Saturday, July 30, 2011

More Mexico...

Blame it on Rio, is old hat. Let me blame Mexico City. Nothing all that wrong about it, per se. The people I have met are warm and friendly. The uni-brow a la Frida Kahlo is either very in, or the women here naturally sport it... and moustaches. The people resemble our Goans. Some men look Japanese. And everybody dresses horribly. I´m being horribly mean. But if I am serenaded by one more Mariachi band, I shall swear off tamarind tequilas forever. Those, by the way, were exceptionally good at the Villa Maria, last night. Today, we have done the whole enchillada - including the magnificent pyramids. Miguel, our guide, turned out to be a diehard Aishwarya Rai fan, and nearly wept when I told him she was not just shaadi shuddha, but maa bannewalli hai. Of course, I am overwhelmed.... come on..... those pyramids are awe inspiring, okay. But I was also wickedly relieved to notice the sprawling slums spread across the hills. Huge enough to make Dharavi look like a speck. Ah well, the Mexican peso is four times stronger than our ruppee.... theek hai. But they also have their beggars and robbers. Tomorrow is reserved for heavy duty museum visits. Am getting my sombrero spruced up. Till then , adios BlogAmigos. I am missing Mumbai desperately.... and sorry, tacos cannot possibly compete with bhajiyas.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Mexico and Mumbai...

I have to say this. Mumbai and Mexico City are like twins separated at birth. So terrifyingly similar. I felt right at home the minute we landed and I almost spoke Marathi to the immigration officer who greeted us with a friendly namastey.One we got out of the super efficient airport, the madness began in real earnest as we drove into town with a crazed driver trying to beat the insane traffic. For a city of 20 million, there are 60,000 cabs on the road. It is suitably filthy, polluted, overcrowded and delirious. But the locals are wonderful. And their hips definitely don't lie. Thank you for that memorable line,Shakira. Salma Hayek doesn't live here anymore, but everybody is so proud of Mexico's best export . The food so far has been awful. Plus, we are mid-monsoon here.... I really should have stayed in amchi Mumbai.... what´s the big difference. We have been warned that this is one of the world's most dangerous destinations. I shall give you a detailed report tomorrow - provided I am not mugged, raped, kidnapped or killed tonight.
New York was not half as electrifying as it used to be. Or I am more blase. But hello.... not blase enough not to behave like a starstruck fan when Beyonce bounced into the hippest venue in town - the incomparable Standard Hotel , in the meat packing district. Despite her 8-feet tall bodyguards, she still managed to meet fans and pose for the waiting paparazzi. Yes, she is dazzling. And her star power makes her RADIATE.... OOOOOF.Too much wattage... but then she isn't the most successful entertainer on earth right now for nothing. I also rushed to catch Brooke Shields as Morticia in the Addams Family... but, I have to say this, she was listless, disinterested and not worth the big ticket prices. Brooke can't dance, sing, or act. Come back Anjelica Huston.You and only you are the real Morticia. Aaaaah... at least the magic of Broadway still works. Chalo, Big Apple may kuch toh baaki bachcha hai....

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Bye Chicago. Hello New York!

Bye Chicago! Hello New York!!!

Blogdosts, it has been an exhilerating few days in what my daughter Arundhati tells me is called ' Chi Town'. It was my first time - and what a revelation it turned out to be. Nothing really prepares you for the stunning architecture - no wonder so many Hollywood movies are shot here. I felt like I was on a movie set, or in Gotham City! Combine that overwhelming feeling with meeting over 4,000 co-Maharashtrians in one go at the BMM convention! Let's call it a double whammy. I wasn't sure whether or not I'd feel swamped surrounded by so many Marathis , after being somewhat isolated from my own precious roots for so long! But guess what? I felt like I was in a warm and wonderful embrace... I experienced so much genuine love from total strangers! My own presentation was titled 'From Nauwarri to Armani' - the Maharshtrian women has come a long way! And indeed she has!! I met exceptional women like the dynamic Senator from Iowa, Swati Dandekar, who is someone you really don't want to mess with - the lady means business! The other invitees from Mumbai, apart from moi, were Shreyas Talpade, whose interaction with a huge and very supportive crowd was brilliant - spot on, spontaneous and entertaining, and Omi Vaidya. I watched an hour long documentary on Omi but couldn't stay for his session. Much as I loved him in '3 Idiots', this funny but self indulgent effort was 40 mins too long... more appropriate for his family and friends, as a fun road movie about Omi getting his break in Bollywood. Let me save the best for last - it was Ashok Hande's incredible dance show, which deserves to be on Broadway. Yup, it's that outstanding as a production, with the most energetic dancing and music, that leaves viewers breathless! And to think, his day job is that of a fruit vendor!! What an astonishing success story! As for his star Lavni dancer, she sizzles more than Munni, Jalebi, Sheila and the lot put together! Would love to know her name. She is a major phataka.... a real theekhi mirchi. Who wouldn't want to play Holi with this lady in that sexy blue choli???

Now.... before I miss my flight to New York, I'd better run. FAST!!!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Guys... here it is. Let's start our own version, right here, right now!! Please answer the same questions - HONESTLY - and post them!!
I am off tonight. Like I said, It's going to be a longish trip. I'll be travelling forever tonight. But I'll catch you again from Chicago. Till then, adios amigos ( errrr.... hangover from 'Zindagi.....").


Shobhaa De

What is your idea of happiness?
It varies from day to day. Rainbows make me very happy. I am an absolute sucker for mushy, melodramatic films. Baby smells! I can’t get enough of my grand- daughter Anasuya Devi and her combined smells – a bit of puke, baby cologne, spit, poo… all of it. Just the thought of being at a great bar in a great city with a great person making great conversation… yeah… that definitely does it for me. So does red lipstick.
What is your greatest fear?
Losing control. Mainly over my mind. Being dependent… helpless. Being terminally bored. Being STUCK – mentally, emotionally, physically. The overwhelming desire to flee from tiresome situations and people… and there are so many of both. How far can I possibly run??
Which historical figure do you most identify with?
Napoleon. What a man! What courage. What a life. He should have married Desiree, his first and only love. History would have been different… no Waterloo! Moral of the story : listen to your heart… and save your ass.
Which living person do you most admire?
Binayak Sen. Cerebral. Courageous. Committed. And sexy. Now, if he’d only get on with the damn revolution!
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
Impatience. I get easily bored and restless. And I am extraordinarily poor at camouflaging my feelings…. this gets me into big trouble. Oh… I am numbers challenged, can’t count… this can be most embarrassing when calculating tips and taxi fares. My inability to fake it – whatever that ‘it’ is. Dirty bathrooms phobia – there’s got to be a name for this!
What is the trait you most deplore in others?
Lack of civility and grace. Boorishness. Vanity. Self-obsession. Crude and coarse behaviour. Pompousness. People who yell at waiters and ask that most annoying question : “Don’t you know who I am?” I’m always tempted to step in and say very loudly, “We all know who you are – the world’s biggest ass****.”
What is your greatest extravagance?
Travel. Taking time off from writing. I am a workaholic… holidays are precious and treated like guilty pleasures. But I have still to teach myself to switch off completely… I’m always on the job…. taking notes, scribbling observations… I often say to myself angrily, “Get over it, De. Get a life!”
What is your favourite journey?
Into an interesting person’s head and heart. Find me that interesting person!!
Who is your favourite painter?
M.F. Husain, by far. Picasso and Freida Kahlo are top favourites. But Husainsaab is above and beyond them all… simply put, I was privileged to have known a genius. To have watched him at work and play for forty years. What a rare human being… so full of contradictions – arrogant and compassionate. Impossible and considerate. But never ever BORING!!!!
What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
Patience! Why lose time over something that does not captivate your imagination instantly? Nothing really comes to those who stand and wait… don’t fall for that line ever! Just go grab whatever you desperately desire …. Before someone else beats you to it.
On what occasion do you lie?
When the truth really doesn’t matter all that much. And I can spare someone’s feelings in the bargain.
What do you dislike most about your appearance?
Ummmm…. let me put it this way – I have really nice ears. The nape of my neck isn’t bad either. Both remain hidden from view, so I can safely boast!
Which living person do you most despise?
All godmen and godwomen. At the moment, Baba Ramdev.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
No kidding! Goddammit! Are you sure??? Seriously speaking. On the contrary. Go to hell! Hello darling! Devaa Devaa!!!!
What is your greatest regret?
That I didn’t take tango lessons in my youth – preferably in Argentina. That I haven’t met Antonio Banderas. That I am not Woody Allen.
What or who is the greatest love of your life?
Words. My family and our pet Kiara. The moon. Gulmohurs. The heady fragrance of jasmine garlands.
When and where were you happiest?
Whenever my mother cradled me and placed my head in her lap, gently stroking my hair and forehead.
What is your present state of mind?
Restless. Of course. But restless-happy, as opposed to restless-frustrated.
How would you like to die?
Beautifully… dramatically… with a pen in my hand…. a smile on my lips… Smelling of ‘Arpege’….wearing red lipstick and high heels.
What is your favourite motto?
Don’t let the music stop… dance on!
And the Benjamin Franklin quote : Either write something worth reading, or do something worth writing.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Salaam Mumbaikars!

It has been one hell of a day... more visitors in four short hours than during the past four months!! But since all of them were interesting in their own way, I am not complaining! My only regret is that I couldn't hang with Anasuya Devi, my grand daughter, when she arrived in style ( colour co-ordinated down to the clips in her hair). Nor could I pay close attention to the beautiful chest of drawers delivered by Ahemedali , since Anandita's piano teacher was around, along with three super journos from Lokmat. We are planning a bumper Diwali issue for Lokmat, and it was an intense brain storming session that threw up some terrific ideas. Now to get down to work...and execute them. I looked for the PROUST QUESTIONNAIRE that I had responded to in The Hindu last week. But I hit the wrong key and it 's temporarily lost. I shall post it once I retrieve it. Meanwhile... I am leaving for a longish period , starting tomorrow night. I have the iPad for company.... and I do plan to blog from wherever I am. But not as frequently. My loss!!
I swear this is true but I ran into a PYT who wanted to know whether Anna Hazare was a fashion designer. She pronounced it differently, of course... 'Anna' as in Kournikova!!!


This appeared in Bombay Times today....

Who makes a city? It’s people, right?Take a bow,Mumbaikars.Let the world learn from Mumbai’s extraordinary people what it means to keep going despite the odds. Let’s face it, this time our blinkers are off. We’ve stopped kidding ourselves.We get it! Nobody really gives a damn about us. Nobody cares whether we live or die. It’s come to a point where even we have tuned out in a strange way… turned ridiculously fatalistic ,and resigned ourselves to living a life that comes minus a guarantee card.The message is clear: Mumbai has been taken for a royal ride…. sold down the tube.Deal with it. And here we were, like eager kids, waiting for Big Daddy to come and save us. Hallelujah! When was the last time anybody bothered about Mumbai’s ‘haalat’? So, it’s just as well this lunatic city carries on like nothing major happened on 13 \7. What are a few bombs here and there? R.R.Patil’s words came back to haunt me ( “Bade bade sheheron mein…”). During 9\11 Patil had become the villain of the tragedy for no reason! After all, he had merely articulated what the rest of his neta pals also felt. The others camouflaged their sentiments better, that’s all. So, it’s only fair that this time, Mumbaikars responded the way they did – those who felt shaken and stirred, went flat out to extend help to strangers. Others, shrugged and carried on like nothing had happened. While some cribbed about movie shows being cancelled and a few restaurants pulling down shutters “unnecessarily,” others put up their feet and phoned for an extra dvd or two. Terror attacks have become ‘routine’. We no longer look for logic or a reason for them. We’ve even stopped caring why they happen. And why they happen to Mumbai and not any other city. We can also laugh when the Prime Minister shows up and says something as dumb as , “ This time there was no indication of the attack.Terrorists had the advantage of surprise.” No kidding, Sir! Wow! That’s just so brilliant! You mean they were supposed to call ahead and let us know they were on the way… and didn’t? Tch tch. How unprofessional of them! What are terrorists coming to these days.Really! It’s shocking! Jaaney bhi do, yaaron. Most of us are still alive. Rejoice. Let’s switch to happier topics… yes. That’s allowed.
Mumbai will be saying au revoir to one of its most popular foreign diplomats – the debonair and terrifically charming Monsieur Francois Pujolas ( Consul General of France) and his elegant wife,Mayumi. Both of them plunged straight into Mumbai society within the first few days of getting here… making friends easily and rapidly across the board. From movie stars, models, fashion designers, painters, architects, industrialists, social activists, poets and writers, tout Mumbai flocked to their soirees, at which, over French wine and desi food, wonderful conversations flowed , in the best traditions of lively Parisian salons. I couldn’t get myself to attend the last Bastille Day celebrations hosted by Francois on 14th July. But knowing his love for Mumbai, I am sure he conducted the fete with appropriate decorum and discretion. We shall miss our French friends… and wish them every happiness in life.
What happens when two of the most blindingly good looking people in Bollywood share the same frame… and indulge in a full on, tongue-rolling kiss ? Errr… great box office? Hritik Roshan’s smoulderingly hot looks makes one wonder when a volcano is going to be named after him? As for Katrina’s well-scrubbed, chirpy and cherubic sex-appeal – shouldn’t the other glam gals in Bollywood be scraping the war paint off their faces, getting into regular clothes, skipping their punishing diets and looking as seriously luscious ? ‘Dobara…’ isn’t a great film, but it is squeaky clean.No cheapo item songs, no gutter lingo.It deserves an award just for that.And yes,the Birkin gets one , too.It’s the first time in any film that a handbag has a starring role!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Why Mumbai? Why not....?

This is me with my girls at the premiere of Vaibhavi Merchant's energetic musical, "The Taj Express," on sunday. Great editing can take a mediocre play \ movie \ book to the next level. That's what I told Vaibhavi whose work I do admire. And that's what I'd tell Zoya Akhtar if I ever run into her.


This appeared in the Asian Age today...

Why Mumbai? Why not….?

Horror of horrors!Mumbaikars actually stayed away from work, the morning after the latest bomb blasts. Yup, those devastating ones on wednesday that ripped out the city’s gut. In case you are saying , “Oh really? How come? We always thought nothing stopped the people of Mumbai from going to work…. not even bomb blasts,” you’d be spot on. Nothing does! The only reason for mass absenteeism on Thursday morning was simple – water logging on train tracks! Imagine the irony of it all. Hundreds of commuters remained absent from work, not out of a sense of fear that there could be more blasts, but because they were stranded at suburban stations.Had it been a clear day, you bet downtown offices would have been as crammed as always. That’s Mumbai. Never say die! Even when death stares you in the face. As death did on the 13th of July when three blasts exploded in crowded areas during peak hours. Over 20 people were killed in approximately 12 minutes. The death toll is bound to go up. But at the time of writing 21 was the official figure. 20, 21 or 200… does it really matter? We in Mumbai are supposed to smile philosophically and ‘move on’. Why? Because we are ‘so resilient’. Because we ‘must work’. Because the ‘spirit of Mumbai’ is so amazing. All of this is accurate. But it is of zero comfort. We have reached a stage where the old anger has been replaced by revulsion. We watch the faces of politicians preaching across channels, advising us to ‘stay calm’. And we want to puke. Contempt for authority is a dangerous tool, especially in democracies. The time has come for citizens to demonstrate their own asli people power and demand answers from those in authority. This has happened across the Arab world, and it can (should!) happen here. The writing is on the wall. Ignore the hitherto suppressed wrath and ire of the people of this metropolis, and invite terrible retribution. An Arab Spring could rapidly turn into a Mumbai Monsoon, with a raging flood of protests that could flatten those who continue to mete out shabby treatment to the citizens of the City of Gold.
As always, it was the man and woman on the street who rose to the challenge and mobilized help within minutes of the blasts. Social networking sites were over loaded with posts and tweets offering any and every kind of assistance. The generosity, the spontaneity of several online communities, was not just commendable, but stupendous. People set up help lines, info lines, hot lines, and reached out to complete strangers without the slightest hesitation. Whether it was medical help or car rides, places to crash out for the night or hot meals for the hungry, people were going the extra mile to comfort fellow citizens. Contrast this outpouring of genuine care to the total indifference of netas like R.R.Patil, Maharashtra’s notorious Home Minister, who was largely untraceable and invisible post-blasts. Fortunately, the new bloke, Prithviraj Chavan did show up at the affected sites to speak briefly to the media. But what did the chief minister say? Oh… he trotted out predictable platitudes about terrorists striking at the heart of India etc. Having said his piece, he was bundled into a waiting car and that was it. But at least he had the brains to turn up . Contrast his gesture with Vilasrao Deshmukh’s ( who can forget his casual stroll through the corridors of the bombed out Taj Palace Hotel, after 26 \11 accompanied by his movie star son and a dodgy film maker?). And let me not forget our cops. This time they arrived swiftly enough, swinging their lathis and swaggering around the carnage, looking suitably grim. The top cop assumed an air of ‘I mean business’ but failed to convince anybody that he indeed did. After an unimpressive walkabout, the internet was flooded with sardonic comments about these keepers of the city’s law and order, notably by a blogger called Pranav Gandhi who described R.R.Patil’s job as ‘the best job in the world’ ( no responsibility, no work… but a secure berth in the cabinet, that too with the same portfolio!).
I am convinced there is something seriously wrong with us, the people of Mumbai. We are the ‘most attacked’ city on earth… and we accept this dubious ‘honour’ passively, like it is a part of our collective destiny to be frequently bombed. This is not stoicism, it is not resignation, and it most certainly isn’t resilience ( how I hate that word). So what is it? I’d call it stupidity. Plain stupidity. We think we are being heroic when we react like this when, in fact, we are being foolish. Utterly foolish. We do nothing about this sorry state of affairs and carry on like blasts are ‘normal’. Like blasts ‘happen’. Like we are supposed to sit back and accept attacks, chanting ‘Hey, this is Mumbai!’ It is because of this very idiotic attitude that terrorists love us! They can’t get enough of the city. And they are going to keep bombing us. You know why? Because they can. While we brag, ‘‘Mumbai rocks! People are so jealous of us. Look at our glittering city. Look at our billionaires. Look at the gold and diamonds in our stores! Come on, who wouldn’t want a piece of this action? Who wouldn’t want to destroy Mumbai?”, they attack! Yes, we really are that dumb. We refuse to hold anybody responsible. We refuse to make anybody answerable. We refuse to protest . What do we do instead? We show off! We get back to business as usual within hours of an attack and boast about it to the world. As if it’s something to be deliriously proud of. But hello! The facts are slightly different. Mumbai is attacked over and over again for the simple reason that it is POSSIBLE! It is ridiculously easy. Anybody can walk in with a couple of bombs and trigger them off – no problem. It can happen tomorrow morning…. even tonight. That’s how exposed and vulnerable Mumbai remains. Frankly, we are asking for it. We deserve it. If that sounds harsh – sorry! It’s the truth. The terrorists know this, too. They take advantage of Mumbai’s nakedness. They laugh. They mock.Nobody is in charge here – not even the cops…. so long as the city’s VVIPs are well protected, the aam aadmi doesn’t matter. The bad guys are well aware of Mumbai’s weaknesses…. of Mumbai’s impotence… it’s powerlessness to deal with calamities… emergencies… crises. Even after this Black Wednesday, we continue to grin, shrug and say, “Zindagi na Milegi Dobara.”
Party on, guys! Tomorrow is another day…if it comes!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Nana Patekar and Anna Hazare

Guys, do correct me if I'm wrong, but I haven't heard or read anything from Anna Hazare after the horrific bomb blasts that once again ripped Mumbai apart.

I expected some strong words of condemnation.... especially after Rahul Gandhi's shocking , ill -informed statements which more or less condoned terror attacks!

Well.... this picture was taken last week at the Star Majhaa Awards. I must say, as an awardee, it was a rare honour for me to be sharing the same platform with Anna, who said he'd accepted this particular award only because it was given by people 'with clean hands'. Nana Patekar, who was the chief guest, had a lot to say about that remark.... I shall not repeat Nana's comments here!

We in Mumbai are waiting for something more than lip service from the Centre.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Mumbai bleeds again....

I have stopped watching tv tonight. I can't bear to... what's the point?The same old platitudes from politicians? The same overheated 'Breaking News' from egotistic anchors faking concern?The same ghastly images? No, thank you. It is obvious from what happened this evening that we in Mumbai, are simply not equipped to deal with ,even less combat, terror attacks. It's that... or something far worse - we don't care. For we , in Mumbai remain sitting ducks. Soft targets. How many more blasts do we need to prove our utter inadequacy and apathy when it comes to defending ourselves? When will Mumbai 'jaago'? Is it not a matter of shame that while Delhi was celebrating a meaningless cabinet reshuffle, here we were in India's commercial capital, taking another hit! One more body blow... with zero resistance. Targeting Mumbai is a cakewalk for just about anybody willing to assemble a bomb. No matter who claims 'credit' for the latest attack - this much is clear - it isn't the last one. For the truth of the matter is simply this : Mumbai is exactly as vulnerable today as it was during 26 \ 11. Nothing has changed. Perhaps nothing will. People will continue to die... and we Mumbaikars will be left to our own devices to cope as best as we can. That we do so magnificently is another story. We have no choice!
While the CM mouths the usual, trite lines ( "Terrorists have struck at the heart of India..."), and Chidambaram reels off numbers in a measured voice, over 20 innocent mumbaikars are dead. Several more injured. Not that Delhi is bothered. Wonder what R.R. Patil's thoughts are today? Remember his priceless quote in the wake of 26 \ 11 about "Bade Bade Sheheron mein..."
Here's a prayer for the families of those who lost their lives.... my God comfort them.
I was all set to watch 'Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara..." on friday.
It seems like a morbid option now.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Adiga's review.

This appeared in the 'Indian Express' on saturday....


The Masterji’s Last Sigh….

When the blurb reads : “A suspense-filled story of money and power, luxury and deprivation, a rich tapestry peopled by unforgettable characters,not least of which is Mumbai itself, ‘Last Man in Tower’ opens up the hearts and minds of the inhabitants of this great city – ordinary people pushed to their limits in a place that knows none,” you know it’s one of ‘those’ books. There is a point of view. A position has been taken. There will be a strong moral tucked into the narrative. The reader is sufficiently ‘prepared’. Mumbai sucks. Mumbai is a bitch. But wait - Mumbai has become a ‘hot’ destination for ex-pat writers . Mumbai is hot! Just like Bollywood has gone nuts over picturesque Delhi and decided Delhi is ‘hot’. These days our lives have been greatly simplified , thanks to the ‘Hot’ handle. Everything and everyone is conveniently classified under two categories – ‘Hot’ and ‘Not Hot’. I started reading this season’s ‘hottest’ book ( ‘Last Man…’) a bit too eagerly, I confess. My mistake. It’s the irresistible combo – Adiga + Mumbai. Combine that with spectacular reviews and one goes, “Woaaaah.” Well…. let me put it this way, I was still going ‘woaaaah’ on the last page, but not half as enthusiastically. The reason is simple. As a Mumbaikar, I see Mumbai through a slightly different filter, and can pretty much tell when the supposedly ‘typical’ Mumbai characters turn caricatural .Adiga’s story is structured like a tv soap, with neatly demarcated ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’…. plus a Hindu, Muslim, Christian ‘Amar,Akbar,Anthony’ thrown in for good measure (perhaps to underline some politically sensitive points).The book helpfully provides a ‘cast of characters’ with thumbnail sketches at the beginning, along with a map of the metropolis that shows the routes taken by commuters on local trains. Adiga has dedicated the book to the very same commuters of the Santa Cruz- Churchgate line.
The ‘tower’ in the title refers to a building which is a part of Vishram Society in Vakola, Santa Cruz ( east). Readers also get a floor plan of Tower –A, where the action takes place. The plot is linear and very simple. Verrrry. An evil builder called Dharmen Shah is on a demonic mission to demolish the tower for ‘redevelopment’, which , of course, is a code name for pulling down old structures and replacing them with luxury apartments, malls, cineplexes and so on. It’s an urban nightmare that has been successfully chronicled in popular movies like ‘Khosla ka Ghosla’. Shah the Shark is out to make huge bucks out of this transaction… and willing to offer an attractive package to residents sensible enough to take the money and run. But Shah encounters a hitch. One stubborn resident – Masterji ( a retired school teacher) refuses to play ball! His resistance forms the core of the story.
Masterji (Yogesh A. Murthy) is the one character in the book that has been completely thought through, in an otherwise loosely strung together ensemble cast featuring stereotypes - people like Albert Pinto ( hello? Forgotten there was a movie featuring Naseeruddin Shah in the title role?), Import-Export Hiranandani, Ibrahim Kudwa ( the token Muslim in the society), Mary, the ‘kachrawali, Ram Khare the security guard, Ramu, the building boy afflicted with Down’s Syndrome, Ms. Meenakshi, a single career gal, Georgina Lobo, social worker and the oily Ramesh Ajwani, a real estate broker. Sounds like a promising daily soap? Despite the ho-hum nature of these ‘melting pot Mumbai’ types , it is Adiga’s skill at keeping the pace brisk ( I was slightly out of breath as I read the last fifty pages ) and the dialogues crackling , that keeps a reader riveted. This is some feat, given that the ending is totally predictable and - sorry, boss - totally unbelievable. Adiga describes Vishram Society as a ‘pucca’ address (“absolutely, unimpeachably pucca’’). No way, as any Mumbaikar will tell you. He also insists it is ‘middle class to its core’, just like the people living in it. Ummm. Okay. Maybe. The only authentically ‘middle class’ voice in the book belongs to Masterji, as he stubbornly hangs in there, refusing to budge an inch, even after his neighbours turn against him, cover his front door with excreta and complete the social boycott by pretending he doesn’t exist. All this, to get Masterji to sign on the dotted line and vacate the only real home he has known and shared for over 35 years with his beloved (late) wife Poornima.Suddenly the safety nets of his modest existence are removed and he is left to confront the cruelty and greed of neighbours, acquaintances, even his own son and daughter-in-law. In a single telling passage, Masterji’s despair is lucidly shared with readers: “In the old days, you had caste,and you had religion: they taught you how to eat,marry, live,and die.But in Bombay caste and religion had faded away, and what had replaced them, as far as he ( Masterji) could tell was the idea of being respectable and living among similar people.” Parts of the book were extraordinarily well observed and sublimely written. The structure itself is taut, bold and interesting ( chapter headings are terse, precise “11th May” to the final one dated ‘15th December’). In under a year, lives are transformed forever… one life snuffed out…. several destroyed. It’s all very depression making,morbid and macabre, without a single ‘good’ person ( even poor, upright Masterji has his flaws). Sadly, even Masterji is forced to conclude (after reading particularly vicious hate mail stuck with tape on the wall of the compound) : ‘But a man is what his neighbours say he is’. However, the biggest villain of the book is Mumbai… and if I am disturbed by its brutal portrayal, it is because I find it a bit too simplistic and naïve – Big Bad City . So wicked, so ruthless, so ugly. That’s a writer’s prerogative. Perhaps that’s how Mumbai does appear to those who don’t call it home.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Beep!Beep!What the F#@* is going on???

I really enjoyed this fashion shoot! I hope the pictures show it. It was for the latest issue of 'Harper's Bazaar'. And I must confess, I am Lovin' it!!!


This appears in Sunday Times today...

Beep! Beep!What the F *#@ is going on….?

I love cussing. Always have. It is cathartic and liberating…. I have always believed cussing is good for health. If ‘Cuss and be damned’ is your mantra, you are actually doing your over worked heart a big favour . If more people cussed away uninhibitedly, chances are, the world would be a kinder, gentler place. But, here’s the catch - there’s a good way to cuss, and a nasty one. Good cussing is when there is no malice behind the swear word, and it is used to express love and admiration ( “Bitch! How dare you look this hot!”), frustration and irritation ( “Damn! Why the eff are you so effing late? I’ve missed half the effing movie!”). But bloody minded cussing is for the seriously badass types who harbour mean, evil thoughts towards the world and are mean, evil people themselves. The stupendous popularity of a slight, clever film (“Delhi Belly’) has opened up a stimulating dialogue on the power of gaalis. Especially English ones. To be addressed as ‘Dog’ shows a level of familiarity that makes the person thus addressed feel accepted…. even adored! These days, ‘Slut’ is right up there, if you wish to belong to in an international league of women who are adopting it as a big time bonding tool. ‘Whore’ remains in a grey area… but who knows, it could well become a favourite appellation of the ultra cool ( both sexes). Language is like that only! Fluid and unpredictable. That’s what makes language so seductive! Yesterday’s abuses becomes today’s terms of endearment. And all those embarrassed men whose real names happen to be ‘D.K.Bose’ need not run for cover - why ‘bhaag’ when you can dance to it, kyon Aamir?
Kader Khan (remember him?) made ‘ Kutey ke Aulaad’ pretty acceptable. If that was okay by the censor board of the day, what’s wrong with ‘son of a bitch’? As kids would put it, “Same to same, no, uncle?” The ‘B-word’
(b*****d) has always been trickier and more lethal since it is considered the ultimate abuse across cultures. To call someone a b****** is to question parentage and insult the mother. But to describe someone as a ‘Chu****’ ? Welllll – that depends. It’s English equivalent (“c**t” ) is not considered as terrible. Since this season’s most discussed movie centers around the impressive use of graphic expletives, apart from the even more graphic explorations of the two unmentionables of polite society ( shitting and fucking ), it merits a national debate on what is worse – the pornography of images or the pornography of words? Or, still more importantly, whether pornography itself needs a fresh definition. Now that the floodgates have been thrown open, it’s time to be more upfront about the ‘boldness’ out there, and deal with this tricky territory - the way modern India thinks and speaks… and yes…. err… f***s. Wake up! Our movies have made the big leap and high jumped into the 21st century when no one was looking. From two flowers kissing or two bushes shaking violently to suggest on- screen love making… here we are watching full on, in your face sex scenes, including one of the female protagonist of ‘DB’ faking an orgasm while shouting, “From the back… from the back…. yes, yes, yessss!” Nobody fainted inside the multiplex where I watched the movie . If anything, people were rolling in the aisles with glee and cheering the girl on!
We have come a long, long way from the old ‘wet saree’ sequence or the ‘girl under a waterfall’ ( how I miss the erotic charge of those sensuous sequences!). Today’s ‘item songs’ are as brazen and as blatantly sexual as anything one can find while surfing the net. But wait a minute – was ‘Choli Ke Peechhay Kya Hai?” less of a tease? Less provocative? Was Madhuri’s ‘dhak dhak’ not a turn on for an entire generation? Even in the cleavage stakes, we had our busty beauties willing to flash miles of it without blushing. What then is new? Avid Bollywood fans would say it’s those tongue- rolling kisses ( Aishwarya and Hritik Roshan set the trend) as opposed to couples rolling over snow and across verdant hills ( nobody did it better than ‘Yahoo’ Shammi Kapoor)? Similarly, bump- and- grind routines (‘Munni’ and Malaika) are as old as the hills… or as old as Helen (“Piya tu…ab to aaja” ). So… what it really boils down to is language. The shock value generated by ‘DB’ has little to do with the sex scene… it’s the effing language! How smart of Aamir Khan to zoom in on the last remaining frontier of ‘taboo’ in Bollywood (unparliamentary language). How smart of him to pepper the movie with ‘dirty dirty’ four letter words. And how smart of him to spoof recent item songs by performing one himself ( fully clad, but with the most suggestive pelvic thrusts ever). Aamir has taken Bollywood masala to the next level… by boldly testing the country’s ‘abuse meter’ He has shrewdly left it to the audience to decide how far to go with expletives. In the process he has made Amitabh Bachchan’s ‘Beep Beep’ in ‘BHTB’ appear old school and out of sync with today’s movie goer.From ‘Kuttey -kamineey… door ho jayo mere nazron se…” to “ F*** off, you ‘Chu….”, Aamir has sensed the shift in our sensibilities - it’s desi abuses that score over phoren ones, folks. And Aamir has cashed in brilliantly on the altered vocabulary of the youth brigade. If ‘DB’ is being seen as a game changer, it is the rawness of the lingo alone that has done the trick at the box office. People come out of theatres exclaiming “What the f***! I totally loved this shit!” And they are paying a huge compliment! The big grins on their faces as they throw the f-word around randomly, demonstrates something more than just the thrill of cussing and swearing in public. It represents absolute delight at this new found freedom to use ‘forbidden words’ openly and not shock anybody. Not even themselves!
Personally speaking… that’s a bit of a shame. The F-word has just gone phooooos!And Aamir’s to blame for killing it.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

SAP it up!

This is an overdue post! Apologies. Sooooooo much happens... and so fast. There's the Proust Questionnaire with moi that appears in The Hindu today, and my review of Arvind Adiga's book, 'Last Man in Tower' which is in the India Express. Both will be up tomorrow. But for now, let me just share my SAP experience with you. It's a pity I was felled by a coughing fit towards the end of my presentation ( and I am not blaming Bangalore's infamous pollen for it, please note!), but I was truly zapped by SAP - the super fabulous 23 -acre campus ( a birdwatcher's paradise - yes, it's that environment friendly!), and the dynamism of Ferose V.R. , the 37-year-old M.D. who keeps his 4,000 plus flock motivated and competitive through various creative initiatives, like the Book Club ( passionately driven by Sumeet Shetty, who seems to have read every book ever written by anyone!). These are the two guys in the pictures. During my short visit, I got the chance to see leadership in action.... and lots of smiles!
I bet you are waiting to read about my Anna Hazare encounter. Ummmm - what if I told you I found Nana Patekar ( who was the chief guest at the STAR MAJHAA Awards) more impressive? In fact, Nana was brilliant! More about both of them in a day or two.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Madhuri and moi at Remembering M.F.Husain

Madhuri Dixit's timing couldn't have been better! There I was at the podium in the middle of a sweet anecdote ( we all have our favourite Husain stories) about M.F.Husain, and how he had come to our home with the 'Gajagamini' dvd and talked for close to three hours about his love for Madhuri and the true meaning of 'mohabbat'.Boom! As if on cue, Madhuri walked in with her small entourage. She took her place in the front row gracefully and smiled through the narrative. Since Madhuri wasn't a scheduled speaker, I requested one of the organisers to invite her to say a few words about the great artist who was fida over her ( after checking with her, of course). She graciously agreed, and even though she had not formulated a speech, she spoke spontaneously and from the heart. She really is in a league of her own - refined, mature, intelligent. Class always tells.
It was a very special evening, and I am happy to report, the main hall of the famous Jehangir Art Gallery was packed to the rafters with genuine friends and admirers of Husainsaab ( including 200 students!). The speeches were patchy, but Nadira Babber's was outstanding ( even if , as a senior theatre artist, she had probably rehearsed every word and dramatic pause!).
I am off to the Star Majhaa Awards. And looking forward to meeting Anna Hazare. I want to figure out for myself what his magic is all about. If possible, I shall tell him to call off his threatened fast. That tactic will no longer work - not even with his countless admirers.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

How grand really, were the IIFA awards??

Blogdosts... this was sent to me as a forward by a usually reliable source. I cannot vouch for its authenticity, but it seems genuine enough. If any of you reading this happened to be at the venue, you'd know!


Written by Nitin Kumar

wish to give you my notions on the supposedly grand IIFA awards that just happened last weekend.

All over the social media including the page of a prominent South Asian website, many South Asians are criticizing the actual awards ceremony. Even though the stage was fascinating and the production fabulous, the show itself was a big disappointment filled with corny jokes and poor performances with panting lead dancers, uncomfortable pauses of silence, sub-grade sound quality, etc. The show was so pathetic that the hosts had to actually ask people for standing ovations! Standing ovations should come impromptu, when the performers say or do something that strikes a chord with the audience. Also, not enough big time stars showed up. Preity Zinta, Hritik Roshan, Kareena Kapoor, Salman Khan, Akshay Kumar and a host of others were no shows.

So what did we taxpayers get for $12m that Michael Chan, the Ontario minister for tourism and culture, proclaimed Ontario dished out? Even he on Matt Galloway’s CBC metro morning show on Tuesday, June 21 seemed sceptical about the immediate benefits that supposedly drew in only 40,000 visitors, unlike other home grown festivals that draw a million plus visitors. All we got was a poorly organized and second rate awards ceremony that did not respect time (it started an hour late) and dragged on for 5 hours so that by the time the people rolled out, there was no TTC available to go home. Also many are questioning as to what exactly happened to the $12m? Was it used to pay exorbitant fees to enrich already rich Indian actors? If that is the case, surely the money will go out of Canada. And for what? To please the South Asian diaspora from which many are actually cribbing at how badly they got ripped off?

Besides this, right after the Brampton buzz event held over the June 17-19 weekend, one bold Bramptonian questioned the Mayor of Brampton on her facebook page as to what happened to the $300K that was apportioned to Brampton. The reply from the Mayor’s office was that no such amount was spent on the buzz event, that they were rumours. Also the rumoured $50K-$80K paid to Bollywood actress Bipasha Basu was denied. A few hours after Michael Chan came on CBC radio stating that all communities got $300K through a program called ‘Celebrate’, the whole thread on this subject was deleted from the Mayor of Brampton’s facebook page. Are we living in a democracy where we are allowed to express our opinion freely or what? Isn’t the Mayor’s facebook page there to express citizens’ gripes as well as praise the Mayor for the many good things she has done (and she definitely has, I will not deny that).

Another major question is did IIFA really crack the mainstream market? As Matt Galloway said on CBC metro morning, GTA’s number one morning radio show, for many it is a circus.

So Ontario dished out $12m plus $300K for each community, i.e $13m plus for a mediocre circus?! One that did not even please the audience it was meant for?! Maybe there was more money spent that we are unaware of.

Mohit Rajhans- who also comes on CBC radio, asked Bollywood actor Anupam Kher at the awards if Toronto should host more such shows. Kher said yes. When Mohit asked our premier Dalton McGuinty the same question, he was non-committal; some say the premier’s mannerism was such that even he seemed unsure about the sanity of spending so many millions for a circus.

I hope the Ontario government has learned a lesson. $13m could have been better spent on more meaningful programs. If certain cultures want to break into the North American market, they should do it on their own steam and money not ours

Monday, July 4, 2011

Go, Bhuddah, Go!!!

I am always fascinated by how swiftly quirky new brands establish themselves in a crowded market and rapidly acquire cult status. Like SNOG and DESIGUAL. I walked into both not knowing what to expect. Snog in London lived up to its reputation ... and I loved the low calorie dahi with great toppings. About the other fashion brand ( Desigual) which I got to explore in Barcelona, I didn't quite get why it's such a rage.Last week it was all over the press for its unusual offer - it urged shoppers to arrive at the store clad in their undies... and walk out with two free outfits for any one they buy. There were long queues outside their stores across Europe with hot bods in sexy lingerie waiting to get in. What an idea, Sirji!

This appeared in Bombay Times today...

Go Buddhah,Go….

Agreed. Conceded. It’s a generational thing.We reveal our age via the movies \ music we respond to… the lingo we use…. the clothes we wear… even the food we eat. I watched this week’s two biggies back-to-back, and even the fact that I picked ‘Buddhah’ over ‘Delhi Belly’ to watch first, instantly gave away my vintage and preferences. My gut feeling says ‘Buddhah’ will make pretty good money down the line, only because ‘Buddhah’ is a ‘clean’ film. ‘DB’ is filthy! Filthy, as in gross. I loathe toilet humour, and if there are countless scenes in a movie that show an overweight man sitting on the world’s dirtiest potties with a bad case of the loosies – complete with farts galore – sorry, but it doesn’t work for me. Though, watching the movie at a packed multiplex, I did notice people ( mainly men) falling out of their seats with laughter each time the talented Roy Boy literally spilled out his guts – noisily and disgustingly. Since most of the gags in the movie are built around excreta (yuck!)… I was glad I’d skipped lunch or I would have thrown up in the theatre. I simply don’t have the stomach for such errr…. crap.
There was nothing wrong with the ‘foul language’ freely used by all the protagonists in ‘DB’ – it was in sync with the characters and their worlds. In any case the ‘F-word’ in its myriad translations and variations shocks noone these days. The other more graphic desi abuses are equally commonplace … that includes the hit number ‘Bhaag D.K.Bose’ , which is chart-bustingly brilliant. But as movies go, ‘DB’ is a lot of fun when it isn’t filthy. And the performances of the ensemble cast are nuanced enough to strike the right chord with the target audience. But ‘DB’ is no ‘Dev D’. It simply does not make the cut as a breakthrough movie for anybody who has watched umpteen international films of this genre. It’s no ‘Hangover’. It’s smart, cute and peppy. Period. And if there are two performances that stand out, those belong to Vijay Raaz as the super- cool gangster to whom shit does happen. And Poorna Jagannathan who fakes an on screen orgasm better than Meg Ryan in ‘When Harry Met Sally’. As for Imran’s much discussed hard-on – it was ummmm…. convincing!
‘BHTB’ is a full-on ‘70’s film – old-fashioned in concept and execution. And that is its USP and charm. Of course, it features the Big B paying homage to himself – I thought that was the whole idea. That he does so with a sense of irony by adopting a self-deprecatory, throwaway style, makes the effort less nauseating. Spoofing your old iconic self without reducing it to a farce, requires enormous skill, a sense of perspective and high intelligence. Here, I am assuming Amitabh Bachchan undertook the title role with this very idea in mind. If so, hats off! In a spectacular career spanning forty years, it takes guts to affectionately mock your younger self and still come out on top. There is no logic in ‘BHTB’ , just as there is none in ‘DB’. But when Amitabh breaks into a medley of his most memorable songs (“Go,Meera, Go”), there is nobody in the audience who doesn’t sing and dance along – even kids as old as Bachchan’s own grand children. Yes, his clothes are disastrous and give the impression the brand is called ‘El Cheapo’. And poor Raveena Tandon’s embarrassing ‘comeback’ makes one wonder whether the talented actress was in fact paying some sort of a twisted tribute to veteran vamp Bindu. Despite all the above, ‘BTHB’ establishes one thing unambiguously – there’s no pro like an old pro. Amitabh is still the best.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Quack!Quack!Lame Duck the house!

Watched two fascinating films back-to-back. 'Bhuddah...." and 'Delhi Belly.' Reactions to both in my column on monday. Sunday is a day of rest... ha! If only!!!

This appeared in Asian Age today....

Lame Duck P.M. stars in ‘Editors Ki Adaalat…’

Oh Oh – sizzling tennis over our P.M.’s tepid talk show? Ummm… no contest. Tennis has dum. Tennis is about pure, unadulterated testosterone when two beefcakes in shorts sweat it out on a packed Centre Court. How can poor Manmohanji compete with those hunks for eyeballs? Somehow, this whole new wooing game… reaching out to the media and what not, smacks of damage control at its clumsiest. A weekly gup shup with hard boiled, hand-picked ‘cynics’ from the media ? Why? What for? Is this latest ploy a hollow p.r. exercise… or a panic attack? Let’s face it - our Manmohan Singh is a mumbler. He is not the world’s best communicator. After keeping mum for seven years ( three measly interactions with the detested scribe-tribe during this period) the P.M.’s sudden decision to go a-courting sounds suspicious and disingenuous. Unless, there is a bigger agenda, of course. This may be a well thought out strategy to influence and manipulate voters before the next elections. What better than a monopoly over a potent and powerful medium like television to air the party’s ambitions? To define and defend policies. To test the waters before a big announcement. This can be dangerous.Especially in a country that calls itself a democracy. Our affable Manmohanji trundled along happily all this while without bothering to clarify a single issue – well, at least to the satisfaction of critics. Now he wants to alter the uneasy equation and meet the very same ‘accusers, prosecutors and judges’ on a regular basis. Maha mistake, my friend. Definitely something kaala in the lentils. Or the man who insists he isn’t a lame duck ( ‘langda batak’ to you) is under pressure from you-know-who to go out there and do the dirty job others are shying away from. Poor guy. It can’t be much fun having to provide explanations for any and every lapse, especially when the buck stops with someone else – the very same person who he sweetly says is ‘not an obstacle’!Manmohan Singh sounded heartbreakingly like a hen-pecked husband who has his wife’s permission to admit as much in public!Now, if instead of Singh, Sonia had taken the bold step of participating in such a dialogue on national television, believe me, Wimbledon or no Wimbledon (Tsonga could have done the Full Monty after thrashing Federer for all we care), India would have come to a stop and heard the lady out. That’s never going to happen – and everybody knows it. So, we have to settle for a person who is not really in the best position to respond to even a simple question like, “How’s the weather up there?” Given the state of paranoia, chances are such a query would be over- analysed for hidden motives and responded to by a super guarded, “Depends what you mean by ‘weather’ and ‘up there’…”
Let’s be honest - what did our man end up saying that we don’t know? Zilch. He sounded defensive and evasive when he blamed the opposition for virtually all the failings of the government led by him. Though, perhaps , one needs to redefine ‘led’. According to the P.M. it’s all about propaganda. Everything. Corruption included. He said he was ready to take full responsibility “for all the bad things this government has done.” But how? It sounds heroic and noble, but he knows and everybody knows it amounts to nothing in real terms. If he is playing the martyrdom card, even that will backfire. One expects a real leader to assume real responsibility. But Manmohan Singh sounded apologetic… more like a fall guy, left with no alternative but to take the flack. The time to project a more assertive image was seven years ago, not now. The UPA show is virtually over. What’s the point of sabre rattling and baring teeth at this late stage? Sorry, but there are no takers for the P.M.’s newest initiative. It’s a little like a reality show that appears fully fixed. Or a recycled talk show that is so embarrassingly awkward, one prays for the host’s safety. All talk of stepping down and letting Rahul take his vacated kursi sounds phony, even if the voice and body lingo are artificially pumped up to display a newly acquired bravado. Manmohan Singh is no Rafael Nadal. Neither is Rahul Baba. I mean…someone who actually means business, goes ahead and actions plans. What we got to hear on the tv show was some meaningless mewing about corruption having ‘caught the imagination’ of the people. No kidding! Really! So…. like …corruption is only about ‘catching the imagination’… like… the latest book, movie or tv show? The P.M. went on to say his government would ‘deal with it.’ Sure, bro. How? When? Tell us!!!
We, the people of India, are not gullible school children who have to be reminded that our P.M. does not possess a ‘magic wand’. Hell ya… we know that! You ain’t Cindrella’s Fairy God Mother! And nobody expects ‘instant solutions’ either. But, please Sir, start by offering one – just one – solution. Take your pick from the vast array of problems waiting for solutions – from the 2G, CWG and all the other ‘Ji’s’ that keep popping up. Today’s janata is pretty clued in, and talking in circles does not fool the aam aadmi. This approach may have worked thirty years ago, when our attitude towards netas was one of reverence. Big mistake! We didn’t know better back then. But, hello! Today, we do. Public opinion spares nobody and nothing. If anything, our journalists are a bit too polite, well mannered and reverential. Try pulling off such a farce anywhere else in the world. Try talking to those bulldog editors in Britain , America, Australia, Canada, France or Germany. They tear into interviewees mercilessly and confront the person with hard evidence, facts and figures, while demanding straight answers – not obscure explanations, justifications and yes… lame duck excuses. Manmohan Singh got away a bit too lightly, a bit too easily, a bit too quickly. And at the end of this round, we, the voters , remain as clueless about his position and views on key national issues, as before.
You know what? The old maun vrat P.M. was a better bet. Now it’s official – there is indeed a lame duck at the helm of affairs in India. Quack! Quack!