Thursday, May 31, 2012

Superb article by John Cleese...



The English are feeling the pinch in relation to recent events in Syria and have therefore raised their security level from "Miffed" to "Peeved." Soon, though, security levels may be raised yet again to "Irritated" or even "A Bit Cross." The English have not been "A Bit Cross" since the blitz in 1940 when tea supplies nearly ran out. Terrorists have been re-categorized from "Tiresome" to "A Bloody Nuisance." The last time the British issued a "Bloody Nuisance" warning level was in 1588, when threatened by the Spanish Armada.
The Scots have raised their threat level from "Pissed Off" to "Let's get the Bastards." They don't have any other levels. This is the reason they have been used on the front line of the British army for the last 300 years.
The French government announced yesterday that it has raised its terror alert level from "Run" to "Hide." The only two higher levels in France are "Collaborate" and "Surrender." The rise was precipitated by a recent fire that destroyed France's white flag factory, effectively paralyzing the country's military capability.
Italy has increased the alert level from "Shout Loudly and Excitedly" to "Elaborate Military Posturing." Two more levels remain: "Ineffective Combat Operations" and "Change Sides."

The Germans have increased their alert state from "Disdainful Arrogance" to "Dress in Uniform and Sing
Marching Songs." They also have two higher levels: "Invade a Neighbour" and "Lose."

Belgians, on the other hand, are all on holiday asusual; the only threat they are worried about is NATOpulling out of Brussels.
The Spanish are all excited to see their new submarines ready to deploy. These beautifully designed subs have glass bottoms so the new Spanish navy can get a really good look at the old Spanish navy.
Australia, meanwhile, has raised its security level from "No worries" to "She'll be alright, Mate." Two more escalation levels remain: "Crikey! I think we'll need to cancel the barbie this weekend!" and "The barbie is cancelled." So far no situation has ever warranted use of the last final escalation level.

John Cleese,
British writer, actor and tall person

And as a final thought - Greece is collapsing, the Iranians are getting aggressive, and Rome is in disarray. Welcome back to 430 BC.
Blogdosts... this is one of the smartest, wittiest and most insightful pieces I have ever read!Wonder what Cleese would have to say about the farcical Bharat Bandh today. What a waste of a day!What a waste of resources! The BJP has accused the UPA government of Political Paralysis. But what about the crippling paralysis we are living through right now, with nothing and nobody working?
Congratulations Vishwanath Anand - World Champion! And please don't turn cartwheels, Vish!Your moves on the chess board are far sexier!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Bollywood ladies in need of stylists....

Bollywood Ladies in need of stylists!

Never mind what the fashion-illiterate , self-styled desi ‘Fashion Police’ say about our stars ( nothing very much, actually!), but even for those who don’t follow trends, it is becoming pretty obvious that by obediently wearing what stylists throw their way, does not a star fashionista make. Some of our former leading ladies are looking positively comical these days. All because of this current ‘fashion mania’ that has gripped Bollywood. Every female star wants to look ‘hot’. Every star mom’s secret fantasy is to be identified as a ‘Yummy Mummy’, even before her poor baby has been weaned. Assuming the baby is breast fed (“What happens to my figure? My boobs? Quick!Get that formula bottle…”), and the star mum still has to shed those extra kilos, shouldn’t a sweet and sincere girl friend tell her it’s okay not to squeeze into those dreadful, clingy, Bangkok ‘gowns’? The latest to fall prey is a woman ( no longer qualifies as a ‘girl’), Kaajol, who has never given a damn in the past as to what the latest craze was ( she left that to her younger sister). Kaajol was Kaajol. An absolute natural – untidy hair, smudged eyeliner, ill-fitting clothes…. and attitude. Loads of attitude - that was her best fashion statement and accessory. Her fans loved her for it. She rarely partied with the Bollywood set. Nor did her husband. And on the rare occasions when she did show up at a public event, it was in non-starry outfits, generally unflattering but altogether endearing. That’s what everybody loved and admired about this talented, feisty, individualistic woman. A few weeks ago, she showed up at a store promotion, clad in something so horribly wrong for her body type, people gasped in shock. Was that really Kaajol in that ghastly electric blue, short and exceedingly tight cabaret dancer dress? Yes, sir. It was. And one immediately wanted to summon her stylist ( does she have one?) and send the person off to the nearest fashion school for some basic lessons in how not to dress a client.

Ditto for the lovely Madhuri. Her smile is dazzling. True. But it is no substitute for a great outfit… a terrific saree. Madhuri never did project any specific style , even during her hey days. Then, all those years of staying away from Bollywood obviously hit home rather rudely . When she finally packed her bags, husband and kids to come home, she forgot to junk her American wardrobe… more Sear’s than Selfridge’s. She plunged into reality shows in which it is mandatory to dress in dreadful clothes and wear purple lip colour. One forgave her those early fashion faux pas. She’d soon pick up on what’s cool, her admirers reasoned. But that didn’t happen. Today, Madhuri continues to sport a rather dated and decidedly down market look, though she can well afford the best. Those lace and net sarees…. the OTT accessories. No,no,no. It’s not happening. Where is Manish Malhotra when we need him the most?

That brings us to Vidya Balan…. yes, yes, yes…. India’s Meryl Streep. The best actor around. Amazing. Gifted. Bold. Sab kuch. But please, someone tell her there are ways and ways and ways to drape those magical six yards. And she does not have to look like an amma , an aie, a gaon ki chhori, when she is off duty. For working an exquisite Kanjeevaram, there’s nobody better than Rekha to instruct her. And if she chooses to take the rustic route, there are ways to achieve a boho chic look, without appearing as if you have gone girlie shopping to a dhobi ghaat…. and walked away with someone else’s washing. Vidya is abundantly blessed with natural beauty, great hair, dancing eyes and a lovely smile. She can carry off ‘ Studiedly Simple’ like nobody else in Bollywood . Will someone convince her to ditch those donkey brown sarees, heavy velvet , three quarter sleeve cholis for something slightly more elegant and feminine? Her choice of sarees ( possibly picked by her favourite designer) don’t do her any justice. If anything, such stiff and heavy fabrics add kilos to Vidya’s plump frame. Her role model should be Shabana Azmi who used to get ethnic-chic completely right, till she too switched gears ( a recent phenomenon).

Rani Mukherjee is displaying genuine confusion in all aspects of her life, fashion included. Like Vidya, Rani is an authentic all- Indian, rustic beauty. Like Vidya, she is hugely talented and versatile. We know ‘Bunty aur Babli’ is a part of history. But vintage Rani always got it right, even when she did off-camera Bengali ‘Bahuma’, with such grace and charm. Today, Rani is seen in designer gear ( frightfully pricey, no doubt), which robs her of her natural charm, strips her off her real personality, and makes her look like any other wannabe. Rani in jeans? Rani in gowns? Whyyyyyy? Leave that to the newbies who are desperate to attract attention and make it to Page 3. Rani is Rani. She should dress according to her new found status. Oh oh… maybe not. We like our Rani in Bong-influenced outfits, traditional gold jewellery and a big red bindi. We hope she never resembles a prosperous Punjabi behenji-bahu.

So, what’s happening with these ladies? It can’t be panic? Surely not? Look at Karishma Kapoor. Just look at her. Bravely soldiering on as she weathers domestic storms and gets ready for her comeback. Look at Sridevi ( also poised to re-enter Bollywood). Lolo’s look and looks are getting better and better. She stays true to classic and that’s what suits her . Sridevi… ummm…. some cause for worry, there. She has a great body. But her personality is so fixed in our minds, it’s hard to applaud when she wears say, a Balenciega or a Halston. So not Sri! Next, we’ll have Hema Malini stepping out in a strapless,edgy Valentino. Aiyyyyo. God help us.

Stars who get it right almost all the time are Preity Zinta ( the Ness-effect, some call it), and increasingly, Kangana Ranaut ( let’s credit her own native instincts for what she can rock). For the rest on this list – we have a brilliant suggestion. It’s called a mirror.


Thank you Blogdosts, for your very enthusiastic thumbs up to the 'Savvy ' cover. Credit must be given where credit is due. It starts with a good make-up artist. I was working with one of our best - Ojas, on this shoot. He's the one who made Aishwarya look utterly divine in her movie with Rajnikant - Robot. But it is really the person behind the lens who can create magic. I have worked with the very talented and extremely pleasant Vikram Bawa several times. We share a great rapport. That helps. I like to shoot in natural light. I hate artificial studio lights! Vikram is game, though his preference is for lighting up a shoot himself since a photographer has better control over the images if he is designing the lighting . But Vikram is always considerate enough to accommodate me and shoot outdoors - as in this shot. So glad our efforts were appreciated!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Voila! The 'Savvy 'Cover

Guys.... what do you think????

Sunday, May 27, 2012

An open letter to Future Wives....

Isn't Princess Grace by far the most beautiful woman ever???? The oil painting on top is not of the lovely lady, but it is very representative of her impeccable, unmatched style...ít hangs like a tribute to Grace, in the lobby of the Hotel de Paris in Monaco


So, another IPL rolls to a finish.... with a bang?

This season of the IPL will be remembered for several side shows, most of them deliciously sleazy. But the women of India will certainly mark it as the year in which they asked themselves whether or not they qualified as 'Future Wives'. How I love Sid Mallya's phrase. I have been using it constantly, and have spun out three columns on wives , past, present and future...


Let me end this post on a cricket note. I met Nita Ambani at a private dinner a couple of nights back, days after the Mumbai Indians had lost the match and were out of the Finals.She told me her son tried to cheer her up after the dramatic game. And this is what he said, "Mama.... obviously for one team to win, another team has to lose,na?" It gets better... after Dhoni's spectacular knock, her son wore a T-shirt that said, "I watched Dhoni LIVE!" I guess our kids remain our best teachers. Amen to that

An open letter to all ‘Future Wives’...

Dear Future Wife,

If you know what’s good for you, you shall pay close attention to the sage words of young Siddhartha Mallya and not indulge in behaviour that may adversely impact your chances of being a worthy ‘Future Wife’. This is serious stuff. Look at what happened to an unknown blond from America called Zohal Hamid, when Sid thought she stepped out of line and did not behave like a Future Wife. Not only was her Future Husband beaten up by Luke Pomersbach, a naughty Australian cricketer who had strayed into their plush suite looking for a drink (at dawn), but the rogue dared to follow the Future Wife into the bedroom when all she’d wanted to do was lie down and catch up on some sleep.It gets worse - this brute, clearly not clued in to the ways of Future Wives from India ( awww, okay, of Indian origin), and how they are expected to behave with foreign cricketers who barge into their bedrooms, was bold enough to make a pass at the distraught lady, who was clearly unaccustomed to such behaviour. Hearing the cries for help from his Future Wife, Sahil ( it could also be Sajid) Peerzada, the Future Husband, rushed in to save her honour. Exactly what any protective Future Husband would do under the circumstances. Instead of apologising to both Future Spouses, the rude cricketer punched the boyfriend / fiancé / Future Husband. He punched him so hard, there was blood on the plush carpet and a shattered ear drum that required surgery. Naturally, the Future Wife had to swing into action and do what any loyal Future Wife would – summon the press. Summon the cops. Summon an ambulance. Not necessarily in that order. As an American, she knew her rights, and she wasn’t about to take any of this nonsense lying down. Especially not after Mallya Jr. tweeted about her social behaviour the previous night, right before the frisky cricketer “tagged along’’ to her suite like a puppy following a juicy bone.The telling tweet turned out to be a huge mistake. But the Future Wife had proved her point. You don’t mess with ladies like that and think you can get away with it. Not even if you are The Prince of Good Times. By now, there was a registered police complaint, plus a demand for an immediate apology from Sid Mallya. Or else. Future Wife was not just on the war path, she meant business.

Well, as things stand right now, there has been a great deal of public hand-shaking ( after the hand wringing). And all the aggrieved parties have decided to put this incident behind them. Sid has not exactly apologised but termed his unfortunate comment as being “the product of stressful circumstances.” The Future Wife’s lawyer confirmed a settlement ( minus any financial considerations)has been reached since “all petitioners are young and have a long life ahead of them” Amen.

But, you, dear Future Wife, may not be as lucky with your Future Husband. What if the guy is not as enlightened and progressive as Sahil? What if he really, really minds if a hunky cricketer at a glamourous , boozy party fancies you, and then follows you like Mary’s little lamb, all the way to the bedroom? Worse, what happens if a celeb’s tweet accuses you of conduct unbecoming of a Future Wife? Be honest. It’s a tough call. There ought to be a detailed Handybook for Future Wives in India. How are the poor things supposed to know what to do, how to behave, if rules are not in place? How could any attractive young woman imagine an attractive young cricketer would have the guts to try and kiss her, when her Future Husband was just a few feet away? Marriage is serious business. In the case of Zohal, there are several wonderful men, including a raakhi brother, who are ready to defend her honour. But not all Future Wives are as lucky. The moral of the story is abundantly clear : As a Future Wife, stay away from IPL parties. Make sure nobody follows you. Look over your shoulders at all times, in case there is an Aussie bloke looking for a drink from your mini-bar. If you do decide to take a catnap in the middle of a party, ensure you lock the bedroom door first.And it is always a good idea to have an attorney on speed dial, just in case your Future Husband gets bashed up.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Two views...

Aren't both views just spectacular?I shot them from my large bay window in Hotel de Paris,Monte Carlo. Looking at the images right now, it makes me marvel at the magic of light.
Talking of light, Bollywood's "Pyaara " Karan ( he truly is well loved and I cannot think of a single person who has anything but a good word for him - rare in as competitive a world as movies) pulled off a party to beat all parties - let's just call it the Grandfather of Parties, to which tout Bollywood flocked. The Birthday Boy himself stayed cold sober throughout ( unless he hit the dance floor and the bottle after I left at 1.45 a.m.), but was having the best time with hundreds of friends to cheer him on. I complimented his good friend Manish Malhotra on the decor ( red velvet and red optic lights) and told him the venue resembled a posh Parisian Bordello. While leaving, I teased Karan about various ummm... things... and urged him to take his cue from the Red (for Danger) lights at his party. Here's wishing Bollywood's darling a Year ( if not a lifetime) of Living Dangerously ( BTW, that's also the title of a terrific Mel Gibson movie). Go for it, Karan. Life does begin at forty!!
On a personal note, It feels great to be a Çover Girl again!'There I am on Nari Hira's 'Savvy( (Special Collector's Issue)', and I refuse to be blase about it!'Magna is launching a bouquet of Special issues - Stardust, Men's Health, Society etc. I shall certainly cherish this one, not only because of my over 40 year-old association with the group, but it feels kinda good to be on the cover of a magazine that is NOT meant only for senior citizens. If you guys want to see the image, you'll have to ask - nicely. I'm lagao-ing a little bhav now!!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Wrong place, wrong time! Raves in Mumbai

A tale of two sparrows. The one at the bottom is beautifully crafted out of silver, and is a part of the artistic table decor at one of the greatest restaurants in the world - Le Louis XV in Monaco. The other was stealing nuts from our table at my all-time favourite Cafe - Les Deux Magots in Paris. Both tell their own stories!
So, finally we have spotted Ash at Cannes. All comments reserved!
This appeared in Bombay Times yesterday.....

Wrong place,wrong time...

Somehow, last week’s cop raid on the rave party in Juhu which saw several red faces (hiding behind handbags and caps), smacks of a set-up. Some random disgruntled Johnny may have tipped off the cops, to settle scores with someone. It happens.And our cops love nothing better than to bust these sort of parties accompanied by hordes of photographers. Meanwhile hard core criminals and terrorists whizz in and out of Mumbai, manage to escape from police vans, trick these very same cops over and over again, and the cops offer no explanations. It’s the raves that get all the publicity since those involve glamourous ,high profile, affluent party goers.And a couple of young cricketers – as in this case. This is not to ‘justify’ such events, and of course, those found guilty, must be punished. But what about the others who may have been there just to chill out and have fun , minus narcotics or booze? One doesn’t have to attend a rave to find drugs. Walk into any 5-star hotel loo during a mega-Sangeet function or after a swishy fashion show and you’ll find the city’s elite openly indulging in the white stuff. There are die hard, party hard types of all ages and income brackets who do believe things go better with coke ( not the cola!). Howcome, the cops don’t barge into these celebrations? Because of the profile of powerful guests - the presence of top cops, ministers, industrialists, movie stars and yes, cricketers? How many of us remember to carry liquor permits when we step out? If this rule was made mandatory and each time we visited a bar, we were asked to produce a permit, I’m sure we’d comply – we’d have to, or we’d go without slaking our thirst. It is the lack of consistency that confuses party goers. One person’s rave is another person’s social evening. The lines are as fuzzy as the substance being peddled. Let the message go out strongly by all means. And then, stick to it. No matter who’s hosting such parties. As of now, there are clear double standards. The entire process of taking urine samples in unsterilised, unmarked bottles is a joke.And one tends to sympathise with South African player Wayne Parnell(he is on the WADA- World Anti-Doping Agency list) who shrugged philosophically , Ï was at the wrong place at the wrong time.” Better luck next time, buddy!


Wow! The Indian “Gamcha’’ has made the biggest fashion statement at Cannes, all thanks to Anurag Kashyap’s imaginative party trick to promote his acclaimed ‘Gangs of Wasseypur’’. The humble,desi hand towel had foreign delegates raving ( oops, wrong word!) and for once, India’s presence at the prestigious film festival,garnered compliments for and focused attention on our movies(Vasan Bala’s ‘Peddlers ’’and Ashim Ahluwalia’s ‘Miss Lovely’) and not on what some starlet promoting hair products wore on the red carpet. Does this herald the rebirth of quality Indian cinema? Let the celebrations begin! Where’s my Gamcha???

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Grande Dame of Indian Charity...

The Grand Dame Of Indian Charity

Naazneen Karmali, Forbes Staff

At 6 a.m. one day last month Rajashree Birla stepped out of the family’s South Mumbai mansion with two of her closest friends. The three women, all dressed in elegant saris, headed not for a leisurely breakfast but to Chinchwad, an industrial hub near Pune, a two-hour drive away. There, on a 16-acre site, stands ­Rajashree’s labor of love: the six-year-old Aditya Birla ­Memorial Hospital, named after her late husband and funded by her family’s foundation.

From the outside it looks more like a hotel, with water fountains and a neatly landscaped garden. The building features a 25-foot-high atrium where the centerpiece is a marble statue of the Hindu deity Ganesha. Visitors are seen removing their shoes and bowing in front of the idol before proceeding inside. “While we were debating whether to have such a huge atrium, I felt hospitals in India tend to be so cramped and crowded, ours should be open and spacious,” says Rajashree, a youthful-looking 65-year-old who’s the mother of billionaire Kumar Birla. “It’s turned out better than I imagined.” She visits the 325-bed hospital every other month, often staying overnight nearby. Sparing no effort for her dream project, she spent a year touring a dozen hospitals in the U.S. before ­construction began.

It took two years and $30 million to build. But for a while after it opened in 2006, it barely attracted a trickle of patients. “Looking at it, people thought it would be too expensive,” she smiles. Then word spread. Patients pay $2 as a one-time registration charge and under $10 for a doctor’s consultation. About 15% of the beds are reserved for the poor, who are treated largely for free. Last year the nonprofit hospital treated 140,000 patients.

The Pune hospital is one of 18 set up across the country by the Birla family and overseen by the Aditya Birla Center for Community Initiatives and Rural Development, chaired by Rajashree. The center is the philanthropy arm of the Aditya Birla Group, a commodities conglomerate largely owned by the Birlas and run by her son, Kumar. A member of the Birla clan’s fourth generation, Kumar inherited it when his father died of cancer in 1995 at the age of 52. FORBES ASIA ranked Kumar No. 116 among the world’s richest people in March, with a fortune estimated at $8 billion.

Apart from hospitals, the center runs 3,500 medical camps annually, where 3 million patients are treated and surgeries for ailments such as cataracts and cleft lip are performed. It also operates 20,000 booths providing polio vaccines to children. The World Health Organization recently declared India as almost polio free because no cases have been reported in more than a year. Rajashree recently donated $1 million to Rotary International for polio eradication.

Another big focus for the center is education; it runs 42 schools near the group’s factories, mostly in the rural hinterland. More than a third of the 45,000 children studying in the Birla schools get a free education. Rajashree says their aim is to work with the poorest of the poor in communities where the group has operations; it has 53 factories in India.

The center’s reach across India is enormous—it has a presence in 3,700 villages and claims to have made an impact on 7 million lives. Some 250 Birla executives help oversee a network of 3,000 staff in the field.

Having an ear to the ground helps. For example, executives at aluminum maker Hindalco’s unit in Renukoot in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh noticed the plight of young widows in villages around the plant who were treated as social outcasts. The center took up the cause of widow remarriage, which is considered taboo, especially among the rural poor. Birla’s social workers approached the village chiefs to convince them that it was a good idea. Prospective husbands were given loans to start small businesses. So far 500 widows have remarried under the scheme. “This project,” admits Rajashree, “is closest to my heart.”

The center is not averse to collaborating with the government. In Rajasthan, where Birla’s cement plants are situated, the center helped build a massive kitchen. It now prepares 30,000 meals daily as part of the state government’s free lunch program for poor kids in public schools. Two more kitchens are being built in Odisha in eastern India at a cost of $1 million to provide meals to 60,000 children daily.

These activities are scrupulously monitored, with reports prepared quarterly. The annual report of every Birla company has a section highlighting the charitable work done during the year. “We take our social projects very seriously,” says Rajashree.

The Birlas’ charitable drive dates back to founder Ghanshyam Das Birla, who was a close supporter of ­Mahatma Gandhi and helped fund the freedom struggle against the British. Gandhi was staying at Birla House in New Delhi when he was assassinated in 1948. The Birlas later donated this property, and it’s now a Gandhi memorial. It houses the Eternal Gandhi Museum, which, too, was funded by the center.

Rajashree’s late husband continued the Birla tradition of giving. The family’s charitable activities involved building temples and schools. But in 1976 Aditya went in a new ­direction, building an orphanage in suburban Mumbai that today houses 250 children. A decade later he decided to scale up the effort substantially, but it was only after his death that the center was started, in 1998. “Aditya wanted the group companies to take up social responsibility in a more structured way and be accountable,” reminisces Ashwin Kothari, the late industrialist’s college pal, who is a trustee of the Pune hospital. “Today, with Kumar’s backing, Rajashree has made this happen.”

Rajashree grew up in the southern ­India temple town of Madurai, where her father was an agent for the then Burmah-Shell. As was the custom in traditional Marwari families, she was engaged to Aditya at the age of 10, and they married when she was 17 in 1965. While she earned a college degree after marriage, becoming the first Birla daughter-in-law to do so, she was content to remain in the background and look after her family; in addition to Kumar, she also has a daughter. Her husband’s death propelled Rajashree into the spotlight. As she acknowledges, “Work helped me to overcome my pain and grief.”

Today Rajashree’s transformation from a shy and soft-spoken Birla wife to one of India’s top philanthropists is complete. At the group’s Mumbai headquarters her office is right beside Kumar’s, separated by a glass partition. She also sits on the boards of all major group companies. “Rajashree’s emerged as a strong individual with her own identity. She’s not tied to the past,” says her decades-old friend Geeta Loyalka, who often travels with her and accompanied her on the hospital visit.

Those who work with Rajashree note her quest for new ideas. “I like to take up a new project every year,” she says. Last year she opened a memorial to her husband in Pilani in Rajasthan, known for its Birla-funded engineering school and a white marble Birla temple dedicated to Saraswati, the goddess of learning. The center is also funding a theater in Mumbai that will be named after him. Future projects include starting a vocational institute in Kerala that will train masons, plumbers and nurses whom the group can hire. But traditional causes still have a place: She’s scouting for land to build a temple near the Pune hospital.

Among the many accolades she’s collected, Rajashree cherishes the Padma Bhushan, one of the nation’s top civilian honors, which she received last year. She’s ­become a role model within the family; Kumar’s wife, Neerja, is involved in some of the center’s ­education-related activities. ­Rajashree notes proudly that her ­grandson recently organized a photo ­exhibition and donated the proceeds to a ­nonprofit for animal welfare.

While she reads the Bhagavad Gita three times a week with a guru, she ­insists that she’s more spiritual than ritualistic and believes in karma: “This is not about me. God has made me an instrument to help people.”


Here's a well written , terrific story about an amazing woman, written by one of India's best business journos ( and a good friend), Naazneen Karmali. What struck me about the piece is that I have known Rajashree Birla for over twenty years. Have met her at her magnificent home ( close to Ántilia'), and run into her on several social occasions. And yet, I wasn't aware of even half the good work she has been busy with all this while! That's what makes this story remarkable. Unlike most other Mrs. Billionaires, whose charity activities are expertly handled by their P.R. machinery, Rajashree has walked the talk, and done so with utmost grace and modesty. She remains an unassuming, simple person, who smiles a lot, but rarely speaks. Those smiles must come from the countless blessings she receives... especially from the grateful widows whose lives she has transformed.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

There's a Pranab in the petrol tank!

I was hoping to cheer myself up a little by revisiting some happy images from my Taipei trip. Just to take my mind off the petrol price hike, which is unprecedented and indecent. What's the bet Pranabda will pretend to 'bow' in front of mounting public pressure and announce a lower hike. But even at an extra 5 bucks a litre ( it's a little more than 7 tonight), car owners may just take to the streets... and it isn't just the rich who own cars in India, remember.
Before my thoughts turn any darker and murderous, let me take you through these pics. Most of them are of the W Hotel in downtown Taipei. In keeping with the irreverent W philosophy, most services start with the letter 'w'. The bar you see is called 'Wet'( clever!) and 'WHATEVER'' is the aluminium sign that greets people in the lobby.The place is so wired and cutting edge, nearly everything is remote controlled, including the potty. There are panels with buttons for bodily functions - angle of the derriere on the toilet seat, pressure, temperature of the seat, temperature of the bidet water. Why, the smart potty second guesses whether you want to pee or....terribly daunting!
The view from my window was pretty impressive - I could see the iconic '101'tower, which was the tallest building in the world till Dubai's Burj Khalifa beat it. And now even the Burj Khalifa is second to the Skytree in Tokyo.
I have never ever been to Japan. This is a huge loss!! My friend Anita Pratap has invited me... and I am most tempted. It does seem absurd. I love the cuisine, culture, Kabuki, Kurosawa... what's there not to love about Japan? Where I am headed next is Croatia. Can't wait!

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Goyard Story

That's Guillaume, a charming Frenchman who helped my daughter choose her Goyard, with a great deal of patience and understanding. It really is an experience, or else I wouldn't be writing about it. Goyard beat Louis Vuitton by one year, when it opened the store in 1853. Today, its custom made trunks are ordered by the likes of Karl Lagerfeld, who is one of Goyard's biggest customers. But it needed the vulgarity of a Paris Hilton, to get the right royal snub from Goyard when she had the temerity to ask for a discount, because she is Paris Hilton!! She was politely informed that Goyard does not offer discounts to anyone, not even Karl, who, in any case, never asks, even though his bills run into a million euros annually. Yes, just on Goyard trunks! While we were at the store, we watched Chinese and Japanese customers walking off with top of the line bags, without batting an eyelid while settling the bill. And the trunk Guillaume is posing with belonged to none other than Coco Chanel herself ( it has madmoiselle's initials inscribed). No wonder Guillaume's eyes are sparkling!

This appeared on Mother's Day in Bombay Times....

Let’s put our weight behind Ash….

Any woman who has gone through pregnancy and become a mother, will understand this perfectly: Having a baby is a life transforming experience that beats all other experiences put together. Unfortunately, it is also a shape-transforming experience. That is how nature intended it. When a woman decides to have a baby, she accepts the entire package – additional kilos included. Some women, like Victoria Beckham pop out their beautiful babies without the slightest alteration to their sleek silhouettes – lucky them. Others, take time and allow their bodies to shrink at a slower pace… without obsessing over the extra weight. They make the baby their top priority, nurse the infant, enjoy that marvelous, tender time together, without giving a damn about a double chin, or a few tyres around the waist. Those melt away later, once the new mother resumes her normal routine and starts a simple regimen to keep the newly acquired fat deposits at bay. It is generally a highly narcissistic new mum who chooses to make her own weight a priority above everything else – the baby’s well being included. Clearly, Aishwarya Rai is not that woman. And can we please get off her back and let her enjoy her little one without giving her grief each time she steps out of her home? Frankly, the spiteful and hostile comments to Aishwarya’s post-baby appearance have been so exaggerated one wonders why. Is it because our own idyll of perennial perfection and startling beauty has been somehow shattered? After all, Aishwarya is consistently referred to as ‘the most beautiful woman in the world’. There have been enough green-with-envy rivals who have spent sleepless nights trying to topple her from that throne. Ash was the lucky actress who had it all… including a fairytale marriage to a really sweet guy. Then came the baby news. All this was a bit too much for some to handle. Competitors had waited long years to find that chink in her Ash’s armour… something they could swoop down on. And they found it in – of all places – her weight!

It is like a vicious , orchestrated campaign against a woman who generates a huge amount of jealousy just for looking the way she does. It gives plain looking ladies a vicarious thrill to see Ash in a less than flattering light right now. Her more enlightened sponsors are standing by her, though, insists her spokesperson. And they respect her right to enjoy motherhood minus pressure to fit into a single digit size gown. There’s more to life than that red carpet appearance… yes, even at Cannes. Ash realizes as much.New mothers in urban society have it really hard these days. It is such a pity. We are being brainwashed into feverishly ‘getting into shape’, even before the baby is weaned. There are young mothers who refuse to breast feed their kids for fear of losing their curves and ‘sagging’! There are others who go so far as to say they don’t want to ‘spoil’ their figures by having a baby in the first place. The film industry imposes its own cruel diktats , making demands on mothers in the business to look like svelte and sexy ‘yummy mummies’ overnight… or else! Women are idiotically punishing themselves instead of enjoying motherhood for what it is – a time to make the most of those magical months when an innocent, entirely dependent new life thrives on and flowers with the mother’s unconditional love,attention and care.Ash has chosen to invest in her daughter, rather than hit the gym neurotically or starve herself to fit into those old jeans. It’s time to butt out of her life and leave her alone.Ash has her priorities in place - her mommie- time with the baby could well be the best decision of her life.Besides, the glow of motherhood is the best cosmetic in the world…. Because mother and baby are both ‘worth it’.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

When Didi lost it!

As promised, a few pics from Taiwan: That's the 'tea egg' - one of 6,000 sold by the 80 year-old-lady on the jetty. Pretty delicious even if it does look totally unappetising! It was raining when I went for a boat ride on the famous Sun Moon Lake, but it was still worth getting drenched for. And yes, I'm wearing Masaba Gupta's clever Sacred Bull jacket. The lovely Chinese lady with me is Min - accomplished, successful and hugely intelligent!
While on food, I checked out Bandra's latest eatery - the Indigo Deli. Glad to report Rahul Akerkar has done it again! The food was just outstanding, especially the thin crust, wood fired pizza. And here's more on food - I had lunch at the Bombay Gym after ages. Chef Peter produced a superb chicken soup( for my soul) and stew ( for my stomach). I watched energetic girls playing a pretty rough game of football on the grounds - nicccce! Then it was time to savour a Malayalee speciality from Hotel Deluxe at Fort. It is a coconut pancake , steamed in banana leaves and filled with jaggery, poha and Kerala plaintains! Our chauffeur Subramaniam introduced me to it - God bless him!

This appeared in The Week. Since then, Didi has done what Didi does best - thrown tantrums, walked out of a television interview because she didn't like the 'Maoists' in the studio ( students who asked Mamata a few straight questions). She also went all out to defend SRK ( her brand ambassador) the day he was banned ( joke!) from Wankhede. India holds its collective breath for the next Didi outburst!


When Didi met Hillary….

Women negotiate and interpret power very differently from men.That’s a given. When two powerful women meet, it’s all about decoding the complex body language. And when Mamata Banerjee met Hillary Clinton, the signals were totally confusing ! For one, Asian women use their bodies with more economy.It is considered bad form to send out an overtly aggressive message, or even an oblique one. Striding briskly into a business meeting , even if you happen to be the female CEO of the company, is seen as a turn-off. Women are meant to wear power very lightly on the sleeves of their modest cholis. Even if Mamata has made a career out of defying the stereotype, she has not taken liberties with this particular unwritten code of conduct. She yells, screams and spits fire with the best of them. She walks up to the podium as if she means to talk tough… and she generally does. Despite that, Mamata still projects a certain Eastern modesty, as she tugs the pallu of her trademark saree closely around her shoulders. Perhaps it’s the saree,that discourages taking long purposeful strides.It’s the same with the Japanese Kimono ( tiny, baby steps only, ladies!). And the graceful but restricting Burmese sarong worn by Aung San Suu Kyi next door. Our Begums from Bangladesh, head modestly covered, project exaggerated femininity, while Benazir Bhutto, when she was alive, may have cast herself in the more Westernised, perfectly manicured and coiffed mould, but it was nonetheless conservative. Why even Chandrika Ranatunga from the emerald isle, was rarely seen in anything but the Sri Lankan saree, which automatically softened her mannish persona.

Hillary Clinton has never suffered from such hang ups. For the longest time, she has sported no- nonsense, unflattering pant suits, worn sensible shoes, and minimal make up. She has displayed vanity only when it comes to her dark hair, which she scrupulously bleaches to better conform to the American blond fantasy. These days, Hillary has been letting her hair down a bit – thank the Lord, as was joked about by the President Obama himself when he said his Secretary of State had been ‘drunk texting’ him . Or perhaps, that was Obama’s way of deflecting attention from a hot memoir written by a former girlfriend that talks about his sarongs, cigarettes,body smells, and sexual energy. But when Hillary came a-calling to West Bengal, it was pretty apparent who was calling the shots. Having met and interacted a little with the firebrand Mamata, I’m sure it took a lot for her to play second fiddle. But then again, Hillary’s personality is strong enough to intimidate anybody, Bill Clinton included. That Hillary chose to meet Mamata over any other Chief Minister, is significant enough.And it is no accident that Mamata made it to the TIME magazine list of the world’s Most Powerful individuals. There is a design in everything and anything the Americans do. If they have decided to project Mamata, it is a carefully thought through policy. West Bengal is important to America,given its location( read : next door to China). As a strategic partner in the region, Hillary would definitely be looking at Mamata as a future ‘friend of America’. As for Mamata, Hillary’s visit couldn’t have come at a better time. Mamata was in urgent need of some deft image fixing. And here was the American Secretary of State, no less, who had invested time and effort in getting to know Mamata a little better. Flattering? For sure. But not all that surprising.What better way to recognize Didi as the Slayer of Communism? The irony here is that Mamata has gone international well before she was accepted as a national leader. This is a win-win situation for both ladies. Didi will use the photo-ops to bare her teeth and throw her weight around at the Centre some more. While Hillary will have demonstrated yet one more time what an astute tactician she is. I definitely think Hillary should drink more beer. And go dancing with her gal pals. I’m sure her ratings back home must have improved after that delightful picture of her swigging straight from a bottle. I only wish she could have persuaded Didi to down a couple when they were together. There’s nothing like some serious female bonding over a pint, to figure out and solve a couple of pending global issues. Going by the chemistry displayed by these two superwomen, it is safe to conclude they made good music together.Now it remains to be seen who has to ultimately face it!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Are desi celebs ready for celebrityhood??

This appeared in the Asian Age today....

Are Indian Celebs ready for celebrityhood...?

What happened at the Wankhede Stadium between Shah Rukh Khan, assorted officials, private body guards, cops, a 53-year-old security guard and a bunch of kids, has been extensively covered across several media platforms, and I’ll not bore you with details . But the latest incident involving a top Bollywood star and local authorities indulging in a pretty nasty public scrap , is definitely worth commenting on since it raises several issues related to our handling of celebrityhood. The very notion of çelebrity is comparatively new to India. Çelebrity, as opposed to fame. Fame is generally linked to achievement, whereas celebrity is a far looser, broader term that embraces notoriety equally. Unfortunately, we have yet to make that distinction when we describe anybody and everybody who has ever had a brush with publicity, as a celebrity. Worse, those very people start believing in their own, inflated sense of importance. I have heard obscure deejays and small time models strutting around at events aggressively demanding, “Get me into the VIP lounge... I am a celebrity.”Quite forgetting the first rule of celebrityhood : If you are indeed a bona fide celebrity, people should recognise you instantly without your having to hit someone on the head with it. Then comes another nauseating desi habit – pompous idiots who try and jump queues bellowing, “Don’t you know who I am?” The classic response to that is, “No, I’m sorry I don’t. Is there someone in the room who can help this person? He doesn’t know who he is?” Our obsession with famous people is understandable. In the old days, the only people who were recognised were politicians. Then came the first generation of Superstars from the film industry,( it wasn’t Bollywood back then), followed by cricketers. That was it. From Pandit Nehru,Dilip Kumar to Pataudi, India’s celebrity roster was pretty slim. What we are seeing today is a totally different ballgame. It is manufactured and media driven with humungous amounts of money involved in promoting certain individuals and protecting them more than other ordinary mortals. Which is why I wasn’t at all surprised when a co-panellist (on Arnab Goswami’s over-heated show, the night of the infamous brawl),glibly educated India on the importance of homegrown celebs. The guy who controls mega deals on behalf of his celeb clients,briskly counted five individuals in the country who represent Brand India internationally ( SRK,Salman Khan,Amitabh Bachchan,Sachin Tendulkar and Aamir Khan). He sported the look of an injured puppy when he asked, “These are our icons... and you want to demolish them?Destroy their brand equity?There are billions riding on these guys.” I nearly wept! Eventually, there was no moral argument left. It was only about safe guarding the financial interests of five individuals in a country of a billion-plus people. And to hell with other issues. Bizarre beyond belief.

Then came the “My daddy, best daddy’ arguments from the SRK groupies on the panel ( most had a financial stake in standing by their man). “He did what any father would do if his daughter was being manhandled,” was the chorus.Now, manhandling is a very serious charge, and if SRK can establish it, the outrage building up against his abusive conduct may peter out. That shouldn’t be too difficult to do given the witnesses and the cameras on the grounds. Equally, let us look at the other side of the coin - it is unfair to accuse SRK of drunken conduct, if that is hard to prove – which it definitely will be, since SRK was not subjected to an alcohol test the same night. So what this is going to lead up to is a whole lot of huffing and puffing on various channels, with brainy film industry types saying they’d rip someone’s head off for touching a child, and other equally sober comments. What is not as amusing is the attempt to polarise the situation by bringing Marathi parochialism into it. I have received nasty reactions from anonymous ( but, of course) viewers asking whether I , as a Maharashtrian, was upset with SRK because of his comment on a Marathi abuse that he said was so terrible he refused to repeat it on camera. I was also asked whether I was enraged by the loss of Mumbai Indians to SRK’s team that night. Hello! What if I said a la Rhett Butler, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn!”Which is perfectly true. I remain indifferent to cricket and I wish I knew more abuses in Marathi!

God knows where this is going. At the time of writing there are fresh charges rolling in from SRK’s camp. More serious ones. If the security guard ( who has been with the Wankhede stadium for 25 years) is proven guilty of ‘molestation’, that’s the end of this man’s career, and maybe his life.But the public will still be in the dark as to what causes Indian Idols like SRK and others, to lose control in public and then insist they are the real victims because of their celebrity status. He pretty much trotted out the same reasoning recently when he was questioned at the airport in America. Perhaps, he has genuine reason to feel martyred and put upon. It happens. One can forget the upside of celebrity in a flash. All the perks, all the privileges, everything that goes with the elevated position. As a family man who has always placed his children above all else, SRK will no doubt find countless supporters, especially in the film industry and the IPL world, where he is heavily invested, financially and otherwise. Perhaps, he should also consider investing in counselling and anger management, so that if someone or something does provoke him in future, he will do what most others would – report the matter instantly to the police and let the law handle it. Oh... a couple of basic Marathi lessons would help, too.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Íshqzaade'- Romeo and Juliet in U.P.

Isn't this gate just too beautiful words? I clicked this inside the magnificent Opera House in Monte Carlo, during an engaging tour conducted by the very charming and passionate director of the historic Opera House, that has played host to just about every major Opera singer in the world.

This appeared in Bombay Times today....

Romeo and Juliet in Uttar Pradesh...

Even if Director Habib Faisal is no Franco Zeffirelli ( his remains the definitive ‘Romeo and Juliet ’movie in my book) what he has managed to do with such energy and passion in ‘’ Ishqzaade”( such a tongue twister!) is still worth the 2-hour long watch. I caught it on a weekday at a late night multiplex show...and after ages and ages, I had tears streaming down my face when the lights came on. The ending came as no surprise.... we all know how Shakespeare concluded the classic. But it was Faisal’s deft treatment and Hemant Chaturvedi’s lyrical camerawork that made the climax so effective. Yes, the movie is an ode to violence. But seen in the context of how political games are still played in the badlands of Uttar Pradesh, where guns and gore are more eloquent than words and negotiations, the doomed love story of Parma and Zoya becomes that much more poignant.Especially since the dynamics of old enmities are clearly established right at the start of the narrative.Arjun Kapoor makes an impressive debut as the reckless , brash grandson of the Hindu MLA (superbly played by Anil Rastogi).While Parineeti Chopra as Zoya, the firebrand daughter of the Muslim MLA (and Rastogi’s arch riva)l looks ready to carve out a major chunk from Vidya Balan’s acting pie and positioning. Here’s a spunky actress with guts, talent and dollops of oomph. Hers is perhaps the toughest role in this raw, brutal story. But it also happens to be the best written one – fully fleshed out and minus any false notes. I particularly liked the unexpected chemistry laboratory scene that builds up into a bloody shoot out. Not only was it clever(underlining the ‘’çhemistry’’ between the reconciled lovers) , but it was also touchingly romantic, tender and very moving because of its implicit innocence.

Faisal knows his turf well. The language is rough, coarse and bawdy.Generously giving the peachy Gauhar two sizzling item songs AND dialogues in a couple of key scenes is also an inspired move. ” Chhokra Jawaa’’ is danced with vigour and overt virility by Arjun, while ” Pareshan” shows music man Amit Trivedi at his raunchy best.What movies like Íshqzaade’are doing is interesting. Backed by big houses ( this is a Yashraj film with Aditya Chopra as producer), they are throwing up new talent and fresh faces, thereby injecting a much needed booster shot into the stale, tired rubbishy Bollywood formula. Keeping budgets realistic, giving breaks to newcomers and not skimping on production values, will inevitably lead to new dynamics and better movies. Film makers who understand this hungry, demanding market and go boldly into fresh territories, will succeed on the strength of their originality and talent. Content is definitely king... at least in this movie. And perhaps it is time to get down on our knees and thank the Bard for providing inspiration to so many.


Enough mileage has been derived from actors exposing their buns. When John Abraham lowered his neon green trunks for ‘Dostana’’ and became an overnight Gay icon, it marked a first. Poor Tusshar Kapoor may just end up becoming the butt end of mean jokes. Keep those trunks on, Tusshar. Never mind, for once, what sis Ekta orders!


About the Wankhede episode involving SRK.... I said what I had to on Arnab Goswami's show earlier this evening. It was a pretty fiery debate... I'm sure you can catch it on the Times Now website, if you are interested.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The sad saga of Jaya and George....

Please note the magnificent Anish Kapoor that stands proudly at the most prominent spot in Monte Carlo - right across the casino! My daughter Avantikka remained unimpressed after I kept gushing each time we passed it. She sniffed, "What's so great about it? Circus mirrors perform the same function - they distort reflection!" Oh well.... what do you guys think??


This appeared in The Week last month....

The sad saga of Jaya and George….

Sometimes one wonders about the tricks life plays on unlikely characters. Jaya Jaitley and George Fernandes shared an extraordinary relationship stretching across forty years. They were more than mere ‘party colleagues’ at the Samata Party, and did not hide their special friendship from anyone, family included. It was assumed they had commonalities that went beyond socialist ideology. It was obvious they also shared a deep emotional bond. If people gossiped, it didn’t faze either of them. And so it remained for four decades…. till George Fernandes was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and their lives changed overnight. Suddenly, Jaya was declared a persona non-grata by the people around George and denied access to a man she clearly loved… and who loved her. Now, nobody can really question the exact nature or quality of that love… not even Georges’ next-of-kin. Which is why it strikes me as being particularly sad that the Delhi High Court has refused to grant Jaya permission to visit George at his residence. Justice Manmohan Singh’s order states “She is neither a proper nor necessary party to the present suit and she is not in a relation with Mr. George Fernandes as that of the plaintiffs. I am of the considered view that the visiting rights also cannot be granted.” I’m sure Jaya is devastated. And so would George have been had he known about the developments.

One cannot question the wisdom of the learned judge. But in rare cases like this one, it seems particularly pathetic and frustrating, that two people who had devoted their lives to one another and were perceived as the closest confidantes by those who knew them, are not permitted access to each other, even if it is merely to say a final goodbye. No matter what the legalities are in this case (and certainly George’s family knows the minute details surrounding those), it’s still a shame that the woman he spent the major part of his life with ( for better or worse ), cannot be by his side when perhaps, he needs her the most! Why? Because Jaya and George do not possess that vital piece of paper which would legitimize their relationship and give it a name, an ‘official’ status, that society feels comfortable with. And more importantly, the law of the land upholds and recognizes. Jaya and Georges are not alone. There are other high profile ‘friendships’ ( to use a convenient euphemism) that have had to suffer similar indignities. A legendary Bollywood love story comes to mind. According to the grapevine, when a superhero was hospitalized after a serious accident on the sets of a film, his then lady love was not allowed to visit him at the hospital where he hovered between life and death for several months. Something similar was noted about a powerful, pioneering tabloid editor and his attractive ‘associate’ of several years, who was ‘banned’ from visiting her mentor when he suffered a stroke. In most cases, it is family members of these famous patients who start behaving like high security personnel or bodyguards. They suddenly re-discover their long forgotten love and devotion, as they protectively hover around the ailing person. Possessiveness takes on a new meaning as these near-strangers decide who can or can’t visit the seriously sick individual. Often, the subject of the diabolical dog-in-the-manger game is oblivious to these behind-the-scenes machinations. Nobody bothers to ask this one human being what his /her wishes are. It’s all about control and insecurity. Most times it is about money and property. Long lost family members emerge out of the woodwork to make sure nobody can stake a claim to their precious inheritance! When the honorable judge made a reference to ‘sentimental interest’ in Jaya’s case, I suppressed a small smile. I suppose sentiment counts for very little in the eyes of the law. And nobody is prepared to believe that there could be people – women in particular – who are not blood suckers and bounty hunters out to exploit a mentally or physically disabled partner. Who knows what the ramifications of the Jaya-Gerorge case really are? Only the two of them knew and understood the nature of their life together. It is nobody else’s business to pry or pass judgment. One can only hope that the person this affects the most – George Fernandes – is spared further humiliation and mental agony as he struggles to hang on to what remains of his fragile existence. We, as a nation, owe the ‘Giant Killer’ this much.

Monday, May 14, 2012

India's sperm count looking good!

I photographed this vintage beauty in Monte Carlo....


This appeared in the Sunday Times....

India’s Sperm Count looking good!

If the beefy John Abraham’s biceps are being flexed more than usual these days, it is with good reason. Abraham is one of the producers of this season’s sleeper hit, “Vicky Donor”. Let’s call it V.D. for short.The movie is an absolute original as it goes into forbidden territory with an insouciance that is rare in Hindi cinema and entirely disarming, given the subject – sperm donation.In a country of a billion plus, one would imagine that our last priority (or concern) would be sperm production. Again, given the stupidity of sperms,it is still more surprising that we face something of a shortage when it comes to robust sperms.British scientists tell us sperms have an ‘”appalling sense of direction, crashing into walls and each other in the race to reach the egg.” Scientists from the University of Warwick and the University of Birmingham have discovered that those silly sperms ”avoid the middle lane” of the female reproductive tract, preferring to hurtle along channel walls.They have eloquently compared the crazy sperms’ race to a “demolition derby.” Just as the world is shaking its head and wondering why the blessed sperms are so clueless, comes an Indian movie that tackles the subject head on. While the broader story revolves around the rather touchy topic of infertility and the travails of couples facing a life without kids, at the core is an entirely clever script that revolves around the strange bond between an infertility expert doctor( marvellously played by veteran Annu Kapoor), and Delhi boy Vicky, a ‘vella’ ( what a terrific acting debut for Ayushmann Khuranna)who lives with his hard working, widowed mother Dolly, and his feisty grandmother in the refugee colony at Lajpat Nagar.The experienced and wily doc identifies Vicky as the perfect donor after spying on and studying the easy going, cricket playing young man’s laidback lifestyle.The challenge is to convince the hero to donate his sperm (for money, of course), without anybody discovering his secret. The doc stops at nothing to lure the jobless fellow into his clinic, and deposit a sample, the chief inducement being easy cash.Some of which is paid upfront,while the rest handed over only after his robust sperm has done its job and impregnated some grateful recipient. To achieve this objective the doc convinces Vicky (with the help of a map that traces Alexander the Great’s journey) he’s doing something noble and admirable.Absurdly enough Vicky falls for the trick and starts believing he is a true Aryan, just like Alexander and his soldiers who had impregnated local women, leaving descendants with perfect Aryan sperm behind. The doc calls Vicky an asli Arya Puttar . Flattered by the spiel, a totally baffled but broke Vicky becomes the Doc’s star donor, a prized stud, with an incredible strike rate.

What follows is a madcap caper till the lid is finally blown off poor, exhausted Vicky’s cover and his beautiful ‘Bangalan’’ bride discovers what exactly her adorable husband does for a living. Unfortunately, the discovery leads to shock and revulsion as Vicky is shamed and disowned not just by his embarrassed and embittered wife, but his mother, neighbours and pretty much all the people who matter to him.The narrative is suitably loaded with choice Punjabi abuses.

One can enjoy the movie as just a quirky comedy if one wishes to. But it is much more than that.The film exposes several prejudices we harbour about sex and sexuality.About marrying a divorcee (Vicky’s bride) - a revelation that enrages Vicky’s mother, while the whiskey guzzling grandmother,is perfectly cool about it. Then there is a track about Vicky and Ashima’s inter-community marriage - a subject that remains a prickly issue across India even today.But at the heart of the film is the touching story about an innocent, somewhat lost young unemployed guy , a canny doctor, and an entire social construct that refuses to table an issue like sperm donation because of some inexplicable ‘shame’ involved in the procedure, which in reality brings so much joy into the lives of childless couples.That the subject is treated with humour, understanding and sensitivity is a tribute to the brave team (take a bow,Director Shoojit Sircar )which went ahead with as unconventional a subject and pulled it off. One is guessing there will be a better awareness of infertility after this movie. But more importantly, the S-Word is no longer taboo.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Sun Moon Lake and more...

I wonder why more international tourists have not heard of this unique and very picturesque destination in Taiwan (Sun Moon Lake)? I spent two wonderful days at the well designed, luxurious Hotel Lalu ( Lalu means 'sacred' ) on the very edge of the lake, and I was totally blown away. If you ask me this gigantic lake ( and fresh water reservoir, built by the Japanese during the Occupation) is even better than the lake in Geneva. And far, far bigger. It is the size of 103 soccer fields, informed our breathless guide, as we took an hour long boat trip around the Sun part of the lake, which was crammed with tourists from Mainland China. Chiang Kai Shek has built a 9-floors high pagoda on the tallest hill around the lake, as a permanent tribute to his beloved mother. Today being Mother's Day, I thought I should mention it! Happy thoughts floated inside my head, as I watched an 80- year -old woman doing brisk business at her tiny kiosk near the jetty. She sells 'Tea Eggs' that are so delicious and so popular, she has become a legend! Imagine her sales - take a guess... okay, let me tell you. She sells 6,000 eggs a day, at 30 American cents an egg. And no, she doesn't want to sell a single egg more or less. And no again, she doesn't want to part with her secret recipe either - she says she will take it to her grave with her. I tasted one of her 6,000 eggs - and loved it! The appearance is awful - like the egg has been dipped in mud. She uses Assam tea from India to stain and flavour the eggs. What else goes into the heavily guarded recipe, heaven knows, but I can tell you, the egg's wonderful to taste. Oh, I was wearing talented fashion designer Masaba's really clever and most versatile 'Sacred Bull' print jacket for the boat trip. It received a lot of compliments!Mamma Neena must be so proud! And yes,yes,'s Mother's Day, so I had to mention this,too.
After an hour long Spa treatment at the Lalu, I was entirely prepared and perfectly relaxed for my two hour presentation to a sharp, smart and incredibly good looking group of corporate honchos - mainly from the Asia Pacific region of a gigantic international brand. I think my presentation was well received, given the lively questions that the team bombarded me with right after. Then, it was time for a farewell banquet on the rooftop of the Fleur de Chine Hotel. The Sky Bar looked romantic and beautiful, with lilting music being played by a Chinese orchestra. As perfectly chilled Moet & Chandon was served in elegant flutes, and several toats raised, I thought of how fortunate I was to be in such a setting with such inspiring people.
Happy Mother's Day, Blogdosts....

Friday, May 11, 2012

Greetings from Taipei...

Taipei is hysterical! That's the good news. It is like Singapore on substance. There is a wild , frenzied energy that fuels Taiwan, with a young population, and a President called 'Ma'. Poor guy. He isn't in a terribly happy spot as newspaper surveys describe him as 'an over-packaged product'. He begins his second term later this month.
Last night, after a sumptuous Chinese dinner at a restaurant on the 85th floor of the iconic 101 building, I was taken to a nightclub called Myst ( classy but dead), and then to a frenetic place called Perfume, which was, fortunately, far more colourful , with lovely, beautifully groomed escort girls whose sole duty was to make sure guests consumed gallons of Cognac, and made total idiots of themselves at the Karaoke hub. The delicate young girl I spoke to insisted her name was 'Perfume' as well. Right! I stayed for an hour... would have stayed longer, but figured it wasn't fair, given the high spirits of the the men in the group .... us ladies were seriously ruining their night out and cramping their style.
Back at the very high tech W Hotel, the WET Bar was still rocking. But I had to wake up at some ghastly hour to take the bullet train to Sun Moon Lake and the lovely Lalu Hotel... which is where I am right now. I did make the time to visit the gigantic Museum in Taipei, which houses the biggest and most impressive collection of Chinese Art in the world. The Ming vases, especially the ones with the India-inspired pink lotus motifs took my breath away! Then it was time for a little retail therapy at the 101 Mall. What struck me about Taiwan were the smiles! And the courtesy. People are kind and helpful at all times. And they look genuinely relaxed and happy with life. Must be the fish diet! Though tonight, I have ordered Wagyu beef.... yummmmy.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Aapla Sachin, Aapli Rekha as M.P.s

Am rushing off to catch this season's sleeper hit 'Vicky Donor'. My daughters had a tough time getting tickets for it at a multiplex even though it isn't the newest movie in town. It is a part of their Mother's Day treat for me, since I will be away in distant Taipei on SUNDAY, when mothers the world over will be pampered by their kids - if the kids remember and are sweet enough to show their moms a li'l bit of pyaar-vyaar.My treat begins tonight.... and carries on once I get back. The weather in Taipei says, "Thunder storms". A little ominous. But it is my first time and I am looking forward to it!! Wish me 'Bon Voyage' abhi se. Tomorrow is another De... kyon?


This appeared in Bombay Times...

Really don’t understand what the fuss is about. A legendary cricketer and a reclusive actress make it to the Rajya Sabha … and all hell breaks loose? Par kyon? We have had worse people from Mumbai occupying those coveted seats. Why not these two? Sachin, if I remember correctly, was being pushed as the right choice , baby, for the Bharat Ratna, no less. Nobody protested. This nomination is nothing in comparison. If people thought he was worthy enough to get the nation’s highest civilian recognition, becoming an M.P. is a piece of toast. Now… fighting an election and getting into parliament through people’s votes, is a different story. A difficult one. And far more admirable. That takes guts and stamina. To say nothing of money power. But a Rajya Sabha nomination these days is a matter of the right people lobbying for their chosen candidates by ‘influencing’ decisions. If there is a powerful person backing someone, and that powerful person cannot be snubbed… bingo! A seat in parliament awaits. Sachin is way too smart ( or shaaina, as we Maharashtrians would put it) to let criticism get to him.He has already issued a statement saying he is a sportsman and not a politician. An unnecessary comment, since the Rajya Sabha is meant for achievers from diverse fields…. and is not exclusively reserved for politicians. That is the whole idea of having an Upper House. Sachin has also described his nomination as a ‘bouncer’! Which is a bit strange , as such a nomination is not a surprise, but something that is pre-decided and accepted by the nominee before the name is announced. Let’s just wait and see what sort of Googlies our Master Blaster bowls in parliament, as and when he finds the time between matches and endorsements , to actually attend a few sessions.

As for Rekha, well… she should consider herself hugely blessed. Nobody remembers which movie she last acted in. Decades later,she still remains the ‘Umrao Jaan’ courtesan in the public’s imagination. This latest Rajya Sabha role, will provide a fresh lease of celebrity to the lovely lady who has made a career out of her ‘I am Garbo’ reputation. Undoubtedly, the Bollywood -crazy Delhi media will go nuts when Rekha shows up in parliament, clad in gorgeous Kanjeevaram sarees, eyes appropriately downcast. If she does run into Jaya Bachchan, my guess is she will fall at Jaya’s feet ‘to show respect towards elders’ . That will be the ultimate photo-op, which will make it to the front pages of every major newspaper. Exciting times ahead, whichever way we look at it. The Indian Parliament was about the only platform left that did not rely heavily on Bollywood or Sports celebrities to make itself heard. Now that the last bastion has fallen to the cult of Page 3, let’s wait for product placements to debut in those hallowed walls next.


A bit late in the day to be commenting on Tara Sharma’s original and charming baby show on television, but the ‘Diaries of a New Mum’ is pretty disarming and the last episode of the season ( Sunday), features her father, the much- admired Pratap Sharma, who tragically passed away five months ago. Catch it!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Hotel de Paris, Monte Carlo

Guys, this is just a test run for my new laptop, selected by Arundhati and configured by a certain Arvind Kumar, who gave me a really hard time by asking complex technical questions I had no answers to. So, I played the dumb housewife to the hilt.... threw up my hands and basically told him to wing it solo. Do what a guy's got to do.... and all that fake macho spiel. Well, I guess he's done something right, Jai ho! I feel like i earned the sinful falooda I enjoyed at the Sea Lounge with my namesake, one Vikram Rajadhyaksha, who is an Ohio based millionaire ( Hydro-electric power). I was told by over-awed friends that Al Gore pops by for dinner at his home whenever he's in the vicinity. That definitely justified the Sea Lounge falooda. No regrets, no guilt.
Errrrrr, I am still looking for my stored columns. Was dying to attach a couple of the ones that had appeared while I was luxuriating in this outstandingly opulent hotel. Perhaps tomorrow? For now, I have a date with John Makinson, my publisher. It's back to the Taj. This time to another favourite haunt - the old-fashioned and entirely civilised Harbour Bar.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Randy Andy in Mumbai...

This appeared in the Asian Age yesterday... and I am glad it amused Soli Sorabjee (one of my favourite men!) sufficiently, for him to call on a Sunday morning to share a few laughs. He asked me in his utterly charming Parsee -Marathi why I didn't visit Delhi more often( he lives there). I told him in my Marathi-Marathi that I didn't LIKE Delhi. Being a Mumbai boy himself, he understood the sentiment perfectly!

I drove to Pune and back with my son, Aditya , yesterday. I needed him to guide me on some 'man work' - not what you are thinking - just dull, routine municipal stuff - and we spent a wonderful day in that oven. Topping it off, as always, with a quick lunch at the Blue Diamond coffee shop - and again, as always, I packed the world's best kheema pao to take home for dinner with the rest of the family. Awaiting me was a pleasant, delicious surprise - nulen goorey ice cream. Ask your Bong friends to decode!!!

My faithful old laptop finally gave up the struggle to keep going and quietly died on me. Arundhati promptly got me a new one, but all my precious data remains trapped in the old work horse - including the promised images from Monaco, and the manuscript of the new novel I have just completed.Aah well,tomorrow is another De!


The Prince and the Showgirls…

Okay, so Prince Andrew is no Lawrence Olivier, and there wasn’t a Marilyn Monroe clone in sight, but the ‘vilayati rajkumar’ does have an… ummm, reputation with the ladies. And Mumbai has countless fetching ladies.Perhaps he was smarting from the Capital’s response to his visit. Unkind Delhi journos (after being at the receiving end of a right royal snub), had described him as having the personality of a ‘traveling salesman’. But in Mumbai, the Queen of England’s colourful son (better known as Randy Andy), was treated to a super swish soiree in his honour, at which he happily mingled with glamourous stars from Bollywood and of course, a few billionaires from the corporate world. From spending time with humble potters in Kumbharwadi, to making the mandatory chakkar of Dharavi, and staging a photo-op in full naval regalia while visiting the docks, our friendly prince had a packed schedule in aamchi Mumbai. Fortunately for him ( and us ), the tedium of officialdom was happily broken by a few light hearted interruptions. Like the time he was working the crowds at the official reception hosted by Peter Beckingham ( the Deputy High Commissioner), and a breathless, young, saree-clad lady rushed upto shake his hand and gush, “ I just wanted to tell you I had the biggest crush on you for years… and at the royal wedding, I just couldn’t take my eyes off you!” Somewhat startled by this very public and very candid confession, the obviously flattered Prince, blushed, shrugged, smiled and swiftly moved on. Reminded about the comment at the private dinner that followed the reception, he was more relaxed about the incident and joked, “I wonder if she was referring to my wedding…” The earlier stiffness was gone, as he surveyed the spectacular beach villa of his hosts ( Adi and Parmeshwar Godrej) and handled Mumbai’s society queens and kings with supreme aplomb. Unusually,most of the movie stars had dutifully followed the stipulated dress code and turned up in pristine white. They looked exceptionally stylish. Especially the ladies. A few undoubtedly caught the Prince’s roving eye. But were they equally interested? Naah. They hadn’t heard of him! It was their big night out, and they were happy to party with one another. That’s Mumbai. Ill-mannered and crass. Each person for himself /herself. No ‘faltu time-waste’ on some Prince… from whichever country. Was he offering any of them a role? Anything else? No, na? Then why bother? Social propriety be damned.

The local presswallas left him pretty much alone as well. Those who turned up at the Reception, looked bored and restless when they realized no Bollywood celebs were likely to saunter in. One photographer asked loudly, “That man in a grey suit… is he the Prince? Of which country?” Nobody was embarrassed. His buddy replied, “Woh Prince Charles hai na… Diana-walla? Yeh uska bhai hai…” Poor Andrew. Nobody has ever called him ‘Bonny’. And everybody has mocked his choice of wife, even though Fergie the Redhead, remains her original feisty, bold and brazen self through various trials and tribulations that tabloids on both sides of the Atlantic love to expose. Her ex- insists they remain the best of friends. Which is very civilized of him. It’s actually pretty damn wonderful to have a ‘major’ Royal who is as unstuffy and regular as Andrew. Today, the poor guy has to go out and earn his keep. Gamely perform ‘royal duties’. Shake hands with people he isn’t likely to meet ever again in his busy life. Make polite noises and feign deep interest in subjects ranging from the tattered state of the economy to the grim future of potters in a Mumbai slum. It’s a tough life! At one point during the Reception, I saw the poor man collared by one of Mumbai’s biggest bores, who didn’t give him a chance to greet several others waiting in a long line to meet the Queen’s emissary. Later at the elegant Godrej soiree, a group of Japanese invitees surrounded him and asked him to sign copies of some books they’d brought along. Being Japanese, they clicked several pictures while they were at it. Once again, my heart went out to Bechara Andrew. There were so many alluring single ladies floating around… and there was this single guy not being allowed to hang with any of them. I am sure he would have found Sushmita Sen’s company most fascinating. Or Sushma Reddy’s for that matter. Both are beautiful and have a lot to say for themselves.

Being seen as a broke Prince can’t be easy. But this guy makes it appear effortless. We have quite a few kadka maharajahs in India. But they appear pretty pathetic as they scrounge around for freebies. They have yet not woken up to India’s new realities where their own stock is seriously low and our billionaires are the real, 21st century Maharajahs.There were at least four of them ( billionaires) at the Godrej villa that night. And the royal aura they’d appropriated for themselves was too dazzling to miss. As awe struck diplomats walked around the spectacular premises, taking in the priceless art and marveling at the extravagance of it all , it was really a snapshot of today’s aggressive new India – unapologetic about its wealth and position. If the buffet tables groaned under monstrously large lobsters and massive crabs, if the hors d’oeuvres featured caviar, and the champagne was Dom, it was an indication of more than just the high net worth of the billionaire hosts. It was a taste of what is possible, of what is taking place…. just 63 years after the sun set on the Indian empire, and we had our own national anthem in place of ‘God Save the Queen’. If the Prince was aware of the irony, he camouflaged it well. He was, after all, a mere messenger. Why shoot the messenger??