Saturday, July 31, 2010

Newsanchors as Stars....

When news anchors become the news…

We start thinking of them as our best friends. That’s the power of television. More than most characters in even the most popular of soap operas, it is news anchors who crawl into our lives and stay there. We believe them, trust them, fall in love with them. They are the people who tell us what to think, what to do, what to feel. That is, if they are good at their jobs. And you don’t get to anchor news or interview hot shots if you aren’t bloody good at what you do. I was thinking about this in a vague, distracted sort of way when I watched Barkha Dutt interviewing Digvijay Singh recently. No matter what she asked him, the man would giggle away, laugh uproariously, and generally carry on like a smitten schoolboy. When he wasn’t actively flirting with Barkha on camera , he was ogling her blatantly. Well, Barkha is not known for her bashfulness either. She was making eyes, cracking jokes and flirting right back! Excellent television, if you ask me. Some may call this tactic ‘establishing a rapport with the subject’ ( oh yeah?), but most viewers would describe this as the most public form of courtship – intentional or otherwise.
This is a worldwide phenomenon. Larry King, who recently hung up his colourful suspenders, was another tv personality who went flat out to woo his interviewees. In the bargain, he managed to get the unlikeliest celebs on his show to say the darndest of things. Ditto for Jay Leno , who often blushed and collapsed in a heap of embarrassment ( real or fake) when a particularly fetching female guest came on too strong. Unfortunately in India, most of our top male anchors refuse to do anything more than growl at guests. Sometimes ( but all too rarely) Karan Thapar lets up just a little and cracks a genuine smile and forgets to sneer. But most of the time, his trademark smirk stays fixed. Arnab Goswami remains determinedly stony faced, regardless of who his nightly panelists are. He is focused and forthright, sparing no one. There is no such thing as a ‘charm offensive’ in his book – not even in the larger interests of getting more dope for the all too frequent ‘Breaking News’. There was a time when half the women of this country ( well, those of us who belong to a certain vintage) had a major crush on Prannoy Roy. He made the Budget and Elections analyses super sexy with his suave manner and reassuring air. Never mind that the data and statistical overload went above our heads. We watched a handsome, bearded man reeling off numbers in a bedroom voice … and swooned. There are enough fans of Rajdeep Sardesai out there who will gladly vouch for his sex appeal. He knows exactly how to woo his constituency, adopting the manner of a rogue boy friend and using raw Salman Khan techniques. This alpha male approach obviously has its takers going by his popularity.
In the old Doordarshan days, people of my father’s generation were fida over a news reader called Salma ( the lady who wore a gigantic chrysanthemum or dahlia over one ear). I remember how avidly he used to hang on to every word she uttered, and rave over the way she draped her saree pallav, much to my mother’s annoyance. Salma was very much a fantasy woman for senior citizens . Smita Patil came later and was rapidly snapped up by Bollywood. There is something irresistible and alluring about the men and women we watch nightly in the privacy of our bedrooms. They become such an intrinsic part of our lives, we miss them when they aren’t around. I recall Rajat Sharma telling me candidly that his biggest high was to get recognized at airports and sign autographs. He was being honest. The truth is, we do engage with television anchors in a very intense sort of way. Their livelihood depends on the credibility they establish. And our faith in what they are saying depends on how convincingly they put it across. It is all make believe and word play. Anchors are performers, too. Just like discounted movie stars. Only difference being anchors get to write their own scripts, direct themselves, perform live with no scope for retakes, and keep their fingers crossed they don’t mess up big time in front of gigantic audiences. It’s a tough job. But someone’s got to do it.


I managed to locate Sidharth's website. It is

Look out for his reclining Guru Nanak on a verdant , luminous green field.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Once Upon a Time... Column 8

Voila!! 'The Sacred Cow' in all her glory!!!
Sorry, I didn't get to click Sidharth since I was in a ridiculous rush. But I have asked him to send website details. Shall share once I have them.

Masala ‘Dossa’ in Thane jail….

We’ve all heard about a dog’s life…. but if you ask me, a Don’s life is far superior. Especially if you happen to be lavishly housed in one of Mumbai’s more high profile jails. Getting free board and lodging, (with several attractive perks, like booze and biryani thrown in), doesn’t sound like a punishment to me – there are several deprived people in India who’d kill for such a privilege – literally . Amusingly enough,even jails have their specific branding and positioning! Arthur Road jail ( where, Kasab, one of the most wanted men in the world hangs out), is the best address in town and can be compared to Alibag. Every upmarket, upwardly mobile conman wants to live there. Image ka sawaal hai, bhai! This is where elite prisoners like Abu Salem and Mustafa Dossa relax and conduct their business. This is also where things can get really, really rough. Like it happened last week. Salem was attacked by a sharpened spoon ( just like they show in gangster films), and has since been moved to the far more down market Taloja jail in New Mumbai. Dossa has also had to relocate and is now lording it over inside the Thane jail. These moves must seriously damage the reputation of the two superdons, and impact their designer lifestyle. What a comedown for guys who are used to all possible luxuries while serving out their sentences. Reportedly, Salem’s cell is papered over with enticing pin-ups, and his mobile phone is loaded with juicy images of assorted , semi-nude babes. His beauty routine involving various imported face products, is well taken of, as well. And Monica Bedi’s ex- boy friend makes sure he looks good, even if the going is bad. Dossa’s priorities are slightly different. He plays the power game by throwing money around. Their concerns involve supremacy issues, and both prisoners rightly believe it’s all about one-upmanship. Since Dossa is looked after by the elite D-Gang, he obviously has superior resources. Salem, apparently , is finding it hard to compete. Reminds one of socialite turf wars in Mumbai. One socialite has more oomph but less lolly. Another, all the lolly in the world, but zilch sex appeal. So far, the knives have been out, but not sharpened spoons! But yes, spoons ( or chamchas) do play a key role in establishing social superiority, especially in media battles.
Amusing that in the pecking order of the city, there isn’t that much of a difference between the fierce in- fighting that pits socialite against socialite, don against don. Mumbai is like that only….musclepower rules. And there is nothing sexier than going for each other’s throat in public. Criminals and socialites share the same dream after all – they both want absolute control over the city of Gold.
Ah well…was it always this way, one wonders.
I am ready to rewind – are you??

Thursday, July 29, 2010

I bought a cow....

Moooooooo. I absolutely and totally love my cow. I have housed it in the guest room, along with Charlie Chaplin. Before you start wondering whether I've totally lost it, let me clarify. Here's my cow story.... and it is really sweet. I was in Delhi on sunday to attend the finale of Couture Week. The show was being staged by two amazingly gifted men - Abu Jani and Sandeep Khosla. Or, 'The Boys' , as they are popularly called. Dimple was their other invitee from Mumbai. I adore 'The Boys'. And I adore Dimple. She is astonishingly beautiful and great fun, apart from being a terrific actress . I have always adored Dimple ( have known her for more than 30 years), and rate 'Bobby' in my list of Top Ten Bollywood films. It is a heartbreakingly innocent and adorably romantic movie with unforgettable music ( " Main shayar toh nahin..."). Well... let's get back to the cow. Just as I was leaving for the airport the next day, I received a message saying the flight was delayed. This was in the lobby of the hotel, and Dimple was checking out, too. "Let's go and meet Sidharth - he's my painter friend in Delhi. I love him and he loves me," she suggested spontaneously. And so we went... miles and miles away... looking for his studio. I hadn't heard of him, but I trust Dimple's taste. I knew I wouldn't be wasting my time. As soon as we walked into his neat and tidy studio in Pocket B ( I swear I'm not making up his address), I spotted the golden cow.... and fell in love with it. He had forty other cows - but this golden one had to be mine! And now, it is! Divine intervention? Sidharth has led a fascinating life .... he was a Buddhist monk living in a monastery in Dharamsala as a lama for six years mastering the art of Thangka paintings. Today, he lives in Delhi, exhibits in London, holidays in Norway( where he has a considerable fan following) and is modesty personified. He makes his own pigments , is inspired by Mughal miniatures, but insists there is nothing profoundly philosophical about his work, since he believes in simplicity. 'The Decorated Cow' is a tribute to the late Manjit Bawa, but it is also a mythical and mystical exploration of the bovine world. I feel fortunate to possess the one cow I instantly fell for....I saw so much love in her kind eyes. I think I saw my mother.
I have a beautiful image of this cow in my inbox and wanted to share it with you. But my efforts failed miserably! I know you'll love my cow. Perhaps I'll be luckier tomorrow. Meanwhile, I must thank Dimple for introducing me to Sidharth. He remains admirably detached and monklike, smiling playfully, surrounded by his Cosmic Cows.
I feel blessed....

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Besharam Coach!!!

Guys, I love your enthusiasm for pics and all that, but it takes a lot of time! These may turn out to be the final few. At least from Sri Lanka. Let me give you a quick low down on each: I love Ginger flowers - and they grow in profusion all over Sri Lanka. This lot was at the entrance of Taprobane. The grater below is just that - but look closely. That's shark skin you see, not holes. It is a wasabi root grater, and one of Chef Darshan's prized kitchen implements at the super chic 'Nihonbasi' restaurant he runs in central Colombo. An accomplished and inspired chef, he recently hosted 'the world's most expensive sashimi ' event. What made his raw fish all that pricey? Well... he had studded the fish slivers with precious gems! When was the last time you bit into rubies?? That's Chef Darshan himself, with Arundhati and me. The tempting lobster is not his creation. This was what I ordered at 1864, at the special dinner organised by Sanjeev and Surekha Gardiner. And finally, there's the shot of our chopper balanced precariously on the edge of the sea where Topgun Ravi had deftly landed the bird . The view from 10,000 feet above sea level is predictably breathtaking. And don't you just love those hand painted stools?? I wish I had the magnificent images of the historic Keyts' murals inside the family temple built by the Periera family. Those wonderful murals depict the life of Gautama Buddha, and we were lucky to see them, thanks to the benevolence of the monks who unlocked the temple gates and allowed us in. Shyamalee is not known as 'Highness' for nothing!!

It’s time to chuck de Kaushik and Hockey India…

“ Do you have sex?” asked the veteran hockey coach of India’s women’s team. The startled and scared female player at the receiving end of this obnoxious question was stunned into silence. Poet Anasuya Dutt had captured the emotional trauma of women caught in this particular player’s unfortunate position most evocatively when she wrote, “ In too many countries, too many women speak the same language – of silence.” Collective silence it was that protected Maharaj Kumar Kaushik, the disgraced coach ,for years. But last week he was forced to step down, after top player Ranjita Kumar broke that awful silence and accused him of sexual harassment . Her letter to Narendra Batra, the secretary of Hockey India was signed by 31 members, who are standing by the oppressed athlete. Three key allegations have been made against this arrogant man who must have been counting on the clout of his undeserved but exalted position to see him through the mess. More than even that, he must have been counting on silence. Women in traditional societies have silence as their best friend – it is their only succour and refuge. “Hold your tongue, woman!” is a phrase that young women hear over and over again while growing up…. no matter what the provocation. Incest, rape, molestation…her instructions are clear – shut up and put up.
Ranjita would have ended up as yet another victim of this man’s ungentlemanly conduct, had an anonymous letter about his despicable language not made its way to officials. A letter that mentioned Ranjita by name. It was the only way to nail the guy. Confronted and cornered, he did what countless men in positions of power ( limited or otherwise) do , he tried to turn the tables on the women he had tormented by accusing them of using this tactic to get even with him. Why? Because they were dropped from the team for not being good enough. It’s an old and familiar trick adopted by rakes the world over – blame the woman, make her badnaam, disgrace her in front of family and friends, shred her reputation, ruin her future. It’s easy – she is a soft target. She has everything to lose. Most times, the man has nothing at stake – not even his reputation or job. After all, even his superiors would understand – he’s a man. These things happen. And as Kaushik demonstrated over the years, a man can and does get away with vulgar, offensive, sexually charged statements. Kaushik allegedly declared during his team’s tour to New Zealand in 2003, “ Anyone interested in sex, can come to me.” It’s an allegation he vehemently rubbishes. Instead, he whines about this being a nasty campaign to malign his ‘good name’, because he didn’t allow players to use mobile phones! Aha – now we know the real villain of the piece – it’s the banned mobile phone!
There are thousands of Kaushiks running around the world nonchalantly . Some time ago, we had a phony ‘Godman’ called Swami Nityananda whose pornographic sex tapes with a Tamil heroine, cut short his meteoric rise to the top of the spiritual merchandising rankings. Today, this man has brazenly and shamelessly turned the scandal around to boast, “ The internet has twice experienced major jams due to traffic. One was following the death of Michael Jackson. Second was following my sex tape.” How’s that for aggressive marketing in the God Bazaar ? Kaushik’s videographer Basavaraja is in an even murkier spot - there’s video footage of him with multiple sex workers. The worst that can happen to these men is already over – Basavaraja is suspended, and Kaushik has resigned. But what can be done to resurrect the hockey dreams of players like Helen Mary (former captain and goal keeper) whose brilliant career was cut short when she dared to complain about Kaushik ( who was reportedly having an affair with the team’s manager, Anurita Saini )? It was Saini who paid the price after the expose and lost her job. Kaushik’s minders in high places, let him hang on to his. Isn’t that how it goes? The absurdity is further compounded today, when officials point out piously that Kaushik hasn’t exactly forced himself on anyone so far. He has merely indulged in lewd talk. And that, dear people, is not considered offensive enough to punish him! Talk like, “ It’s good if you like sex… I am available twenty four hours.” In an angry statement, members of the hockey team are raising valid questions : “ You say he hasn’t got physical…we ask, do you want us to wait till he gets physical?”
Unfortunately, we lack the will to pursue sexual harassment cases in India. They are just not considered ‘serious’ enough. Authorities, even the police, point out that in a country where the aam aadmi faces far more life threatening issues on a daily basis, what’s a little ‘masti’ between the sexes? It’s all harmless fun!! No sir, it isn’t. For every Kaushik and Basavaraja who finally get caught for propositioning and demeaning women who they think are in no position to hit back, there are countless others who never pay for their crimes.Society has to wait for the rare Ranjitha Devis and Helen Marys who boldly break that conspiracy of silence and speak up. Most times, their courage comes with a huge price tag. Men will always try to exploit this collective silence , but even those complacent men sometimes go wrong in their calculations.It only happens when almost miraculously, a few extraordinary women rediscover the power of their own larynxes That’s when their stifled- for- centuries voices do – and must - get heard .
What we need is greater amplification. Pump up the volume, ladies.
We know for sure what isn’t cricket. Now we also know what isn’t hockey!
Chuck de Kaushik !


Saturday, July 24, 2010

Ayobowan Sri Lanka. More pics!!

Remember.... you asked! And yes, I got carried away. I'm waiting for my husband to arrive from Bangkok. And I am packed and ready to leave for Delhi!! Ha ha!! It's pretty rare that our travel schedules run this close, but what the hell. A guy's gotta do what a guy's gotta do ( ditto for the gal !).
I think these images provide a reasonably good insight into my enchantment for this beautiful destination. My current grouse is that I have yet to travel up north to Trincamolee or even to Anuradhapuram. But I am determined to get there soon. I also want to go see the leopards in their natural habitat..... visit the elephant orphanage.... come back during the whaling season. Oh.... so many new discoveries!
Meanwhile, let me give you the dope on these pics: The top shot of me was taken by Arundhati at Kadju House, an eco- friendly boutique hotel run by Vikram Mathur ( an Oxford don, no less, plus a keen environmentalist). Set amidst cashew plantations, it's a tiny piece of heaven with real cinnamon stick window grills and a herbal spa.I enjoyed the most delicious orange coconut water here - of course, the coconut came from his estate.
Aren't my local gal pals something else? Our hostess, Rashmi, the lady in white, is scarily effervescent - like the bubbly she was serving. The lady to my far left, dressed stylishly in Etro, is Samantha. She works for the World Bank and has recently relocated from Washington to Kabul ( I plan to visit!). Shyamalee to my left, is popularly known as 'Highness' in Colombo. She pretty much runs the social scene there. Arundhati is dressed in purple satin and perched precariously on the arm of the setee. This picture was taken just before we left to have dinner at 'Lemon' - Colombo's newest and smartest rooftop restaurant, run by the divine Koluu with devilish aplomb.
The saree pic was clicked at the literary evening at which I was 'in conversation' with Geoffrey Dobbs, the main brain behind the Galle Literary Festival. The shot of my book display is from the bookshop at 'Barefoot', where I interacted with readers and met Naazreen, the stunning looking owner of the store ( people come there in droves just to stare at her!).
The White House, as it is known by residents of Colombo Seven ( the upmarket district of Colombo), is the Municipal building and located at the centre of town. The multiple Buddhas photographed by Arundhati are a part of the temple complex. As also is the enormous, brightly painted Buddha within the main building.
Hate to keep hinting.... but..... there are a few more to go. You are warned!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Once Upon a time with Shobhaa. Column- 6

"A Don by any other name...."
Let’s face it, Shakespeare can never be wrong. When he poetically stated, ‘A rose by any other name would smell as sweet…’ he couldn’t possibly have imagined the impact of those few words on the world. Today, we happily misquote and misrepresent the Bard as and when it suits us.Like I am about to do right now! What is all the current fuss being made over the word ‘Don’? Call the man by any other name – social worker, do gooder, Robinhood, businessman,politician. It doesn’t change a thing. In today’s times, the word ‘Don’ has gone glam - and I shudder to say this – become almost respectable. I read a recent press report which said that newly formed gangs from Govandi were terrorising residents by imitating their favourite filmi dons, down to the stylized costumes and tapori dialogues. A case of life imitating art! Not that the elderly in Govandi are amused. Cases have been filed against four of these goons under various sections of the Indian Penal Code. Perhaps their families don’t think of their boys as badmaashes. Maybe they prefer to think of them as Boy Scouts on an adventure.
It is true that Bollywood has always had a strange fascination for members of the underworld.It is a love-hate relationship going back to the bad old days when the most important mehmaan at a mahurat was often a notorious gangster with a big stake in the movie.It was only after things soured and the love affair between the two ended abruptly, that the death threats and blackmail began in earnest. Audacious attacks on prominent Bollywood personalities, eventually led to the insane wall of tight security that protects present day megastars. But back then, it was a bloody free for all. One midnight call was all it took for Bollywood to pay up. Or else – goli maro bhejey mein.
Recreating the mesmerizing magic of that era is a huge thrill for any film maker. Who can resist picturising dramatic scenes between a sultry temptress in fishnet stockings and her tormentor in a gaudy shirt ? Or cinematically unraveling dirty deals between ruthless land sharks and venal politicos as they battle over India’s prime real estate - Mumbai? It was happening then. It is happening now. So what has really changed? I can understand Ekta Kapoor’s fascination for the ‘70s perfectly. After all, her father Jumping Jack Jeetendra( guess who coined that name?) was a big star at the time. And the ‘70s were a deliriously dangerous decade. Did she see something …. hear something… that aroused her creative curiosity as a child? And continues to haunt her till today?
Now that’s a story!! Must ask Ekta when I meet her next…
P.S. I read in a city tabloid this morning that Mastaan's 'adopted' son is planning to sue me for defaming his late father, Mumbai's great 'social worker', in my blog.
About the pictures. The one of me was clicked by Arundhati after I had waded through neck deep water and was getting ready to wade back to shore after a splendid lunch at 'Taprobane' ( travel writers justifiably go gaga over the uniqueness of the experience). The other pics are of the handsome and polite attendant posted outside one of the world's most artistic homestores called Paradise Road. He is wearing the store's trademark batik sarongs - aren't they gorgeous? The black-and-white bungalow you see was designed by Sri Lanka's legendary architect Geoffrey Bawa, and is now run by Shanth ( the undisputed emperor of style and elegance ) as a charming boutique hotel in Bentota. One of the other pics gives you an idea of just how much water visitors have to navigate to reach the island-hotel I'd mentioned earlier. There is also a pic of the Bodh tree in the temple complex I visited ( Arundhati and I watered it, as per tradition). And the last pic is of Shanth's courtyard - part of another Bawa property ( this is where the architect used to live). Shanth has changed it around and it now houses the smart Gallery Cafe and an art gallery\souvenir shop.
Guys.... I have more pics!! Should I keep them coming?
Am off to watch 'Khata Meetha'.
Am still reeling from 'Inception'. It has stolen all my dreams - past, present and future!! Spooky!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Bingo! The internet is behaving this evening and I could upload these three images without suffering too much! In fact, I took several biz calls while I was at it.... thereby saving precious time. I am feeling extraordinarily virtuous right now. Indulge me! In that spirit, let me share the sweet moments you can easily discern in these pictures. The beautiful little girl dressed in a Kandyian saree posed for Arundhati right outside her sunday morning religious class close to the Buddhist temple you see alongside. There was a magnificent Bodh tree in the courtyard, going back several hundred years. Our friend Shyamalee Tudawe was kind enough to spend her sunday with us, even though that is perhaps the only day of the frenzied week she has entirely to herself and her wonderful family.
My picture was also taken by Arundhati in Bentota as we waited for our chauffeur to show up. He'd disappeared without a trace, leaving us pretty stranded outside a gorgeous antique store crammed with amazing Dutch Colonial furniture. I'd do anything to acquire one of those gigantic teak chests - large enough to host a party in!
I have some more lovely, lovely images that tell a vivid story about our many discoveries in and around Galle. Especially the one which saw us wading into thigh high water in order to get to our stunning lunch destination at Taprobane island. It is the only way to access this incredible, lush and gorgeous property, which miraculously survived the Tsunami without any damage. While we timidly and gingerly made our way through the very waters that had caused such devastation, we half-wondered what our fate would be if there was another Tsunami at that exact moment. Morbid! Well, the terrific Sri Lankan repast served on a balcony kissed by a Flamboyante tree in full bloom, made up for all our fears. And then some. When it was time to wade back to the shore, we thought we'd become absolute experts at negotiating the swirling waters. Perhaps we had.
If you still want to see those funny pics of us holding our flip flops over our heads - you know what to do. Same drill - just raise your hands.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Power of Symbols....

This appeared yesterday in Bombay times...

The minute I saw the first few images of the newly-minted Rupee symbol, I loved it! Strong, neat, international and assertive, it was just what India needed to give its currency the much required boost. And it’s stupid to ask whether the creation of a mere symbol will pump up our economy or image internationally. Symbols are not instant coffee – they take time to register and evolve. But a good symbol has the power to change perceptions and act as a catalyst. Tell me, which Indian won’t experience a sense of pride seeing the rupee symbol on the keyboard? Or walking into a money changer’s office while traveling abroad, and seeing it up there with the hand picked other currency symbols currently accepted and recognized the world over?Let us greet our new symbol with some respect rather than quibbling over the selection process. D Udaya Kumar who created this inspired and inspiring image holds both a Master’s degree and has a Doctorate in industrial design from the prestigious IIT ( Bombay). He is a fierce environmentalist who has planted five fruit bearing trees in the small patch of land outside his hostel and prefers to spend his limited leisure hours playing football with colleagues. Before submitting his design to the national panel for selection, he had field tested it by getting the common man to write it. This was to establish how easy it was to execute and recall. He submitted these video clips to the jury – and won! Why can’t those who lost the race accept his win with grace and give him credit for creating a superior design? Why start questioning the selection process which involved a committee of seven studying 3,331 submissions over 17 hours, at this stage? It’s a done deal, guys. Deal with it…
We make poor losers in this country, unfortunately. We are always looking for excuses and alibis to justify failure. Whether it’s in cricket , Bollywood or politics, we cannot concede defeat with a shrug and a smile, or tell ourselves to try harder. I have my fingers crossed and am holding my breath well in advance of the Commonwealth Games. We should learn from South Africa and FIFA . Even South Africa’s harshest critics will agree that the rainbow nation pulled off a major, glitch free coup in the face of countless odds. But here in Delhi, we are readying ourselves for disasters big and small. We think by pre-empting any such unfortunate eventuality, we will be lessening our responsibility. Finger pointing being our favourite national sport, right now, there are a lot of really weary fingers! Everybody is at it – and it’s not just about the games alone. Of course, when asli biggies are involved ( Kamal Nath – Montek Singh Ahluwalia), the nation is treated to a cerebral show down. But even lesser beings provide cheap thrills to the aam janata with name calling replacing name dropping. As of now, I am waiting to hear the next salvo from Akshay Kumar who was most miffed about the fuss made over his R.K.Laxman hospital visit. Perhaps, it’s time for the Common Man to have the last laugh!
Guys, I tried hard to upload fresh images from Sri Lanka, but there is something weird happening on the internet today. Perhaps servers have crashed after people read about Sachin Tendulkar's 'Bloody' book. In case you don't know what I am talking about, it's titled 'Tendulkar's Opus', and will be published next February. Priced at a 'modest' $75,000, this 852-page book weighing 37kg is unique in more ways than one - it claims it has the iconic cricketer's blood and saliva on the signature page. Are you going - "Ugggggh!" ?????
Please do post candid comments to that googly....

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Tere Bin Laden - fully paisa vasool!

Full house at a multiplex on a sunday evening after a really looooong time. The opening sequence itself establishes the tone of this little jewel of a high concept film. It tells you the script is not 'maroed' , that there are no big names strutting through the movie and that the subject is so damn clever, you are in for a really good time. 'Good time' not in the silly hahahoho sense, but a really, really good time that has you marveling at the wacky inventiveness of the entire enterprise, starting with the brilliant script, which rarely lets up. Every small gag, every incidental shot , and every fresh twist in the plot , has been calibrated and choreographed in such an entertaining manner, you leave the theatre feeling satiated and upbeat about the simple fact that there are filmmakers out there who can deliver big time, sans stars, hype,stunts.All you need is brains. And a producer who has enough faith in you to let you do your job.
Pooja Shetty Deora has always been my sort of gal. That she is married to my friend Hema Deora's son, happens to be a bonus. This is her first independent film, and I am so glad she took her chances with a bunch of talented newbies. The budget may be modest, but the impact is huge. It comes close to 'The Hangover' in terms of the absurdity of the premise and the unfolding of the crazy plot. Whosoever thought of Sikander the rooster, deserves a medal. Sikander is the real hero of this caper and should be given a special award. As for those guys who wrote the mad lyrics for the hit song, 'Ullu da Pattha' , we should felicitate them instantly. The movie takes the mickey out of America, Pakistan and all the paranoia about finding Osama. By the time the titles roll, nobody really cares that the gorgeous airport at Hyderabad is meant to pass off as JFK International. Yup. That's how good the film is. Watch it!!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Small town India hits big time....

Okay... so here's a pic of TopGun Ravi just before we took off on the first leg of our chopper ride across the emerald isle that I so love. This was right next to the Galle Fort, which is truly magnificent. We had spent two incredible days at The Dutch House ( a converted orphanage, built in 1712 and now run as a boutique hotel by Geoffrey Dobbs, who had generously given me the same suite as the one Sting had occupied). Our Indian cricketers may party there when they play in Galle - it is a jewel of a place, with a great resident chef. But to get back to Ravi, he is a man with nerves of steel, I can tell you. Throughout that ordeal flying in the blinding rain, he kept up a cheerful banter with three nervous ladies on board, and joked about our co-piloting skills being terrible! Now that he has us as founder members of his fan club, I am sure his repertoire of wisecracks will get still better!

The other pics are taken in Colombo. The first one at 'Barefoot' where I met readers and signed books. It is much more than Colombo's very stylish lifestyle destination, I can tell you. It has a great cafe attached, and the most beautiful cotton sarongs in the boutique. The saree pic is at the Galle Face Hotel just before my book reading and 'in conversation'. The gentleman in the pic is one of the oldest employees of this historic hotel ( older than Mumbai's classic Taj Mahal Hotel, and equally beautiful). I make it a point to meet him each time I'm in Colombo. I love this property, and the gracious owners, Sanjeev and Surekha Gardiner, who host the most elegant dinners ( would you like to see those pics?), in '1864', their fine dining restaurant. Oh.... I have more images which do NOT feature me. Perhaps you'd prefer those.....?? Say the word , guys.... I can handle it! Swear!!


This appeared in The Asian Age today...

Small town India hits the big time….

It’s all about the numbers.And right now Dhoni’s numbers are looking just great! Signing a staggering Rs 210 cr endorsements’ deal isn’t exactly small change, particularly in these tough times when even international superstars are accepting paycuts. What cricket fans are getting all excited over is the fact that Dhoni at age 29 has gone past the 37 - year- old Tendulkar’s record Rs180 cr deal which ended in 2009. Come on guys…. haven’t you heard of that old saying which goes….the old order changeth yielding place to new? Shakespeare sure knew a thing or two about jawaani deewani…and the premium attached to it. Dhoni is on top of his game ( and I am not restricting that to cricket). He has displayed the sort of robust common sense that has seen him through various crises, professional and personal. And now as a newly minted bridegroom, even his previous romantic chakkars with assorted Bollywood\Fashion lovelies are taken care of. Dhoni is the ultimate symbol of aspirational\inspirational India. What is there not to like and love about this guy? He is handsome, self made and successful. His entry into the big ticket world of international cricket has been entirely on merit, without the benevolent hand of a powerful godfather over his head. He has seamlessly negotiated the murky political cess pool that is cricket today, winning the Captain Cool tag in the bargain. The man is a bloody modern day marvel ! He can act, he can sing, he can dance…. who knows … maybe he can walk on water, too. For all that, Dhoni remains a small town guy – and that’s where his real strength lies.
Something major is underway in small time India that most big city folks have paid scant attention to. One can sense it each time a journey into the hinterland is undertaken. This goes beyond malls and money. But hey – why not begin with the malls and money? Wasn’t it a dumb Mercedes dealer who stupidly ignored an order for 83 swanky Mercs, because he couldn’t believe that farmers from Aurangabad would be serious about such a gigantic purchase? But guess what? That’s where the actual lolly is…. in dem hills. And those guys in shiney suits living in India’s Tier-2 and Tier-3 cities are the fat cats shrewd advertisers and marketers should be aggressively chasing – instead of the comparatively kadka urban socialites sporting designer logos on their bums. Logos, that in all probability have their origins in the fake goods factories in Taiwan. Talking to the Delhi franchisees of the most prestigious luxury labels in the world, I was told that most of their sales are generated by farmers from Punjab, who make special ‘trousseau trips’ to the capital to pick up the priciest ‘It’ bags and designer gear for their darling daughters. It’s a strictly ‘Cash-and Carry’ crowd of dedicated shoppers and these guys justifiably believe money talks. Bundles of thousand rupee notes carried in inconspicuous plastic bags are poured on to the counter, much to the horror of the snooty sales’ team , accustomed to bowing and scraping in the presence of Bollywood stars looking for freebies. Not that this lack of so-called ‘class’ matters to their bosses in Milan, London or New York. Those foreign number crunchers rub their hands in glee as the euros, dollars and pounds roll in – from rural India, of all places! Given the dismal economic story dominating Europe, what would these snob stores do without the patronage of our richie rich kisaans and shetkaris?
And so it goes on other levels as well. Small town India has come into its own, be it in Bollywood or in big business. When I read about the 23 year-old Kangana Ranaut from Himachal Pradesh booking a sprawling four bedroom apartment in Mumbai’s tony Bandra neighbourhood for a whopping Rs. 15 crores, I fell off my chair! Here’s a girl who gate crashed into Bollywood less than five years ago, hooked up with a much married, much older Aditya Pancholi, broke up with the same bloke after a few well publicized spats, made a couple of small budget films, got noticed, got fame, got new boy friends… and… and got rich. Seriously rich. Today, she zooms around in the latest Audi, wears the best designer labels, signs countless movies, and is right up there in the showbiz pecking order.
One would imagine that Dhoni and Kangana would have nothing in common - but they do! It is the fascinating journey of two young and daring people to the top of the heap that makes them interesting. On a recent trip to Sri Lanka, I got talking to a hugely successful businessman ( you could call him the beer king of the island), who said he was not interested in the pursuit if either money or admiration. Loftily…. very loftily, he added such a chase was for the under-privileged and the hungry, who need both. But for someone like him, born into one of the wealthiest and most privileged families, his dream, he said airily, was to appreciate beauty and enjoy life! Lucky bugger, I thought to myself, as he picked at his gourmet lunch in Colombo’s smartest restaurant. He pointed to a brand new and very gaudy high rise apartment close by. “ It’s expensive …. even by Indian standards. But would I live in it? Never! It’s for the peasants who have made money and are stupid enough to move to the city.” Earlier that day, I had met a tea garden owner whose exclusive ‘ Virgin White Tea’ retails in fancy tea boutiques in New York and Paris for $1,500 per 10 grammes! I kid you not. What makes this tea so special? The publicity claims it is picked by virgins (“ But I don’t certify them,” he chuckled wickedly) who cut the leaves with a pair of gold scissors and collect them in a gold bowl. Well, that’s a part of the myth.But the extraordinary success of his limited edition tea has made it possible for his workers to dream technicolour dreams. One of those fit and handsome boys playing cricket in the field close by, could well replace Kumar Sangakarra, the dashing captain of the Sri Lankan cricket team, in the near future.
There are versions of Dhonis and Kanganas being born every day in some small, relatively obscure part of our world. Who knows – the Commonwealth Games may throw up a few right here in our backyard.May the best underdog win …. and all that rot. While we are at it, let’s ask Oracle Paul what the odds are of India winning even a single measly medal?

Friday, July 16, 2010

Once Upon a Time with Shobhaa...

This pic was taken in a small village between Colombo and Galle. We had stopped over for a brief halt as we had a lunch date in the village at the famous Beach House run by Geoffrey Dobbs. Our chopper pilot 'Top Gun' Ravi, landed on the edge of the sea, watched closely by these tough looking guys who softened when we requested them to pose for a photograph. This was just the beginning of an adventure that saw the Deccan Aviation chopper fly us through an electric storm with visibility levels dropping so dramatically, Ravi had to fly at a perilous 300 metres above sea level at one point and follow the headlights of cars in the far distance to get his bearings. But... we made it! And if someone were to ask whether I would do it again - the answer is a big 'yessss'. Provided Ravi ( he proudly told us he had flown two previous Presidents) is in command.
In case you want to see a pic of my current hero Ravi, raise your hands!!

“ Mein Chupp Rahoongi…..”

This is about a scoop that didn’t happen. Last week, I was slated to conduct a potentially sizzling interview with a light-eyed beauty who’d made huge waves years ago when she’d gate crashed the Bollywood party. She was a big name for a short while during that distant era when starlets were ‘discovered’ and not ‘manufactured’. After a dream launch in a big banner movie, the girl struggled to land a few roles, and soon faded from the scene. When she did resurface, it was in another avatar – a rather unappetizing one, at that. It was rumoured that Dawood had taken a fancy to her and she had decided to become one of his biwis. Heaven knows how true those rumours were, but the girl did do the vanishing act and everybody assumed she was leading a life of indolent luxury tucked away in either Dubai or Karachi. Since Bollywood really does not have time for has- beens , or ‘would-have-beens’, she was soon forgotten. There were a few unconfirmed sightings, but by then nobody was interested in her.

Well, trust Ekta Kapoor to make it her mission to track her down. Ekta’s sleuths managed to locate the elusive woman in her suburban Mumbai flat, where she lives in anonymity and oblivion. Her new life was certainly a far, far cry from the one she had known, albeit briefly, as Bollywood’s darling.She was surprised anybody could be interested in her now. Well, Ekta and I certainly were! When I received a call from Ekta to ask whether I would interview the person, I was at a remotely located boutique hotel in the heart of Galle ( Sri Lanka). The phone connection wasn’t great, but the excitement levels certainly were. I had dozens of tantalizing questions I wanted answers to, as I geared up for the chat which was scheduled for later in the day. Just our luck that when the appointed hour arrived, I was in the middle of a slushy paddy field dealing with an unexpected thunder storm that had broken out ,ruining effective communication. We decided to speak later…. I was dying to ask about her life as Dawood’s wife. And what she thought of innocent faced Prachi Desai playing a mobster’s girlfriend in the movie. I wanted to know whether Imran Hashmi was the right choice and whether she approved of his sharply styled 70’s look. Most importantly, had she ever met Hajibhai when she was with Dawood? Alas, the Rain and Communications Gods decided otherwise. Perhaps, she herself had second thoughts?
But I am a bloodhound at heart. I have not given up the chase.
Watch this space…

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Captain's New Innings....

The pic is with the very charming and very handsome Sri Lankan cricket captain, Kumar Sangakkara ,his wife ( would you believe she has recently delivered twins?) and my daughter Arundhati. We ran into them in the lobby of the Hilton in Colombo, where we had gorged on one of the best chinese meals ever (at the stylish 'WOK' ) . Look out for my Sri Lankan diary. It is a little overdue. But I intend writing it over the weekend. There's just so much on my overladen plate right now.... I am reeling.
I don't know how Amitabh Bachchan does it - and does it so well, at that! Met him last night at the Bastille Day celebrations hosted by Francois Pujolas, the French Consul General. Amitabh had just delivered a great speech. His fans were mobbing him even as he gamely signed autographs and posed for pictures. He travels around the world at a manic pace, is never ever late by even 5 minutes, makes thoughtful speeches without teleprompters, disarms hosts with his presence and panache, and does all this while demonstrating an enviable level of professionalism that is worth emulating in every field. His wife Jaya shared a domestic secret - "Our cue to leave is for me to get up and walk briskly towards the exit once the formalities are over - that's when he looks worried and says to those crowding him, "Oh... I'd better rush.... or else my wife will get really, really angry!" Ha ha! I like, I like ! Must steal!
This appeared in 'The Week'....

Shaadi ka Mahina….. Mahi Ve!!

Dhoni did it! And did it in true super celeb style – quickly and stealthily. India’s star sportsman tied the knot with his 21- year- old love interest late last Sunday night, somewhere in the distant hills of Dehradun. Perfect! Only a few khaas mehman attended the traditional ceremony away from the prying eyes of the watching world. Since we are a long way off from the modus operandi followed by international paparazzi ( not because we are coy or morally upright – we merely don’t have the big bucks for it!), we had to make do with sketchy reports.It will take us years to catch up with asli celeb watching which involves hiring choppers and hovering over wedding venues taking grab shots of the nuptials that are later sold for a bomb! We don’t have motorcycle stalkers from the media either ( they drove Princess Diana to her death, remember?), or you can be sure some adventurous types would have reached the foothills of the Himalayas and ruined Mahi’s maha moment. A three layer security cordon made sure the wedding remained out of bounds and tantalizingly private. Just the way it should be, but rarely remains, when it involves mega celebrities. News filtering through indicated the two families had matched the kundalis of the two love birds before finalizing the auspicious date for the shaadi. Great! They had celestial approval, as well.Loverboy Mahi turned out to be quite a chhupa rustom, and I am sure he has left a lot of broken hearted female fans in tears, now that he is shaadi shuda. As for young Sakshi, she is perhaps one of the most envied girls on planet earth at this point.
Kuch kuch hota hai when sports’ icons get hitched. Even though comparisons are odious, how can we forget the recent Sania –Shoaib tamasha that turned into such an ugly jamboree? Perhaps Dhoni had just that disaster in mind when he decided to take to the hills and just do it! From all accounts, it was a smart move taken by a smart man . Mahi cleverly pre-empted controversies by presenting a fait accompli to the world.Not for nothing is he known as Captain Cool.

While all these festivities were being played out at a luxury spa in Dehra Dun, another kind of drama and hungama was taking place in Mumbai. Just ten days after the tragic suicide of Viveka Babajee, the 37- year- old model who hanged herself, her grief stricken family engaged the services of Dale Bhagwagar, an on- the -ball publicist ( same chap who used to issue press releases by the micro second when he was handling Shilpa Shetty’s public relations), to propagate the news of Viveka’s actual relationship with Gautam Vora,the boy friend who is being interrogated by the cops. According to the family, these two were contemplating marriage and had also matched kundalis .Obviously, something went horribly wrong at some point. So wrong that the Vora boy refused to acknowledge he had enjoyed anything but a very, very casual friendship with the dead model.Well, the intimate photographs released by her family tell an entirely different story. So much for kundali- matching. The point is , some marriages happen. Some don’t. But our society invariably gets excessively excited about the subject. When I wrote about the sad Viveka episode on my blog, the reactions were intense and personal. A lot of men sympathized with Vora’s situation, and went so far as to compare men with good wine ( they get better with age), and women with milk ( which curdles with age ). What followed was a pretty heated ‘comments war’, either supporting or damning the guy who to all appearances ditched a trusting girlfriend just before the saat pheras could be taken. Perhaps no outsider can ever gauge what goes on in the heads and hearts of couples in committed relationships. But even a hard boiled sceptic would agree when it gets to the matching kundalis stage, it’s got to be pretty serious. In Viveka’s strange case, it seemed to have gone beyond kundali talk – her mother, Dayawanti, insists Vora had asked his girlfriend to consult a fertility expert about her ability to bear children. If true, this is such a shocker! And to think we are talking about a supposedly hip and cool 21st century couple, not semi-literates from small town India who were being pressurised by elders to get the girl ‘certified’ (“ okay! All clear…. the bride’s womb is good to go” ).
Two high profile couples. Two entirely different scripts for their respective ‘Luv Storys’.
Mubarak ho, Dhoni and Sakshi.Here’s to a brand new innings, captain.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Once Upon a Time with Shobhaa. Column -4

Is Haji Mastaan really dead….?

Don’t gasp! It is a question worth asking. People still speculate whether Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson are really, really dead. Seriously. Some charismatic individuals generate this kind of macabre debate. Haji Mastaan, with his larger-than-life reputation, and a very colourful romantic history continues to generate a lot of comment…. a lot of fear. His money! His molls! His power!Everybody still quakes. Particularly people in Bollywood. People who are still indebted to him. Maybe owe him money to this day. They are the ones who live in dread… afraid of that midnight knock … the pre-dawn call from the Don himself…perhaps masked men at their doorstep growling, “ Paisey wapas do…. varna…” It was always the ‘varna’ that made the victims’ blood run cold. And there was no dearth of ‘varnas’ during Haji Mastaan’s reign. All it took was one nazar, one ishaara… and Bollywood Biggies scrambled to do the Don’s bidding.
Haji Mastaan is alive and well…. and still operating out of Mumbai \ Dubai. That’s the verdict on the street. The ‘original’ may have died years ago, but Mastaan’s legacy lives on. Not very much has changed when it comes to funny money in movies. People talk about the corporatisation of Bollywood. Yes, it is underway. But let’s remind ourselves that there was a time, not so long ago, when even Hollywood was run by Mafia bosses. It took four decades and a great deal of concerted effort to clean up the system there. Bollywood is trailing, but only by a few years . Mafia and the molls have since become a staple of Hollywood hits from that era. In India, we are just about waking up to the richness of the material. If ‘Once Upon a Time in Mumbaai’ manages to recreate the menace and magic of the Mastaan years , a fresh generation of movie goers will get a taste of what used to happen each time Hajibhai decided he was interested in a new project – or a starlet. In terms of casting, Kangana is perfect enacting the role of the plaything of gangsters. But I am getting ahead of the plot! Haji Mastaan was the one who created the monster we call Dawood…and Dawood, as we all know, is indeed alive and well ….Haji lives on….

Monday, July 12, 2010

Bollywood twits on Twitter....

Bollywood : A question of breeding and upbringing …

Last week I wrote a candid critique in this very space on a hugely hyped up film that has tanked. The point is it would have tanked whether or not anybody had written about it. That’s the nature of the beast. And that, alas, is the nature of what columnists the world over engage themselves in – it is their job to express opinions. That is what they are paid to do - express honest opinions without fear or favour. Their sole duty is towards the readers who trust them –and nobody else. This is the way the cookie crumbles – take it or leave it. Unfortunately, the current generation of Bollywood brats in their monumental arrogance and limited intelligence forget that not all journalists are purchasable commodities. And if their film is a turkey, that’s what it is going to be labeled. Those writers whose opinions in print are available for a price are called by other names, but in the interests of keeping this a polite platform, let’s just stick to ‘Hacks for Hire’. There are any number of them floating around churning out shameless p.r. reviews that come with a price tag. Nearly every write- up these days falls into this category. There are two ways for a filmmaker\actor to respond to criticism : Hit back or reflect. Hitting back is childish, petulant and gets the attacker nowhere. And here’s where one can separate the men from the boys.
When I wrote strongly about ‘Raavan’, my words were challenged, as was my response to what was being projected as a major tour de force. When I posted the same column on my blog, I received a lot of hostile comments, which is understandable. Movies are meant to arouse passions. If Mani Ratnam did read the column, or was upset by the criticism, he maintained his silence and stood by his vision without carping about a writer’s opinion. Of course, there were several other columnists\ critics who felt the same way about the film, but hello! anything in the public domain necessarily lays itself open to criticism – be it a book, play, art exhibition, musical performance. One has to take it on the chin, sulk privately, cry a little, fume away to glory… and move on. Seniors in the business realize this and rarely fall into the ‘tu tu main main’ trap. When one runs into them in public, their reaction is often frosty but civil - that’s okay. It is tacitly accepted there is nothing personal about the review.There’s no ax to grind. The filmmaker has done his\her job by making a movie, and the critic , his\hers by writing about it in an unprejudiced way. That’s where the equation begins and ends. Or should.
This is where good breeding and decent upbringing come into play. Take the Bachchans. Abhishek was slaughtered by critics recently after his ‘Raavan’ bombed. What did the young man do? Did he respond to critics by tweeting in an uncouth, rude language? Nope. He kept his cool. He had put in a lot of hard work…. too bad audiences didn’t appreciate his performance. Ditto for Aishwarya who was also given hell in print and across channels. She too didn’t go into a silly huff and crib about how mean everybody was being to her. Sure, Mr. Bachchan Sr. did talk about the strange editing and attracted his share of flack. But at no point did the Big B resort to pettiness. Ditto for the Roshans when ‘Kites’ bombed big time and the press tore into the multi- crore dud, sparing no one – not Mori, not Hritik. The Roshans took it on the chin. Seasoned professionals from such a background do not take cheap pot shots at journalists and start abusing them on assorted public platforms. Unfortunately, these days the film industry attracts all kinds of upstarts who reveal their own shabby backgrounds when they launch personal attacks on columnists. Surprisingly, even some of the newbie hot shot actresses resort to slanging matches when critics don’t automatically fall at their feet and go gaga over their looks\performance.These immature, spoilt filmi kids should take their cues from someone like a Karan Johar, who is their ultimate guru. You’ll never find this guy descending to pathetically low levels and trashing critics. His jibes and cracks are always good humoured, even when he wants to put someone in his or her place. That’s called finesse and class. By all means defend your work – but do it with panache. Or is that too much to ask of these one film wonderboys who believe they can teach the masters a thing or two?

Monday, July 5, 2010

" I Hate Dumb Storys'!!

Guys, I am off to one of my favourite destinations - Sri Lanka. Galle Literary Festival is one of the top rated Lit Fests of the World. I have been invited by the organisers for readings and book signings. Looking forward to meeting old friends and making new ones. And who knows - I may run into the newly weds - Dhoni and Sakshi - while I am there! Our Boys in Blue will be in Sri Lanka from the 9th onwards. India's most eligible bachelor is a shaadi shuda man now!


This appeared in Bombay Times...

" I Hate Dumb Storys……"

It started with the annoying misspelling. Come on, guys, we know the trendy sms, twitter and any other shorthand du jour. We do realize nobody has the time to spell out anything anymore – literally and metaphorically. But this sort of a distortion doesn’t make for ‘cute’. However , it does prepare the audience for what is to come - terminal boredom. This is assured right from the first few scenes, filled with dull voiceovers of the protagonists as they drone on and on about their respective attitudes to love – sorry – ‘luv’. The guy with a droopy-loopy grin doesn’t believe in such mush, the girl with a white plastic flower, does. Both work for a hysterical movie director, whose character, nudge-nudge,is based on Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s. Once the premise is clumsily and unconvincingly established, the movie meanders off in many disconnected directions, with sub-plots that don’t go anywhere. You’re probably saying, “ That’s okay. Since when do Bollywood films follow logic?” I am fine with the idiocy of most Bollywood products – in fact, the only reason for watching hyped up commercial films ( at hefty multiplex prices), is to come away gasping at the absurdity of the content. But there is generally one important criterion at play – entertainment. Make the rubbish entertaining. Let the people feel they have got their money’s worth. At least the music should rock! Especially when the movie features two big ticket popcorn stars and involves a prestigious production house. What an absolute waste casting Imran Khan and Sonam Kapoor in this utterly dull, total dud of a movie which is more a wonky tribute to Karan Johar’s earlier films, songs and screen pairings. After a point, all those ‘in’ jokes and references start bugging the viewer, particularly a replay of his popular songs as background scores and an embarrassingly gauche recreation of iconic scenes , like the ‘kuch kuch hota hai’ dialogue between Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol. Come on guys, are you that desperate for original ideas that you have to pack so many reels of a contemporary film with such obvious take- offs ? This isn’t clever tongue-in-cheek stuff. It’s plain unimaginative.
In any case, most movies which try and follow the ‘movie-within-a-movie’ formula, generally fall flat on their faces. Only filmwallas get the context and laugh at all the insider stuff. The last time such a formula actually worked, was in ‘Rangeela’, especially that on screen dig at Sridevi and her ‘mummy’. It is a wonder Karan actually approved the script of such an excruciatingly pointless film which,post-interval, suddenly takes off for New Zealand. Why? By then it doesn’t really matter. Those guys could be on the moon. By the time the key ‘turning point’ arrives,that has Imran (Raj), phoning his mummyji ( Anju Mahendru in a terrible wig) and howling over the phone, one is ready to shake up this bloke called Punit Malhotra ( chief villain) and spank him in public. As for Sonam, the lassie lacks oomph, even if she does have a great smile and can act. Oh… and Imran should definitely keep his shirt on… if he doesn’t want the audience to lose theirs.
Why do we insist on referring to poor Viveka Babajee as a
‘Supermodel’? Let’s face it, India has yet to produce a ‘Supermodel’. Not a single one of our models, past or present, falls into that category. Where is our Naomi Campbell? Kate Moss? Claudia Schiffer? Gisele Bunchen? Cindy Crawford? Christy Turlington? These are names recognized by the fashion community the world over. They dominated international catwalks and ad campaigns for over two decades, and captured the imagination of the celeb brigade on a mega level by becoming the absolute darlings of the paparazzi. Compare their success with what passes for it here – we happily throw a few names around, names like Mehr Jessia, Madhu Sapre, Ujjwala Raut etc. These girls made it reasonably big in India, and someone like Ujjwala was a fairly successful model abroad. That’s it. Even within India, chances of anybody outside the glam world recognizing these ladies by face or name, are pretty remote. Modeling in India remains a niche, fringe profession without a mass base. So let’s drop this nonsense of calling every other girl who has walked the ramp more than twenty times, a ‘Supermodel’. As for Viveka, are we really so hard up for ‘news’ about her tragic death, that we end up interviewing her 20 year-old maid ? I am sure Viveka must have been a pretty super person, but let’s not overdo the ‘Supermodel’ bit. I hope the lovely girl from Satara has finally found the peace that eluded her when she was alive trying to make it in big ,bad and mad Mumbai.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Drugs, Sex and Suicide....Viveka B, RIP

This appeared today in Asian Age\Deccan Chronicle.
It is raining horses and elephants. Perfect day to watch 'I hate Luv Storys'. I'm an optimist. Hoping the movie will lighten the mood. Or at least prepare me for a heart stopping quarter final at FIFA. My son Aditya is in Capetown for the matches, and his BBMs make us feel we are right there in the stands with him, watching every kick and yellow card.Waka Waka Germany....
Doomed models on killer cocktails……

It has been a slow week for news. FIFA leaves India cold ( if we aren’t playing, why bother?). And the political khabar from Delhi has been pretty thanda. That left a lot of front page space waiting to be filled. Along came a masala story which had the hungry media vultures scampering – an ageing model’s tragic suicide. Hardly headline news. But there it was, on every channel and newspaper. Poor Viveka Babajee hadn’t received even half this level of coverage during her lifetime as she struggled to keep up appearances, keep body and soul together, in the big, bad and coked out world of Mumbai modeling. She was considered over the hill and ‘finished’ within the glam fraternity – that in itself is a killer judgement. Combine her downgraded professional status with personal traumas, and you have a tragedy waiting to happen. For newshounds, this is another sensational tabloid scandal involving a pretty woman, a rich boyfriend (or many) and a lifestyle that shocks those outside the charmed circle. What most press reports aren’t saying is that what really killed Viveka was not a thwarted love affair but corrosive insecurity and despair.
It is a common story. Some girls can handle it better than others. Some manage to escape. Some don’t. Viveka didn’t. But look around you and you’ll find several walking wounded models struggling to stay afloat…. stay alive. The route taken is familiar – get discovered, get to Mumbai, get assignments. The first two or three years are generally heady and brilliant. The money rolls in, wealthy admirers pile up, lifestyle options multiply… and with luck, Bollywood beckons. All this before the girls reach their sell-by date ( 25 at the outside). Once your shelf life is over, the assignments dry up and even those panting middle aged, married men move on to younger chicks working the circuit. The first sign of desperation is when such a sought- after girl finds herself in the social wilderness and starts looking for lolly from other sources. She has bills to pay, loans to service, and an image to protect. Creditors start breathing down her neck… and with the heat getting a bit too hot to handle, the girl panics. Most times, she is miles away from home, living by herself in a suburban flat without support systems of any kind. She makes alcohol her best friend. In order to keep meeting her new ‘best friend’, she lets it be known she’s open to attending parties thrown by strangers – for a fee, of course. There are shady ‘party agents’ who round up hard up models and small time actresses for clients (mainly prosperous traders from Punjab, Haryana, Delhi) but at least the booze is in plenty even if the money is pathetic. Then come the shadier proposals to spend a weekend in Goa or Dubai – the money is not big, but it covers shopping kharcha. What the hell, a girl’s got to have the latest cell phone and ‘It’ bag.
From this stage to full time hooking takes no time at all. The stakes are further lowered – but what is on offer is far more addictive – coke. Party girls in sexy frocks are always welcome at power evenings that need a strong glamour quotient – that is exactly the model followed by organizers of sporting mega events worldwide. But there is a catch - the cocktails that keeps these evenings in high gear do not flow out of glasses. The powerful hosts behind these parties know there is but one hook to get these girls to hang on - cocaine – lots and lots of the white stuff. Champagne and coke become the preferred mix. Throw in sex with strangers, and what starts off as a ‘fun’ thing, soon turns into the blackest nightmare ever with no escape. Dirty weekends grow into four and five day orgies. The protagonists are usually society’s top drawer men – industrialists, movie stars, ex-sports people, tv producers. And of course, the fashion crowd from Delhi\Bangalore.This is where girls like Viveka descend into a private hell from which there is no ‘out’. They are literally and metaphorically at a dead end. Strapped for money, strapped for love, strapped for security on any level – they turn the searchlight inwards in search of salvation. Some find it, most don’t.
Viveka’s suicide is being compared to Nafisa’s. And, no doubt there are unmistakable parallels. The main thread involves their respective backgrounds. It was hard to believe Viveka’s family is originally from Satara – a small, obscure town in Maharashtra ( and incidentally, my birthplace!). That makes Viveka a Maharastrian-Mauritian! What was a girl like that doing in a biz like this? Perhaps she was lured into it with promises of big time success. Ditto for Nafisa, who was also a misfit in the murky world of modeling. Both girls were above average in looks and intelligence. Yet, both got mixed up with men who gave them grief and treated them badly. Both chose a violent exit after giving up on life and themselves. Their contemporaries are made of sterner stuff – some have married ( and divorced) foreigners, others have switched to choreography and event management. Photographs of Viveka’s friends at her funeral, tell their own story. Shockingly enough, some of the girls who showed up to pay their respects clad in pristine designer white , posed for the cameras like they were at a fashion week showing. What should have been a somber occasion was converted into a celeb circus.But like I pointed out earlier, this has been a lean and mean week for hard news. Viveka’s funeral provided some much needed eye candy and a few photo-ops to the starved media. So much for the current crop of ramp scorchers. Then are still others who fled India and left their old world behind. I was surprised to run into the lovely Shyla Lopez who now lives in Moscow with her Russian husband and a young son. Did she look happy?? Ummmm…. I’m not sure.
But at least she is alive.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Once Upon a Time with Shobhaa - 3

Free Style Wrestling with Haji and Rukhsana….

If the setting was surrealistic, even bizarre ( a lavish suite in the old wing of the Taj Mahal Hotel ), the people present at the ‘business meeting’ were even more so. Apart from Rukhsana, Haji Mastan and yours truly ( I pretended to be Rukhsana’s secretary ), there were five or six Bhais there. It was a chiifon and pearls meet polyester and rexine moment. Rukhsana conducted the proceedings with all the hauteur of an empress dealing with serfs. She swished her French chiffon saree pallav around her broad shoulders, played with the Basra pearls around her thick neck, constantly adjusted the gigantic shades she wore indoors\ outdoors, and talked down to Haji in a posh accent. Everybody studiously ignored me ( appropriately dressed for my p.a.’s part in a downmarket khadi kurta ). Haji paced the room restlessly, his white rexine chappals making a soft squishy sound on the deep pile carpet. The other goons glowered and kept staring at the door as if expecting a police party.
The agenda for the meeting was simple – Rukhsana and Haji were haggling over gate money. Most people outside the professional wrestling circuit did not know that Rukhsana controlled all the kusti fixtures that took place in and around Delhi. She wanted to negotiate better terms for the Bombay bouts ( his territory), and Haji wasn’t playing footsie. They were haggling over Pakistani wrestlers and their fees. More importantly, they couldn’t agree on their respective cuts. She refused to budge… and so did he. At this critical point of the negotiation, there was a knock on the door, followed by the buzzer ringing. Everybody froze! Haji’s goon squad sprang up and took strategic positions…. even Rukhsana momentarily forgot her haughty act and looked startled.
Oh oh…. something was clearly not going as per the schedule. Who was at the door? Cops? Rivals? Hotel security? Enraged wrestlers?? Would guns be pulled out? Knives flashed? Would I be killed in a cross fire between hostile underworld gangs? Rukhsana reached for the phone on the elegant, marble topped table next to her chair ( those were pre-mobile phone days, remember?). There was pin drop silence in the suite as she hit the button with a swift, smooth move of her perfectly manicured index finger. A gigantic solitaire on her ring finger, caught the light from the chandelier and flashed evilly.
“ Hello….” growled Rukhsana….as I held my breath.
This was turning out to be a chilling evening.
I said a short prayer… would it be answered?
More next week!