Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Lokpal Lives!!!!

Ooooof! Bit of a relief.... bit of an anti-climax. Lokpal lives! Between the fiery Sushma S and the erudite Pranab M , viewers witnessed Parliamentary proceedings at their volatile best. A reality show on 'democracy at work'. Splendid! No matter what the political ramifications and implications, at this point, it's all good. A big, historic step... no, LEAP, forward in the right direction. Time for Team Anna to take a breather and let the poor man eat!
This appeared in The Week...

Santa Baby…. hurry down the chimney…

I think of Marilyn Monroe every X’Mas. Why her? Oh, for a whole host of reasons. I’m thinking of her again as I write this.Her breathless, little girl voice is ringing in my ears as she warbles, “Santa Baby, so hurry down the chimney tonight…” There is so much pathos in the way she sings… and to think the world mistook it for sexiness! Pathos defined the life of a woman known for her curves and little else. Perhaps nobody will ever figure out what she felt about her body, her sexuality. Or even why she had to die so early. The mystery around Marilyn Monroe’s extraordinary life and tragic death will haunt fans for generations, but it is also the same mystery that has made her a legend. It is said, there can be just one M.M. – the ultimate fantasy- woman. The greatest sex symbol ever. One wonders, given the chance to be herself, stripped of all that glamour and clamour, what would Marilyn have asked from Santa? More diamonds( she did sing a song about diamonds being a girl’s best friends!)? More money, fame, furs, fans? Or just more love? Genuine, unselfish love? What would any woman want from Santa today? Pretty much the same thing – love. Or am I being totally naïve? I decided to ask a few accomplished young women I know. ‘Make a wish list for Santa,’ I urged. And they did just that. Were there several common factors… or none? Had they pegged their expectations a bit too high? Did they even know what they wanted? The not-so-surprising answer is that most of them were clear-sighted and practical when they stated their desires. Like poor Marilyn, who instinctively knew the true worth of diamonds ( nothing but glittering rocks , if they didn’t come with a life time guarantee of love),most of these urban ladies rated that four- letter word (love) as priority number one in their lives. Next was security – financial and emotional. Then came the twist – they wanted Santa to ensure their physical safety. Now we were talking!
Strange that today’s far more empowered woman is feeling insecure about her personal safety. On the streets, at the work place, even in her own home! In an age when there are so many women in the work force across India, one would have imagined they were in a position to take care of themselves. Not so. Single women in particular expressed their fears on several fronts. Getting decent accommodation was just one of them. Most landlords were either unwilling to rent out their place to women or downright hostile towards them.Working women felt they were unnecessarily placed under scanners and regarded with suspicion while their male counterparts didn’t have to undergo any such scrutiny or humiliation. Santa needs to seriously look into housing issues for career gals. On a lighter note, women are begging of Santa to send a few good men their way. “Do they not exist?” a woman moaned. She was an attractive, educated and ambitious woman, at that. Another said she wouldn’t put extra pressure on Santa, knowing it’s unfair, adding, “Poor Santa… how many good men can he locate and stuff inside those stockings? Let’s face it, there is a worldwide shortage here.” Children featured high on the list - with or without a marriage certificate attached . “I want to be a mother – not a wife,” stated one woman firmly. Others agreed. Another one wondered whether a “Three year itch” was justified, since her marriage had hit a serious downer after the birth of her first child. Was she asking Santa to produce a lover? “Why not? I am depressed and bored,” she shrugged. Other items on the list were easier for Santa to deliver. More Botox. Slimmer hips. Fuller lips. Magic pills to lose weight.And – get this – a stronger sex drive. Yup. Today’s over worked woman has no time for sex. And in any case, is much too exhausted to indulge enthusiastically in any such activity (“I prefer hot yoga”). Goodies of the material kind? Those came lower down in the list. I get the feeling Marilyn would have approved of this shift – from diamonds to detoxing ones mind, body and soul. Santa sure has some heavy duty tasks ahead of him.
As for what men want this X’Mas - isn’t it always the same thing? And what would that be? I’m not telling! Your guess is as good as mine. Hint: it’s a 3 –letter word.
Merry X’Mas, readers. And a spectacular 2012!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Good Guy Vs.Bad Guy - who wins?

The Anna Show rides into town. Please eat, na? Why send the nation on a guilt trip? New Year revellers are in 'Khao, peeyo, mauj karo' mode. Khaali peeli party pooper kaiko banna ??


This appeared in Bombay Times today...

Good Guy Vs. Bad Guy… who wins??

“Kuch na kaho… kuch bhi na kaho!” What lyrics! What a song! Am seriously thinking of adopting it as an anthem for 2012. For there are times when silence speaks far more powerfully than words. And a ‘Mission’ gets ‘Accomplished’ without collateral damage taking place. But it’s still worth comparing and contrasting the styles of two big stars who have so much riding on them - one in Hollywood , the other in Bollywood. Tom Cruise and Shah Rukh Khan are eerily similar. Almost like twins separated at birth. Both are on top of their respective games while being closer to 50 than 40. Short, slim, compact and with prominent noses and great hair. Neither man qualifies as ‘handsome’ in the conventional sense. Both are family men with attractive wives…. no major scandals.And both are good actors – when they actually allow themselves to act. Given their phenomenal global fame, success and iconic status, they no longer need to act. That is, act as anything but themselves. Tom is Tom, SRK is SRK.Whether playing Ethan Hunt or Don, the men remain the same. One can predict the next smirk, crinkling of the eyes, lop-sided grin, creasing of the forehead, you name it, and it’s trotted out as if on cue. The hair looks great even if a nuclear device goes straight through it. And the chicks don’t stand a chance. Perhaps that’s what their die hard fans expect and want. But what about the rest? Sorry, but both guys have done themselves in with their predictability and programmed mannerisms. Considering this season’s two biggest hits ( yes, they are money spinners) depended so heavily on Brand Cruise and Brand SRK to propel them at the box office, look at what happens when a movie invests almost solely in star power and pays little attention to other factors. Like script,dialogue,background score, co-stars, logic,plausibility… a story! ‘Ghost Protocol’ boasts of heart-stopping action in the first half. I thought I was going to faint during the Dubai segment.Having visited the Burj Khalifa last month and suffered a serious bout of vertigo at ‘Atmosphere’, the super sexy bar on the 123rd floor, watching Cruise crawl up the sides of that 8th Wonder of the World was way too much for my tension levels. If only the movie had stopped right there! Post-interval it toppled over and collapsed into the desert sand with some maudlin’ rubbish about Ethan’s dead wife not being dead after all. Like anybody cared.
At least DON-2 didn’t fall into that trap. If anything, the pace picked up after the interval and the maara maari was better choreographed. What was seriously missing in both movies was oomph. Sex appeal.Glamour.One could understand Anil Kapoor’s unbelievably silly two minute role and forgive him for not taking it seriously. I mean… who could get turned on by Ms. Patton? The best desi scene in ‘Mission’ was the one where a silver tray loaded with an array of mobile phones is presented to Kapoor playing a media tycoon with a rogue satellite . For all those wondering whether we really do have local tycoons whose valets bring them silver salvers bearing multiple phones… ummmm, the answer is ‘yes’! Don’t laugh. It happens.If Ms. Patton failed to turn up the heat,poor Priyanka Chopra, far from being a ‘jungli billee’ plays a severe cop (dressed like a call centre girl). Nothing she could do with stilted dialogues like, “Whaaaat ?” “Dammit!” and “S**t !”What a waste of a sexy gal. And when she does get to wear a hot designer gown and dance, it is an awkward waltz she performs. A waltz? In Berlin? Were they thinking Vienna?? Ms. Patton knocks out silly Anil Kapoor and leaves him to snore after hissing, “Soh Jao.” Good advice for the audience as well!
The Festive Season kicked off with Deepak and Smita Parekh’s smashing traditional X’Mas brunch ( a ‘strawberries and cream’ theme this year).It was the men who stuck to the dress code and turned up clad in pink! As for the turnout, it would be easier to list who wasn’t there sipping champagne and schmoozing with India’s Most Amazing. Going by the buoyant mood, I’d say we can all relax. The Sensex ain’t going anywhere but up from this point on.How do I know? I read Deepak’s lips, and they clearly said, “ No more taxes!” Hahaha !

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Santa Sonia Vs. Saint Anna

I've enjoyed a really terrific one this year. As I hope you have, too! Watched Don-2 last night. Check out this space on Tuesday for more!

Santa Sonia Vs. Saint Anna….

Merry X’Mas, readers. What a strange season to be jolly and go ‘ho ho ho’! If we are looking for fireworks on New Year’s Eve, we’ll get them! But for now, let’s see what Santa Sonia has lined up for us in her bag of goodies. Oooops! Isn’t her customary Santa sack really tiny?More like a knapsack than a bulging- with- gifts bag one associates with a generous, large- hearted Mother X’Mas . Let’s blame it on global recession. Santa has had to tighten that belt, and slow down the sleigh. Even the poor reindeer looked lean and hungry this year. Why blame Santa Sonia? In any case, what Santa Sonia needs to pull out of that sack is a jumbo sized fire extinguisher to put out all those fires. It has been a pretty lousy year, duniya ke liye. And by the time 2011 finally comes to an end, perhaps our overcrowded jails will be overflowing - Saint Anna is at it again. And while he limbers up for yet another fast, the flock is getting impatient. Unfortunately, the Lokpal ‘Bill’-ing and cooing marathon has hit a roadblock. If Team Anna’s actual intention was to bring down the government, that hasn’t happened so far. Santa Sonia’s reindeer (read: Pranab,Digvijay and Manmohan) are going to find it tough to drag that sled over this hurdle. Most chimneys and choolahs in India have remained unused in 2011, thanks to the ridiculously high food prices. If Santa Sonia wants to bring a smile to people’s faces, she’d better pull out some loaves .Santa can’t afford to adopt the cavalier ‘Let them eat cake’ approach this time. Somehow, a ‘Cake, Kapda aur Makaan’ slogan doesn’t sound right. The natives are definitely restless, and it’s no use offering cupcakes and hot cross buns, when there is no daal-roti in the kitchen. Kharcha is on everybody’s mind, far more than an abstraction called ‘corruption’. If Santa Sonia takes up Saint Anna’s challenge to engage in a public debate (what’s the bet it will not happen?), at least the faithful will know the true position of her government. As of now, there is full on confusion, where the last person whose interests are supposedly being protected is the citizen.No jingle bells for the aam aadmi, alas. And zero governance for the country.
Young people are dying to ‘bharo’ those jails and sport trendy ‘I am Anna’ topis. That’s youth. Give them hope, package it well, arouse their sentiments, allow them to believe change is in their hands, and they’ll be prepared to fast, march, light candles, shout slogans, throw stones, take to the streets, even lay down their lives. It is a phenomenon the world has witnessed over and over again. It is this very idealism, trust and naivete that leaders capitalize on and exploit. If we are indeed heading for an ‘Indian Summer’, it will be fired up twenty-somethings who will act as the drivers. But drivers for what?Against whom? We are being brainwashed into believing this agitation is about rooting out corruption. And the only way to get that done is to push Saint Anna’s Bill through parliament without altering a comma. No matter how well intentioned his version of the Lokpal Bill maybe, this is not the right tareeka in a democracy. Nor can it work in real terms. As has been pointed out by several political analysts, checks and balances already exist in our system. It is the implementation that fails. Either we shall have to start building hundreds of new jails, or construct gigantic camps in order to accommodate all the crooks who will hopefully be exposed and punished once Saint Anna succeeds in his mission. At present, we are stuck between a rock and a hard place. Team Anna has described the freshly tabled Lokpal Bill as ‘anti-people’ and ‘dangerous’. Team Sonia calls it ‘strong’. A new twist ( minority quota) is being viewed as an unpleasant political game being played by the Congress for electoral benefits in 140 Muslim-dominated assembly constituencies. Which takes us right back to square one.
X’Mas is a good time to reflect and rethink. We are on the brink of a modern day battle of Kurukshetra. Except that this one will be fought electronically over social networking platforms. Words and ideas will be the weapons of mass destruction. It’s all about numbers and public opinion. A timely tweet can change history. Beware! The writing is on the wall, guys. And it is exactly 140 characters long.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Jingle Bells!

Spent a lively afternoon at Mood Indigo, billed as the world's largest youth festival. Held at the sprawling Powai campus, it was easy to fool myself I was anywhere but in Mumbai! The panel discussion was on Media Ethics and Censorship. Hmmmm. Some tough questions from the audience. Anything less would have been a disappointment~
This appeared in Bombay Times on monday...

Jingle Bells!

Is X’Mas in the air? You tell me! Going by the December heat, it’s pretty hard to believe we are in the last few days of 2011. And as always, everybody is sighing and saying, " God! Can’t believe how fast this year has flown by…” Well, it’s been a comme- si- comme- ca year, with more ‘goodbyes’ than ‘hellos’ to mark it. Far too many legends passed away – starting with M.F. Husain and Jehangir Sabavala.These two stalwarts were the first to go, followed by Gautam Rajadhyakha, Bhupen Hazarika, Shammi Kapoor, Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, Dev Anand and Mario Miranda. I am holding my breath and hoping we don’t receive more tragic news before the year is finally over. But at least there were two brand new celeb arrivals to cheer us up – Bitiya B, and Azad. The arrival of Aishwarya Rai Bachchan’s daughter was perhaps the most anticipated birth announcement ever. Aamir Khan and Kiran Rao’s little boy arrived with less fanfare but an equal amount of joy. More star babies are in the offing – Lara Dutta’s and Shilpa Shetty’s ,at last count.
The biggest surprise package (googly!) of the year turned out to be Vidya Balan, whose performance as Silk in ‘Dirty Picture’ set not just screens but collective male imagination on fire. As a mass circulated text message succinctly put it, “Critics’ verdict for ‘Dirty Picture’? Blouse-full!” Another one recommended a Best Supporting Role award for Balan’s white bra! Sandwiched between all these naughty jokes was Balan’s bindaas, uninhibited performance that won her widespread praise, not just from fans but from her own fraternity. ‘Vidya is the only hero in Bollywood’, it was dramatically declared. The statement did not go down particularly well with the male megalomaniacs in the business. Especially with those superstars who were still sulking over their own lackluster box office showings. Who would have thought a modestly budgeted movie about a dead porn star from the South, would lead to such hysteria? And who could have predicted the madness generated by a nonsensical, tuneless song that went viral? Not only has ‘Kolaveri Di’ wiped the floor with far more established competition, it has triggered off an unprecedented wave of really clever versions in countless languages. My personal favourites are the Panju and Gujju attempts. I hear the Japanese one is pretty good, too. As is the Chipmunks’ number. The Harvinder ( ‘Thappad Sardar’) Singh send-up is also excellent. With this one freak internet video hit, a semi-unknown guy has become a national figure overnight. Take a bow, Dhanush! The stupendous success of Balan and Kolaveri Di, proves just one thing: If you have it and are willing to boldly flaunt it, there are countless enthusiastic takers out there. But … you’ve got to have it in the first place. There is no explanation, no logic behind the unbelievable success of either Balan as Silk, or Dhanush and Kolaveri Di. When something goes viral, it goes viral! That’s it! No manipulation required. It is obvious we really adore our homegrown folk heroes. For all their international status and fame, a Lady Gaga leaves most Indians cold, and cannot match Vidya’s sizzle. And even a Tom Cruise needs hired fans when he comes to India, while Anil Kapoor walks away with all the attention! Ajeeb? Not really. Let’s call it confidence. We don’t need imports when our own ‘products’ are world class. Why not indulge in some chest thumping and plain jingoism as another year comes to a close?Sentimentality rocks!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Why this,why this... Fast-u, Kolaveri Di...

This appeared in the Asian Age....

Why this, why this … Fast-u, Kolaveri Di

As this dramatic year rolls to an end, I’m asking myself a searching question:To fast, or not to fast. My body says it’s a great idea and long overdue. My clothes are saying the same thing.Especially the skinny jeans. I find it extremely difficult to fast, which is one of the reasons I avoid any blood test that requires me to starve for twelve hours before the needle prick. But ‘The Fast’ phenomenon has really taken off and 2011 will be remembered as the Year of the Fast. At least, in India. Women in our society have always used fasting as an effective form of protest.Particularly women who live in joint families. Going without food is the ultimate form of sulking. For one, it is designed to make the mother-in-law look really, really bad. And two, it is a pretty smart way of grabbing the husband’s attention.Food makes for a really lethal weapon if used well against an adversary. But there is also something known as overdoing a good thing. Just as a magician loses an audience if he repeats the same trick over and over again, a person who resorts to frequent fasts in order to make a point, risks losing his or her credibility/ constituency. Anna is just this side of the divide right now. He could have achieved the same objective ( pushing his Jan Lokpal version through ) without the fast. People are now beginning to groan and say, “Oh no! Not another fast, Anna. Get over it!” Anna’s well-wishers have warned everybody about the downside to Anna going on a fast at his age. If fasting is indeed hazardous to Anna’s health, why do it? This fast business has gone well beyond symbolism or even tokenism. Anna’s latest fast ki dhamki ( starting in Mumbai on the 27th) threatens to become a parody of itself.The first time he did it, people wanted to know how long he’d be able to go without food before collapsing. It became a bit of a voyeuristic exercise. A little like going to a circus and watching a tight rope walker, half-expecting the person to fall, and feeling a little disappointed when that doesn’t happen. A well meaning advisor should inform Anna that today, the story is different and people are beginning to snigger. The average citizen admires Anna – no two ways about it. But even his most ardent admirers are questioning the wisdom behind undertaking one more fast. When that stage is reached, a protest becomes counter productive and loses its original appeal. Imagine an item girl with a huge recent hit deciding to go for the kill with another hot number. There can be no repeats of Munni or Sheila . Impact ka sawaal hai, bhai. Basic marketing gyan. Anna’s fasts are rapidly losing their novelty value. His minders must come up with a fresh idea.The fast has had its day …
Since TIME magazine has shrewdly skipped picking a known individual as the ‘Person of the Year’ and decided to give that honour to an anonymous protester ( someone who resembles a woman… is sufficiently androgynous, and therefore, guaranteed to bag a few extra brownie points), several Anna supporters have been devastated. It was being floated in the media that Anna would make it to the much awaited TIME cover as ‘Man of the Year’. Now we discover poor Anna didn’t make it even to the short list, which featured Kate Middleton, if you please!But the Chinese must be rejoicing over the exclusion of dissident artist Ai Weiwei, who came in at number 3. Had Anna made it to the cover, it would have served as a gigantic boost to his cause. As of now, Anna himself sounds a little disoriented as he issues all kinds of statements, taking on the holiest of the holy cows in India ( read: Sonia). Anna’s critics insist he is being spoon-fed by his team.There is also widespread belief that the tempo will be stepped up closer to the date ( 27th December), and Anna will boldly venture into territories others justifiably fear. The thinking behind this is pretty obvious. Anna’s public support makes him an untouchable. Nobody will dare move against Anna. He will remain above and beyond arrest, no matter what he says in front of television cameras. With Anna enjoying such a privileged status, it is inevitable that he will be urged to articulate a few home truths that can badly hurt those in high places (the highest!). At the moment, Anna enjoys total immunity and taking a panga with him is considered bad news.
The year ender from TIME, is an eagerly awaited global event. There have been several ‘misses’ in the recent past, including the issue with Barack Obama as ‘The Person of the Year’ (2008) . Had he been given the honour this year after finishing off Osama Bin Laden ( though Admiral William McRaven, head of US Special Operations Command and overall commander of the secret al Qaeda mission into Pakistan, did come in at the number 2 position in the nominations), nobody would have raised objections. But… imaginatively and rightfully, it was The Protester who won hands down. Anna’s fans need not despair. Anna is going to win practically every version of the Indian of the Year award. Anna is the face of protest for over a billion people. Even if Anna does not fully succeed in starting an unstoppable war against corruption and the corrupt, he will have reserved his place in history. But beyond that, he would also have won the gratitude of a nation fatigued and frustrated by the cancer of corruption that has corroded India. Has the tipping point been reached? We’ll know on the 27th. Till then, let us chorus, ‘Why this… why this… fast-u, kolaveri di?”

Friday, December 16, 2011

When all else fails, try sequels!

I am off to Pune for the weekend. Since Mumbai's elusive 'winter'( ha!) has done the disappearing act so far, I'm hoping for at least a respectable nip in the air during my short stay at one of my all-time favourite cities.More on my return...


This appeared in 'Hi! Blitz!"

When all else fails, try sequels!

Had Manmohan Desai been alive today, I would have requested him to make a sequel to his superhit movie, ‘Amar,Akbar,Anthony’. Sequels are the flavour of the season.Everone is making one! When all other ideas dry up, announce a sequel. But the case of ‘AAA’ is significantly different. It is an iconic movie, like ‘Sholay’. A re-make with a twist would be so apt… and so much fun! My suggestion is slightly hat ke. I would love to see a female version with three top heroines playing those madcap roles – Kareena Kapoor,Katrina Kaif and Priyanka Chopra . The film could be titled, ‘‘ Aru,Asmi,Amanda,” and their romantic partners could be unknown hunks looking for a break ( since no self- respecting actor takes on sidey roles). Unfortunately, such a project will never get off the ground, since desi producers are of the firm belief there is no audience for full on,female-centric films.Bollywood is mard-driven. It’s one of those quirky beliefs. Television soaps thrive on women.Bollywood movies, on testosterone. Heroes call the shots in tinseltown, always have, always will. And there it remains. Actresses earn a fraction of the fees made by their co-stars. Even those fees hinge on which hero agrees to work with them. Weird but true. Weirder, but equally true, is the fate of top female politicians. The three women chief ministers India is currently dealing with - Mamata Banerjee (‘Didi’), Jayalalitha (‘Amma’) and Mayawati (‘ Behenji’), could also feature in ‘Amar,Akbar,Anthony’. They have star value and all three are single ( an enormous advantage, even a prerequisite for heroines). But as in Bollywood, so also in politics, these power ladies cannot pull it off on their own. What is interesting is the way we have converted the three of them into our ‘relatives’ – two ‘sisters’ and a ‘mother’. By co-opting them as family members, we have placed them in elevated positions that come with a great deal of emotional and moral responsibility. How can older sisters and a mother let us down? Conversely, how can we show disrespect to women from our own family - even if the same women behave in a despotic, high- handed way? Didi was recently dubbed a ‘fascist’ by the legendary writer, Mahashweta Devi. Enough is known about Behenji’s tyrannical ways ( she thinks nothing of slapping senior male bureaucrats in public). As for Amma – God help you if you annoy this autocrat ( Kani realized this a bit late in the day). But we say nothing. They are family!
Strange, in a country where we have very visible, very in your face women leaders in positions of enormous authority ( Meira Kumar, Pratibha Patil, Sonia Gandhi ), when it comes to the real thing, we still fall back on our patriarchal roots. Foreigners are frequently perplexed by these obvious contradictions. The only way to make some sense out of such mixed signals is to confuse foreigners still further by bringing mythology into it and discussing the Goddess Cult. Ditto for Bollywood. Today, the parallels between Bollywood and Politics are something else, particularly with so many women dominating both fields. One just has to look beyond India, to realize what an achievement this is, even if, at present, the numbers have more cosmetic value and less clout than one would expect. In terms of hysterics and histrionics, it’s hard to beat Mamata. She writes her own dialogues and delivers her lines without any retakes. Mayawati is like Gabbar Singh – people from her State, invoke her name to scare children and get them to sleep on time. Amma can take on Mogambo. The day she says (in Tamil, of course) , “Amma Kush hui,” ) , fawning courtiers will let out a collective breath and attack their curd- rice with gusto. With her Mollywood background, Amma understands one basic thing : the medium is the message. She also understands “Lights. Camera. Action.’’ Playing to the galleries comes naturally to her. Voice modulation is her forte. Mamata is out of control, screeching like a banshee – but that too is a carefully thought through performance that wows her jatra-loving constituency. Behenji just has to lift her index finger and point. Khallas. That person is dead meat. She can also swing her handbag ( stuffed with notes) and use it as a ready weapon . Compared to these three ‘Negative Role’ women, our Bollywood girls are pussycats . Bipasha’s biceps threaten no one – not even John. Kangana’s pout ( plump and pumped up) is about as lethal as a blow with a bag of popcorn. Kareena’s eyes can kill with one look, but come on, for all her ‘Chhamak Chhalo-ing’, she is not in the running, having been claimed by Saif years ago. And Katrina is sweeter than a cupcake or a La Duree macaroon… the only thing she can give someone is diabetes. So…how about it, Ketan Desai? ‘Amar,Akbar,Anthony’ ka female sequel ho jaye??

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Aamir-Kiran show the way...

Was shooting with a good crew last afternoon. Sky TV is planning an important series on 'The Great Cities of the World'. Mumbai features as one of them along with Moscow,Rome, London, New York... please note : not a single city in China! The presenter is a distinguished diplomat ( former ambassador to America), and he was back in Mumbai after 25 long years. The other Mumbaikars interviewed are Adi Godrej,Shah Rukh Khan, Nita Ambani, Nirav Modi ( so far ). The idea is for Christopher ( the presenter) to see a city through the eyes of people who live and work there, and in a way, define the city.I was flattered to be included. So far, it has been a happy experience for the team. On their wish list? Raj Thackeray! Let's see if that interview takes place. If it does, I hope Raj sticks to Marathi.

This appeared in The Week

Aamir-Kiran show the way….

It’s amazing how Aamir Khan gets it right over and over again. Not just with his career in which he reigns as India’s number one actor ( other Khans come and go, playing yo-yo with the top slot). But off-screen as well. Aamir’s reel and real life have fused seamlessly, especially after his second marriage to the cerebral and immensely likeable Kiran Rao. Their recent joint announcement about the arrival of a baby boy was greeted with uniform joy across the country. Not just because they were blessed by their first child ( Aamir is the father of three kids, two from an earlier marriage, and one with a British journalist), but the fact that this one was carried by a surrogate mother. And the proud biological parents (Aamir-Kiran) had zero hang -ups about going public with the information. Bravo! By doing that, they automatically diffused any speculation, besides sending out a strong message to our conservative society that surrogacy is a perfectly acceptable option for childless couples in the 21st century. In one stroke, Aamir and Kiran established their own credentials as progressive, modern people willing to go the extra mile to have a child of their own. Surrogacy remains a comparatively new field in India. And yet, there are thousands of childless couples longing to become parents. Due to ignorance, embarrassment and fear (“What will people say?”), most don’t take advantage of the dramatic breakthroughs that facilitate having ones own baby, thanks to IVF (In Vitro Fertilisation). As Dr. Firuza Parikh, Director of Reproduction and Genetics at a reputed Mumbai Hospital explained, “Kiran had a uterine factor which caused her difficulty in conceiving. Hence we recommended IVF surrogacy to her.” Aamir’s detailed press release expanded this information further by reminding fans that Kiran’s earlier miscarriage had left both of them distraught and disappointed. He wrote,“ This baby is very dear to us because he was born after a long wait and some difficulty due to medical reasons.” When was the last time you heard such straight talk from a superstar?
Surrogacy is a complex issue with several ramifications, including legal ones. Potential parents are required to understand the long term implications of the decision before they participate in this programme. For example, apart from privacy issues, there is the financial obligation that is at the core of the arrangement. What happens if the couple divorces before the baby is born, or dies in an accident? Is the surrogate mother left holding a baby that is technically not her own? Since surrogacy depends on a contract between the parties involved, it is not as easy as merely ‘hiring a womb’. There are clauses in place that aim to protect the baby’s interests, along with the surrogate mother’s. While in India, such contracts are recognized via ‘national guidelines’ drawn by the ICMR, there are no stipulations for the violations of the contract. Most times, it is a woman from an underprivileged background who agrees to carry someone else’s baby for a generous fee. This is where the terrain gets tricky. There have been reported cases of poverty-stricken women agreeing to ‘host’ babies of foreigners who are citizens of countries which insist on far greater scrutiny before giving the green signal for surrogacy.
Despite these reservations, it is commendable that Aamir and Kiran have chosen to share their experience with fans. To call Aamir’s child a ‘poster boy’ for surrogacy (as some doctors have done), is to trivialize the issue and ‘sell’ surrogacy across the board. When we talk of ‘greater social acceptance’ of the procedure, it is important to qualify that remark some more. Like adoption, surrogacy too, requires a great deal of deep thought combined with a life long commitment to the innocent baby a couple brings home. The IVF procedure has provided untold happiness to countless childless couples who were at a dead end. Aamir and Kiran are responsible, informed and financially secure parents. Other couples are not as fortunate. What Aamir and Kiran have achieved is to break through age old taboos about fertility and a woman’s right to go ahead and take advantage of what science has to offer. In a country steeped in superstition, Aamir and Kiran have displayed admirable boldness that must be acknowledged. Aamir has thanked the Almighty and said they were “humbled by the greatness of God, the miracle of science….” To that, it’s worth adding the gratitude of innumerable despairing couples who may now explore the possibilities open to them to bring their own little bundles of joy home.This is star power at its positive best. Here’s wishing the proud parents and their little boy all the happiness in the world.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Krass Karl!

Perhaps I am over reacting... but I think not! When a top international fashion designer informs the world press that he finds Indian poverty 'chic', it's time to slap the guy! In any case, Chanel's latest Paris-Mumbai Collection is derivative and passe. If our ladies want to wear angarkhas and anarkalis, with gigantic maang tikkas, why would they go to Karl? We have our own amazing designers and jewellers who do a far better and certainly more authentic job of our traditional wear.I am inspired to design a 'Les Miserables' line as a response to the falling euro,
This appears in Bombay Times today...

Un-Klassy Karl needs a reality check!

It’s all about the context (Kontext?). And a vexing language issue. When the iconic fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld, made that preposterous comment on India’s poverty ‘being chic’, one wonders what he’d been smoking when he said that? As one of the most powerful people in the rarefied world of international fashion, surely the venerated senior designer could have given better thought to his callous remark. It doesn’t get any ‘posher’ than Chanel. Let us assume Karl was paying a tribute to India. But the bottom line remains the same - he was actually trying to sell more frocks. Pricey frocks. India-inspired frocks. Period. Where does poverty come into it? Karl’s haute couture gowns come with price tags that could possibly feed an entire Indian village for a month or more . His latest collection is opulent as opulent can be. But, ummmm, I can’t recall the last time I spotted a poor Indian loaded with so much jewellery. This particular collection had Karl’s lissome models walking around with elaborate ‘maang tikkas’ and exaggeratedly large Polki-studded neck pieces . The show was staged in a grand salon with glittering chandeliers casting a mellow light over tunics and drapes that our own darzis across India do a far better job of. With all that brocade and lame, the collection was spectacular if unwearable. But clearly, Karl was testing the waters. Who doesn’t want to come to India these days? Europe is largely broke. And all those fashion conscious global ladies who love the luxe life are wondering how they are going to pay for those ridiculously expensive gowns now that the euro looks ready to nosedive further. With a recession that’s imminent, Karl and his friends are going to find the going tough indeed. India beckons! But if this is Karl’s way of wooing Indians, it is likely to backfire. The insensitivity of that casual, throwaway comment has not gone down too well with the desi fashion frat. Poor Karl. What he must have meant is entirely different. Of course, our rich textile and craft traditions are rooted in rural India. Had the couturier said he was ‘inspired’ by our village communities, all would have been forgiven. Monsieur Lagerfeld, hire a good translator, s’il vous plait. Tout suite!
Compare Karl’s inane observation to what our maestro Sabyasachi (“Sabya” to devotees) has achieved in his own inimitable style. Sabya is all set to launch a brand new Khadi line, and another one that’s more of a tribute to the iconic Freida Kahlo. From the time Sabya started his career as a designer, he has stuck to his roots, and celebrated India’s embroideries and weaves in his own unique way. But there is nothing condescending about his vision. Perhaps some desi designer (Manish Arora?) will be in a position to introduce ‘The New Poor’ of Europe to the world and make a strong fashion statement during the Paris Fashion Week next year.Till then, we can assure our gareeb log not to worry. Karl-ji finds them very chic!
‘Azad’. What a terrific and apt name! Trust Aamir and Kiran to pick an unusual and meaningful name for their newborn son.Don’t we just love it? Welcome to the world Free Spirit!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Kapil Da Jawaab Nahi...

This appears in the Sunday Times today...

Kapil Da Jawaab Nahi…

Truly, Kapil da jawaab nahi!Someone forgot to tell our Ministerji that all things ‘Dirty’ are totally ‘in’ these days. Ask Vidya ( Ooh-la-la Balan), who has successfully challenged a hypocritical, prudish nation’s antiquated norms on what constitutes ‘dirty’. Vidya ne dhula diya! Does Kapil Sibal not get it? Look at his lousy timing.It is too late to lecture us on what he thinks is morally unacceptable to modern India. The answer is : anything and everything goes these days.When a Minister takes it upon himself to chastise social networking sites that have been going about their business with spectacular success for so long, he is asking for trouble. In a country of a 100 million internet users (the number is likely to jump to 300 million in the next 2 years according to experts), any form of government interference will be energetically and strenuously rejected. What took Kapil Sibal so long to wake up and smell the whiskey? Why was nobody concerned about ‘incendiary’ material or the abuse and misuse of social networking sites before September 5th, which was when Sibal spoke to international internet giants and offered them a crash course in decoding desi sensibilities? There is something pretty disingenuous about the Minister’s concerns. Not only is his timing for the dramatic announcement pretty suspect, it is clearly an over-enthusiastic attempt to please the Head Mistress.Kapil should stop acting like a school boy, a teacher’s pet, a class monitor who’s out to earn extra brownie points.
Nothing but nothing is a ‘secret’ these days. It’s all out there. From a person’s sex life to bank account details. And it is the people who decide what is or is not acceptable. That is how it works. What is the government scared of? Who does Kapil Sibal want to shield? Is it even possible to do that anymore? Social networking sites are independent states unto themselves. People refer to Facebook as one of the world’s most powerful ‘countries’. It has been successfully proven (Arab Spring) that a 140- character tweet can trigger a revolution. Is this what Kapil fears? When an individual or government has nothing to hide, nothing to be ashamed of, any form of public scrutiny should be welcomed. Politicians constantly talk about transparency and accountability in public life. But it is the same people who panic at the first hint of an expose. Now that pretty much every memo, note, sms,bbm,file and phone conversation is in the public domain and within easy access of an interested party, it is a bit silly to try and ‘protect’ a VVIP, that too, by imposing restrictions on others. Kapil is allergic to the word ‘censorship’. Perhaps he has a better substitute? Unfortunately for the Minister, he completely misread the mood of the people when he broke the bad news about playing Net Nanny. There was widespread outrage across the board and some of it was from unexpected quarters. 94% of people polled on the subject are saying, “Hands off!” Kapil , poor chap, had talked himself into a corner for issuing what is being referred to as the ‘Facebook Fatwa’. He is still there, trying to crawl out.
There have always been regulatory mechanisms in place on the said sites, along with enough checks and balances to filter threats and other material that could cause widespread panic.But these are as good or as bad as people want them to be. Yes, there is abuse on some sites, and there are enough cowards hiding behind a veil of anonymity, who get away with it.I have been at the receiving end of ugly comments and hate mail myself.Despite that,I would still defend the rights of people to use these platforms freely. For every misguided bigot, there are millions of others for whom the freedom of expression is an all-inclusive, priceless gift that is worth fighting for, regardless of the consequences. This freedom is absolute and non-negotiable. It cannot be defined or qualified by politicians, no matter how noble their stated intentions are. In as young a country as ours, it is short sighted to underestimate or talk down to people who are sharp, smart and very savvy.Whether it is Facebook, Twitter or a micro blogging site, just leave it to users to determine what’s kosher and what isn’t. Kapil Sibal needs to listen more, and talk less. Listen to the voices of tomorrow. The same ones applauding the suggestive gyrations of a talented heroine portraying the life of a semi-porn star in ‘Dirty Picture’, this season’s big hit .Nobody has demanded a ban on the film, nor pelted stones on the screen. Kapil ji, India has grown up when nobody was looking!
‘Dirty’ is a state of mind. So is ‘Dangerous’. India can handle both. Dhanyavad!

Monday, December 5, 2011

A real hero never dies....right, Dev Saab?

This appears in Bombay Times today...

Dev Saab: A real hero never dies

Dev Anand was one of the most ‘life affirming’ individuals in the world. No wonder the ‘Evergreen’ tag was reserved exclusively for him.There was something so endearing about his enthusiasm for life and all the riches it offered, it charmed his harshest critics. Every moment had to be fully lived and was! Dev Saab radiated positivism, and was the original ‘never say die’ person. We expected him to live forever, too. Or at any rate outlive us all. There was no looking back for the man who always insisted it was only the now that mattered and all thoughts had to be focused on the future. He meant it. His hunger for the next big thing was so infectious, nobody had the heart to tell him his kind of movies were totally passe - over twenty years ago. In a brutal and competitive business, people were kind and gentle towards Dev Anand, because there wasn’t a mean bone in his body either. He was a man so entirely self absorbed, so preoccupied by his own persona, to call him delusionary would have been cruel. Jaunty, perennially cheerful, gung-ho and talkative, it was impossible not to love him. His zest for making ‘motion pictures’ ( he never called them ‘movies’) was matched by his insatiable appetite for fame. Disciplined and meticulous, he lived by his own rules, unaware of the time warp he was hopelessly trapped in. It was this touching innocence and exuberance that people found infectious. Dev Saab understood branding and the real meaning of ‘star power’ almost before anybody else. His image was carefully constructed and jealously guarded by him throughout his extraordinary life. From the way he dressed ( layers and layers of clothing, with a bomber jacket, colourful scarves and high collared shirts), to the sound bytes and quotes he eagerly provided, Dev Saab was always on top of his game. The multiple clothes he wore, camouflaged his frail body. The rakish tilt to his head, as he nodded away, became his trademark. Some may have ridiculed his strenuous attempts to hang on to his youth, there were others who genuinely admired the way he refused to give up …. or should we say ‘abdicate’?
The only role Dev Saab ever played was himself. In film after film,fans went to watch Dev Anand, and not the character he was supposed to be portraying. It didn’t matter whether he was a ‘Jewel Thief’ or a ‘Guide’. Nothing changed, except the get up. People of that era called him the Gregory Peck of India. Both men were charismatic, debonair, urbane ‘matinee idols’ whose real love affair was with their image in the mirror.One got the feeling Dev Anand didn’t really care how he’d be remembered. It was too distant and distasteful a thought to the 88-year-old. Death was something that happened to other people. Old people. Dev Anand still had a lot of life ahead of him…. more scripts to write, several ‘motion pictures’ still to shoot, countless nubile starlets to discover. No Sir, you don’t say ‘goodbye’ to someone like Dev Saab. He’d laugh and look over his shoulder to see who you were addressing! Forget all the ‘end of an era’ clichés. Dev Anand must be in heaven, scouting for fresh faces, new concepts, fantastic locations. No, he won’t offer God the lead role.That is reserved for him in perpetuity. It’s true. A real hero never dies. They don’t make them like Dev Anand anymore

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Willingdon Warriors....

This is the winning team at a prestigious Golf tournament at Kandy in Sri Lanka. The Willingdon Warriors walked away with that gorgeous trophy! Guess which one is my son, Aditya in that triumphant group shot??
Shall post my tribute to Dev Anand tomorrow. But I really can hear him humming 'Gata Rahey Mera Dil' with all the nubile apsaras in Heaven!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Dirty? Or Filthy?Or 'Thanda'? You decide...

This appeared in the Asian Age today.... reactions mangta! Your mini-reviews welcome!!
Dirty is as dirty does….

I grew up during ‘dirty-dirty’ times, when if every thought and deed wasn’t clinically sanitized, sterilised and declared ‘clean’ by society at large, it was deemed filthy, depraved,perverted, ‘ghatiya’ and ‘neech’. After watching this year’s hottest and most controversial film at a preview, I confess I remain a little confused, the morning after the night before.Had I watched a 21st century morality tale?Or a clever, manipulative movie that manages to stay a hair’s breadth away from unadulterated porn? What was the film trying to say once the heavy breathing, heaving and shoving got done? Was some ‘statement’ being made? Or was it just ‘entertainment, entertainment, entertainment’ ( an annoying line that gets repeated in the film twice over, in case it was missed the first time) Ekta was looking for? Either way, it doesn’t quite work. For, the most ‘shocking’ aspect of the movie is the absence of a story. Perhaps, there wasn’t too much material to work with. Silk Smitha’s life began and ended a bit too abruptly ( coitus interruptus as a simile wouldn’t be entirely out of place) for a rich narrative to be spun out of the skimpy material available. If the director was out to make some sort of a comment on the hypocritical society of the 70’s and 80’s, he may’ve succeeded to a limited extent.It was indeed a society that thrived on voyeurism in private but condemned sexuality in public. But, unlike his earlier ‘Once upon a time…” which traced the creation and rise of the dreaded gangsters who controlled Mumbai during the same time-frame, ‘Dirty Picture’ looks pretty one dimensional as it tracks the phenomenal if all-too-brief dazzle of a semi-porn ‘Southie’ star, whose thunder thighs spoke a language of their own. If men in the audience masturbated to Silk’s erotic and blatant gyrations way back then, the scenario is entirely different today, when nobody blinks or cares about on screen copulation, frontal nudity, pelvic thrusts, lip locks, off-colour jokes,double entendres, simulated sex and more. In such a blasé scenario, one wonders why a Vidya Balan would want to undertake such a high-risk role at this stage of her career? Kyon, Vidya , kyon?
I have a soft spot for the incredibly talented Balan. I admit feeling highly protective towards her. Not that she needs ‘protection’. She is smart, sensible and sure of herself. So sure as an actor, that she has boldly, even recklessly gone, where her contemporaries wouldn’t dare. God knows what her compulsions were when she signed up for ‘Dirty Picture’. But after seeing nearly all of Vidya ( ummmm… there’s very little left to the imagination) on screen, it makes me wonder whether her courage will be enough to salvage what could follow in this brutal business, where a carefully constructed,fiercely guarded and lovingly nurtured ‘image’ can get battered after a single wrong move.Of course, Vidya had already prepared the ground and broken through the mould with her overtly sensual performance in ‘Ishquiya’. That had won sufficient laurels to establish her credentials as an actor ‘who dares’. But sucking Arshad Warsi’s thumb suggestively in’Ishquiya’ and almost ‘doing it’ with a long, black, snaky whip during a dance sequence in ‘Dirty Picture’, ain’t the same thing, honey! The camera almost violates Vidya’s body, which has been ripened like a plump, juicy peach for the role. It’s the closest anyone has come to believing a lifeless object ( camera) can commit rape. A lesser actress would have diminished these lewd scenes, making them nothing more than clips from a ‘blue film’ or a ‘pondi’ as porno films were dubbed then. Vidya manages to take the raunchy content several notches up on the strength of her personality. But what about the all-important image, after this? There is a telling line in the film when a character says, “After a woman shows audiences everything, what is left to sell?” Vidya must have thought it through before agreeing to ‘show everything’. For, it is also Vidya’s awe-inspiring cleavage and not just her rivetting acting alone that leave a long-lasting impression. One expects a first class performance from Vidya given her caliber. No surprises there. But nobody suspected Vidya had such tantalizing boobs!Since her breasts virtually play an independent role of their own in the movie, it’s pretty hard not to stare at those perky bouncies – there they are, sticking out aggressively in practically every frame.You are expected to remain fixated.
Watching the movie with an informed filmi crowd, it was obvious, that the ‘in jokes’, insider gossip and dark secrets about how the film industry functions down South, were instantly understood and chuckled over. But will others ‘get it’? Will they even bother? Or is the main idea to keep the audience salivating, leering and possibly jeering? Was Silk really a closet feminist behind the tinsel nappies and satin nighties? Is Vidya telling us to look within and bond with our inner dirty selves? Does her thundering speech on society’s double standards serve a higher purpose than the message delivered so graphically by her thunder thighs? Heaven knows! For now, it’s okay for Vidya to lap up the attention , wink at cameras constantly, bite her lower lip, stick out her tongue and talk dirty. It’s all for a good cause. A new genre is born – ‘Rassam Noir’.
By the way, there are a couple of fellas in the movie, in case nobody noticed. Naseeruddin Shah is brilliant as ‘Surya’, the self-obsessed, lecherous superstar. He gets the best lines, too, which he delivers with a delicious sense of irony. Each time a lackey gushes, “You are a genius, Saar,” Surya smiles smugly and says, “It can be such a curse.”
Vidya richly deserves an award. But so do her very expressive boobs. A separate one.
What I am worried about is will audiences accept one of our most talented stars if she gets to keep her clothes on in future projects?

Friday, December 2, 2011

Can't get Kolaveri Di out of my head!

I guess i have gone totally mad! I interrupted my writing no less than five or six times today to listen to the nonsensical but oh-so-catchy superhit, 'Kolaveri Di.' I also loved the crazy track from 'Dirty Picture', which plays as a recurrent theme through the film (Tamil folk song?). About the movie! Ummmm, I'll post my review tomorrow at some stage. I'll be rushing off to the Mumbai Literary Carnival, aptly titled 'Fully Booked' for my session with Suhel Seth 'refreed' by Bachi Karkaria. Should be fun! Then I shall hijack Suhel and a few friends to our home. Little do they know they have a full on Kolaveri Di evening ahead of them! That's my 'revenge' - ha!
About the picture , like my daughter sarcastically titled it , "Just another lazy sunday at home....!" As if! We were shooting a fashion spread for Abu-Sandeep. And it was the first time I was working with Ram Shergill, the London-Paris based photographer who counts Naomi and Kate as friends. I can see why. He is sure, quick and competent. Once we got into our sunday best, the shoot was over in an hour. I had the best time working with a charming, caring gentleman, and not a cold robot (like most top photographers are these days). I remembered and missed GAUTAM, like mad that afternoon. Ram and he share the same gentle, refined qualities that bring out the best in their subjects.
Earlier the same day, my 'Thappad' column had appeared in the Sunday Times... the shoot provided a welcome respite.
Okay, chaps. It's time to go back to Kolaveri Di. This time I'm going to dance to the fabulous beat!

The Slap that shook India….

There are two ways of looking at ‘The Slap’. Remember Herman Hupfeld’s immortal lyrics of ‘As Time Goes By…? “….a kiss is just a kiss…” crooned Louis Armstrong many moons ago. Well, extending the sentiment, we can always say, ‘A slap is just a slap.” Which is exactly what Sharad Pawar, the recipient of the latest ‘thappad’ has shrewdly and sensibly done. Hats off to the Union Minister for proving with great finesse and finality what distinguishes him from his cabinet colleagues and puts him in a league of his own – it’s the man’s sang froid, dammit!Let’s hand it to him. Seconds after Harvinder Singh attained his 15 minutes of fame by taking Pawar off guard,our cool customer (Pawar) had regained his composure and even ‘forgiven’ the attacker. Now, that’s the sort of masterstroke only a seasoned,wise and astute neta can convincingly pull off before waltzing away with a relaxed smile. Let lesser beings respond to the ‘dastardly, undemocratic’ attack on their leader. Let his party workers lead protests, block roads, stop trains, throw rocks, burn tyres, rough up people and generally disrupt life as a mark of their loyalty and love. Their actions have nothing to do with Pawar. He isn’t responsible for wanton acts of destruction. He isn’t pointing fingers or blaming anybody. Why, he is even ignoring Anna Hazare’s taunt ( “ Was it just one slap?”). This is how the game of politics is played by professionals. It’s the bumbling amateurs who rave and rant and act martyred after being publicly humiliated. Pawar once again established his position as the biggest ‘Dada’ of them all.
But the ‘thappad’ itself has generated a great deal of reaction and this is the interesting part. Throwing shoes at leaders to show unbridled rage and frustration, flinging cream cakes on the faces of celebrities, spitting on fallen heroes and getting within striking distance of VVIPs has recently acquired the elevated status of a legitimate sport. Far from being looked down upon as a hated figure, Harvinder Singh is seen as a hero by a lot of viewers who clapped and cheered each time the infamous ‘thappad’ was telecast. Forget the rightness and wrongness of Harvinder’s action for now. Forget arguments about how ‘uncivil’ and ‘undemocratic’ such a trend is. Focus instead on the response by the aam aadmi. Nobody is manipulating that person. Nobody is monitoring the reactions of ordinary people eating dinner at home and applauding Harvinder. More than that, how can anybody ‘manage’ what happened on social networking sites, seconds after the incident? The jeering and jubilation is still on, and we cannot ignore it. Harvinder may well be a mentally unstable person who does it for publicity. But there is no denying the fact that Harvinder’s unruly conduct has touched a chord . People across India are saying the same thing in one voice - ‘Well done, Paapey!” Yes, it’s dangerous and disturbing. But there it is.
This is not about Sharad Pawar . He just happened to be the man at the receiving end of the most recent slap. This is about the mood that’s building up and threatening to overtake good sense and better judgment. There are hundreds and thousands of Harvinders out there, each one wishing to do what he did. Not all of them are crazy publicity hounds. A lot of them are average citizens at the end of their tether. People are plain fed up and sick to death of what they see as official deception - an eyewash. Too many people are starting to believe they have been taken for a monumental ride by leaders who are above and beyond the law themselves, yet preach transparency and honesty to others. Yes, Anna Hazare did do his one good deed after all: he succeeded in galvanizing public opinion by making corruption the centerpiece of his movement.What we are witnessing today is an impassioned reaction to the government’s apathy to deal with the biggest issue faced by independent India – corruption.So long as our leaders continue to play ostrich and wait for the present angry national mood to miraculously blow over, there will more chappals and thappads to deal with. Too bad it can’t be any other way. Deep rooted frustration and anger need an outlet. We are still some distance away from Tahrir Square. But if we continue to ignore the Harvinder Singhs in our midst, rocks and worse could replace footwear and slaps. It’s time to start singing ‘Kolaveri Di’ …. it’s therapeutic!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Vidya Balan.... and 'Dirty' ????

Let’s not kid ourselves….

26\11 has come and gone. Three years have flown by. Nothing has changed. Nothing is likely to. Mumbai remains an attractive and easy target for just about any terrorist organization that wants to attack our city. It can happen again, even as I am keying in this column on the grisly third anniversary that shook the metropolis. Mumbai can never be the same again…. no matter what sort of a brave face we put on , which mask we wear, or how hard we try to convince ourselves that we have ‘moved on’. No, we haven’t. We can’t. Much as I would like to go back to what was described as a ‘normal’ pre-26/11 life, the truth of the matter is, that particular life has disappeared forever. Which is another reason why I refused to participate in panel discussions on various tv channels this year. Discussions that sound even more meaningless and hollow today than they did three years ago,in the horrifying aftermath of the attacks. The only people who genuinely suffered and continue to express their heart-breaking grief are those who lost their loved ones – their wounds may never heal.Sure, life will go on even for these families, but each anniversary will become yet another ghastly reminder of a tragedy that took away someone precious. Scanning those poignant ‘Remembrances’ in newspaper advertisements, made me indescribably sad. Juxtaposed with the poems and quotations from the Bhagwad Gita and other scriptures, were interviews with bureaucrats and ministers uttering the same , stale, tired , fake platitudes that fool no one. It was almost sickening to carry on reading all that nonsense about the great measures that are in place today and all the various ‘improvements’ initiated to safeguard the city against future attacks.We know this is misleading and false, amounting to nothing but political propaganda. But what is the average Mumbaikar supposed to do? Which is why, we fall back on the few consolations that make us feel a little better – at least temporarily. We lap up inane quotes from movie stars, models and assorted ‘celebrities’ whose bravado lacks conviction (“ We must stand together and show the terrorists we are one. They can’t defeat our spirit. Mumbai is the greatest city in the world. Love, not hate is the answer.”). Total rubbish! The only real voices expressing genuine anguish and pain,were those of the innocent children of our brave policemen. It is the families of the less fortunate victims who have to live with their loss for the rest of their lives. For the rest of us, 26/11 will soon get reduced to yet another ‘date’ that is marked on the calendar.Even the numbness will eventually wear off… we will soon stop caring at all. Those cop kids will grow up. Other survivors will cope the best they can. Perhaps a new Headley will emerge from the shadows.Ajmal Qasab will grow into middle age inside some prison, and nobody will remember or bother.What will never change is the shamelessness of the leaders we ourselves have elected and supported all along.Perhaps, that’s really all we deserve?
Monitoring Vidya (Ooh la la) Balan’s dramatic transformation ( all for the role, of course!), has been a fascinating exercise. The thing is, no matter what Vidya does, she can never be ‘dirty’. Her robust attempts at staying ‘in character’ (read: raunchy) before the launch of her ambitious film, are admirable. All those tacky sarees, cheap dance moves, even naughty, off-colour jokes during promotional interviews! My, my! Our ‘Parineeta’ is really gambling big with this one. Hats off to Vidya. I cannot imagine any other heroine attempting something as potentially dangerous to her image , no matter what the demands of the role. Even Kareena Kapoor didn’t take such daring chances during ‘Chameli’. Trust Vidya to go the extra mile. That’s what makes VB different.She’s ‘hot’. But sorry, she ain’t ‘dirty’. Or rather ‘dirty’ enough!
Desi Gurrlz , are you ready for the Desi Boyz?What a fun film!Totally nonsensical,illogical and worse.But Rocko and Hunter are gonna get you!I know of two Mumbai socialites who want to hire these stud muffins (John A and Akshay K) as ‘escorts’ at their 60th birthday bashes.Chitrangada smoulders… and how! Steals the show with her animated face and super-sexy body-lingo.Gigolos get their due, finally!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The write way

By Manjari Saxena, Deputy Editor, tabloid! on Saturday
Published: 00:00 November 26, 2011

Shobhaa De is an author, columnist and TV presenter known for not mincing her words. In more than two decades, the prolific writer has written not just bestselling novels but has commented on topics such as politics, film, social differences and gender discrimination. She writes regular columns for leading Indian English dailies and her books are course material in the University of London. With six children (two from her first marriage, two from her second and two step kids) De has surely seen a tumultuous family life but she plainly refuses to talk about her personal life.
"Family is sacred and out of bounds," she said, smiling. "Anything else is fine. And it's not like I haven't spoken of how to cope with it. It's all there in my books." De was speaking on the sidelines of the Sharjah International Book Fair last week where she was on the panel to speak on Outstanding Women in Fiction.
She says she's "like every woman in the world".
"I believe [a woman] is a juggler, an acrobat, a tightrope walker, a multi-tasker, a general dogs-body," she explains. "You cope and you enjoy yourself. Sometimes you weep with frustration, other times you exult and celebrate life. Women's lives are necessarily led and complex and hard to penetrate. You always have to look for the subtext."
De has definitely been a multi-tasker, having managed to be a bestselling author, wife and mother. Yet, at 63, she looks like a woman in her mid- to late forties. Time seems to have stood still for her.
"I'm a grandmother also now," she corrects me. "I think I've only a very good gene pool to thank for it because I don't think I do anything exceptional. I don't have the time. I lead a very busy life and I think that keeps me on my toes — large family, lots of writing commitments, I travel a lot. And I think the best kind of exercise for senior citizens is the one that is cerebral combined with a few basics — what you do in school — toe touching and limbering up. That's about it. But unless you are mentally active and feel good about yourself, you cannot look good. Feel good inside and you look good outside.
"The whole stereotype of a granny has changed," she continues. "You see a lot of women 60 plus today — and I can reel off names — who are very productive. So, as I said in my last book, 60 is the new 40 today. Whether it is Hema Malini, Shabana Azmi, Rekha, Sharmila Tagore, Simi or Sonia Gandhi and Hillary Clinton, older women are not like cows put to pasture anymore. It's a whole different way of looking at age and ageing. You must learn to make the best use of your time to be giving off yourself in a way that is meaningful to yourself and the people who are around you that is your family, your colleagues. If there is a mantra at all, it's to remain completely on top of your game, your life and be very productive."
With all her protagonists women, in the past two decades, how has she seen the Indian woman change?
"My next novel has a male protagonist," she laughs. "I'm returning to fiction after 13 years, and hope my readers accept this protagonist with as much enthusiasm as they have the women in my books.
"As for the Indian woman changing — dramatically. She's an unrecognisable person from the woman I knew when I was growing up. And I see it as a huge step forward. It's a very optimistic portrait that I can visualise for not just my daughter's generation but definitely for my granddaughter's generation who will grow up with the idea, for example, of a working grandmother. My generation grew up not even with a working mother, forget grandmother. But for Avantika's [my daughter's] generation, some of them took it in their stride that their mothers were working women and this generation of Indian girls is growing up with fantastic role models as they are seeing what is possible. With a two-income family being a reality in India, today it's no longer an option or something you do on the side as a hobby. It is required if you want any quality of life, education for your kids and so on. So women are definitely the biggest catalysts of social change. They are leading a quiet revolution without giving up on their feminine selves, without having to take to the streets, without having to ask for concessions. And they are doing it wonderfully well. The future, especially for the Asian countries, is absolutely dazzling."

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Baba-Baby Zindabad!

I am down with a severe case of laryngitis - not even a croak manages to escape my constricted throat. And you know what? I'm lovin' it! Silence is such a friend. So soothing, so reassuring! The condition also provides the perfect excuse to not take or make calls ( I'm allergic to both). I have just downed my fifth mug of hot water with haldi, ginger and honey ( thanks, aie and aji!). Am ready to crash early ( normal beddy -bed time being 2 a.m. ). The family is disoriented by my silence... perhaps, relieved as well? I had to turn down TV requests, too. Which was not such a good thing, since I did have my views on Ratan Tata nominating Cyrus Mistry as his successor.
Let's blame this ridiculous hoarse throat on the Dubai Bug. How I loved my four days there, though! The Sharjah Book Fair was superbly organised and it was wonderful to see full attendance at the 'meet the author' sessions. I met one of our Blogdosts ( Hello! Maddy!!) at mine! Ten Indian authors and hundreds of local supporters. That's the way to do it. A little birdie told me our blue eyed boy, Shashi Tharoor was mad as hell because the chopper that was to fly him from Abu Dhabi to Sharjah arrived two hours late. Not that his fans minded. They waited patiently for Shashi and Sunanda. Organisers informed me later that the wait was well worth it, since Shashi charmed their pants and dish-dashes off!
As for me, I was happy to note Dubai has got its groove back. Big time! It's business and shopping as usual. And the dunes are alive with the sound of dirhams once more!!
This appeared in Asian Age...

Baba-Baby Zindabad!

Yes! India’s most awaited celeb- baby has arrived. Jai ho! Little Miss World is finally here. Family Bachchan is over the moon. And so are their fans. Congratulations, Aishwarya and Abhishek. Mubarak ho! Now can we all please get back to work …to our rather dull lives, and leave the parents of the new born to get on with theirs? After the unprecedented speculation, interest,gossip and publicity surrounding the pregnancy of our most beautiful actress, it’s time for some respite. Really! The relentless tracking of Ash’s every twitch and flutter… the huge amounts of betting money involved… followed by the unusual code of ethics regarding media coverage of the big event, made one wonder whether even Princess Di had been subjected to such scrutiny when she gave birth to the heir (and spare) of the British throne. More recently, Carla Bruni Sarkozy delivered her little girl minus too much of a media frenzy. Why, even Posh Beckham produced her latest bundle of joy without the waiting world holding its collective breath for the momentous delivery. Baby B’s case is unique. Almost from the day she was conceived, there was news value attached to the dramatic announcement. Even if one overlooks the Madhur Bhandarkar ‘Heroine’ controversy, Baby B was deemed ‘hot’ by the breathless media. It is to Aishwarya’s credit that she chose good sense and propriety over instant publicity and non-stop coverage, by dropping out of sight for the first few months of her much-awaited,much-debated pregnancy. Perhaps it was natural caution, even superstition that dictated Aishwarya’s decision. In retrospect, it was the way to go.We love our desi traits – well, most of them. We believe in ‘nazar’ and most expectant mothers lie low for the first five months of pregnancy, afraid of consequences that have a lot to do with the idea of someone’s ‘evil eye’ falling on them. All this is true and understandable. What was harder to figure out was the exaggerated media interest in this particular case. It was as if viewers and readers could think of little else beyond Baby B’s sex and arrival date. At one point it became a national obsession with the equivalent of a countdown programme monitoring the progress of Ash’s growing girth. Several top actresses have taken maternity leave to go off and have their babies. Some have taken permanent leave after that and left movies for good. Others have waited for the kids to grow up a little before announcing a come back. Two of them ( Madhuri Dixit and Karishma Kapoor) are bravely in the running once again, and soldiering on, as they await their respective fates at a very cruel box office. Sridevi is the bravest of them all as she readies herself for her return to the big screen even after years of being just a svelte mom to two daughters. Sonali Bendre and Raveena Tandon were never in the same league as the others, but they have sensibly settled for a different niche. Being a Bollywood Goddess does come with certain caveats. It remains to be seen how Aishwarya’s career shapes up after the birth of her tiny bundle of joy.
While the feverish interest in Baby B was peaking, several crucial developments were taking place in India – in case anybody noticed or cared! Rahul Baba’s initiation into adulthood was on in U.P. and political pundits were monitoring his every move and utterance very closely. Unfortunately for India’s most pampered ‘Baba’, his baby steps into the big, bad world of savage politicking in the badlands of Mayawati terrain, started off on a dheela note with that remark about ‘beggars’ in Maharashtra. Much as he tried to back track and salvage his position after that gauche comment, our ‘Baba’ is still stuck in a bad spot. Seen as an eager toddler by rivals, Rahul’s attempts to bare his fangs and show some teeth are embarrassingly naïve. Rahul is utterly unconvincing when he attempts to play Gabbar Singh and growl, “Kitney aadmi thhe?” Besides, it’s really hard to visualise Diggy responding to Rahul if he calls out ‘Arrey O, Samba’ . That is another thing about desi traits. Once we dub someone a ‘Baba’ or a ‘Baby’, try as they might, they cannot shake off this annoying childhood tag. They remain kids for life. Check out the number of middle-aged ‘Baba Bhais’ floating around Gujarat. Once a ‘Baba’ crosses fifty in Gujarat, people around him add a deferential ‘Bhai’ , which makes it a particularly comical combo. It gets funnier still when ‘Baba Bhai’s’ grandson arrives on the scene. That poor child is then referred to as ‘Baba Bhai nu Babo.” Go figure! Rahul, poor chap, is a victim of just such a syndrome. India may love Jawaharlal Nehru’s cute ‘Babo’ to death and genuinely want him to succeed. But his minders need to project him correctly from this point on. No matter how strenuously Rahul dresses down and does his whole ‘Son of the Soil’ number, clad in unironed khadi, he is no rumpled –crumpled, run of the mill neta. He is seen as a Prince. He looks like a Prince. All he has to do is behave like one. And forget making speeches. Leave speechifying to more competent courtiers like Kapil Sibal. Rahul playing the Reluctant Prince has a greater chance of impressing the unwashed masses than Rahul the Unconvincing Socialist. Making people believe he possesses a magic wand that will take care of their problems miraculously somewhere in the future, is a far better strategy to adopt than the one he’s going in for right now. Mayawati is on a roll. She is coming up with one master stroke after another. Mayawati looks unstoppable. Like an elephant on a rampage. You need a Hercules to take her on.Rahul Baba had better start pumping iron. Right now!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Baby B needs a name....

Guys... this is your chance to name the most famous baby in India! Apparently the Bachchans are looking for unusual names starting with the letter 'A'.Go for it! Let's see which blogdost hits the jackpot! I like Amaara a lot. I also like Aparajita and Ayesha. You go next....

This appeared in Bombay Times...

Chho Chwwweeet!

We love our babies! And we love our celeb-babies the most. Now that the latest bachcha to be born into the Bachchan household is nearly a week old, it’s time to relax! For the past nine months, we were behaving like India was pregnant! Never before has so much footage, so much newsprint been devoted to the birth of a baby. Any baby. That makes Baby B special. Very special. When she grows up and discovers the mass hysteria around her birth, she may just gasp and wonder what the fuss was all about. But at the moment, everybody is busy asking, “Does she look like Ash?” That is the big question dominating the chitter-chatter-twitter crowd. “Does she have Ash’s eyes?” Here’s another one : “ It seems her lucky letter is ‘K’. What will she be named? How about Keya?” Will she giggle like her mom? Be as graceful? Will she inherit her dad’s height? Will she join movies? Take on endorsements? Oooof.Too much, na? Does all this sound totally crazy? It is!
Victoria Beckham is battling the same issues. Each time she steps out with Harper, she is pounced upon - a major paparazzi-attack follows! It is believed Harper has beaten Suri Cruise in the baby fashion stakes and that Victoria is coming out with a special fashion line for richie-rich, trendy bambini with global tastes in rompers. The Beckhams have produced four gorgeous kids and Victoria effortlessly pops them out phata-phat, like buns out of an oven, without gaining an extra centimeter! God knows how she does it, but hats off to her. In India, we make a super production out of celeb-babies. I read a funny piece on some blog which slams women who flash their baby bumps for showing off as ‘Fertility Queens’.In India, this is comparatively a new trend as we tend to be super-superstitious about pregnancy. Even as late as five years ago, expectant mothers played down their delicate condition, wore deceptively loose garments, stayed indoors, till it became obvious they were indeed ‘in the family way’. Today, having a baby has become a style statement!And displaying a baby bump is considered really cool. Much to her credit, Aishwarya was discreet and demure throughout her pregnancy, making just one surprise appearance at Abu-Sandeep’s 25th anniversary party.
In all likelihood, our media will go into overdrive once Ash gets home with her bundle of joy. With all the unprecedented, self-imposed press restrictions this time, perhaps we’ll see some restraint. But that won’t be exercised forever! Just wait and see what happens when Baby B goes for her first outing , most likely, a temple visit six months from now. Till such time , the hungry presswallas will have to make do with Proud Papa Abhishek’s frequent tweets and updates. Unless, of course the Big B launches a separate blog for his grand-daughter! Now that would make it a wonderful first! Let’s welcome Baby B to the blogosphere, folks! And, of course, to a life in a fish bowl.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Amazing Shobhaa De
November 18th, 2011

The last two days have been amazing – and full of outstanding women.
One of them is the excellent Shobhaa De – an Indian writer and broadcaster, and one firecracker of a speaker.
She was on the outstanding Women in Fiction panel at #shjibf with Kate Mosse , Oumaima Abdullah al-Khamis (Saudi Arabia) and Dr Ahdaf Suwaif (Egypt)which Lisa Dempster has written about beautifully already. It was bloody brilliant and highly charged.
Shobhaa is full of amazing, inspiring ideas. In a breathless hour she spoke of politics, power, feminism, aging, family, writing and so much more.
I make it sound cliché, but she’s positively electric. Her wit and a certain lightness of touch manage to freshen-up tired conversations to which so many worthy writers and events fall victim.
At 60, she’s a best-selling novelist, international phenomenon, journalist and mother of 6. Honestly, I don’t think the paparazzi bulbs stopped flashing during the entire talk.
She’s sparkling and clever and incredibly passionate – especially about the phenomenal growth and astounding opportunities arising in India today.
It was an intense hour and I’ve honestly been buzzing ever since.
I am highly intrigued by the bold new writing coming out of India – she’s made some fascinating suggestions I need to ferret out while I am here.
Plus, I’d love to learn more about the exploding market there. Every day you hear of bookshops folding and independent presses running dry. The press constantly bemoan the death of print – and the flagging subscription rate to broadsheets. In India, however, the trend is for growth and demand – and at an astounding rate. There are more books, more stores, more newspapers – more of everything it seems.
I picked up one of her books, my first purchase of the fair [if you don't count my daily can of Coke to see me through the heat of the day].
I had it signed while a camera was rolling, so I may well be on the 6 o’clock news somewhere in the world. I have no idea.
It was incrediby inspiring on many levels.
She is exactly the sort of person I’d love to take out to dinner and just pick her brains. I hope someday I have the chance to do so. Wouldn’t that be a treat!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Baby B is finally here!!

India can stop being pregnant ... now that Aishwarya has delivered Baby B! I have written two columns on this momentous occasion... watch this space! Am off to Dubai / Sharjah for the Book Fair at which India and Indian authors are the focus this year. Am looking forward to this event, mainly to check for myself whether or not people read in that part of the world! Ten years ago I had inaugurated a similar Book Fair which had seen the participation of top International publishers.... but hardly any readers!! More on my return. Till then... mubarak ho!! Congratulations to the family and blessings for the Bachchan bachcha.


This appeared in Hi Blitz!

It’s all in the bag….!

What’s with women and handbags? Oh…. billions! One day I shall meet my dream woman, Mayawati, and the only thing I’d wish to discuss with her – you’ve guessed it – is handbags. Mayawati is India’s official Bag Lady. And here’s why I think Hermes should exclusively design for and dedicate a bag to our pyaari Mayawati. Birkins and Kellys don’t quite cut it in India. Every B-grade starlet in Bollywood possesses several – fakes, of course. And socialites in droves parade their limited edition trophy bags along with the latest, not-so-limited toy boy. Agree, both make great eye candy. But think about the poor brand! It has taken Hermes a few decades to convince the world there’s nothing quite as desirable as a Kelly or Birkin. But now that desi starlets, poppets and bimbettes have started flashing their acquisitions on Page 3, the bags are doomed! This is where Mayawati comes in. Hermes should sign her up as a brand ambassador instantly. Forget those anorexic actresses with attitude. Signing Mayawati would be an absolute coup! An audacious and imaginative move that would make international headlines. Given all her statues ( always but always with a handbag), the marketing opportunities are pretty impressive. Every great leader \ dictator is associated with a symbol. Gaddafi had his head gear. Che’s beret remains a huge political –cum- fashion statement. Gandhiji’ s round eye frames are considered cool. Anna appropriated the Mahatma’s topi. Netaji preferred breeches. Rajiv Gandhi’s trademark Gucci loafers are widely copied by young netas of today. Indira Gandhi’s handloom one–offs are Sonia’s legacy now. And Maya Memsaab’s rexine handbags are so closely associated with her personality, I half –suspect she goes to bed with a handbag slung around her wrist.
Interestingly enough, I attended a high profile Halloween party last month. A soiree hosted by India’s most applauded banker. Along with the witches and devils in scary gear, one couple really stood out. Our neighbour Pomi arrived with a garland of currency notes around her neck, her feet shod in heavy duty rubber chappals . She was, of course, carrying a hideous plastic handbag. Just in case people didn’t get her attire,or understand her tribute to Mayawati that night, her husband Bharat was dressed as his wife’s official bagman ( dhoti, dark glasses, shoes and socks ). He walked in dragging a large suitcase to stash the cash. That was not just a clever fancy dress, but an enormous statement that wasn’t lost on the moneymen present! This sexy Mayawati really rocked the party . That night itself, I made a few mental notes. Hermes has recently opened a suitably swishy flagship store in Mumbai ( I have yet to visit… but I’m not a Birkin babe). The more I thought about the Mayawati Bag, the better sense it made! She has the numbers. And does she have the lolly! If even one hundreth of her followers buy her bag, that’s one hell of a lot of money in the bank! I would love to own one, myself! Why should I carry a bag inspired by Princess Grace Kelly of Monaco when I can support Maharani Mayawati of Uttar Pradesh?
Let’s hope Mayawati does not dilute her impressive equity. It has to be Hermes or nothing! Mayawati is way bigger than Paris Hilton, who came to India to sell her handbags. If Mayawati positions and markets herself strategically, she could become the Planet Earth’s biggest Bag Lady. She has the potential to beat Imelda Marcos, whose staggering shoe collection became a talking point for the world. The Hermes representatives in India claim sales shot up after the famous ‘Bagwati’ spoof in ‘Zindagi….’. According to them, there is a long waiting list for an identical bag in the two India stores ( the first one opened in Pune – which says something about Pune and its purchasing power). If a Bollywood spoof and shrewd product placement could generate so much press ( and instant sales), imagine the impact a Mayawati Bag would have. And since timing is everything, it would make perfect sense to work on the launch immediately. The Elections are round the corner. And the heat this generates in U.P. can be capitalized on even as we speak. Mayawati is going to dominate our mind space in 2012. She is a pretty powerful brand in her own right. Since India will be seeing a lot of this lady in the coming year, and we all know Mayawati and her bag can never be parted, Hermes should move ahead tout suite and … well, bag her, before someone else does. I have visualized the design in my head. It features the Taj Mahal ( remember Mayawati’s memorable Taj corridor plan?). The bag will have to be large enough to balance the lady’s own proportions ( this is important - all future statues will necessarily commemorate Mayawati’s international rise to fame and glory). As a prime ministerial candidate, it is important to create a bag that reflects Mayawati’s personality, which is awesome and daunting. By then she’s bound to be on all the world’s Rich Lists. Officially, at that. We can’t have her carrying the wrong bag. Indian Izzat ka sawal, hai.
How about it, Hermes?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Sweeeeeet Kangana!

This appeared in Bombay Times yesterday....

There’s Something about Kangana….

I saw a ravishing looking woman at a distance and wondered who she was. This was at Mumbai airport, weekday mid-morning.She turned around and waved. Several heads swiveled simultaneously. It was as if every single person in the overcrowded lounge had eyes for just this one person. It was only when I reached her that I recognised Kangana . Kangana Chameleon. She is such a lovely girl – lovely, as in individualistic, spunky, edgy, beautiful. There’s nothing boring about Kangana. Nothing predictable, either. That’s what makes her special. Whether it’s her choice of men or movies, she’s like Maggi Noodles – different. Wearing a perfectly filled, sporty day dress and standing steady on towering heels, Kangana could have passed for an international ramp walker. She laughed when I told her that and said she was on a crazy diet plan to tone up big time for her new role for which she has to slither into a skin tight rubber suit. She pouted, “ I have to oil my body before getting into costume. Even if I lose a few more kilos, a single extra fold on my skin will show on screen.” Dear God! All this self -punishment for a costume and a glam role! I asked about her new hair… it looked like a well- constructed, short blond-ish wig. That question was enough to set her off! She talked about having spent nine straight hours at her regular salon with her regular hair stylist, who must have been on something far stronger than coffee when she did what she did to Kangana’s hair! According to the actress, once she washed out the colour, not only was her hair grey (“not platinum blond…. but GREY!”), it was also coming off her scalp in clumps. Agitated and exhausted, Kangana ordered the hair dresser to somehow fix the damage. “ Next thing I knew, it was 3 inches short on top , with a straggly, long Chinese chhoti at the back. All this after trying imported hair extensions which hurt and prevented me from sleeping at night because of the head ache.” Several deeply interested passengers traveling on the same flight to Ahemdabad, were eagerly hanging on to her every word. By this time, Kangana was in full flow. She said she was going to Ahemdabad for an event ( she wasn’t very sure what she was expected to promote at the store!), but that she would be paid a huge amount of money for showing up ( “I’ll pick up the cheque and come home”). She chuckled with delight at the ease of it all, while two minders ( event managers? ) in shiny suits looked nervously at one another. I asked who did her clothes shopping? Kangana always displays such confidence and flair, her style quotient seems to improve by the hour as it were! Unlike other Bollywood stars who seem clueless and paralysed without their stylists, Kangana sets her own trends and often defies fashion gurus by her eccentric wardrobe choices that work splendidly for her. She replied proudly she is her own shopper and mainly buys her clothes and accessories during her foreign trips. It figures. Heaven knows where she gets it all from… I’d say, it’s inborn. Kangana remains an obstinate original. As we walked into the aircraft, still discussing “burnt and damaged” hair, “ unflattering rubber suits” and other fascinating details that define the life of movie stars, Kangana slid into row one (business class). She thought I would be seated right next to her! I laughed and showed her my cattle class boarding pass. She looked aghast and upset…. “But why?” she wanted to know. I didn’t have the heart to tell her the Sahitya Akademi does not have lavish budgets for us poor writers, and the ‘event’ I was attending in A’Bad was just a humble, national Colloquium for Women Writers at which each participant would receive an honourarium of a princely 2000 rupees. Kangana continued to look terribly distressed. I guessed she was feeling exceedingly sorry for me!! Sweet Kangana!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Get 'Diggy' with it....!

I came back from a whirlwind trip to Amdavad last night. I was there to deliver the keynote address at the National Colloquium for Women Writers, organised by the Sahitya Akademi and the English Department of the University of Gujarat. Twenty writers... and terrific local interest, made for a successful occasion. I was honoured to deliver the address which I had titled : ".... and where do we go from here?" If any of you can provide an answer to that intriguing question, I'll attempt the impossible and write you a poem! Take a crack at it, Blogdosts! Do it in 250 words or so....
Amdavad is such a transformed city, I could have been in Hyderabad! All our cities look alike these days, and I hate the conformity. But at least one thing has not changed in Amdavad - the food! I went to 'Rajwadu', an amazing destination spread over an acre ( the owners grow their own vegetables and fruits and everything is organic) . Ably conceived and run by the portly and popular Manishbhai, the restaurant-cum-cultural centre serves the best Gujju thali I've ever eaten outside a Gujju home. More than that, it honours Gujarati writers and poets in the charming bookstore attached to the restaurant, not just by selling their books but displaying posters featuring quotes from their work. I was delighted to find two of my books (Gujarati editions)on the shelves.
This appeared in the Sunday Times of India today...

The Importance of being Rahul Baba…

“We need Rahul Gandhi to look after all of us,” declared Digvijay Singh without cringing or blushing. Digvijay is 64- years- old.And Rahul, 41 .What exactly was Digvijay Singh thinking when he made that rather astonishing statement? And who is ‘we’? The people of India? The Congress Party? Digvijay Singh’s immediate family? What sort of ‘looking after’ was he referring to? Physical and emotional well-being? Spiritual succour? Political leadership?Who knows? Diggy has spoken! And going by his recent, unchallenged utterings , it is safe to assume he speaks for ‘the family’. And that includes the extended family around Rahul Gandhi.As the officially designated Good Shepherd, Rahul is expected to provide the much needed booster shot to a party that is dithering and struggling to hang together. Too many brains, too much ambition and lots at stake.Plus, the rather grim possibility of a couple of heads ready to roll in the near future. Takleef ki baat hai - no leader, no rudder. Just a good looking, earnest young man trying hard to fit into a role he doesn’t particularly enjoy. It is almost as if all this responsibility is being thrust on the poor chap and he is being force fed on a daily diet of sycophancy to make everything seem better.For all his good manners and charm, Rahul looks and behaves like a well- meaning apprentice working in a PSU. An intern learning the ropes under the critical gaze of a billion people. It’s tough being Rahul Gandhi. But then again, what choice does he have?
If Sonia indeed does slide over to ease sonny boy into her own, highly privileged position, there won’t be a squeak of protest. If that happens and Rahul gets to cut his teeth on steering the shaky party (with a li’l help from mama) to safer ground, will Rahul get promoted to the next level, and have India’s prime ministership thrust on him? Zero resistance guaranteed. Even from those ministers who are spending more time these days on fixing each other than on earning their keep. Better a Rahul, than a rival! Corporate India will be overjoyed as well. Rahul is seen as ‘one of us’, and everybody is comfortable with him. Besides, as business honchos have shrewdly concluded, rather a wet- behind- the ears Rahul, than any of the Maciavellian present lot gunning for the top job. Poor Rahul is no ‘game changer’. But he is a welcome distraction. The media loves him – he is photogenic, young and reasonably articulate. He is no threat to anyone. And it is understood, Rahul can be ‘mananged’ quite effortlessly, if handled right. So far, ‘Team Rahul’ is lying low, perhaps waiting to test the waters before unveiling ‘The Plan for the Prince’. It’s the right strategy.Playing it cool is definitely the way forward, and Rahul’s minders are making sure he doesn’t overstate his case or credentials. For a person who has no real qualifications, has not held a ministerial post, moving to the top of the heap may prove to be a little tougher than envisaged. But throughout history, there have been inexperienced young princes groomed and licked into shape by senior courtiers and family elders. Again, comparing Rahul’s trajectory to his father’s is not fair. Rajiv was plucked out his comfort zone and thrust into a brand new role because of a ghastly personal tragedy. The mood of the nation was gloomy… India was grieving. It’s a different story now. The only grief we know has to do with corruption and poor governance. Is Rahul Gandhi the right person to lead a frontal attack against both? Can he play the Knight in Shining Armour and fix the naughty boys within his own party before tackling the rest? Today’s young Indian is impatient, aggressive and demanding. Deliver or else, is how it works.Rahul Gandhi has to deliver.Dropping in on unsuspecting, poverty stricken villagers to break bhakris with them can only take Rahul this far. If he does indeed take the leap of faith required to lead India as prime minister , he will have to do much better than that. As reality shows go, there can be no better concept than India itself. Today, we have a Sushil Kumar , the toast of the country after winning 5 crores on KBC. Sushil Kumar has The Big B to thank for his luck turning overnight. But The Big G ( Rahul) has it tougher by far. He will have to hold out a comparable promise to an entire generation of hungry Indians waiting to hit the jackpot.
In case Rahul Baba gets stuck, who will bail him – and us – out? Any answers, Diggyji??