Let those comments roll, Blogdosts. It's looking like a pretty boring weekend right now. Don't feel like writing... no movies to watch.... oil in my hair... not fun, for sure!
But I have to tell you what happened a couple of nights ago - Tina A. was so kicked with the 'Hello!' coverage, she did what very few celebs do - invited the entire 'Hello' team for sunset champagne on 'Tiaan',her magnificent yacht. Dressed informally, she mingled with each person, from alarmingly young interns to the make- up artists, and made them all feel welcome, as she chatted away on the deck. When it was time to say goodbye, she gave a box of Alphonso mangoes grown on her farm to everybody. A warm and wonderful gesture that was appreciated by all. If only a few other snooty celebs would take a cue from her....
This was written for the 5th Anniversary issue of 'Hello!'
Shobhaa De in a heart-to-heart with ‘Forever Hot’ Tina Ambani…
“ Anil has never said ‘no’ to me for anything….”
“ I love both my daughters-in-law - they are thoughtful and caring,” declared Kokilaben Ambani as the two of us sat at her dining table on the 9th floor of ‘Seawind’ the iconic South Mumbai residence of half the original Ambani parivaar. Kokilaben’s attention to detail was evident in everything, from the fresh methi salad with sesame seeds and the delicious ‘kandh khichdi’ ( an Ambani household speciality) to the heavy duty silver thali service we were eating out of. The food was piping hot and delicious. That superb ‘garma garam’ meal set the mood for the after-dinner poolside heart-to-heart that was scheduled with Kokilaben’s Chhoti Bahu, the ‘Forever Hot’ Tina Ambani, who lives on a lower floor with her husband Anil, Kokilaben’s Chhota Beta, and their two sons Anmol and Anshul. Kokilaben wanted to know whether I’d be quoting “everything” . Tough question! Especially because I have known Tina since she was sixteen years old. Kokilaben sighed. She herself does not give interviews. Being Kokilaben cannot be easy. And yet, not a crease crosses her calm and serene face while talking about her sons. She says all she’s doing is performing her role as a mother. “I see Anil every day. Mukesh calls me the minute he gets into the car on the way to the office. Nita has a very good gym. I go there thrice a week for a massage. My children take good care of me. So do my grand children. There’s nothing to complain about.” She looks away and adds, “Anil is just like Dhirubhai. His restless nature reminds me of his father.His mind is always running (“ Anil nu magaj har time daudey chhey” ). Then she looks at her jeweled gold watch and says, “Tina must be waiting…”
It’s close to 11 p.m. Tina looks like a freshly plucked rose. She has spent the day at the hospital named after Kokilaben ( she goes there thrice a week). It’s been a long day. Anil’s out of town, and the two boys are not home. Tina pushes back her fabulous hair (better than Dimple’s legendary mane), and drawls, “ There are three men in my life. I don’t have to share my space with any other woman.What do I have to crib about?” Oh- oh. We are off to a great start. She adds naughtily, “ I’m talking about my husband and two sons…” Phut! Should have guessed. “ I am a hands- on wife and strict mom. I like to know what’s going on in all their lives. I am friendly with the parents of those my boys hang out with. I track where they are and with whom. They are obedient children, and my top most priority.” Does she track Anil as closely?” Tina laughs, “ We share a very equal relationship.It has always been so. I have never ever been insecure.Anil has never given me the chance to feel that way. Nothing rattles me. Trust your man. Trust yourself. Ignore rumours. That’s my mantra.People around you will always try and play games…. manipulate you… pull you down. I stay miles away from Mumbai society and have zero interest in other people’s lives or idle gossip. At this stage in my life it’s important to get rid of negativity. My work is my meditation. As for Anil, he has really come into his own during the last five years. Whatever happens,happens for the best. It has actually worked well for everybody.” Read the subtext carefully, folks.
Tina prides herself on being just another working girl in the city, which, in a way she is. “I have no hang ups. I am very straight forward. We have 130 doctors I interact with at the hospital. Plus, the long hours I spend with my Harmony team, working for senior citizens. It’s a very normal, busy life. If you ask me how many cars we own, I have no idea. And I don’t care whether I’m in a Lexus or a BMW so long as I am mobile. If I have to take a commercial flight, I do it without any issues. Anil often offers our private jet. But I say, ‘Why waste money? I’ll just fly commercial.’ That’s me. I’ve worked since the age of 17. I value money. When people ask me to name the brands I wear, I laugh! I don’t need a Birkin. I am a brand myself. I can carry off something I’ve picked up on Colaba Causeway as easily as I do a Bina Modi outfit.” Which is largely true. For example even for this very Hello! Shoot, Tina was happy to do her own hair and make-up. She smiled, “Pakkhi took an hour and a half to do my face! I told her I could have done it in ten minutes.” How did Anil and the boys feel about Tina doing this interview (she has stayed away from the glam press for years). “He was surprised! But I told him I wanted to see if I still enjoyed posing for the cameras. And I had such a super time with the young, fun, professional Hello! team. I was trying on various nail polish shades on the morning of the shoot and I asked Anil and the boys which one I should go with. I liked red. But all three preferred nude. Anil tells me what suits me and what doesn’t. Sometimes, he asks me to change when we are going out. He says, ‘this makes you look plump. Wear something else’. And I do. Or now that I have lost weight, he says, ‘That’s so loose! Get a new wardrobe.’ Other than that, he doesn’t interfere with my shopping. He never questions me. I have always bought whatever it is I have fancied. Dhirubhai bought my mother-in-law’s clothes. Anil used to do that for all the ladies of the family earlier. He’d pick up sarees and pearls for all of us. Now, he leaves even his own shopping to me. Anil is very fashion conscious. He likes to dress in the latest styles. Tom Ford is his current favourite. Anil is particular about every single detail around him. Whether it’s the table linen, bed sheets or curtains. Once he asked me to source a particularly comfortable mattress he’d slept on at the Four Season’s in New York, and I managed to get it.” From bed linen to baubles. Serious baubles. Tina’s spectacular, blinding jewels require friends to don shades in her dazzling presence. Anil’s reaction? “If it is something really noticeable and a statement piece, he teases me by saying, “New? I’m sure you are embarrassed to wear it.’ Anil has never said ‘no’ to me for anything. But the gift that is really special is an eternity band crafted out of heart shaped diamonds that Anil gave me soon after we got married. In any case, what are jewels or possessions? I can’t take them up with me. I feel blessed to enjoy such luxuries. Nothing ever belongs to you. You’re just a custodian. Share what you possess and you’ll feel happier.” Is there anything in the world that Tina covets but which maybe unaffordable even for her? “The Last Supper,” says our smart art connoisseur.
It’s been interesting to observe the change in Tina over the years. Though, the essential person remains the same, there is a new steadiness in her personality which she attributes to a better understanding of herself. “The best relationship you can have is with yourself,” she states confidently. “I work out for an hour and a half – no personal trainers, nothing. I know my body and what I need to do to shed weight.I focus on cardio, and after that, I just lie down,shut my eyes , and listen to chants or any other soothing sounds.This is my time with myself which I love.It gives me clarity and inner strength.I’m feeling good, externally and internally. I am not a morning person. But I do wake up to see Anil off. He gets up at 5 a.m. and is fast asleep by 10p.m. That’s when my ‘day’ begins! I watch tv shows, movies, work on my iPad, chill with friends late into the night.” If that sounds like odd timings for an odd couple, does it involve special arrangements like separate bedrooms? Tina’s response is immediate: “No!I have my own dressing room. But I don’t want my own bedroom.A bedroom is for two people, unless you are single.” Was it always like that from the time they met? “ Well, I met Anil in ‘86 through my nephew Karan. Initially, I wasn’t interested. I was a movie star. Wrapped up in my own world. I hadn’t even heard of Reliance. But I liked him. Unlike some Bollywood men I knew, Anil didn’t come on strong. He seemed like a decent Gujju guy. We had a similar background. Both our families are Sreenathji worshippers. We ate the same sort of food, spoke the same language. He courted me like a gentleman, with flowers and notes like, ‘You are jogging all over my brain.’ I was 31 when we married in 1991. I’d seen life. There’s a reason and a purpose why he’s in my life and I’m in his. We are each other’s strengths. That’s the truth. He may not say it. But I’m saying it.” So, all those stories about them….? “If your priorities are right, you don’t let these things get to you. I don’t, and neither does Anil. I am married to a guy who is famous. He is an achiever. I am proud of him. There are no ego hassles if he gets more attention or signs more autographs. He walks very fast, often way ahead of me. But that doesn’t make me feel left out . That’s his pace. I’m confident enough to walk in alone. I don’t insist on him sticking to me throughout the function. We understand each other’s place in society. We have strong, separate identities that don’t clash The downside is that society has certain pre-conceived notions about us and can be judgmental. This makes me uncomfortable. But the fact still remains, I’m not embarrassed by anyone or anything! I mean that.”
By now, we had consumed a litre of water each.We’d planned to crack a bottle of champagne. But the working women in both of us sensibly thought better of it. Tina enjoys her bubbly and seafood, especially while chilling with close friends on the deck of ‘Tian’, the yacht, she happily admits Anil bought for her and the boys .Anil himself gets seasick. “ The yacht is my space. It is so calming,” declares Tina, her eyes shining.Anil is a vegetarian and a teetotaler ( a narielpaani and cola guy). But being a superb host (“ even with the family”), Anil orders the best wine and champagne for his wife when they go off on family vacations ( “just the two of us with the boys”) . They prefer remote safaris ( ( Zimbabwe, last year), which are Tina’s best holidays since the family can really bond in the wilderness, away from the stress of city life. Anil and she also take short breaks in Mahableshwar at a friend’s home, or in Goa, where Anil’s sister Dipti lives. “ Holidays are when Anil switches off completely. No office work. No phones.” But how does the DBRS (“daal-bhaat-rotli-shaak”) addict manage when they travel to international events like their recent Oscars’ outing? “ Anil loves Lebanese, Chinese, Thai, Mexican and Italian cuisines. It’s not true he only sticks to Gujju food. On our safari holidays, he instructs the cooks what to make for breakfast, lunch and dinner. And pre-orders crab for me since it’s unavailable there.”
Now for that ‘aha’ moment at the Oscar’s. How did it happen? Was Tina blasé about her Red Carpet debut at the world’s most glamourous event? “ I have to admit I was very excited in the car driving to the event! The whole thing is so brilliantly organized. Everything is so professionally put together. The best part about being on the Red Carpet with Steven Spielberg was when some Indian fans recognized Anil and me and shouted our names. Steven turned around and said, ‘ Hey, people here know you guys.’ But it was Anil’s comment that touched me the most. He said, “From ‘Des Pardes’ to walking the Red Carpet at the Oscar’s. What a journey you’ve had , Tina! Had Dev Saab been alive, he’d have been so proud of you!” Frankly, I had not looked at it that way at all…. and I enjoyed the Red Carpet even more after he said that.” How involved is Tina in Anil’s movie business? Here’s the surprising answer : “ Not at all. I have no role to play. We were at the Oscar’s not as some altu-faltu guests but as part owners of ‘Dreamworks’. That’s a business decision.Anybody who has the resources these days wants to be associated with movies. Anil has always loved cinema. My being a part of the industry has nothing to do with his business decisions. I am not even aware of the films his company backs. Sometimes I call the office and say, “Guys, at least send me a list and let me know which movies we have interests in. My connection to movies is very emotional because of my background. Theirs is a business linked. I’m not in sync with it.” Does she never miss that world? Would she turn producer someday? Tina shrugs, “ When you have been in front of the camera, why would you want to go behind it . Why?? I don’t miss that part of my life at all.” No recent roles she’d have liked to perform? Tina thinks deeply. “ Vidya Balan’s.” Hmmmm. In ‘Dirty Picture?”. Tina is caught off guard. “ No. No . No. In ‘Paa’. She recovers quickly, hastily adding, “ I haven’t watched ‘Dirty Picture’ so far.” Right.
It’s past 1 a.m. I am thirsty and sleepy. No more water. Just a wrap up question. The one everybody is dying to ask : Has Tina been to ‘Antilia’, Mukesh and Nita’s new home? Small pause. “ Of course. We were there for Mummy’s birthday last month. We are family.”
So they are.