Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Khaana for thought....

Anyone recognise the sculpture / sculptor? I was entranced when I came across it in a private garden ( London).
Am posting 3 columns that appeared last week.... will be travelling again tomorrow. Bear with me...

                                    Food for Thought…
The luscious Nigella Lawson is by far the yummiest chef  on television. She has a vast global following  of slurping fans who find her far more delicious than anything she tosses up. If chops are to be licked in appreciation, you can be sure they are n’t   just the  lamb ones she’s so expertly grilling!Her show, tantalizingly titled ‘Nigella Bites’ has often been called ‘food porn’. And yet – or maybe because of – these very seductive attributes, Nigella’s 10 year marriage to a megalomaniac ad man / art collector called Charles Saatchi (70) is over. The blood thirsty British tabloid press has been salivating over the story with the sort of mouth watering  interest one reserves for juicy steaks. It all started with a row in a restaurant with Saatchi being caught on camera gripping Nigella’s neck. Even though the lady was clearly distraught and in tears, Saatchi claimed the next week that it was nothing more than a playful scrap. Obviously, this was one game Nigella was not up for. She walked out of the Saatchi home, while Saatchi tried weakly and stupidly to make light of the shocking incident.The sordid details are still emerging, But Saatchi has beaten his estranged wife to the draw and filed for divorce before she could. His explanations for doing so reveal the sort of man  he is. Faced with charges of spousal abuse and assault by the media, he claimed he was miffed and ‘disappointed’ by Nigella’s refusal to defend him publicly and tell the world he was not a violent man!This added still more insult to the injury. Outrage piled up on outrage as Saatchi continued to brazen it out, while Nigella chose discretion over sensationalism. All this drama led to fresh and furious debates on domestic abuse, with activists trying to co-opt Nigella and make her the face of the issue most women are ‘too embarrassed’ to go public with.The final straw was when  Saatchi went back to the same restaurant ( Scott’s) in Mayfair, this time with one of Nigella’s gal pals. This time,he kept his hands to himself as he dined with literary editor Susanna Gross. Tabloids commented tartly that  Nigella (53) was being treated like “ a piece of art that has lost its value, and needs to be moved out of the warehouse.” A cruel, sexist and nasty comment that once again shows the pathetic standards society adopts when it comes to wronged women.
Nigella has painstakingly created a powerful brand for herself that has very little to do with being Mrs. Saatchi. Chances are , far many more people across the world know who Nigella Lawson is and admire her skills as a TV host, than know the despicable Charles Saatchi. And yet, she has become the ‘poor thing’ – an object of pity. A discarded and dumped wife. All this, even after Saatchi’s beastly attack on her! That is seriously perverse.And very unexpected. Nigella was positioned as the ultimate Domestic Goddess by the same media that is now stomping all over her. Saatchi hasn’t wasted a moment in sending out a strong message that there is no going back. The marriage is finito. He has hired Helen Ward, a top divorce lawyer to  make sure Nigella will not be able to grab  his considerable fortune (120 million pounds) without a tough legal battle. She, the aggrieved party in this case, will be humiliated and diminished, while he will continue to attack her with the ferocity of a Rottweiler. Even if Nigella does go ahead with her planned expose, Saatchi has already wreaked enough emotional havoc on his former wife to break her completely. The damage has been done. And he knows it. Nigella’s success as a celebrity tv host rested on her wholesome  family image. She was seen as the perfect wife   - as accomplished in the kitchen as she was in the boudoir . Her voluptuous curves ,saucy expressions and a script laden with naughty double entendres had made her a drool worthy sex symbol, who frequently featured on  lists of the ‘World’s Hottest Women’. Now that the fat is in the fire, how Nigella copes is going to determine her future, her tv ratings, her career and… well, her everything, really. As for Saatchi, he’ll have a vacant slot in his warehouse… another empty space to fill on his walls. There will be no dearth of pricy, posh and pretty  women more than eager to hang themselves for him!!

Poor Nigella – someone forgot to tell her. If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen!

                                             Gangsters can buy anyone or anything… but love…
It’s hard to associate the word ‘romance’ with our Bhais. But even the most hardened Bhais  sometimes lose their heart and fall crazily in love. Dig a bit and what do you find under that rough and tough exterior? A mushy, sentimental dil that longs for the pyaar of a good woman. Sounds insane, but it is true. Once a Bhai  believes he has ‘made it’,   there’s just one thing he yearns for – love - and a woman to call his own. Not just any woman, mind you. But someone ethereally beautiful. Pure and virginal, innocent and untouched. Like a heavenly ‘Pari’. Soft, loyal, giving, alluring, aloof, unattainable…. and therefore impossibly sexy! The Bhai knows he can purchase any woman he fancies. But that’s not what he wants.His ambitions have grown and he goes out on a limb to capture the woman’s heart after he has acquired her body.The Bhai starts desiring a real relationship. A ‘normal’ domestic life. He dreams about wooing his fantasy girl, winning her love and living happily ever after.   The world is his playground at this point. But the Bhai is lonely. He trusts nobody. And nobody trusts him. In such a desolate scenario, he hopes to find  a bedmate and confidante. An ally and lover.  That stereotype rarely changes.
 Think of our desi  girls who attracted bad boys. Girls like Mandakini, Mamta Kulkarni, Monica Bedi. All three happened to be good looking  starlets who fell for dangerous men, and lived to tell the tale. There is a common narrative that links these doomed love stories. The trajectory of the affairs is similar. So is the profile of the molls. Most of the ladies who tantalised, enticed and enchanted these dreaded men were failed actresses in search of that one big break. Catching the fancy of a don was seen as a ticket to instant fame and big time. All the baddie had to do to impress his woman was make that one chilling call to a producer– and the movie was hers.Of course, the girl had to be blindingly beautiful ( at least in the eyes of the Bhai). She also needed to possess certain attributes -  light eyes, fair skin, and dangerous curves. Having such a trophy mistress was every Bhai’s ultimate dream.  
 The nightmare generally began when a hardened Bhai made the mistake of falling in love.For the girl… and those around her, it often became a living hell. Particularly if the poor girl was in love with another man . Bhais don’t believe in sharing. The man had to go.  A woman needed guts to resist the  amorous attention of a Bhai. Especially a besotted, obsessive Bhai. A man  ready to kill or be killed for her. Here’s an oft repeated question - what do women see in dangerous men? The obvious answer is - ‘danger’. A certain type of woman finds danger most erotic. Danger becomes her aphrodisiac. Danger turns her on. And risk replaces responsibility. Once a woman tastes blood ( literally!), everything else appears too tame, too dull. Men can sense that in a woman . Especially men who live dangerously themselves. It’s a deadly combination when two such people connect. Their volatile relationship  fuels violence…violence fuels passion. They fight, make up, make love, break up.  Insecurity, uncertainty and suspicion  add  exciting dimensions to this combustible love cocktail.It’s a sure fire formula for emotional atyachar. And yet this roller coaster ride continues , till the relationship hits that final roadblock. That’s when those deadly shots ring out.When a Bhai’s bullets fly, there’s no knowing who’ll take the hit.  And that is the asli thrill! Unfortunately,there are rarely any happy endings for these deadly love stories.

                               How chicks should deal with nasty rumours….
The best thing for any smart Munni to do when she is ‘badnaam’, is to ignore those who are trashing her. But most Munnis do exactly the opposite.They fall for the bait.They go into defensive mode….explain,complain,apologise,confront,froth at the mouth And attract more trouble. On the other hand, Munnas deal with trouble of this kind far more directly. They slug it out. Either verbally or physically. I was a reluctant witness to a fiery sms war of words recently. Two angry birds were crazily at it – you said this, no I didn’t, yes, you did, I was told by five common friends, what lies, how could you….after all these many years,  why do you believe those people, they are just jealous, you know that lot, they have nothing better to do, yes, I know, but that still doesn’t mean you should talk loosely about me and whatever happened with my ex, listen, I don’t even know your ex, plus, I don’t care. Well, if you didn’t care why would you get involved and bad mouth me , arrey… I just told you I didn’t bad mouth you, whatever, why don’t you trust me, I used to trust you , which is why I am asking, listen this is getting ridiculous, we should sort it out face to face, but I am travelling, let’s do it when you get back, okay, but I want you to know how hurt I felt when I was told what you’d said about me….” Total waste of time!
One tedious and pointless hour later, the mood was down and so was the phone battery. Nothing had been resolved. The wound remained raw… and now there was the emphatic denial to deal with. I thought it best not to intervene. I had spotted steam emerging from the ears… the breathing was seriously heavy, and there was the persistent tap-tap-tap of restless fingers on the table in front of us. Oh dear! All this physical and mental distress over some random bitching? Rumours should be dismissed sans acknowledgment.That’s how they die the fastest death. Learn a thing or two from our politicians. The shrewdest of the lot shrug off the worst allegations without bothering to respond. The matter dies within the week. End of the story. Most top stars follow the same principle and stay well above those rumour mills grinding away non-stop, churning out one masala story after another.It is the celebs that succumb and launch into extended , elaborate and entirely unnecessary justifications who land in the biggest mess when the same stories come back to haunt them as facts. And for heaven’s sake, never make that dumb mistake of publicly declaring the worst showbiz cliché of all time : “We are just good friends!” You are so not, you idiots! Besides, who cares?
 Of course, young girls are far more vulnerable to getting hurt when nasty stories about their escapades do the round. Guys generally shrug off  the dirt that is flying around and nothing sticks. But, as anxious mothers never fail to remind daughters - you lose your reputation just once. And it needn’t be about boy- trouble , it could be much worse. Working women have it tougher still, especially if there’s someone out there waiting to harrow you. Fixing a female colleague by floating icky stuff about her is one of the oldest tricks in the book. Most victims of office slander find it difficult to confront bullies, male or female. So, they shut up and put up. Some feel martyred. Others, shamed. The few who decide to fight back, often regret the decision later. The ones who win this war are the ones who wait. Waiting requires patience. And wisdom. The young generally lack both – poor things are waiting for life to happen… to take off. But if they can indeed find that forbearance, they will see rumours and taunts for what they are – arrows aimed by the insecure at those they secretly want to be. Take those rumours as compliments, smile and walk away…I received a clever , little image the other day, which I promptly posted. It read : Tigers do not lose sleep over the opinion of sheep.Amen to that!

Monday, July 29, 2013

What if NaMo pulls it off ???

I am still under Michelangelo's spell....
This appeared in Asian Age...
                            What if  NaMo pulls it off ??
 Really! What if  NaMo does pull it off? NaMo phobia/ mania has gripped India big time. It’s almost as if there is no other topic and not  a single individual worth discussing or dissecting left in this vast country of ours.With even TIME magazine jumping on the bandwagon and all but declaring Modi the next prime minister of India in a syrupy cover story, Modi’s juggernaut seems unstoppable. Each and every utterance of Gujarat’s Chief Minister goes instantly under a scanner as we look for hidden meanings, taunts, rants, insults, double entendres. We are being entirely ridiculous, and it’s about time we gave ourselves -  and him -  a break from this nonsense. Take the case of the idiotic ‘Puppy’ reference.It became a national issue when it was nothing more than careless linguistic usage. We jumped down his throat and gave that particular quote far more importance than it warranted. At best, it was a dumb analogy. At worst, a gauche remark. But that’s not how it was played. I am not a NaMo supporter… if anything I have been a consistent critic. But I have been observing with some degree of alarm that it is NaMo’s worst critics who have actually been doing the guy a favour by inadvertently creating a superhero out of him. Had virulently anti-Modi commentators ignored the ‘puppy’ incident, NaMo would not have dominated news channels and hogged as many headlines at a time when there were several other national issues at stake. That’s the thing about creating a bogeyman – at some point, the bogeyman comes back to bite.
Just a few months ago, nobody could have imagined that drawing room conversations across India would be dominated by a man called Narendra Modi. And look where he has reached purely in terms of name recognition and recall. How has this happened? And why? What has Modi done in this short period of time to get to this hallowed position? Is there a single milestone that can be highlighted?An exceptional feat? Some earth shaking development? Nope. If anything, he has gone from one gaffe to another ( rushing to Uttarakhand to rescue Gujarati pilgrims, being the most embarrassing act of derring do). And yet, he is the one a majority of people believe will make it as the next Prime Minister. Shocking as this sounds, it is no longer in the realm of mere speculation, or even blatant propaganda put out by his many supporters.  It is time to concede only person who can beat Narendra Modi today, is Narendra Modi himself.
Confidence is one thing. Over confidence, something else. Leaders who don’t understand the difference clearly don’t understand good leadership. Narendra Modi has been talking way too much. He sticks both his feet in his mouth  each time he opens it. Supporters lap up each faux pas and rush to defend their leader. Which is fine.That’s what supporters are there for. Modi has the best media management machinery in place, going by the record number of vicious  trolls on the loose. So, why on earth is he making so many ridiculous statements in the first place? Either he knows something about the electorate that experts don’t. Or, he is just being himself. There is the third explanation and that may just be the right one – semantics. Modi does fine when he sticks to Gujarati, his mother tongue. It is when he ambitiously ventures into making bhashans, or gives interviews in Hinglish, that his carefully constructed image goes for a toss. Let’s face it, his Hindi sucks. And frankly, he doesn’t need to speak English – in today’s times, regional languages work  best. And this is the key message his overzealous minders should pass on to their leader – speak Gujju, think Gujju, act Gujju.That’s the Modi brand. That’s Modi’s USP. A great orator sticks to the one language he has mastery over in order to make the maximum impact.

As the Modi campaign picks up momentum, there is going to be far greater scrutiny and debate each time he addresses a rally. The smart thing for his opponents to do is ignore him.  His only real rival is a phantom. India is still waiting for the official announcement on Rahul Gandhi ( which, of course, won’t be made). Rahul Baba’s  stony silence and frequent disappearing acts hardly help matters. Nobody seems to know what the hell Rahul stands for or if he is even interested in the top job. Since there are no other obvious candidates in the picture right now, it’s a solo run for Modi. A dream run. In Bollywood parlance, it’s like a hero suddenly discovering his movie is the only one to release during Eid or Diwali. When a theatre actor presents a one man show, it is assumed he is either blindingly brilliant or depressingly delusional. It’s always the audience that has the last word.Right now, Modi is that actor, and India, his stage.It’s advantage Modi.  Sure,he’s talking big– that’s his prerogative. But it’s those bechara Congresswallas  routinely falling for the bait and hitting back in posh English, who should instantly back off! Modi provokes them – and they obediently react ( or rather, over react). He describes himself in grandiose terms, and everybody rushes to pull him down. This is plain silly. History has thrown up worse bigots, megalomaniacs, show offs and braggarts. History has also discarded them with ease. NaMo is on a roll right now. Sooner or later he is going to miss a step, trip and shoot himself in the foot. The smart thing for his opponents to do is really do nothing at all, but watch from the side lines. And wait for NaMo to self -destruct. It’s entirely possible.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Bar, Bar Dekho....

 Blogdosts, I am off for a week.... wedding in London, and then on to Rome and Florence to say hello to Michelangelo!
This appeared in Mumbai Mirror...
                                       Bar, Bar Dekho….
Damn! One of my biggest regrets is that I didn’t make it to the notorious Deepa Bar at Vile Parle when it was still throbbing. Who knows? I might have run into several familiar faces – ministerlog, MLAs, bureaucrats, municipal corporators, cops… all upright people and model citizens …. the very people who went purple in the face demanding a ban on bar girls swaying seductively to dhinchak Bollywood hits, while these men ogled, gawked, leched and showered notes on them. The point some of our commentators are missing in this sordid saga is the politics behind the ban.  Who were the patrons? Investors? Black mailers? Brokers? Pimps and agents of the dancers? They were mostly local politicians working hand-in-glove with cops and dodgy bar owners. The girls were a shade better off than sex workers, in that, they were supposed to have a choice when it came to bedding their admirers. Perhaps, this was so in theory. But the tragic truth is different. The girls were bullied and bull dozed by the men who ran the show. They had to pay fat commissions to several go betweens. Even their tips had to be distributed across the board. As for the money dancers had to invest in costumes, accessories and make-up, let’s say that took away another hefty chunk of their earnings. And remember, Not every bar girl became a Sweety or Tarannum – better known as the Crorepati Dancer.
I was lucky enough to visit Topaz at the time it was at its hottest. There were approximately ten of us in the group. We were ushered upstairs and led to our tables. The girls looked intensely bored and listless. They refused to make eye contact with our group ( no high rollers here…. just tight fisted honchos) and spent most of their time on the tiny dance floor gazing at their own reflections in the floor-to-ceiling mirrors behind the stage. The other tables were occupied by beer guzzling , pot bellied fellows who could have been 1) small time gangsters 2) big time gangsters 3) dubious neta types. There was one lone chap weeping into his whiskey and trying hard to attract the attention of one particular dancer.The waiter I asked, said the sad sack customer was in love with the girl and came there every evening in the hope she’d fall in love with him , too. This hopeless love of his cost him a lot of money. But who can argue with an aashique?
The Topaz girls were top class and  bore a strong resemblance to Bollywood stars. Their dancing skills were superb, and so was their styling. In fact, most of them were far more attractive than a lot of  successful movie stars. And yet, they were here – gyrating in a garish bar, being hounded and chased by creepos… and finally rendered jobless by a nasty piece of legislation. While the heroines they mimicked (and even surpassed) were up there, earning millions performing the same bump-and-grind routine on screen.Heroines had respectability even as Item Girls! While the Sweetys were forced to struggle night after night, and finally rendered kadka by the very people who exploited them. Some 50 to 60 thousand women lost their livelihood overnight.
The move against Dance Bars had nothing to do with public morality. The decision was a vindictive one.  It had to do with one set of politicians fixing upstart rivals. It was about dividing the spoils of this lucrative business. And playing up to popular sentiments of the time. Political nobodies shot to fame overnight, posing as upholders  of  collective virtue. Ministers who patronized these bars and hired the dancers for private parties, suddenly started to talk like saints determined to clean up a dirty city. They forgot that they had encouraged the dance bar trade in the first place. That some of the girls ‘belonged’ to them and were their mistresses and ‘keeps’. For eight years, the Maharashtra Government tried in vain to hoodwink citizens into believing the biggest problem in the State had to do with a bunch of  beautiful ‘things’ ( thank you, Sonia)  dancing sensuously in darkened bars. Cops armed with hockey sticks became a symbol of official oppression. The girls who could flee and resume abandoned careers did so in Dubai, Singapore, London. The others starved or turned to prostitution. The broke State lost 3000 crores worth of revenue.Now the same squeaky clean ministers have egg all over their faces.The Supreme Court won the war that ought to have been fought by ordinary Mumbaikars. But Mumbai chose silence. And allowed a hockey stick to subdue its spirit. Shame!

Glad those lovely ladies have got their groove back! Can’t wait to go back to Topaz and cheer them on…
This appeared in Bombay Times....
                                   How I love the word ‘Doobara’…
There are several desi words that I challenge anyone to translate accurately. Think about it. Can ‘Bindaas’ or ‘Jhakaas’ survive transliteration? Try it for yourself - sound effects and all. Try doing the same with ‘Maar dalaa’ as expressed by the matchless Madhuri in ‘Devdas’. What will you say  -  “He killed me?” Yuck! That’s the power of our slang. It conveys far more and is much richer than its Angrezi equivalents. Take a simple word like ‘Doobara’. To start with, it’s musical. And more importantly, it has a certain emotive resonance that defies deconstruction . ‘Doobara’ conveys longing and nostalgia. When someone falls in love ‘doobara’ it carries more weight than ‘pehla, pehla pyaar’. When a man turns around to look at a woman ‘doobara’, it’s a bigger compliment than a one off  stare. And when an absconding lover makes promises of eternal commitment ‘doobara’ – you still fall for it! It’s not just the repeat value of a pleasant experience… it’s not nostalgia alone… and it certainly isn’t habit or familiarity that makes ‘doobara’ so irresistible. The only thing you cannot do ‘doobara’ is die. Which is also why we are so attracted to and fascinated by death.
 Ask yourself – and be completely honest – what is the one thing in your life you’d like to indulge in ‘doobara’.  The answer could surprise / shock you.Most young women I spoke to said they would like to give their first (and most passionate relationship ) a second go. The men were less forthcoming and generally linked their ‘doobara’ moment to some sport or the other (bores!).
Interestingly enough, in the world of bhais and gangsters, there is no such thing called ‘doobara’. And it’s that finality which makes these men so lethally attractive. The bullet has to find it’s mark the first time… or else. The woman has to succumb the first time, or else. The trusted aide has to step aside when asked, or else. Bullets are precious. They cannot be wasted ‘doobara’. If anything, they have more value than the life of the poor moll…
Bollywood has an insatiable appetite for revisiting ‘Bhai-land’. And audiences, too, can’t seem to get enough of that dangerous decade (‘80’s), when the Bhais called the shots in showbiz, literally and figuratively. It’s amazing how eccentrically and erratically the film industry in Mumbai functioned at the time. And how top stars, producers, directors and starlets were compelled to  play ball with shadowy figures, who were often just sinister voices on the phone. Despite daily threats, despite hefty extortions, despite kidnappings and murders, movies got made, and careers flourished. Those untold stories, of mid-night calls, ransom notes, early morning knocks on the door, and  direct orders to comply or face consequences, need to be chronicled. They are menacing enough to fry brains and freeze blood even today. And yet, more than three decades down the line, nobody wants to talk about that sinister era. Such is the fear psychosis. The threats remain omnipresent  and as real as they were back then. Seniors in Bollywood know better than to mess with these goons. One false move and it’s back to ‘goli mari bhejey main.’   It is indeed  a chilling reality even today and one must hand it to gutsy Bollywooders   who are willing to take their chances with the D-Gang by basing movies around their murky lives. They do so knowing  that the hitman’s goli rarely misses its target. It’s a strange sort of  inter-dependency – bone-fide, card holding gangsters feed off the movie industry. And filmwallahs love gangster scripts! Let’s call it a fatal attraction. But remember – life mein bada chance ek hi milta hai. Grab it! Because bullets don’t understand ‘Doobara’.

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Dirty Picture....

The Lion in Winter.... Husainsaab was one of the most inspiring figures in my life. I was so lucky to know him, spend time with him, watch him paint.... just hang with him .... run into him in different cities of the world, enjoy chai at home, tuck into his matchless kheema with fresh green garlic shoots finely chopped, or the biryani at his home, and the sheer korma during  Eid. I miss him.
This appeared in Asian Age....
                                 Sexy,Sexy,Sexy Mujhe Log Boley….
Raghavji aandar chala gaya. Jai ho! But just one sexual fiend paying for what he did to a man servant over years , is not going to change a thing. Sexual exploitation in some form of the other has been an inextricable part of the political duniya for the longest time. It’s just another component of the power games netas play – no shame, zero apologies.Nobody talks about it openly. Nobody wants to. It’s a given. Netas have their perks.And those perks include sexual slaves. Period.  Earlier, rascals like Raghavji  used to get away with the crime.Today, they have to be wary of whistle blowers who rush to the media with incriminating evidence.  Gone are those distant days when our netas routinely abused their positions… and the helplessness of victims… without anybody daring to speak out against them. But Raghavji, unfortunately for him, got caught with his dhoti down. And now faces a 7 year jail term. Yes, his red faced BJP bosses have been compelled to expel the man who has been the finance minister in Madhya Pradesh twice over after the sordid saga went public. But somehow, Shivshanker Pateria,the man who exposed Raghavji, and who piously calls himself  a ‘crusader against sexual slavery’, sounds like just another publicity seeker. He claims he outed  Raghavji in order to cleanse the party of ‘dirty elements’. If anything, the script of this particular sex scandal is far worse than the scripts of  C-grade porno films churned out by the film industry . Pateria, mainly known as a stooge of  Uma Bharti,  is a small time political worker, hoping to hit big time by sucking up to a succession of local leaders.Thwarted in his political ambitions and frustrated at the lack of  ‘respect’, perhaps this was Shivshanker’s last ditch attempt to attract the attention of his political mentors. An attempt that may have backfired now that he has been suspended from the party by the State BJP chief, Narendra Singh Tomar. It’s almost comical to read Tomar’s statement urging party workers to ‘serve humanity’.  Pateria’s response to that piece of advice is funnier still. He said he was indeed serving humanity when he made the incriminating sex CD that finally nailed Raghavji. It features the victim, Rajkumar Dangi,Raghavji’s domestic help. Forget Pateria’s nobility for the moment.Here’s a case that deserves deeper scrutiny. Sexually exploiting domestic help ( male or female) is a common enough occurrence across India. It involves various elements – caste being the main one. Exploitation of lower caste individuals takes several nasty forms -  rape is just one of them. While details about this particular case are still coming in, what it sounds like is just another manifestation of how easily caste and class can be used to destroy weaker individuals -   in this case, Rajkumar Dangi.
As of now, this case interests the media. A month down the line, nobody will remember or care . Raghavji’s political career is effectively over. But hey…. he is 79-years-old and has served two terms as Finance Minister of his State. It is Dangi, the young accuser/ victim whose life stretches ahead of him. Right now, he is being looked at with a mixture of disgust and sympathy. His ‘usefulness’ will soon be exhausted, once the public’s curiosity fades.  What then? Will Dangi seek employment as a domestic help in some other politico’s home? Will a political party pick him up and promise to make him an overnight neta in his own right? Will he be stupid enough to fall for the bait? Contest elections? Participate in a reality show? Anything is possible – kidnapping, assault even murder. Poor Dangi is a nobody. He is entirely dispensable. He has served a certain purpose and can be eliminated – no questions asked. Look at the notorious Noida serial murder case in Delhi. 17 innocent victims were lured into businessman  Moninder Singh Pandheri’s den and subsequently butchered, allegedly by Surendra Koli, his servant.  Where is that bizarre case going? Who is tracking it? In India, we have become a bit too cynical to bother about the kinky,disgusting sex lives of perverted buddhas like Raghavji or Pandheri. And we are too lazy to see the bigger picture or observe a sinister pattern . How can we forget the nasty whispers one used to hear in the old days about another piece of work called Sitaram Kesri?

We accept sexual exploitation as a part and parcel of our complex and convoluted feudal social system. Sodomising a servant is merely an extension of the master’s absolute right over the domestic help’s life….his/her body, mind and soul. It is considered pretty ‘normal’. Which is why the current outrage won’t last beyond this weekend. Which is also why the political class can afford to be this complacent. Worse stories have appeared and disappeared .  The horrific Nirbhaya rape case is all but buried. Give it a few more months and it will be totally forgotten. For all our  moral huffing and puffing, for all our public posturing and big talk about being a peace loving people, the ghastly truth is that we are nauseatingly , gut churningly violent as a nation. We care nothing for our women and children. We look down on those born into lower castes. We have no real fellow feelings for those under privileged citizens surviving on less than 20 rupees a day. And deep down we really don’t believe there is anything all that terrible about a randy old minister buggering his man servant. Which is why, Dangli should give up any dream he may be nurturing about a better life in future… a life of dignity. He is doomed to remain the ‘Launda-who-squealed’ on his master. Tragic… but true.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Once Upon a Time with Shobhaa De - Doobara!

Aru's little garden..... before the monsoons arrived. The wild roses are still blooming bravely. And I did spot a lone hibiscus this morning. Brought an instant smile to my face... even though I love the dark, rain laden clouds rolling in silently .... almost menacingly, over the bay.
And these are the famous 'Travelling Roses'' of Spain. I shot this image in the beautiful gardens of the Al Hamra....
My first column in the series : Once Upon a Time with Shobhaa De - Doobara.

 Guess who said this:  “…..only two kinds of stories fascinate the audiences – one is crime and the other is love.”  Nope. It wasn’t a Hollywood / Bollywood blockbuster badshah. And it wasn’t Sanjay Dutt, either. It was Mumbai’s ATS chief and much-admired top cop, Rakesh Maria. He should know. After all, he has expertly dealt with both issues – love and crime  -  during his long and illustrious career. But movie magic only happens when both themes are seamlessly combined into a powerful narrative ( think ‘The Godfather’, ‘Bonnie and Clyde’. ‘The Great Gatsby’… oh, so many more). In India, we can’t seem to get enough of our gangsters and their gangstergiri . Throw in a gorgeous moll and what do you get? Well then, baby – you’ve scored a bull’s eye. We have an impressive list of real life bad guys to choose from. But amazingly enough, we remain fixated on just one . Yup. Everyone knows which one. And nobody utters his name.The D-Man has spawned an entire entertainment industry all by himself, and there’s no chance of that fascination (the Big Daddy phenomenon) , fading out anytime soon.. In Mumbai, the lore grows each time a new movie  involving the monster is announced. But wait a minute – what is it about him that exerts such a strong hold over us? What is it about sinister men and sex appeal? And why do women find them irresistible? Bad guys get the best looking chicks… and the chicks get….????
I missed up my chance to meet the ‘baddest’ of these bad guys - the dreaded D-Man himself -  during a visit to Karachi last year. There we were, enjoying a wonderful dinner at a super chic restaurant, when one of the men at the table lowered his voice and asked me conspiratorially, “ Would you like to meet him?” He didn’t have to specify. And I didn’t need to pretend. “Yesssss!” I said, nearly choking over my sherbet, adding breathlessly, “Just say when…” The guy reached for his smart phone and made a call. His voice was lowered still further. The rest of the mehmaan started to fidget and exchange nervous glances. This was getting seriously exciting. I glanced at my watch. It was close to 11 p.m. Furtive negotiations followed.  “ Can you meet him in two hours…. his home is less than a 100 metres from where we are just now.”  Wow! I had goose bumps! We were this close to a major scoop. I immediately and recklessly agreed.An instant later,one of the ladies at the table decided to speak up, “ Bakwas bandh karo…” she snapped at the man. That was his wife. And clearly she had more brains than this chap. I. of course, had none left at this point. I was busy preparing a questionnaire inside my head.
So, what happened next? Let me just say, the story had a happy ending, from the perspective of my local hosts. But I kept thinking about all the questions I could have asked one of the most wanted and dangerous men in the world. Sigh ! So near…. and yet so far. That’s life.
On the short flight back to Mumbai, I thought about ‘those’ days - that distant decade. What a terrifying time it was – the  Unforgiving Eighties, when anything could ( and often, did) happen to innocents in Mumbai. And at the centre of this vortex of violence was one man – loathed and loved, revered and reviled. The D-Man himself….

Thirty years later…. the myth only grows… and grows…

Monday, July 8, 2013

Party on.....

I have had readers calling up to ask whether any of this really happens... or am I making it all up???
 It reminds me of the days way back when .... I was editing Stardust and people would ask equally idiotic questions (" So, do you people make up all the gossip and stories....?" ).
This appeared in Mumbai Mirror last Saturday...

                          ‘Chashmis’ goes sexy….
“Men don’t make passes at women who wear glasses….” Remember that foolish line from way back when? Deepika, Sonakshi,Kangana,Sonam… go on, ladies… have the last laugh. It’s the turn of the Chashmis Hotties now! Gals sporting ‘eyewear’ (please note, we don’t call them spectacles anymore) are getting all the guys and having the best fun. Chashmas are suddenly sexy .And they stay firmly on – paps or no paps. Bollywood  actresses used to make it a point to whip off their chashmas at the sight of  flashbulbs not so long ago. The men didn’t bother half as much.While actors like Shah Rukh Khan had paved the way for showbiz chaps to not hide their  weak eye condition by flaunting trendy , rimless glasses with brightly coloured arms, heroines had consistently fought shy of  being seen wearing glasses in public. Today, designer eyewear has acquired its own status and is viewed as an important fashion accessory by trendy young people. This signals a new level of confidence. I cannot imagine a single star from an earlier era being caught dead in public with glasses parked on the nose bridge. Forget Bolllywood’s Peter Pan ( Dev Anand), who would have been repulsed by the idea itself. But has anybody seen Dilip Kumar, Jeetendra or Dharmendra revealing such an ‘impediment’ even today ? As for the female stars… Divas like Rekha would, I’m sure rather wear powered lenses than specs ( assuming she, the divine being, does need some magnification when she texts).Kaajol  was always comfortable with her no-nonsense glasses. Though, now that she has gone in for a major makeover, her minders may advise her against them.  Earlier, female screen idols like Meena Kumari, Mumtaz, Sharmila Tagore  would have scrupulously avoided being seen wearing something as ‘unglamourous’ as a lowly chashma.
It has to do with our notions of star mystique. And those parameters have changed drastically during the past five years. Take a look at the way stars dress when they attend one another’s birthday parties (like absolute slobs!) these days. Of course, they know there will be  photographers present. They neither bother nor care. They turn up sans make-up, with untidy hair and a deliberately dressed down appearance ( flip flops and tracks – uggggghhh!). The message comes through loud and clear : “Guys, this is our downtime.We are not on parade. We are off duty. Leave us alone ”. Fair enough. But fans who feed off these grungy images do feel let down and disappointed. Our movie stars lead fantasy lives . Fans want their favourites to live up to that fantasy. Stripped off the accoutrements of stardom, deglamourised to the point of drabness, stars definitely do lose their required sheen. Especially those fashion divas who also have parallel careers as brand ambassadors for prestigious international brands. Looking amazing in public is a vital part of their job profile.  Check out Victoria Beckham – even her ‘dressed down’ garb is shrewdly and carefully picked to convey casual chic. But chic it has to be. It is really an obligation if you are in the business of making money from your image and appearance.

To get back to the old theory regarding girls and spectacles, it is definitely a welcome change from the time our parents struck their foreheads in dismay on discovering we needed glasses. “Who will marry you?” mothers would ask despairingly, and make sure daughters hid their tell tale chashmas when prospective grooms showed up for a dekho. Most women of my vintage continue to squint and screw up their eyes rather than sensibly opt for bi-focals. Some have  had their failing vision laser-corrected. Others prefer dark shades, indoors and outdoors, day or night. “ I feel like a buddhi if I wear a chasma,” pointed out a friend recently. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that’s what we are! With or without the chasmas. I tried to make her feel better by saying her frames added a great deal of character to her face. It’s about enhancing ones personality, I concluded a little lamely. She didn’t look one bit convinced as she squeezed her eyes into narrow slits and asked imperiously “ Where’s the lemon tart I’d ordered?” Under your nose, darling, I laughed, squinting back. Specs and her? Over my dead body, she shot back. Clearly, she hasn’t seen Deepika’s latest avatar.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Now Showing : " Rambo, Dumbo and Scambo...."'

This appeared in Sunday Times.....
E                 Bollywood Blockbuster : “Rambo, Dumbo, Scambo”
Move over ‘Amar,Akbar,Anthony’. Make way for ‘Rambo,Dumbo and Scambo’. A new zamana needs a new cult film with a fresh cast of characters. And here they are! Hollywood’s ‘Nightmare Works’ headed by Mr. Spillburger is collaborating with Bollywood’s biggest producer, Mr. Blockbusterwalla, to make a mega movie in time for an auspicious release in 2014 ( exact date , still to be fixed…. could be brought forward to 2013 at short notice, too). Auditions for minor roles are happening in studios across Gujarat, New Delhi and Mumbai.  The  heroes have been all but finalized. The search is on for three fetching heroines to star opposite these men. As of now, prominent female faces from West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh are vying to co-star in what promises to be the most awaited film of next year.
However, there is a small hitch in the proceedings. Sylvestor Stallone, the original Rambo, is not entirely happy with the casting director’s decision to go with a rather corpulent man from Gujarat for the macho role. Stallone’s spokesperson has voiced his reservations, particularly after a highly publicized but ‘mythical’ rescue operation undertaken by the local Rambo. “Sly prefers to do his own stunts,” said his manager frostily, adding, “Sly’s idea of musclepower is also different .” Ditto for Dumbo, the adorable Flying Elephant, who has expressed disappointment at the choice of  the  dimpled actor picked to play him. “ I use my own flappy ears to fly,”, insists Dumbo, who is in semi-retirement these days. Despite Mr. Spillburger’s assurances that the desi Dumbo is a darling of the masses , (children and simple folks, particularly) Dumbo the Elephant remains unconvinced, trumpeting his protests thus: “ I hear that guy walks when he should fly, flies when he should walk…. that isn’t good Dumbo behavior.” Which leaves the trickiest casting still open – Scambo. Mr. Spillburger has issued a press release declaring all auditions closed for now. According to his press secretary, potential Scambos from across India stormed into their offices demanding the role – or else! Apparently, there were so many takers, it was impossible to identify just one who’d fit the part. One of them  quoted a current  movie dialogue, “ Tere pass paisa hai… power hai… lekin mere pass public hai,” but still didn’t get the coveted role.
That leaves the ladies. Well, since this is a male oriented, action film, the women have little to do apart from three item songs. Mr. Spillburger is looking for heroines who can gyrate effortlessly, swing from one hero to the other, change sides, and switch partners at short notice. Those who have applied include leading ladies from regional cinema. Mr. Blockbusterwaala has issues . Said he in a terse press release, “ Our heroines are crucial to the success of the film. Audience appeal is key. They must suit the heroes.  We don’t want a size zero heroine. But we can’t have local heavyweights , either. They upset the balance in a scene.”   A little birdie let on that Rekha is being considered for one of the roles.  Not the  Rekha audiences know and love, but a brand new firebrand with her own fan following on Twitter.
Trade pundits are predicting a great showing at the box office, stating, “ ‘Rambo,Dumbo and Scambo’ will be the biggest hit of the decade. Forget  breaking into the 100 Crore Club. Our target is a few lakh crores. This film will define the mood of the nation… it will be historic and iconic. It is bound to break all previous records. Never before in the history of India have so many ‘Looteras’ come together for one project…. with one objective… to make tons of serious money in the shortest possible time. There is more at stake than just fame.” Naturally, with as powerful  a buzz doing the rounds, overseas’ territories sold out well in advance. All subsidiary rights have been locked in, as well. Mr.Spillburger is not worried about the rivalry between his heroes. “ In a market as big as this one there is room for everyone,” he assured distributors, adding, “Our target is one billion plus people.” The ambitious movie comes at a time when India is tottering, and the rupee is dangerously weak. Mr. Blockbusterwalla remains unfazed – “ Initial reports say the opening weekend will be super fantastic! People are looking for change. Those sticking to the purana formula will lose out to the new lot. Our movie will appeal across class and caste barriers. It’s time for fresh thinking.”

Meanwhile, a talent hunt has been launched for an actor to play the role of the chief villain. Mr. Spillburger is keen to cast a foreign player. The big question is : should he be in talks with an actor from Pakistan? Or should he be looking at an American? As of now, all nationalities  are welcome! Errr… except the Chinese.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Valley of Wonders...Limone

This appeared in The Robb Report...
                              Honeymoon alert: Limone - Valley of Wonders

Not for nothing is this extraordinary destination in the heart of the Italian Alps known as The Valley of Wonders – they really never cease! The wonders! Today, this incredibly beautiful valley whose history goes back to Roman times, attracts skiing enthusiasts from across the world. With 80 kilometres of slopes and 15 ski lifts, Limone Piedmont is rapidly acquiring a reputation as the premier skiing mountain resort, with beautifully appointed chalets dotting the alpine scenery. What makes this area even more alluring is the ancient history behind the lush valley. The Romans created a trade route through the rugged range, making it possible to reach the slopes of Col di Tenda taking the Via Augustea. In the Middle Ages, it became a key stopover for caravans of traders from Savoy. From the end of the nineteenth century, Limone was recognised as an attractive tourist destination.Years later, with a convenient railway connection to the French Riviera, and the introduction of  Italy’s first ski lift here, Limone Piedmont took its place as a top ski resort that sees international celebs enjoying the perfect slopes.  In fact, so ideal are skiing conditions here that Limone was selected as the perfect venue in the Alpine region to host the Italian Championships. In 2006, Limone also hosted  a competition during the Turin Winter Olympics.
Nestling cosily in the heart of this picturesque region, is a very special chalet called ‘Wonderfall’, which boasts of seven luxury themed suites inspired by the unique design traditions of America’s Wild West ( think Montana, Wyoming….). And here’s where the connection to America kicks in… but ssssh! It’s one of the valley’s best kept secrets. Kate ,  part owner of  Wonderfall Chalet , is the cousin of Princess Grace of Monaco. Kate who is also blond, beautiful and elegant ( it runs in the family!), built Wonderfall Chalet twenty years ago when she fell in love with the area. Today, Kate and her partner Didier, divide their time between Wonderfall and ‘Stars and Bars’ their very popular restaurant near the Monaco harbor. But it is their brainchild, the stunning Four Seasons Wonderfall Chalet, which is their absolute pride and joy. And why not? The beautifully appointed Four Seasons Chalet is spread over 1400 sq meters, and is rented as a whole  unit. Given that skiing has become the new Polo for India’s young and adventurous, a resort like this one makes perfect if pricy sense! It is undoubtedly an inspired and inspiring honeymoon destination, but it also ideal for those in search of a perfect break during a hectic European jaunt. Now that sociable honeymooners often travel in packs and prefer to take their bff’s with them, what better than to book a sprawling chalet that offers just about everything  ( from a resident chef who customizes menus and offers superlative cuisine, to fabulously well appointed themed suites) to make it a memorable, heavy duty bonding holiday – even if skiing and adventure sports are not your main thing.
The best way to get to Wonderfall is by helicopter ( the chalet has its own helipad). Not only is this the most exhilarating 20 minute chopper ride (1500 euros for 5 passengers) you are ever likely to experience, but at 1300 metres above sea level,  and the 360 degree vistas that are nothing short of breath taking, trust me, it is worth the steep price. To your right you can enjoy the most spectacular views of the French Riviera, with the glittering Cote d’Azur  kissing the beaches, and just over the next snow clad peak lies Italy! Sandwiched in between these two contrasting visuals is the jewel like Principality of Monaco. A unique and fascinating combo which makes it possible to start your day lazing by the sun drenched pool in Monte Carlo, then jumping into a HeliAir chopper and heading for some energizing skiing down those amazing slopes with  20 feet of fresh, powdery snow, followed by going for an après-ski  drink around a roaring fire,  enjoying  canapés and an aperitif  while relaxing in the large family lounge at Wonderfall Chalet, and then heading back to the Casino in Monte Carlo to try your luck at the tables. Oh, not to forget a nightcap at the buzzed American Bar at Hotel de Paris next door. If you still have the energy for some more serious partying, there is Buddha Bar down the road, or the world famous  Jimmyz across the Opera House.  This is just for starters!
My own recommendation is to start with a weeks’s stay at Wonderfall Chalet. During summer, when the snows melt, the valley is transformed into a sylvan paradise, with a gurgling waterfall ( Cascate del Piz) that drops down right next to the chalet. There are forest trails to explore and horse riding with expert Alpine guides. Nature walks in and around the chalet attract die hard romantics, who spend hours wandering around the woods that circle Wonderfall Chalet. Since the chalet is less than a two hour drive away from Monte Carlo, it is easy to nip down for an evening on the town and get back for an after dinner cognac at the chalet, which, incidentally, boasts of an exceptional cellar and a well stocked humidor. The resident chef prepares menus of your choice and uses the freshest local produce. At lunch, I  sampled smoked wild boar stuffed with melting cheese , while others at the table heartily tucked into their sirloin steaks! The staff of eight at the chalet work seamlessly to make sure your stay is both enjoyable and comfortable . In case your party includes young children, activities like a kiddie party under Red Indian tepees, are organized for them. While adults can take Yoga lessons, enjoy Spa treatments, or just relax in the outdoor Jacuzzis and sauna near the private pond. Massages come at 70 euros. But Yoga and the Spa are included in the price. Aha – the price. It is indeed pretty hefty. Hold your breath – the rate per night for the chalet is a staggering 10,000 euros (25k for three nights).Benjamin Boutemmy, the ever smiling chalet manager, along with his team, ensure you are never bored! During the salubrious summer months, one can go rafting, cliff climbing and canoeing, apart from taking riding lessons at 30 euros per hour.
The best way to get the most out of the Alpine trip is to include a decadent weekend at the historic Hotel Hermitage in Monte Carlo, either before or after Limone. The Honeymoon Package at L’Hermitage is particularly charming, with lots of lyrical and romantic flourishes thrown in. None of this is modestly priced, of course. A junior suite with a jacuzzi on a terrace that overlooks the Port of Monaco, is the ideal way to break into the laidback Mediterranean lifestyle that defines Monaco. Not only can you enjoy great views of fantastic yachts of the staggeringly rich and the fabulously famous bobbing around in the harbour, but you can do so while sipping  Cristal Roederer champagne and nibbling Laduree macaroons while immersed in the outdoor Jacuzzi. The prices for this indulgence start at 1274 euros a night. Don’t gulp or blink! But think of the romantic potential it offers  love birds celebrating l’amour  in as magical a setting!  The Hermitage Hotel (280 rooms, 26  suites, 24 junior suites) offers free access to the swish Monte Carlo Beach Club and the Thermes Marins Spa (which boasts of the best health food menu ever at the  attached Hirondelle restaurant). Once you are done with lavish beauty treatments at the Salon Bleu, you can soak in the pleasures of a traditional hamam, before heading out for a one hour photo shoot with a professional photographer ( 360 euros for the session with the CD of images).To help you get into the mood for the lovey dovey pictures, buckets of  perfectly chilled bubbly are always on stand by! There’s no better way to feel like a celebrity couple! 

This is the life, honeymooners sigh, as they head to the Casino yet again , for a final fling at breaking the bank! And just in case you have forgotten to pack your tux or evening gown, worry not  –  the best couture houses are but a few paces away. And while you are in the mood to splurge, why not pop in to the Cartier boutique downstairs to take a look at their latest, limited edition ‘Crash’ watch? Unless, of course, neither time nor cash is of any consequence at this stage…in which case, surrender to excess at every level… after all, that’s what honeymoons and holidays are meant for.