Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Screen Goddesses - Where are you??

This appeared in Bombay Times.

When I look at the current crop of Bollywood’s top heroines, an obvious question arises : where are the asli beauties?? There may be several ‘Hotties’ around, but honestly speaking, nobody really makes the cut as a classically beautiful woman – the kind who takes your breath away. Someone from the old school. It’s the same story in Hollywood. There are any number of spectacularly glamourous ladies floating around in even more spectacular couture – but show me a Vivenne Leigh. And remember, those were pre-Botox days, nobody was ‘fixed up’ and the only enhancements that were mandatory involved stuffing in the bra. Make up artists used chalky powder and home made kaajal, photo shop had not been invented, neither had air brushing of images. What you saw on screen ( very rarely in person) was what you got – an abundance of unadulterated , untouched raw beauty. Our own film industry in its hey days boasted of an impressive roster of genuine lookers – from Nutan to Vyjayantimala , Hema Malini to Madhuri Dixit. Abruptly, that era ended with the arrival of the Plastic Queens. These days it is virtually impossible to tell where real stops and plastic kicks in. Not that it matters. The girls today have so much more work to put in. Work, as in getting their image in place, participating in killer publicity, doing elaborate photo shoots – and above all else, dealing with the strain of looking over their shoulders constantly to see what younger rivals are up to. Enough to give even the most radiant rose a few unexpected thorns to deal with. Besides, with the focus so heavily on the Body Beautiful, not too many people are looking at the face. Today’s gals know it’s all about delivering with the curves – gone are the days when it actually mattered whether the eyes expressed genuine emotion, whether those tears were glycerine induced, whether a dramatic moment had to register via a glance rather than a pelvic thrust. Oof…. Meena Kumari … we miss you!
Most of the top bracket ladies today are interchangeable – they look the same, dress the same, sound the same, are the same. Their box office status is determined more by their Sizzle Quotient than histrionic abilities. Looks are key – but not beauty. So long as their bods emote and they are up for ‘item’ songs that set the screen on fire, that’s all that matters. These are Café Coffee Day gals – instant gratification, zero recall. Of course, there is just one, solitary Aishwarya Bachchan, still flying the beauty flag , but for the rest, it’s only about manipulating polls that declare them to be the ‘Hottest’ or ‘Sexiest’ women on the planet. Your jaws drop as you go , “ Whaaaat? This one – hot? Sexy? Have people lost it?” But then again, that’s how the endorsement game is played – win a poll, bag a deal. Ditto, world wide. Why, even a Serena Williams is said to have gone under the knife recently and had her nose fixed, so that she photographs better when she whacks opponents off the centre court… and gets top advertisers to sign her on. Politicians aren’t far behind. Tony Blair was the last poster boy from Britain to exploit the power of imaging. David Cameron, the newly minted daddy, is learning rapidly. While here in India, only Shashi Tharoor seems to have mastered the art of projection, as anybody who saw him and his latest bride ,being gently pushed on a swing (traditional jhoola) dressed in wedding finery, will attest. That’s what is called the triumph of the spirit over nature.
But .. please dear God – can we get a few authentic gorgeous female icons to light up our lives ( and movie theatres) in place of the ridiculously gym toned, ruthlessly reassembled, comically dumb faced creatures we idiotically hold up and worship? It’s a little like settling for frozen yogurt over creamy ice cream. In other words, the audience is feeling short changed. Screen Goddesses, where are you?
Planning to watch 'We are Family' on thursday along with my own family! The promos are looking terrific. The subject is terrific ( and officially borrowed ). The star cast is terrific .... that leaves the actual movie! Let's see what Siddharth Malhotra has done with the subject. Watch this space for the verdict!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Go Nuke Yourself....!

This appeared in the Asian Age \ Deccan Chronicle


Candid question: How many Indian citizens understand the implications \ ramifications of the Nuclear Liability Bill? Out of a billion plus population , it would be hard to find more than 10,000 super brains capable of figuring out the gol-mal…. the gobbledygook. And yet, when Manmohan Singh sought unanimous support from the Lok Sabha, he pretty much got it(through a voice vote), with an impressive majority of 252 members. Amazing! First those M.P.s pushed through a hefty pay hike for themselves in record time, now they’ve passed a bill that is maha controversial …to say the least. Simran Badal, who spoke right after the P.M., was the only person to make some sense during a heated television debate the same night , when she asked the sort of practical, commonsensical questions that any Indian – dumb or otherwise - would want comprehensible responses to. The answers, such as they were, made very little sense. It was more an exercise in theatrics and the sort of intellectual masturbation most smarty pants on tv indulge in each time they have to defend their party bosses on slippery issues. What can these motor mouths do, but resort to fancy language and that very obvious and intensely annoying ‘buying time’ tactic - “Please repeat the question…kindly give me an uninterrupted chance to respond…may I answer that question?” Yes, you mutt. That’s why it has been asked! Once that silly pantomime is out of the way, the debate rages on pointlessly, with at least three people talking at the same time. The hapless anchor is reduced to playing an ineffective traffic havaldar, waving his\her arms, raising his\her own voice above the din, scolding panelists by wagging a finger and pretending to be in control even as mayhem rules. This is exactly what happened on Wednesday night, as bewildered viewers wondered what the hell was going on…and why was everybody so worked up.
Next came press reports of the Prime Minister’s Stooge Speech. Hello? Who called you a stooge, sir???? Sacrilege! Manmohan Singh whispered softly and sweetly, “ To say that this ( bill) has been brought to promote American interests and corporations, I think, is far from the truth.” Hear, hear! Good news, guys. Our Prime Minister ‘thinks’ this is far from the truth. Maybe a few years down the line, we’ll ‘know’ the truth. And if India’s karma is good, that truth won’t hurt ,damage or kill us. As of now, we can only pray for the benevolence of Bhagwan that this bill is indeed in India’s interests. And even if some American companies make zillions and zillions from us, it will only be in the country’s interests. Never mind if the rest of the world ( America included) is looking for other energy sources – cheaper and less dangerous. We have now committed ourselves to going along with Obama. And no… we are not his stooges. When Manmohan Singh pleaded, “ I beg of this House to pass the bill with unanimity,” members promptly obliged. Yup. Even those BJP blokes. Jaswant Singh’s muted ‘protest’ was noted (Who are you calling a hustler, huh?) , not that it mattered all that much. Demanding the safety of nuclear power plants, is apparently not such a radical issue after all. It is amazing that it almost became a secondary one, given our recent tryst with the Bhopal bungling, where again, safety was the first casualty. The beauteous Ms. Badal pointed out several in built hazards and asked tough questions about India’s preparedness to deal with a nuclear calamity. Of course, she received no replies from the official spokesperson, who chose to be characteristically evasive and totally off the point. It was a little like someone quoting Shakespeare when the debate was on Tagore. But then again, that may have been the whole idea.
It is obvious that deals within deals have been struck across the board. It is equally obvious India will never know what those are. The principal players may or may not be around when citizens live through the contentious bill, hoping all the while that there is no accident in the future. When we cannot even construct a safe stadium for the Games, when nearly every aspect of our everyday lives come with a ‘Dangerous to your health’ sign, whether it is crossing pot holed, flooded roads, or risking plane collisions on the ground and in the air, sab kuch routine ho gaya hai - what is a mere nuclear disaster ? Another statistic? Even if thousands, possibly millions, are at risk, does that stop us from chasing ‘progress’…. sorry…n-commerce? God forbid, but if something horrific does take place – who pays? How much? A liability cap for the operator at $320 million, IMF special drawing rights at $450 million? In any other genuinely developed nation, these sort of concerns would have been directly tabled before citizens . Especially in a democracy. It is obvious from the way the cookie has crumbled during the past week, that the government is only concerned about protecting the interests of politicians and their influential allies. The height of insult to the people of India was Lalu Prasad Yadav justifying a pay hike when his own miserable record as a scamster who has done time, is known to all. It is this same level of brazenness and audacity that has pushed a potentially lethal bill through. But then, when Obama does show up in India later this year, we shall be ready with not just the red carpet, but also our contracts for American companies. Oh… did Obama really say all those rude things about desi techies? And has he also made it much tougher for Indians to get work in his country? Gee… that’s too bad. Let’s put all that behind us, and show him the true meaning of Desi Chamchagiri … err… hospitality. It was a former U.S. President (Nixon) who once famously declared, “ I am not a crook.” We know the rest. Now that our P.M. has said, ‘I am not a stooge,” shall we give the guy the benefit of the doubt? Sure. Why not? Do we have a choice?
I spent a really,really hectic day in Ahemdabad ... and may need a week to recover. I was there for the launch of the Gujarati editions of 'Spouse' and 'Speedpost'. I was lucky that one of Gujarat's oldest and most respected publishers , R.R.Sheth ( third generation now running the show, after the grandfather, a freedom fighter and Gandhiji associate, started the firm 126 years ago). It has been an absolute pleasure dealing with young Chintan Sheth and his team. Some of our high handed, arrogant English language publishers can take a leaf or two out of this book! Sheth publishes close to 125 titles a year, and has all the top names signed up. The chief guest at my function was the highly respected writer Shri Gunwant Shah. Also present were my translators, two attractive and feisty ladies - Kaajal Ojha and Sonal Modi. Over 700 readers turned up for the function, held in a large hall. They were responsive, respectful and raring to ask questions. But before that I had to pack in close to 20 interviews ( tv, radio, print), which left me a little dehydrated and drained by the time it was my turn to speak. I valiantly carried on , adopting my own brand of Gujarati-Hindi-Marathi-Bengali-English. The superlative sitaphal basundi I had enjoyed at lunch, gave me the much needed extra energy - though it could as well have been the hand churned chikoo icecream. Next time you find yourself in A'Bad, even for a few hours, head straight to the The House of Mangaldas Giridhardas, a 200 year old haveli , which is a magnificent urban heritage hotel ( highly recommended by Lonely Planet). Take a short flight of steps up to 'Agashiye' - the wonderful terrace restaurant which serves an authentic Gujju thali. It's worth taking a flight from anywhere in the word to the historic Walled City which takes you right back to the 15th century. More details on : www.houseofmg.com.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Fashionistas: Icons or Victims?

This appeared in Bombay Times on Monday.

With fashion and more fashion coming out of everybody’s ears… and more fashion weeks ( ooooof! Add to that jewellry weeks) being celebrated across India than all the religious festivals put together, it’s a wonder fashion fatigue of the extreme kind hasn’t set in and crippled the diehards so far. But the answer to a key question still remains : How does one tell a fashion icon from a fashion victim? These days every second starlet who can afford a pricey foreign frock or the latest ‘it’ bag, stakes a claim to that dodgy title. And , of course, lazy bums that we are in the media, we willingly go along and fall for the hard sell. You know what they say – repeat something often enough, and the gullible start to believe it’s the gospel! Bollywood of old truly threw up its own divas and icons without the help of smart P.R. and other minders \ spin doctors who manufacture images for a fat fee these days. Nargis, The Lady in White comes to mind. Or even an adorable sex kitten called Mumtaz ( whose daughter Natasha is married to Fardeen Khan). There were several others who inspired two generations of Indian women with their very distinct style statements. Today, the ball game has changed to an extent that any skinny wannabe with a stylist at her beck and call can happily and rather grandly call herself a style icon without blushing.
The international definition is vastly different. If Posh Beckham is hailed for her worldwide appeal, it is because she created a whole different look that was widely imitated by thousands of women who wanted to clone her style. Ditto for Paris Hilton. While in Hollywood, check out Jennifer Aniston and her uber cool quotient. These women look like themselves and don’t follow fashion diktats. Sure, they may have their favourite designers, but when they put themselves together they do so with aplomb and individuality. Here, we foolishly crown someone a style icon because she has the dosh to travel and buy couture from the latest international collections. Or, she is slim enough to get into impossibly fitted LBDs given to her by her personal stylist. Never mind that the effect is just so ‘catalogue’. That goes for a lot of our truly bizzaro socialites who preen away in fashion glossies and talk glibly about their latest acquisitions not realizing how silly they look and sound. A true fashionista doesn’t need labels to define her identity – she defines the labels with her personality. If you ask me, the one Bollywood gal who is on the button most of the time is Kangana Ranaut. Here is a real fashion success – a small town girl who has made good in a remarkably short period of time, and established her own sense of style that has nothing to do with someone else’s yardstick of what’s fashionable. There is an edginess to her that makes her an attractive clothes horse, whether draped in a net saree or a red carpet gown. One just gets the feeling she is doing it her way – and doing it well. The others who are trying a bit too hard for that elusive title, should take a tip or two from this girl.
Strange how we make our movie choices – I don’t feel like watching ‘Lafangey Parinday’ because I don’t like the title. The film has received mixed reviews ( more on that subject in a bit), but somehow, I feel like I’m done with the synthetic tapori talk and the ghasa peeta genre that tries and fails to capture the ambience of a Mumbai chawl. Neil Mukesh, with his skin tone and features playing a gangster’s lackey called One Shot Nandu ? No chance. Deepika, a Maharashtrian mulgi? Ummmm… maybe. But since most reviewers believe it’s their duty to reveal the entire story ( like the lengthy blurb on a DVD cover), even the surprise element is gone. That did it for me. That was also one of the reasons why I didn’t watch ‘Aisha’ ( there was nothing left to figure out after reading those ‘reviews’). But I do intend catching this one ( even if it is likely to ruin both, ‘Clueless’ and ‘Emma’ forever), to check out newbie Amrita Puri’s performance. She has been getting raves and most agree she is the sole saving grace of the film…. even if she disappears mysteriously in the second half… and without her sparkling presence, the movie loses its charm.
I watched a recent Marathi film titled, 'Zenda' ( minus sub- titles), and was totally blown away by its extraordinarily bold content. It is unambiguously about the Thackeray family - they are all there - Balasaheb, Raj and Uddhav - projected brutally and fearlessly by the film makers. There is nothing that isn't stated about the family rift and its ramifications. It shows Maharashtra politics and politicians in a way that is shocking and raw - strictly no filters. The goondagiri, threats, venality, corruption and compromises. That theatres weren't burnt down or pelted with stones when the film was playing commercially, is a wonder. It deserves a much wider audience. It is such an eye opener... and the performances were consistently competent. Perhaps, for once the Thackerays are on the right track when they are demanding prime time slots at multiplexes for Marathi movies. Why not start with 'Zenda' ???

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

'Independent' women? What a laugh!

This appeared in the Special Issue of 'The Week'....
From ‘Peepli’ to Mumbai – such a short journey!

We were at an Independence Day dinner at which two predictable camps had formed without anybody trying – women on one side, men on the other. ‘Our’ designated area (mercifully) was the smoke and alcohol free zone and ‘our’ conversation was restricted to children, cooking and maids (all three were declared hazardous to health – more so than ciggies and booze). At one point a spirited lady declared dramatically, “What I really need in my life is a wife!” That was greeted by much hooting,clapping and thumbs up signs by other ladies.She had certainly touched a chord.Considering this was not really a bunch of bored and pampered desperate housewives, I was a little surprised . Most of the women were first class professionals, as busy if not busier than their husbands – the same guys guffawing in the other corner, enjoying their puffs and malts. Some of them earned more than their mates. And yet, there they were cribbing about traditional ‘domestic’ issues that belonged to their grandmother’s era. Had anything really changed ?
Urban women aren’t having it easy at all, no matter what sociologists say. All that talk of liberation, empowerment, freedom is mainly theoretical. Real life has a different story to tell. Watching this season’s most talked about movie (‘ Peepli {Live}’), I found the characters of Natha’s feisty wife and the invalid mother-in-law far more complex and fascinating than the other stereotypes – simple minded farmers, oily politicians, manipulative TV journalists.Those two females provided a scarily searing comment on poverty and desperation. Their respective portrayals had a deeper impact than the combined efforts of the predominantly male ensemble cast. Just the central premise that a wretchedly poor farmer is left with no other option but to get talked into contemplating suicide by another man Budhia( Raghuvir Yadav,his unmarried brother), is tragic enough. That such a drastic decision is taken without once consulting the man’s wife Dhaniya(Shalini Vatsa) or Amma ( Farrukh Jaffer),says everything about the role women play within family. Natha (Omkar Das Manikpuri) , the doomed farmer, bumbles his way through the film, hardly opening his mouth,even as he becomes the central character of a ludicrous media circus. But his infuriated, hard working, pragmatic wife is not as docile – she lets everyone have it! It is she who asks the only relevant questions in the movie and challenges the logic of the absurd decision which isn’t going to solve her family’s myriad problems in any way. The bidi smoking old woman is equally fierce while expressing her contempt for her thoroughly useless sons who have made such a mess of everybody’s lives. Since the director, Anusha Rizvi, is also a woman, I’m guessing she thought it important enough to represent a strong female perspective to the unfolding tragedy, in order to counter balance the rest of the content which focuses on men and their preoccupations with status, power, position.
The scenario was not all that different at the swish Independence Day dinner. While the men sorted out global issues and provided quick fix solutions to everything from the CWG to Kashmir, their wives were more concerned about mundane matters revolving around children, health and food. Basics. I am not sure the contribution of this group of well heeled ladies to family decisions was any more significant than Dhaniya’s or her foul mouthed mother-in-law’s in the movie. Back in Peepli, women had no illusions about their own importance. But in our cities, we were silly enough to fool ourselves into believing otherwise. Today,the collective disillusionment of supposedly less disenfranchised women is beginning to rear its ugly head after a short burst of euphoria that lasted a decade , if that. 2010’s ground realities tell a different story. No matter how well qualified a woman is, no matter how much she earns, no matter how fabulous looking she may be, back home she is still viewed in the same light as her grandmom once was, and constantly judged for not discharging her ‘duties’ – in the kitchen and boudoir. She can never be too tired or too bored to cater to her family’s every need. Appetites have to be satisfied at all times, be they food related or sex driven. Woe betide any woman who dares to raise her voice and protest. She is branded a witch ( in our villages) or a bitch ( in our cities ). Either way, she is burnt at the stake of community opinion.
In the 63rd year of India’s Independence, a lot has changed. But a woman’s lot remains pretty much where it was over six decades ago.
Jai Hind!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Tu Cheez Badi Hai Mast Mast....!

This appeared as a Guest Column in the Economic Times on Sunday....

This is crazy. I have known the guy forever. He is a neighbour and a journo (of sorts).We ran into each other last week and he paid me a compliment. A very innocuous, mechanical compliment. The kind that is generally insincere and trotted out on auto pilot mode. Huuuuuggge mistake!Or so he now thinks. Why? Because I joked about the compliment and teased him about the political incorrectness of his gesture. Be careful what you say to women these days, I warned the guy. It could amount to sexual harassment. I also called him a sexist pig and told him to be extra cautious before making such personal remarks in future. His face turned ashen. He swiftly gulped down his drink and fled. I didn’t give it another thought… till I received an abject and very formal apology via a text message the next morning. Obviously, the poor man had spent a sleepless night going over our conversation and wondering where and how he’d goofed up . His message went something like this : “Sorry if I crossed my boundary of friendship. My intended compliment to you was misunderstood.Won’t happen again.Apologies.” Huh??I was just joking! That’s when the absurdity of the whole thing hit me.Something weird is going on. It was time to ask: were we both victims of a super sensitive new mood which is creating some really idiotic social problems? Can men and women ever go back to being unselfconscious and relaxed in one another’s company? At least, socially if not officially? Or are we carrying things a bit too far? Can we not indulge in some harmless, silly flirting without involving the cops and reading the riot act? Are women over reacting? Behaving in an annoyingly paranoid fashion each time they find themselves at the receiving end of male attention – verbal and\or nonverbal? And why are we assuming poor men don’t feel equally oppressed when the tables are turned? What’s the point of being a cutie or a hottie in such a hostile and suspicious environment?
This is not to trivialize the issue. But the heat is getting to everybody. Can we just lighten up a bit? Sexual harassment , real , perceived or wildly exaggerated, has become a real pain in the butt. Nobody knows how to deal with it. It is this era’s single most irritating and vexing social disease. With the number of career women world wide going up significantly,we can expect a spate of cases to keep hitting the courts. But given the current ambiguities surrounding the definition of what exactly constitutes ‘harassment’, perhaps we need to examine the dynamics of the problem in a cultural context. We, in India, are blindly following the American \European model and trying to implement it locally. Not a smart move, in a nation that has lived with countless paradoxes over centuries. Just as the Western brand of militant Feminism failed to take off on our shores ( eventually, we evolved our own, far more superior version ), I fear we are making the same mistake with the sexual harassment interpretation. As a society, we detest rules. Anarchic and impossibly individualistic as we are, we resent abiding by someone else’s charter. Try telling a Babu in Dilli that it is morally and legally wrong to discriminate against women working in his daftar, and chances are the man just won’t get it. He isn’t pretending – he is too bewildered to understand. Gender discrimination doesn’t disappear all that rapidly because of a few high profile law suits and dismissals.Of course, the Babu expects the women in his office to do ‘womanly’ things , like make chai-paani. Just as coaches of the women’s hockey teams expected female athletes to wash and iron their clothes while on tour. This is a reflection of how our men are raised, the way they treat their mothers, sisters, wives at home. Like I pointed out earlier – it’s a deeply ingrained conditioned response that may take more than legislation to resolve in real terms.
The acid test, according to me, involves just one thing – exploitation. Period. If a man or woman uses his or her position at the work place to take advantage of an individual, then that constitutes harassment and must be dealt with strictly. The grey area is the more worrying one. For example : What exactly is ‘consensual flirtation’? Who decides? How is the Laxman- Rekha drawn, and by whom? Should we just use our common sense to figure out fuzzy stuff of this kind rather than go by some foreign rule book?Let’s face it, in our heart of hearts we bloody well know when someone is ‘harassing’ us. You don’t need to hone up on the fine print in the office manual to figure out the difference between a friendly, complimentary remark and a hard core come on or threat. Men and women in urban India are capable of getting the difference. Being hit on is being hit on. A lecherous pat is just that. Touchy,feely conduct is not on. Crude jokes, sexual innuendos cannot be passed off as humour. Sexual favours – sought or offered – must be recognized for what they are – bargaining chips.Stalking in any form or medium ( sms, emails, social networking sites) should be reported and actioned. Molestation, or even an attempt? Call the cops! File charges. These are givens. Other than that, can we just go back to being nice to one another? And stop looking for sexual predators lurking in the shadows?Not every colleague \boss is a sex demon.There are regular people out there who aren’t vamps and villains out to screw the world.Come on, everyone. Use a little desi buddhi. Agreed, the time for a thorough clean up was long overdue. It is finally here. Yes, there will be some fall guys… maybe a few fall gals, as well. Too bad , Coach Kaushik - your timing was so damn off!
Happy Onam! And Happy Raksha Bandhan in advance. Let the good times roll......

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Games Politicos Play...

This appeared today in the Times of India....
CWG mess? Blame it on the stars…!

Yes baba, we know the Aussies totally love and adore us ( any number of bashed up students from India will vouch for this), but Dawn Fraser’s has taken the Aussie attitude to India a bit too far by asking Australian athletes to boycott the Games. “ I would hate to see another Munich…’ the 73-year-old grande dame of swimming declared recently, adding ominously, “… but with things getting worse and worse,I have grave concerns.” Worse and worse? Grave concerns about WHAT, lady? We are aware of all the stuff that has gone horribly wrong with the Games so far. We also know who is mainly responsible for this sorry state of affairs ( bow your heads in shame, you guys, and own up).But really, Ms. Fraser, we do take strong objections to your unfortunate and uncharitable remarks regarding security issues, especially during such a sensitive time. It’s a good thing you were ticked off by your own people, like the ACGA chief executive Perry Crosswhite who stated flatly, “ If security is not at the highest acceptable levels, Australia won’t be going. To suggest otherwise is to accuse us of being irresponsible and we are not.” Fortunately for India, security issues are the one thing that have not come under the scanner with even Commonwealth Games Federation chairman, Michael Fennell from Jamaica declaring security arrangements and planning to be “top class” and “very sound.” Phew! Chalo… ek toh certificate mil gaya. Finally , a few much needed brownie points for the battered Games. And music to our ears. Take that, Dawn.And don’t bother to come.
However,now that we know Madamji and the PMji are on the job, perhaps we can breathe easy… just a little. Why they had to wait till the nth minute to launch ‘Operation CWG’ and salvage the Games, we’ll never know. But we can hazard a guess. It’s called ‘‘Rajneeti – Dilli ishstyle.” There is an insightful cameo in the recent film ‘Peepli {Live}’ where a typical ‘Koi Hai’ babu ( sardonically played by Vijay Crishna) keeps repeating babudom’s favourite mantra , “ Let’s wait for the report…” even as the crisis in the village of Peepli escalates and reaches near-ludicrous proportions. Perhaps our wise and wonderful Prime Minister was waiting for some divine signal before moving in. But now that Ma Sonia has entered the picture and asserted herself (“….the government will look into the allegations of malpractice and spare no one found to be involved in them.”), Kalmadi and cronies must be shivering in their sneakers. Meanwhile, ten senior bureaucrats have been inducted into the proceedings to take what are cutely called ‘on the spot decisions’. These may involve momentous issues like changing the curtains and carpets in the apartments, which did not meet with Fennell’s high standards. But what the hell, it’s good to know someone has agreed to take on this thankless job and save whatever is left of India’s tattered prestige . Our dhobi ghats are overflowing with filthy, unwashed linen right now, and we will need more than just a magic ‘extra whitening power’ detergent to clean up those soiled clothes … err… reputations. It is typical of our mentality - now that the rot has gone public, several rats are abandoning the ship! The same rats that were happy to stay on board as long as the dirt remained out of sight. These were the people making ad hoc decisions and issuing arbitrary orders right and left right up to this juncture. The minute they heard a shrill whistle being blown, they fled at top speed.
One doesn’t really know how the Ten Brave Bureaucrats entrusted with the dirty job of sorting out the myriad tangles, will go about their unappetising assignment.But anybody who has dealt with Delhi Babudom will readily tell you that if anybody can get things done, get butts moving, get results… it is some of those nameless, faceless but all-powerful Babus. In reality, they run India. And they know it. Without their awesome interventions in matters big and small, the country would come to a standstill. What a great pity they were inducted into the running of the Games at his late stage. These are the real Marathon Men of our country – they know exactly when to hop, skip and jump. They are expert hurdlers and javelin throwers.Sharp shooters? That’s them! Oh… they are pretty good at shooting trouble, too. That leaves the vexing question of persuading international sports stars to pack their bags and participate in the Games without fearing for their safety… or caring about the quality of the toilet paper ( the best in the world!). Mr. Gill has already brought in the Great Indian Wedding as an apt if overused analogy and assured the phoren baraatis that ‘aaal eeez well,” or will be, by the time they land in Delhi. But before we start distributing laddoos and barfis in anticipation of pulling off the glitzy Games, let us assess the situation like sober parents of the blushing bride, who have taken a hefty loan to impress the future in-laws. Ahead of taking the saat pheras in October, let’s humbly seek the blessings of every God in the pantheon. At this stage, if there is one thing that can still save our face, it is divine intervention ( never mind the Rahu Antardasha astrologers are talking about). Knowing our efficient Babus, I’m sure a Maha Yagna is already underway. As to who will be ‘sacrificed’ to appease Bhagwan, I have a pretty good guess… the ‘K-factor’ isn’t lucky for everyone, alas.
Madhu Sapre came to meet me carrying an armload of fragrant Rajnigandha stems. Here's a Marathi Mulgi after my own heart - earthy, honest, beautiful. With that idiotic Tuff Shoes court case finally behind her, she is far more relaxed and happy to be home with her aie-baba, eating poha and drinking chai. As always, she spoke transparently about various issues, but mainly she spoke about herself, her inward journey, and the rather unexpected turning point when she realised she had the courage to face various aspects of her past and come to terms with them without wincing. She smiled , " I felt so relieved! I said to myself, ' Nice to meet you Madhu'!"
I wish I had taken her photograph at that precise moment - she looked radiant and freed of a burden she'd obviously been carrying around for over three decades. Back in Italy where she lives with her adoring husband, there are interesting developments as well. Her family has started a winery named Mara ,after her mother-in-law. Tenuta Mara is a bio- dynamic wine produced through the interaction of energies : land, air, soil, man. I can't wait to sip it!! But only after the 8th of September which marks the end of Shraavan.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Aamir's movie makes chutney of desi media !

It's true! Aamir ne mediawallon ki chhuti kar di! God knows what the original intention\inspiration was, but as it stands today 'Peepli' has more to do with media bashing than farmer suicides. The irony of it all is that Aamir will mint millions ( the film ,for all its virtues, would not have attracted this level of attention without Aamir's marketing might), while those bechara farmers will continue killing themselves. The joke doing the rounds is : all that Aamir touches, including 'tatti' ( excreta) turns to gold. And there is enough of that (tatti) around in moviedom for Aamir to own a goldmine soon!!
This appeared in Bombay Times today...
Amazing! ‘Peepli {Live} takes the pants off journos – TV types in particular. And journos applaud! Are we finally growing up? ‘Peepli’systematically strips away the vanities of several, easy to identify TV anchors – and the same guys invite Aamir Khan and his extraordinary star cast to appear on their channels! More masochism follows. Baby,hit me one more time, begs a fawning journo on camera, as Bollywood’s smartest movie moghul ( let’s just anoint him ‘The Khan’), proceeds to do just that with all the finesse of a smiling assassin slitting his victim’s throat. On camera, of course. We are loving it!!! Aamir and gang are flogging us in public – and we are begging for more! Wah! Aamir Khan’s love- hate relationship with the fourth estate is well known. With ‘Peepli’, he has gone the whole hog with it. Media ko nanga kar diya. No issues. To be fair, mediawallas have also demonstrated that they are mature enough to take it on the chin, particularly when the scathing representation is delivered with such lethal accuracy. I wonder how many high profile TV anchors from Delhi were red faced and cringing while watching this smartly positioned film. Did they die through the movie as their cinematic clones ridiculed them mercilessly? Did they go into instant denial (“This isn’t me! It’s that other bitch!”). Or did something positive come out of the carnage ( is it too much to expect heart felt introspection from our tribe?).Does ‘Peepli’ work for those outside the media fraternity? Yes and no. If there is any shikayat at all, it is that too many ‘messages’ are crammed into the script – from sending up ‘Breaking News’ TV types, to addressing the tragedy of farmer suicides . From mocking the ludicrous world of Indian bureaucracy ( there’s a clever cameo from Mumbai’s own Vijay Crishna as a tight assed, rules- bound Babu in the Ministry of Agriculture), to making bandars out of netas. There is nothing all that new about any of this. So many other films have gone there in the past and depicted our politicians for what they are – a pack of sadistic, venal , morally corrupt creatures. ‘Peepli’ just does it more stylishly, using subversive humour and a superbly picked ensemble cast. Malaika Shenoy playing a monster TRPs- chasing star anchor (wink!wink!)named Nandita Malik does a scarey take off on Barkha Dutt as she establishes her cosy relationship with a minister ( Naseeruddin Shah) seconds before the cameras roll. There are many such ‘insider’ tracks that keep… well…. insiders themselves panting for more. But beyond these biting insights and flourishes, this is a must watch movie about ourselves – us city slickers for whom life itself has been converted into sound bytes and visuals. The irony is not missed by anyone, as the chief protagonist, an outstanding actor Omkar Das Manikpuri ( Natha)playing the poverty stricken, desperate farmer talked into announcing his suicide,watches the media circus from the sidelines.Significantly, Natha remains stoically silent through most of the film, breaking into a love song at an unexpected moment. It is poignant touches like this that make the movie explode inside the mind and remind us yet again that while we munch our over-priced caramel popcorn at a multiplex and ‘tch tch’ away about the wretched of the land, somewhere in a parched and hopelessly marginalized corner of our country, there are people like Natha whose grim lives are not even worth the cost of our cinema ticket… or that absurd, non-functional water pump he is given by a local leader.
The manipulative, mean, heartless media comes out of this looking and smelling like excreta - tatti.
That may have been the whole idea. Right , Aamir??

Sunday, August 15, 2010

India at 63. Still an immature kid!

Sad but true. A lacklustre speech by an uninspiring Prime Minister did nothing to lift the nation's spirits. Gloom rules. The old euphoria has all but disappeared. Perhaps I am wrong, but this was the first year in recent memory when urchins selling the tricolour at street lights may have lost money. Nobody was buying. At a small lunch, mighty media men and women discussed the state of the nation in despairing tones. I'd packed off Arundhati to watch Peepli {Live}. Not the best plan. Now even she is depressed. In a way, the massive scale of the CWG corruption has served a purpose - people are asking how and why Kalmadi and gang are getting away with this . Simple my dear Watson - too many big shots are equally culpable. And somebody somewhere will squeal if the heat is turned up at this stage. The same story repeating itself - remember how effortlessly Lalit Modi and gang got away with the IPL scam, despite the uproar. Who is going to bell the cat? There are too many of them around! But at least, these days, the aam aadmi is aware of the massive cover up. For that alone, the badnaam media deserves a 'shabaash'. The day the middle class manoos decides 'enough is enough', those fat cats in Delhi will know the 63- year- old party is finally over. So far, public expressions of anger have been restricted to just the obviously oppressed - as one has seen in Kashmir ( by the way, isn't it shameful how ineptly Omar Abdullah is handling the volatile situation?). The Maoists have also sent out a strong and lethal message to Delhi. That leaves the long suffering and mainly silent middle class. Once that class takes to the streets, there will be no stopping the uprising. In its own rather naive way, 'Peepli' has galvanised this very segment - the blase multiplexwallas. Whether or not anything actually changes, remains to be seen. My guess is, we'll forget all our Independence Day angst by this time tomorrow, and maybe look at those unsold paper flags lying in a neglected heap, and wonder why India with all its formidable potential is still where it is despite extraordinary individuals showing us the way....the answer , my friend, is blowing in the wind.
On a less depressing note, fine dining wise, this has been a pretty exciting week. Mind you, that is tougher than it sounds, given my strict Shraavan food restrictions. Chef Kittichai at the newly opened KOH, produced Thai vegetarian fare that tantalised my taste buds in a way that took me off guard ( in other words, I over ate). Clad in his trademark white jeans, his feet shod in bright red Crocs, this modest New York-based Chef , who belongs to an elite category of superchefs (he has been invited twice to the Belgian Hangar 7 , which is the mecca for chefs), has set up his first restaurant in India and seems delighted by the enthusiastic response of gourmets here. All I can say is I have yet to eat as delicious a meal outside Thailand. Even the standard green curry was elevated to a new level - subtle, creamy and fragrant. But it was Kittichai's Jasmine flavoured Pannacota that has me hooked! Wobbly and inviting, just one spoonful made me believe my senses had been trapped in a garden full of mogra blossoms. Combined with crisp puffed rice, this is an inspired culinary creation of the most evolved kind. No wonder Kittichai's restaurants across the world ( Barcelona, in particular ) are attracting so much attention. I can't wait to go back and sample some of his other signature dishes - the fish , in particular. Ah well.... for the next three weeks or so, I should keep my thoughts and food habits as 'satvik' as possible! Wish me luck, self restraint and immense will power!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Touchy Feely Desis!

Ironically, an Indian doctor in London,Parag Bhatt,has been found guilty of groping six patients and risks being struck off by the General Medical Council on charges of serious misconduct!
This appeared today in the Asian Age \ Deccan Chronicle

Wake up,Britain : Touchy- Feely - That’s us!

Forget the latest interpretation of Raag Darbari. From IPL to CWG - such a short journey! Let’s gird our loins for the London Olympics 2012. And prove the Brits wrong! Clearly, the angrez have missed the point yet again, and underestimated our desi achievements. What do those blokes from UK’s national tourism agency know about our special skills and abilities? Those ignorant staffers have released etiquette guidelines to be observed while dealing with the hordes of foreigners expected to descend on London for the Games. VisitBritain has instructed workers to refrain from getting a bit too up close and personal with us Desis, since ‘Indians don’t like being touched by strangers!’ Ha!! Since WHEN?? As a nation we are so seriously sex starved, any touch is better than no touch. And the best touch of all, is the one that comes with a phoren tag. And when Indians think ‘phoren’, they think White. Come on, you guys in VisitBritain. Wake up. Indians will readily shell out hard currency for the ‘privilege’ of being touched by a White person of either sex. Take a look at what happens back home in Pushkar year after year. We grab the first innocent Gora\Gori and have ourselves photographed. Emboldened by the experience, the more adventurous take the heaven sent chance to the next level and snake an arm around the startled person’s waist. Fairs, melas and festivals are Groping Heavens during which it is open season for all those hard up men to ‘celebrate’ with foreign visitors. This nasty celebration sometimes leads to molestation, even rape. If there is one thing Indians are brilliant at, it’s wholesale ‘haath maroing.’ Touchy Feely is a national past time – no, a national obsession. Which is why it is of key importance to reword those guidelines. Bluntly put, for a lot of tourists from India who may be planning to attend the London Olympics, one of the key attractions will be the countless opportunities to paw locals. Denied such a chance, there may be heavy cancellations from our shores. Yes, sir. We will show the world what we are all about. Free style Leching is something we excel at. Marathon Ogling comes a close second. Our only hope to win a minimum of two medals lies in just these events - Lechery and Ogling. Wonder where these Angrez chaps get their data from? Fully faltu, I say. They have read us wrong. And now they want to rob us of all the fun. Image ka sawaal hai, bhai. If these guidelines go out to the rest of the world ( as is the intention), we’ll get royally… errr… scre***!
Indians are total ‘rascalams’ when it comes to taking advantage of gullible foreigners. Our Touchy-Feely selves are pretty hard to restrain as anybody who has ever traveled by public transport in India will confirm. What is comparatively new to us in the big cities, involves the art of social kissing – the ‘muaah muaah’ we see on foreign television and in the movies… and increasingly on local entertainment channels that cover society events. But even here, we get it all wrong. A social kiss is just that – social. We have converted it into something pretty anti-social. There is a huge difference between a full on slurpy, noisy smooch ( suction action, optional), and a light grazing of cheeks, lips elegantly puckered to indicate ‘ intention to kiss…. but strictly no desire .’ Our version is like a jalebi eating contest – gooey, sticky,yucky. Plus, men here don’t seem to get it – it is simply not done to pull a reluctant lady’s extended hand and arm twist her into a nauseating clinch. A namastey or a hand shake means just one thing – ‘Hands off, you sloppy bugger.” It is particularly annoying to deal with supposedly well traveled fellows who attack cringing females at parties and go into this rather nauseating routine. I agree, this is definitely ‘against Indian culture’, and is one modern import I’m willing to lead a morcha against. Other than this trend, our Touchy Feely selves get into avoidable trouble when we grab cute phirangi bachchas on the street and coo, “ Chhhho chweet….. give kissie to auntie, na?” Please note: the irresistible bachchas have to be white and blond. When was the last time you saw someone express such an urge towards a Black kid? Our own travel guidelines ought to advise over enthu types from touching other people’s children in a foreign land. It is just not done, and anybody attempting to even ruffle a kid’s mop of flaxen hair, risks arrest ( “ Child molestor! Paedophile!!! Get your dirty hands off my kid this second.”).
It would be of great interest to know whether Suresh Kalmadi and Co have issued similar etiquette guidelines to desi staff and volunteers of the blighted CWG. One suggestion: Such instructions should not go beyond basics like, “Keep off the Grass” style “ Keep your hands off ”. These little handbooks should be printed in Hindi and Punjabi, preferably with illustrations to go with the text. I am serious. They should also be given to loaders and others at Delhi airport. Several women I’ve spoken to have complained about how violated they feel the moment they land in the Capital. There is something about the ‘Boori nazar’ of those guys, to say nothing about their tendency to brush past female derrieres and then turn around to check whether or not that accidental touch has been noticed by the victim. I have clobbered enough loaders at the Delhi airport to be officially registered in a log book. God knows how these beasts will behave once some amazing international hot bods start arriving in the Capital. But before we train those chaps, perhaps we should offer an even stricter crash course to all the top bosses in charge of (mis)handling the event. There are enough stories of excessive Touchy Feely encounters going around about those hard up men to warrant serious intervention.But who will bell the tomcat?
Let the Touchy Feely Games begin!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Shraavan Ka Mahina

Lovely! The holy month of Shraavan (and fasting) coincided with Ramzaan.Two of my close girlfriends, Raeesa Husain and Naazneen Karmali will give me 'upaas' company, though Naazneen did say she wasn't sure about keeping rozaas this year. I love the month of Shraavan - my only regret is that all the best gourmet outings seem to fall during this month, along with three key celebrations - my wedding anniversary,and the birthdays of two children. I love vegetarian food, and consider myself more vegetarian than a meat eater, but after the first few days of feeling virtuous nibbling on beans and carrots, I start missing fish. Mondays are the true tests since I observe a kadak fast. This year two of my daughters have decided to join me, so the three of us are suffering in style. Given that here are weddings galore this month, we feel most deprived, but tell ourselves this annual detox routine is good for the body if not the soul.
Imagine trekking to the Novotel ( Juhu) on Arundhati's birthday , settling down to a sumptuous Chinese banquet ( went straight into heavy duty nostalgia - the Novotel was once Holiday Inn), and watching the others enjoy the creative chef's outstanding preparations. 'Sampan' retains its original charm and menu. The long grain pot rice with shitake mushrooms is an absolute winner. Tonight we'll be at 'KOH' tasting New York based chef Kittychai's new menu. But I am not feeling at all deprived - the chef has been warned there are three vegetarians at the table. And Thai cuisine is versatile enough to circumvent that 'problem'. Fish sauce? Hmmmm. Shall warn him!
Remind me to share my thoughts about Owais Husain's current show, aptly titled 3 WORLDS.
Owais is M.F.Husain's youngest son. I'll try and share some of the images. Failing which, I'll definitely share his poetry. Ciao for now....

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Skimpy Dimpy ki ajeeb kahani...

And to make matters worse, Dimpy's pictures have surfaced on some random porn site. Such is life in the shallow end of a dirty swimming pool.
This appeared in The Week....
Beating the retreat….Rahul Mahajan style!

Nothing is more telling ( or damaging) in cyber space than instant messaging that mocks a celebrity through clever limericks, as it happened in the aftermath of the ludicrous Rahul Mahajan tamasha. The SMS doing the rounds went like this: “What is Rahul Mahajan’s Facebook status? It reads : ‘Give me sunshine…. Give me rain… give me another wife… to beat up again’.” This was right after wife number 2. Skimpy Dimpy went public with her bruises and bumps which she claimed had been inflicted on her by an enraged Rahul who couldn’t access the locked keypad of her mobile phone. 21- year- old Dimpy from Kolkata managed to escape ( with her phone, of course) in the dead of the night. And what was the first thing she did? She called a tabloid reporter and posed for pictures. She didn’t call the cops and she didn’t file charges. Instead, she invested her time wisely by appearing on countless television channels talking about Rahul’s brutality and wowing publicly that she was done with him and their farcical marriage (solemnized on tv as the finale of a reality show). That was the cue for wife number 1. to join the fray and revisit her own tabloid past in which she too had gone to town flashing her wounds ( no guesses – same man, same tactic). Next to pop up on the small screen was a former girlfriend who spoke languidly about being battered by this brute. All three women took the tabloid route to air their tales of woe. Just as the media campaign was gathering force to go after the villainous man and pack him off to jail (again!), Skimpy Dimpy did an about turn and went back into his arms after damning the ex and hurling accusations at her about phone stalking her wonderful husband. All this would pass for amusing gossip if the issues were less serious. Rahul Mahajan sounds like a serial wife beater. A man whose record for domestic violence ought to be taken note of and addressed. As of now, we seem to be watching a carefully orchestrated audition for yet another mega bucks reality show starring the abusive Rahul and his docile wives, plus sexy ex-es.
If we allow as important a subject as domestic violence to be thus reduced to a perverse form of entertainment, we will be committing nothing short of a crime.A crime against millions of disempowered women in our society who are at the receiving end of the most abominable abuse and remain powerless till the bitter end. Not being dubious celebrities, the media ignores their plight, and families watch helplessly from the sidelines, unable to come to their aid due to social\financial pressure. What is alarming is that the number of abuse cases seems to be climbing, not declining. Women appear to be far more vulnerable today than they were even ten years ago. How come? Take a look at the headlines – stories of stabbing, burning, hitting, battering defenceless wives and girlfriends are on the rise. This nasty phenomenon cuts across class and the easiest targets seem to be young working girls, who are perhaps the prime victims in our cities. Social historians examining the data may have a different point of view, but I believe our society – men , in particular – are simply not ready to accept independent women. When the frustration levels of such insecure men rise, they resort to the one weapon they know most women cannot shield themselves from – physical violence. Urban society expects men to respect the pressures on career women and make the required adjustments, given the financial contribution these ladies make to the family kitty. This doesn’t happen. Unable to deal with a woman who has a mind and money of her own, some men vent their rage by hitting out… secure in the knowledge that most times women will lump it ( women are such suckers!!!).
Perhaps we should revisit some of the more in-your- face reality shows that are raking it in by manipulating our pathetic, vicarious thrills seeking selves. Skimpy Dimpy , Payal Rahtogi or even Monica Bedi were nobodies till they attracted attention on these grotesque shows. More fools us for getting conned. ‘Aal eez welll,’ declared a smug Rahul hugging his estranged-for-a-day wife.Oh yeah? Tell that to the marines – better still, announce ‘Rahul Ka Samjhauta’. We deserve nothing better.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Reality check for Dev Patel

I read Dev Patel's comments regarding racism in Hollywood with great interest. What our Bachchoo Patel has failed to understand is that Hollywood is almost completely controlled by Jews and their white associates. There really are no roles for Asians and that's it! How many roles would Bollywood offer Tom Cruise ( if they could afford him in the first place?). The poor Patel boy must have got really carried away after the world wide success of 'Slumdog Millionaire' and expected Hollywood agents to line up with hot scripts for him to pick. Someone should have told him gently... very gently... that Boyle cast him in the movie because it was a great fit - that's it. Patel is not a matinee idol and no matter how talented he is, his choice of roles will remain restricted to ( as he has accurately figured), terrorist, cab driver, smart geek. It really doesn't get much better than that. He is naively hoping that casting directors will be less focused on colour - dream on, darling. Even the great Omar Sharif had to look for a regular day job once Hollywood was done with him.
Which is why we must respect our top stars for not crawling all the way to Hollywood, begging for breaks. If Hollywood has nothing substantial to offer SRK, Bachchan, Salman and Aamir - it is Hollywood's loss. These guys are superstars in Bollywood with a fan base of millions across the world. Why should they settle for stereotypical roles designed to project Asians in a certain light ( I am not using the word 'negative'). Poor Patel. He is really stuck - like the proverbial dhobi ka kutta - neither here nor there. I mean, Bollywood isn't queuing up to sign him, either. If you ask me, the smartest 'import' around is 'Omi' - the Chatur from 3 Idiots. He figured out fast enough his future is here. Today the guy anchors tv shows, has bagged several desi roles, lost weight, is losing his accent.... SMART! Perhaps Patel's new film, 'The Last Airbender', will do the trick. But hey - it doesn't help the cause if Patel keeps up the racist charge against Hollywood honchos. The doors will slam on his face real hard. Then what? Taiwanese cinema , maybe?

Sunday, August 8, 2010

CWG : Bottoms Up!!!

Let the real Games begin…ha ha ha

Let’s call it the best bum deal in the world! Going by reports CWG athletes will be completing their daily ablutions in right royal style ( though, most of today’s kadka royals cannot afford such absurdities ). Toilet paper rolls at 4,000 bucks a pop, are what will define the stink created by the corruption corroding the prestigious Commonwealth Games. People may eventually forget the treadmills , taxis and poorly finished surfaces. But who can ever get over Kalmadi and Co placing orders for the priciest butt cleaning paper in the world? Scraping the bottom of the barrel….? Eventually it was the infamous ‘Let them eat cakes…” quote that got Maria Antoinette into big trouble. She, poor lady, had her head chopped off.But here in India, heads never roll… the only thing that ever does, is currency. So why are we feigning surprise at what’s going on? Is it the monumental scale that’s getting to us? As if to say, ‘Thoda thoda corruption is fine. Chalta hai. But this is too much, yaar!” It is this staggering and brazen flouting of all rules that has finally made us sit up and demand explanations. Frankly, it’s a bit too late in the day to do anything about the gargantuan mess. Let’s face it - what are the options? Scrap the bloody Games and book the culprits? That’s not going to happen. Sorry to bring in a sidetrack ( as they say in Bollywood), but has anything of consequence happened to the top bracket star cast of the IPL saga? Similarly, in this sordid drama too, a lot of noise will be made across news channels. Heavy duty panelists will hold forth. A couple of sting operations may get the sluggish TRPs going into overdrive, there will be a few more exposes …. finito. All of this is seen as entertainment of a nasty kind - a night cap that helps viewers sleep better. We go to bed thinking, “Oh good! Something is being done, after all. Let’s see how those rascals get out of this mess.” By the next morning, once reality kicks in, we know it was a particularly grim midsummer night’s dream. And even with more and more dirty details emerging from those clogged toilets err, CWG offices, Kalmadi and Co will still be around crowing about their myriad achievements. Besides, what’s the point in sacking him at this stage? That’s hardly going to salvage the doomed Games. Or get back our money.

I have a better suggestion for all those fat cats who have traipsed around the world at tax payers’ expense looking for the softest toilet paper : Why don’t we push them onto those high end 10 lakhs a grunt treadmills and get them to sweat away their culpability? It would be in the fitness of things, surely. Let them be the ones to twist their ankles on poorly surfaced tracks. Why not use them as guinea pigs to check out the various facilities and risk their lives under crumbling roofs? Let the officials supervising synchronized swimming with just three participants training in America, get into the deep end of the pool themselves to make up the numbers. Why not televise Darbari’s open darbar as he explains all the wheels within wheels and deals within deals – as a reality show, it would give Salman Khan’s latest gig a run for its money.As for those flower pots bought for a staggering 30crores ( money plants , suddenly got a new meaning), since they have been dubbed a security risk, perhaps our weight lifters can put them to some use, unless of course, an 80 crores order for dumb bells ( diamond studded and made out of pure gold ) is already in place . Now what do we do with the substandard 14 synthetic surfaces at the R.K.Khanna Tennis Complex? Why not chop them up and sell them at Mumbai’s Chor Bazar as imported from Australia carpets? That way, we’ll be able to recover a part of the monumental cost. In fact, we in India excel at recycling any damn thing and this is our opportunity to do so – nearly everything we have paid the top buck for has the potential for reuse ( except the toilet paper). Maybe that was the whole idea. Maybe the shopping list has already gone out to interested parties to submit tenders. Because that’s us – geniuses when it comes to making money several times over from the same product.
The real fault lies with the name of the games. Who told the organizers to call them ‘Common Wealth Games’ in the first place?Why blame our officials for taking that literally? It is not their fault if they thought the ‘wealth’ was indeed ‘common’ – and decided to share it generously with family and friends. Now look at all the misunderstanding that has caused! Hardly any time left, and there is still some wealth that remains to be shared. Indian tax payers are most understanding. They realize it is a matter of national prestige. They won’t mind if some more funds are allocated at this stage. They also won’t say a word if the Games do get cancelled and the insurance companies refuse to pay up. Our citizens are asli patriots , “ My country first…” they vow,even as ficticious Swiss and British companies pop out of the woodwork and nimble officers pole vault over damaging evidence. One thing has been established clearly during these Games – Kalmadi and his cronies can create new world records for Hurdles, Long Jump and High Jump. They have excelled in all three and are getting ready for the decathlon. But it is the stamina required of a determined long distance runner that will eventually provide a few key answers to investigators. That is, if anyone is at all serious about getting to the bottom ( Oooooops! Wrong word) of this scandal.
One question ; Now that India has discovered toilet paper, what happens to the lowly lota???

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Getting into bed with Britain....

This was written for the Asian Age \ Deccan Chronicle
Oh I came across this lovely picture with my daughter Avantikka, shot by my darling cousin, ace photographer Gautam Rajadhyaksha

Dear Mr. Cameron, the natives are restless tonight…

British PM David Cameron is hip, hot and sexy. A little like that other perennial British pin-up – Elizabeth Hurley. What fun! They can be conveniently bracketed in the ‘same same but different’ category given their India connections. Hurley is married to Mr. Bandgala… and it sure looks like Cameron is ready to wear one. What better way to woo those restless natives. All for a good cause , of course! As photo-ops go, his ‘namastey’ in Bangalore made a few front pages. As good p.r.giri goes, his references to national icons and symbols ( SRK, Sachin, curry, lingo) during his Bangalore lecture for 2,000 techies, won him several extra brownie points. Cameron is a smart cookie, and it really was high time the British figured out how the cookie crumbles in India. A steamy Indo-British romance is heavily in the air. So far, we are reasonably pleased with the suitor’s efforts. Cameron is on a mission to woo us – and we aren’t being bashful or coy, either. In these crass and nakedly commercial times, nobody should shy away from discussing lolly. In fact, it should be the number one item on the agenda – money. How much are we going to make after getting into bed with Britain? I’m all for a pre-nup. That’s the bottom line, everything else is secondary. Once those dirty filthy commercial details are taken care of, Manmohan Singh can also praise Lady Gaga, Elton John and their cricket captain. But he must never ever make the mistake of praising British food or else the world will know he is lying.
Courtship rituals vary, but Cameron and his band of merry men ( well, mostly…. there were very few saucy lassies on his team of 90), stayed with a fairly traditional, even predictable script. The mood was ‘Hawk-ish’ – the Rs.5,200 crore deal for advanced jet trainers is in the bag. There were several other ‘farmaishes’ on the British wish list – from UK law firms interested in setting up shop in India,to British banks and supermarket players like Tesco getting down to serious business here. Let’s do a little singalong folks, “ All I want is a deal somewhere…. far away from this cold nightmare…… oh, wouldn’t it be loverly”?? This two-day visit – let’s call it a quickie - spells (and smells of) just one thing – cash. But at least there is no fake attempt at making the whirlwind trip sound like anything other than what it is – a shopping jamboree.
Cameron’s crack team is packed with cuties, too. George Osborne whizzed through Mumbai, all bright eyed and bushy tailed, despite his hysterical schedule. As always, Mumbai’s unchallenged power couple,Parmesh and Adi Godrej pulled out all the stops and showed the visitors what the mega watt Mumbai magic is all about at a marvelously structured dinner party for sixty of their closest and dearest friends – other industrialists, Bollywood stars, fashionistas, socialites, writers, professionals. It was a dazzling line up of the city’s best and brightest, to say nothing of the hottest. Since the dishy under-40 Chancellor of the Exchequer was the star invitee, Mumbai sat up and took notice, giving him the sort of ‘bhav’ generally reserved for Bollywood royalty and nobody else. An invitee who had flown in from Delhi especially for the soiree commented wryly, “ Thank God for Adi and Parmesh. Thank God George’s first impressions of India will be formed at an evening like this, rather than at a stuffy Delhi dinner,where guests often ignore the visiting chief guest and gherao the local politicians present. The Mumbai crowd is so much more blasé and cosmopolitan – the guy can relax and have a great time.” Well, given that gallons of Dom were generously flowing and the dinner table was laden with baked crab and salmon, it must have been very difficult for Georgie Boy to concentrate on biz talk or even believe he was indeed in India. How many times did he pinch himself that night???The enticing stretch of the glittering Queen’s Necklace glittered wickedly beyond the tranquil infinity pool of the Godrej mansion . Ironic! The Queen (Victoria) to whom this ‘necklace’ was dedicated was the Empress of British India at the time! And now every Mumbaikar believes this priceless necklace belongs to him \ her – as it indeed does. Members of Georges’ team were caught ogling the lovely ladies present.The lucky visitors had the chance to feast on enough eye candy to give them a belly ache for weeks. Gorgeous men and women floated around dressed in the most eye popping couture. A mega industrialist’s beautiful wife was sporting a whopper of a diamond ( not less than 40 carats )… and oh-so-casually at that ( over a classic black dress). Everywhere one turned, there was red hot glamour ( starting with the hostess dressed in a figure hugging red Herve Leger). Mercifully, there wasn’t a behenji in sight, as the Dilliwalla observed, while he braced himself for round two of partying in the Capital the following night.
Well, the Big Boys from Britain have successfully pulled off a charm initiative. As a seasoned legal eagle who attended a cruelly timed (7 a.m) breakfast meeting with Osborne , the morning after the night before, commented, “ He made all the right noises and kept repeating, ‘We are here to learn’… that’s a good place to start.” You bet! Especially when you forget to add, “We are here to sell….” Let us watch how it goes once the London Stock Exchange (LSE) and the National Stock Exchange (NSE), make it official.
It is pay back time, buddies. We know how to drive hard bargains and squeeze the testicles of trading partners when needed. Your time begins now - tick tick tick tock . The mouse ran up the clock. Big Ben and Rajabai Tower are the new BFFs in town.
Oye, Lucky, Oye!!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Monicaaaaaa.... O my darling!!

Monicaaaaaa….O my darling…..

The most interesting thing about the nostalgic gangsta film(OUATIM) running to packed houses this week, is its admirable restraint. Most films that fall into this genre go overboard with bodies flying around in an orgy of violence. The relative economy of blood-and-gore shots, or guts spilling all over the screen action, marks ‘Once Upon a time…’ as a more mature version of an old formula. The director shrewdly focuses on - surprise, surprise – relationships!Not just romantic ones ( those are secondary), but the strange, complex and compelling attraction between the two men – Don Sr. and his protégé Don Jr. It skillfully shows how monsters are created when a powerful man invests trust in a brash, younger version of himself, only to regret that fatal decision in the end. Betrayal rather than an expose of syndicated crime in Mumbai, is at the core of this film, Betrayal that costs one man his life. It hardly matters whether the characters are based on real Dons, even if the parallels do make it pretty obvious. For this generation of movie goers suffering from a serious case of an attention deficit syndrome (ADS), either a movie works and is deemed ‘paisa vasool’ or they walk out giving gaalis.Going by the spectacular success of ‘Udaan’ ( word of mouth and nothing else has done it for this film), chances of ‘Once….’ making it commercially as an off beat ‘Guy Film’ are pretty good. Male bonding is a subject that is rarely explored in our films – especially if that bonding goes beyond the standard buddy film (‘Sholay’) format. The contradictory impulses between Sultan ( coiled serpent) Mirza and Shoaib (hungry cheetah) are cleverly balanced by the director. And after a long time, audiences are treated to two passionate love stories, with all the old fashioned flourishes that have all but disappeared from our latest slick and fast paced hits, that shout ‘all style’ but have no soul.In fact, the defiantly anti- romance, anti-emotion approach to modern day love stories is making audiences wonder where pyar has gone. In this movie, it stages a triumphant return. But for me, the highpoint was the item song picturised on Gauhar Khan, where she almost outdoes Helen as she wriggles, sizzles and slithers her way through the unforgettable original, ‘ Monicaaaaaa…. O my darling…”
It has taken me months to catch up with a film I have been dying to watch. Well… it finally happened. And I am breathless! ‘Natrang’ is Atul Kulkarni’s tour de force. It is one of the most electrifying performances by any actor in recent memory. And the film itself is brilliant. Like ‘Inception’, it forces you to think. And demands respect. Multi- layered, it draws you as much into your own psyche as into the intimate, closed world of ‘Tamasha’, rural Maharashtra’s dominant folk form. Here, tradition dictates that the role of the ‘Nachya’ ( an exaggeratedly effeminate side kick to the tantalising star dancer ), is played by a campy, painted up male actor referred to as ‘Moushi’. Well, the fascinating twist in ‘Natrang’ is that an alpha male, married father of a teenage son, and a sturdy body builder to boot ,is the chosen one. What follows is a lyrical essay on sexual stereotyping. Mocked as a ‘eunuch’ and chased out by the village ( father, wife and son included), it is a cruel, brutal coming to terms with our own deep rooted prejudices, as the protagonist (Atul Kulkarni) battles several demons to find redemption and love finally. Kulkarni reigns supreme as he deconstructs true ‘manliness’ and tells us the meaning of life itself, when sometimes, following your art and heart can cost you everything you hold most precious. Atul’s transformation is a cinematic miracle. Bravo Atul!!!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Happy Dosti Day!

Promise! These are the final images from Sri Lanka It's a lazy sunday evening. I am postponing what I need to do on a super urgent basis. This is my relaxation hour before I attack my work. The home is unusually quiet. Even Kiara is fast asleep at my feet ( she hates the rains, and we struggle to get her into her doggie raincoat four times a day when she needs to be walked ). Nostalgia has kicked in, and I found myself browsing idly through the Colombo album. This is what I found : The sculpture is of the legendary Architect Bawa. Why the Osama- turban? Dunno. But I like it! The other installation is obvious enough.It was in the lobby of the Hilton, imaginatively put together to mark FIFA. The pelican sculpture is from one of Dobb's gorgeous properties, perhaps The Sun House. It caught Arundhati's fancy and she clicked it - as she has clicked all the other images, too. Like the infinity pool at Kadju House - another boutique hotel I'd mentioned in an earlier post.And there is the final image of the tranquil lagoon at the Hilton, with a swan gliding over the water. Pleasing , soothing stuff to feast ones eyes on and celebrate a special day.
Happy Friendship Day, Blogdosts!!!! May our ties become stronger, deeper and more meaningful ! Have a glass of the best and raise a toast to virtual dosti!
I was going to post my 'Khattaa Meetha' review here, but decided against it. Slightly stale - what do you think????