Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Overwhelmed by Oman....

I was going back after a decade to Muscat. As always, with an open mind. It was to attend the 7TH Muscat International Film Festival, put together by former desi journalists who are based in Oman now. The roll call of names mentioned was impressive. Susan Sarandon was due to fly in the same day as I had to return to Mumbai.But Forest Whitaker was there.So was Darren Aronofsky. Omar Sharif didn't make it because of poor health. And Roger Moore also had a genuine problem. But with the humble and very likeable Billy Boyd ("Lord of the Rings'), and a roster of stars from India ( Nandita Das, Victor Banerjee, Sharmila Tagore, Mohanlal) and the Middle East, I am not sure whether Saif and Kareena's last minute no-show to attend the red carpet premiere of 'Agent Vinod' was a matter of great significance to anybody but the organisers who were exceedingly miffed and refused to accept 'security issues' as a legit excuse. However, the show must go on and did. With great performances by Sivamani. Dhanush was saved for the finale. And I thought to myself, this was a pretty terrific effort and the line up of international stars wasn't half bad, given the location.
As for me, staying at the legendary Al-Bustan Palace Hotel ( run by the Ritz-Carlton ) was a memorable experience. And for my daughter, it was the menacing, black, demonic mountains which surround Muscat that enchanted and scared her simultaneously. She found them 'demonic' and 'angry'. But the blue-green, calm sea made up for the sinister looking ranges. And so did dozens of friendly dolphins frolicking in the warm waters early one morning. As all of us on the dolphin watch cooed and swooned at the uplifting sight, it was Nandita Das' son, all of 19 months and very sleepy at that hour, who got the last word. "Pheeeeesh!" exclaimed the tot ecstatically.
I shall post images in a day or so. Yes, including those of the 'angry' mountains.
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I missed the biggest bash of recent times - Mukesh and Nita Ambani's glittering party for Sachin Tendulkar. Who in turn missed Rahul Dravid's felicitation event. Between The Master Blaster and The Wall, cricket fans got their fix. Let's see if the IPL manages to attract more interest this season than it did in the previous two.
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This appeared in Bombay Times yesterday....


“ Lock up your wives and daughters….”

This is just so spooky! Nearly forty years after it was written, a headline has popped back into my consciousness to haunt me. I plead guilty. Mahendra Sandhu is back in the news, thanks to ‘Agent Vinod’ and the rather lop sided, left handed tribute paid to the former actor ( Sandhu sensibly moved on decades ago and got himself a proper day job). But when he first burst into Bollywood, in 1973, he was hailed as the next big thing.The desi Bond, if you please. Primarily by ‘Stardust’ the film magazine I was the editor of at the time. Excited by the prospect of predicting mega stardom for a guy who seemed to have it all, we went flat out to anoint Sandhu as the next superstar. He had the right credentials – rugged Panju good looks, an FTII background and enough hair on his brawny chest ( shirt permanently unbuttoned) to make the cut. We set up an elaborate shoot with Sandhu which involved a heavy duty bike, jaunty shades, a forest of chest hair and lots of attitude. The pictures looked great even without photo shop ( that nasty little magic trick which was still to be invented). And I was the one who went ahead brashly with a headline that has come back to mock me – “Lock up your wives and daughters, Mahendra Sandhu has hit the town.” The lukewarm reaction to our rah- rah story was the writing on the wall. My guess is that Sandhu read it before anyone else . After several similar duds (17 films in 19 years), he changed tracks and going by a recent interview, he sounds like a happy man running, and minding, his own business. Good for Sandhu. A lesser person would have collapsed and gone into a tailspin of depression, frustration and that awful cycle of questioning failure. Here was a guy who had been crowned king a bit too prematurely, a bit too hastily. It was a rash decision, and it backfired.
It was also a lesson well learned - about hype and its nasty repercussions. This, in an era when there were no image consultants, managers and publicists. It was a virtual free for all, with the in-built risk of a free fall if the expectations created were not met. Why didn’t Sandhu’s career take off? Who knows? There were worse actors hacking it at the time, and certainly less good looking chaps who’d made it ( some of them are still around featuring in meaty character roles and enjoying an autumn of glory). Sandhu disappeared without a trace. Till ‘Agent Vinod’ happened. Perhaps film makers will flock to Sandhu yet again and entice him back into the industry with roles that are more appropriate than the one which bombed ( Sandhu was the original ‘Agent Vinod’). It will will be interesting to see if that does indeed happen. One thing I do know, if Sandhu accepts the offer, I won’t be the one writing headlines hailing the arrival of a dangerously attractive middle aged actor on the prowl. Once, as they say , is enough. I am still blushing at the memory!
P.S. Could ‘Agent Vinod’ be a jinxed title? Is that the official excuse????

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