Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Vidya Balan.... and 'Dirty' ????

Let’s not kid ourselves….

26\11 has come and gone. Three years have flown by. Nothing has changed. Nothing is likely to. Mumbai remains an attractive and easy target for just about any terrorist organization that wants to attack our city. It can happen again, even as I am keying in this column on the grisly third anniversary that shook the metropolis. Mumbai can never be the same again…. no matter what sort of a brave face we put on , which mask we wear, or how hard we try to convince ourselves that we have ‘moved on’. No, we haven’t. We can’t. Much as I would like to go back to what was described as a ‘normal’ pre-26/11 life, the truth of the matter is, that particular life has disappeared forever. Which is another reason why I refused to participate in panel discussions on various tv channels this year. Discussions that sound even more meaningless and hollow today than they did three years ago,in the horrifying aftermath of the attacks. The only people who genuinely suffered and continue to express their heart-breaking grief are those who lost their loved ones – their wounds may never heal.Sure, life will go on even for these families, but each anniversary will become yet another ghastly reminder of a tragedy that took away someone precious. Scanning those poignant ‘Remembrances’ in newspaper advertisements, made me indescribably sad. Juxtaposed with the poems and quotations from the Bhagwad Gita and other scriptures, were interviews with bureaucrats and ministers uttering the same , stale, tired , fake platitudes that fool no one. It was almost sickening to carry on reading all that nonsense about the great measures that are in place today and all the various ‘improvements’ initiated to safeguard the city against future attacks.We know this is misleading and false, amounting to nothing but political propaganda. But what is the average Mumbaikar supposed to do? Which is why, we fall back on the few consolations that make us feel a little better – at least temporarily. We lap up inane quotes from movie stars, models and assorted ‘celebrities’ whose bravado lacks conviction (“ We must stand together and show the terrorists we are one. They can’t defeat our spirit. Mumbai is the greatest city in the world. Love, not hate is the answer.”). Total rubbish! The only real voices expressing genuine anguish and pain,were those of the innocent children of our brave policemen. It is the families of the less fortunate victims who have to live with their loss for the rest of their lives. For the rest of us, 26/11 will soon get reduced to yet another ‘date’ that is marked on the calendar.Even the numbness will eventually wear off… we will soon stop caring at all. Those cop kids will grow up. Other survivors will cope the best they can. Perhaps a new Headley will emerge from the shadows.Ajmal Qasab will grow into middle age inside some prison, and nobody will remember or bother.What will never change is the shamelessness of the leaders we ourselves have elected and supported all along.Perhaps, that’s really all we deserve?
Monitoring Vidya (Ooh la la) Balan’s dramatic transformation ( all for the role, of course!), has been a fascinating exercise. The thing is, no matter what Vidya does, she can never be ‘dirty’. Her robust attempts at staying ‘in character’ (read: raunchy) before the launch of her ambitious film, are admirable. All those tacky sarees, cheap dance moves, even naughty, off-colour jokes during promotional interviews! My, my! Our ‘Parineeta’ is really gambling big with this one. Hats off to Vidya. I cannot imagine any other heroine attempting something as potentially dangerous to her image , no matter what the demands of the role. Even Kareena Kapoor didn’t take such daring chances during ‘Chameli’. Trust Vidya to go the extra mile. That’s what makes VB different.She’s ‘hot’. But sorry, she ain’t ‘dirty’. Or rather ‘dirty’ enough!
Desi Gurrlz , are you ready for the Desi Boyz?What a fun film!Totally nonsensical,illogical and worse.But Rocko and Hunter are gonna get you!I know of two Mumbai socialites who want to hire these stud muffins (John A and Akshay K) as ‘escorts’ at their 60th birthday bashes.Chitrangada smoulders… and how! Steals the show with her animated face and super-sexy body-lingo.Gigolos get their due, finally!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The write way

By Manjari Saxena, Deputy Editor, tabloid! on Saturday
Published: 00:00 November 26, 2011

Shobhaa De is an author, columnist and TV presenter known for not mincing her words. In more than two decades, the prolific writer has written not just bestselling novels but has commented on topics such as politics, film, social differences and gender discrimination. She writes regular columns for leading Indian English dailies and her books are course material in the University of London. With six children (two from her first marriage, two from her second and two step kids) De has surely seen a tumultuous family life but she plainly refuses to talk about her personal life.
"Family is sacred and out of bounds," she said, smiling. "Anything else is fine. And it's not like I haven't spoken of how to cope with it. It's all there in my books." De was speaking on the sidelines of the Sharjah International Book Fair last week where she was on the panel to speak on Outstanding Women in Fiction.
She says she's "like every woman in the world".
"I believe [a woman] is a juggler, an acrobat, a tightrope walker, a multi-tasker, a general dogs-body," she explains. "You cope and you enjoy yourself. Sometimes you weep with frustration, other times you exult and celebrate life. Women's lives are necessarily led and complex and hard to penetrate. You always have to look for the subtext."
De has definitely been a multi-tasker, having managed to be a bestselling author, wife and mother. Yet, at 63, she looks like a woman in her mid- to late forties. Time seems to have stood still for her.
"I'm a grandmother also now," she corrects me. "I think I've only a very good gene pool to thank for it because I don't think I do anything exceptional. I don't have the time. I lead a very busy life and I think that keeps me on my toes — large family, lots of writing commitments, I travel a lot. And I think the best kind of exercise for senior citizens is the one that is cerebral combined with a few basics — what you do in school — toe touching and limbering up. That's about it. But unless you are mentally active and feel good about yourself, you cannot look good. Feel good inside and you look good outside.
"The whole stereotype of a granny has changed," she continues. "You see a lot of women 60 plus today — and I can reel off names — who are very productive. So, as I said in my last book, 60 is the new 40 today. Whether it is Hema Malini, Shabana Azmi, Rekha, Sharmila Tagore, Simi or Sonia Gandhi and Hillary Clinton, older women are not like cows put to pasture anymore. It's a whole different way of looking at age and ageing. You must learn to make the best use of your time to be giving off yourself in a way that is meaningful to yourself and the people who are around you that is your family, your colleagues. If there is a mantra at all, it's to remain completely on top of your game, your life and be very productive."
With all her protagonists women, in the past two decades, how has she seen the Indian woman change?
"My next novel has a male protagonist," she laughs. "I'm returning to fiction after 13 years, and hope my readers accept this protagonist with as much enthusiasm as they have the women in my books.
"As for the Indian woman changing — dramatically. She's an unrecognisable person from the woman I knew when I was growing up. And I see it as a huge step forward. It's a very optimistic portrait that I can visualise for not just my daughter's generation but definitely for my granddaughter's generation who will grow up with the idea, for example, of a working grandmother. My generation grew up not even with a working mother, forget grandmother. But for Avantika's [my daughter's] generation, some of them took it in their stride that their mothers were working women and this generation of Indian girls is growing up with fantastic role models as they are seeing what is possible. With a two-income family being a reality in India, today it's no longer an option or something you do on the side as a hobby. It is required if you want any quality of life, education for your kids and so on. So women are definitely the biggest catalysts of social change. They are leading a quiet revolution without giving up on their feminine selves, without having to take to the streets, without having to ask for concessions. And they are doing it wonderfully well. The future, especially for the Asian countries, is absolutely dazzling."

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Baba-Baby Zindabad!

I am down with a severe case of laryngitis - not even a croak manages to escape my constricted throat. And you know what? I'm lovin' it! Silence is such a friend. So soothing, so reassuring! The condition also provides the perfect excuse to not take or make calls ( I'm allergic to both). I have just downed my fifth mug of hot water with haldi, ginger and honey ( thanks, aie and aji!). Am ready to crash early ( normal beddy -bed time being 2 a.m. ). The family is disoriented by my silence... perhaps, relieved as well? I had to turn down TV requests, too. Which was not such a good thing, since I did have my views on Ratan Tata nominating Cyrus Mistry as his successor.
Let's blame this ridiculous hoarse throat on the Dubai Bug. How I loved my four days there, though! The Sharjah Book Fair was superbly organised and it was wonderful to see full attendance at the 'meet the author' sessions. I met one of our Blogdosts ( Hello! Maddy!!) at mine! Ten Indian authors and hundreds of local supporters. That's the way to do it. A little birdie told me our blue eyed boy, Shashi Tharoor was mad as hell because the chopper that was to fly him from Abu Dhabi to Sharjah arrived two hours late. Not that his fans minded. They waited patiently for Shashi and Sunanda. Organisers informed me later that the wait was well worth it, since Shashi charmed their pants and dish-dashes off!
As for me, I was happy to note Dubai has got its groove back. Big time! It's business and shopping as usual. And the dunes are alive with the sound of dirhams once more!!
This appeared in Asian Age...

Baba-Baby Zindabad!

Yes! India’s most awaited celeb- baby has arrived. Jai ho! Little Miss World is finally here. Family Bachchan is over the moon. And so are their fans. Congratulations, Aishwarya and Abhishek. Mubarak ho! Now can we all please get back to work …to our rather dull lives, and leave the parents of the new born to get on with theirs? After the unprecedented speculation, interest,gossip and publicity surrounding the pregnancy of our most beautiful actress, it’s time for some respite. Really! The relentless tracking of Ash’s every twitch and flutter… the huge amounts of betting money involved… followed by the unusual code of ethics regarding media coverage of the big event, made one wonder whether even Princess Di had been subjected to such scrutiny when she gave birth to the heir (and spare) of the British throne. More recently, Carla Bruni Sarkozy delivered her little girl minus too much of a media frenzy. Why, even Posh Beckham produced her latest bundle of joy without the waiting world holding its collective breath for the momentous delivery. Baby B’s case is unique. Almost from the day she was conceived, there was news value attached to the dramatic announcement. Even if one overlooks the Madhur Bhandarkar ‘Heroine’ controversy, Baby B was deemed ‘hot’ by the breathless media. It is to Aishwarya’s credit that she chose good sense and propriety over instant publicity and non-stop coverage, by dropping out of sight for the first few months of her much-awaited,much-debated pregnancy. Perhaps it was natural caution, even superstition that dictated Aishwarya’s decision. In retrospect, it was the way to go.We love our desi traits – well, most of them. We believe in ‘nazar’ and most expectant mothers lie low for the first five months of pregnancy, afraid of consequences that have a lot to do with the idea of someone’s ‘evil eye’ falling on them. All this is true and understandable. What was harder to figure out was the exaggerated media interest in this particular case. It was as if viewers and readers could think of little else beyond Baby B’s sex and arrival date. At one point it became a national obsession with the equivalent of a countdown programme monitoring the progress of Ash’s growing girth. Several top actresses have taken maternity leave to go off and have their babies. Some have taken permanent leave after that and left movies for good. Others have waited for the kids to grow up a little before announcing a come back. Two of them ( Madhuri Dixit and Karishma Kapoor) are bravely in the running once again, and soldiering on, as they await their respective fates at a very cruel box office. Sridevi is the bravest of them all as she readies herself for her return to the big screen even after years of being just a svelte mom to two daughters. Sonali Bendre and Raveena Tandon were never in the same league as the others, but they have sensibly settled for a different niche. Being a Bollywood Goddess does come with certain caveats. It remains to be seen how Aishwarya’s career shapes up after the birth of her tiny bundle of joy.
While the feverish interest in Baby B was peaking, several crucial developments were taking place in India – in case anybody noticed or cared! Rahul Baba’s initiation into adulthood was on in U.P. and political pundits were monitoring his every move and utterance very closely. Unfortunately for India’s most pampered ‘Baba’, his baby steps into the big, bad world of savage politicking in the badlands of Mayawati terrain, started off on a dheela note with that remark about ‘beggars’ in Maharashtra. Much as he tried to back track and salvage his position after that gauche comment, our ‘Baba’ is still stuck in a bad spot. Seen as an eager toddler by rivals, Rahul’s attempts to bare his fangs and show some teeth are embarrassingly naïve. Rahul is utterly unconvincing when he attempts to play Gabbar Singh and growl, “Kitney aadmi thhe?” Besides, it’s really hard to visualise Diggy responding to Rahul if he calls out ‘Arrey O, Samba’ . That is another thing about desi traits. Once we dub someone a ‘Baba’ or a ‘Baby’, try as they might, they cannot shake off this annoying childhood tag. They remain kids for life. Check out the number of middle-aged ‘Baba Bhais’ floating around Gujarat. Once a ‘Baba’ crosses fifty in Gujarat, people around him add a deferential ‘Bhai’ , which makes it a particularly comical combo. It gets funnier still when ‘Baba Bhai’s’ grandson arrives on the scene. That poor child is then referred to as ‘Baba Bhai nu Babo.” Go figure! Rahul, poor chap, is a victim of just such a syndrome. India may love Jawaharlal Nehru’s cute ‘Babo’ to death and genuinely want him to succeed. But his minders need to project him correctly from this point on. No matter how strenuously Rahul dresses down and does his whole ‘Son of the Soil’ number, clad in unironed khadi, he is no rumpled –crumpled, run of the mill neta. He is seen as a Prince. He looks like a Prince. All he has to do is behave like one. And forget making speeches. Leave speechifying to more competent courtiers like Kapil Sibal. Rahul playing the Reluctant Prince has a greater chance of impressing the unwashed masses than Rahul the Unconvincing Socialist. Making people believe he possesses a magic wand that will take care of their problems miraculously somewhere in the future, is a far better strategy to adopt than the one he’s going in for right now. Mayawati is on a roll. She is coming up with one master stroke after another. Mayawati looks unstoppable. Like an elephant on a rampage. You need a Hercules to take her on.Rahul Baba had better start pumping iron. Right now!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Baby B needs a name....

Guys... this is your chance to name the most famous baby in India! Apparently the Bachchans are looking for unusual names starting with the letter 'A'.Go for it! Let's see which blogdost hits the jackpot! I like Amaara a lot. I also like Aparajita and Ayesha. You go next....

This appeared in Bombay Times...

Chho Chwwweeet!

We love our babies! And we love our celeb-babies the most. Now that the latest bachcha to be born into the Bachchan household is nearly a week old, it’s time to relax! For the past nine months, we were behaving like India was pregnant! Never before has so much footage, so much newsprint been devoted to the birth of a baby. Any baby. That makes Baby B special. Very special. When she grows up and discovers the mass hysteria around her birth, she may just gasp and wonder what the fuss was all about. But at the moment, everybody is busy asking, “Does she look like Ash?” That is the big question dominating the chitter-chatter-twitter crowd. “Does she have Ash’s eyes?” Here’s another one : “ It seems her lucky letter is ‘K’. What will she be named? How about Keya?” Will she giggle like her mom? Be as graceful? Will she inherit her dad’s height? Will she join movies? Take on endorsements? Oooof.Too much, na? Does all this sound totally crazy? It is!
Victoria Beckham is battling the same issues. Each time she steps out with Harper, she is pounced upon - a major paparazzi-attack follows! It is believed Harper has beaten Suri Cruise in the baby fashion stakes and that Victoria is coming out with a special fashion line for richie-rich, trendy bambini with global tastes in rompers. The Beckhams have produced four gorgeous kids and Victoria effortlessly pops them out phata-phat, like buns out of an oven, without gaining an extra centimeter! God knows how she does it, but hats off to her. In India, we make a super production out of celeb-babies. I read a funny piece on some blog which slams women who flash their baby bumps for showing off as ‘Fertility Queens’.In India, this is comparatively a new trend as we tend to be super-superstitious about pregnancy. Even as late as five years ago, expectant mothers played down their delicate condition, wore deceptively loose garments, stayed indoors, till it became obvious they were indeed ‘in the family way’. Today, having a baby has become a style statement!And displaying a baby bump is considered really cool. Much to her credit, Aishwarya was discreet and demure throughout her pregnancy, making just one surprise appearance at Abu-Sandeep’s 25th anniversary party.
In all likelihood, our media will go into overdrive once Ash gets home with her bundle of joy. With all the unprecedented, self-imposed press restrictions this time, perhaps we’ll see some restraint. But that won’t be exercised forever! Just wait and see what happens when Baby B goes for her first outing , most likely, a temple visit six months from now. Till such time , the hungry presswallas will have to make do with Proud Papa Abhishek’s frequent tweets and updates. Unless, of course the Big B launches a separate blog for his grand-daughter! Now that would make it a wonderful first! Let’s welcome Baby B to the blogosphere, folks! And, of course, to a life in a fish bowl.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Amazing Shobhaa De
November 18th, 2011

The last two days have been amazing – and full of outstanding women.
One of them is the excellent Shobhaa De – an Indian writer and broadcaster, and one firecracker of a speaker.
She was on the outstanding Women in Fiction panel at #shjibf with Kate Mosse , Oumaima Abdullah al-Khamis (Saudi Arabia) and Dr Ahdaf Suwaif (Egypt)which Lisa Dempster has written about beautifully already. It was bloody brilliant and highly charged.
Shobhaa is full of amazing, inspiring ideas. In a breathless hour she spoke of politics, power, feminism, aging, family, writing and so much more.
I make it sound cliché, but she’s positively electric. Her wit and a certain lightness of touch manage to freshen-up tired conversations to which so many worthy writers and events fall victim.
At 60, she’s a best-selling novelist, international phenomenon, journalist and mother of 6. Honestly, I don’t think the paparazzi bulbs stopped flashing during the entire talk.
She’s sparkling and clever and incredibly passionate – especially about the phenomenal growth and astounding opportunities arising in India today.
It was an intense hour and I’ve honestly been buzzing ever since.
I am highly intrigued by the bold new writing coming out of India – she’s made some fascinating suggestions I need to ferret out while I am here.
Plus, I’d love to learn more about the exploding market there. Every day you hear of bookshops folding and independent presses running dry. The press constantly bemoan the death of print – and the flagging subscription rate to broadsheets. In India, however, the trend is for growth and demand – and at an astounding rate. There are more books, more stores, more newspapers – more of everything it seems.
I picked up one of her books, my first purchase of the fair [if you don't count my daily can of Coke to see me through the heat of the day].
I had it signed while a camera was rolling, so I may well be on the 6 o’clock news somewhere in the world. I have no idea.
It was incrediby inspiring on many levels.
She is exactly the sort of person I’d love to take out to dinner and just pick her brains. I hope someday I have the chance to do so. Wouldn’t that be a treat!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Baby B is finally here!!

India can stop being pregnant ... now that Aishwarya has delivered Baby B! I have written two columns on this momentous occasion... watch this space! Am off to Dubai / Sharjah for the Book Fair at which India and Indian authors are the focus this year. Am looking forward to this event, mainly to check for myself whether or not people read in that part of the world! Ten years ago I had inaugurated a similar Book Fair which had seen the participation of top International publishers.... but hardly any readers!! More on my return. Till then... mubarak ho!! Congratulations to the family and blessings for the Bachchan bachcha.


This appeared in Hi Blitz!

It’s all in the bag….!

What’s with women and handbags? Oh…. billions! One day I shall meet my dream woman, Mayawati, and the only thing I’d wish to discuss with her – you’ve guessed it – is handbags. Mayawati is India’s official Bag Lady. And here’s why I think Hermes should exclusively design for and dedicate a bag to our pyaari Mayawati. Birkins and Kellys don’t quite cut it in India. Every B-grade starlet in Bollywood possesses several – fakes, of course. And socialites in droves parade their limited edition trophy bags along with the latest, not-so-limited toy boy. Agree, both make great eye candy. But think about the poor brand! It has taken Hermes a few decades to convince the world there’s nothing quite as desirable as a Kelly or Birkin. But now that desi starlets, poppets and bimbettes have started flashing their acquisitions on Page 3, the bags are doomed! This is where Mayawati comes in. Hermes should sign her up as a brand ambassador instantly. Forget those anorexic actresses with attitude. Signing Mayawati would be an absolute coup! An audacious and imaginative move that would make international headlines. Given all her statues ( always but always with a handbag), the marketing opportunities are pretty impressive. Every great leader \ dictator is associated with a symbol. Gaddafi had his head gear. Che’s beret remains a huge political –cum- fashion statement. Gandhiji’ s round eye frames are considered cool. Anna appropriated the Mahatma’s topi. Netaji preferred breeches. Rajiv Gandhi’s trademark Gucci loafers are widely copied by young netas of today. Indira Gandhi’s handloom one–offs are Sonia’s legacy now. And Maya Memsaab’s rexine handbags are so closely associated with her personality, I half –suspect she goes to bed with a handbag slung around her wrist.
Interestingly enough, I attended a high profile Halloween party last month. A soiree hosted by India’s most applauded banker. Along with the witches and devils in scary gear, one couple really stood out. Our neighbour Pomi arrived with a garland of currency notes around her neck, her feet shod in heavy duty rubber chappals . She was, of course, carrying a hideous plastic handbag. Just in case people didn’t get her attire,or understand her tribute to Mayawati that night, her husband Bharat was dressed as his wife’s official bagman ( dhoti, dark glasses, shoes and socks ). He walked in dragging a large suitcase to stash the cash. That was not just a clever fancy dress, but an enormous statement that wasn’t lost on the moneymen present! This sexy Mayawati really rocked the party . That night itself, I made a few mental notes. Hermes has recently opened a suitably swishy flagship store in Mumbai ( I have yet to visit… but I’m not a Birkin babe). The more I thought about the Mayawati Bag, the better sense it made! She has the numbers. And does she have the lolly! If even one hundreth of her followers buy her bag, that’s one hell of a lot of money in the bank! I would love to own one, myself! Why should I carry a bag inspired by Princess Grace Kelly of Monaco when I can support Maharani Mayawati of Uttar Pradesh?
Let’s hope Mayawati does not dilute her impressive equity. It has to be Hermes or nothing! Mayawati is way bigger than Paris Hilton, who came to India to sell her handbags. If Mayawati positions and markets herself strategically, she could become the Planet Earth’s biggest Bag Lady. She has the potential to beat Imelda Marcos, whose staggering shoe collection became a talking point for the world. The Hermes representatives in India claim sales shot up after the famous ‘Bagwati’ spoof in ‘Zindagi….’. According to them, there is a long waiting list for an identical bag in the two India stores ( the first one opened in Pune – which says something about Pune and its purchasing power). If a Bollywood spoof and shrewd product placement could generate so much press ( and instant sales), imagine the impact a Mayawati Bag would have. And since timing is everything, it would make perfect sense to work on the launch immediately. The Elections are round the corner. And the heat this generates in U.P. can be capitalized on even as we speak. Mayawati is going to dominate our mind space in 2012. She is a pretty powerful brand in her own right. Since India will be seeing a lot of this lady in the coming year, and we all know Mayawati and her bag can never be parted, Hermes should move ahead tout suite and … well, bag her, before someone else does. I have visualized the design in my head. It features the Taj Mahal ( remember Mayawati’s memorable Taj corridor plan?). The bag will have to be large enough to balance the lady’s own proportions ( this is important - all future statues will necessarily commemorate Mayawati’s international rise to fame and glory). As a prime ministerial candidate, it is important to create a bag that reflects Mayawati’s personality, which is awesome and daunting. By then she’s bound to be on all the world’s Rich Lists. Officially, at that. We can’t have her carrying the wrong bag. Indian Izzat ka sawal, hai.
How about it, Hermes?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Sweeeeeet Kangana!

This appeared in Bombay Times yesterday....

There’s Something about Kangana….

I saw a ravishing looking woman at a distance and wondered who she was. This was at Mumbai airport, weekday mid-morning.She turned around and waved. Several heads swiveled simultaneously. It was as if every single person in the overcrowded lounge had eyes for just this one person. It was only when I reached her that I recognised Kangana . Kangana Chameleon. She is such a lovely girl – lovely, as in individualistic, spunky, edgy, beautiful. There’s nothing boring about Kangana. Nothing predictable, either. That’s what makes her special. Whether it’s her choice of men or movies, she’s like Maggi Noodles – different. Wearing a perfectly filled, sporty day dress and standing steady on towering heels, Kangana could have passed for an international ramp walker. She laughed when I told her that and said she was on a crazy diet plan to tone up big time for her new role for which she has to slither into a skin tight rubber suit. She pouted, “ I have to oil my body before getting into costume. Even if I lose a few more kilos, a single extra fold on my skin will show on screen.” Dear God! All this self -punishment for a costume and a glam role! I asked about her new hair… it looked like a well- constructed, short blond-ish wig. That question was enough to set her off! She talked about having spent nine straight hours at her regular salon with her regular hair stylist, who must have been on something far stronger than coffee when she did what she did to Kangana’s hair! According to the actress, once she washed out the colour, not only was her hair grey (“not platinum blond…. but GREY!”), it was also coming off her scalp in clumps. Agitated and exhausted, Kangana ordered the hair dresser to somehow fix the damage. “ Next thing I knew, it was 3 inches short on top , with a straggly, long Chinese chhoti at the back. All this after trying imported hair extensions which hurt and prevented me from sleeping at night because of the head ache.” Several deeply interested passengers traveling on the same flight to Ahemdabad, were eagerly hanging on to her every word. By this time, Kangana was in full flow. She said she was going to Ahemdabad for an event ( she wasn’t very sure what she was expected to promote at the store!), but that she would be paid a huge amount of money for showing up ( “I’ll pick up the cheque and come home”). She chuckled with delight at the ease of it all, while two minders ( event managers? ) in shiny suits looked nervously at one another. I asked who did her clothes shopping? Kangana always displays such confidence and flair, her style quotient seems to improve by the hour as it were! Unlike other Bollywood stars who seem clueless and paralysed without their stylists, Kangana sets her own trends and often defies fashion gurus by her eccentric wardrobe choices that work splendidly for her. She replied proudly she is her own shopper and mainly buys her clothes and accessories during her foreign trips. It figures. Heaven knows where she gets it all from… I’d say, it’s inborn. Kangana remains an obstinate original. As we walked into the aircraft, still discussing “burnt and damaged” hair, “ unflattering rubber suits” and other fascinating details that define the life of movie stars, Kangana slid into row one (business class). She thought I would be seated right next to her! I laughed and showed her my cattle class boarding pass. She looked aghast and upset…. “But why?” she wanted to know. I didn’t have the heart to tell her the Sahitya Akademi does not have lavish budgets for us poor writers, and the ‘event’ I was attending in A’Bad was just a humble, national Colloquium for Women Writers at which each participant would receive an honourarium of a princely 2000 rupees. Kangana continued to look terribly distressed. I guessed she was feeling exceedingly sorry for me!! Sweet Kangana!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Get 'Diggy' with it....!

I came back from a whirlwind trip to Amdavad last night. I was there to deliver the keynote address at the National Colloquium for Women Writers, organised by the Sahitya Akademi and the English Department of the University of Gujarat. Twenty writers... and terrific local interest, made for a successful occasion. I was honoured to deliver the address which I had titled : ".... and where do we go from here?" If any of you can provide an answer to that intriguing question, I'll attempt the impossible and write you a poem! Take a crack at it, Blogdosts! Do it in 250 words or so....
Amdavad is such a transformed city, I could have been in Hyderabad! All our cities look alike these days, and I hate the conformity. But at least one thing has not changed in Amdavad - the food! I went to 'Rajwadu', an amazing destination spread over an acre ( the owners grow their own vegetables and fruits and everything is organic) . Ably conceived and run by the portly and popular Manishbhai, the restaurant-cum-cultural centre serves the best Gujju thali I've ever eaten outside a Gujju home. More than that, it honours Gujarati writers and poets in the charming bookstore attached to the restaurant, not just by selling their books but displaying posters featuring quotes from their work. I was delighted to find two of my books (Gujarati editions)on the shelves.
This appeared in the Sunday Times of India today...

The Importance of being Rahul Baba…

“We need Rahul Gandhi to look after all of us,” declared Digvijay Singh without cringing or blushing. Digvijay is 64- years- old.And Rahul, 41 .What exactly was Digvijay Singh thinking when he made that rather astonishing statement? And who is ‘we’? The people of India? The Congress Party? Digvijay Singh’s immediate family? What sort of ‘looking after’ was he referring to? Physical and emotional well-being? Spiritual succour? Political leadership?Who knows? Diggy has spoken! And going by his recent, unchallenged utterings , it is safe to assume he speaks for ‘the family’. And that includes the extended family around Rahul Gandhi.As the officially designated Good Shepherd, Rahul is expected to provide the much needed booster shot to a party that is dithering and struggling to hang together. Too many brains, too much ambition and lots at stake.Plus, the rather grim possibility of a couple of heads ready to roll in the near future. Takleef ki baat hai - no leader, no rudder. Just a good looking, earnest young man trying hard to fit into a role he doesn’t particularly enjoy. It is almost as if all this responsibility is being thrust on the poor chap and he is being force fed on a daily diet of sycophancy to make everything seem better.For all his good manners and charm, Rahul looks and behaves like a well- meaning apprentice working in a PSU. An intern learning the ropes under the critical gaze of a billion people. It’s tough being Rahul Gandhi. But then again, what choice does he have?
If Sonia indeed does slide over to ease sonny boy into her own, highly privileged position, there won’t be a squeak of protest. If that happens and Rahul gets to cut his teeth on steering the shaky party (with a li’l help from mama) to safer ground, will Rahul get promoted to the next level, and have India’s prime ministership thrust on him? Zero resistance guaranteed. Even from those ministers who are spending more time these days on fixing each other than on earning their keep. Better a Rahul, than a rival! Corporate India will be overjoyed as well. Rahul is seen as ‘one of us’, and everybody is comfortable with him. Besides, as business honchos have shrewdly concluded, rather a wet- behind- the ears Rahul, than any of the Maciavellian present lot gunning for the top job. Poor Rahul is no ‘game changer’. But he is a welcome distraction. The media loves him – he is photogenic, young and reasonably articulate. He is no threat to anyone. And it is understood, Rahul can be ‘mananged’ quite effortlessly, if handled right. So far, ‘Team Rahul’ is lying low, perhaps waiting to test the waters before unveiling ‘The Plan for the Prince’. It’s the right strategy.Playing it cool is definitely the way forward, and Rahul’s minders are making sure he doesn’t overstate his case or credentials. For a person who has no real qualifications, has not held a ministerial post, moving to the top of the heap may prove to be a little tougher than envisaged. But throughout history, there have been inexperienced young princes groomed and licked into shape by senior courtiers and family elders. Again, comparing Rahul’s trajectory to his father’s is not fair. Rajiv was plucked out his comfort zone and thrust into a brand new role because of a ghastly personal tragedy. The mood of the nation was gloomy… India was grieving. It’s a different story now. The only grief we know has to do with corruption and poor governance. Is Rahul Gandhi the right person to lead a frontal attack against both? Can he play the Knight in Shining Armour and fix the naughty boys within his own party before tackling the rest? Today’s young Indian is impatient, aggressive and demanding. Deliver or else, is how it works.Rahul Gandhi has to deliver.Dropping in on unsuspecting, poverty stricken villagers to break bhakris with them can only take Rahul this far. If he does indeed take the leap of faith required to lead India as prime minister , he will have to do much better than that. As reality shows go, there can be no better concept than India itself. Today, we have a Sushil Kumar , the toast of the country after winning 5 crores on KBC. Sushil Kumar has The Big B to thank for his luck turning overnight. But The Big G ( Rahul) has it tougher by far. He will have to hold out a comparable promise to an entire generation of hungry Indians waiting to hit the jackpot.
In case Rahul Baba gets stuck, who will bail him – and us – out? Any answers, Diggyji??

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Belle of the Management Ball....

I am still recovering from the strobe effects of the super glam Hello! Awards,aptly titled 'The Hall of Fame.' It's in its second edition this year, and the team was wondering whether or not it was possible to top the razzle -dazzle of Year One. Well, tough as it sounds, they did it! Despite the lack of grace and co-operation from The Trident Hotel where this high profile event was held. "Never again!" I overheard the Hello! team muttering after they were denied a meal, post-event! Besides these sort of hiccups, the show went on splendidly, with everyone from a Mukesh Ambani to an SRK turning up and participating with gusto. I enjoyed myself thoroughly.... but am seriously worried. What happens next year?? Watch this space!
This appeared in The Week recently...

Belle of the Management Ball…

Recently, at an intense workshop for high powered female managers from across India , I was initially startled and then vastly amused by a particular response. I had posed this ‘simple’ question – ‘Who am I?” to the group, which was made up of forty, fiercely determined high achievers. Most of the ladies who had volunteered to share their answers, stuck to predictable statements such as, “I am a mother, a wife…a daughter…” and little beyond that. The clichés kept coming. A few variations were clearly aimed at impressing the bosses who were present, “ I am a leader… a great motivator…” Finally, one woman got up and announced defiantly, “I am a thief, a cheat and a liar.” Suddenly, every person in the room woke up and was on red alert. What? Was this woman totally crazy? Did she not care about her job and the poor impression she was creating? She had obviously anticipated just such a reaction. Calmly, she explained what she meant: “ I cheat on my husband by feigning interest in his conversation at the end of a long day, when all I want to do is put my feet up and relax. I lie to my bosses and pretend to be sick when I want to spend time with my baby daughter. And I call myself a thief for stealing time which does not belong to me to pursue my personal interests during work hours.” After the shock value of her opening remarks had died down, and the real import of her words sank in, all the women present – her colleagues and competitors,started clapping and cheering enthusiastically. She was the undisputed belle of the ball. Why? She was the one person who had spoken the truth. And given the tense ambience, that took a lot of guts.
I talk to professional women’s groups quite a lot, and the one commonality that often disturbs me is the lack of humour and the absence of poetry in their lives. Most of these women give the impression of being too uptight and wound up. Yes, they make a lot of money. But look at the irony of their situation – they have zero time to enjoy it! Yes, they get married, produce a child or two. But again, by the time they get home after putting in a twelve hour day at a soulless, impersonal work station, they are too exhausted to laugh, hug, chat or cuddle. The high pressure in the office robs them of any joy… worse, it completely depletes their energy levels. Often they are dealing with demanding clients from different parts of the world, functioning in time zones that are crazy for us in India. There are goals and targets that have to be met. Performance reviews that entail deep scrutiny. There is always the threat of an aggressive rival ready to displace the person and move into that vacated chair. Combine that with the so-called team spirit that has to be strictly adhered to even if you harbour murderous thoughts about the rest…. ooooof! Is it really worth it? What about an early burn out? And to get down to basics – what about a healthy sex life? These are women in their prime. And making love is a luxury they can’t afford! Tragic! I boldly asked them if they made the time for sex in their young marriages. Most shook their heads and sighed philosophically. One of them shrugged, “Who cares? What use are husbands these days?” This was getting sadder and sadder.
At the end of my session, as I was walking out with the bright, ambitious supervisors who were pretty pleased about the response to the workshop,I asked one of them if they had a recreational facility in that vast, green and cheerful complex. A facility where these stressed out ladies could relax a bit, enjoy a foot massage, get their hair and nails done, feel a bit pampered, listen to music, enjoy art, flip through magazines and books, maybe catch up on a movie. The answer was a flat ‘no’. But all you have here is an army of trained worker ants , I pointed out. I barely spotted a genuine smile or even a cheerful face. The women looked tense, preoccupied and miserable. How can they be productive if they are so robotic? The supervisors exchanged meaningful looks and answered mysteriously, “We have our own ways to keep them motivated. Our subsidized cafeteria has the best chefs in town. We feed them well!”
Gulp. That was my food for thought. Sorry to say, I could barely digest it.

Monday, November 7, 2011

The 5 Crore Man....

A big hug to our Blogdost, Harish Iyer (Aham) who has won the ndtv Zindagi Live Award for Social Service!! Applause! Applause! He richly deserves it! And one more hug for another Blogdost Aparna Velankar for conducting a superb 'In Conversation' at the 25th 'Parle Katta' on saturday. It was a really special evening spent with 500 pre-dominantly Maharashtrian residents of Vile Parle. Not only was the function (held in a large garden) exceedingly well organised, but the thoughtful snacks served ( delicious sabudana khichdi,spicy batata wada with sweet chutney and elaichi flavoured, home brewed coffee) rounded off an ideas-charged evening, made still more special thanks to a fragrant tokri of Champak blossoms given to me and Aparna. Wish more people would offer local seasonal flowers to guests instead of boring, commercial bouquets! Questions from the audience were challenging and lively. This is the kind of crowd nobody can fool. I was delighted to be a part of it. So, when Mark Tully ( I met him at the closing party for the just concluded Mumbai Lit Fest, aptly called Literature Live, and ably chaired by Anil Dharker) snarkily asked me whether I had accepted such an invitation in order to sell more books, I snapped back ( no regrets!) and told him where to get off. Really!Such a crass question!

This appeared in Bombay Times today...

The Five Crore Man..

Sushil Kumar from Bihar has joined the ranks of the ‘most-recognised’ celebrities in India after winning 5 crores on Amitabh Bachchan’s KBC. Excellent timing ( Diwali ) and superb marketing have propelled the young man from a life of total obscurity to an entirely different world under the spotlight. So far, Sushil Kumar remains delightfully underwhelmed by the attention and the moolah. I happened to share the same flight to Delhi last week, and have to confess I didn’t recognize the non-descript young man who was minding his own business and reading a Hindi newspaper. The story changed as soon as we landed. Several co-passengers gheraoed him , asking for autographs. He posed for pictures and chatted away without the slightest self-consciousness. Someone brought him over for an introduction and he disarmingly stated that since he didn’t speak any English, we’d have to converse in Hindi . He spoke sensibly and sincerely about his win, neither boasting nor underplaying its significance in his life. At the swanky New Delhi terminal, once again Sushil Kumar was enthusiastically mobbed by passengers and staff. The last I saw of him,he was in the middle of a large crowd getting clicked on several cell phones. He appeared cool and unfazed by all the attention. This is true celebrity.
Contrast Sushil Kumar’s attitude to that of nobodies parading as celebrities. Especially B- and C- grade Bollywood types who refuse to take their shades off inside the aircraft, and strut up and down the aisle strenuously trying to attract attention. It’s easy to spot these wannabes from a mile as they collar Page 3 photographers at splashy events and insist on being photographed with the Chief Guest. If a pesky kid is stupid enough to ask for an autograph, these delusional people display the worst attitude and a basic lack of good manners by playing hard to get. Quite forgetting that their 15 minutes of fame got over years ago. Perhaps a few months from now, not too many people will remember Sushil Kumar ( someone else may win 10 crores by then!). But chances are, it won’t matter to this down to earth man. He is clear about his objectives and wants to spend his win on educating his brothers and continuing his own education. Married less than six months ago, he smiles shyly when asked what he’d like to gift his wife. For now, Sushil Kumar is in a happy space, soberly enjoying his fame and good fortune . He isn’t likely to buy the latest designer shades to hide behind. Nor does one expect him to go for a fancy car. But while his moment of glory lasts, Sushil Kumar is all set to enjoy every minute of it! Good luck to the 5 Crore Man!
Driving back from Pune recently, I had to pinch myself several times. The skyline has changed so dramatically it’s possible to believe one is in some futuristic city. Those towers! The mad architecture that mimics the best and worst of Singapore or Dubai. The gigantic shopping complexes that cover several acres! Mumbai is beginning to look like a poor cousin of Vashi and Belapur! Some irony, that!
Happy Birthday Bombay Times! Those who made it to the Anniversary Mad Hatter’s Party confirm they had an absolute blast. Nothing less was expected. Get ready to devour Page 3 to Page 20 crammed with wall-to-wall coverage of the event that saw the city’s Most Terrific at their party best.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

"Aapun Ka Party Kabh Hai?"

Irony!Irony! The famous Bombay Times Anniversary Bash coincides with the CHILDLINE party for street kids. Both will be fun. B.T. has a theme - it's a Mad Hatters' Party. But our raasta bachchas will rock theirs without special props or costumes!
As for me, I shall be at Parle Katta talking to what I have been told is a very informed and lively Maharshtrian audience. Post that function, I shall join the Lit Set at the ongoing Mumbai Lit Fest. Must say Thomas Freidman left me thanda. And I am sick to death with his 'world is flat' bilge. Go get some rest, Tom.
This appeared in the Asian Age today...

Statues Of Liberty!
I swear I am not joking! After a vroom vroom visit to Maya-land to watch India’s virgin F1 at the world- class Buddh International Circuit (BIC), I am ready to personally carve a brand new, larger-than-lifesize statue of Mayawati and erect it at a prominent junction in Mumbai. That lady is something else! I will also request Nargis Fakhri ( the latest Bollywood hottie) to perform ‘Behenji Badnaam Hui…” at the next F1. Come on, don’t you agree Nargis is far better looking than that weirdo Gaga with her tri-colour fake hair? In any case we vastly prefer our desi girls ( even if they are only 50-50 desi).Mayawati is my Babe-of-the-moment. After pulling off that coup (F1), Mayawati’s stock has zoomed at a speed faster than Sebastian Vettel’s mean machine could rev up. Suddenly, all those snotty Formula One fans from Delhi,Mumbai and other cities, have had to suck in their breaths and say , “Wow!How did she do it? HOW?” Mind you, no matter who else was involved ( yes, Shri Jaiprakash Gaur, we know it’s you!) it was Mayawati who walked away with all the credit. And hello! nobody wants to get into the nitty gritties. A few legal eagles ,, in on the myriad contracts, whispered not everything was all that kosher and that there were several wheels within wheels and deals within deals, with a whole lot of black in the lentils.Does anybody really care? Naah!With stories galore about Mayawati’s family members allegedly getting pretty juicy prime cuts on virtually every brick and bag of cement used, nobody blinked or minded. The reaction has been cool and blasé. “ Let them also make money, yaar. But at least India delivered big time for a change. Look at what happened with CAG. Paisa khaaya aur kuch bhi nahi kiya.It was such a disgrace.” Point. We are very sweet and considerate that way. We expect our leaders to keep their family members khush. It’s a given. If Asif Zardari was known in Pakistan as Mr. Ten Percent, Mayawati’s gang falls into the Messrs.Thirty Per Cent. Jaaney do. At least Mayawati fixed the Doubting Thomases who had predicted she’d fall flat on her face with the F1 . Advantage Behenji . As anybody who made a pit stop at the Budhh Circuit will readily confirm, this was an absolute coup. And the response ( even from skeptics) has been an unconditional thumbs up. Let’s not get ethics and values into the picture. Nor the staggering cost of getting the track and infrastructure off the ground.Point is, Buddh took fans by surprise. But more importantly, it took the motor racing world’s breath away.
The most interesting aspect of attending the historic Indian F1 was the long drive to the distant venue. A drive that took people past the famous 3,000 crore park with ‘those’ statues that have generated so much criticism and scorn. I passed the park four times. At one point our car was stuck right opposite the notorious elephants , lining the gigantic Dalit Prerna Hall. The first reaction to the elephants and the imposing Stupa-style structure was very positive. The design was pleasing, aesthetic and wonderfully conceived. What had I expected? I’ll be candid and tell you – I had imagined the much-discussed park to be a totally hideous complex crammed with ugly statues. Instead, what I saw was a magnificent ground dotted with handsome monuments made out of local stone, and built in a holistic style devoid of any ostentation. Mayawati certainly got this right, as well! As to why she is ‘wasting’ so much money on those statues? Because Mayawati is smart!She has vision.What she has cleverly invested in ( the park) reflects the aspirations and hopes of Dalits. It’s a beautiful space Dalits can finally call their own. A space they have never had. Never! A space that provides a strong sense of identity…that they can feel proud of. Intuitively and instinctively, Mayawati must have known that if she wants to leave behind a worthwhile, memorable legacy for future generations to enjoy, it had to be on this scale and on these terms. Good for her.
When one looks around India ( a country obsessed by symbols of power in the form of statues), whose figures do we see? Here’s a rough check list: topping it is, of course, Mahatma Gandhi. Followed by Nehru,Netaji, Shivaji and the odd Maharaja. You my find a Jhansi Ki Rani, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Tilak, Tagore and Patel. Ambedkar stands tall in more and more cities these days. Then on to countless Indira and Rajiv Gandhi representations.Nearly every important modern landmark is named after one or the other member of the Gandhi family - the mother,son or grandfather. Airports, and other public buildings are all taken by the trio. What about Mumbai’s Rajiv Gandhi Sea Link, which should have legitimately been named after Ambedkar, who was born in Worli, where it is located…. but wasn’t? What about the acres and acres of land in Delhi devoted to various ‘sthals’? How come nobody finds all of this ‘wasteful, extravagant, meaningless’? Mayawati is no fool. It is all about those numbers. She is looking ahead at the Big Picture, and what she’s seeing is obviously good. She is not waiting for anyone to erect her statues… she’s doing the job herself. She is shrewd enough to realize the power of the statue-politics. The more you erect, the stronger the positioning . Why wait till you are dead and gone for followers to get those statues up? Like Saddam Hussein or Col. Gaddafi, Mayawati is assiduously building her own personality cult. Let’s just hope her statues don’t suffer the same fate as theirs did . Till then, let Mayawati bask in and enjoy her international fame posing with the handsome young F1 champions.She’s finally in the fast track… who can stop her now??

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Ra.None??? Tan tana... the promised review!

Blogdosts, let's get a few things straight - the movie has made money. Does personal opinion really matter?? Naaaaaaah!
This appeared in Bombay Times today....

What were you thinking, SRK?

When a hotelier scouts around for a new property, he keeps just one mantra in mind : Location.Location. Location. This is the only formula that works in that line of business. Similarly, when a film maker decides to make a movie, the only mantra worth following is : Script.Script.Script. After sitting through half of Ra.One ( I rarely leave a movie mid-way, but this one propelled me out of the multiplex at intermission), I was totally perplexed! SRK is one of the smartest, most hard working human beings in the film industry. How did he go so wrong? Could he not see the obvious flaws? Judge the mood of his audience? Tweak and fix all that was cringe- making and deeply embarrassing about his magnum opus? And let’s not get into the numbers game here and talk about how much it has raked in and how much more will be made once the hisaab kitaab is completed? There was much, much more riding on this film, than just box office collections. SRK knows that, too. His singular lack of judgment in backing such a mish mash of a movie makes fans gnash their teeth in frustration and ask what has happened to their superhero?Not only is the whole nerdy South Indian ‘Appa’ angle completely off ( come on, how many South Indian men shovel noodles with dahi into their mouths and keep repeating ‘Aiyooo’ in a fake accent?). But so was the Punjabi Kudi Kareena as a gaali researcher North Indian biwi! Bebo as the mother of a precocious pre-teen ‘Baba’? No way! The opening scene was so gauche and amateurish one almost expected a ‘Mogambo Khush Hua’, dialogue during what was meant to be a hi-tech, state of the art presentation in London. And why was SRK the Southie scientist wearing a gollywog wig and make up? How insulting! As for that dreadful sexist scene of SRK looking for keys buried inside a white woman’s cleavage , really! Gross.
The little boy (Amaan Verma) playing Prateek should immediately sign up for a range of hair products, with that glossy mop. And SRK should go off on a relaxing vacation. He has really earned it. Never has a movie star flogged himself this hard to promote a film. If only he had invested half that energy rewriting the awful script, the movie could have been salvaged somewhat. There were so many unconnected parallel tracks going on, it was confusing and annoying…. like watching half-a-dozen movies clumsily spliced together by an editor high on something very potent. Such a pity, given the potentially sound basic premise ( a father dying to be his son’s hero). But even that was ruined by the ridiculous mugging scene. Besides, if there is a moral in all this it is that special effects are no substitutes for a story. Ra.One is an example of how to blow up several millions – literally speaking – on so little.If kids are the target audience, wouldn’t they prefer to buy the latest video game with a more convincing plot? Poor SRK.It’s all about timing. So much déjà vu is bad for business.Had audiences not watched Rajnikanth as Chitti in ‘Robot’ (superb and similar special effects, plus an emotional track) and related to that character, Ra.One may not have received such a drubbing. Unfortunately, even young fans ended up saying, “Been there.Done that.”