Here we are in Chennai, right after the Madras Book Club function, which was held in the historic Taj Connemara Hotel.
We stayed at the magnificent ITC Grand Chola.... more a township than a hotel, with 600 rooms! What a scale! And what a memorable experience.... luxury at every step. And a charming lady butler called Aleno who is from Nagaland, and looked after me like a loving daughter....
This appeared in Asian Age / Deccan Chronicle....
How to milk notoriety….
It must be said : we live in extraordinary times. Notoriety can be worn as a badge of honour and comes with several juicy perks. Now even our poster boy for Olympic glory is in trouble. Boxer Vijender Singh is not going to find it all that hard to convince his fans that he is being persecuted and framed by rivals hell bent on finishing off his career. Assuming the Punjab police, with their abominable track record are venomously plotting against the pugilist, the question to ask is just this: did he or didn’t he experiment with drugs? Forget the answer. The truth is nobody gives a flying f***. It is exactly this aspect of instant-notoriety that is fascinating to monitor. The public today is more than ready to overlook ethical/moral/legal issues when the personality involved is deemed ‘hot’. Hot, from the standpoint of media, that is. Vijender’s example is a case in point. With his movie star good looks and lofty aspirations, this young man had it all – fame, money, glory and an amazing future. As of now, he seems to have blown it. But has he really??? Is there no way he can cash in on his current ‘Bad Boy’ status to appeal to the wild side of Young India? The argument goes something like this : Which ambitious young kid in India doesn’t want to be rich, influential… and cool? If that involves running with a wild bunch … hey …that’s also pretty cool! If the wild bunch is doing heroin… oh well…drugs happen. If these men buy their s**t from dangerous dealers with criminal records, ooooh… that’s how big boys play. Living life on the edge is the only way to live… to impress the chicks… to enjoy…. to become a hero. Chances are most young people will be feeling really, really sorry for the fallen boxer. Not for what he has done to himself, but for getting caught.
There was a brilliant piece written by columnist Rick Reilly for ESPN.com, on Tiger Woods and his remarkable comeback ( number one, again). The article was triggered off by an insolent social media Nike ad featuring Woods which gloated , “ Winning takes care of everything.” Tiger’s back in the game and he wants the world to know it. His sponsors want the world to know it , too. There’s enough money riding on Tiger Woods for everybody to turn a blind eye to Tiger’s disgraceful past and the sordid sex scandal that nearly finished him off in 2009. Does anybody today remember or care what that was about? Naaah! Woods with his foul temper and an equally foul mouth is back on the circuit with cheering fans and fawning groupies applauding his every swing. What’s the bet the exact same thing will happen to Vijender once this heroin, drug testing nonsense is behind him. We have come a long, long way from the days when we used to ‘tch,tch’ over issues of this kind. Remember the Fardeen Khan episode and the outrage it generated? Today’s scenario is totally transformed. The drug sub-culture has been glamourised and legitimized by those who exert a tremendous influence over impressionable young people – the fashion fraternity and Bollywood. Nobody is shocked anymore when stories about the rampant use of drugs at high profile society parties gets talked about. Nobody blinks when the names of prominent Bollywood stars are mentioned in the context of coked-out evenings and substance abuse. Recreational drugs are viewed as exactly that – recreational.
The support for stars dealing with far more serious criminal issues ( Sanjay Dutt, Salman Khan), is still more puzzling. And begs the question – is it cool to be charged with the possession of illegal arms, to be convicted? Is it cool to be accused of killing black bucks and running over sleeping pavement dwellers? It certainly appears that way. Both these Bollywood hunks have tried (and succeeded) in giving their old notoriety a fresh spin. Salman flogs his ‘Being Human’ brand without the slightest sense of irony. While Sanjay bats for various charitable causes and has tried standing for elections as a people’s representative! There are top class professionals working hard to change public perceptions about people like these ‘badnaam’ guys. The strategy is pretty simple. In a world that worships success, nothing else matters.Both these men are consistently projected as ‘super successful’ actors. Baat khatam! I was at a brain storming session for a charity event recently, when the name of Sanjay Dutt as chief guest suddenly cropped up. The reactions to such a preposterous suggestion were mixed. The cynic in me saw it as a master stroke that would get an avalanche of media attention. It was agreed by all that no other star would generate as much publicity right now, nor attract as much comment. But was that a good thing or bad? Counter productive or win-win? Would it help or harm the cause? Our table was divided on this one. Yes, Sanjay Dutt’s presence would definitely ensure a record number of mediawallas. Yes, the coverage would be humungous. Yes, the event would provide a huge and credible platform to Dutt to say his piece. But – hello! – what about other ethical issues?Or didn’t those count? It was agreed we needed to sleep over it. The next morning, we took an informal vote and sensibly dropped the idea. But even the fact that we had spent a considerable amount of time thinking about such an option, is alarming!
What’s the bet Vijender Singh will emerge from the current crisis, unscathed and fighting fit? He really doesn’t need to worry about hanging up those gloves in a hurry. The ones who have been kayoed in this round are the people of India.