie ( though Hema Malini’s mother wasn’t entirely convinced about that when she broke up their sizzling romance). Sanjeev Kumar liked his whites. So did Dilip Kumar. Even that loveable eccentric Raaj Kumar was often spotted in white ( so what if it clashed with his flaming orange wig?). Raj Kapoor liked his ladies in white, and wore a lot of white himself. As did his devastatingly handsome younger brother Shashi ( strictly kurta-pajamas, please). That was then. Let’s cut to now - soon we are going to see Ajay Devgun sporting strictly white for his role as ‘Sultan’ in a forthcoming film. And (wink-wink) we all know where that wardrobe inspiration is coming from. The notorious ‘Seventies don of dons, Haji Mastan, invariably wore white. And if advance reports about the film are to be believed, Ajay’s character is based on Hajibhai’s ( never mind what publicists and Haji Mastan’s family have to say about this ‘resemblance’!).

Frankly, I do think Ajay is the only Bollywood actor who can pull off this role – he even looks the part. If anything, Ajay appears far more menacing than the original. How do I know? Well, I had the dubious pleasure of meeting Haji Mastan a couple of times under rather strange circumstances and in very unlikely company. It was during Sanjay Gandhi’s very short reign ( post the ignominious Emergency – surely the most disgraceful period of our history?) as India’s absolute supremo. Sanjay Gandhi’s henchwoman at the time was a feisty, attractive and ambitious person called Rukhsana Sultan ( mother of Amrita ‘Dingy’ Singh, Saif’s ex ). I was researching a cover story on Rukhsana, during the course of which she asked me to come over to her plush suite in the Taj Mahal Hotel (Mumbai), to meet some of her business associates. Ha!! Little did I know then that one of those associates would be the dreaded don – Hajibhai himself!
More about that meeting in my next post.
After all…. the fact that I am still alive to tell the tale is in itself a major feat!

Monday, June 21, 2010

'Raavan' - One head is better than ten!

Attn: Deepali, Mark Shobhaa’s World 20th June 2010

What a disaster, Sirji!

Such a pity, the much-awaited ‘Dus Sarwalla’ turned out to be an unmitigated disaster! If only Mani Sir had made better use of his own ‘sar’, perhaps ‘Raavan’ would have fared better. A friend from Bangalore sent me a message that was pretty telling, when I mentioned I was watching the movie that evening. “ Do take a torch and a good book with you, dear,” Prasad advised. I got the message but ignored him, telling myself ( as countless Ratnam fans must have ), nothing Mani attempts can be all that bad. In fact, Mani doesn’t fall into the ‘mediocre’ category - even at his most uninspired. That’s his genius. I hope this garbled and confused movie does not permanently tarnish the reputation of one of our most talented film makers. Simply put, it is a bloody bore. Too long, too tedious and too pointless. As for the performances , poor Abhishek dives down nose first in the very first scene – he doesn’t come up for air after that. Not his fault ( I’m partial !). He is just such a loveable, good natured sort of chap, one just doesn’t associate brutality and violence with someone like him. And if his dark side is meant to hit audiences between the eyes, it seems childish to underline the point via black make up smeared all over his face and body, just in case we dummies don’t get the point. Between assorted face packs of haldi, ash ( not his beauteous wife, but ‘raakh’), keechad and other muck, this Ravan ( Beera) grins goofily through his evil deeds and seems incapable of hurting a makhhi’. Meanwhile, it is Dev ( Ram, played by Mr. Scowl), who does little more than glower into the camera, his expression disappointingly blank thanks to those strange brown cosmetic lenses ( the sort starlets use for portfolio pics). No wonder his lovely wife ( Ragini alias Sita ) makes cow eyes at Raavan and treats the besotted villain to glimpses of her creamy cleavage to torment and tempt the man further.
Forget all that Naxalite-waxalite, Aryan-Dravidian, Good Vs. Evil conflict or symbolism. Mani can’t seem to make up his mind about far more elementary issues – where the hell is the movie located and who are those strange looking tribals? Sometimes, the crowd scenes feature buxom village belles with streaked hair , super sexy backless cholis, city make-up, like extras from a Bhojpuri film. At other times the same bunch is dressed in sack cloth, but with colour coordinated accessories. Aishwarya’s iridescent beauty is exploited in close- up after close- up, while her jungle make up goes from just mascara and the perfect lipglossed pout, to heavy duty eyeliner and blush on. But at least the make up is waterproof. Which is a good thing, since almost the entire film is shot under lashings of rain or a waterfall. As for the divine Ash’s performance – what can she do if her director has her gagged (literally!) through most of the film? Worse, any self respecting heroine would also have lapsed into stupefied silence had she been forced to wear what must rank as the worst costumes ever! Sabyasachi…. really!!! First you do it to poor Vidya. And now Ash.
Moral of the story : One head is better than ten.

What is that they say about a single picture speaking more than a thousand words? If the Brothers Ambani deprived us presswallas of that anticipated ‘Kiss and make up’ photo- op last week, Rekha and Jaya Bachchan’s mwaah mwaah moment made up for it. Jaya’s expression as Rekha swooped down on her at a very public function, is worth noting. But both being consummate actresses, they recovered swiftly enough to compose their features suitably for the flashbulbs. That’s professionalism. If Jaya then went on to give the royal ignore to Rekha, it doesn’t count. The moment the film press had been holding its breath for (and twenty years is a long, long time to do that), came minus the expected drama, even if Jaya’s involuntary shudder was unmistakable and hard to miss. ‘Chumma Chumma de de…” crooned Mr. Bachchan many moons ago. Not sure he had reserved it for this kiss between his wife and errrr…his errrr…. co-star? The encounter sure gave those old lyrics a new meaning!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Bhopal tragedy gasbags....

The luscious Liz Hurley dressed in a ''Low and Behold!" electric blue gown, certainly added the required oomph to a very classy fund raiser organised by Bapji Gajsinh, Maharajah of Jodhpur, for the Head and Neck Injuries Foundation that he heads. As charity events go, this was one of the best - understated, elegant and perfectly pitched to attract more well -heeled donors in future. Since I was seated to Bapji's left, and Liz to his right, there was a great deal of interesting cross talk, especially about her son Damien, all of 8, whose favourite word at the moment is 'sex' ( his amused mum revealed). I wish Damien had been at our table - he would have made a lively evening still livelier!!
This appeared in Asian Age\Deccan Chronicle today....

All gas….. and too much tragedy.

Frankly, the only person coming out like a decent human being in the ongoing Bhopal trial court conviction of eight high profile people associated with the world’s worst industrial disaster, is veteran lawyer Soli Sorabjee, former Attorney General of India. I am sure he sleeps well at night and is able to look himself in the eye when he wakes up without cringing. He recently revealed how a prominent legal firm ( J.B.Dadachanji and Co ), tried to rope him in to defend what we all know was indefensible to begin with. They had most of the other top drawer lawyers like Nani Palkhiwala, Fali Nariman and Anil Diwan in their kitty by then. Soli flatly refused to jump on the bandwagon saying the victims of the disaster probably needed his advice far more! This was a brave decision which may have isolated him from the other legal brains who had signed on to represent Union Carbide and protect the interests of the American company. But that’s Soli.Always the Lone Ranger.There was nothing new about UCC’s strategy way back then. It is the same story today – any legally compromised corporation which is able to flaunt big bucks resorts to exactly the same trick - buy up the best legal brains in the Lawyer Supermarket and make sure the other side is starved of equally powerful representation. Such intimidatory tactics have been going on for decades, and New Delhi is full of these high profile hustlers who charge by the micro second, rarely read briefs and are the real power brokers in a town that thrives on little else but the exploitation of that elusive entity – power.

In such a cosy environment, where the Big Boys’ Club consists of ridiculously paid lawyers who reportedly fix any and every loophole in their clients’ favour, it is indeed reassuring to know at least one man from the same tribe did stand up when he had to and had the moral courage to say ‘No’. It has come to a stage when all a corporate crook needs to get away with blue murder ( in the Carbide case, literally so), is to hire the best legal eagles on the shelf – the whole lot ( cheaper by the dozen?) and then play the nasty waiting game. Our system is such, as the Bhopal issue has once again established. The world must be laughing at us – from 1984 to 2010, this is the ‘progress’ we have made. And look at the absurd outcome of that progress – Warren Anderson, the Union Carbide CEO who flew the coop with enviable ease right after 20,000 plus Indians had perished in the most blood curdling way, is busy enjoying his autumn years in the Hamptons where he lives a luxurious, retired life. He is a doddering old man now….no point in going after him. Besides, he knows and we know, America is hardly likely to let us get our hands on a person known as the Butcher of Bhopal. That was a given then , it is a given now – as we are discovering to our horror. Three days after the gas leak had effectively flattened the town, Anderson was given a great send off by the then chief minister Arjun Singh. Tapes and tv footage of that cowardly exit, show a cocky Anderson declaring, “ House arrest or no arrest, bail or no bail, I am free to go home. That is the law of the United States…. India, bye bye… thank you.” Such was the arrogance of the man, and the shameless complicity of the Indian administration, that cringe making visuals of that ignominious exit show our spineless policemen and other officials saluting this villain as he escaped his rightful punishment in India and flew back home to freedom.

The question to ask is : What has changed today, if anything? It still works in the same nauseating way. Is anything further going to be done to the desi directors who are out on bail? Not a chance. They must have laughed at the ridiculousness of it all, when they had to put in a mandatory appearance in court recently before climbing into their individual limos and rushing off to the nearest club for a gin-and-tonic to calm those nerves. These men fall into the ‘pillars of society’ category – they are well- respected individuals with impeccable social pedigrees. But the fact remains a court has found them guilty ( so what if the verdict was delivered twenty-six years after the crime was committed?). They still remain convicted men who are out on bail. Just like other criminals. The nature of their crime is monumental and repugnant. But what they and their mighty lawyers must be banking on right now is the great advantage that delayed justice provides to perpetrators of unspeakably gruesome crimes in our country. Wearing down victims is just a small part of the overall strategy. And if the families of those who lost their loved ones experience a deep sense of frustration, helplessness and rage, well, too bloody bad. This is India – have money, will win. No matter how serious the crime – and in the Carbide case, the world agrees it can’t get any more heinous or callous. But what does anybody care? Pitiful compensation is supposed to take care of the emotional loss suffered by these people, who have battled on for so many years in the hope their wounds will finally be healed once the criminals are brought to justice. Now, even that hope which has kept them going for so long is dwindling rapidly. They must watch the nightly buck passing taking place brazenly across tv channels and save their tears in sheer disbelief. Arjun Singh says one thing, Arun Singh , another. While even mentioning Rajiv Gandhi in passing is seen as sacrilege. This is the sorry environment we foster – whether it is probing the IPL scandal or providing justice to the Bhopal gas tragedy victims.
Soon, even this will become a dead story. The engineered fury of a few will vanish just as soon as it manifested itself. The men who were prosecuted will nonchalantly continue their golf and gin- tonic routines, safe in the knowledge kuch nahi hoga.
And the ageing Warren Anderson will eventually die a peaceful death in the Hamptons…. unlike the over twenty thousand Indians who weren’t as lucky when they gasped their last breaths in distant Bhopal twenty six years ago.
Union Carbidewallon ko saat khoon nahi balki bees hazaar khoon maaf! Wah India wah!!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Farewell Phyllis....

She changed her name from the rather uninspiring 'Phyllis' to the more exotique 'Anjali' when she decided to move from Mumbai to Paris more than forty years ago. Her aim? To become a model. She travelled there on a one way ticket, determined to make it - and make it she did. As a top mannequin in the House of Pierre Cardin, she swiftly became his muse, and for close to 15 years, he cut his couture collections on her lithe, 6' 1'' frame. Besides,as one of the first non-white models in Europe, she did face a great deal of prejudice, but eventually broke through the rigid colour barrier to become the toast of tout Paree. More than any of these achievements, I believe Phyllis ranked as one of India's best exports to France - proud of her origins and an excellent ambassador for the country.
We were friends. Good friends. Fun friends.
Anjali - 'Offering of the Gods' - she'd explain to a dumbstruck French press - died at her newly acquired chateau in the South of France this morning. Knowing her great taste and fastidious nature, I'm certain she had her funeral worked out to the minutest detail - from the flowers at the service to the dress she'd wear on her last journey. I hope she picked a vibrant pink suit from her collection of vintage couture. Pink was her colour - as vivid as Phyllis herself . And I hope she had her full make up on when the end came, and her hair impeccably coiffed , too. I am certain the angels sang as this very special 'Offering of the Gods' finally went home to God.
Phyllis, my darling. Au revoir, cherie....

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Monsoon Weddings...!!

The monsoon arrived in Mumbai with more fanfare than usual - with a dramatic ( even scarey )thunder and lightning show. This morning I woke up to spectacular lashings of heavy rain against my windows.... and I wisely decided not to jump out of bed but snuggle into my Jaipur razai and make the most of the magical moment. I adore the monsoons in the city. I know, I know.... there will be howls of protest from those who say, " It's all very well for you.... when was the last time you waited for a bus with the water rising and swirling around your knees?' Fair question.
But please...let me romanticise my favourite season without having to offer apologies or explanations.
I noticed the number of weddings during this (to some) dismal season has gone up and most of my daughters' nubile girl friends are ready to tie the knot in the next few weeks. Here's to wet and wild nuptials and bheegi bheegi raatein.
Watched 'Gladiator -2' .... err, I mean 'Robinhood'. Russell Crowe and Robinhood??? Even Kevin Costner was better!!
This appeared in Bombay Times....

Secret Lives of Bollywood Stars…

There are hardly any secrets left in Bollywood these days – what a pity! Everything but everything is out there – what the stars don’t reveal themselves, their publicists do ( with the stars’ absolute compliance, of course). This is the Hollywood pattern, but comparatively new to India. Stars have minders who micro manage every tiny aspect of their lives. Based on that efficient handling ( sometimes mishandling , too!) of that precious notion called the ‘image’, stars negotiate fat endorsement deals. One small slip and poof! There go the millions. This is such a huge shift from the time our mega stars conducted their affairs chhupke chhupke and most liaisons took place in one or two hotels on Juhu beach.Oh…. how can I forget those steamy affairs on location shoots that rarely went beyond Ooty or Gulmarg ? Forget Mykanos and Marrakech, stars used to be overjoyed shooting at Lonavala or Khandala. Shielded from the prying eyes of the wicked film press and before the birth of that most intrusive weapon – Breaking News – our Bollywood wallahs were left to indulge their fancies in peace across assorted hill stations dotting India. Whispers about their link ups rarely traveled beyond the boundaries of the close showbiz community that defended and protected its own. Some of those juicy scoops would make even the most brazen contemporary romeos and romance raanis blush. Yup. They were that sizzling hot.
Such a pity the veil of secrecy and the thrill of uncovering clandestine jodis has been replaced by the new breed of bold players who really don’t bother to hide a thing – be it a married lover or a forbidden substance. What the world may not even want to know is right there - in your face and upfront. Blog it or Twitter it – but for God’s sake, don’t conceal it. That’s the mantra in a publicity driven industry where being in the news 24x7 is as crucial as delivering a mega hit on a friday. Chalo – so be it. Readers\viewers feed off the new khulam khula mood ruling in ‘show- all- biz’ and stars themselves are only too happy to receive reams and reams of revved up publicity, updated on an hourly basis.
Two outstanding Mumbaikars will be launching their books this week. Let start with our ‘Sheriff for Life” ( my fond nickname for him) Nana Chudasama whose book, ‘History on a Banner’ will hit the stores in grand style at an impressive function held inside the magnificent Convocation Hall. It has been organized by his proud family members, with wife Munira spearheading the initiative. Nana himself seems detached and amused… but that’s him. What’s all the fuss about? he must be wondering, even as his countless friends and admirers gear up to make sure the function is a huge success – what with L.K.Advani and Amitabh Bachchan doing the honours. Nana’s banners have become a weekly habit for the city… but more than that , his pithy messages remain a barometre for what citizens think and feel – from Sonia to ‘satta’. Soon, readers will be able to buy a piece of history for their bookshelves.
Then comes the launch of my favourite cousin Gautam Rajadhyaksha’s splendid book ‘Chehere’ ( the Marathi avatar of ‘Faces’) at the poshest hotel in Juhu. Yes, us thoroughly spoilt South Mumbaikars constantly crib about the distance and joke that we need to apply for visas when invited to the ‘burbs. I often exaggerate wildly and claim I have to pack enough food , water and a change of clothes before embarking on the long journey, besides leaving home on a Friday afternoon to make it for an event on Saturday night! But for Gautam, I would have gladly undertaken this tedious trip… had I not committed to a fund raiser in town earlier. Gautam remains supreme in what he does – other ‘fancier’ hot shot photographers have emerged during the past few years. But show me even one who makes a woman look more beautiful or a man more handsome. All this, without photo-shop, mind you! Gautam’s lens is pure magic. He has mastered lighting… but more than that, he has mastered human psychology. He captures the very essence of his subjects ….to be photographed by him is both an honour and a privilege, as most of Bollywood ( from current hottie Ranbir Kapoor to Evergreen Dev Anand) will readily confirm.
I am lucky – I can take full advantage of my relationship and bully him to photograph me each time I need a new portrait for a book jacket. Like I say about India’s best portraitist, “ He can make the backside of a B.E.S.T. bus look gorgeous!” Good luck, Gautam. Here’s to you and beauty.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Cane and able....

Am determined to sit through and enjoy what my daughters have clearly told me is a disastrous, junky movie - SATC. Well, it sounds exactly like something the doc ordered for a dull, pre-monsoon afternoon. Russell Crowe and 'Robinhood' tomorrow night. My movie calendar is pretty full this week, as you can see. But.... being a total movie junkie, there's no such thing as 'one movie too many' in my book. Am planning to catch Colin Firth in 'The 'Single Man' mid-week, and 'Ravan' on Friday. These are all the treats I accumulate for myself after working ridiculously hard the rest of the time ( justifications! justifications!!). Hope all you guys had a terrific week... here's to a pleasant sunday.
This appeared in the Sunday Times.... and tv channels are already on it aggressively.
La Martiniere( Kolkata), is my husband’s old school. For decades, he has remained one of its proudest ex-students. So embarrassingly proud that a few years ago in Karachi, when he discovered five ex-La Marts’s ‘boys’ at the posh Club where we were dining, he gathered them up and got them to lustily sing the school anthem. If other diners were disturbed, they chose to ignore this group figuring all it needed was one crazy Indian to break Pakistani rules. Such is the fierce loyalty factor La Martiniere used to generate in its vast network of alumni. Till the horrific suicide of Rouvanjit Rawla, the class –V11 student who hanged himself four months ago, unable to take the humiliation meted out to him by the Prinipal of the school, Sunirmal Chakraborty, and other teachers. The lad’s ‘crime’ ? His classmates say he was ‘naughty’ and didn’t do his homework on time. Those transgressions cost him his life.
Ajay Rawla, the boy’s father took four months to pull out of the shock and decide to do something about the dismal state of affairs in one of India’s most prestigious schools – he lodged a police case. Had the media not been alerted, chances are, the grief- stricken father’s complaint would have remained a piece of paper on a forgotten file. As of now, the investigations are on, and the Principal has finally confessed to ‘caning’ the boy. How archaic is that word itself! Caning!! Come on… who canes defenceless kids in this day and age? And worse - calls it ‘tradition’? Well, here’s one Principal who did just that – and thought it defence enough to justify his deplorable actions. One would have thought this sadistic system of ‘disciplining’ naughty children disappeared with the British and their ghastly, kinky public school rules that adversely impacted some of India’s brightest minds. To acknowledge that this still goes on in our better schools is a pathetic comment on how stuck we are in a bizarre time warp that doesn’t recognize the basic rights of children. Of course, caning happens in patshalas across the country. Of course, that is equally despicable. The explanation is also absurd, but remember …the mindset of some village teachers has yet to switch gears. Young Rouvanjit’s profile is vastly different. He belonged to the urban elite of the City of Joy ( such irony!).He represented the ‘Babalog’ of the ‘Bhadralok’ in our midst – privileged, affluent and aware. The school in question comes with impeccable credentials. And yet, one of their own was compelled to call it quits in the most awful way. Kapil Sibal made a strong pitch on behalf of children across the country on a tv channel when he said these bachchas were a symbol of tomorrow’s India. Schools that believe in this form of barbaric discipline completely ignore the law (which is in place to protect our kids) and worse, destroy a child’s confidence , sometimes for life. No matter what wrong was committed by Rouvanjit, the viciousness of the combined attacks on him ( one report mentioned the cane broke on the child’s back) were obviously enough for him to go in search of that killer rope with which he hanged himself from the ceiling fan. Surprisingly enough, no teacher from the school had thought it necessary to alert the Rawlas about their son’s ‘indiscipline’ earlier – it was easier to pick up a cane and thrash the boy. Usual story – ‘teach him a lesson.’
Reading the account and watching the television clips revived long buried memories of being frequently caned myself as a school girl. This was the punishment reserved for students who were considered ‘rebellious’ and ‘disobedient’. Of course , I was both… and worse.But to be so severely punished for those ‘failings’ by the ogre of a school principal – a towering woman representing a Scottish mission ? I often went home with swollen , angry red welts on my upper arms – welts that made me feel so ashamed, I hid them from my parents and said not a word about the frequent torture. I now realize, had I been less ashamed and more outraged, not only would my torture have stopped ( perhaps at a huge cost – I’d probably have been thrown out of school for daring to protest),but other girls would have been spared this nasty woman’s brutality. I chose to remain silent. Like Rouvanjit. Big difference being, he’s dead. And I am alive to retell and relive those hellish minutes when I’d be summoned to the Principal’s office after standing on the yellow bench for hours, often without food or water.Why am I ready to share this dreadful part of my distant youth? Only to demonstrate the tragedy that our schools continue to perpetuate till today, and in an age where there ought to be a far better understanding about such sensitive issues. A child’s mind and sensibility cannot be easily penetrated, even less ‘controlled’ by fiendish, cruel adults who imagine they are ‘doing the right thing’ by striking someone defenceless…. and often, voiceless.
No matter what Principal Sunirmal Chakraborty says in his defence, no matter how sloppily the Kolkata police respond, no matter what kind of pressures are brought on Rouvanjit’s family to withdraw the charges, it is important for the sake our children, to keep up the pressure and punish those responsible for driving Rouvanjit to take his life. The old era of adopting the so-called traditional ‘cane and able’ modus operandi to make errant kids toe the line are over, Mr. Chakraborty.
Try reading ‘Goodbye Mr. Chips…’. Try loving those children - especially the difficult ones – whose parents place their trust in you and your teachers. Better still, try therapy.
What an idea, Sirji!!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

AoA : The Art of Abusing !!

This is hilarious!! I have been asked by some of you why I haven't deleted those filthy comments written by Sri Sri's devotees. The reason I have retained them is simple - those comments speak for themselves. A Guru is known by the followers he or she attracts.

And one can easily judge the calibre of this lot.

I rest my case...

Perhaps we should rename it? The Art of Abusing???

Monday, June 7, 2010

Bravo Bips!!

No matter what anybody may say... there is something magical about the Mumbai monsoon. The first few showers are so welcome, they make all women feel like Sridevi in a wet saree. Last night while enjoying a post -'Raajneeti' family dinner at the 'Souk' ( superlative and authentic Lebanese cuisine), we watched the crowds outside the Gateway of India dancing under a light drizzle. It reminded me of the one really gauche and hopelessly scripted scene from the film - when the actress playing Kunti frolics provocatively under obviously artificial studio rain, kisses a visibly embarrassed Naseeruddin Shah and promptly produces a baby.
This appeared in Bombay Times today.

When I read the ‘Mumbai Mirror’ headlines about a nude video featuring Bipasha Basu that had surfaced on YouTube ( where else?) I groaned. ‘ Oh no…. not another sleazy sting or outing?’ I flipped the pages to read the story and was prepared for the usual denials … you know how that goes …I half -expected Bipasha to pout, throw a fit, stamp her foot and hiss, “ That’s not me! It’s a body double. The images have been doctored. My rivals are trying to defame me.” etc etc. Instead, Bipasha did what any intelligent, honest person would do – she confirmed it was indeed her in an ad she had shot years ago. And yes, she was naked during the shoot – so?? When pressed to clarify, she went into a few key details that provided a convincing backgrounder to the shoot (she was living in New York at the time. It was shot in 1999. She wasn’t experienced enough to figure out camera angles.) But most importantly, Bipasha stated ( sans the standard starry hypocrisy), that she was not ashamed of the ad, nor were her parents embarrassed by it. As for her boyfriend John, he told her she was looking really hot in the video! How’s that for upfrontness? As also for the much needed courage in an industry where all this and more goes on chhupke chhupke and every Bollywood Babe behaves like a vestal virgin?
There are several top stars with worse skeletons rattling in their cupboards. But catch them admitting to having committed even a tiny indiscretion? Some of them have pasts that are not just colourful but positively shadey. A few have graduated from porn movies\videos to c-grade thrillers and found their feet finally in the dream factory. There are a couple of star wives who have changed their original names, re- structured their faces\bodies and acquired a new identity. Not that they have succeeded in fooling the sharks of Bollywood, but that’s okay. Showbiz is made up of such stories – the grittier, the better. When one looks at those chastely dressed Bollywood Biwis hanging on to their husbands on the red carpet, their sleazy pasts cleverly buried under newly acquired designer outfits, and freshly invented histories , it makes a Bipasha stand out for her bold stand and candid confession. More industry girls should take their cue from Bips. It was only because she didn’t lie about her past, that the story died an instant death. Nothing further remained to be dug up and thrown at her. Smart girl. She walked away with her head held high - no apologies, no shame. And most importantly, no ugly repercussions.
To read or not to read ‘The Red Saree’ – that is no longer the question. Similarly, to watch or not watch a controversial film ( ‘Raajneeti’), is irrelevant. In today’s zamana, readers and viewers are sharp enough to decide for themselves, and any attempt to suppress a book or movie is likely to backfire. Since both the book and the movie involve Sonia Gandhi, it is important to send out a message to her over zealous minders that in a vibrant democracy it is no longer possible to impose any kind of censorship. Everything is out there - you can’t kill it, no matter what kind of pressure you apply.
Javier Moro’s book is likely to become an overnight best seller, thanks to the reams and reams of free publicity it has already generated. Whether or not Sonia’s lawyers go ahead with the threatened law suit, the book has served its purpose. And will make Moro a very rich man! Content wise, the book is innocuous, even naïve! Since it is a dramatized biography, most of the dialogues are made up by the author. This is not something new in publishing. Historical fiction attributes quotes to its charismatic characters – be it Napoleon or Hitler or Princess Diana. Were the writers present when those conversations took place? This is known as creative license, and every author of similar books, freely exploits it. So long as the matter is not defamatory, nobody minds. Aha – this is the tricky part. Who decides what’s libelous and what isn’t? I’d say , the public. Especially in a vibrant democracy which guarantees freedom of speech and expression. Like ours does. Unless of course we have a separate set of laws for the Nehru-Gandhi family???

'Raajneeti' rocks!!!!! I loved it....

Anybody who is even remotely interested in contemporary politics - the asli, unsanitised version of this dirty business - should make 'Raajneeti' a compulsory watch. I was warned by several film buffs to stay away. One even joked, "Go and spend a couple of hours in your local municipal corporator's office - even that would be more interesting." But as you guys well know, I have my own perverse ratings system, and I never go by what others say or think.Wonder of wonders, the theatre was packed on a sunday evening - nobody staged a walk out, and there was pin drop silence through the nearly three hour long 'Mahabharata' also known as ''Raajneeti." I was riveted from the dramatic opening sequence itself which set the tone for the rest of the movie. There wasn't a detail out of place, and I said to myself if Jha can get the minutae right, chances are the rest of the movie will match up to the early promise of those wonderully choreographed scenes which established the main characters so strongly and unambiguously. For those of you looking for a love story - sorry - but this ain't the film. And that's where the audience confusion stems from. The publicity has been grossly misleading, and some people flocked to watch a sizzling romance between Katrina and Ranbir. The posters and promos led one to believe Katrina was the central figure, when in fact, she is barely there. According to me, it's the men who eat up the screen with their magnetic performances, starting with Nana Patekar ( an unlikely but apt Krishna), Manoj Bajpai ( totally outstanding - after 'Zubeida', this ranks as his best role to date), Arjun Rampal ( getting better and better with each challenging character he plays ) and Ranbir Kapoor ( the sinister strategist who steals the show from the veterans with absolute ease). It is really Jha's genius that deconstructs the epic to suit a modern day ethos, with controlled sophistication and supreme confidence - it shows in even the most minor but telling scenes. The dialogues spoken in a shudh bhasha are difficult to follow at times, but then the masterly sweep of Jha's vision is so overpowering, that missing a line here and there doesn't really matter. Katrina tries. And that's the best one can say about her. Fortunately Jha has compressed her presence into five or ten short scenes. The rest of the footage is gobbled up by the guys , all of whom are pitted against one another in well- scripted, tight encounters that get the best out of each one of them. Manoj remains my top choice - what a powerhouse of a performance. At once tragic, flawed and menacing . As for Nana and Ajay - God knows what those two are sulking about, because in terms of screen time, they hog it all. And are expectedly brilliant.
'Rajneeti' - down and dirty. Just like real life.
P.S. I want to congratulate the stylists and dress designers Whosoever came up with the look for Manoj, deserves a very special mention.
This appeared yesterday in the Deccan Chronicle and raised a lot of hackles. Sri Sri's zillion followers are really cross with me. But I know the Giggling Guru will be quick to 'forgive' me!!!
Forget Didi’s hysteria and histrionics. Mamata Bannerji is the ultimate drama queen of India. If she does make it as Chief Minister of West Bengal, all one can say is W.B. asked for it! Her ardent supporters may lynch me for saying this, but it is extremely difficult for those not under her spell to either understand or appreciate the bizarre Mamata Magic. To the rest of us, the Trinamool Congress chief and India’s railway minister ( honey, it’s time to put in those papers!) appears entirely over the top and out of control ( almost embarrassingly so), as she screeches her way through anything and everything – from train disasters to political catastrophes of various hues. Just about the time when Mamata was emerging as a serious challenge to the well entrenched, and totally archaic Commies of Kolkatta ( sipping bodka-tonics or bhiskey in the Bengal Club), nobody but the lowly ‘pada’ boys from her locality gave her the time of day. Mamata was seen as a bit of a joke by the Big Boys swishing their carefully pleated dhutis through decaying colonial bungalows with peeling yellow facades, as they’d laugh derisively whenever her name cropped up before dismissing her off as a crazy female whose ‘fearlessness’ was closer to personal eccentricity than real bravery. And each time Mamata herself took to the streets ( which was often ), her critics would wait for her to loosen her long hair and squat in the middle of the road by way of a protest. Initially, I didn’t understand the significance of the flowing wild hair, till a bhadralok explained to me that it was a woman’s ultimate weapon. If she wanted to display defiance and contempt towards those she was fighting against, there was no bigger insult than to greet her adversaries with undone hair.Frankly, I thought Mamata looked rather fetching , almost wanton, when her hair was unkempt and blowing around her face, but clearly I had missed the point entirely. Today, Mamata Rani rules.Durga! Durga!
Hair was on my mind big time last week. For one, my own was beyond unruly and in serious need of an expert’s scissors. For another, there was another person along with ‘Didi’ who was hitting the headlines and courting controversy – Sri Sri Ravi Shanker ( “Guruji” to his faithful flock ). His long tresses, kohled eyes and what looked suspiciously like a loosely draped, red bordered saree demurely covering his head, made him resemble a bearded woman. He was all over television screens as he bleated about an ‘attack’ that he claimed could have cost him his life. This went on for a few hours till our mundu-clad Chids smoothly and firmly put the Godman in his place by pointing out the difference between an ‘attack’ and an ‘incident’. Frankly, I didn’t quite get the distinction. Either a gun shot was fired or it wasn’t. Which was it? At the time of writing, we don’t know for sure, but Sri Sri is still going on and on about the ‘attack’ and demanding an enquiry. He has also boldly taken on the Home Minister (“white lie”, if you please) and is on a collision course with Chidambaram, who has dismissively ( and sensibly) moved on to more important matters. Sri Sri is the absolute darling of Mumbai socialites, and it is no wonder they were right there on news hungry tv channels, talking the usual gibberish about their beloved Guruji. By then Guruji had come up with his ‘I forgive my attacker’ line, and had offered to invite the fellow to sing and dance at his satsangs. Somehow , this one time people saw through the hoax early in the game. Though the cops in Bangalore had to pretend to take the charges seriously and rule out an actual attempt on the guy’s life, even they looked and sounded bored as they searched desperately for the elusive ‘attacker’, motives and bullets. So many silly versions emerged after the first round of shocked disbelief that as of now it looks as if it was a botched up publicity stunt rather than a murder attempt. That, or a skirmish between disciples which took an ugly turn. According to eye witnesses, dear old Sri Sri was nowhere on the scene at the time, and had left the ashram a few minutes before the supposed attack. The man whose thigh was grazed by a bullet, was more startled than injured, and one version is that the bullet may have been randomely fired into the air from a neighbouring farm!
Who knows and who cares? What is seriously annoying about this episode is how carelessly and speedily media gets fooled into running a potentially sensational story without bothering to undertake a basic fact checking mission. Sri Sri was converted into an instant martyr as a couple of dumb anchors went on and on about a ‘Man of God’ and a ‘Man of peace’ surviving an attempt on his life. His later statements were also carried without anybody bothering to find out what exactly had happened. Nearly a week later, the story is dying a slow death. And as it often happens, there are sms jokes and cartoons doing the rounds talking about the Art of Living being the Art of Lying.The more serious charges revolve around land grabbing and other activities which are decidedly ungodly. Years ago, when Sri Sri was not as rich and famous, I remember a disheartened husband of a glamourous Mumbai socialite confessing that he had lost his wife to a strange man who giggled all the time and wore saree-like robes. He said sadly, ‘ I don’t know why it is called the Art of Living when a more appropriate name is the Art of Leaving. Most of his female disciples are young, beautiful and wealthy ladies who give Sri Sri lots and lots of their husbands’ money, before dumping their spouses.” I have met a few of them myself and wondered how they did it – persuaded their richie rich hubbies to finance Sri Sri’s lifestyle,before waltzing out of the marriage and into his pampered inner circle of bored millionaires.
The day of his so-called ‘attack’ I was coming back from our home in Alibag across the Gateway of India. I saw the lower deck of a large ferry boat swiftly filling up with well heeled young people clad in kurta pajamas. Soon they’d scrambled to the upper deck and were taking in sharp ,short breaths as demonstrated by an instructor. It was murderously hot, but this bunch looked pretty cool ( metaphorically and literally). They were on a sunset cruise around the busy harbour…. or maybe they were heading out to an exclusive ‘satsang’ hosted by affluent disciples at a plush beach front getaway in Mandwa. Wherever it is they were headed, I wished them luck. They were going to need it – before their faith - or their money, ran out.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Crazy Italian looking for an Indian Bride...

If this is sounding crazy, it is!! Swatantra Sarjano is as Italian as pasta or pizza or parmesan. He runs a charming Italian restaurant in Goa, and is an ex-Oshoite from Pune. I have had one of his cook books published by Penguin ( he drove the entire office nuts) , and have been in touch with him over twenty years. I am willingly acting like his marriage broker and\or mother-in-law. The poor guy is desperately lonely and has always wanted an Indian wife - preferably someone simple. His requirements are few - he says he has a lot of love to give - and asks for little in return ( but that's his version!). The guy is 63 years old - energetic, vibrant and charming. He expects his wife to keep up with him ( daunting!) and be a lively companion. He writes, sings, takes great pictures - and cooks, of course.
Please don't route your proposals through me. I have done my good deed for the day. He can be reached via email : I take zero responsibility for whatever may happen . Good luck!!
I'll be watching 'RAJNEETI' on sunday - my verdict after that. Since I never ever read reviews ( most are bogus, biased and boring ), I prefer to form my own opinions. Last night I was on a panel discussion (' Headlines Today' ), during which the subject of indirect censorship was raised. This was in the context of Javier Moro's contoversial book, 'The Red Saree', on Sonia Gandhi ( pretty innocuous, if you ask me), and the attempts to derail its publication\ distribution in India. Similar pressure was brought on the makers of 'Rajneeti' and some cuts were imposed in the final version. Why such hypersensitivity when it comes to Sonia? Come on.... if you are a charismatic, powerful person exerting enormous influence on the lives of over one billion people, you should be able to handle some heat.... and if you can't, then stay out of the kitchen. An author's job is to write. In a democracy like ours, the Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and expression across the board. If somebody is unhappy with the representation, the courts are always open. The book may not have attracted half this attention had it been 'officially' ignored. Now, the one person who'll be happily dancing all the way to the bank is Javier Moro! In any case, those who were interested in reading the book have done so over the internet - and it hasn't led to rioting on the streets.
Grow up, guys.
Take a tip or two from the Brit Royals - the boudoirs of Buckingham Palace \ Kensington Palace have seen a lot of action. A lot of it was documented in print ( tabloids, books ) and cinema (Hellen Mirren playing Queen Elizabeth in 'The Queen' ). The stiff upper lip remained impressively stiff throughout. That's class and confidence!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Love, Sex aur Gotra....

"Touch a Life, " is an important initiative started by Parmeshwar Godrej to reach out to children with AIDS. Pediatric AIDS prevention is a very specialised programme spearheaded by Parmesh ( The Bill Gates Foundation partners her ) which reaches out to the most vulnerable segment of AIDS affected patients. I spent over two hours with her last evening getting to understand the complexities of what her organisation is doing in this area. Given her excruciatingly painful back, this tireless ( and super glam ) lady flies for a day to Mexico to attend a conference and then flies right back to Mumbai before jetting off to Vienna for another conference. She has managed to raise a great deal of money ( and has just won a prestigious award for philanthropy in America)... but as we all know, money is never enough when the cause is this critical and huge. Check her out on facebook....she'll soon be on twitter, too.


This appeared in the Sunday Times....

Naveen Jindal seems like a reasonably sensible chap – dresses hip and modern ( sharply cut bandgalas in textured raw silk). He appears to lead a modern life. Wealthy, educated and well traveled. He’s the kind of 21ST century politician urbanites feel comfortable around. He speaks our lingo, seems passionately ‘involved’ in issues that go beyond clubbing at the latest lap dancing hotspot in the capital. So what’s a guy like him doing in a mess like this? No matter how fast he backtracks, the thing is he did put his foot into his mouth…. and there it has stayed. It isn’t going to be all that easy for him to waltz away from the controversy now. Had those archaic arguments about ‘gotra’ ( what the hell does ‘gotra’ mean, ask most young people in total bewilderment?), come from some fuddy duddy uncleji representing an obscure constituency in the back of the beyond, nobody would have given them the slightest ‘patta’. But come on, here’s this suave, good looking chap blithely going into gotra terrain and instantly losing his ‘cool factor’. My guess is, he doesn’t really care! And why should he? He knows the sentiments of his core support base – and he is obliging precisely those medieval-minded folks who are gotra fanatics. Naveen knows he doesn’t have to bother about the rest – he is doing what most politicians would in his place – hanging on to his kursi.
Young India lives in a gotra-neutral zone – at least, that is what one would have liked to believe. Ask around – ask basic questions. When the census form arrived at home, I happened to be sitting with a lively group of collegians. When they saw me baulk at the box which said ‘caste’, they laughed initially and then turned serious. They actually started asking each other, “ Dude, do you know your caste?” More than half the kids present went blank! Some responded in such a silly manner – I was secretly thrilled! It was obvious from the way they’d converted the whole thing into a joke, that caste really didn’t matter a damn to any of them. They were vaguely aware of their own! Very vaguely. Just a few days earlier, I had met a retired police officer who could talk of nothing else! And if he was so obsessed by caste, how could his family of well- educated
professionals be free of bias? I wondered if his daughter ( clad in trendy denims) and working with a foreign bank would be ‘allowed’ to marry outside her caste. I met his married son, who works for an advertising agency…. met the son’s attractive wife and wondered – same caste, but different gotra? Same gotra but different caste? Same gotra, same caste? This was insane. Just then a school- going grand- daughter walked in jauntily( some more denim), followed by the cop’s wife ( not denim-ed, but wearing a salwar- kameez, not saree). I was asked my preference – limboo paani or chai?? I declined both ( too bloody hot to enjoy either). The cop looked most offended and asked peevishly, “ Why aren’t you having something in our home? Is it because of our caste?” I was so taken aback, I promptly demanded limbu paani instantly. The entire family looked vastly relieved and beamed approvingly as I sipped the drink. I told the cop I was surprised by his overreaction to my innocuous refusal. He told me he was most accustomed to visitors refusing his hospitality and making up some flimsy excuse. Seeing my skeptical expression, he added, “ Because of my caste!Yes, madam…. it still goes on, even in this day and age.”
Driving home, I thought about Naveen Jindal’s published remarks once again. The same night I caught him on a television show where he was being hauled over the coals by an incensed studio audience. He was grinning away regardless, as if to convey he knew something those idiots didn’t. Of course, he had come well prepared for the grilling and trotted out all the pet theories defending his position. It was hard to turn away or switch channels, even though the aggravation was extreme. I listened to the counter- arguments and his subsequent justifications . I thought about a blatantly caste- based tv serial that is being avidly watched, almost as if we are hoping to get some answers to our own deep seated confusions via the dilemmas faced by the protagonists ( Brahmin boy – Kayasta girl). Perhaps the serial will have a happier ending than the couples who have been hacked to death for daring to defy the elders, and horror of horrors, marry for love…. perhaps, even for sex!!
Something weird, very weird, is going on out there. Words like ‘Khaap’ were not a part of anybody’s vocabulary till a couple of months ago. Honour killings?? Those happened in the dark ages – why, even Bollywood movies didn’t touch that regressive subject any more. Everybody was convinced India had moved swiftly into the ‘caste, creed, no bar,’ situation – if not in our backward villages than certainly in our mall-obsessed, boom towns ( tier-1,2 and 3). Apparently, and very depressingly, not! We in media woke up when one of our own ( Nirupama) took a hit. That’s when the ferocity of the crisis sank in. Uptil then, this was the stuff smart kids routinely lampooned while scripting shows for music channels …. exactly the kind of material that went into making a small budget movie crazily titled ‘Love, Sex aur Dhoka’ . Critics told us it had worked because it accurately captured the zeitgeist of this restless generation. And now this!! Hard to believe we are dealing with ‘Khaap’ dominated headlines and ‘Gotra’ related stories on breaking news in an era where nothing was supposed to matter but love. With ‘honour’ itself on the rocks, what use is pyar?