Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Need a show of hands here....

Dear, Dear Blogdosts.... I value what you guys think and say. Which is why I'm asking you a simple question - do you want to read my published columns in this space from time to time?? I post them here only after they've appeared in whichever publications I write for. Not because I am too lazy to write a fresh post, but because I want to share that column with those of you who may not have access to or read the newspaper\magazine it was originally written for. The response I receive here is immediate and direct - no filters. I like that. For a writer, there can be no better 'high' than instant communication with the readers. But some of you have protested saying you would prefer not to find a column here. Or by insisting a blog is a blog is a blog. No more columns. I am a little confused. For me it is all about reaching out and sharing ideas, experiences, thoughts. What does it matter whether that is achieved via a specially written post or through a recent column? Am I missing some vital point here?? Help me out!!
I'm off to Singapore tomorrow. It has been an unusually hectic day today, ending with an art exhibition at the Jehangir Art Gallery. I rather liked Sujata Dharap's work - it was intense and felt and true. This show titled 'The Diary' ,was an attempt to document the past year through images that captured important moments in the artist's life. There were two large canvases with huge polka dots which were very pop art-ish - playful and fun. Sujata said the dots represented windows - 'one has to first look outside in order to look within,' she explained. I nodded sagely, had a cup of sweet, milky chai and came home. Dunno when I'll write the next post. I'll probably borrow my son's laptop and 'do the needful' while in Singapore. Meanwhile - here's my message for the day - don't let the Mangalore Monsters get away. Molestors must be punished. No mercy.If we don't raise our voices against this talibanisation of our culture, we are doomed. Keep up the pressure. The chief minister of Karnataka must apologise, take immediate action against the goondas, or resign. He is the worst thing to have happened to that state. Ask the people of Bangalore - this man has totally ruined that gorgeous city of young, vibrant , pub going people, by imposing his outdated rules and absurd restrictions. Worse - he has tacitly supported those hooligans who claimed they wanted to 'protect' traditional Indian values.Sure - by manhandling defenceless girls?? Shame on those fellows. Prosecute the lot. Or face the citizens' wrath.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Where have all the leaders gone...??

Joan Baez lives!God bless her heart. We know where the flowers she sang about have gone ( they’ve been crushed a long, long time ago), but now here comes a book written by a crusty, feisty 82- year-old legend called Lee Iacocca (surely you remember the saviour of Chrysler Corporation?) titled, ‘‘Where have all the leaders gone?” Perfect timing. Perfect tone. Just as the world is in raptures over its latest Superman (Obama), Iacocca’s book raises pertinent questions about leadership and responsibility. Iacocca argues his case brilliantly, passionately and convincingly. The book needs to be made compulsory reading for not just Americans going gaga over their brand new President, but for anybody interested in effective change. With elections in India round the corner, it is exactly this crisis (“Where are the leaders? Why should we vote?’’) that needs to be urgently addressed.
I was on a jury judging the final round of a debate involving college students from Maharashtra. The topic was topical, relevant and challenging (“Governance of a State is better served by a directly elected C.M. rather than through an indirectly elected one as is prevalent today’’). The interesting thing was this – who do you think made it to the final round? Not the smart, sassy students from elite South Mumbai colleges, but clever, ambitious students from colleges in rural Maharashtra – Bordi and Aurangabad. We listened to the team leaders as they argued for and against the motion. What emerged was the level of genuine engagement in the political process, as well as a desperate cry for reform in the electoral processes. But the frustration and despair were evident once the competition was over ( the vibrant, articulate women from Bordi thrashed the men from Aurangabad by a huge margin), and the students were chatting informally with the judges. It was the same question - “ Where are the leaders worth voting for?” And it is indeed this very question that has most voters in a quandary. Every country is looking for an Obama – a charismatic, inspirational, youthful, dynamic person capable of motivating millions. But an Obama cannot be ‘manufactured’. Omar Abdullah is Omar Abdullah – there is a lot of hope riding on the guy. But it would be wrong and foolish to impose Obama’s personality on him. Just as it would be foolhardy to propel Rahul Gandhi to premiership, based on nothing beyond perception. Let him toil a little for the top job – and by that I don’t mean a night spent in a sanitized village with poster boy Millihand.
Increasingly, it looks as if the next election will be determined by nothing more than caste - modern India’s biggest curse.Even the thought that the under -25 citizens of the country – the very people who will decide the next government, will be influenced by something as medieval as caste, is depressing. It is this constituency that needs to read Iacocca’s bold book which throws up tough questions on every page and demands a response to the provocative issues it raises.
Whether it is Satyam, ‘Slumdog…’ or Sanjay Dutt, we are actually confronting the very same issues – corruption and more corruption. Moral and financial. There are enough people out there who are willing to stick their necks out and fight the rot. Like one of the bright eyed debaters said with admirable conviction, “ Why criticize the system ? We need to become a part of the solution.” Her simple statement worked like a booster shot and I found myself strangely re-energized after weeks of quiet rage. The same evening, I came home to find Munnabhai telling viewers that he saw himself as a ‘leader’ and not a ‘politician’. I instantly wanted him to face some of our aware, committed students and ask them what they thought of his leadership qualities. Whether they were ready to accept his ‘jaddu ki jhappis’ and fall for his scripted ‘Gandhigiri’ lines? Sanjay Dutt, it may surprise you to know that our youth are not as gullible as to confuse Bollywood dialogues from a popular film for political savvy. As for ‘serving the people’, maybe serving the jail term first is the better option. In today’s India, such is the irony that the word ‘satyam..’ has become a synonym for corruption on a mega scale. Truth and justice no longer go together. Which maybe why there are so many Indians who refuse to accept ‘Slumdog…’ on merit and continue to regard it as a western conspiracy. Good cinema always but always hides a kernel of truth. How long and how far are we going to run from it ?? Jai ho!!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Jai Ho,....!

Read my lips : no more 'Slumdog..." The movie and all the hype around it are coming out of my ears. Good on you , Boyle and gang. And may you win all the 10 Oscars you have been nominated for. But for now... I desperately need some respite. I have read all the reviews, heard most of the tv debates, absorbed differing opinions.... you get the gist. That the movie has not opened to full houses even in Mumbai does not surprise me in the least. Plus, it hardly matters. It has been declared a global winner. For now, let's get a life....and save the band baaja for the post-Oscars' party.
Met Sushmita Sen after ages at a wonderful evening put together by the India chapter of the IAA (an international body that represents the advertising community). She was the chief guest at a contest to determine the best pitch to take Nobel Laureate Dr. Rajendra Pachauri's solar lantern initiative forward. Remember the 'Light a Billion Lives' campaign? Most of us noted it but didn't act. All it takes is 3, 600 rupees to donate a lantern, and 3 lakhs to bring electricity to a village. There are 40 crore Indian citizens living without electricity in this day and age!! What a shameful statistic. As Dr. P briefed a few of us, who formed the final jury, left to government intervention, lighting up these villages would take another 240 years!!! But with the support of NGOs, corporates and individuals, this life transforming initiative could achieve its ambitious target within a few short years. Annapoorna, Dr. Pauchari's attractive programme director demonstrated how very easy it was to get the Lantern movement to take off - and Sushmita was gracious enough to kick start the process by handing over 2 cheques, from herself and her daughter Renee, as her personal contribution. She made a charming and sincere speech.... and looked like a million bucks, clad in slim-fitting black trousers and a black shirt. There was no evidence of the extra kilos the press has been commenting on. The best thing about Sushmita is that she radiates positivity. There is an infectious exhuberance about her that is entirely appealing. Whether or not her career is going anywhere, is irrelevant. She is obviously in a happy space.... and glowing! Love ke side effects???

Thursday, January 22, 2009

No awe..... some shock

Obama disappointed me during his moment of glory. It started with the double fumble while taking the oath (Michelle's face was worth watching during those tense few seconds), and carried on from that point to a weak finale. Of course, the well -rehearsed speech had its moments (come on, if the President of the United States of America, with his team of speech writers can't get it right, who can?), but his crucial bhaashan lacked dum of the kind expected on such a historic occasion. I thought his rousing 'Yes, we can..." address right after his nomination, was far more effective and stirring. Deconstructing this one, what was my take away?? Frankly, I don't really know. Apart from mentioning world religions (okay Hindoos, you count - but Buddhists and Sikhs obviously don't) and stressing on diversity (current buzz word internationally), I really don't understand what he was pushing. The only time he touched my heart was when he paid a tribute to American servicemen - that sounded genuine. But the ominous words , "America in decline '' right at the start of the speech, were negative, even though they are true. Americans don't need to be reminded of that scenario at this point - and certainly not by a brand new President. His reference to his ancestors was not required, either. Did our former Dalit President keep harping on his roots? Never! Did Abdul Kalam talk about being a Muslim in a predominantly Hindu country? Never! Obama personalised his status by bringing his father into the speech ("60 years ago, he would have been refused service at a restaurant"). These sort of reminders cause pain and the world needs positive reinforcement rather than an opening up of old wounds. Obama resembled a sharply dressed news anchor, an Oscar's host, a show biz moghul.But that apart, I felt let down by his content. Now... let's see him in action. His time begins now!
My jaw dropped listening to Sanjay Dutt - and more so - listening to Maanyata - holding forth on their political ambitions. There is a limit to the public's tolerance in such matters. Or ought to be. If Sanjay can claim with a straight face that he sees himself as a 'leader', not a politician, and insist he wants to 'serve the people' (pray tell us, how?), and those statements go unchallenged by an awestruck anchor (really Mahrukh!) sorry, but we disgrace ourselves in accepting his words at face value. Not just Sanjay, but any convicted individual must be debarred from contesting the elections. Ditto for illiterate candidates. Citizens have the right to push for these basic reforms before it is too late. As for sati savitree Maanyata's virtuous admission that she seeks her husband's permission before going out for coffee with her friends..... wow!! she's come a long way - from pole dancing to political shamming. Shades of Eva Peron?? Maybe we deserve them both. Shall we distribute a few jadu ki jhappis in their honour?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Obama ki jai ho....

A few short hours from now, America will have a brand new President.... and the world, a brand new leader. There is an air of expectation and optimism, as a young, handsome, intelligent, charismatic man assumes his place on the global stage. We were invited to join the party (right here at the J.W.Marriott in Mumbai), where the dress code was red, white and blue. We decided to pass and watch this historic swearing -in ceremony from the comfort of our home. I have my fingers and toes crossed. Perhaps the terror attacks have made me go on a high alert myself. But I am feeling a sense of unease.... some sort of foreboding. Behind the euphoria lurks the fear - "What if....?" For the wicked of this earth, there can't be a bigger opportunity to create mayhem. Here's hoping and praying the Inaugural functions go off without any nasty incident... and that the Obamas start their new life in the White House with the blessings of the entire universe.
Last week I was interviewed for a Dutch tv channel by a very sharp and fun anchor called Nic Balthazar. In the sweeping 10 -part series on India, this segment was on entertainment in the broadest sense. Nic who is a columnist and actor, had played a tiny cameo in a Mumbai studio as part of the shoot. It was in the local tv serial on Shivaji. He had also made a 3 minute film on kissing! He was told it wouldn't find any takers here since nobody kissed in India!! Partly true. People procreate. But few kiss. No wonder all those attempts at introducing kissing in Bollywood movies have met with zero success. Imran Hashmi may find himself out of his sole job soon .
Rajinder Singh 'Atish', a script writer has claimed damages from Yashraj Films for pinching his story, making a few cosmetic changes and passing it off as an original titled, "Rab ne bana di jodi." He has modestly demanded 25 lakhs. The film has grossed 180 crores worldwide. I really don't know whether Atish's claim is legitimate. All I can tell you is that I have had innumerable such experiences with tv channels, movie guys... the biggest names in the entertainment world. They come looking for fresh ideas... new scripts. You give them a storyline, a breakthrough concept. They shy away from discussing money, and balk at the idea of a lawyer handling the deal..... drawing up contracts etc The next thing you know, the show is on some channel....and you've been conned. Yet again . Intellectual Property Rights?? You must be kidding. They simply don't exist in India. Which is why I have stopped entertaining these 'chors'. It's not worth the precious time I give them - that costs money, too.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Natak baazi band karo...!

I really think the most condescending\arrogant thing for an actor to do is pass on his own award to another actor and hope to win brownie points for it. Whosoever advised Akshay Kumar to ‘charitably’ donate his own recent award to Aamir Khan, was so off the mark, as was Akshay for acting on that advice. Unless of course it was Akshay’s bright idea in the first place. By offering your own award to a colleague and adding you are doing that because he better deserved the honour, you are showing the utmost disrespect for the award and the organizers. Think about it – a Nobel Laureate turns up in Stockholm for the ceremony and then decides to nominate someone else after turning up and making a speech!! How fake is that . It automatically devalues the prize.Besides questioning the jury’s ability to decide who the deserving candidates are. An Aamir Khan does not need a second hand award from a non-actor like Akshay. It is adding insult to injury. If this foolish act catches on, I can visualize amusing scenarios like a Miss World tearing the crown off her head and dramatically placing it on the runner up’s bouffant . Or someone winning a Padma Bhushan and declaring pseudo modestly that he\she was unworthy of such recognition, but hey – here’s the asli person who should get it instead.
What childish games these moviewallahs indulge in – really!! Grow up, you guys. We know what big hearts you have and how magnanimous you are…. no need for such nataks. That goes for all those ‘dedications’ as well. Since the Awards’ season is upon us , may we please be spared the tedium of listening to those badey dilwaley log, praising this one and that one , right and left, while preening away self -consciously. And may we also be spared those cheap pot shots that have degenerated into slanging matches that cause much embarrassment and are totally unwarranted. Good on you, Ashutosh Gowarikar for trying to restore a modicum of decorum into the proceedings. It is one thing to be genuinely witty and make a few good- humoured digs at award winners.Quite another to mock and demean awardees. Class ka sawaal hai. Not everybody can be a Billy Crystal or a Whoopie Goldberg.

I have to hand it to her – she has done it! Pulled it off, after three years of back breaking work, and admirable commitment. I visited the Kolkilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital in Andheri with the driving force behind the project – Tina Ambani. The first thing that struck me about the place was how un hospital-like it was. I am one of those who get intimidated and uneasy in hospitals. But walking through the large, sunny, cheerful lobby of this hospital, I felt like I was strolling through a toned down version of Burj Al Arab in Dubai.But it was when I saw the state of the art O.T.s, the superbly designed pediatrics wing, and several equally impressive facilities stacked on different floors, that I realized what an amount of monumental planning has gone into getting this ambitious project off the ground . The soft launch has happened, in fact, the docs were jubilant as they’d successfully carried out their first bypass surgery the previous day, and there were several walk- ins that very morning. Since the focus will remain on cardiac procedures ( remember, this was Dr. Mandke’s dream when he passed away), Tina and her able team have concentrated on attracting the best surgeons from across the world. They are being lured from places like Cleveland and the hospital has several reputed surgeons on board already.I met Dr. Narain ( very hands on, very dynamic) and Dr. Nambiar (the bypass doc), and was impressed by their obvious dedication.Tina told me she had inherited a mere shell when she got involved. The place was stripped and remodeled from scratch. To make it a truly world class facility, she says with justifiable pride, was her big challenge. I’d say she has done so with aplomb! Tina is at the hospital every single day, working long, tiring hours just to ensure nothing is left to chance when the official opening takes place (soon!). I was delighted to discover this side to Tina – she knows every square inch of the hospital intimately, is aware and knowledgeable about all the plans and innovations in the pipeline, can discuss intricate surgical procedures and breakthroughs and has become half a doc herself! Oh…. and this is just so Tina. Not wanting the hospital to be a grim and depressing place, she has imaginatively provided other add- ons – like a fancy beauty parlour, a fine dining restaurant, an informal café, a gifts boutique,a business centre, and heavenly rooms for relatives to check into. There are two presidential suites as well , strictly for VVIP patients. Gulp!! You almost want to fall sick to check this place out. Glad the balance is being maintained.That’s how it should be in a family – one bahu has a great school to run and is doing a terrific job of it, now the younger one has a plush hospital!! Dhirubhai would have been so proud.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Bhajan aur Bhojan

I have just come home after an uplifting satsang hosted by Neerja and Kumarmangalam Birla on the grounds of their magnificent mansion. It was a warm and still night, with the heady fragrance of rajnigandha thick in the humid air.... and yet, the moment I heard Vikram Hazra's version of 'Achchutam Keshavam..." I was transported. I forgot the heat... the traffic..... my persistent headache.That is the magic of music ... it can heal and soothe. And tonight I needed solace.... a gentle touch.... a reminder of my own vulnerability. Hazra is a senior instructor at The Art of Living Foundation. He is a self taught musician with no formal training. Perhaps that is best. He performs all over the world with his talented band, plays the flute beautifully.... and the guitar, too. But it is when he sings those well loved bhajans , and gives them a contemporary spin, that you experience divinity. The satsang ends with basic deep breathing exercises...... you shut your eyes and allow your mind to experience silence in the real sense of the word. A stillness settles into that over worked brain... and you find yourself floating.... your body - weightless, and your entire being suddenly at peace... one with the cosmos. Such a pity the spell has to be broken.... but at least you have been a small part of it... and for that alone you are grateful.
Hazra exudes good humour and cheer. An ex-Sony guy, he's married to a lovely young tv actress called Tina. I suspect he sings to her and for her! Which man wouldn't?? He jokes about his career switcheroo, saying lightly that he lives from bhajan to bhojan and loves it that way. His repertoire is eclectic with influences that range from Japan, Africa and Canada. He effortlessly combines all these marvelous sounds and weaves them into sanskrit shlokas... Surdas... Pali couplets. It has a mesmerising effect on listeners... as was evident that night. Oh well... I have reluctantly come back to earth. But who knows... I may wake up singing 'Achhutam Keshavam...' tomorrow morning.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Fantasy Vs. Reality

And so the debate rages on... should the world be exposed to Mumbai's sores and sewers... or should we keep up the bombardment of Bambaiya ishstyle entertainment - the kind Bollywood espouses? I have very mixed feelings on the subject. Bollywood is a 'nasha' - a narcotic. It is meant to intoxicate and create delusions. The only serious objection such an approach poses is that countless uneducated folk start believing what they see - they assume Mumbai is exactly the way a commercial film maker projects it - garish, loud, full of gorgeous looking young people singing and dancing in the streets and becoming crorepatis overnight. According to recent statistics over 3000 people from all over India come to Mumbai daily.... and never leave. Most are sold a version of the city via Bollywood masala films. The harsh realities hit them later. By then it is too late. There is no going back. Jobless and frustrated, they turn to petty crime in order to survive. And from petty crime to major criminal activity is but a small step away. These guys cannot distinguish between Bollywood's absurd representation of life in the Big Mango. They don't know this is the ultimate escapist dream designed to dull the senses. They get sucked into a dangerous world...and their own lives spiral out of control.
Detractors of 'Slumdog...' maybe nervous that the film's success will cut into this dream factory and Bollywood may decide to reinvent itself, rethink the old formula.... then what?? For those who have fed on this formula, such a shift spells trouble - big trouble. They are least concerned about larger social issues or implications. If their constituency gets shaken, their earnings and star power drops automatically. Which explains the stiff resistance being put up to 'Slumdog.....' by big names from Bollywood. Those who argue the world should applaud our illogical, crazy commercial cinema with its gloss and humbug intact. We love those films because we know they are nonsensical and far removed from us. But try saying that to a 16-year-old school dropout from Lucknow\Kanpur\Allahabad.... he wants to be in the movies. He wants it bad.Bollywood is it!! And to such a person, the Bollywood ka Sapna is as real as Koena's plastic nose or Rakhi Sawant's implants. No sir.... 'Slumdog..." is difficult .... too difficult to digest. Like truth itself.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Let's go slumming...again

Perhaps Amitabh Bachchan does have a point - Western audiences gobble up our poverty greedily. It turns them on like nothing else. 'Slumdog...." plumbs the depths. Low life cannot get any lower. So... to attribute the Big B's outburst against the film to mere pique would be to insult his intelligence. I can tell you from personal experience that my early novels which spoke about a glittering, prosperous city called Bombay, filled with vibrant, intelligent and glamourous denizens ( the reality I understood best) were rejected by readers in America, the U.K. etc because they refused to believe such an India existed!! They hated the very notion of rich Indians living the good life. Literary agents urged me to write a different kind of book.... focus on deprivation, caste, grim realities associated with India, and preferably throw in a foreign (read: White) male protagonist who shows up as a 'saviour' of sorts. I flatly refused to write 'made for the West' books, saying I was very happy with my domestic market. 'Socialite Evenings', my virgin book, had Malabar Hill as the main locale. An agent in New York actually asked me whether I had invented the destination and merely transposed a Beverley Hills scenario onto it!! The cheek of it all. Sweet irony - the same book will be out in its American edition in September 2009 - and this time round , the agents are salivating. What has changed? India! All my novels are now in translation and selling well across Europe - four of them will be published in Russia - a really tough market to crack . Yes sir.... the world is looking at India.... and shivering. Even the global economic meltdown has left India relatively untouched so far. Then along comes a 'Slumdog...' and perceptions-wise at least, we are back to square one - slums, shit, corruption and photogenic desi poverty - a winning combo. This is not to take anything away from the film's many virtues. Maybe we are being extra touchy. As a lovely Aussie friend, Sandra Willet, wrote to me. 'Slumdog..' to her was about choices and a deep sense of integrity that crosses cultures and demographics. That's the way a lot of people across the world have, it's best to leave it there.
But.... here's my question - why do our stars dress so badly when they attend prestigious awards like the Golden Globe?? What on earth was SRK doing with the tie tucked inside his shirt front?? And Rahman's weird shades? Anil K's tux?? Why not wear a sharply- cut sherwani or a shorter, smart bandgala ? Why resemble Puerto Rican maitre d's when you can look like Indian Maharajahs?? Oh... SRK mentioned it was Allah's blessings that won Rahman his GG. Oooooops - Rahman thanked the one billion Indians who were behind him!!
One more thing.... are you guys really surprised 'Taarey Zameen Par' was thrown out in round one of the Oscar's itself?? I am not. The film that should have gone from India is 'Tingya' or 'Valu'. But who says these selections are determined on the basis of merit???

Monday, January 12, 2009

Am I surprised by 'Slumdog's......' success...?

You know the answer. But apart from the obvious merits of the movie, it also makes immense business sense for Hollywood to finally acknowledge India's existence.... and indirectly, Bollywood's importance in world cinema. We have had a vibrant film industry for over a hundred years. We have had talent on an international scale for decades. But Hollywood has never taken serious note of our presence in this arena, with the exception of Satyajit Ray and Bhanu Athaiya... and that was aeons ago. Would 'Slumdog..." have garnered this kind of prestige minus Boyle?? Hypothetical question - it would have been an entirely different film. Let us be happy for now. Asking SRK to present one of the Golden Globes is again an acknowledgement of Bollywood's importance. About time, too....
While on Bollywood, I ran into one of my all -time favourite glam gals, Urmilla Matondkar last week.... and I had the best time chattering incessantly in Marathi. We were meeting after several years, and Urmilla looked as luscious as the day RGV spotted her. I watch 'Rangeela' at least once a year just to look at Urmilla and Aamir together. It was refreshing to talk to an older, but no less candid actress than the ingenue I'd met such a long time ago. Urmilla's sense of humour is intact. She is perhaps one of the most intelligent and well- informed actresses in Bollywood. Someone who can hold her own in any company. Put that down to her upbringing - she is a high IQ girl who can laugh at herself as she confesses, " I make fresh mistakes all the time in my choice of roles - but at least they are fresh!" We were joined by the lovely Vidya Balan - another well brought up and cultured actress, with impeccable manners. Plus, a beautiful, discreet mother who does not act like her shadow, but is always around just the same. Let's hope Vidya's new releases do something for her stalled career. The trouble is, her debut was unforgettable - audiences cannot and will not let her walk away from 'Parineeta'. That's Vidya's triumph.... but also a bit of a cross to bear. Ah well.... it was a fun evening. And the girls looked smashing. Baat khatam.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Slumkutta Crorepati

Danny Boyle has not made a movie.... he has made history. I watched 'Slumdog Millionaire' in stunned silence... I was entirely unprepared for its impact... benumbed by its content. This is cinema at its most powerful - searing, raw, brutal and honest. So honest that there are times you can't bear to watch... and yet you are unable to tear your eyes away. Mumbai's ugly secrets stand exposed... its many wounds are displayed right up there, for the world to see. One part of me said, ''I wish he hadn't made this film and stripped my city so cruelly.... revealed its nakedness..." The other part was protesting.... wildly protesting. I hated Boyle's portrayal of Mumbai .... felt protective, felt betrayed.... but also felt the truth. Which is why it hurt. Continues to hurt. There is no exagerration in Boyle's depiction. Mumbai's underbelly is as sordid as shown. Gangsters control India's most glittering metropolis.... the underworld's tentacles are everywhere - from child prostitution to supari murders. Boyle has exposed this underbelly in a manner that makes one squirm, cringe, reject and reluctantly accept - Mumbai is not for the faint hearted. Neither is this film. And if you can't stomach some of the scenes - too bad. Don't flinch. Don't look away. This is Mumbai meri jaan. Where kids watch their mother being hacked by communal forces and flee the bloodbath, only to come back to the same spot again. This time as a part of the evil force themselves.Redemption?? Who knows what this is called. It is chillingly authentic - we see the same kids each time we step outside our home and they come up to the car window, begging piteously.... getting shooed away. We rarely meet their eyes or 'look' at them. These are the street kids that grow up to become petty criminals, syndicate bosses, politicians (!!), dons and killers.
Boyle tracks them with precision.... surgically analysing their trajectory from the most miserable of Mumbai's slums (Dharavi's innards are photographed graphically..... poetically) to the time, Jamal, the protagonist, wins two crores in a quiz show. That's Mumbai, too. Anything is possible here. There are countless Jamals waiting in the queue for their turn to come ("mera number kab aayega?"). For some, the wait isn't in vain. During its dying moments, 'Slumdog...." offers hope and solace for the wretched of the city. In that sense, it is deeply moving, even philosophical in what it is saying.
Strange. It took a foreigner to penetrate the facade and show us who we really are. All those desi filmmakers who win awards and parade as geniuses for making amateurish, derivative movies that pretend to tell the asli story, should use 'Slumdog..." as a reference point.... an education. Kahan 'Metro', 'Traffic', 'Corporate' etc etc aur kahan 'Slumdog..." We are separated by leagues and oceans . Technically , Bollywood is already there. But that's where it ends. Our scripts and stories are pathetic.... and worse, most ideas are stolen or 'borrowed'. Which is why none of the present lot of top bracket filmmakers in India can ever aspire to get anywhere close to 'Slumdog...' They simply don't possess the errr.... testicles.... for the job.

Monday, January 5, 2009

New Beginnings.....or????

Here’s to new beginnings…

New year…. new beginnings. Mumbai’s gloom and doom mood at the end of 2008, has been miraculously replaced by a more upbeat attitude towards 2009. This is the great thing about our city.Only, this time, there is a huge difference. Let us call it an ‘awakening’ for want of a better word. While the collective catharsis is still on (how can we possibly obliterate those all-important emotions that will eventually lead to complete healing of a deeply wounded city?), most people have decided to get on with their lives – but more sensibly. Nobody wants to dwell on the morbid details associated with the terror attacks, but everybody is pressing for fundamental change. This is a hugely significant and positive shift. Citizens are far more sensitized and pro-active this time, and not leaving their fates to some phantom figures of authority who are supposedly in charge of ensuring our safety. I have been receiving countless mails from some really intelligent folks who have concrete suggestions to offer. Take the Lok Satta movement for example, which is rapidly gaining ground. It is a group of aware, informed and educated citizens aiming to bring about the change we all seek in governance but don’t really know exactly how to demand it or make it happen. There are thousands of petitions and appeals being sent to various government agencies. But most get ignored or trashed. Our only hope lies in self help, decentralization, and the appointment of someone outside the system, with enough executive powers to actually get the much-needed work done…. before it is too late. Ideally, we should be able to elect such a representative directly ourselves. Which means that such a person will then be answerable only to the people of the city and not to a political party. There are enough capable, dynamic, motivated CEO’s in Mumbai who will be very happy to bring their expertise and experience to the table – on one vital condition – no meddling from politicos. This is really the only way forward. These are men and women who head gigantic corporations, have the skills , resources and time to devote to such a monumental task. They exist!! Given the new ‘awakening’, it makes sense to identify just five such leaders, persuade them to take up the challenge, and support them all the way after that. Unless we come up with a results driven, responsive and responsible agenda, we will once again pay a heavy price for sleeping on the job.
Even though Goa had been converted into a virtual fortress over New Year’s, the deployed security forces added so much to ones sense of comfort, knowing Goa was (and remains) one of the most attractive targets for international terrorism. It was heartening to see frequent beach patrols, with cops in jeeps driving along the vast stretch of sand between Baga and Aguada. Of course, tourist traffic is down – and how!Talking to listless, bored shop keepers around Candolim, it was clear Goa has taken a huge hit after 26\11 – dhanda was so thanda, they complained, it was down by as much as seventy to eighty per cent! Despite that, there were enough merry makers at all the favourite haunts, to give the brief illusion (needed!), that all was well…. God was in his heaven, looking down benignly at the world and saying, “ Just chill, chill…. just chill.” Most of the standard Goa parties stood cancelled (No Mallya. No Mittal ). Instead, everyone but everyone made it a point to attend Dipti and Raj Salgaocar’s 25th wedding anniversary bash at their spectacular home at Dona Paula. Friends and family flew in from all over India, to be with the one couple with no enemies\rivals\dushman – everyone loves Dipti and Raj. As their love story unfolded on the screen ( a marvellously put together film by the very talented Kaushik Roy), through Munnabhai and Circuit’s improvised take on love (“ Jab pyar ka headlight full rehta hai na….boley toh….majaa aata hai…”), the one person who loved every minute of it was Kokilaben Ambani (Dipti’s mother), who sportingly sat through the long and lovely evening on their expansive grounds, and clapped enthusiastically when her grand daughter, Ishi, made a sweet and touching speech about her parents. Oh …. Dipti’s brothers (Mukesh and Anil) were both there to raise a toast to the happy couple. As were the bahus ( looking superhot…. in hot western attires. Nita wearing a flowing caftan and Tina in a metallic mini ). This is how it should be. If business analysts are taking the rare sighting of the Brothers Ambani being seen together at the same venue at the same time as a sign of rapprochement in the year 2009, why not?? After all - isn’t that what new beginnings are all about?? You may never forget…. but forgiveness is always in your hands. Let’s drink to that. Let’s drink to shanti on all fronts in the year ahead…. Have a great twelve months…. and many more. Stay sane. Stay safe. Smile a lot. That’s my magic mantra for 2009. You are more than welcome to borrow it!!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

come on guys.... wake up.... it's showtime!!

Paki-Bashing – Why are we wasting our time??

I have stopped watching television. I cannot. I find it unbearable – especially the sight of some of our smarty pants news anchors wearing their prejudices so blatantly on their respective sleeves . Night after tiresome night, we are subjected to these talkathons during which we get our retired military analysts, our social scientists, badmaash politicians, over- talkative former editors, smug current editors, official party spokespersons, legal eagles, supercilious and shrill opinion makers…. in other words – the usual suspects – banging on about the latest crisis. The debate rages – from jung to jung, especially if the anchor has also managed to ‘pakdo’ a Pakistani politician,but at the end of an hour of gassing, nobody remembers nor cares what the original topic was. Sadly, however, everybody can invariably tell who scored most of the brownie points through the tedious proceedings – our chatur-chalaak neighbours, of course. Most of them are far better looking, for starters. And better dressed, too. Our guys (especially the senior journos from Delhi) show up in ancient tweeds, peculiar caps, or mufflers and World War - style overcoats , which they refuse to remove even inside temperature-controlled studios. Pakistani commentators, on the other hand, are nattily outfitted ( sooooo Savile Row!!), do their homework, are armed with convincing arguments, supported by authentic-sounding facts and figures. Their accents and presentation are way more polished, and somehow they always end up making our lot look like turkeys. Underdressed turkeys, at that. Howcome the neighbours , who are perpetually on the offensive, are rarely challenged or silenced by Team India?? Howcome, our aggressive, gelled hair anchors who think nothing of letting locals have it, turn into purring pussycats while throwing questions at the official ‘dushman’?? Is it to show how ‘fair’ we are…. how objective, non-partisan and rational?? If that is the thinking behind all the hot air, then it is a complete waste of viewers’ time. Which is why I no longer watch…. not after what Mumbai endured . Not after the obvious and blatant lies we were fed on television.
It is time to grow up. 2009 is already here. Going eyeball-to-eyeball with Pakistan (on television debates), is not helping the situation. If anything, we are looking wimpish and apologetic, as minister after minister makes the same meaningless noises, while those guys get away with quotable quotes about non-state actors , reactions to actions and other boasts , which frankly, sound terrific when delivered with such aplomb from across the border on apna channels. Viewers feel like yelling, “ Shut up , you guys. Kuch kar ke dikhao. Doomb mat hilao,” to our dheela chaps. Sometimes, we do manage to get an intelligent perspective, generally from an academic or defence strategist. But since that person is not a media ‘celeb’, nobody pays attention – except the very people who should not be in the loop about the chinks in our armour or even our future plans, in quite such an upfront manner. Nothing is a secret these days… there are eyes and ears everywhere. Even so, when panelists are discussing war – WAR, for Chrissake – a modicum of discretion isn’t such a bad idea. One of the main media flaws while covering the Mumbai terror attacks was the absence of discretion, which in retrospect certainly seems to point towards lives lost because tv reporters blabbed away, revealing more than was needed. Even after that horrific experience, we continue to use those mikes as weapons of mass destruction, with a shocking absence of sensitivity in grim situations.
In the first week of a brand new year, every columnist wishes to write an upbeat, cheerful column, highlighting the more positive aspects of the twelve months ahead. This was my desire as well. Come on, De, I said to myself – stop being such a party pooper. Unlike Suketu Mehta, who claimed he was ready to put on his dancing shoes and jetlite it to Mumbai to drink a beer at Café Leopold right after it was partially destroyed by the terrorists, I am still in shock ( but not in awe). I can’t stop sulking. I can’t control my seething rage. It can’t get any worse than it already is – I mean, look at it this way. It is election time… of course, there will be maar peet, looting, cheating, murders, kidnapping, lynching, extortions, horse trading, poll rigging – the works. The fun has already started. Everyone knows how it plays out. This election will be about caste and nothing else. So, be prepared. Criminals are already in the fray… there will be several more by the time the last ticket is handed out. Big Brother ( do I need to spell out which one I am referring to?), will be watching, advising and monitoring this one closely. Really, really closely. The neighbours will also be there, tongues hanging out to see the farce as it unfolds. There will be violence and deaths . Mayhem and manipulation. It may turn out to be the bloodiest election in India’s history. But so what?? We are still a democracy,darling! We can criticize our netas and report all this - LIVE – the ultimate reality show. Wow! Imagine. Rahul Mahajan and Sanjay Dutt campaigning – that’s how open a society we are – even they, with their records have their constituencies. There are more scoundrels waiting in the wings. Isn’t that something?? Meanwhile… bechara Kasab. Uski haalat to dekho! Let’s hope he gets a fair trial, so we can show the world our great judicial system and how it works in our great democracy. Our enemies are just trying to demoralize and malign us. Ignore them, yaar! We know the truth – Hum sab chor hai. Jai Hind. Have a great year. And don’t forget to vote !

Friday, January 2, 2009

Positivity rules....

The countdown had begun. My husband and I were at a secluded table in a cosy corner of Fiesta - our all-time favourite restaurant. Tito's across the street had a dj on something stronger than a fizzy cola - that's for sure. The sky over Baga beach started exploding with the most amazing fireworks fifteen minutes before midnight. At Fiesta, the lovely lady (Yellow) who runs it along with her dashing husband Manek, was making sure all their guests were well looked after. The crowd was friendly but discreet (THANK THE GOOD LORD! Hate having to be jolly with a bunch of boors at the next table only because it is New Year's eve), as the owners personally supervised dessert orders and made sure everybody's glasses were full. It was so very civilised, I almost forgot we were in rowdy, rambunctious Goa. But then again, Goa was a fortress that night, with sand bagged security at every corner, commandos in combat gear, jeep patrols along the beach and plainclothesmen trying hard to melt into the crowd. It was nothing short of a war zone.This is one strip in the world that has been impossible to access over the years.... but that last night of 2008, we strolled across at a leisurely pace without anybody's elbow digging into our sides. The crowds were thin ..... even for Prem Joshua who was playing live at a lounge bar down the road. All the big parties stood cancelled, as people preferred quieter evenings with close friends.
We focussed on our exceptional food (the goat cheese was just the best I've ever eaten)... and each other. At midnight, the Tito's dj went insane... and so did all the revellers partying on the streets. For a few brief seconds it was possible to obliterate the horrors of the year just past and stay with the magical moment. Why not?? I have always believed in starting the year on a positive note, shedding as much of the previous year's baggage as possible. It was no different this year.... as we spoke to all our children (mission successful, despite jammed networks), I thanked God for the mercies shown. Just a few hours earlier, we had gone to another old haunt, The Taj Village, with a one point agenda - to meet Chef Rego and offer our condolences. He had lost his young son ( a trainee at the Mumbai Taj) during the terror attacks. No words can possibly console a grieving father.... we hugged Rego. The silent tears said it all.
New Year's day is meant to be upbeat and positive - somehow it sets the tone for the rest of the year. Last year, I was uncharacteristically down..... pensive and gloomy. Perhaps my heart was telling me something.... it was a foreboding I ignored. Paradoxically enough, 2009 has begun on a wonderful note..... I'm feeling absurdly happy. I hope so are all of you!!! Let's make it a terrific year on all fronts. Like Obama emphasised - " Yes... we can!" We must. We owe it to ourselves... and the rest of the world.