Monday, May 31, 2010

Hirsute men and hormones - Bollywood ishstyle

I watched 'Brick Lane' at a multiplex last night and was happy to see at least fifty people in the same theatre in which there were precisely two (besides my family of four) last week for 'Kites'. Since I do have an eccentric taste in movies, no prizes for guessing I loved 'Brick Lane'. No point comparing it to the book ( I loved that , too). But as cinema, it was moving and lyrical with superlative performances from the ensemble cast - Satish Kaushik was outstanding. As was Tanishtaa, who played the long suffering Naazneen, seething and smouldering within, till she discovers her own identity and asserts herself - gradually and gracefully.
As a jury member for Sushmita Sen's Miss Universe ( India) contest, I was hugely impressed by the confidence level of the contestants - most of them were not 'lookers'. But they weren't - sorry to say this - hookers, either. Two finalists had flown in from America and Canada, and were highly educated, top ranking professionals. The other 30 on the short list were equally accomplished with interesting day jobs in various fields ranging from dentistry to chartered accountancy. One called herself a 'Prosperity Manager' ( now that's a new job description!) Refreshingly, there were no giggly bimbettes in this beauty pageant. Sushmita herself, made a stirring speech after a dramatic entree in a harness suspended from the high rafters of the NCPA stage. She lip- synched her anthem ( 'I am'), and set the tone for a slick ( but way too long) show that featured Saif Ali Khan ( energetic and surprise surprise -no left feet), Kareena Kapoor ( listless, lifeless and bored) and Shah Rukh Khan , who effortlessly stole the show with his charm and wit as he interviewed the five finalists in his usual breezy, irreverent style. But for me, the two really special people that loooooooong, interminable night were Farah ( Triplets) Khan and Malini ( Free Spirit ) Ramani. It was such a pleasure interacting with these two very spontaneous, very intelligent and very down to earth women. How 'I am' !!
This column appeared in Bombay Times today....
Let’s start with Bollywood stereotypes . In the good old days when Dharmendra ruled, and even an eccentric like Raaj Kumar had a following, there was no ambiguity, no debate – Garam Dharam was a full- on macho man and everybody could see what Hema Malini saw in him ( definitely not his brains). He still projects the same image and there is no mistaking his alpha male status. Rajesh Khanna was dubbed The Phenomenon ( guess who pleads guilty?), but was never in the hard core ‘mard’ category.
Vinod Khanna would have made the cut, but he was way too laid back and waltzed away from movies at the peak of his career. There the list ended.
The scenario as it stands today is pretty bleak. The ‘Mard’ stakes have hit an all-time low and just one name pops up instantly – Akshay Kumar’s. It has nothing to do with being an action hero. It is his pure , unadulterated testosterone that does it. And that can only be compared to the high octane petrol pumped into Formula 1 cars. Both deliver results. Talking about his incredible male energy to young girls recently, I was amused by a remark passed by one of them who said Akshay is the only Bollywood hero who makes her feel shy!! She has never met the guy, has no desire to, either. This is her raw reaction to his screen presence alone. I asked this small group why they couldn’t come up with more names ( the most obvious one would be Salman’s!) for the ‘Mard Maharaja’ title. Their sharp and shrewd analysis deserves a more detailed thesis, but let me give you a jhalak. According to them, Salman looks ‘unstable’ and therefore, that makes him ‘undependable’ in the eyes of women. SRK and Saif fall into the old and overdone ‘Metro Sexual’ mould …. despite the six pack (SRK’s) and the newly acquired biceps ( Saif’s) women think of them as best buddies or casual lovers. Not future husbands ( Kareena to note). As for John and Arjun , their sex appeal works for their countless gay fans – but they make good looking women feel competitive and disadvantaged! Especially since both guys project a high level of vanity (“ I’m too sexy for my body’’). Ranbir is cute. Period. That leaves Aamir who is too cerebral to be considered seriously sexy. And sweet Abhishek Bachchan ( my personal favourite ), who is seen as being a bit too ‘shareef’ and good- natured…. in need of protection himself ( he brings out the mother in every woman). We have their equivalents in Hollywood – let me stop at Russell Crowe – almost alarmingly all-male. But a bit too volatile for any woman’s comfort. Brad Pitt has been reduced to acting like Angelina’s pet poodle. Besides, she is the more overtly macho of the two.
Our Bollywood ladies are less interesting and if one were to identify Akshay’s female counterpart, it would probably be Katrina Kaif– deliriously feminine and appealing – in an environment which encourages heroines to turn into unattractive , aggressive Amazonian creatures, more muscled than Dara Singh in his prime. It’s that, or starved and pinched leading ladies with the tight, narrow, boobless, hipless bodies of fourteen- year- old boys. Katrina should hang on to those curves and keep smiling. Young men want to date ( and preferably bed!) Cuddly Katrina. They fantasise about her in the clean way even their ‘naanis’ would approve of. She projects warmth, dresses like a regular girl ( looks great in tees and jeans), wears minimal make- up,handles herself very well ( no attitude, no tantrums ) and works her natural charm on one and all, right across the board.
Since I have exceeded my word limit ( if not your patience!), I’ll have to sign off.
But not before I leave you with an interesting thought : What’s the bet you’ll look at Abhishek differently after his performance as a ‘dus sar walla’? He is one of our best actors. About time he got his due.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Barbara - down the 'mori'......

For those who don't live in Mumbai and may not understand what a 'mori' is, let me explain. Or let me not. Crudely put, it's what Maharashtrians call a drain - the one in the corner of a small kitchen where heavy cooking pots are scoured. This rather unfortunate reference to the lovely Barbara Mori, is doing the sms rounds, and after watching 'Kites' last night, I can understand why. Poor girl.... she looks like across between Aditi Gowitrikar and Sameera Reddy. Not a bad thing necessarily - both are attractive and talented - but haven't quite made it in Bollywood. That in itself is not the only thing wrong with this disastrous movie - there's very little that's right.
But first the con job - when we sent for the tickets, the driver phoned from the ticket window to say it was nearly house full and only the most expensive seats were available. We said, 'Achcha - very good sign. Buy them." When we reached the plush theatre, it was entirely empty but for two other seats!!! So.... what happened to those tickets? Bought en masse by someone to prop up the movie???? It's an old, old trick.
Twenty minutes into the film ( even the limp popcorn was over by then), we were looking desperately for some sort of a story to begin - we'd have settled for anything!!! Ms. Mori looking considerably older than our Hritik, was making cow eyes at him - what else can she do without breaking into Spanish in what is billed as a Hindi film ( 20 half sentences throughout 'Kites' spoken in pidgen hindi really don't qualify )? Absurdities piled up ( along with cop cars) in a way that ought to make Anurag B shrivel up and die with shame. What a colossal waste of firang cop cars!!!! I managed to count 18 that get blown up for no logical reason ( did a major chunk of the budget go towards those idiotic crashes?)..... By the time the anti-climax rolled up ..... I was ready to jump off the nearest cliff near Mahad or Mahabeleshwar ( not Mexico) and join the suicidal screen lovers.
P.S. About the chemistry between Hritik and Barbara - it was combustible. I'm sure audiences could smell those hormones - amigos, you ain't fooling nobody!!!!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Mallika Sherawat - the mystery!

Two quick comments before I run away - my daughter just sent me an sms from Inox where she is watching 'Kites' ( Kati Patang). She says the hall is empty.... though the film isn't too bad. Oh hell . I'm booked to see it tomorrow and I'm groaning already.
But then my taste in movies is pretty absurd - I watched 'The Japanese Wife' on the dvd Rahul Bose sent across to my Bong husband.... and.... and.... quite liked it! I found it lyrical and sincere, just like most Bongs. I liked Rahul's earnestness and accent. And I ADORED Moushumi Chatterjee - why don't we see more of this juicy roshogulla in hindi films?? She is such a natural! As to why Aparna made this absurd film - don't ask. She's a Bong!
I went to check out Rahul Akerkar's latest venture, the Indigo Deli, in the sparkling Palladium Mall. Chef Joydeep makes the best, wafer thin parma ham and asparagus pizzas in the world. Period. Go there just for those and the unusual slushes. Try and ignore bratty, noisy kids with self conscious maids in tow, if you can. I couldn't! I nearly abandoned the brilliant pizza and fled!
This appeared in Bombay Times today....
Horrible, isn’t it. Most of us remain rooted and stuck in our petty little worlds, when it comes to dealing with disasters and tragedies. The nasty tendency is to personalise it. The first, instinctive reaction generally goes something like this – “Oh God, thank the lord all my loved ones are safe and I didn’t know anybody on that ill fated flight!” Once that is out of the way, we then switch gears and start thinking about the victims …. their families. The enormity of the devastation sinks in well after we have dealt with our own fears and insecurities. We vow never to fly with the doomed airline again, never to fly with the entire family in the same plane, to avoid trips during the monsoons, and several other ‘dos and donts’ that are promptly forgotten before the week is out. As of now the already tattered reputation of our national airline, the pride and joy of India once upon a time, lies in shambles. The pointless blame game has begun. There are theories galore, and the foreign pilot is being blamed for the tragedy,which is an awful thing to do considering he isn’t around to defend himself. The minister has offered to resign – as if that helps matters. Stay, and assume responsibility, Praful. That is the right and honourable thing to do.
Meanwhile our deepest sympathies to the families of those whose lives were cruelly and abruptly cut short through no fault of theirs. May their souls rest in peace. And yes – let’s respect their memories by scrapping that bogus ‘enquiry’ which will reveal nothing but waste a lot of public money. Like all government enquiries, this one too will be another eyewash.

The Mystery of Mallika Sherawat….

I mean…. it must baffle us all! Mallika Sherawat on the red carpet at Cannes probably hogged more media coverage than Ash and Deepika put together. How? Why? Who is Mallika?? Good question. She can hisssss away to glory and drape herself in nothing but live pythons on The Croisette – but we will still remain unimpressed. And Bollywood won’t bite! Nobody can explain the Sherawat phenomenon back in India. Nobody can understand how or why she gets invited to the best Hollywood parties ( Martin’s her best bud, so is Salma), or even where she gets those fancy party frocks from. Not that it matters all that much. But let’s face it, there are any number of extraordinarily attractive bimbettes floating around half naked or even topless, at Cannes and similar festivals. Agreed….Mallika is no bimbette. She is a smarty pants with a gift of the gab. As an actress she is no better and certainly no worse than say a Lara Dutta. Had she stayed back and hacked it in Bollywood, she would have remained a B-grader, starring in multiplex movies with Akshay Kumar. But what the hell – those movies make big bucks and everybody involved benefits big time. The girls who act in them (act??) look for lucrative endorsements, get paid to open stores in Ludhiana, dance for a fee at assorted events, even ask for lolly to attend parties. That’s fine. And perfectly legit. Those who have stuck it out are not complaining – they now own penthouses in Bandra and carry the priciest bags. Not bad for gals with limited talent but big ambitions. Our Mallika is different – has always been very hatke se. She decided to fly the coop and try her luck in Hollywood. God knows what exactly she does there, but going by her tweets and the pics she posts on an hourly basis, Mallika is having the best time with the most happening crowd on both sides of the Atlantic – in Beverley Hills and Cannes ( if one can overlook the Paris Hilton snub).She is looking hot and her dress sense has vastly improved since the time she’d appear semi naked in public, clad in hooker gear.
This year at Cannes, she certainly wore statement clothes – and if they were sponsored, we don’t know who sponsored them. Her pricey accessories were perfectly co-ordinated, and if there was a hiccup at all,her jaunty quotes made up for all the slights (Ash and Deepika refused to be in the same frame with her ). So… who scored? I’d say it’s advantage Mallika. Hissssssssss

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Air India has crash landed - R.I.P Air India !

This is a symbol of the city of Torino. I shot the image in fading light....
My daughter had flown Air India to London just the night before the horrific crash. She had told all of us what a dreadful experience it was.... barely any food on board, no beverages, seats that didn't recline, lousy service. We had made soothing noises and declared , " But we'd told you so!" Who could have imagined something this awful would happen just a few hours later?? Our national airline used to be India's boast to the rest of the world - we were so proud of it! It was ranked in the Top Ten airlines of the world. Look at it today - a disgraced and disgraceful symbol of neglect and corruption. Some of the stories I have been hearing recently have made my blood boil. Powerful politicians have stripped the airline of all its remaining assets and stripped it of its tattered dignity. It has been run to the ground with the sort of callousness that is shocking in a democracy. The mega scale of all the financial looting that has reduced a once profitable airline to the level of a pauper has no parallel in the annals of aviation history worldwide.There is nobody to take charge of or own up to any of the misdeeds - which is why the most convenient scapegoat to blame for this terrible crash is the dead pilot - a foreigner who can't defend himself. What's the bet everything will now be piled onto him and nobody else will be held responsible. The rot is deep and dangerous. Those poor victims of the crash are gone in a fiery ball. Air India will limp along ..... before the airline itself crash lands and disappears without a trace. My heart goes out to the families of those who died.... our prayers are with you in your darkest hour.
This appeared in the Asian Age...

How does one explain the ‘shaap’ of ‘khaap’ to a predominantly Italian, very earnest audience attending an Indian author’s formal presentation at the prestigious Book Fair in Turin? Frankly, I was stumped! I mean, the implications of ‘Gotra’ with all its complex interpretations is tough enough for most Indians to comprehend, leave alone crack. Imagine then, having to respond to questions posed in an alien language about ‘honour killings’ while the frail interpreter bravely soldiers on before throwing up her hands and shrugging helplessly. This was but one stumbling block during all those interminable interviews lined up by my publishers at what is undoubtedly the biggest and most prestigious book fair in Italy. Desi writers were the flavour of this one, given that India was the focus country. From the dapper Vikas Swarup ( surely a millionaire by now, post- the stupendous success of ‘Slumdog…’?) to the formidable, lathi wielding Sampat Pal representing the Pink Saree brigade, this book fair saw them all. Unfortunately, individual author- schedules are so tightly controlled by their publishers, it is nearly impossible to meet other invitees except while rushing from one interview to the next. I did manage to snatch a brief conversation with Swarup ( we had met recently at the Dubai Lit Fest ), and even chase him out of the grand Publishers’ Gala on my last night in Torino – a gem-like city known for The Shroud. It isn’t as awful as it sounds – my intentions towards our man in Osaka , Vikas Swarup, were entirely noble. I had just come back from a whirlwind tour of the city, with a significant stopover at the modest, unassuming Cathedral which houses a world famous relic – The Shroud of Turin. I was told by Pepe ( an investment banker who used to work in Mumbai), that I was especially blessed to be in Turin during the public viewing of The Shroud ( this rare viewing was organized by the local church authorities in honour of the Pope who was visiting Turin last month ). Pepe added fervently, “ The next public viewing could be after another twenty years.” Chances are, I won’t be around then…. so, thanks to Pepe, I managed to get past the long queues of pilgrims and spend time right in front of this historic piece of cloth that believers insist was used to wrap the body of Jesus Christ , after the Crucifixion.
I rushed from the viewing to the grand Gala , and was clearly in a ‘state’ – overwhelmed by the Shroud. I met Swarup and a few other desi writers making boring, desultory conversation at a round table towards the back of the huge salon. I announced triumphantly, “ Guess what?? I just saw The Shroud!” Only Swarup looked suitably impressed as he enquired, “ Where? When? How?” Since the Cathedral was just a ten minute walk away, I urged him to abandon his glass of red wine and rush before the imposing doors shut. His local minder wasn’t convinced – perhaps she wanted to relax after a hard day’s work shepherding Swarup from interview to interview. But my obvious over- enthusiasm did the trick. Swarup firmly told her to get her butt off the gilded chair and take him to the blessed Cathedral. I gave them precise directions like I was the local Shroud expert or something. Swarup didn’t need further persuasion – he was off ! It was time for me to get myself a glass of the best. I could see some of our other erudite authors engaged in deep, meaningful conversations with agents and publishers. I half wondered whether they too were trying to deconstruct ‘Khaap’. I was about to speed dial Naveen Jindal to get the last word on the subject. But decided to spare the guy. He was in enough hot water back home in India. I looked around for Abbas Tyrewala, the talented writer I’d run into at the fair earlier in the day. We’d chatted jaldi jaldi and I had narrated my Frankfurt airport woes to him ( usual SRK type story of being searched and questioned by rude cops). Abbas laughed and said cheekily, “Well…. make sure you aren’t wearing a burqa the next time.” Clearly a guy with a great sense of humour – I would have liked to hang with him. But he wasn’t around. Neither was Kiran Desai though she had been sighted leaving the Valentino Palazzo after her presentation. The ‘other’ Kiran ( Nagarkar ) an important invitee, couldn’t be spotted either. I had stopped outside the India Pavilion to hear him speak. This is what he was saying, “ Don’t get me wrong…. I don’t mean to sound pompous or pretentious… but let me go back to Mahatma Gandhi.” Okayyyyy. Let’s! I’d noticed a couple of desi publishers hanging around the India Pavilion ogling the ‘Goris’ shamelessly. And yes, I had also noticed some rather luscious looking, alarmingly young Italian ladies accompanying Tarun Tejpal. One of them blushed when she coyly introduced herself as his ‘editor’. Wow! Lucky Tarun. His book must be beautifully edited. But the one tome I was dying to get my hands proved to be most elusive. It is titled ‘The Red Saree’, and is written by a Spanish journalist. The subject? Explosive!! I understand it is a detailed, racy and well- researched bio of….. of… hold your breath….Sonia Gandhi. I want it! I want it baaaaaad!! Quick before it’s banned, folks.

Aah…. The India Pavilion. Predictably tacky. Predictably unimaginative. Predictably shabby. Sooooo smacking of indifferent Babudom. Some lazy bugger in Delhi must have ‘designed’ this sad space, stuck a few watercolours on the shaky walls, got half a dozen photographs depicting ‘Cliché India’ , shot by an Italian photographer and prego! You had a pavilion! Even the politest Italians at the Fair pointed out how dreadful the India corner was and compared it to the efforts put in by last year’s focus country – Egypt. I cringed each time I had to pass the place and see the pathetic ‘entertainment’ organized between author interactions. Once I watched in horror as a local Indian woman was all set to educate the savvy Italians on how to wear a saree .I could have done a better job of that one, considering I was wearing a saree myself - plus, they’d have got my demo for free, in the larger interests of the endangered saree! Another time, I wanted to plug my ears when I heard the strains of a sitar being strummed like a guitar with a manic tabla player in over drive accompanying the musician.
This is how it always goes whenever officialdom gets into the picture. For some perverse reason, we refuse to acknowledge or recognize opportunity, even when it is presented on platter. As the country in focus, surely we could have represented ourselves better? It was left to individual writers to ‘do the needful’, as they say in Dilli, on behalf of poor India. True, most of us had been invited by our Italian publishers and not the Sahitya Akademi ( thank God for small mercies), but had some initiative been taken to co- ordinate efforts and present visiting authors to readers over a cuppa at the India Pavilion, it wouldn’t have hurt. If anything, it would have greatly enhanced our country’s value and drawn attention to the roster of very accomplished, hugely talented and radically different voices present. I understand there was a soiree of sorts organized by a certain Saurabh Kumar, Charge d’Affaires, Embassy of India, but my invite reached me after the event. Typical!!
Mera Bharat Mahaan, indeed!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Four Season's idea of P.R.!!!!

I so wanted to caption the pictures..... even the ones from the previous blog..... but I goofed up. Well, these two deserve an 'explanation', especially the one of me taken right after my rapturous experience inside this Cathedral which houses The Shroud.
The other one was shot just before the sun sank into the hills in a pale pink chiffon haze, and the lights came on in the square as if by magic. As you can tell..... I left a bit a bit of me in Torino. I get the feeling I'll go back some day soon...... the spirits are calling me!
Talking of the worst P.R. ever - what's with these guys at the Four Season's Hotel?? Get off your high horses, chaps. Mumbaikars have grown up with the exemplary courtesy displayed by our oldie goldies - the magnificent Taj and the swanky Oberoi. For us, the Four Season's is an arriviste - a new kid on the block! Brash, bold but not particularly impressive. It is these guys who need to go the extra mile in the charm initiative. But going by a recent experience, those pinch faced, scrawny P.R. gals employed by the hotel need a crash course in basic good manners. It was shocking to see their high handed behaviour during a photo shoot. Most hotels fall over backwards once they sign on for a shoot. When we were shooting with Aishwarya Rai Bachchan at the J.W.Marriott a couple of months ago, it was an absolute breeze. It is a win -win situation for both parties - no favours involved or expected. But the brusque and plain shrewish conduct on display last afternoon, made me wonder if the Four Season's brand in India requires the services of a local grooming and etiquette expert to teach the staff how we do it here. The Taj durwans could provide a crash course - for free!!!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Torino and more.....

This appeared on sunday in the TOI....
Bring on the motormouths…..!

Motormouths of India, unite! You have nothing to lose but your jobs. Oh God, after tweety pie Tharoor got into a bloody mess, it’s now veteran politico Jairam Ramesh’s turn. His clumsy attempts at re-scripting the old ‘Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai’ story backfired – and how! He got severely ticked off by a kadak head master ( Manmohan Singh ), and worse, by a class monitor ( Abhishek Manu Singhvi). Ladies and gentlemen, hang on to your seats - The Battle of the Blabbermouths has just begun and may the best gas bag win. Another long , hot summer is upon us, and we could do with some entertainment. Motormouths, Loudmouths or Blabbermouths – we need these chaps to keep us amused while the mercury soars and soars. I did notice one thing two outspoken men (Ramesh and Tharoor ) have in common ( no, no, no – it isn’t what your nasty mind is thinking!). It is something pretty innocuous - and it isn’t a runaway tongue. It isn’t even their rather unfortunate choice of words, nor even their supposed indiscreet nature. True, both suffer from what appears to be a terminal case of a particularly virulent form of the foot-in-mouth disease. But the most obvious and amusing shared trait is their hair fixation! These guys are obsessed. Jairam’s carefully blow dried, gently hair sprayed coiffeur competes with Shashi’s side swept locks and immaculately dyed side- burns. One more interesting feature they also share is the swagger which goes with their very apparent vanity.Yup. In the old days they’d have been described as swash buckling rakes. Now we call such types ‘chikna’. We definitely need guys like them to pump up the sex appeal quotient in parliament. And we most definitely need to loosen up and adopt a more liberal attitude to what politicos can and cannot say in public. Most political statements are so dreadfully stuffy in any case. Irritatingly officious, too. Here are two fellows willing to stick their necks out…. why, they seem almost eager to place their gardans on the chopper block… and we come down heavily on them?
What’s the big deal, Manmohanji? Bol diya toh bol diya. Poor Ramesh – how was he supposed to know that his off -the- cuff, wildly irresponsible comments to some super vigilant journos would be promptly reported in the desi press? Bechara Ramesh – I think he must have been feeling a little overshadowed by our tweety pie. Can’t say he didn’t try to upstage him earlier when he hit the headlines after performing a strip tease in public. I’m referring to Jairam’s dramatic gesture when he flung off a convocation robe and described it as ‘barbaric’. The heat had clearly got to him, as was obvious from the sweat patches on his designer kurta. He raved and ranted about these traditional cloaks and criticized them for reflecting our colonial hang ups. Oh yes, our dapper union minister for environment and forests also pointed out those billowy garments weren’t in the least environment friendly .That well timed act did attract some notice, but came nowhere close to the outrage caused by some precious Tharoorisms.
But his latest gaffes in Beijing have not exactly pleased his bosses. Ramesh is getting it from all sides, with even the Opposition demanding his ouster from the cabinet. This is really a bit much. Of course, Ramesh was speaking out of turn and his comments were horribly gauche, but what’s wrong if one of our more flamboyant ministers decides to be politically incorrect for a change? Aren’t we sick of platitudes and clichés? Here’s a guy telling us where to get off when it comes to China, and we get all het up? Ramesh naively suggested we “ see demons where there are none.” So sweet!We don’t see demons, we actually see fire breathing dragons. But that’s okay. Ramesh wants us to chill out and adopt a kinder, gentler attitude towards our old foes. Maybe he knows something the rest of us don’t, so why don’t we give the guy a break and get off his back? Perhaps he enjoyed some outstanding Chinese chow while he was there… Beijing banquets do overwhelm the unwary, and the Chinese have mastered the art of killing us softly with their food. The palate is often mightier than the sword. Why can’t the High Command understand that and let the poor guy off the hook? Surely there are bigger, worthier, scarier issues to deal with?
Aha – unless of course, there is trouble brewing inside the protected walls of the Congress fortress. The whispering gallery has it that too many loyal party workers have taken to shooting their mouths off and criticizing the holy cows within the party. It is believed to be carved in stone that nobody but nobody is allowed to say a word against Chids ( P. Chidambaram, to you). Pranabda is strictly off limits , too. Manmohanji doesn’t take too kindly to those who mumble and grumble about him. And as for Madam – her name is not taken in vain…. preferably, it is not taken at all if you value your err…. butt. This is just so boring and childish. Come on ,grow up, you guys… we are living in a democracy or aren’t we? To borrow Jairam’s words, stop being so damned ‘paranoid’ and ‘alarmist’.If Digvijay Singh decried Chid’s policies for being ‘anti-people’ or when Subodh Kant Sahay was critical of what he called the home minister’s ‘anti-Maoist’ policies, did the people of India get seriously influenced or affected? Naah.
For all those cribbing and carping or asking for Ramesh’s head on a platter, check out a series of spoofs called ‘Loose Talk’ created in Pakistan. I was sent the link on Youtube by a friend who had become something of an addict of the show. It lampoons just about everybody in power , from Zardari to our own Manmohan Singh. And does so with enormous style and sophistication. It is deliciously wicked and supremly witty as it takes on any and every sacred bovine on both sides of the border. If our neighbours can laugh at themselves and display such a terrific sense of humour, what’s with us? As Adlai E. Stevenson put it so brilliantly, “A politician is a statesman who approaches every question with an open mouth.” So Jairam and Co… don’t stop! Keep yakking.
Lagey raho, Rameshbhai…. bakbak karte raho. Hum saab saath hai.

Monday, May 17, 2010

I saw The Shroud!!!!!

Pardon me for bragging.... but I am justifiably ecstatic! It was nothing short of a miracle when a long lost Italian friend who used to work in Mumbai as an investment banker ( 1994!) saw my interview in the local paper in Turin and tracked me to my hotel via another common friend sitting in India! How's that for enterprise and determination? This was on my last evening in Torino. I had seen very little of this jewel of a city.... except for the Castello del Valentino, the venue of the first presentation of my India book translated into Italian ( my fourth book published in Italy). I had just a few precious hours left before taking that long flight home.... and there was Pepe offering to show me around his magnificent hometown ( a verdant, leafy bowl surrounded by snow- capped mountains). One hour later, he was right there in the hotel's foyer, driving a spiffy BMW ( what???? In Fiat\ Lancia\Ferrari\Lambourghini territory ?). We zoomed towards the main square and headed straight to the famous Cathedral that houses 'The Shroud of Turin' ( guys, if you don't know what I am referring to, please google it!). I saw a heavy duty military\police presence guarding the Catholic Church's most significant relic.There was a long queue of pilgrims waiting to get in - after all, public viewings of The Shroud are getting rarer and rarer ( this viewing was for the Pope who had visited Turin a few weeks ago). Pepe told me the next viewing could be after 20 years. That's when I fully appreciated the miracle of my being there at this magical moment. I was obviously destined to be in Turin and see The Shroud. We walked in reverentially - Pepe kneeled, I prayed. You may laugh, but I definitely felt 'The Power'. I also felt strangely blessed. Earlier, my publishers had told me about the myths surrounding Turin - it is a destination known for malevolent Black Magic , apparently. There are resident witches, spirits and ghosts that dominate the lives of those who live in this divine city. I was spared the dark forces of evil. I felt elated just being there and drinking it all in greedily .
After a quick glass of local wine at an ancient bar ( which features the golden bull - symbol of Turin), Pepe walked me to the Circolo dei Littori di Torino ( housed inside a grand, chandeliered palazzo), for the Publishers' Gala. Authors from across the world were toasting one another's literary achievements in that opulent setting. India, being the focus country, was very well represented.
I said grazie mille to Pepe.
It was Pepe the Banker.... right? Or..... was it Pepe the Friendly Ghost who had turned up from nowhere to show me The Shroud???
This appeared in Bombay Times yesterday....

Who needs a holiday…?

I do… I do…. I do! OMG! I am sounding like that ABBA song from ‘Mamma Mia’, and as if I am about to accept Pierce Brosnon’s proposal ( Sigh…. I wish!). But what I am saying is simply this : to the question , “ Who needs a holiday?” my hand has shot up! I do. Am I going to get one? Nope. I just cancelled. Am I mad? Maybe not. Must be the heat or something. Or the fact that I went to Delhi and back the same day.... it turned out to be such a beastly experience, I swore I would stay miles away from airports for a while. I knew I couldn’t for too long, though. The very next day, I was scheduled to fly to Turin. But this does not qualify as a proper holiday, not even a working vacation. The Turin Book Fair is one of the largest in Europe and this year, the focus is on India. Anybody who has attended a book fair will readily tell you it’s no picnic. Cruel publishers work their authors to the bone and get full paisa vasool out of those three or four days. Promotions take care of most of the time – when you aren’t flogging the latest title at the publisher’s booth, you are giving interviews. The last time my Italian publishers invited me, I was coaxed into granting thirty- four interviews in three days ( print, radio, tv and internet). I was hoarse, mentally and physically exhausted, crazily dehydrated and desperate enough to contemplate fleeing from the backdoor. This time round, I’ve been slightly smarter and instructed Elena who represents my publishers, to give me enough time off to enjoy Turin \ Milan a little. In other words, the trip does not qualify even remotely as a holiday. And I am asking myself , ‘ when was the last time you took a break – a real break?” Frankly, I can’t remember.

These days travelling itself has become a nightmarish experience, especially in and out of Mumbai. Our swanky new terminals look great and offer everything from a foot massage to a gourmet meal, but what does one do if all the flights are delayed and the airport is packed to the gills with irate passengers? Flying out of Mumbai is not half as bad as arriving into the metropolis, especially on a late evening flight. Something invariably throws schedules out of gear as weary pilots inform hysterical guests on board that though we are just a few kilometers from Mumbai, air traffic control has placed us at the ninth position in the landing order. That straightaway adds an hour to flying time! To say nothing about the fuel being wasted as the aircraft goes into a holding pattern and circles endlessly over the city. It is so frustrating to know you are ‘almost’ home! You stare at the lights of glittering Mumbai beneath you and long for a parachute. Now, with most airlines cutting back on frills, chances are the meal served on board has been inedible as well as skimpy. If you happen to be on a cheaper , low cost carrier ( I took one from Jaipur a few days ago), you have had to pay for the apology of a snack that’s offered by surly stewardesses in shabby, stinky uniforms and ghastly make up. Retrieving bags is another story. Especially if you are flying into a European destination. The cases of missing bags has gone up radically, and the last time I traveled to Paris , my bag didn’t turn up causing much distress and anxiety. The long walk to immigration and customs in nearly all major airports can be a kilometer or longer. Which is why it makes sense to travel with just one hand bag, and pack light in any case , since there are no porters to help you. This year, the volcanic ash problem has dampened the enthusiasm of even the most ardent travellers. And to make matters even worse, fluctuating global currencies have further increased tourist rage . One spots far too many angry faces at favourite destinations …. and that’s really not what you want on a holiday.
Still want to jump up and go?? Be my guest! If you ask me the best holiday these days is the one you take at home in a cool room with your cell phone switched off and your mind wandering to calm, exotic destinations. Try it. I just did. And am feeling entirely rejuvenated and refreshed already.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Bring it on Bollywood.....!

Guys, I am off to the Turin Book Fair tonight. The focus is on India and I am so looking forward to one particular session in which Kiran Desai and I will be in conversation with readers and the media. My last book , 'Superstar India...." will be launched at the Fair in its Italian edition. Wish me luck!! The volcanic ash has spared Turin so far. Chances are my flight won't be cancelled. Sorry.... no laptop. So, blogging may not happen. Bear with me for a few days.... lots of masala on my return.


My Bombay Times column....

This is the deliciously loony season for Bollywood blockbusters of every conceivable hue – call it mid-summer madness, but the box office is going crazy with the most idiotic movies raking it in. After I survived ‘Housefull’ , I asked myself if I was ready for more lunacy. I was! If I possibly could have, I would have made it to the first day, first show of ‘Badmaash Company’. But my daughters decided to save it as my Mother’s Day treat. They asked me sweetly what I wanted to do by way of a fun celebration, and it took me under ten seconds to tell them nothing would please me more than to watch ‘ Badmaash…’ And that’s when they looked at me a little strangely. They’d been planning a chic girlie brunch…. perhaps a soothing spa treatment, or something equally posh. Forget it, I answered jauntily, let’s go watch a full on Bollywood masala film. Nothing serious, nothing arty, nothing pretentious . Just the real thing with absurd situations, fabulously choreographed ‘item’ numbers, hot bods performing impossible stunts , lots of catchy remix tracks, an OTT storyline, implausible plot developments, politically incorrect gags that offend various interest groups, cheap humour, sexually ‘out there’ innuendos, out of the world locations, garish styling, and most importantly – no logic. I’d define that as a perfect formula for stress busting – better than any hot stone , deep tissue massage. Nothing gets me to unwind as wonderfully as a tacky Bollywood film! You can call it a case of full blown Bollywooditis. I am hopelessly hooked and may require rehab. But not just yet.
The two other movies on my ‘must see’ list are ‘Ravaan’ and ‘Rajneeti’ , even though both remain strictly outside the realm of rubbishy yet compulsively watchable films. This has to do with the star cast, the respective premises and the hugely talented directors helming both projects. Let’s call them ‘quality Bollywood products’, not necessarily designed for mass consumption. Going by the slick promos, both movies promise a lot, but since our audiences remain frustratingly unpredictable ( just like our voters ) God knows how they’ll fare at the box office. The magic Bollywood ‘formula’ everyone talks about, has not been bottled so far. Had that been so, every second dhoom dhadaka film would have scored at the box office. Nobody has cracked this elusive formula – nobody can. But as the annual movie jamboree rolls out its red carpet at Cannes, it is important for India to assert itself on its own terms. I happened to run into the Hinduja brothers at a wonderful dinner hosted at the Raj Bhavan by our Governor. They are Cannes veterans who are known to throw lavish parties. We got talking as to why Bollywood has still to make its presence felt at this mecca of moviedom, where film makers from across the world gather to cut deals, hustle, flog their latest films, net work, schmooze, party. One of the Hindujas mentioned our lack of co-ordination and mainly the absence of clout. We are not taken seriously enough, which is a sad comment given the size of our film industry. We also do not present a cohesive, coherent picture of Brand Bollywood, nor do we have the foresight to hire the top P.R. people to advise us. Because of this, we lag behind much smaller countries like Taiwan, Iran, Hong Kong or Korea. It is time to stop being apologetic about our films. Bollywood will soon be recognized as a legitimate genre – like those old spaghetti westerns from Italy or the perennial kung fu films from Hong Kong. The world must accept us on our own terms – we make the best masala movies on earth. That is our brand equity. Why dilute it? The day a ‘Housefull’ receives international recognition and outgrosses a Hollywood romcom ( come on….. what was ‘The Bounty Hunter’ if not a Bollywood film in English?), we will know that we have truly arrived.
How I loved Hema Malini’s candid admission in her open letter on Mother’s Day to her daughter Esha, that all she wanted for her was to have a man in her life! “ Find the right guy,” urged Hema. How disarming and genuine that sounded compared to all the gyaan given by other celeb moms to their celeb daughters!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Mommie Dearest loved 'Badmash Company'....

This was my Mother's Day treat. After an exceptional lunch at Busaba ( sizzling Vietnamese fish with tamarind sauce!!!!), it was time to head to Inox and catch 'BADMASH COMPANY' with the girls. They loved it... I loved it.... but found the ending totally illogical in an otherwise well scripted film. I mean... come on.... this was about a guy who wakes up to the 'goodness and truth' within himself, after being a successful conman. Great! So what does he do to establish his credibility and woo back the pregnant girl friend, make up with his men friends, regain his estranged father's respect, console his long suffering mother and impress a distressed Maamuji? Does he virtuously stick to the straight and narrow? Does he demonstrate a genuine change of heart? Does the sinner become a saint? Naaaah. Naughty, naughty Karan indulges in some pretty obvious, pretty devious insider trading ( in America, at that), and everybody cheers!!!
If one can possibly overlook this major plot flaw , the rest of the film is pretty watchable and all the performances are above average. My favourite was the guy who plays a Sikkimese constantly mistaken for a Chinese, with such ease , plus oodles of charm . I also lked Vir Das playing a lecherous, oily Sindhi bijnessman forever chasing blondes. Shahid is Shahid ( more than competent). He puts in a convincing performance.... but here's a request from his young female fans - please visit a dentist asap and get those lower jaw, hopelessly discoloured front teeth fixed, they look truly awful in close ups. As for Anoushka Sharma pairing up with Shahid, this is one jodi Rab definitely didn't make. Though their on screen chemistry works just fine ( forget the clumsy kissing-wissing), she towers over Shahid and looks Amazonian in most scenes.
Will the film crack the 'Housefull' record? Unlikely. It is almost intelligent.
Oh.... I possessed several Bleeding Madras shirts and skirts as a teenager, so that was a great touch!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Do Indians have a death wish....?

Kasab…. and thereby hangs a tale!

“ Kasab ko latka do…” Done. Kasab has been sentenced. He is to hang. Will he? That’s a million dollar question. Even if Kasab leapfrogs over fifty other prisoners on death row, whose mercy pleas are on hold with the President of India, he could be left cooling his heels in the clink for the next ten years. This 22- year- old ‘menace to society’, will then be a decade older – that is , if no one gets to him before that. The general feeling , at least in Mumbai, is that ‘latkana hai to jaldi latka do.’ Forget the monumental expense of keeping this guy alive and well- fed in our midst, the trickier part is to keep him – period. It is not his safety alone that is at grave risk, it is the safety of the city, and more importantly of the country . Kasab by himself is a complete nobody. His minders would have preferred him to die during the 26\11 terror attacks. It is his misfortune and ours that he survived. Despite the stupendous job done by the Mumbai cops ( in particular, by Rakesh Maria who headed the investigation ), the Kasab story remains incomplete and on many levels, entirely unconvincing. This was exactly what the master minds in Pakistan had hoped for – unleash violence, create an atmosphere of insecurity, mislead the people of India…. and then watch the fun.
There is not a single destination left on the planet that is ‘terrorist proof .’ The world was witness to what happened last week in the heart of New York. And to think, that audacious attempt was engineered pretty effortlessly in a country that prides itself on all the deterrents that kicked in post 9\11. Once again,the watching world looked on in disbelief and horror, as a crude bomb nearly went off in Times Square,engineered by
Faisal Shahzad , who was on the verge of nonchalantly escaping to Dubai from JFK terminal before being picked up. There may be hundreds where he came from. Just as there may be half a dozen homegrown Kasabs waiting in the wings to strike at the first opportunity. Opportunity? Ha…. There is one in India every second minute. Somehow, our mindset is against the sort of security measures that prevail across the globe. We resent the very people whose job it is to ensure our safety. Since I travel constantly, I can tell you, our airports remain our weakest links. Why? Because security efforts are a bit of a joke, and we ourselves treat them lightly. Last week, while returning from a short trip to Goa, I was silly enough to carry a doggy bag with my favourite fish curry in my hand luggage. There is no way one can pack curry into a suitcase, right? Yup. Absolutely right. But…. think about it…here’s a person ( me!), who knows the rules, is perfectly aware that liquids cannot be taken on board ( if over a 100mls). Did that simple thought even cross my mind as I happily set forth with 500mls of curry to enjoy back home? Nope. So… what happened at the security check? A lady cop giggled, shrugged and pointed to her senior ( a burly guy), who came up to ask what it was that I had in a plastic container. I brightly said, “ Fish curry.” He licked his chops before mildly scolding me, “ But madam… you cannot take it on the plane.” My disappointment must have been obvious, because his face softened as he came up with a solution. “Madam, you can eat it here …no problem.” That would have been a first for me. An unappetizing first. Seeing my tepid response, he made another suggestion, “ Why not empty out half the curry and take the rest?” Oh heavens … I admit I was desperate, but not that desperate! By then five more cops had gathered around the plastic container to offer assorted advice. Some had abandoned their posts to participate in the curry debate. Other passengers were being waved through casually, their belongings checked in a cursory way. One of them could have been the new Kasab\ Faisal . Ten minutes later, the burly senior cop strolled away with a smirk on his face. That was clearly the signal the juniors were waiting for. The lady cop all but winked at me before stamping the security tag on my handbag and whispering, “ Theek hai , theek hai madam….drama kar raha tha.” I mean…. Seriously. Come on! Rules ought to be rules, no matter who or what ! That blessed curry was giving me indigestion… a severe belly ache by now. And I said to myself, “ This is so dumb.” Equally, it was so dangerous. Technically speaking, I could have held up the plane with that fish curry. I could have temporarily blinded the unsuspecting crew, forced myself into the cockpit and flung some more of the chilly heavy gravy into the captain’s face. It would have rated as the first plane hijack in the world accomplished by a woman wielding nothing more lethal than delicious Goan fish curry.
I cite this comical, farcical almost surrealistic incident only to highlight the sorry state of our basic security measures at airports… and our own ludicrous attitude to them. We regard checks as somehow being of high nuisance value. The same desis who wordlessly and passively strip down to their underwear at American airports, look deeply insulted and act seriously affronted when much milder procedures are enforced back home. I have witnessed countless “ How dare you?” moments, and wondered at the miracle that has so far saved us from a gigantic calamity. Five star hotels , malls and multiplexes generally employ desperate youth, incapable of holding down any other job. Their ‘training’ is a joke as is evident when you watch them go through the motions in a robotic fashion. What happened at the German Bakery in Pune, is but one example of our own absurd attitude to safety.
Do Indians have a death wish? Sometimes, I feel hapless enough to believe we do!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Jaipur ki garam hawa...

To say Jaipur was hot would be a gross misrepresentation of the weather in India's Pink City (the old part of Jaipur near Hawa Mahal gets a fresh coat of pink once every five years ). The heat was murderous and scarily still - as dry,unforgiving and hard as a hangman's breath. I had Kasab on my mind ( judgement day) and therefore the hangman reference. Very few people in Jaipur were aware of this momentous trial in Mumbai that was finally hurtling towards closure and a verdict after months of intense scrutiny. It was as if 26\11 had taken place in a distant galaxy or at any rate, some other planet. For me, it was hard to think of anything else, even as I greeted my hosts at the brand new airport ( glittering but essentially non-functional on a practical level) and tried to distract myself. I had several errands to accomplish and very little time. As always, I hit the road running and pretended not to notice the several stray cows which looked like they had passed out under the shadow of the gigantic neem trees that line Jaipur's main avenues. I was tempted to join the animals and grab a quick siesta myself.
But I had to check out the block printed shirts at Rashid's, enjoy the famous, creamy lassi with my friends at Tholia House, look for gifts at Ratan's, buy a hand stiched mulmul shirt ( made out of 500 count organic cotton grown in their own fields by the owners) for my son from Satayam's, grab a Thai salad at the Anokhi Cafe, and of course swoon over the exquisite jadau jewellery that is sold like vegetables or chana all over the city.
The surprise package this time included the dynamic ladies of Jaipur - yes - the same ones who not so long ago were expected to pull a ghungat over their faces and remain in purdah ( more or less) especially outside the protective environment of their havelis. Today, they are out there, running successful businesses, travelling all over the world, organising seminars and conferences, participating enthusiastically in community service, encouraging their daughters to study abroad and generally leading a full, action packed existence. All this transformation has taken place in a decade, and the wonderful part is that their men seem to approve! And so do their in- laws. I met a delightful, bubbly chiffon saree clad bahu, mother of three teenagers, who proudly showed off her piercings ( over her right eyebrow , under her lips )and distinct tattoos. This was some change...
Our flight back was delayed and further delayed. There was no water in the airport, nor any snacks ( or so my daughter complained ). But Vineet, the airport manager, more than made up for the lapses by his wit and charm. Plus, we had a royal co-passenger to keep us company in the lounge. Maharaja Gaj Singh from neighbouring Jodhpur pointed out the short sightedness of creating this huge airport but not allowing too many direct international flights into Jaipur ( visitors have to come via Delhi). There are no flights between Jodhpur and Jaipur either and one has to drive 5 hours to get from one city to the other. This is our premier tourist hub - but just look at the poor infrastructure and connectivity! Gaj Singh has successfully placed Jodhpur on the tourist map of the world almost single handedly - he has reason to be concerned. When we finally boarded our Jet Connect flight at some hideous hour ( there are zero flight options in the evening - it is this one to Mumbai, or the highway!), Gaj Singh had to travel cattle class like the rest ( no biz section in Connect), and buy his can of Pepsi , plus a chicken sandwich, again like the aam janata. It was good to note his comfort level and the fact that he made no effort to draw attention to himself even as some of his 'subjects' fell at his feet, bowed, scraped and grovelled to show their respect! A normal 'working class maharaja' - how refreshing is that!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

'House-fool'....and hobby horses of netas...

First day , second show. I am a total sucker for garbagy hindi films. I looovvvvve watching them on the big screen, mainly to check how low they can get, and how high our tolerance level is. In the case of 'Housefull', I was slightly disappointed that the gags and humour didn't descend to the bottom of the pit nor create as much of a stink as I had hoped for. Of course, there were abominably gauche comments ( the reference to a Black or British African baby as a 'daamar ka tukda' - a piece of tar), and other similar horrors. There were also super tacky sequences about 'Homos' ( how crude and offensive Bollywood can get - surprising given that the film industry is dominated by gays). There was Riteish D once again camping it up ( it does come so naturally to him - why does he bother to play straight roles??). And then there was the saving grace of this dumb script - Akshay Kumar, whose timing is faultless and whose presence lifts the dumbest scene from self -destructing. Arjun Rampal is beyond eye candy yumminess as an entirely unconvincing 'Anna', but who cares? He looks and talks great. That leaves the pin up girls - their super hot bikini bods make up for any and every lapse. Jiah and Jacqueline age the other two lovelies - Lara and Deepika. But when all the male and female hotties burn it up in an item song - does anything else really count?

The lampooning of the Queen of England was hysterical, especially her declaring, 'Jai Maharashtra!"

And since we are on the subject of Maharashtra, here's my column from BT on monday....


When I saw Uddhav Thackeray’s trendy photograph on the cover of BT on Maharashtra Day, I blinked and blinked again. I took in the international look – cool leather jacket, the famous checked shirt, hip shades that Dhoni might lust after…. in fact, Uddhav was sporting all the accoutrements required for a man on the go - a today’s guy, a dude! Could this broadly grinning gentleman with a naughty twinkle in his eyes truly be Uddhav? ‘The’ Uddhav? Feared and disliked, dismissed and scorned by the city’s elite? Gone was the prominent vermillion tikka on the forehead, gone, too the orange kurta, and even the studiedly solemn expression on his face, which once conveyed a single message – ‘Don’t mess with me or my party.” Was Mumbai seeing a ‘new’, ‘improved’ Thackeray?Oh well… after all this was Uddhav’s virgin front page debut in the glam press, and I guess he didn’t want to send out the wrong message to the Page 3 crowd.Which is smart thinking, considering the ‘cover boy’s’ outing was strictly non-political, and the interview ably conducted by the BT editor, Mark Manuel, focused on Uddhav the aerial photographer, rather than Uddhav the Shiv Sena neta.
That’s what set me thinking… if more politicians decided to highlight their ‘other’ selves, perhaps their critics would be slightly more forgiving. This is not to say creative pursuits and unusual hobbies make up for various sins of omissions and commissions ( Hitler was a talented water colourist, remember?). But just imagine the good it might do in terms of positive positioning, especially if the person has battled with ‘image issues’ all along. Let’s face it, all the Thackerays have had major problems with the English press, especially in Mumbai. So deeply entrenched is the mutual antagonism, there is virtually no meeting ground left for a meaningful dialogue. Which makes this interview significant. Take a controversial politician…throw in a passion that humanizes the person and see the difference it makes. Atal Bihari Vajpayee had several enemies, but everyone loved his poetry. More recently, Kapil Sibal’s admirers love him for better or ‘verse’ - his poetic adventures have found several takers. I for one, am all for politicos presenting their soft side and letting the audience decide on the merits of their work. Aerial photography is a highly specialized field - what Uddhav has attempted is not for the faint hearted – I would call it seriously hazardous. Think about hanging precariously from the door of a helicopter that’s hovering over the edge of a precipice, or circling the mouth of a dormant volcano. It ain’t easy! But the guy’s done it. And the results are there for all to see between the covers of a glossy, well designed coffee table book (a cheaper janata edition is available as well).Worth checking out for some spectacular vistas of Mumbai and the rest of Maharashtra.
With Uddhav in the limelight, can cousin Raj be left behind? Raj Thackeray’s cartooning skills are as good as his uncle Balasaheb’s. Raj is a superb caricaturist and satirist, but I wonder if he has the time these days to pursue his art with as much zeal as it deserves. All the Thackeray men have a great sense of humour and can keep you in splits with their clever puns and smart repartees. Imagine if guys like these three were to reserve a generous chunk of their time following their hearts (and de-stressing while they were at it), their politics would be different. Qualitatively so. Perhaps less buses would be torched!!! Music and art are capable of taming the beast in all of us. More cartoons and more photographs, gentlemen. We are desperately looking for a kinder, gentler Maharashtra .
I’ll be out of town when the Qasab judgement is read out later today.
It is impossible to second guess what it’s likely to be.
But if there is one thing his trial has proved to the world – and to Pakistan in particular, it is that here in India, at least a few key democratic principles still count. Qasab was given a fair trial. Our investigating officers, and all those associated with this unique case ( where a terrorist is caught and tried) deserve our support and gratitude for a difficult job, competently and smoothly seen to its logical conclusion. Well done!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Gulmohurs in Goa...

Blame it on the heat, but I am in no mood to discuss the Kasab judgement. In fact, I was almost relieved not to have been in Mumbai and on all those talk shows yesterday. What is there to say? Let the courts say it all, now...
I was in Goa.... Glorious Goa for some, and Gritty Goa for others. This time we were staying in Panaji - the heart of Goa - at a new Taj property called Vivanta ( it's the biz hotel brand - smart and unfussy). Panaji has been spruced up and all the heritage buildings along the beautiful Mandovi river had a fresh coat of paint and were looking just lovely. The swimming pool on the roof of the hotel provided a panoramic view of the urban sprawl across the river, but at least a few brave gulmohurs in hesitant bloom, had managed to raise their orange heads above the buildings and catch my eye. Mumbai gulmohurs have still to catch up. I also spotted the most dazzling laburnums and jacarandas in full bloom en route. And as for the frangipani - every single tree was heavy with fragrant blossoms. My daughter Arundhati also managed to grab the last string of jasmines at the newly renovated Mangeshi temple. I was back to meet my beloved deity after a shortish break, and was enchanted to see the entire complex has been redone in the most aesthetic way. It is neatly paved, scrupulously clean and at that hour ( 8 p.m.) mercifully free of tourists who come there for picnics. I got the most wonderful darshan of my 'Kuldevata' and prayed uninterruptedly without the usual dhakka-bukki. The new lighting is also supremely well designed to highlight the architectural details of this ancient temple, where my ancestors have prayed for generations.
While on architecture, we loved the latest resort called Alila ( a Singapore brand), which has created a fabulous property in South Goa, close to Sacin Tendulkar's favourite eating place - Martin's Corner. Alila ,designed by the talented Kerala based architect Tony Joseph is a stunning addition to Goa's many luxury resorts, with hints of Bali.... and Kerala , of course. We were treated to finger licking good Goan fish curry by Chef Amit Bhardwaj, who also insisted on thrusting what he described as a 'debauched' dessert on us. Frankly, his chocolate fondant is truly wicked and obscene - go for it!
From Mangeshi and Alila to 'Fiesta' - my all time favourite restaurant in India, was but an hour's drive away. There was Yellow, the co-owner ( along with her husband Maneck Contractor) of this divine place, waiting to greet and feed us. We were a smallish group, and the entire evening under the stars was spent in the mellow glow of a waning moon. As we sipped chilled Pinot, and waited for our red snapper, followed by a trio of the most slurpy sorbets, it was possible to briefly forget the ugliness of the world beyond 'Fiesta's' fence.
For a change, it did seem like the best option...

Sunday, May 2, 2010

How I love Ghaplas......

I am off to Goa.... beastly weather, gorgeous people.
This appeared in the Sunday Times today.......

Let the ‘Ghaplas’ roll… while Lallu rocks!

He who tweets, lasts? No chance. He scoots! ‘I tweet, therefore I am’ , no longer holds true. ‘Ghaplas’ galore have replaced tweets and bores.I have been a diehard Lallu fan ever since I watched him playing Holi on television. What a guy, I said to myself. No six pack, not even a four pack, but an enormous, hard- as- rock pot belly. Yet,there he was rocking and grooving away like Akshay Kumar or Shahid Kapoor. Wah! That’s confidence. Ever since that defining moment, I have faithfully tracked Lallu’s countless antics and frequently dreamt about bonding with him while companionably milking cows on his farm. Last week, when he talked about the IPL ghaplas, I wanted to hug him ( I am sure Rabri wouldn’t have minded). ‘Ghaplas’ is such a delicious description for what has been going on… is going on. ‘Ghaplas’ cannot and must not be translated. Scandals, scams, fraud, corruption – does anybody react to those overused words? But the minute Lallu gives gyaan on the IPL ‘ghaplas’ we start paying attention. Why? Because who knows ‘ghapla territory’ better than the Governor General of Ghaplas – Lallu himself!
Mumbai describes such doings as ‘lafdas’ – which is also a great word since it kinda goes with ‘lafangas’ and even if those high flying IPL loafers do wear Gucci loafers, lafangas they remain. The IPL mess has become a ‘class thing’ (or ‘thingy as SRK tweeted when Sue Pushkar said she’d earlier offered her services to KKR). Considering it was Lalit’s tweet that triggered off the avalanche of muck raking that followed, that communication option instantly brought an elitist angle into the drama. For example – Lallu doesn’t tweet. But if he were to, he’d leave all the others way behind ( Salman Khan included). He could call himself ‘Ghaplawalla’ and break a whole lot of bhaandas on an hourly basis. Sharad Pawar isn’t on twitter either – but imagine what a following he’d get if he succumbed! He could adopt an appropriate twitter name – what about ‘Pawarplay’? Not sure whether Praful P is tweeting away yet? ‘Gadbadghotala’ would work great in his case. It is amazing how this crazy, deceptively harmless social networking tool became a game changer in IPL-Gate. Finger-happy fans have been in overdrive ever since LKM fired the first tweet… err…. shot. The twitter option is restricted to tech savvy, urban addicts, which is where the divide begins.
Like this joke doing the rounds…
“ Tweet , tweet…”
“Who’s there?”
“Lalit Modi…”
“Lalit Modi, who?”

“Don’t tell me I’m history already!!”
Given our insatiable appetite for Ghaplas and Lafdas, we are waiting breathlessly for the IPL sequel. If even half the colourful main players back off at this stage, and leave the proceedings to grim faced BCCI officials with zero charisma, the very people who have been taken for a royal ride ( cricket fans) will rapidly lose interest and look for the next big tamasha , quite forgetting that it will be pretty tough to beat this baby. Can it really get any bigger or grittier than it is? Number crunching is a tricky game, but since when has that daunted Lalit? Soon, such a complicated financial maze will be constructed that due diligence will be reduced to an expensive joke. It has happened with virtually every single national level investigation. So for every Ramalingam Raju cooling his heels in the clink, there are a dozen bigger ( and better connected) crooks taking the country for a ride.
One feels sorry for all those naive bachchas who regard cricket as a religion – their faith in the game has been cruelly shattered. They are the ones who need protection and reassurance before we plunge into the next IPL season. As of now, they are bewildered and disillusioned, unable to make the slightest sense of all the legalities and formalities that the ongoing investigation has entangled itself into. All they know is something murky and unpleasant tainted the IPL…. and some of their biggest icons. They are finding it exceedingly hard to come to terms with the dirt flying around. Who can explain to these trusting kids that the very same people who are key beneficiaries in this set up as it exists, have been appointed to look into its irregularities? Possible? Yes. But only in India!
These young, gullible cricket fans are the very ‘People of India’ Lalit Modi had the temerity to address directly via a live telecast during the presentation ceremony. I wonder whether they were convinced by his shrewdly worded oratory, or did they suspect it was nothing more than a veiled threat ? In a way, thank you, Lalit. You did draw your critics’ attention to the obvious fact that you weren’t exactly the swashbuckling Lone Ranger ( minus Tonto),undertaking hairy scarey deals in isolation. As has been asked by several concerned people – where were the blessed auditors for three years? And if they were sleeping on the job, why haven’t they been hauled in so far?
Lalit has obviously been born under an incredibly lucky star. And Teflon is his best friend. As of now, nothing is sticking, even though the wicket itself is beyond sticky.Preity Zinta described Lalit as a ‘magician’. Well, his magic has saved his derriere so far. His partners and good friends may not be as fortunate now that the heat is on them…. while he cools off and relaxes at his favourite spa. One has to hand it to the guy – a more chilled out customer would be hard to find! Talk about chasing a crooked shadow, this ‘who dunnit’ would have baffled Hitchcock himself. You know why? Hitchcock understood psychos…. but was clueless about ‘ghaplas’.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

I am an Indian. Jai Maharshtra!

“There are only Indians and non-Indians….”

“ I am as Maharshtrian as ‘varan bhaat’ – which I love. Everybody loves varan bhaat once they taste it, even those who are not born Maharashtrian. It is the best kind of comfort food – bland, unspiced, velvety and filling. I like to think most Maharashtrians are like varan bhaat – mild, easy- to-digest and likeable. Left to themselves, they prefer to mind their own business and get on with life. And there lies the key – ‘left to themselves’. Unfortunately, the time has come to admit that perhaps they are not being left to themselves.Opportunistic politicians have swiftly jumped in to profit from their discomfiture and frustration. The minute an ambitious, misguided chef takes it upon himself to add heavy- duty masala to varan bhaat and modify its taste, it ceases to be varan bhaat. He also loses his job!
So… let this be a given – Mumbai belongs to all those who live here and love it. That’s non-negotiable. A zero debate topic.Therefore, the question of keeping anybody out of this magnetic metropolis does not arise.Several manipulative attempts have been made by politicians to reclaim the city and rid it of ‘outsiders’. These attempts have failed spectacularly, simply because people have seen through the hollowness of the movement.Maharashtrians themselves have questioned the selfish motives of parochial political parties and rejected their narrow minded agendas.The ‘test’ is simple : Any politician claiming to help the ‘Marathi Manoos’ must begin at the beginning - first improve the lives of the local people through education and employment, dedication and sacrifice. Give the people better health care, roads, schools, hospitals, water…give them better governance on all levels.And stop this nonsensical ‘outsider-insider’ talk which is dangerous, divisive, undemocratic and anti-progress. In short, only two categories can be allowed to exist in our democracy - Indian and non-Indian. That’s where it begins and ends. Jai Maharashtra!