Smriti could learn a thing or two from Sarika…
Sarika , the talented, light-eyed actress of yore (“Humraaz” 1967), has always but always been her own person. She was one of the first leading ladies in Bollywood to openly break a cardinal rule or two when it came to acknowledging romantic relationships. Without going into too many personal details, let it be said that it took guts to leave her home, take charge of her career, and move in with Karan Kapoor ( Shashi Kapoor’s photographer son). Subsequently, she fell in love with a much married Kamalhassan, moved South, produced two daughters (Akshara and Shruti) with him, took a backseat from acting, and immersed herself totally in her husband’s world. Till, that carefully built universe collapsed… and she found herself back in Mumbai, ready to begin a new life yet again, minus any discernible support system. Rather than allow such a traumatic mid-life crisis to bog her down, Sarika quietly picked up the pieces and soldiered on. Today, she has slipped back seamlessly into Bollywood and more recently, into commercial television (“Yudh”). Sarika continues to remain an outsider in the glamour world, sticking to handloom sarees, sporting little or no jewelry, her luminous face devoid of make-up.Her daughters are doing reasonably well in a hard and cruel business that’s showbiz. And Sarika sensibly makes zero reference to Kamalhassan.
What interested me about her present life was her candid confession in a recent HT Brunch interview. When asked about her educational qualifications, she stated simply that she’d never been to school and college ( “ never went to any. I studied on my own)! And yet, here was a woman who picked Marquez’s ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ as her all-time favourite book and answered most of the other questions in a mature, straight-forward fashion. Sarika sounded far more educated than many so-called well-educated celebrities, in and out of Bollywood ! While her admission(self-schooled) came as a surprise to me, I thought to myself how refreshing it was for a high profile actress to not shy away from an inescapable fact of life. Sarika could have fibbed. That she was so upfront about her lack of a formal education was at once endearing and heart breaking. I am sure Sarika won many more fans after that interview. Just like Smriti Irani lost several after her Yale boast.
No matter what level of damage control Smriti now undertakes, it is a pity one careless claim will permanently mark her political track record. Smriti has been positioned as one of the brightest stars in Narendra Modi’s cabinet. She started off her political innings on a high note. Her being appointed the minister for HRD ( under which Education forms a key responsibility), was critically scrutinized by Modi-watchers, but given Smriti’s other abilities, everybody was willing to give her a fair chance. Yes, there were glaring discrepancies in earlier declarations about her educational credentials, but they were glossed over, as Smriti took charge of her portfolio and briskly got down to work. No matter what she says today about the unfortunate Yale boo- boo, it is one major faux pas, she won’t be able to wish away. Had she only been more transparent about her educational antecedents, nobody would have bothered all that much about specifics and technicalities ( correspondence course? Degree or diploma? In which subject? When? From where?). By misleading people and talking about a ‘degree’ from one of the most prestigious colleges in the world, Smriti Irani dug her own grave.
The thing is, we live in far less opaque times these days. It’s virtually impossible to concoct stories or suppress information. Politicians, in particular, need to be super cautious before opening their big mouths and making tall claims. They really ought to know better than to believe they’ll get away with lies. It takes under two minutes to corroborate/ cross-check practically any information about public figures. How could Smriti Irani have imagined that she of all people, would get away with such an absurd declaration. Did she really think nobody would double check? Or did she really not know the difference between acquiring a legitimate, bona fide ‘degree’ from college, after studying for it like every other student, and getting a certificate after attending a 6-day leadership programme? If it is the latter case, it is time to worry. A Cabinet Minister heading a ministry that is supposed to be in charge of young minds ( 50% of India’s 125 crore population is under the age of 25), is a monumental responsibility. One hopes Smriti Irani is aware of the task she faces at this critical juncture. Nobody cares a damn whether or not she studied at Yale. But we sure as hell care that she lied about it. That was the real ‘unpadh’ move…
Alia Bhatt as Albert Einstein: It’s her way or the ‘Highway’…
“Genius of the Year” is clever,clever,clever. But clever is not always enough. The reason why ‘Genius…” has worked brilliantly and gone viral, is because it uses its own cleverness to explore a universal anxiety about appearing stupid in public. Every single person watching this video will instantly connect to his / her own stupidity and ignorance. It is designed to make you squirm at the recollection of something dumb you’ve said or done at some point in your life. And most of all ,it taps into every person’s ‘Alia Moment’. Who hasn’t had one? Or several? The best thing about the video , of course, is Alia Bhatt herself, as she goes along with the running gags and sends herself up. Now that may just turn out to be the smartest thing she has ever done in her young life. In one stroke, Alia has managed to change her image of being the dumbest doll in Bollywood, to that of a spunky, spirited, sporting girl who can laugh at herself and come out on top of her game. Now it’s the turn of her critics and detractors to look totally stupid. Well done!
The video also makes viewers review their attitude to GK and IQ. The two can be mutually exclusive and often are. Alia’s talent on screen has been unambiguously established , and there’s a good chance she’ll walk away with the Best Actress award this year. Talent of this caliber generally goes with a high IQ. About her abysmal GK – come on, she exposed that during her Koffee interview and ended up becoming the butt end of some pretty nasty jokes . She took them on the chin. So, let’s hand it to her for two reasons 1) Alia had the guts to agree to the spoof that is entirely based on her low GK quotient 2) She had the brains to figure out such a risky decision would work in her favour.
The subtext of the video is equally compelling. Take Karan Johar’s line : “ Of course we have hot and clever heroines in Bollywood – they are called HEROES.” Meeoow! Truer words were never spoken, and one wonders how many heroes ducked for cover after that dig! It’s Karan again who , when talking about the Black Hole theory, adds a naughty, self-revelatory aside when he mumbles, “ Black Hole… something I have not entered recently.” Ooooops! Confession time on YouTube, Karan? These swipes, demonstrating throwaway panache by one of Bollywood’s most successful producer-directors, also show an admirable coming of age all around. To be able to mock yourself… to indulge in self-parody… to make fun of the humourless geeks out there who relentlessly tormented Alia for months, is an inspired move… one that has paid rich dividends to everyone involved in the project. Eventually, it is Alia Bhatt’s triumph and redemption. Particularly, the last staged joke when Alia states her ambition to become “India’s First woman Prime Minister”, till she is reminded India already had one – Indira Gandhi. Alia squints, looks bewildered, goes blank and asks, “Who? Who? Who?” What a masterstroke!
Thank you, guys for coming up with this genius idea. And if Alia does not bag a well-deserved award for ‘Highway’, let’s give her one for this superb performance!
I don’t want ‘mardaani’ – do you?
I am staring at Rani Mukherjee’s face in a prominent ad as I write this. The headline says, “Be the woman you were born to be…” And I feel worried. Was I born to be hard? This hard? Yes, we know Rani plays a cop in the film. Her character is described as “Tough. Fearless. Independent.” Like millions of other Rani -watchers, I am wondering whether Mukherjee is playing herself. She has been promoting her film in innovative ways. Her latest effort was to flag off the Women Beat Marshalls on behalf of the Mumbai Police. Presswallas have referred to her loose clothing and obvious weight gain, while concluding the newly-minted ‘maalkin’ of Yash Raj Films is expecting her first child with Aditya Chopra. Perhaps she is. Perhaps she isn’t. What does it matter? In my head, I am comparing her promotional efforts to Ajay Devgn’s (“ Singham Returns”). That makes it two cop films back-to-back. With one major difference – the gender of the cop.
Going by the trailer of ‘Mardaani’ , Rani probably pulps as many bad guys single handedly as Ajay did in his movie. She also gets a bloodied nose, which is more than what Ajay suffers after breaking countless bones ( not his own, of course ) and shooting dozens of nasty toughies. Ajay walks away without a scratch on his face, or even a blood stain on his spotless ganji. His trendy aviators stay firmly on his nose through most of the action, and he also finds the time to sing a love duet with his ditsy girl friend. Ajay is the quintessential Bolllywood cop. I would love to get our CP Rakesh Maria’s take on the portrayal and ask him what he thinks of cop films in general, and Bollywood masala cop films in particular. Does a supercop like Bajirao Singham enhance the image /credibility of our cops… or do such projections mislead the public into thinking our friendly neighbourhood cops aren’t doing enough if they don’t bash up at least fifty armed goons, blow up twenty vans, and also find the time for romance – all in a day’s work.
Rani’s character is tougher to play, going by early reports. And I wonder how women will relate to it. With movies that are determinedly breaking old moulds and projecting female characters as made-of-steel superwomen, capable of taking on the most brutal adversaries, physically and emotionally, are we, in fact, creating a brave, new role model for the desperate-for-change, impatient-for-justice women of India? If our real lives continue to be as vulnerable, perhaps what we need for our survival is an escape into fantasy storylines that show women in full charge, undaunted by and unafraid of anybody or anything? The very concept of ‘mardaani’ is troubling, because it suggests we have to clone aggressive male behavior in order to hang in there.It was used by Hindi poet Subhadrakumari to describe Rani Lakshmi Bai and means “Like a man’. Not all of us can be Rani Lakshmi Bai. Not all of us have access to police training. How many women know how to use guns… ? Or even fists? After Rani’s macho act, we will watch Priyanka Chopra as iconic boxer, Mary Kom.
Rani and Priyanka are representative of today’s generation of accomplished professionals in Bollywood. By choosing these unusual roles, both of them are indirectly reflecting contemporary concerns that plague women. Uncompromising competitiveness being one of them. The very notion of beating men at their own game, is a loaded one. The message that women have to outperform, outshine, outdo men, if they decide to step out of their comfort zones and fight for legitimacy, is in its own way, most unfair. Why should women have to expend extra energy being more like men? Why should women have to change so drastically in order to win respect? Why should women have to gate crash a Boy’s Club to fulfill their dreams and ambitions? There are millions of women out there who may not possess the required ‘mardaani’ to cope with society’s demands. Will they be in a position to cheer Rani? Applaud Priyanka / Mary? Will these portrayals inspire lesser women?Or discourage them? The message being sent out, is a little dodgy. What it suggests to me is this : Women live in tough / dangerous times. If we want to make our way through picket fences without getting molested, beaten, raped, murdered, maimed, we’d better start toughening up. If we don’t tap into our own ‘mardaani’, we will be vanquished. Our popular movies are saying , “Get ready for war.” Whereas, real life is crying out and pleading, “Give peace a chance.” Tough choices. Have you made yours?