Monday, January 31, 2011

Ciao for now....!

GUYS... I'M GONE!! Hong Kong and Macau. But please don't abandon this space and miss me lots! Back next sunday. Ciao for now....
This appeared in Bombay Times today....

Dil Toh Kachcha Hai Ji….

Last week’s IT raids established how star struck even those hard boiled IT guys really are! Look at the juicy tidbits they put out in the press…. the one about Shahid answering Priyanka’s door bell, for example. If these chaps imagined all of India would go ‘Haaawww! What was Shahid (clad in boxers) doing in Priyanka’s home at the crack of dawn?” they must have been sorely disappointed.Nothing of the sort happened. India has moved on, buddies. We are pretty shock proof and totally cool about such things these days. And in any case, it’s better to have a handsome, co-star around to greet an income tax raiding party than a hysterical maid or an aggressive pit bull. Of course, most of the early leaks ( how many flats, how much money, heaps of jewellery) have since been rubbished by the star’s lawyers. But those early revelations were pretty spicy. People were more interested in whether Shahid offered a cuppa to the IT guys, than the exact number of properties owned by Priyanka. As for the Katrina ki Kahani ( along with her jawaani), that was funnier still. According to reports she insisted on some sort of ‘immunity’ since she is a British citizen. Till somebody apparently pointed out to her that she may well be a British citizen, but she isn’t a diplomat!
It is always a matter of amusement and concern who the IT guys pick for these raids.From as far back as I remember, our movie stars were their favourite targets. Not just that, these were always the most publicized raids with detailed reports of how the raiding parties went about their work systematically… almost sadistically. I guess they were\are just doing their job. But why target movie stars whose net worth is piddly compared to the net worth of our netas and assorted scamsters who never face a day of questioning or harassment…. till a major expose catches up with them. Today’s mega stars have an army of financial advisors to take them through our complicated and maddening tax structures. In the old days, they just stuffed mattresses with hard cash and slept on their money. A later report about the recent raids talked about a contraption called the ‘Hero’ which reads computer files. Let’s see what this smart Hero comes up with .But as of now, the IT guys must be feeling pretty sheepish since they seemed to have got ‘illey’ out of this outing.Even so, the public’s sympathy is with the stars – at least these people entertain us – what do those other fat cats do but plunder and loot? Why not go after the real culprits and leave our sitarey alone? We are willing to condone a few financial lapses here and there in the spirit of saat khoon maaf.
It was a toss up between watching ‘Burlesque’ and ‘Dil to Bachcha hi Hai.” You’d think the choice was pretty obvious – right? Well, I nearly bought tickets for the latter… and am congratulating myself for picking ‘Burlesque’ which was scintillating all the way. Being a huge fan of Cher, I take my chances with any film that features her. In this one, she is perfectly, almost heart breakingly cast as the feisty owner of a Burlesque Lounge Bar on Sunset Boulevard. Cher looks botoxed beyond belief… waxen… mummified. But she’s Cher – and she’s gorgeous. The rollicking dance routines featuring Christina Aguilera belting out classics ( ‘Diamonds are a girl’s best friend’) along with the raunchy, sexy title track, leave you gasping for more. As the tag line goes – ‘It takes a legend (Cher) to make a star ( Christina)’. ‘Burlesque’ is no ‘Chicago’, but I preferred it to ‘Moulin Rouge’ – so strike me dead. ‘….Rouge’ had Nicole… but this one has the priceless Cher.No, it’s definitely not “The last of her.” My dil is very, very kachcha ji!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

M.A.C. - The Knife, Mickey!

This appeared in Bombay Times ....I have enjoyed the laziest sunday ever.... a relaxing massage...and the best neer dosas made by Shanti, a new entrant in the kitchen. If she continues to cook as well and as enthusiastically, I'll blimp out and feel totally wretched.
Am off to Hong Kong and Macau for a few days. Strictly no lap top - that's the drill. May get to post something tomorrow. As of now, my heart is in Cairo..... one of my favourite cities.

Mickey - the BIG mac

Mickey the Magician is in a league of his own. As one of the most respected make –up artists on the sub –continent, Mickey really does not have an equal. The reason he is so good at what he does is simple – Mickey is as passionate about warpaint, as Sachin is about cricket. I met Mickey many moons ago, much before he became the wizard of makeovers. I was astonished by his fluency in marathi, particularly the ease with which he used slang and cuss words. He explained he’d picked up colloquial marathi while an apprentice with Pandhari Dada, the Godfather of movie make up in India. For a young Parsee boy from Central Mumbai (where he continues to live with his wife and two children), to the toast of Milan, Paris and beyond, Mickey has remained admirably sane and thoroughly professional over the years. If Aishwarya Rai, Madhuri Dixit, Rani Mukherjee and Kaajol swear by Mickey, it’s with good reason – he’s the best! I remember one of his earliest shoots with Kaajol…. later with Rekha… and how much in control he was even as a newbie working with divas. He was so sure of the level of his work, he refused to be bullied by anybody. The results were there for all to see. Mickey’s base ( the foundation of good make-up) is faultless. As a ‘less is more’ believer, he makes a woman look like a total Goddess by skillfully highlighting her best features and camouflaging the worst. Just as a talented painter’s brush moves smoothly and seamlessly over a canvas, when Mickey works on your face it is with the same dedication – faces are his canvases.
We don’t meet very often these days, but the bond remains as strong and comfortable as ever. We laugh over old shoots, gossip, trade make-up tricks… but mainly we discuss kids and education! Mickey is one of the most hands on dads and knows his kids’ study schedules probably better than they themselves do.His dreams and plans for their respective futures are discussed with a touching level of concern in his voice. Today, Mickey is a star and has a signature line of make –up, especially created by him for one of the most prestigious international brands of cosmetics. I’m pretty certain Mickey’s range will rock. You know why? He was the first make-up artist to identify the peculiarities of our desi skin tone and address it directly. For years and years, all glamour shots of models and actresses looked chalky, ghostly and ghastly, because the right tones for the base were designed for Caucasian paleness or the chocolate complexions of Blacks. We have a yellowish undertone to our skin tone which was totally overlooked by cosmetics’ companies. It was Mickey who started mixing yellow-based foundations from Japan into the regular ones in the market to create the perfect blend for desis. I am looking forward to his latest triumph. If only we could all look like Aishwarya in ‘Robot’. Sigh…..
Moni Mohsin is just the liveliest voice out of Pakistan. Forget the very self-conscious Fatima Bhutto ( who is dismissed as an air head back home), and check out Moni’s book ‘Tender Hooks’ . As a fan of her earlier work ‘The Diary of a Social Butterfly’ ( a collection of hip, cool, satirical and savage columns), I was delighted to meet the elegant and supremely poised writer during her short stay in Mumbai last week. Over a stylish dinner for ten friends at Mumbai’s newest SOBO restaurant (presided over by celebrated international chef Joey Altman), Moni effortlessly held centre stage as she talked about Pakistani politics and politicians and perfectly mimicked the peculiar Punjabi accent of a talent scout peddling pin up shots of nubile star aspirants. When I told her to ‘keep coming back’, she quipped, “ Would love to…but how, ji? The visa- wallas think all Pakistanis come to Mumbai via Chowpatty beach travelling in dinghies.” Touche!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

'Dhobi Ghat'.....

This appeared in Asian Age \ Deccan Chronicle today....

When the Spouse is not a Mouse…but Superman!

I watched this season’s most publicized movie, ‘Dhobi Ghat’ with enormous interest. Of course, when Aamir Khan is backing a film project, it goes without saying every conceivable media platform is thoroughly, systematically and totally carpet bombed. With his wife’s virgin effort as director-writer, Aamir spared not a single effort, stopping short of climbing up the Qutub Mahal and declaring his undying love for second wife, Kiran. Aamir could successfully teach courses at Harvard on how to market a product – he is that brilliant! But the more interesting aspect of this particular promotion was the cleverly calibrated positioning of Kiran Rao. This is where Aamir’s genius lies. As a debut movie, ‘Dhobi Ghat’ is respectable enough. But it certainly does not generate shock and awe , nor can it be considered a major breakthrough film that is a game changer ( ‘Dil Chhata Hai’ falls into that category). It is delicate and subtle in the familiar art house tradition, but not powerful enough to be touted as a cinematic coup for the first time director. The question to ask in all fairness is : Would ‘Dhobi Ghat’ have received as much attention had Kiran Rao not been Aamir Khan’s wife? The answer is a flat ‘no’. But, what the hell.What’s the point of being married to the most powerful man in Bollywood and not leverage the relationship? I hugely enjoyed the spin! All those cutsie stories about how she insisted on Aamir auditioning for the film…. I mean… we are talking AAMIR! Or, what a hard time she gave him on the sets by subjecting him to reverse discrimination. All these nuggets of modern day equations in a very contemporary marriage really tickled our imagination enough to go watch the film. And that, my dears, was the intention all along! I took in a few of their television interviews and read the print versions, just like thousands of others ( there was no escape from these two last fortnight) . The entire strategy was faultless – they held hands, referred to one another as ‘my love’, and trotted out the same spiel interview after interview, without once looking bored or jaded. Now that’s a feat! Finally, after watching the 95th interview ( same coy, adoring glances from Kiran, same self-deprecatory anecdotes from Aamir), I felt exhausted. But hey – let’s hand it to them – this is what is known as true professionalism. Each oft-repeated quote and recycled cliché sounded fresh, spontaneous and new! Hats off to the two of them for their dedication to the product. For, without that, ‘Dhobi Ghat’ would have been dismissed as yet another slightly confused, well intentioned movie. Aamir, perhaps anticipating just such a response, preempted criticism by informing those who weren’t going to ‘get it’, that the movie was not for everybody! It was a delicate and refined cinematic experience meant for those evolved, educated cineastes capable of appreciating his wife’s genius. If such condescension annoyed a few critics, Aamir was instantly condoned – he is Aamir, after all.
When I walked out of the multiplex after catching a late evening show, my daughters were sniffling away – they had fallen deeply in love with Prateik.Their emotions are entirely understandable. Prateik is adorable as Munna, the dhobi who dreams of becoming a Bollywood star someday. Casting Prateik was an inspired choice, and one must congratulate Kiran for not succumbing to spouse pressure and casting Aamir for this pivotal role ( according to the lovey dovey couple, Aamir was lusting after it). It is the characters of Munna and Shai( played with admirable finesse by Monica Dogra) that linger after the viewing, and leaves the audience somewhat relieved that Aamir’s Arun does not hijack the story, nor does Aamir the superstar hog the script. In fact, most viewers agreed that just about any unknown could have played Aamir’s part and there isn’t a single memorable scene that stays from his segment of the inter-linked narrative. One actually waits hungrily for Prateik to appear on the screen…and break our hearts. For me, it is pure sentimentality and nostalgia ( I knew and loved Prateik’s mother, the late Smita Patil). But beyond mush, it is evident to anybody how instinctive and inspiring Prateik is as an actor. There is nothing studied or ‘filmi’ about the boy. He is an absolute natural who projects an almost heart breaking level of innocence and vulnerability. Kiran has written Prateik’s role exceedingly well , devoid of even a single false note. Can’t say the same about Aamir’s Arun, who mouths the most ridiculous lines about Mumbai (“ My muse, my beloved, my whore…”). It is also pretty apparent that Aamir is not entirely comfortable speaking English and is far more himself when the dialogues are Hindi.
But beyond the movie and how it fares commercially lies a deeper message for women in cinema. There have been other successful directors like Aparna Sen and Kalpana Lajmi here, Mira Nair and Gurinder Chhadha overseas. The one thing that separates them from Kiran Rao is the Aamir Factor. These ladies did not have the backing and clout of a superstar-spouse…and that is the biggest difference. Today, Kiran is fully sorted as a film maker, regardless of how her first film performs at the box office. She can write her own ticket, name her price and effortlessly get the next project… and the next… off the ground. She may or may not sign her superstar husband next time ( she should go solo after the heavy duty togetherness of this project), but with or without Aamir Khan, Kiran Rao is officially on a roll. Good for Kiran. An intelligent spouse should never underestimate the power of two. Look at Hillary and Bill Clinton! In the movie business, it works in exactly the same way. If Angelina Jolie decides to turn director someday, she’d be seriously dumb not to get Brad Pitt involved…..and they are not even officially a couple. Frankly, Kiran Rao and Aamir occupy a pretty unique slot – I can’t think of another power couple in the movie world , who enjoy the same profile. Tom Cruise comes to mind, but Katie Holmes, his better half, is a glamourous actress, not a determined director . It would be interesting to monitor Kiran’s next move , rather, movie! This one had her cutie –husband declaring publicly that he had fallen in love with his wife one more time after reading her script. How will Aamir top that? Who knows? As they say in Bollywood, ‘Dil To Pagal Hai.’ Kiran sounds smart enough to check-mate her mate many times over. Perhaps that is the asli secret of their successful partnership?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Marathon woman!

Yes, a few prizes for finding me in that crowd of CHILDLINE bachchas....
Haaaaash! Back on the blog after what seems like ages! My laptop had taken a chill pill and was comatose for a few days. I was taking it a little easy as well and giving my painful, swollen wrist a chance to heal. Was dying to tell you what I really, really thought of 'Dhobi Ghat' ( tomorrow's post - promise!). I spent a day in my favourite city (Pune), and that disrupted my writing schedule. Ate a terrific meal at the brand new, but largely deserted 'Ista'. Was delighted to meet up with Mumbai Chef Anthony ( 'India Jones' )who rushed into the kitchen and prepared an impromptu feast for the four of us. India's first 'Hermes' store has picked 'Ista' and 'Pune' as a location. That shows one hell of a lot of faith in both!
I spent a wonderful hour- and -a -half at the Strand Book Exhibition. It was for the launch of a very special book - Will Durant's 'The Case for India' ( written in 1930), translated into Marathi by Kalyan Varde ( a labour of love). It is a must read for anybody interested in history and Durant's passionate, power packed tribute to what he describes as 'the greatest civilisation on earth'. The contents may shock and pain the unwary. Most documented histories are suppressed , distorted truths. Here is an American intellectual's fearless version of what the British really did to us - just 68,000 of them in a country of 32 crore people at the time. I hope the book gets translated into all our regional languages so that our children finally learn what my generation was never told - the truth.
This appeared in The Week....

Nothing ‘diplomatic’ about this mess…

Years ago, I had a lady called Binabai working in our home. She was extraordinarily cheerful and good to have around when the children were growing up. Even though she was illiterate, her basic common sense had earned her a doctorate in my eyes. She had a solution for virtually every crisis and most of the time, her advice was sound and sensible. Strongly built and ready to work hard, she was my Rock of Gibraltar, especially on those days when I was low on energy and high on stress. One day she found me sniffling after some silly argument with my husband. She came up close and asked conspiratorially, “Did he beat you a lot?” My sniffling stopped instantly as I whirled around and said, “ Don’t be ridiculous! Beat me?? ME??? Are you crazy?” She shook her head and sighed, “I am not crazy. Men are like that. You are lucky your husband doesn’t raise his hand on you.” I launched into a speech on domestic violence and how crucial it was for all women to be aware of their rights… I lectured her about our laws, the role of cops, various social service organizations that protect victims.” Binabai was unimpressed and far from convinced. She pushed up the sleeve of her saree blouse and showed me a deep scar, “See this? My husband attacked me with a wood chopper… why? Because one of the chappatis I’d served him was burnt at the edges.” before I could react in horror to that, she opened up her hair which was tied in a bun and exposed her scalp, “Look at this gash – another attack with the chopper. This time for not washing his clothes properly.” Too pained and shocked to say very much, I just held her as we wordlessly communicated in the universal language of women – silence.
Binabai’s story came to mind while reading about the ‘wife-beater’ from London – senior diplomat Anil Verma. There are conflicting reports about what really went wrong between him and his wife Paromita, to create such a major diplomatic incident, but clearly something terrible must have happened. Paromita is not Binabai. She is an educated and empowered woman who works for the Indian Railways. If her claims are true, she mutely put up with physical abuse at the hands of her husband because he taunted her by saying nothing and nobody could touch him since he enjoyed diplomatic immunity. Amazingly enough, she bought that bogus story and kept mum. Going by some of the reports, the turning point came when Anil flew into a rage over a X’Mas tree sent to their London home by Paromita’s relatives. A rage that made him attack his wife and harm her physically. Make any sense? Either the senior diplomat is a certified psycho, or someone is making up stories. Since he enjoys a minister’s rank and was once the private secretary of Pranab Mukherjee, it is assumed he will receive special treatment, and may waltz away after a token reprimand or two. Paromita who was ‘scolded’ by Rajendra Prasad ( deputy high commissioner) for going public with a ‘private’ matter, is in hiding at the time of writing, and is reported to have fled her Hampstead home with blood gushing down her face. There is an attempt to accuse her of dramatizing this incident since she wants to seek asylum in Britain and stay on. Even if that is so, she is not the one who has committed a crime. No matter what the provocation, if her injuries are anything to go by, Paromita deserves justice and Verma must be punished for his brutality. Will that happen? Will we have the guts to prosecute someone in Verma’s privileged position? Or will pressure be put on Paromita to withdraw the charges in return for a goody bag that includes perks that may sort out her visa issues?
This is but a solitary case that has attracted media attention because of the personalities involved. But for every Paromita whose story of domestic violence gets into the public domain, there are countless others who are forced to ‘shut up and put up’. The standard advice doled out to them is , “Don’t bring shame to the family.” What of those women? Who is there to fight their battle for them? Frankly, no one. So long as our society’s mind set remains stuck and warped, and women continue to be viewed as dispensable, replaceable, recyclable commodities, the Binabais and Paromitas in our midst will have to go to war on their own and pray for fair play or suffer wordlessly and wait for some sort of redemption in this lifetime… or the next one. Whichever way…. it’s a long, long wait and an endless journey with just a glimmer of light at the end of a very dark and narrow tunnel.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The real meaning of 'Adarsh'....

I spent three days in Delhi and am still reeling. It truly is another country with an entirely different culture. But what the hell - at least the food is good. Better than in any other Indian city - more varied and definitely more adventurous. I went back to Bengali Market to check on the chaats and am happy to report the papdi chaat was outstanding with generous slivers of adrak and the unique masala that has drawn crowds for over forty years. There was 'gajak' and there was 'petha' too.... and sarson da saag with makki di roti. But I was with my health freak daughter Anandita who refused to let me gorge. Both of us enjoyed lunch at the smart and casual Smokehouse Deli , where we were amused to see dozens of Ladies- who- lunch, wearing knee high boots, furs, hats... like they were braving an astonishingly chilly winter in Paris! The dinner menu at the Oberoi Maiden's in Old Delhi was charmingly purana era - perhaps the proximity to the Purana Qila rubbed off on the chefs. The sushi at 360 Degrees ( considered Delhi's premier venue for power lunches) was soggy and disappointing, but the very pricey black cod made up for it.


Here's my take on the scum behind the scam....

What does ‘Adarsh’ really mean?

Around seven years ago, when my two older children were that much younger, they had to deal with a situation I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemies. It involved a small army of hired goons sent by an unscrupulous builder to oust them from their ancestral home. It was their aged grandmother who had to face this mob by herself as they made themselves comfortable in her living room and asked for the television set to be switched on. They also informed her casually that this was now their home and they were there to stay. She was a lady with remarkable reserves of fortitude and did not panic for a minute , even when these strangers spread out their beddings, opened tiffin boxes and settled in for the night. I was out of the country at the time. There is just so much one can achieve over frantic telephone calls to the local police station, the municipal guys of that ward, the MLA or the M.P. elected to represent the interests of his constituency. It was evident from the buck passing and evasive responses I encountered that almost everyone was deep in it – on the take - in one way or the other Those desperately traumatic 48 hours of the children being bull dozed and threatened by the builder and asked to vacate or else, shall never be forgotten . Does this story have a happy ending? Ummm. Not really. Left with few options, the family had to accept a lousy settlement and move out with dignity. Too much was at stake – especially an old lady’s precarious health. We were advised to fight the goons with goons, and get some influential ‘higher ups’ to intervene. None of that happened, mainly because the builder’s reach went all the way to the top! And a vastly admired heritage property was unceremoniously pulled down to be replaced by an entirely illegal shopping centre with escalators that open out to an overcrowded street in central Mumbai. So many years later, the builder is in trouble for cheating, forgery and deception. Will anything happen to the villain? No chance. Will the hideous shopping complex be demolished? Are you kidding? This is Mumbai. This is where an ‘Adarsh’ happens. With absolute impunity. What’s a crumbling heritage building worth multiple crores that can be arbitrarily vacated, torn down and rebuilt for several more?
Which brings me to ‘Adarsh’ and the current debate about demolishing the notorious structure. Pretty pointless, don’t you think? Demolish it just to show the world ‘action is being taken’? And then what? If ‘Adarsh’ does indeed come crashing down within seconds, using the ‘implosion technique’ ( wow! Aren’t we impressed?), what purpose will it serve other than to create headlines and get our spiffily dressed minister for Environment and Forests to preen some more on camera and pat himself on the back for showing everybody he means business. Frankly, I don’t see the demolition happening (CRZ issues be damned). Not in the near future, perhaps never. There are at least five buildings in the same area that are disputed structures. These have been around for decades – ghostly and abandoned, with no decision in sight. Like ‘Adarsh’ now, Mumbai had a ‘Pratibha’ , too. Another high profile residential tower that became the focus of a nasty battle. ‘Pratibha’ is still there – we have stopped bothering about its future. Just as we’ll forget ‘Adarsh’ after a couple of months. That’s how it goes. ‘Adarsh’ is considered ‘hot’ by the media. It may lose it’s ‘hotness’ quotient if a bigger scam comes up. And as has been pointed out by various legal luminaries, where does this ‘Adarsh’ imbroglio end and another begin? There are hundreds of similar scandals in the city of Mumbai alone. Each time one turns around to gasp at yet another spectacular construction ( Hello! Donald Trump. Welcome to Mumbai)) selling at an astronomical price, the unanswered questions remain the same – who cleared the project? For how much? If one were to probe a little, nearly every new high rise has irregularities galore. Serious lapses that can endanger the lives of occupants. But who bothers with paper work that has no meaning in the first place? Whose signatures are on those files?Surprise! Surprise! Signatures of the very same bureaucrats responsible for okaying ‘Adarsh’ . If today a Lt.Col R.K. Singh is asking why he, a legitimate owner of a flat in Adarsh is being penalized for the wrong doings of others, what response can he expect? This person is paying rent, plus repaying EMIs on the loan he’d taken to buy that precious flat. Can he demand compensation – if so, from whom? If Jairam Ramesh has his way, Singh’s dream home could soon be rubble. Singh had fought the Kargil war in the Drass sector and paid a substantial amount to acquire the flat. As had Commander Rajiv Pilo, who was part of the naval force at Kochi during the 1971 Bangladesh liberation war.His life savings are invested in an ‘Adarsh’ flat.Will he get his money back?
It would appear there are no honest builders left in Mumbai.The food chain in this highly lucrative business is very inclusive – and everybody ‘eats money’ from the lowly clerk to the mighty neta. Land is getting snapped up faster than lingerie at a Victoria’s Secret sale. The shadowy promoters are known to all, but everybody feigns instant amnesia. And God help us, but the CBI has been entrusted with cracking the ‘Adarsh’ case and we know its dismal success rate only too well. If the CBI sleuths are still searching for Aarushi’s killer, do we really expect them to nail those behind the ‘Adarsh’ scandal? Dream on!
‘Adarsh’ should stay. There is rich irony in both its name and continued existence. Let ‘Adarsh’ be converted into a Museum of Corrupt Practices. It could become a tourist attraction . … like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. A towering monument that commemorates national shame. Who knows, it may even make its money back through ticket sales for the venal Babus who built it.
Badhiya hai!!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Two movies.Two women...

I stayed up late at night watching the Golden Globe Awards - more relevant, powerful and glamourous than even the mighty Oscar's. Now... that's what we call Red Carpet dressing! I don't care what the fashion police say about Halle Berry's outfit looking like a modified negligee. She is a stunner all the way... and remains one even if she chooses sack cloth. Neither Portman's acceptance speech nor the out-of-place red rose on her yummy-mummy gown did it for me - and I adore Natalie . Jolie looked suitably sulky and sultry, but sorry, her green sheeted number did her no justice at all. Oh... am I glad that smug creepo Johnny Depp didn't get an award after two nominations in the Best Actor category???
In India, the film awards season has begun - no surprises here, whatsoever. Full 'setting' evident. All the Awards' ceremonies look the same, so do the awardees. As for the comical dress code for Red Carpet photo-ops, come on you Bollywood beauties - most of you are hotter and better looking than your Hollywood counterparts. Get it right!!!
This appeared today in Bombay Times...

Two movies. Two women.

Okay, this is going to sound insane : I watched two movies virtually back-to-back and came away thinking they weren’t all that different after all. The first was Ananth Mahadevan’s tour de force , ‘ Mee Sindhutai Sapkal’, and the other – don’t laugh – Alankrita Shrivastava’s ‘Turning 30’. It’s not just the fact that both films are strongly, unambiguously and powerfully woman-centric. It is what they are saying about their protagonists – one, a living legend who runs orphanages for abandoned children at Hadapsar, the other a fictional character named Naina, whose only ‘cause’ is herself! But the manner in which the respective film makers have portrayed their heroines, sans false sentimentality, speaks a lot about the directors and their choice of subjects. Sindhutai’s story is brutal, almost unbelievable, but like Mahadevan said during an interaction with viewers at the private screening, “ Her life is indeed like a film script – so exaggerated, it demanded to be made.” This remarkable lady’s survival itself is nothing short of a miracle.After being thrown out of her husband’s home ( various complicated reasons) with a newborn infant to look after, she managed to stay alive – just about – till one fine day she discovered the inner tigress in her, and took on a corrupt system which had cheated and oppressed the abjectly poor Adivasi (her tribe) wood cutters for years. After that turning point, there is no looking back for the ‘reborn’ Sindhutai ( she rechristens herself after the name of her favourite river). The first half of the film is relentlessly grim , particularly the scene in which Sindhutai gives birth to her baby girl in a cow shed. Her humiliation at the hands of everyone, including her own mother, as she struggles to vindicate herself, are so moving, one wonders at the steel within that kept her going, till she finally emerged as a larger than life personality who continues to protect unwanted kids and is adored and admired by thousands . Today Sindhutai is a hot ticket on the international speaker’s circuit ( she charges a fat fee and jokes she only gives ‘Bhashan for ration’), loved and lauded by people who have made her into a big enough folk hero for someone to alert Oprhah Winfrey about her.
Gul Panang’s Naina is a pretty wounded creature too… she is told by friends that the only way to get over a man is to find another one, cut her hair , wear a red dress and stilletoes. Easy! Nobody understands her emotional turmoil and sense of rejection, not even her mother. ‘Turning 30’ is a brave film that attempts to capture the anxiety of an entire generation of very insecure urban women whose sole objective in life is to bag a husband. Frightening but true. Their worst fears have to do with being left on the shelf as ‘rejects’ – in one really funny scene a knowing masseuse offers Naina a ‘pussy pamperer’. While Naina’s self- obsessive angst and those annoying rants against a steady boyfriend who abruptly dumps her on the eve of her 30th birthday cannot possibly be compared to Sindhutai’s torture at the hands of her nasty husband, the initial low self esteem issues are the same, as are the feelings of being unwanted. Both the women discover their own strengths through unfair and adverse circumstances and are seen as victors in the end. ‘Turning 30’ loses its way somewhere by bringing in unconnected tracks ( a lesbian love affair that sours), but boldly ventures into fresh terrain ( male strippers at a bridal shower, women ‘using’ men as sex toys, an obsession with risqué lingerie). The ladies smoke, drink, cuss and fornicate with delicious abandon – all of it guilt-free. And yes, Gul Panag is a great kisser.Now, if only the director had left out those gauche, painful monologues! A thumbs up to both films from me!
All I know about colonial furniture is thanks to the hours I used to spend with a kind and wonderful man called Mahendra Doshi , who passed away last year. But…. it was as if he was right there, supervising every tiny detail at the magnificently mounted ‘Tribute’ which is on display at the Museum. It was like walking into his tasteful living room and expecting to find Mahendrabhai on a stuffed sofa ,talking languorously about the champak blooming in the garden outside his Walkeshwar terrace. If you haven’t caught the exhibition so far… I urge you to do so. Lovingly restored and beautifully arranged, it is the best compliment to Mahendrabhai’s aesthetics and passion.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Happy Makar Sankrant!
I woke up to find new blooms on the tuberoses... and a pale orange hibiscus shyly blossoming. I also spotted my beautiful golden oriole on the jungli jamun tree. Yup. It's Spring! The birds, flowers and bees know it. And they are celebrating! Shouldn't we....??

D-Day.... rather, make that M-Day tomorrow morning. It's about participation.... not winning some race. Fellow feeling scores over medals. I'm all set - so are my girls, Arundhati and Anandita.

This appeared today in the Asian Age \ Deccan Chronicle....

Mumbai does give a f***…..really!

It’s official: Mumbai is right up there alongside international cities with heart.You just wait and watch the show tomorrow! I am talking about the Mumbai Marathon, which over the past seven years has grown into a robust property that does the city proud. ‘Run Mumbai Run’ will be the most heard chant on Sunday morning as thousands of enthusiasts take over the city and make a run for it! I shall be one of those mad people - creaky knees, pounding heart,painful corns and all. Why do I do it?Read on.I actively look forward to subjecting myself to this annual ritual\torture because it’s worth it. Simple.But much beyond the unbeatable thrill of pounding those roads with other Mumbaikars ( for that one, manic, magical morning, every person becomes a Mumbaikar) there is some other, hard to describe prod. I think I got my asli answer at a press conference on Thursday. The focus was on the philanthropy angle of this strenuous exercise that has now become one of the hottest marketing properties in Asia. One of my co-panelists (ex-banker Sunil Rawlani), broke down at one point when he was asked about his own involvement as a prominent donor . He said the seminal moment came most unexpectedly one day as his car stopped at a traffic light and a young girl, no higher than the car window tapped on the glass and asked for alms. He ignored her ( as most of us do) hoping she’d go away. But she was a pretty persistent kid. Soon, seeing that she wasn’t going to get anything out of the guy, she started to doodle on the thick layer of dust covering his window. And what did this child of Mumbai’s mean streets draw? Take a guess… go on. What would a homeless street child’s ultimate fantasy be? A roof over her head, of course! She drew a house! Sunil turned his head idly to check whether the ‘pest’ was still there… yes, she was. But her entire concentration was on drawing a tiny house on a rich man’s dusty car window! He found himself in tears… from that day on, an entirely new spiritual quest took over his life… a quest that continues to this day. He decided to work for underprivileged children and touch as many lives as possible in the most meaningful way. He picked his cause well – he picked CHILDLINE . What a coincidence. It was exactly the same NGO I’ll be running for, and have been running for over the past few years. In my case, CHILDLINE picked me! And I am so grateful.
We keep reading tiresome homilies on ‘corporate governance’ and ‘giving back to society’ We shrug and move on.Yaaawwn! Who needs those over- used clichés? In reality, we are desperately looking for Indian equivalents of Warren Buffet and Bill Gates, as if being anyone or anything less than these two global Charity Champions is a major crime. We talk about desi corporate honchos and local industrialists being kanjoos… not doing enough for the poor. We feel ashamed of our billionaires and try to send them on guilt trips for not dishing out enough dosh for the needy. Really, we should put an end to this nonsense. The act of giving is an intensely private matter and we should stop all the huffing and puffing about our rich being callous. Let’s get off their backs and ask ourselves what we are doing in our individual capacities? Not everybody can be an Azim Premji and stun the world with mega scale philanthropy .Not every tycoon can follow such an example and part with wealth as effortlessly. I am no apologist for our fat cats… but come on guys, our billionaires are not entirely heartless. They have their own ways of sharing wealth…ways that are not obvious or that they may not wish to publicise. Let’s not insult them by insisting on grand public gestures. Giving is in every Indian’s dna. Our shastras emphasise that ‘daan’ is a vital component of self realization and moksh. Every religion in the world stresses on charity as a means to redemption. Our Big Boys and Big Girls are doing their bit – I assure you. Getting corporates to part with money in the old days used to be a pretty humiliating experience. Today, they see it as an opportunity to pump up their own images and do some good as well. I used to abhor making those ‘It’s time to open your purse strings, folks’ calls and was certain I’d lose the few friends I had and be declared a persona non-grata in the city. Imagine my delight these days - I have people calling to ask, “How can we contribute?” This is a major shift. It shows our attitude towards supporting worthwhile initiatives has changed significantly. They say, the more you run, the better you feel. Combine that with - the more you give, the mellower you become - and it’s a win-win situation for all.Mumbai needs a makeover desperately. She is like an item girl who requires another ‘hit and hot’ song to get those eyeballs. The Mumbai Marathon provides just such an opportunity….and Mumbai ki jawaani gets a fresh boost as thousands of energetic runners cross the Worli Bandra Sealink in search of that magical ‘aha’ moment at the finishing line in front of the historic CST.
‘Bhago Mumbai Bhago’ is one ‘naara’ that gets our people going like no other. I don’t mind sounding silly and smarmy boasting like this but Mumbaikars are a special breed. Nothing keeps us down… nothing can, nothing will. Somehow, the Mumbai Marathon encapsulates this indomitable spirit in the most electrifying way. Soon after the 26\11 Terror Attacks, the organizers of the marathon weren’t sure how Mumbaikars would respond. Would they stay away, too scared to emerge on a Sunday and risk another attack ? Not a chance! The show had to go on… and did.
Take that, you guys! While Mumbai… errr…. gives!!!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Believe it or not!!! Aarushi ki sad kahani!

Who Killed Innocence….?

There is something exaggeratedly sinister about the brutal twin murders of an innocent 14- year- old girl, and the domestic who worked for the family ( nobody bothers about his death… are you surprised?). As things stand, the case has reached a bit of a dead end and there are any number of theories floating around. While it is true that the media has been conducting its own trial night after night and pretty much stating : the dad did it, the response of Aarushi’s parents has beenpuzzling and bizarre , to say the least.Grieving parents behave in a different manner. They are broken in spirit and rendered almost incoherent with grief at the loss of a loved one. An only child at that. Not these two, though. Sorry if this sounds like pop psychology gone wrong… but the conduct displayed by Mr. and Mrs. Talwar appears a bit too calculated, even cold blooded to viewers. It conveys just one thing : Catch us if you can. There is defiance and challenge built into every statement. ‘Where is the proof? What evidence do you have?” Aarushi’s mother keeps demanding aggressively, as if to suggest, “We’ve taken care of every small detail… covered each track…so there!” For a mother of a dead girl to project such steely determination during what must have been the most harrowing time of her life, seems a bit unnatural. I have spent enough time consoling mothers who have lost their kids to say this is perhaps the first time I have observed a mom whose sole objective seems to be to put up a feisty defence for herself and her husband.Both the Talwars have a script that reads like a law manual. Their faces are stony, their eyes, strangely devoid of any emotion. When they mention Aarushi, they could as well be discussing their neighbour’s kid.
Poor Aarushi.
God alone knows what prompted this ghastly murder. Did the young girl witness something she wasn’t meant to? Did she stumble across a dark and dirty family secret? Had she become an ‘inconvenience’ to her own parents? Who was she about to embarrass – herself or her parents? The crime has been committed by skilled, educated, clever people – that much is obvious. The devious master plan behind destroying key evidence and manipulating records can only be accomplished by people who are aware of police procedures and well up on forensic investigations. The early attempts to blame Hemraj, the slain domestic , therefore fall flat. Similarly, the subsequent efforts to implicate three other domestics remain equally unconvincing ( good thing those tortured and humiliated young men are seeking compensation) .Let’s leave the bumbling CBI blokes out of this space for now. The Aarushi murder goes beyond the killings of an only child and the man servant. It acts as a mirror to our urban lives . Here are two busy professionals - parents who claim they slept through the murders that were taking place a few feet away from their own bedroom. They also slept through persistent phone calls the same night and didn’t know who sneaked into their home at that late hour and cut the internet connection! More, they had no idea that someone had helped himself\herself to whiskey after the murder, and left the bottle on the table. Nor did they hear any strange activity on the terrace even though a body was being dragged there and a heavy, blood stained mattress was being flung out. No screams… no noises associated with struggle…. nothing disturbed these parents. The Talwars blissfully slept the sleep of the dead. Ironically, it was their daughter who had died!They heard nothing… knew nothing. But were up at 6 a.m. to throw down the house keys to the maid, call her up to Aarushi’s room and calmly show her their daughter’s neatly covered and cleaned up body! Unbelievable? Perhaps. But so smartly set up that the best sleuths in the land remain baffled… and clueless!
As of now, it’s a case of the perfect murder! Not all the top brains in the country have succeeded in getting leads that nail the culprits. The Talwars can continue to sleep in peace. One thing they have proved is that their nerves are made of steel. Young Aarushi has taken many secrets to her grave. So has Hemraj, the man who was being blamed for Aarushi’s death. Even if the culprit is eventually found, and the Talwars get off the hook, the country will continue to be stupefied by their stellar performances on television night after night. No tears, no sorrow. Just icy arguments proclaiming their own innocence. Aarushi must be weeping …

True Harmony.....

Comments welcome! make them kind... preferably adoring! HA HA!
There's one more interview coming up tomorrow. This one has elicited the sweetest reactions from unlikely people. I think Tina Ambani has done a pretty good job of breaking down prejudice against 'Silvers' (as she dubs senior citizens). Not everyone can happily sing 'Sheila Ki Jawaani' and get away with it. Sigh!!!
It's been a deliciously slow week so far. The nip in the air continues... I hope it stays till the Mumbai Marathon this sunday.... I am going to attempt the Dream Run to draw more attention to CHILDLINE ( dial 1098, toll free, to help a child in distress). It's the NGO I support and raise funds for. Look out for me and my daughters Arundhati and Anandita, who have been raising money on their own for CHILDLINE. Wish us luck.... and stamina, Blogdosts.
Bhago Mumbai,Bhago!!

'JADE' - but not jaded!!

Blogdosts, this appears in the current issue of 'Jade' , which has taken over this particular market segment ( 'Femina' terrain) in South India.
Right now , I'm on an absolute high after completing the 7km Dream Run at the Mumbai Marathon. Arundhati finished hers in record time ( by her own standards). My own sentiments are different : it's not about competing, racing or winning medals. I run because I want to draw attention to a charity of my choice - I ran with my bachchas from 'Childline' and had a great time, even though the sun was cruel and harsh on the flyover, and I was feeling faint.... dehydrated.
Back in the VIP Marquee, post-Marathon, I attacked the superb breakfast spread, concentrating on the paper thin dosas with onion chutney. Young Siddhatha Mallya was the out and out star of this Marathon, mobbed by fans clamouring for his autograph.... and he's not even a movie star!! Perhaps his movie star girl friend will get a bit of a complex since Sid totally overshadows her when they step out together. Shall we call it a reversal of roles???

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

P.M.ji, Zara Lift Kara de...!

Why are we frothing at the mouth over Ganguly's exclusion from an entertainment event ( can't really call the IPL a sporting event!). If it's only about the money.... honey, he's got tons of it. If it's about performance, well.... his track record speaks for itself. Even so, Ganguly's 'Dadagiri' days aren't over.... so his fans can dry their tears and let the IPL tamasha begin.
This appeared on sunday. Ironically, the very next day there was a horrific elevator crash at a building site in Mumbai - an avoidable accident in which six people were killed when the makeshift lift plunged 21 floors. Ketan Shah, a director of 'Success Builders' ( irony!) was arrested. There are thousands of lifts that are not safe in this city. And only 16 government appointed lift supervisors to inspect them. What do you expect??

Manmohanji…. Zara Lift Kara De…?

I was stuck in an elevator last week. Believe me, it wasn’t the best way to bring in the new year or start a brand new decade. While I was fuming away in the gleaming aluminium box, an untrained, uneducated elevator attendant struggled with the emergency panel and shouted into a phone. Clearly, nobody had a clue as to what to do next. I was beginning to panic as the attendant started punching buttons and switches at random in a crazy hit-and-miss game. He even tried to pry open the heavy doors manually , ignoring my protests. There was one other person in the elevator who seemed calm and collected as he offered his own suggestions. I demanded a bit too aggressively, “ Are you an engineer?” The guy had a musical instrument with him, so it was a loaded question. Nope, he admitted, as he shook his head and smiled reassuringly. That smile was a good move - I found myself smiling , too. By now the elevator man had finished punching all the buttons and turning various switches on and off. He’d also attempted a few kicks and shoves to browbeat the obstinate door into opening. Nada! We were still stuck! Then, as if by magic the elevator started to move… but the panel didn’t indicate a thing. Were we headed up or down? Top most floor or the basement? Zilch. My co-trapee ( Ha! I like that word), remained impassive even as I started to hyper ventilate. Perhaps music would help? I half- expected him to remove the guitar from its case and start strumming. Abruptly,the elevator stopped by itself. We could have reached heaven, for all I knew. The doors were still shut. And the attendant was muttering it wasn’t his fault – the elevator was old and badly maintained. It had been acting up…. but did anybody listen to him? A few minutes later the doors were forced open by an irate supervisor. We were indeed on the top floor and the supervisor was very cross. Why? Just! He yelled at the cowering attendant, while the musician continued to watch the hysterical proceedings stoically. By this point I was agitatedly asking stupid questions like, “ What if the elevator had crashed all the way to the pit from the 25th floor?” The musician patiently explained that was an unlikely scenario since modern elevators came equipped with breaks on every floor, plus several checks and balances in order to prevent such mishaps. In my head I was saying nastily, “ Yeah. Right. You aren’t even an engineer … you should know!” Wicked of me. Very wicked.
Later, once I had recovered sufficiently, ‘The Stalled Elevator’ somehow made me think of India.It became an appropriate symbol, an apt metaphor.India is a stalled elevator at the moment – stuck in a tight spot. Stuck between floors. No immediate solutions in sight. No emergency services to pull it out of the mess and get it going efficiently. Too many ‘experts’ offering uninformed advice. Too many hitches and glitches preventing the country from making it to the top floor smoothly. Too many inefficient ‘supervisors’ goofing up and blaming poor attendants. Nobody willing to take the rap, own up, assume responsibility. The India Elevator can come crashing down if we don’t wake up and take charge. Too many of us are like the mild mannered, well meaning musician who patiently waited for a ‘solution’. The rest of us remain fatalistic, hoping for a miracle that is not happening. If the building society in which the elevator malfunctioned, had had a better leader, perhaps this unfortunate incident would not have taken place. The lifts would have operated safely and been regularly serviced. There would have been a tabled report to that effect shared transparently with society members ( who, after all, are the real stake holders). Residents would have shown more confidence during emergencies knowing that procedures were being scrupulously followed. With more accountability in place, charges of negligence or corruption would not have surfaced periodically. Had those elevator attendants been paid better, trained better and treated better, the quality of service would have been better . Had the supervisors been thoroughly screened and appointed on the basis of the right qualifications and not for being second cousins of the contractor’s uncle, the approach to issues concerning building maintenence would have been more rigorous. And had residents themselves been more pro-active , the quality of life in this complex would have been significantly superior. By sacking the elevator attendant, cutting his meager salary, punishing or penalizing the supervisor, nothing will be achieved. The real culprits reside elsewhere. The onus of running the place honestly and competently rests with them. So long as they sleep easy in their ivory towers, untouched by the frustrated lives of those who have elected them in the first place, nothing will change. The elevator will keep getting stuck between floors. And someday, a few lives may be lost on account of its dilapidated condition. Till such a tipping point is reached, we will continue to grit our teeth, grin and bear it.
As I write this, there are helicopters buzzing over Mumbai. The prime minister is visiting. The city is on high alert ( there are hardly any days when it isn’t). Manmohan Singh will get the usual air- brushed view of Mumbai and fly off believing ‘aaal eeez well.’ Guess what, Prime minister? I have news for you. This ‘elevator’ we call India, needs to be junked and replaced. We’ve run out of both - resources and excuses. What we desperately need is not just a brand new elevator but a brand new leader to run the show.
To quote Led Zeppelin : They talk of days for which they sit and wait… when all will be revealed.”
Will it????

Monday, January 10, 2011

Jessica Lives.....!

Who said Sunday is a day of rest??? Liar!! I've had the most hectic time yesterday, but am not complaining. It was like a home- coming at Chor Bazar... my first visit after the 26\11 Terror Attacks.What was once my regular and favourite haunt is now a transformed place, virtually deserted except for a few weekend shoppers looking for bargains. The tourists have gone and the wares are being sold at throwaway prices by desolate shop keepers waiting around listlessly for 'dhanda'. Most of my old friends - Ahemedali, Iqbal, Raisullah, are still around... they talked about business being down,down,down since that awful day... and there's no recovery in sight. But the good news is that Ahemedali's two daughters are doing brilliantly ( I have known them since they were little girls), and one of them is now a professor at Wilson College.
So.... what did I buy? Glass jars!!! Gorgeous shapes and sizes ( I have an absolute weakness for glass). I also spotted two wonderful Boondi heads in solid wood ( weighing a ton!), and an old camphor trunk covered in leather with brass rivets. But where do I store my treasures??? Lust and leave - my mantra for 2011!
This appeared in Bombay Times today....

Jessica lives…!

It’s really a sign of our times that public memory has become so alarmingly short, and reference points virtually non-existent. I watched ‘Jessica’ on a Saturday night and was happy to observe a nearly packed hall in a popular multiplex. But ….I didn’t see too many youngsters. Yes, I guess they have far better things to do on a Saturday night than watch a non-masala film about a cause celebre they know nothing about. The two young girls with me were curious up to a point, but from their frequent questions and occasional BBMs, it was obvious they weren’t clued in, nor were they particularly interested. They were there to watch a good film … period. During the interval, I asked them what they thought of the movie and they asked innocently, “But who is Jessica…?” I could forgive them easily for the faux pas when I reminded myself that the Jessica story is over ten years old. These girls were around ten themselves at the time – how would they know …and why should they care? The more important issue is simply this: did the movie work as powerful cinema, devoid of recall or emotional baggage? The answer is a disappointing ‘no’. The script is weak and patchy, with the first half crawling along painfully, establishing nothing more than Vidya Balan’s morose mood. Vidya , who plays Jessica’s sister Sabrina, is projected as a gloomy , angry, bitter woman mourning her sister’s callous murder, while moping around a home that is dark and depressing itself, dressed like a dish rag. Paradoxically, the popular perception of the real life Sabrina is that of an attractive, feisty fighter without whose spirited intervention, the Jessica murder would have been like Aarushi’s – perfect.No suspects, no motives, no arrests.
The weakest link in the film is the role of Manu Sharma, the convicted murderer of Jessica – had the film maker (Ram Kumar Gupta) spent more time giving the audience a slightly more complete backgrounder to the scoundrel, people may have connected better with the story. Instead, what we get is a Babe Film – one ( Rani), a foul mouthed, promiscuous , self styled bitch who takes pride in spewing cuss words liberally and wears her official ‘bitch status’ as a badge of honour ( her maid calls her a ‘kutti’ – and the audience cheers!). The other ( Vidya), a droopy, expressionless , sexless crusader who goes about her commitment glumly and mechanically. There is no passion in her mission, nothing fierce about her desire to vindicate her sister’s murder. The others are mere caricatures… almost childishly etched – from President Kalam and Manmohan Singh to Bina Ramani and Sheila Dixit. The only well written roles belong to the actor playing Shyan Munshi, and the investigating cop. To come to the babes – what can they do if the director sees their characters in a particular way . Rani and Vidya are both seasoned professionals and do the best they can with the material. Rani puts in the more flamboyant performance as a Barkha Dutt clone ( poor Prannoy Roy must have squirmed at his own cameo). Rani’s ‘sheershasan’ scene and the one in which she jumps on to the bonnet of her chief editor’s car, are terrific moments that lift this rather lack luster film from sinking into a tiresome, preachy, verbose docu- drama ( agonizingly turgid court scenes). Given the powerful subject, a more authoritative director could have made a deeply disturbing film chronicling contemporary history in a more engaging way. I came away savouring the few and far between flashes of a newbie called Myra , who plays Jessica with verve and freshness. Had there been more of Myra in the movie, it might have kept more people in the audience absorbed and awake.
The best news on the cultural front is the much awaited revival of that stupendous 1972 classic – Vijay Tendulkar’s “Ghashiram Kotwal’ ( brilliantly directed by Jabbar Patel). I have seen the original production several times… and was hoping Mohan Agashe would once again demonstrate his magnetic stage presence as Nana Phadnavis. Let’s wait and see what Madhav Abhyankar does with the material. This is perhaps the first Facebook generated Marathi play ( actors responded to an appeal posted by Abhyankar ). Nana would have approved of this 21st century strategy!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Fashion Follies and Faux Pas...

I am off to watch Jessica... dying to see Rani and Vidya together, even though I thought they overdid their entire 'we love and adore each other' nonsense during the multiple television promos, going as far as to fake a full on smooch ( Puhleeze, girls, leave that stunt to the likes of Madonna and Britney - it's terribly passe!). I have lots of oil in my hair ( I swear by it - HAIR VIT - manufactured by Millennium Herbal Care). My daughter Anandita is mad at me for going overboard with the oil ( she's my date for the movie ). But my hair had been whipped by the salt in the sea air last night as we sped through dark waters across the bay, to the waiting crew of a friend's gorgeous yacht. I could spot the Great Bear in the wonderfully clear sky.... and the iconic dome of the Taj Palace and Hotel was gleaming like burnished gold in the far distance. Our yacht was anchored 10 minutes from the shore.... the lights from Mandwa winked wickedly at us. It was one of the coolest ways to celebrate what turned out to be one of the most memorable birthdays, spent with family and a few close friends.

This appears in the latest issue of Hi ! Blitz.... a fun piece for Shalini Sharma's 'Opinion' pages.
Let’s take a better look at that lady in the front row. Yup, that one. The one wearing a most unfortunate outfit that screams , ‘tacky’. All that bling! All those murderous fashion faux pas. What was the poor thing thinking? It is easy to tell she has spent the past three days planning for this momentous occasion – her maiden appearance at a Fashion Week finale. She has had to work every known contact in her book to get the invite. Now… she is here. But nobody has noticed her. She looks around and spots a couple of familiar faces from her neighbourhood gym and waves vigourously. An usherette comes up to ask her to show her passes. Oh God! Did she get something wrong? Are these not her seats? She holds her breath. The lights dim. A crackling announcement informs invitees the show is about to begin. Pumping club music drowns out further conversation.
Saved! She sighs… sits back… and waits.
It’s show time, folks. Yet another tamasha is about to begin….
The presence of the dreadfully dressed front row newbie says it all. Desi Fashion Weeks have lost their premier positioning. Nobody of consequence attends them any more. And certainly nobody of consequence takes them seriously. What had started as an inspired idea once upon a time, has degenerated into a bit of a joke down the years. The reason for this decline is obvious. Indian fashion has simply not been able to move beyond its self- created cage of bridal wear. It began with elaborate, over priced lehengas, and there it has remained, with a few quirky, accidental hits in between. The same old designers who have ruled the roost for the past twenty years, continue to recycle the same old tired silhouettes year after year, and the law of diminishing returns has finally kicked in. Nobody is all that excited by those interchangeable and monotonous fashion weeks, outside the cosy coterie of boutique owners and their star clientele. Ever since Bollywood hijacked the fashion scene in India, and starlets replaced professional models, fashion itself lost its edge and identity, becoming nothing more than a poor cousin of the entertainment industry. Bollywood is the worst thing to have happened to desi fashion since the invention of the mermaid lehenga.
It’s a Catch-22. No Bollywood. No press. No attention. No sponsors. That’s the way it goes. Brave designers who resist the monumental temptation to hire the latest ‘It Girl’ from showbiz as the showstopper are snubbed by the paparazzi, who prefer even a fourth tier has- been star of yesteryears to a top notch model. Besides, the average hack wouldn’t be able to tell between a Monica Bedi and a Monica Bellucci ( believe me, Bedi would score over Bellucci, especially in Delhi). That leaves the designers in a bit of a bind. If they don’t play ball and rope in an actor or two ( for the ramp and the front row), he\she gets the royal ignore. Nobody but nobody is interested in the clothes on the catwalk… that’s the awful truth. If the side show and after party rocks, the designer gets top coverage. If the clothes rock – hell, who cares? But are the clothes rocking at all??? Have all those Fashion Weeks put together thrown up even a single name worth noting in the last ten years? I’d say not. The usual suspects continue to hog the limelight ( and those brides!) year after year. Once in a blue moon the press goes ga ga over a newcomer who is actually bold enough not to steal someone else’s designs and create a new look. But without the right support, these few and far between fashion talents drop off the radar as swiftly as they appear on it. Sadly, the one story nobody wants to acknowledge involves the business of fashion. Let’s face it squarely - there are hardly any foreign buyers out there – and very little business gets done. Frustrating but true. With this pathetically low generation of big money, it is indeed time to say the emperor wore no clothes!
But what the hell… fashion has inveigled itself into our lives and consciousness. We are silly in this respect – but we have become addicted to those infernal fashion weeks we crib about. Without our realizing it, we have joined the carnival. Each time a new category is announced or a new city added to the overload, we groan, but get into our fashionable gear and show up at the venue regardless. Fashion fatigue?? Who’s complaining?? Not those self conscious fashionistas hanging on to their Bottegas and smiling for the cameras. Not the bloated and conceited designers throwing tantrums and attitude while pushing the same old 50kg-10 lakh lehengas at gullible brides. Not the hangers- on who camp it up night after night, at all the riotous after parties, high on free booze and cheap substance. And certainly not the Page 3 reporters who hold their collective breaths waiting for a wardrobe malfunction that may or may not happen. It doesn’t get loonier than this. But hey – what’s wrong with looney???

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Pyar hi Pyar....!

This appeared in Bombay Times on monday....Mumbai experienced 'winter' for exactly three days and thirty-six minutes! Put your toosh away, Mumbaikars, and get ready for Mumbai's only 'real' season - muggy!

I am reading a delightful interview with me conducted by London- based literary journo Anita Sethi. It appeared as a full page piece in The National ( Arts & Life ) - the leading daily published in the UAE. Why delightful? Well .... my daughter Arundhati was holidaying in Dubai over New Year's and she came across the paper quite by chance! That was a lovely surprise. If you guys want to read it, I guess you'll have to log on to (monday, 3rd Jan). Good luck!

One World – One Life – Pyar hi Pyar!

I have to say SRK’s ‘new, improved’ loving mood in 2011 is highly infectious! I woke up on New Year’s Day to find his cheerful, upbeat interview (“Let there be love…”) on the front page of this very paper! I blinked… and blinked again. Wow! Something wonderful has happened to SRK…and he has reconnected with the child in him. Why not? His words and sentiments sounded sincere. He seems to mean what he is saying about love being the only true emotion in the world. He is in a giving, forgiving mood – and we are ready to receive! New beginnings are meant for just such positive feelings. Coincidentally enough, my mood was similar when I accepted Kia Scherr’s persuasive invitation to meet her for a cup of tea at the Trident where she has been staying for a while. Who is Kia? Let me put it this way : she is a grieving wife and mother, who is coming to terms with the loss of her daughter Naomi and husband Alan who died at one of the restaurants in the hotel during the 26\11 Terror Attacks in 2008. She herself was thousands of miles away in Florida at a reunion with other members of her family, when someone called her to say, ‘Switch on the television… Mumbai is under attack… the hotel Naomi and Alan are staying in has been taken over by terrorists.” Even as she watched the grim drama…. numbed by the horrific images , she was somehow convinced that her loved ones would be safe. It was a belief she clung on to during the entire period, till she received a call from the FBI to confirm that her beloved little girl and devoted husband were both dead. Sitting by the large bay windows of the lounge on the 28th floor, Kia recreated the aftermath of those dreadful days, and broke down several times, recovering swiftly and bravely to talk about why she is in the city. Kia has decided to convert her personal tragedy into a lifelong mission by launching ‘One Life Alliance’. When she speaks passionately about honouring the sacredness of life, it is easy to sense her total commitment to the cause. As a meditation teacher for over 30 years ( she started with Transcedental Meditation and later moved on to join Master Charles who is an ordained monk in the Vedic tradition).Today, all that experience is helping her to heal… and more importantly, to reach out to others. While in Mumbai she had the opportunity to meet both President Obama and President Sarkozy when they met the survivors and families of those who died during 26\11. This weekend, Kia is planning an important seminar at the hotel where she hopes to communicate her message of peace and forgiveness to a large audience. I told her bluntly that in order to get extensive media coverage, she would have to approach a big Bollywood star. She said she had watched ‘My Name is Khan’ in America and loved the film. I promptly suggested Shah Rukh Khan’s name. Kia looked a little hesitant as she confessed she had zero contacts with Bollywood, and the closest she’d come to a big star was when she briefly shook hands with Salman Khan before the tight security cordon around him made it impossible for her to actually talk to him. Not one to give up easily, she is determined to get through to one of the biggies and has managed to reach Aamir Khan! She asked me whether our Chief Minister would support her initiative and agree to take a pledge in public. I laughed…. sorry…. Couldn’t help it. I am sure our new Chief Minister is a great guy… but at the end of the day, he’s a politician. I honestly cannot see a single politician in India taking a pledge in public that he\she is willing to honour. And what good is an insincere pledge meant for television?
To the question – ‘How can I make a difference?’ Kia has an answer : “One person at a time. One community at a time.”
It is remarkable to see such fortitude . Kia maybe a long, long way from America But I get the feeling she has found her spiritual home right here in Mumbai…
Kia is no longer alone…

I watched ‘The Tourist’ last week and loved it! That the performances of Johnny Depp and Anjelina Jolie are not exactly award worthy ( forget the Golden Globe nominations) is pretty obvious. But, my God! Aren’t they just the most glamourous couple alive???Which other duo on earth can come anywhere close to these two red hot superstars? The movie is entertaining in an unadulterated Bollywood way - so far fetched, so shallow. B -ut as pure eye candy, it’s hard to beat the lead pair . Throw in Venice at its sensuous best as the locale for all the mad action and you get a big, fat bonus! Aur kya chahiye, boss?

Here’s to a deliciously wicked 2011.

Monday, January 3, 2011

......but who killed credibility???

Ma, Tujhe Salaam…. but….Who Killed Credibility….?

It has to be said : 2010 will be marked by historians as the year India sold out! And sold out in such shameless and brazen manner that the jaws that had dropped when the first few scandals hit the headlines, remain dropped till today. As we sing ‘Auld Lang Syne’ and bid another Rotten Year good bye, there is nothing much to cheer in the coming months. The Central Bureau of Ineptitude ( CBI ) has done it again! With the embarrassingly gauche handling of the Aarushi murder case, the spotlight is focused once more on a body that needs another body to replace it!Why bother to go into CBI’s lapses when ‘no evidence’ is the staple? Either we dismantle this thoroughly useless organization, which has been manipulated by politicians over the years and used as a torture instrument to browbeat and intimidate citizens, or we restructure it and get more transparency into its functioning. But will that ever happen? Na bhai, na.Too many mighty heads will roll .If one takes the Aarushi bungling as but a single example of how clumsily things are run in India, it can act as a case study for all the rest of the muck flying around freely – from Lalit Modi, Suresh Kalmadi, A.Raja and of course, Fearless Radia. Combine that with the entrenched belief that not a single well connected crook gets caught or is thrown into the clink, and that not a single state of India is free of monumental corruption at every level, and you get a pretty sordid picture of the country’s future. India’s Gallery of Rogues doesn’t begin or end with the Usual Suspects ( the ones named earlier). These are just a few high profile people who got caught with their hands in the cookie jar. And pray, why or how did they get caught? Because those even higher up in the food chain wanted them to face the music, take the rap – either for deals that soured, or relationships that got corroded – and keep those big mouths sealed. To come back to the grisly murder of an innocent 14- year-old girl ( Aarushi ), whose case has been summarily closed by the CBI claiming a lack of evidence, one wonders at the felicity with which it was done. Does it mean Aarushi’s assailant committed the perfect murder? Or does it mean nobody wants the criminal behind this heinous act to be caught? The answer is obvious when one studies what is known – that files went missing, crucial evidence was destroyed, and all the suspects now walk free. Extraordinary? Nope. Expected . It’s time to pay attention to Ratan Tata’s Banana Republic reference . The Aarushi case is an apt symbol of all that is loathsome in our system. It’s now official : The powerful and the well-connected can and do get away with murder.
Never has the morale of most Indians been this low. While shock waves over the vile deeds of a Lalit Modi and Suresh Kalmadi were still rocking the nation, we shook our heads and made those ‘tch tch’ noises with our tongues to suggest ‘This is terrible… but badey log have always played such games…. And at least these two have been caught!” How sweetly we fooled ourselves! Caught? Sure. But who will dare to punish them? They know too much about too many Sacred Cows. And that’s really what’s eating India’s innards. In the old days, there were two or three Sacred Cows squeezing the country of all its resources. Now, the Sacred Cow population has doubled, trebled and gone through the roof ! There is a hierarchy even in this Cow Shed. And those in the know are aware of that order – nobody dares to take on ‘those people’ (in- laws and out laws) who are seen as dangerous …even more dangerous than the D-Gang. And to think we ‘trust’ these mighty netas. Not just to serve India’s interests on every level – defence , the economy, terrorism - but most importantly, to be the moral barometres for citizens. If the State fails us on all these levels, whom do we turn to? Aaha – this is where Binayak Sen and others come in. Why has Sen become a folk hero…. a martyr? Because we know, almost instinctively… intuitively… that he represents our interests in the long run. That we need a Sen to remind us of higher goals, of deeper truths. 2011 saw the Maoists emerging as the most visible force of dissent and rebellion.Or more accurately, the ‘Maoist Menace’ could no longer be ignored or wished away. Forced into acknowledging them, our Home Minister along with his colleagues decided to make them the Bogey Bears du jour. It suited everybody… the heat generated by other scams was getting too hot to handle – if the Maoists threat was not for real, we would have had to create it! But since the Maoists weren’t in the backyard of those sprawling kothis in Delhi, or at the imposing gates of corporate headquarters in Mumbai, the ‘ Maoist problem’ could be intellectually debated over television, hastily buried and resurrected at will.
However,nothing got India’s goat as much as the Fearless Radia tapes. Those revealing and damaging tapes established incontrovertibly that the State had ears and eyes everywhere… that nothing but nothing was ‘private’ in our so-called democracy. If that wasn’t scary enough, the tapes also established the new pecking order in which some old war horses were exposed as bleating goats, and several holier than thou personalities displayed less than noble characteristics. The most shocking outcome was the utter and total ‘beizzatti’ of venerated mediawallas. Perhaps, that was the last straw in the Credibility Stakes. When respected journalists sold out, when judges were deemed corrupt, when cops colluded with politicians to cover up big and small crimes, when netas became daakus, when murders and kidnappings became routine… and India itself was repeatedly raped by the very people who were meant to protect it…we, the people woke up… and wept. Well, it’s time to dry those tears and act. Kick a few butts for starters…
Can we… will we…? Or is it just far easier to sit back and allow India to sink even lower in 2011?
I am an incorrigible optimist. I’d like to end this tumultuous decade by saying , “The rot stops here.”
‘Jhanda Ooncha Rahey Hamara…..”

Happy New Year, readers!!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year!!

Dearest Blogdosts... I have begun the year in a reflective, contemplative mood.... feeling recharged, renewed and re-energised. It has been such a mellow and gentle start to what promises to be a very special year ( sssshhhh! more on that later!! ). New Year's Eve was spent in Alibag with the family. Well.... those members who were in town. Anandita and her four gal pals really livened up the cool and crisp evening, as they gathered under the gigantic X'Mas tree. We had planted this handsome specimen in the garden more than 20 years ago. It is now well over thirty feet tall! The five lovely and lively young girls danced their feet off ( I picked up a few new moves from them!) and the entire celebration was so very innocent and sweeeet. They had taken the trouble to dress up to the hilt.... forcing me to do the same! This morning over a late brunch, we talked about the year ahead.... their eyes were shining as they read their newspaper predictions for 2011.
Quite a different story from the little girl's that you are about to read.....
Hello! Is anyone listening….?

Dear World,
Another year is about to end.And here I am…an anonymous girl child, shivering in the cold, hungry… exhausted…wondering what the new year will bring. More hunger? More fatigue? More despair?I can see my mother at the traffic light… she is tapping on the window panes of those fancy cars, hoping to attract a few coins… or if she annoys the owner enough, maybe a ten rupee note flung at her face to make her go away… leave the occupant to continue chatting on that small cell phone. My younger sister and brother are fast asleep on the pavement, near the old laundry. Our pet dog Moti has cuddled up close to them to keep warm. All of them are huddled on the corrugated sheets of cardboard we managed to steal from the packaging company close by. We are okay! We don’t know who our father is – we’ve never seen him. Our mother says she is twenty five years old and once worked in a rich person’s home as a housemaid. But from the time I was born, we have lived on this street and watched her beg. She has taught us to beg , too. When my brother was sick, I would tie him to my waist in a sling made out of rags, and carry him from car to car asking for alms. Some people took pity on us and gave me five hundred rupees. My mother felt really happy when she saw that note and told me to carry my brother around even after he became well. Then my sister had an accident while running across the road after the lights turned green and the cars roared past us in a hurry. It wasn’t the driver’s fault – she was so tiny, nobody saw her in the dark. But, that accident gave us a lot of money – over two thousand rupees. My mother was most happy that day… and even after my sister’s fractured arm healed, my mother told her to keep the plaster since people felt bad and kept giving more money.
These days my mother tells me to cover myself when I beg, since men stare at me and make dirty jokes. Ever since I started to bleed every month, my mother’s attitude has changed. She tells me I must not talk to any man or I’ll get into serious trouble. She also beats me a lot if she sees me chatting with customers who come to the laundry to pick up their clothes. It is dangerous, she says, and I don’t understand. These men are friendly and make me laugh. Some of them give me chocolates and ask me to get into their cars. But I can’t leave my brother and sister alone on the pavement, so I refuse. One day, when they are a little older and my mother isn’t looking, I am going to run away and make my own life. One ‘uncle’ has promised me! He said not to worry about anything. He will give me clothes, food, money… everything. He lives in a big house and he will keep me there… but he doesn’t want me to tell my mother anything. It is our secret, he keeps saying.
Maybe my life will change soon…I never cry and I haven’t lost hope. All I know is that I don’t want to spend my days begging on this road like my mother. She says her life is cursed because she was born female.She also says had she gone to school she would not be on the streets today. I would like to go to school and become someone someday. That ‘uncle’ told me he would arrange that once I leave my family and run away with him in his big car.Last week he gave me a brand new dress saying it is for the New Year. I have hidden it from my mother. He also gave me lipstick and powder saying I will look very pretty if I used both.I dare not try – my mother will kill me and ask too many questions. Never mind, in a few days from now, it will be another year… my mother has managed to get a few caps and whistles for me to sell at the next traffic junction where there are young people on motorcycles. She has taught me to clap, laugh and scream ‘Happy New Year’ each time a car stops. Let me practice now – ‘Happy New Year.”
I am sure someone, somewhere will hear my prayers… and wish me the same also. God is great!