Monday, February 28, 2011

"Setting ho gaya, boss..."

This appeared in the Asian Age\Deccan Chronicle on saturday.

The Budget Bakwas is still droning on. I have never been able to decode it... don't even try. All I know is year after year, I cough up more and more by way of taxes.

Watched the last half of the Oscar's - pity our Rahman didn't win one. But that doesn't make him less of a genuis.


Late one afternoon, my car drew up next to a police van, and my firebrand driver Choudhary ( yes, Raj Thackeray, he’s from Bihar, and I’ll never sack him!) pointed to a couple of Nigerians in the van. “Nothing will happen to these ‘charsees’,” he said laconically, “ Sab setting ho gaya hai.”. He went on to narrate a longish story about his friend, a taxi driver ( of course, he’s from Bihar, too), who had similar looking drug dealers as passengers recently , and saw an exchange of money (“Thappas of 500- rupee notes”) between these burly men, a couple of cops and a local supplier. “Pura setting tha,” repeated Choudhary, his tone almost respectful. Well… as we know, without ‘pura setting’ nothing works in this country. As I watched Arun Jaitley’s incisive, cutting and brilliant address in parliament last week, I wondered about the assorted ‘settings’ that must have culminated in this outspoken attack on the prime minister ( who sat stone- faced through the broadside, like Jaitley was giving a lecture on the breeding habits of flamingoes).Next came Sushma Swaraj’s “Pranab- Da” broadside that really rattled our Bengali Babu. She taunted. He fumed.Where was this moral outrage earlier? How come everything is coming apart all of a sudden? In one dramatic week, several silenced voices rediscovered the larynx and tongue. Even though, in Mumbai, the Kasab verdict was met by an indifferent, thanda response ( largely because of the ‘settings’ factor – people believe he’ll go scot-free eventually). The next morning, India woke up to the Godhra ruling ( a few shockers , but otherwise, pretty predictable). Then came the Kalmadi bomb ( “Uska setting khatam!”). And Sheila Ki Badnaami.Plus, the JPC decision, where again, cynics believe nothing will emerge, given the sensitive nature of the matters under scrutiny.Sandwiched in between all these dramatic disclosures, was the fate of a young Collector and a junior engineer kidnapped by Maoists in Orissa, besides the endangered lives of Indians trapped in Tripoli. So many ‘settings’ to put into place, that too, in such a short time!
For those unfamiliar with Bambaiya ( the street speak of Mumbai), ‘setting’ refers to an arrangement or a deal between two parties. Someone has to broker this informal but pucca understanding. That ‘someone’ plays a key role. There are several revered corporate honchos whose sole job is to organize key ‘settings’. These men make it to the boards of mighty corporations, and in return for a fat fee, they promise complete co-operation while undertaking mega ‘settings’. It’s deal making at its sharpest. Kalmadi was once known as the King of Setting ( his mentor had trained him well!). He could not have pulled off the CWG without such skills. But what invariably happens when our local satraps try and adopt the desi model to foreign conditions is that they trip over themselves and get caught. Greed catches up, and someone or the other in the long food chain, snitches on the boss. Besides, people like Kalmadi misjudge ( or underestimate) the settings undertaken by their foreign counterparts. Every country has its fixers, and every country creates its own settings. Kalmadi and his cronies obviously lacked the sophistication needed to pull off an international scam of this scale and ended up in the dog house. Imagine, even the sweet old Queen of England got to know about their evil deeds at some point! Like an A.Raja, Kalmadi was not operating on his own. Which is another reason why Delhi wallahs believe, Kalmadi’s personal settings with his ultimate bosses, will see him through this crisis. It is being speculated he has agreed to take the rap for other, high profile culprits, in return for several concessions that the public will never know about. By agreeing to become the face and villain of the CWG scam, Kalmadi may, in fact have saved his own scalp.
From our stock markets to the World Cup and beyond, we accept corruption in all spheres.We express shock and grief when matters go completely out of hand ( Godhra, 26\11 ), but at the back of our mind we acknowledge our helplessness and agree ‘That’s how it is in India’. Talking to an International hotelier of Indian origin recently, I wasn’t all that surprised when he expressed his desire to meet the ‘right’ people in order to get his ambitious projects off the ground. The man was candid enough to admit that marketing a top- end, very exclusive resort experience was one thing ( and he’s probably the best in his field at that), but getting around bureaucratic road blocks and traps in India, required skills he did not possess.He’ll learn! They all do eventually. Once people like him get over the unorthodox methods of conducting business in India ( a practice that has been cultivated and encouraged by successive governments), they promptly forget their ethics and moral principles as they scout around frantically for touts to move those files. ‘Settings’ takes place at each and every level. Try hiring domestic help on your own, without the intervention of a local supplier who takes a fat commission – well, at least in Mumbai, that is virtually impossible these days. For whatever reason, house maids come from Jharkhand or Chhatisgarh. Drivers from Bihar and people who do ‘top work’ ( such a comical term!) from Karnataka.The cornering of lowly municipal jobs is also complete, with each state having its own quota . Not that anybody is complaining. So long as the job gets done, it doesn’t matter who the person is or where the person comes from. It’s the same logic that protects those Nigerian drug dealers (who speak fluent hindi). The story remains identical. They do it because they know they can. Simple.
‘Settings’ are everything, yaar. As India will discover once the JPC charade gets under way.
Jaitley and Swaraj should have saved their breaths. But what the hell… it was good television.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Sunday treat.....Mohan Agashe Uncut!

Padmashree Dr. Mohan Agashe is a man of discerning words that spring from the experience of diverse worlds. A psychiatrist by instruction and an actor by intuition, his professional strides are a fascinating blend of natural progression and conscious design. No wonder, he has left an indelible mark across different spheres - whether through his compelling stage performances, remarkable screen presence, innovative theatre movements, incisive papers or rigorously executed health projects. At 61, his zeal to learn is as luminous as his zest for life, finds Sudhir Raikar in this exclusive tete-a-tete with the unassuming thespian.

Sudhir Raikar

A medico with a passion for theatre and an actor with a penchant for diagnosis - seems just what the doctor ordered for you?

It may all seem very logical in hindsight but there was very little design responsible for the blend. To me, both professions are one and the same as both essentially deal with human emotions. My psychiatry ward is as much a school of Acting for me whereas my medical training has enriched my operational knowledge in Theatre. Let me give two instances.

It was not a textbook of Psychiatry that helped me articulate the logic of function over structure in exploding the myth that Psychology is secondary to Bio-Chemistry. It was this dialogue in MAHANIRVAAN that gave me the insight: "That Bhau which you know is no longer this Bhau. This is just the dry world of manganese, phosphorous, water." I then realised afresh that the concept of human health is functional, not structural. The glorified "cry" that establishes your birth is nothing but respiration - the first independent function of a new-born. As soon as the umbilical cord is cut, the second function of circulation is acquired. Both are termed vital functions; the cessation of which marks your death. The line about "That Bhau" and "This Bhau" sums up this scientific process in theatrical terms like no medical journal can ever manage. To me, it's no surprise that Freud found his inspiration for deciphering neurological problems in the plays of Sophocles.

Likewise, the theory of inflammation caused by foreign bodies taught me how to deal with the actors in my troupe. I see it as a game involving four reactions - submission, tolerance, resistance and resignation... whether I submit to his demand openly, whether I tolerate his demand discreetly, whether I resist his demand at all costs, or whether I resign and look for another substitute.

When did Theatre begin for you?

My interest in acting was triggered, among other things, by economic reasons. I was born in a family of modest means in Pune and Acting was one of those very few extra-curricular activities that came for free. I also happened to be good at it. Theatre happened to me in my formative schooling years. I was a child artiste in Sai Paranjpe's group called "Children's Theatre", and was absolutely thrilled with the praise we got for our performances from stalwarts across fields including Pandit Nehru. My tryst with Maharashtriya Kalopasak began in my 10th standard when Purushottam Vaze (of Purushottam Karandak fame) roped me in for the role of Amol in Tagore's DAKGHAR.

All this while, my academic record was impressive which, in those days, automatically translated into a career choice of either Medicine or Engineering. I chose Medicine based on the grades I secured. I learnt much later in life about the herculean efforts of my father and elder sister to sponsor my higher education.

Medical college introduced me to Jabbar (Patel), Satish (Alekar) and other 'artiste' medicos, and before I knew it, I was already a member of the core group. So, when Jabbar joined the Progressive Dramatics Association (PDA) I followed suit. And by the time I was doing my MBBS, my passion for theatre became irreversible. I consciously realised that the only subject that I loved in Medicine was Psychiatry, given my interest in human beings and life. The rest happened along the way.

Your role of Nana Phadnavis in Vijay Tendulkar's GHASHIRAM KOTWAL was an obvious landmark in your theatrical career.

We had never anticipated Ghasiram's spectacular success. We at Theatre Academy reckoned that it would last for a couple of years. It turned out to be a phenomenal rage for a good twenty years. This modern play dressed in conventional garb mesmerised everyone. For me personally, "Nana" was directly and indirectly responsible for my career in cinema with legends like Satyajit Ray, Shyam Benegal, Gautam Ghose, Mira Nair and Jabbar Patel...not to mention the rolling stint in commercial Hindi cinema with doyens like Subhash Ghai and Rakeysh Om Prakash Mehra.

Ghashiram also gave me the opportunity to play the actor-manager of Theatre Academy's overseas tours, notably at the International Theatre Festivals of Berlin, Lille, Belgrade, Quebec and Baltimore, besides guest performances in London, Paris, Amsterdam, Budapest, Moscow, and many cities of North America.

On the one hand, the worldwide adulation was exhilarating but on the other, it also turned out to be the biggest hurdle in my creative voyage. No matter which role I played, I was being compared with (and identified as) Nana. The growing fear of this fixation actually drove me to thoughts of quitting theatre altogether.

I hated the very thought of some director approaching me for a role based on that" lecherous" look of Nana -I felt as if I held a patent for it. Mind you, nothing could be more tragic for an actor who's aspiring to play challenging and multi-hued characters. Luckily for me, I was aware of these subtle insecurities that an actor goes through - thanks to my psychiatric education... precisely why Grips Theatre came as a welcome relief - a form that helped me develop a whole new way of looking at life, not just theatre.

How and when did your tryst with Grips begin?
After BEGUM BARVE, I was off theatre for long. This was of course a conscious exile. I was working in films but I was slightly disillusioned with theatre because of the way the system works here. Actors rarely have a choice in the creative voyage since they are largely dependent on writers and directors. Worse, we have these patrons who build theatre around themselves rather than finding their place in theatre. Having travelled some distance as an actor, I was now looking to break free... looking for plays where I could be independently creative without somebody forcibly sheltering me.

This was the time I came in contact with Ludwig Volker of Grips Theatre, Germany. I stuck an emotional chord with him - both during his visit to India and mine to Germany. It was not long before I was gripped with the magic of "Grips." Conventional children's theatre is like anaesthesia without surgery. In contrast, our conventional education is like surgery without anaesthesia. "Grips" was like a surgery of education under the anaesthesia of entertainment.

The plays were issue-based- throwing light on double standards, sex, drugs and the other like - marking a departure from the cliched fantasies normally aimed at children. The quality of production was astounding. The plays had no prescribed upper age limit; they simply indicated the recommended viewing age.

After much deliberation and exertion, I managed to build a group of enthusiasts who were keen to practice this form in India - with or without financial aid. CHHAN CHOTE WAITT MOTHE happened in this fashion. Eventually, we produced several plays in collaboration with Grips Theatre, Berlin and Max Mueller Bhavan besides conducting several workshops all over India on the Grips methodology with the help of Goethe Institute branches in India. This opened a new chapter in Indian theatre for children and the youth. More importantly, it plants the seeds of better audio-visual literacy at an early age.

Why do you stress on audio-visual literacy?

The whole of the twentieth century was dominated by the print media and the written word. This led to the dominance of people who could read and write, and who in turn exploited those who could not read or write. We have traditionally ignored the fact that biologically speaking, language comes later in life. One begins with the audiovisual language that has no limit to the symbols, sounds and sounds (unlike alphabets) and is perfectly adjusted to the growing years of a child. The language of words is a cerebral tool while the language of sound and images is an emotional tool. Hence a film appeals to us faster than a text book would. It's only after films like "A Beautiful Mind", "Devraai" and Taare Zameen Par" that common people turned their attention to schizophrenia and dyslexia.

Manik da (Satyajit Ray) has taught us to how to handle sound and image in films. The long silences in his films make way for such potent images and sounds that tell you what it is and why is it so... The imagery of a downpour, a cricket's chirping and the like...

On the other hand, audio visual media, if misused, has great manipulative powers. A case in point is advertising which lures people into buying what they can do without. The balance between sensory skills and cerebral skills is the key to all-round development. There's no formal education that ensures this learning. The harmony of life comes with the harmony of intellect. So unless we teach audio-visual communication as a subject, we will continue to let the makers of this media exploit its viewers. It's our collective responsibility to be conversant with this language of sounds and images which is so integral to our lives.

What about Acting fascinates you the most?

To this day, I am excited with the opportunity to establish a fascinating relationship with space and time - something that otherwise happens for you only in your dreams. Each time I wait in the wings before stepping on the stage, I stand on the cusp of two sets of time and space. The spectators are willing to accept my stage existence as real - however simulated it may turn out to be. I cannot describe this elation in words.

You return to Marathi theatre after a pretty long hiatus? What was so compelling about KATKON TRIKON?

You know, an actor always aspires for that "Aha" moment when he feels drawn to the script in a flash. Dr. Vivek Bele narrated the inspiration for his play when he approached me. He was visiting his hometown to attend to his ailing father. As he took the old man's hand to check the pulse, he suddenly realised he had not physically touched his father in ages... This revelation was a moment of truth for me when I knew I simply had to play a part.

Any favourites amongst actors, directors and playwrights?

Although I have been influenced by cinematic and theatre legends from the world over for varied reasons, I would like to mention a few names from among the people who came in my direct contact - either in films or theatre.

In theatre, I have thoroughly relished working with Jabbar. Among playwrights, Vijay Tendulkar is right at the top of my list of favourites. Thanks to his sparkling insights, scores of filmmakers and theatre folks could raise their bar of creativity. I have not seen a more unlikely scholar who learnt directly from life, and not from books.

Naseeruddin Shah inspires me no end. He's a phenomenal actor, and certainly among the very best worldwide. I would strongly advise all aspirants of the field to watch any of his films; he's an institution within an individual. Om Puri and Shabana Azmi are splendid actors too. Even Smita Patil was very intense.

Amongst directors, Satyajit Ray comes very high for his unique cinematic sensibilities. I must say the time spent with him was one of my most enriching experiences in life. I was also impressed by Prakash Jha's clarity of conviction. Amongst Marathi filmmakers, Umesh Kulkarni looks very promising. I think there's no dearth of individual talent among the current crop of film makers.

*A cost accountant by qualification, Sudhir Raikar says his chequered career of melodramatic proportions brought him closer to the world of films and theatre. He brings with him over 17 years of experience in writing that includes journalistic reports & stories, book and film reviews, analytical writing, critical appreciation, marketing communication, translations and business writing for leading media groups and corporate houses. His passion is fit-for-purpose writing.
Mohan Agashe and I share a wonderful friendship. These days he is really mad at me because I haven't been able to catch his new play. Mohan is a carefree bachelor. How do I explain to him that my sundays are sacred? That I find it difficult to waltz out saying, "Bye, family. I'm off to Dadar\Matunga\Girgaum to watch a Marathi play." Mohan is sulking big time. This is my small way of making it up to him. He sent me the link and I thought it was one of the most thought provoking interviews I'd read - perceptive, insightful, invigourating. Like Mohan, himself.
Do send me your feedback.
And for those interested in my wrist - I finally underwent a small procedure yesterday. It was agonising! Once it was over, Dr.Farhad Taraporevala told me it is, in fact one of the most painful jabs in orthopaedic surgery. He also said I was very brave, did not flinch and took it on the chin. Little did he know how tense and terrified I really was!
Well... I made it to Nari Hira's party to celebrate 40 years of 'Stardust'. As its founding editor ( I was with the path-breaking magazine for 11 long years), it was a fantastic 'homecoming'. Wouldn't have missed it for anything in the world! What's a sore wrist? Piece of toast, darlings!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

It's all about positioning!!

A lady in Hong Kong commented that she vastly preferred the Chinese New Year trees to the Western X'Mas trees. Do you agree???
This appeared in Bombay Times on monday......

It’s all about positioning…..

I expected ‘Patiala House’ to be another rowdy Balle Balle romp, featuring OTT NRIs breaking into a Bhangra every few minutes and doing some hard core ‘puttar’ talk between mouthfuls of rajma-chawal. Was I in for a pleasant surprise! It turned out to be a highly satisfying watch, as in – a movie that was refreshingly old-fashioned… almost like the old tv soaps (‘Buniyad’, Hum Log’), and as satisfying as comfort food – yes, the rajma chawal that Gattu ( Akshay Kumar, remarkably restrained and credible) consumes when he is feeling low and blue. Why on earth was the pre-release publicity pitched so absurdly in that case? Why were the garish posters and print ads designed to mislead audiences into thinking they’d be watching a sequel to ‘Yamla, Pagla…” or worse, ‘Singgh is Kinngg’ ? The slow start at the box office has a lot to do with the wonky way the film was positioned.Especially since, there was enough meat in it to hold audience attention, even without the mandatory item song. Of course, it isn’t ‘Lagaan’ , and doesn’t make any such claim. And it isn’t a ‘cricket film’ ( even if the timing is shrewdly calibrated to coincide with the World Cup). ‘Patiala House’ is essentially about the changing dynamics of the traditional desi extended family. It would have worked equally well had it been located in Ludhiana instead of London. The performances of the well-picked ensemble cast match those of the stars , and after a point one stops noticing the wattage of a Rishi Kapoor playing the tyrannical ‘Bauji’ or an Anoushka Sharma pulling off yet another saucy role of a spirited ‘ kuddi’ who talks too much ( a repeat of her ‘Band Baaja…’ persona). Despite the mis-match ( publicity versus content), the movie worked largely because of that potent tool – word of mouth.
Another film that is likely to fall victim to false claims is ‘Saat Khoon Maaf’. For some odd reason ( shoot the publicist!), it was projected as a light hearted comedy, which was meant to show case Priyanka Chopra’s impressive repertoire as a gifted actress capable of getting under the skin of her complex character(s). Nobody was pre-warned that the movie was dark, depressing and macabre. Besides being monotonous and dull ,after one has gotten over the novelty of a Black Widow, meticulously planning to bump off one spouse after another. The lighting is particularly harsh, unflattering, even cruel. Poor Priyanka, I’m sure she is thanking her stars for cutting short her promotional trip to Berlin, where, one hears, the film has run into serious hoots of derision from a discerning audience. Et tu, Bharadwaj? Khair, both films were like canapés before the banquet. The banquet being the World Cup, of course. It takes guts to launch movies when the nation is hooked, cooked and booked. So, hats off to Tanu and Manu for venturing into theatres at such an inopportune time… and good luck to the newly weds.
I have been feeling really, really sorry for all the fashionistas on Page 3 – from sexy starlets to swish socialites. Going by the barbs of reporters on the fashion beat, the worst crime any celeb can commit these days is to repeat a handbag, climb into the same pair of shoes ( or, more aptly, Choos), and horror of horrors, wear the same outfit twice! Since I am far too lazy to switch bags, and I tend to get inordinately attached to the same pair of comfortable sling backs… worse, I am also perfectly happy to keep wearing old favourites from my wardrobe, I worry about those ladies who agonise over their appearance each time they step out ( hell hath no fury like the fashion police ) . I asked a prominent socialite who’d recently posed for a glossy,inside her walk- in closet ( the size of an airport), what she did with her once-worn designer gear. Without batting an eyelid, she said, “ I give my clothes to poor people.” So, the next time you see a flower- seller at a traffic signal clad in a discarded Versace, you’ll know where that hot number come from! God bless the socialite’s kind heart…


Monday, February 21, 2011

India needs a 'Bauji' not a Lame Duck!

This is Mahima... and the pic was shot by her proud dad at the Victor Awards held on saturday. Mahima was running a fever, but made it to the function armed with the Rainbow Caps that found several takers!
This appeared in Sunday Times.....

India needs a ‘Bauji’ , not a Lame Duck…

A telling scene from a recent Bollywood movie (“Patiala House”), pretty much says it all. A character ( splendidly played by Rishi Kapoor) addressed by all as ‘Bauji’, thunders away and asserts himself in front of cowering family members, including a mute wife, a bullied son,plus assorted aunts, uncles, nephews, nieces… even neighbours. His word is law. Nobody challenges Bauji’s diktat. The dharma of coalition family politics is alive and thriving in Southhall where Bauji resides as the absolute autocrat, not just within the confines of his sprawling ‘Patiala House’ ( a symbol of his identity as a proud Sikh patriarch in racist Britain), but the community at large. Bauji is an old fashioned tyrant – someone who is convinced he is right about everything and is not embarrassed to lay down the law. It doesn’t matter a damn to him what anybody thinks, least of all his miserable son (Akshay Kumar) whose one dream to play cricket for the English team has been shot down by Bauji ( no self- respecting puttar of his can ever play for the Goras). Others are similarly brow beaten and tightly controlled by the dictatorial Bauji, who, of course , believes he is doing what’s in the best interests of his parivaar. So much so that an inked rap singer in the making is forced to sing bhajans, while a young daughter, in love with a local English boy, is ordered to marry a suitable Punjabi kudda picked by Bauji. All this is packaged in a charming and entirely old fashioned melodramatic style that reminds viewers of well remembered blockbusters from another century that actually focused on story lines, dialogues and instinctively understood that for a movie to touch our desi hearts, there had to be moments designed to get those tear ducts into overdrive.
Watching our Prime Minister offering himself up for instant skewering on tv recently, it was impossible not to compare Manmohan Singh to Gurtej Singh ( ‘Bauji’). If only Manmohan Singh had taken a few tips from Bauji before agreeing to his public grilling ( mild and over-polite as it may have been), perhaps the nation would have felt a little more reassured about its future and the future of this particular mish mash of a government. The P.M. is sounding sheepish, defensive, apologetic and … and… weak! Yup. Lame duck, all the way. Why he is bringing Caeser’s wife into this, we don’t know and don’t care. Manmohan Singh has to realize this mess is not about just him – it isn’t enough to claim individual moral superiority and go on about his own conduct being above suspicion. It is about closing his eyes, looking the other way and keeping mum. He says he has a job to do ( darrrrrling, please do it!), and he is not quitting. Fine. Don’t quit, Sir. But can you please get on with it? That dreaded and disgusting ‘C- word’ ( compromise) has been used excessively by the prime minister. Someone should have told him, it is a lousy excuse to trot out at a time the country needs to hear something better. He spoke about his personal frustration. But what about the collective frustration of the one billion plus citizens of India, who are running out of patience? And excuse me, but it sounds bloody awful when a leader confesses he is not ‘as big a culprit’ as he’s made out to be. Reading into that line, it would be fair to conclude we can call him a chhota-mota culprit… not a big one! Manmohanji, please take another look at ‘Patiala House’ – Bauji would never say something like that and talk himself into a corner. Even during the film’s mushy, sentimental climax ( how we love our rona- dhona), when Bauji is confronted by his rebellious family ( the mute mom finally finds her tongue), Bauji refuses to buckle, even as he faces a small army of extremely angry family members. After a quick and private rethink, Bauji figures it is a smarter, shrewder move to go along with the majority and change his rigid position. Whether he really does have a genuine change of heart, or is merely pretending, isn’t made clear. Which is great. Bauji emerges as a wily, old fox who knows when to back off and when to bare his teeth. During the rowdy climax, Bauji is shown dancing an energetic Bhangra with the very people he once terrorized and bullied. But even under dramatically changed circumstances, we know he’s the boss. And he’ll continue to call the shots in ‘Patiala House’.
The film’s unexpected success has a lot to do with our nostalgia for a Bauji. The Great Indian Family survived over centuries because of generations of ‘Baujis’ who led from the front, even if some of their decisions were horribly wrong. They were the unambiguous leaders of the pack and not too many people dared question their authority. Indian families continue to follow this tradition, albeit with modern day clauses that demand a more inclusive approach to decision making. Had Manmohan Singh followed the Bauji model of leadership and led the country in a more effective manner, he would not have found himself in this embarrassing position in which he has to waffle and claim he had no reason to believe “serious wrong had been done’’( when he appointed A.Raja the telecom minister for the second time). Come on, Manmohanji. These sort of remarks make you sound either too naïve or too evasive. While nobody is saying you should have cloned Bauji ,perhaps some of Bauji’s better traits ( fearlessness in the face of daunting opposition) would have served you – and the people of India – better.
Paradoxically enough, one feels like crying, “Come back, Bauji! All is forgiven!”
Yes… India is that desperate.
The Kasab verdict is out. Yes, he must hang. But will he? And more importantly, when? Ten years from now? Twenty? He will join 30 others on the President's list ( pardon).Pratibha Patil will take her own sweet time to examine each case. Nobody will remember nor care by then ( Afzal Guru is still hanging around ) what happened on that horrible day (26\11)when terrorists struck Mumbai and killed 170 people in cold blood. But... at least Indians the world over will take comfort in the fact that we adhered to the judicial system and democratic principles were respected throughout the long trial. This won't bring the dead back... and we owe it to their families to keep up the pressure on the government not to allow Kasab to become yet another statistic.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Mahima's appeal....

This evening, after launching a readable book ( 'India Calling' by Anand Giridharadas), I'll rush to the other end of town to read out a couple of poignant stories written by Cancer Survivors as a part of the Victor Celebrations started by the founder of V-CARE, Vandana Gupta For over a decade, V-CARE has been providing emotional support to cancer patients and their relatives. I haven't missed a single annual day event . This year, young Mahima will also be there with her Rainbow Caps. I hope it marks the start of an inspiring initiative. This is what she wrote to me....

Dear Mrs.De,

My mom just spoke to you and she asked me to send you a brief plan of
my charity. I would really appreciate your advice and feedback so that
my charity can run successfully. I have been thinking about starting
the charity for some time and I feel now is the right time. I don't
know many people here in Mumbai so I was hoping you and Mrs. Jayanti
could help me connect with the right people. To briefly introduce
myself, I am ten years old and moved to India when I was 8 from
Cleveland, Ohio. I study at American School of Bombay.

I feel India needs so much help and I feel fortunate to be able to
help. Here is quick summary of the idea:

Cap n Cure will be a charity foundation to help brighten up a kid's
day who is fighting cancer. My goal is to try and make sure every kid
with cancer has a warm and colorful cap to cover their head.I will
crochet some hats and we will also hire some girls to make these hats.
This way the girls can also earn some money and stay occupied and feel
good that they are contributing towards a good cause.

The idea started as my parents were always involved with helping kids
who are fighting cancer, I thought about ways I could also help but I
didn’t have enough money myself to donate but I thought I could
crochet hats. My goal is to donate hats and raise money to support
charities helping kids with cancer (Wigs for kids, Locks of love,
NWWA, or any other in India). I could also partner with somebody and
distribute my hats through their organization.

It would be nice if we could meet and I could get your opinion. I
will come with my mom.


A fun read from Hong Kong!

Just in case you find it a strain to read the piece that appeared in the South China Morning Post ( shall we call it the Times of India of the region? ), there is also a link to the journo's blog at the end of this post ....
Last night, friends had a strange experience at a swish new Bandra restaurant called 'Bungalow 9' , when they handed over their car keys to the valet who offered to park their car. When they finished dinner and emerged from the restaurant, they were told their keys were missing! One of the ladies from the small group is at an advanced stage of pregnancy.... twenty minutes of standing on the footpath later, it was decided she should be dropped home by cab and the spare set of keys to their car procured from the owner's flat in South Mumbai! It doesn't end here.... a stranger called 'Bungalow 9' much later to say someone else's car keys were in his car! How did they get there?? After all this inconvenience, the poor pregnant lady suffered some more and was sure she was going to deliver prematurely the same night ( turned out to be a mild case of food poisoning - to add further insult to injury). Am interested to know how someone in New York would have handled a similar situation. I'd say the aggrieved customers would have phoned their lawyers and sued the restaurant for mental and physical trauma. Justifiably so.
Seems like we have become a country of Lame Ducks! Don't worry, Manmohanji... you are not alone..... you have company! Lots of it!!!!

Happy Dhak Dhak Day!

This is my 'proud mommy' moment on the golf course with my son Aditya. Yes, my heart definitely went dhak dhak as his club ( Willingdon) battled it out with rivals United Services Club last sunday.
This appeared in Bombay Times on Valentine's Day....

Happy Dhak Dhak Day!

It’s time to rename Valentine’s Day, don’t you think? Why not desify it like we desify nearly everything else? I suggest ‘Dhak Dhak Day’! It sounds catchier, and perfectly echoes the heartbeats of millions of sweethearts as they pine for or pamper the objects of their desire. Thank God Mumbaikars successfully won that war against political bullies who had once tried to derail lovers by vandalizing shops and beating up couples. Today, there is an explosion of pyar –vyar out there – so, go celebrate!
Is it just a coincidence that I watched two Hindi movies that dealt with the business of love during this mushy-gushy season? With two hours to kill in Baroda last week, I stepped into a multiplex and watched ‘Dil toh Bachcha…” and it worked like an instant mood booster! Tonic for my tired mind. I laughed at the stupidest of jokes ( loved the office guys in Devgun’s bank.And liked Shahzaan Padamsee a lot - such freshness and charm, especially during the ‘V-question’ scene, when she cheekily asks her boss at which age he lost his virginity!). I especially enjoyed Tisca Chopra’s gold- digger \ socialite performance – she brought some class and conviction to a poorly written, shallow role. Omi needs to watch his career choices or else this talented actor is going to get stuck in roles that project him as a bumbling idiot , forever lusting after impossible- to- get- chicks. If Bhandarkar’s confused film was an ode to elusive love. Sudhir Mishra’s ‘Yeh Saali Zindagi’ turned out to be a poem dedicated to unrequited, obsessive love. The biggest problem with the movie was Chitrangada Singh – the object of Irffan Khan’s passion.We know love is irrational and crazy, but audiences need to be convinced about that. In this case, Chitrangada’s stiff acting and strange Delhi memsaab accent ( when she plays a down and out crooner), took away from the movie’s otherwise gritty appeal. She reminded me of a three-in-one combo – Koel Purie, Feroze Gujral and Ritu Beri – coincidentally, all three happen to be richie rich Delhi glam gals. But the real star of the film by far was the absolutely gorgeous Arunodaya Singh, last seen in that turkey ‘Aisha’ ( I didn’t watch ‘Mirch’ ). This chap is pure testosterone on screen – great looks, great body lingo, competent acting skills. Mercifully ( and I do hope I am right), he will continue to steer clear of irritating filmi mannerisms. The sort most star sons project – they can’t help it – it’s in their genes. As Kuldeep, his raw appeal comes through in every scene, especially those with Aditi Rao who plays his lovely wife ( now, she’s a real find – spirited, sexy, super confident). Kuldeep has a marvelous solution to every domestic crisis – when things get hot, he grabs his woman and kisses her into submission! One of the most inventive screen kisses of all time is the one in the back seat of an autorik , when Kuldeep jumps in, holds a gun to the driver’s head with one hand, covers his kid’s eyes with the other, and engages in a prolonged lip lock with his furious wife – all this in the middle of Old Delhi’s frenzied traffic! Now, if only Arunodaya would get his jug ears fixed! He is the main man – watch out, Ranveer and other aspirants.
In keeping with the romantic mood, Bryan Adams crooned ‘Everything I do, I do it for you…’ and 20,000 fans instantly turned into marshmellows ! Adams was predictably amazing during his fifth gig in Mumbai. But it was the young and spunky Mumbai girl Gowri ( works in marketing) who gets my applause. She joined Adams on stage to sing ‘Baby, When You’re Gone…” and did so with such aplomb, she had the crowd roaring in approval. After what is called a ‘bum rub’ with Adams, plus a warm clinch, a lady standing next to me quizzed, “I wonder what Gowri’s mom will think of all this?” Gowri’s mom, if you are reading this, please let us know!
To sign off on a note of genuine love, I met a delightful 11- year- old girl called Mahima Aggarwal
( recently relocated from Cleveland), who crochets colorful caps for cancer patients undergoing chemo therapy. You can meet Mahima and buy one of her ‘Rainbow Caps’ at the V-Care Foundation’s Victor Awards on Saturday , 19th Feb.This is founder Vandana Gupta’s 17th Cancer Survivors’ Day celebration - come… show your love. And do pick up a cap.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

18 Till I die....! That's a threat!

With daughter Radhika and nephew Amartya at the Bryan Adams' concert. Please note my poor wrist in its smart and snug sling!
This appears in the current issue of Hi! Blitz....

The Godzilla called Bollywood…

It’s official : Bollywood rules. Bollywood to the right of you.Bollywood to the left of you. Bollywood, Bollywood everywhere! Bollywood has grown into a monster that has devoured every conceivable space in sight – from fashion , sports, media, society, lifestyle,politics… you name it and it’s right there. In your face? You bet!Nothing else matters.And nobody comes anywhere close to competing with our super glam stars – not even our super-super glam socialites who once held sway as undisputed empresses of all they surveyed – which was mainly , men with money. These fading Divas stood for all that was aspirational, desirable, sexy. Today, it’s Bollywood or bust…. and to hell with Mrs. Money Bags and those stylish parties that used to be the hottest ticket in town. Today, these same ladies are the ones chasing Bollywood royalty. When did this surreptitious palace coup take place? Why? How? By whom? And what will happen to our society swans if nobody bothers with them anymore? Okay, let’s get a quick fix first – Delhi was always hopelessly Bollywood- struck, even back in those days when national calamities saw film stars getting roped in to raise funds ( to the film industry’s credit , all those invited to contribute time, effort and money, did so generously and won the hearts of their audience forever ). But what one witnesses in Delhi today is unadulterated hysteria – a demented level of obsession - over any and every Bollywood name ( zero quality control in the Capital) with brazen groupies from sarkari and corporate backgrounds getting orgasmic at the thought of hanging out and most importantly, being clicked with minor filmi types. Don’t laugh when I tell you that it has come to a stage when even a Koena Mitra will lead to rioting at the venue, and an Abhay Deol ( I love him, but he isn’t exactly Aamir Khan) would require police protection – yes – it’s that insane. The only topic of conversation that gets Dilliwallas going is Bollywood gossip, especially if it involves ‘The Bitches of Bandra’ ( that’s what this high profile gal gang of spoilt filmi wives calls itself with unadulterated pride) and ‘The Gay Club’ featuring top directors and their toy boys. The questions rarely go beyond, “Is it true that so-and-so is doing that slut?” And yes, ‘slut’ is now a unisex putdown….or a term of endearment - take your pick!
The Bollywood onslaught started with stars taking over the modeling world and ad agencies opting for Bollywood biggies over top models. If in the old days, only a Vinod Khanna would be seen bathing with Parmeshwar Godrej’s Cinthol soap, today there is hardly any product category left that does not hire movie stars to peddle its wares. Ditto for show stoppers at fashion shows. Clients insist the returns are there for all to see – brands which sign on top stars , see sales figures going through the roof within months. Designers with zero talent establish their credentials as soon as a nubile starlet struts down the cat walk in one of their hideous creations. From paan masala to snazzy cars, from booze to balms – Bollywood is the flavour of the decade. Which is why it comes as no surprise that event managers, party organizers and those dodgy ‘charity queens ( whose favourite charity is themselves!)’ from both cities fervently court Bollywood, knowing that without the stars , they won’t make it to Page 3 or even Page 30. It’s turned out to be a win- win situation for everybody. Not a single medium has been spared the ultra- aggressive Bollywood attack – not even Bollywood’s arch rival - television! The top ranking shows feature most of the Khans, plus Amitabh Bachchan. Less prestigious reality shows thrive on the presence of B-grade upstarts to C-grade imports from Pakistan. All the mighty movie stars who’d once sniffed derisively at the idea of appearing on the small screen are lining up in droves, attracted by the mega bucks being thrown their way by canny channel heads. Why, even the legendary Madhuri Dixit has taken ‘chhuti’ from her hausfrau routine in America to sign up as a judge for a dance show.
That leaves politics – India’s alternative entertainment show. Somehow Bollywood has still to crack the big time in national politics. The few who dared to venture into this murky terrain came away wounded ( Amitabh Bachchan being the best example). Others who flirted with netagiri ( Govinda, Sanjay Dutt) realized soon enough that histrionics and politics are not the best combo. Not even a Shatrughan Sinha or Raj Babber could get to the top of the pile in quite the same way as those superstars-with-shades from Down South. Jaya Bachchan is no Jayalalitha and as for Jaya Prada, her status remains nebulous so many years after taking the plunge. Perhaps we should consider ourselves lucky that at least one key territory (politics) remains Bollywood -free so far. For soon the business of sports (IPL, anyone?) will be entirely swamped by Bollywood as well… and before long , so will real estate (most successful builders are happy to act as fronts for movie stars). Ironical that the very film industry that was once looked down upon and shunned by true blue snobs, is being actively courted by the same lot and their party loving bachcha log who are best buddies with the ‘cool set’ in Bollywood. That leaves just our snooty private clubs and gymkhanas, most of which refuse to entertain stars as either members or guests. Plus, a few building societies which just about stop short of putting up signs reading: ‘Stars and dogs not allowed’. Pity. Imagine living cheek-by-jowl with someone as hot and adventurous as our Piggy Chops.
Life mein aur kya mangta?
Errrrrr…. a reality check, perhaps??

Battle Hymn of the Pussycat Mom.....

My right wrist continues to be tender and sore. In fact, it is in a smart, black sling with the words McDavid inscribed in white. Farhad T. a supremely capable orthopaedic surgeon has given me a week to get my act together and rest the blessed wrist .... or else!! As you can tell, there's no off- day for either my poor over-worked wrist or my restless brain. I am at it ... relentlessly. Stupidly. Like Bryan Adams, I 'll be singing "18 till I die" !!


This appeared in The Week.....

I am convinced Amy Chua, the Chinese- American author of this season’s best seller, ‘The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother’, wrote the book to make other moms insecure and jealous. Well, she certainly made me wonder where I’d gone wrong raising my six children.Amy, a Yale professor , married to an American-Jewish husband who is a novelist, has come up with a theory about parenting that is not just daunting but positively terrifying! She has a one point mission: to make her two daughters into super achievers, no matter what it takes. Amy was raised by exceedingly frugal Chinese parents who stressed on the virtues of hard work – well, the results are there for all to see. The reason why her book has generated so much heat is because of her contention that American parents are a bit too laid back and liberal with their own kids. The typical American style of parenting , she argues , leads to the kind of self-indulgent children who take life for granted and willingly settle for second best . Her own daughters were raised in the ‘traditional Chinese’ style, which involved a punishing regimen bordering on the cruel. She did not allow them to watch television, access computers, go on dates or participate in plays or sports at school. Instead, they were forced to practice music and slog over their text books , with Amy unwilling to settle for anything less than A+ grades. Amy criticizes the ‘Western’ style of parenting, which only fosters mediocre thinking that leads to self-esteem issues in later life.
Since the publication of the book, mothers the world over are asking themselves where they have failed and which category they belong to. After digesting the contents of Amy’s memoir, I dealt with my own self esteem issues, I figured I fell into the Pussycat category of mothering. Or worse, the benign cow. My own mother would have been a meek lamb. Both of us were naïve enough to believe all that a child ever needed was an abundance of love and understanding - that’s it! Advocating achievements came really low down on the parenting scale. If the children did well at school and college ( surprise, surprise – they did!), then that was a huge bonus. But we weren’t there to either push or judge them. I remember attending all those dreary Open Days at school and meeting parents who knew every half-mark lost by their genius child. They’d aggressively demand an explanation from the teacher as to why that measly half-mark was cut. I’d be the one who’d spend no more than five minutes per teacher and ask breezily, “Any serious complaints? No? Oh good! Have a great day.” If the kids wanted to spend hours and hours learning something thoroughly ‘useless’ ( according to other parents), I’d encourage them to pursue that passion till they tired of it and discovered another. Exams? Well… so long as they got through and enjoyed their studies, I left them alone. Their adventures on the sports field interested me much more, and I liked their flirtations with music, movies, singing, art. Amy would have thoroughly disapproved of my casual behaviour and accused me of being ‘brainwashed’ by the Western pattern of parenting. Her own rather extreme responses to her children’s lapses ( she threatened to burn all their soft toys for a minor lapse) are honestly documented, which is what makes it such a compelling book. She is honest enough to admit one of the girls rebelled openly and got into tennis. Her husband’s reservations clearly didn’t count since Amy was so certain about and hell bent on her mommy objectives. She may be bang on, given the stupendous track record of Chinese-American kids in the U.S.
Another book that is also creating waves by taking an entirely different route to parenting is ‘Love in Two Languages: Lessons on Mothering in a Culture of Individuality’ by Bonnie Ohye. Now this one seems more in tune with sensible parenting as opposed to tyrannical. Ohye talks about non-verbal communication, which according to her ( and I entirely agree), is far more significant to understanding children than anything they say. Ohye’s Japanese upbringing focuses more on a child’s psychological needs, which are subtle, fragile and delicate. She talks about the power of a glance, a touch, gazes and gestures that often convey much more than the Western habit of mechanically repeating, “ I love you.’’ The language of silence can be potent and comforting at the same time, for through silence one appreciates serenity and grace. Ohye writes persuasively and convincingly. I recommend both books…brute force wins wars but loses battles. Peace and love foster trust over a lifetime.
Sigh! I confess I’ve failed the Tiger Mum test. But there’s hope for me as a Pussycat whose kittens aren’t faring too badly in the big ,bad world out there. Meoow!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Mumbai ko Macau Banao......!

Okay guys.... these are some of the images I clicked in Hong Kong and Macau. Like???

And here's the column that goes with it....

Macau is so pacau….!

Unbelievable as this sounds,it was not all that easy to forget Balwa ka Jalwa and A.Raja’s manifold deals in distant Macau. I mean, I gawked at all those impressive buildings, the eye popping flyovers – the infamous casinos that are the size of mini-cities, and wondered who ran this show… and how many Balwas were lurking in the shadows of this surrealistic destination that is giving Las Vegas a serious complex, plus a run for its money. Macau has a compelling, almost sinister charm about it. Even for idiots like me – someone who doesn’t know her Baccarat from Black Jack. And hates to use the word ‘Craps’ because it sounds dirty. I am not poker faced enough to attempt the game. And roulette is something I associate with Russians holding a gun to a victim’s head. Macau is not meant to be my kind of town – but guess what? I loved it! On a much needed break after months of majdoori, we decided to spend Chinese New Year in Hong Kong ( yes….Kung Hai Fat Choy to you, too ). While In Hong Kong, a friendly ghoul suggested a decadent weekend in Macau. It’s only a one hour turbo jet ride away, we were told. Just go! That was it… off we went to check out this high roller’s den, which saw the best and brightest from Bollywood at the fabled, entirely OTT ‘The Venetian’ for an awards’ ceremony a while ago. But here in Macau nobody cares a fig about movie stars, no matter how big. This is a destination for people with a single point agenda – gambling. Forget the bizarre, surrealistic architecture ( come on…. Venice in China?), the vast , vaulted ceilings of the casino with gaudy versions of the Sistine chapel - and focus on the people working those tables and slot machines. They never take their eyes off the main game and barely look up from the cards they clutch on to like their lives depend on the hand that’s been dealt . In fact, some of them forget to go to the loo, drink water, eat or sleep for hours at a stretch. They wouldn’t blink if Kim Kardashian roller bladed into the place, wearing nothing but a sexy fragrance. Better still, if Amar Singh performed the full monty as he threatened to this week ( but seriously, in case of such a calamity, we would all need to shield our eyes). As we strolled through those garish halls, watched by beady eyed bouncers and maybe thousands of cctv cameras, it was a liberal education of sorts. Macau is the perfect example of how the Chinese execute mega projects - emphasis on ‘execute’) . Macau is the apt symbol of mean Chinese ambition.
I have no doubt modern day Macau was created by a Chinese Kalmadi. Someone who saw a gigantic opportunity in positioning this tiny island as a heaven and haven for good time gamblers with enough lolly to blow up a nuclear plant. The financials were obviously calibrated to the last Yuan or Hong Kong dollar. The humungous investments are there for all to see…. and enjoy. From the crazily constructed Grand Lisboa, to the super swish ‘The Wynn’, and the magnificent MGM Grand, Macau has put up monumental, futuristic buildings ( many more coming up) that rival the best in neighbouring HK. The infrastructure is faultless – from the time visitors show up at the busy jetty in those bright red turbo jets that ferry them to and from HK every half an hour, to the limo pick- up at the airport as Russian tycoons ( molls in tow) arrive in spiffy private jets. Floor length minks complement limited edition bags and serious rocks, as pampered ladies float into the dazzling lobbies of these monstrous hotels ( ‘The Wynn’ plays wrap around Frank Sinatra through cleverly concealed speakers in the shrubbery … his velvety voice catching visitors off guard).I swear I saw several Chinese men sporting Fedoras and resembling Oriental Bogarts from another zamaana. Yup, it’s that lunatic! The main thing about Macau is that everything works! It’s all good and tickety-boo at every level. Perhaps we should have packed off Kalmadi and gang to Macau before handing over the CWG on a platter to them … and getting royally ripped off. Not that it would have helped…. mainly because Kalmadi would still have messed up. You and I know why. Chinese bosses are not pussycats and weaklings . Had Kalmadi’s counterpart in Macau not delivered, he would have been chopped up and fed to the sharks in the South China Sea. So would his cronies and contractors. You really don’t want to mess with those guys… the level of efficiency and security one encounters at every stage, is evidence enough of that.There are water tight systems in place… the message is loud and clear. The place bristles with menacing looking cops ( the only people who understand English), who are constantly on the move through those unbelievably crowded shopping areas in central Macau. Talkng of security in India, just two days after I got back from HK, I traveled to Baroda. Idly, I looked at my boarding card and saw to my horror that I was identified as a male and my name appeared as Mr. S. De. Not a single person noticed it – not the airline staff , not the cops ( who often stare intently at boarding cards they are holding upside down ). My ID was nothing more than a club membership card with a blurred, old picture in a corner. No problem. I was waved through regardless.
I remember Vilasrao Deshmukh’s constant band – baaja about converting Mumbai into Shanghai. Unfortunately for Maharshtra’s ex-C.M. he ran straight into me a few days after I’d returned from Shanghai ( this was a few years ago). I pounced on him and asked how he could make such outrageous comparisons. He smiled and smiled ( the man is amazing – he smiles through any and every embarrassment), and answered calmly, “ But madam, I have never been to Shanghai myself!”
I rest my case.
Just hoping and praying Prithviraj Chavan doesn’t talk about making Mumbai into another Macau. Though… why not? If we can get great roads, clean public spaces, super efficient policing, dynamic bureaucrats, no water and power cuts…. plus, casinos!! Hey… that’s a good plan.
Chalo Chavanji… Mumbai ko Macau banao!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Gay Prince from India...

This appeared in Bombay Times on monday....
Gay Pride and rainbows ….

Last week over 3,000 people turned up at Gowalia Tank to participate in Mumbai’s annual Gay Pride march. The numbers are impressive as compared to the motley crowd that once made up earlier parades. Significantly, this year, most participants chose not to hide behind masks. This is a major shift given the sort of self-consciousness and fear that had marked earlier marches, the first of which kicked off in 2005. This new confidence has a lot to do with the sort of support generated for the Gay community by high profile activists like Prince Manvendra Singh of Rajpipla – a soft spoken, charming and refined man, who has become the main spokesperson for Gay rights from India. The community could not have picked better. Manvendra’s mission is very defined and he works tirelessly towards realizing his dream. After his appearance on Oprah Winfrey’s show a few years ago, Manvendra’s international profile went through the roof. He was one of the hand picked participants to be invited back by Oprah last month for her much anticipated finale which will feature her favourite guests over the years. This is both an honour and a very big deal. Manvendra is well aware of his unique positioning and has made the most of this opportunity to push his agenda for Indian gays.
When I invited him over, he floored me straightaway! His vision is clear, and he feels no sense of anger or bitterness towards anybody who judges him… not even his mother, who stopped talking to him when he decided to come out. He spoke easily and candidly about his life, without over dramatizing any aspect of it. These days he shuttles between Rajpipla ( a few hours drive from Baroda) and Mumbai. That is when he isn’t jetting off to Paris to meet Carla Bruni and other high profile celebrities working for the same cause. I would have liked to join him and the others at the Mumbai march, where pamphlets saying “ One World – One Hope’’ were distributed. Being known the world over as ‘India’s Gay Prince’ may have alienated Manvendra from his own royal relatives, but he has found countless admirers across the globe for his courage and grace.
I have been looking at all the recent Red Carpet appearances of our super glam movie stars and wondering why we just don’t seem to get it spot on . Is it because this whole business of Red Carpet dressing is itself comparitively new here as compared to Hollywood? Or are we getting oppressed and bogged down by international fashion brands that desperately require the high wattage coverage such events automatically provide? What has happened to individual style statements and some originality, for god’s sake? All the ladies look like clones of one another… and the men? I miss the eccentricity of say, a Raaj (‘Jaani’) Kumar, who’d show up ( if he at all deigned to), in a vivid velvet jacket, boots and his trademark carrot red wig! Those marvelous Divas wore their sarees so stylishly, so sexily… they didn’t reveal an inch, but got all the eyeballs ! That’s class. Today, our Sridevi turns up in a risqué, backless gown….and I think to myself, whatever happened to that blue saree of hers from Mr. India that turned on the nation? As for the younger lot - all those dreadful gowns! The spangles and feathers! Miles of cleavage – and still no sex appeal! Come on, Bollywood. Go back to your roots and floor your fans once more!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Rahul Ki Jawaani.....

Hong Kong was fun. But Macau was delirious - totally OTT and enjoyable even for people like us ( ha ha ha) who don't gamble and think of casinos as gigantic con shops. Macau over Chinese New Year was bursting at the seams with extraordinarily loaded Chinese tourists from the mainland. Every single hotel was fully booked, and getting tickets for the most spectacular show on earth ( " The House of Dancing Waters' - check out their website) was a major feat ( ably accomplished by Rama - my young journo friend based in HK). This Franco- Dragone production is so techno and terrific, one keeps gasping through those ninety minutes crammed with dance, song, stunts and gushing water that appears and disappears in the blink of an eye. I hear 2 billion dollars have been invested in this mind boggling show that makes the Cirque du Soleil look amateurish!
More on HK and Macau soon. Perhaps with a few images.... I took lots of pics, including a few of the annual fireworks display in the Harbour. We watched the show from an old friend's elegant home on top of The Peak . Since it is the Year of the Rabbit, the patterns formed by the sparklers were of bunnies! Cute....
This appeared in Sunday Times....

Rahulji….. Will you be my Valentine?

A week from now, lovers the world over will go completely mad on Valentine’s Day – and guess who’ll be laughing all the way to the bank? Florists! While I don’t plan to send guldastas to India’s heartthrob (the Dimpled One, who else?)I am all set to pen him a prem patra reflecting the ardent feelings of his panting admirers….

Dearest , Chweetipie Rahul,

Mwaah! Mwaah!

I’m writing this on behalf of thousands of young girls across India, who are totally fida over you. For now, I’m leaving out the young boys. That is your special appeal. I believe you are known as the Unisex Hottie by your adoring fans. All this is good for any young person’s ego. But as a former Agony Aunt and current Grandma Moses, let me tell you, being a heart throb is not all that easy. Especially for someone in your unique position. Dil Ki Dhadkan is one thing. But you have to deal with Desh ki Dhadkan. And this desh is vast and varied, Rahulji. As you well know.Your helicopter chakkars all over the place must have given you a pretty good idea by now. To say nothing about your impromptu visits to chhota chhota villages, with or without foreign diplomats in tow. In fact , it was your very first photo op in a jhopdi, sharing a frugal meal with the poorest of the poor that broke so many female hearts. ‘Cho Chweet’, chorused all those girls, as they watched you seated awkwardly on a khatiya, before you turned in for the night, wrapped in a rustic razai. Chicks go for such stuff big time! It brings out their motherly instinct. They feel protective and mushy. They love a man who can rough it out - it proves he is made of stern stuff. Your mama must have been worried, but that’s what mamas are for… and even though you do come across as a maa da laadla, the girls who love you believe you are definitely not spoilt (“ bighad nahi gaya”, they coo). Plus, independent minded, too. I mean, at close to forty, mama has not managed to bully you into marriage. That’s unusual in India. A feat!
Now to the crucial question : when is the big day, Rahulji? There are only two bachelor boys left in your super league, and one of them is saying he isn’t interested in getting hitched, since he already has babies! Go figure. Yup. That’s a Salman original, and if Sallu Bhai’s trail of broken hearts gets any longer, there will be a line going up to the Himalayas and beyond. The other eligible bachelor boy is still a baby…. and rumour has it he is taken. Sid Mallya just may beat you in the Valentine stakes this year, especially after Baby Mallya ripped off his ganji, post-Marathon. But there are years to go before he gets hitched. Unless …. There is Ness, of course. But we guess, he has a lot on his errr… mind. The others don’t really count. Pundits ( political and the other astro kind) are predicting a shaadi for you in 2011. In fact, those in the know in Dilli ( which means, everyone) claim the date is set, and the dulhan is getting her trousseau ready even as we speak. Bol Rahul, bol, sangam hoga ki nahi? If wedding bells are about to clang, you’d better beat the British royals to the altar. We don’t want our Prince to receive less international coverage than … what’s his name, again?? Yes, William.
Of late, you have been talking very sensibly. Mothers of prospective brides like that. You want to bring back all the black money stashed away in those secretive Swiss Banks. The money you say belongs to India’s poor. While we don’t really understand how India’s poor were looted of their money which is now accumulating in foreign accounts, it sounds very noble and honourable. We really like noble and honourable young men considering there aren’t too many of them around. We also liked all that stuff about rooting out corruption and cleaning up the system… your father used to say that, too. But a few unfortunate deals got in the way… most of us have forgotten, but not Mr. Ram Jethmalani, God bless his memory. The thing is, our youngsters have what is known as ADS (Attention Deficit Syndrome). They have no time for history-wistory and that is why they love you. You also don’t bother about history and boring stuff like that. You prefer action… like changing the life of that orphan boy in one minute. Niiccce! Looks good. Feels good. Reads good. Lucky boy. And your humility!! Mummyjis really appreciate that quality and keep saying how simple and humble you are even though you belong to such a great family and all that. It’s true. You asked for ten years to clean up corruption. That was simple of you. Another hot headed, impatient, show off politician would have demanded fifty. See?? Indians are sentimental and understanding. They know you are not a magician. But they also know if anybody can do it, it is you.
Rahulji, you have no rival, no equal. Even Rajni can’t match you. If there is one hero Rajni cannot take on, it is you. Mind it! So on behalf of those million hearts going dhak dhak for you this Valentine’s Day, let me wish you a super romantic, pyaar bhara time ahead. Cupid is standing by with several arrows ready. India awaits the most anticipated reality show of all time – ‘Rahul Ka Swayamvar’. All are invited. No presents please. Only blessings!!