Monday, September 26, 2011

Paris Hilton: Famous for being famous?

Our OTT coverage of PH in Mumbai is still on. Why we are treating her like visiting royalty,remains a mystery . Agreed, she's fun and glam.Hamarey liye yehi bahut kaafi hai, it appears. The lady turned up for a party in her honour at 1 30 a.m. when the invite read 9 p.m. Did guests leave or crib? Naaah. She made up for it by dancing on sofas with our local glam gals and blowing kisses from the dj console. Swwweeeeet or what????
This appeared in Bombay Times today....

Paris: the Candyfloss Party Girl….

Paris is a social phenomenon. Rather, she was one. Paris is sort of over and so past tense in the West … but that doesn’t matter to us, here in India. So long as the person is blond, cute, sexy and considered ‘hot’ by a handful of socialites and fashionistas, everybody will flock!Good for Team Paris. Paris is no bimbette. She is smart and on the ball. Paris is primarily a businesswoman who shrewdly cashes in on her brand equity, which is fast losing its value in her original markets. Which is why she goes to China these days to flog her products.Which is why she came to India. Which is why she’ll go to Africa. These are the only markets left for fading celebs, and frankly, it’s a clever move.We provide a huge dumping ground to them. Whether it is her or her managers, they shrewdly picked a suburban mall to off load her handbags. The price points are ridiculously low, even by desi standards. So, the marketing team is obviously hoping to woo buyers who are happy enough to settle for a foreign label, even if they’d never heard of Paris Hilton till last week!Ironically, the supposed A-listers who made it to the ‘Paris Party’ wouldn’t be caught dead with one of her bags! That’s what sharp marketing is all about! And Paris sure as hell knows a trick or two in that department. She is hugely photogenic and has made a career just out of being photographed jetting from one party to another (she gets paid serious money to party with strangers). She has given everything a shot – singing ( critics claimed it wasn’t her voice in the first place!). Acting (that’s a laugh, since her worldwide notoriety comes from a sex video called ‘A Night in Paris’). Hosting reality shows in which she, the richie rich girl about town is exposed to the lives of poor people, and surprise, surprise, she survives!!
The Hilton surname does not hold much of a cache these days. That leaves Paris with her catchy first name. She should be eternally grateful to her mother for that ( the second option was China). The girl knows her P.R. as was evident in Mumbai, where she went the whole hog doing her ‘Namastey Mumbai’ act, and talking about her love for sarees, bindis and all things Indian. Then there were the standard clichés about India being a ‘magical’ and ‘spiritual’ place. We lapped it all up and begged for more, as chefs gushed about the 60 dishes that been prepared for her (does she eat?), and designers fell over backwards to offer free clothes. All this, for a woman who has no known talent ( she isn’t Lady Gaga, for God’s sake), and appears dangerously plastic. So what? We need our distractions, especially those that come packaged in baby pink. Welcome to India, Paris-ji. And don’t forget to courier a handbag to India’s number one Bag Lady, Mayawati.
Why is the audience referring to ‘Mausam’ as a case of slow poisoning? Is it really that awful?

Saturday, September 24, 2011

M.J.Akbar's lyrical tribute to Tiger Pataudi

Byline for September 25, 2011
Tiger, Tiger Burning Bright
M.J. Akbar

In the loneliness of the small town where I was born, and the shuttered years of boarding school, dream was a five-letter word called Tiger. Mansur Ali Khan’s magic transcended the supreme piffle that passed for cricket commentary when radio, with a glowing green eye in the right hand corner, was our primary passport to Test cricket. Secondary knowledge came from the grey photographs in black-and-white newspapers; but the red cherry seemed to blossom when it was smacked imperiously in an arc that began with the single eye of the master and traversed along the hooded nose that had been designed by God for aristocracy. The radio went into memory. The photograph was lovingly preserved in a scrapbook along with peers like Neil Harvey, Richie Benaud, Wes Hall, Garfield Sobers and Frank Worrell. I kept the unassuming Worrell in that illustrious company not because he could bat, but because he could lead.
Pataudi’s inherited title was a bit of a two-way sniff. We certainly sensed if not heard his occasional sniff at the plebs; but the fun was that he heard our periodic snort at yesterday’s elite as well. By the 1960s a Nawab had already become an effete caricature, a piteous descent from the glory days of the 18th century, first reduced to a whining fawn of the British and then to a vainglorious hanger-on of post-Independence politicians. Even Hindi cinema had begun to laugh at the “Chhote Nawab”, unless it tipped towards lachrymose self-pity as Nawab Sahab auctioned off his precious heirlooms in Mere Mehboob to protect some immensely idle honour.
Then came Indira Gandhi. In 1969 she made Nawabs and Rajahs illegal. Their fury was as silly as their impotence. They learnt how distant they had become from changing India when they tried to challenge Mrs Gandhi in the general elections of 1971. That election anointed a new order when it lifted Mrs Gandhi to power. The new Rani of India was Indira Gandhi, the Begum of Democracy.
Tiger was as upset as any of his brotherhood, but he disguised any personal trauma behind a finely chiselled sense of humour that combined the riot of practical jokes with the deadpan of a British mask. He was the perfect Indo-Anglian, as comfortable in stately sherwani as in a hunting jacket on Scottish moors. If he did not belong to any Drones club from the fiction of P.G. Wodehouse, it was only because he carried a bit of Drones along with him. The strategy for his impish pranks was often perfected across a convivial bar, and secrets were carefully protected till long after the victims had been duped — harmlessly of course. It was tragic that the last incident in his life was a snub from the MCC, which refused to hand out the traditional Pataudi trophy at the end of an India-England series this summer.
The Indian prince was bound to English cricket by a silken bond. At one level it kept him on friendship terms with the new ruling class, just as hunting had done in the Mughal days. It also became an appropriate theatre for the display of regal talent. It did not threaten the British, and it did not involve too subservient Indians. It would have been demeaning for a Nawab to become, for instance, a rampantly successful business executive: even a blue-chip private company was not blue enough for India’s blue-blooded. The Army was an honourable sanctuary but demanded too much discipline for too little reward. Politics was an option, but required rubbing shoulders with the serf.
Tiger had an equitable relationship with glamour. He was not a hypocrite, so he never disdained glamour. But he never fell in love with his mirror, either. Many reasons have been cited to explain the comparative paucity of runs: he scored just six centuries. The popular theory is the tragic loss of an eye in a car accident when still at Oxford. I tend to believe that he just could not be bothered. Cricket was a game, not a religion. He did not sacrifice joy at the altar of statistics.
Pataudi became an acknowledged Tiger because of his sleek style, his calm demeanour at the crease until the moment came for the instinctive pounce. He also wore the smile of the Tiger, a quiver that only once in a while bubbled across his face. This Tiger had class: Royal Bengal, an epithet that Calcutta happily adopted when he married a brilliant daughter of the great Tagore family, Sharmila.
I wonder how Tiger would have reacted to the cant that has surfaced after his death. A shrug, a nod, a half-weary smile. He hated clichés, so could we please abandon rubbish like “Cricket has become poorer” etc. Cricket has become infinitely richer in both cash and technique since Tiger last held a bat. But the world has certainly become poorer since his death.

Shekhar Gupta's tribute to Tiger Pataudi

What an elegant, informed and readable tribute. By far the best! Disappointed by the tepid response to the legend's passing away, especially from our current cricketing greats, the contemporary players, who make money by the buckets, but lack the grace to show better respect to one of India's best captains. All I have read so far are politically correct, polite noises , devoid of any reverence or humility. And most newspapers have given more coverage to that brat from across the border, Shoaib Akhtar's naughty autobiography....
By Shekhar Gupta

It is because nostalgia is an attribute so essential to the love of cricket that so much cricket writing is in the first person, and tends to begin with those three dreaded words: “When I was...” Mansur Ali Khan “Tiger” Pataudi’s passing away gives me my excuse to start a cricketing story with, “When I was seven...”

So I saw my first Test match when I was seven. It was the winter of 1964 and Pataudi’s India were taking on Mike Smith’s ossible (6am for a 10am start) to find just enough of a perch to park your butt. You hung on to your jhola with lunch (paranthas or pooris with aloo and aam ka achar) and waited for the game to begin. Cheapest seats — which we could afford — were facing point or square leg, depending on which end the bowling was on. Any cricket fan would tell you that is the worst position if you really want to know what is going on: the place to be is behind the bowler’s arm! There were no giant screens for replays, the manual scoreboard was too small and distant to tell you much. So, you mostly cheered when the players of your team cheered, or tried to catch some radio commentary.

This match, however, was not expected to provide much cheer, as a dull draw was predicted (the five-Test series was an all-drawn yawn). But in India’s first innings (of 344) Hanumant Singh scored a hundred on debut, and in the second, Pataudi batted quite majestically to get his only double century (203 not out) in partnership with a very dour Chandu Borde who meanwhile plodded on to 67. For somebody at seven, and a tiny gaggle of cousins of about the same vintage, this was something to cheer about. But it was a long, long time ago, when I was seven, and I have very few, if fading, memories of my Test debut: as a spectator, of course.

But I have a couple of memories imprinted on my mind. Of one slim and fit (unusual for India then) Indian batsman pulling the fast bowlers, and sweeping the spinners (those shots were also uncharacteristic of Indian batsmen then, they were more English). There is one more memory: of one Indian fielder, only one Indian fielder, throwing himself at the ball, chasing it all the way to the boundary as if his life depended on it, and throwing to hit the stumps. Ironical that at

a time when Indian cricketers treated themselves as princes, shirt-collars turned up, and waiting for the ball to be thrown back by attendants or spectators, here was one man breaking that rule. And he was the only real prince

on the playground. It was not for nothing that a most famous English commentator (John Arlott? John McGilvray?) said that when Pataudi fielded there, there was curfew in the covers.

Memories that get imprinted deepest on your mind are the most unusual ones. That is why, Pataudi, the athletic cover fielder, is one that stays on mine. But he brought much more that was unfamiliar to Indian cricket than his willing athleticism. He brought a sense of aggression, and an intent to win.

Of course, the first Golden Era of Indian cricket followed his departure, and more or less retirement from national cricket. Vijay Merchant, then chairman of selectors, carried out what was then called a clean-up, made Ajit Wadekar captain, and selected Sunil Gavaskar — a prodigy at 21 — for the 1971 West Indies tour. That history is more familiar to us. We won our first series in the West Indies, and in England later that year. And as it always happens, the fall came just when we thought we had built a world-beating team. We hit a nadir with that 42-all-out at Lords, in a series even more disastrous than this year’s 0-4.

Clive Lloyd’s rampaging West Indies arrived on the heels of that English debacle. A 0-5 disaster was predicted. That is when the Board decided to recall Tiger from retirement. He had not played a match in over a year, but agreed to take the mantle. From day one, he told the team they were out to win, even answer fire with fire. Madan Lal and Karsan Ghavri were brought in to offer a two-man Indian pace attack probably for the first time since Amar Singh and Nissar in the thirties, and encouraged to bounce at the West Indies line-up that read: Greenidge, Kallicharan, Richards, Lloyd, Murray, if your bowlers got that far!

We lost that series, but it was the most stirring fightback in our history, until Bhajji, Laxman and Dravid brought about that 2001 miracle against Australia. From two down, India came level, only to lose the last Test, that Lloyd and Fredericks settled (242 and 104, respectively, in the first innings). But even there, getting to 406 in the innings, chasing 604, to avoid the follow-on was no disgrace. Pataudi’s own contribution was very little. Pataudi was just the full-time captain, leader of men, Tiger himself. And he packed a roar even in his cricketing autumn.

Better informed people will write a lot more about Tiger’s cricket. But since my journalistic periscope is mostly political, let me talk politics. Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi was our rare, in fact almost solitary, Muslim star in not just cricket but popular culture in an era when our secular temper was still evolving. Through the sixties, Muslims were not even usually picked in the national hockey team because they were not trusted against Pakistan. Ask Inamur Rahman, a most brilliant forward of his time to not play very much for India. Aslam Sher Khan arrived in Indian hockey in 1972 and Azharuddin in cricket in 1983. But Tiger, at 21, was drafted to captain a battered India in the West Indies to replace Nari Contractor, nearly killed by a Griffith bouncer. It was 1961, and exactly the year when one Asif Iqbal left Hyderabad (Tiger’s Ranji team) for Pakistan which he captained later on. Tiger Pataudi, though he may never have looked at it like that, became that symbolic link in the evolution of Indian secular thought. Remember, this was a period when our biggest Muslim film stars had felt constrained to take Hindu names. Dilip Kumar and Madhubala, for example.

I return now to the first person and the “when I was...” narration. But this was not several decades, but only a few weeks ago. I was chatting with Saif Ali Khan on a Bombay-Delhi flight and told him who I thought was the most talented member of his brilliant family. His mom, Sharmila, of course.

Within weeks now, I have to have a rethink as you read all the stuff on Tiger, and go back to your own memories. The man taught India aggression, winning, how not to fear pace, and achieved all of it with just one good eye. Now just how much talent would that have required? I may, therefore, be allowed to change my opinion on who is (or sadly, was) the most talented member of this family. I am sure neither Sharmila, nor her brilliant children, would complain or disagree.

Shobhaa De

Friday, September 23, 2011

Rahul Baba and his Mama Complex...

Mumbai high society is gearing up for a seriously pink saturday night. Paris Hilton will be in the city to flog her handbags. And party. I am in two minds... what do you guys think? Go or not go?? I am tempted. I have always been intrigued by this strange creature who has made a good living out of.... ummm... good living! Her cv reads : professional party girl. And that's what she does for a living! Parties! Parties HARD! And gets paid big bucks for it. It's a tough life, folks. But someone's got to live it, right??

This appeared in The Week.

One of the most unforgettable Bollywood dialogues remains , “Mere Paas Ma Hai,” and with good reason. Mothers have played a huge role in Indian society, and no matter how hard our desi men pretend or protest, at heart they are quintessential Mama’s Boys. No issues. If they think Mama knows best, so be it. But when the ‘boy’ happens to be a 41- year-old bachelor, positioned as the next prime minister of India, one begins to worry. One of the many text messages doing the rounds right after Rahul Gandhi’s ‘game changer’ address at zero hour, read, “Mummy ko aane do… phir sab ko dekh loonga.” Roughly translated, it says, “Just let my mother return… and I’ll fix everybody.” It was a reflection of popular sentiment. Now that Sonia Gandhi is back, all eyes are on her – will the ‘wave of anger’ turn? Will she assert herself and provide a reliable road map to a party that appears lost and confused?Most importantly, will she be able to get her son back on track, given that he is the chosen one? It may turn out to be Sonia’s toughest challenge to date. Not just as the mother of a young man who is about to don the prime minister’s mantle, but also the mother figure to a party of old men. Imagine the irony of it all. Most of those seeking her guidance are far older than she is. They too have been behaving like mixed up adolescents pining for a mataji to come home and take charge. This is not just comical but also very telling. Jayalalitha has been addressed as ‘Amma’ for the longest time, ever since she hit her forties. That too, by grown up guys in their fifties and sixties! For some hard to decode reason, Mayawati is addressed as Behenji and Mamata Banerjee as ‘Didi’. And ‘sister’ they shall stay.While Sonia is ‘Madam’ to one and all, her role is that of a stern, autocratic matriarch who rules over a large and chaotic family. Greying men seek her counsel unabashedly. While Rahul’s contemporaries are happy to play little boys in her presence. It was astonishing to note how the party elders regressed during her long absence and refused to take a strong position, perhaps afraid of the consequences. It was left to Rahul to finally accept the challenge and address the nation. It was seen as a tactical error by political experts, and he was mauled by critics.But someone had to do the dirty job and who better than the heir?
Being Sonia Gandhi was never easy. Not even when she was just the glamourous Italian bahu of the famous Gandhi family. Today, her role is still more complex and vulnerable.It’s a ‘damned if she does and damned if she doesn’t’ situation. If party bosses had carried on jauntily during her illness, people would have gloated, “See… that’s how dispensable she is.” But by reminding the country that all major decisions were on hold, awaiting Madam’s clearance, the party once again demonstrated its crippling dependence on one woman – Sonia.
A major crisis looms. If Rahul’s leadership is not unconditionally (and immediately) accepted, if Sonia is not in a physical condition to take full control of day-to-day issues, there will be an obvious and alarming vacuum. Who’s going to fill it? How soon?If an alternative is not identified and announced within the next few weeks, it will lead to demoralization and disappointment. Team Anna had gone to town with the Bharatmata imagery. It was a shrewd, calculated move to leverage India’s mother fixation. When citizens were repeatedly told they were protesting in order to uphold the honour of the motherland, it struck a strong emotional chord. Whether it’s our villagers or the educated middle class, one thing is instantly understood – protecting a mother’s dignity. Anybody challenging that, is seen as an enemy. Within the party, that’s also how Sonia is perceived. To attack her is to attack your own mother. It’s a delicate situation that the Congress bosses will have to skillfully negotiate as plans for the 2014 Elections get crystallized. If Sonia chooses to play a less assertive role due to health reasons, what happens to Rahul? Not to worry, folks. There is a solution in sight. The name is Priyanka. She can play mentor to not just her brother, but the party , too. Rahul’s trump card is here! And the new dialogue can then read : ‘Mere Paas Behen Hai.”

Monday, September 19, 2011

There is beauty in everyone....

This is a self portrait shot by Gautam when he was just nineteen.He taught himself photography by shooting himself in the mirror of his armoire, which was - and remains - next to a window through which natural light streams in. Some of my best pictures have also been shot in this exact spot by him.
I swear Gautam would have found beauty within Narendra Modi, India's prime ministerial aspirant, too ! He was that generous!!
I have written this tribute for Forbes...

A few weeks ago, I was being photographed by one of today’s hot shot lensmen. The new breed. The guys in designer gear who arrive with an entourage of more than eight assistants and demand star treatment from magazine editors who hire them. At the end of the impersonal, brisk shoot with hardly a single meaningful exchange of words between the moody, scruffy photographer and moi, I turned to the stylist on the shoot and said, “That’s it? Are we done?” I didn’t want to linger for a single extra moment or even ask to see the images on the computer. I could as well have been shot by a robot. I don’t remember the man’s name. I wonder if mine registered with him. It was a job. We’d got it done. Finished. No time for small talk. No time for gup-shup. No time for something as basic as politeness. Time most certainly is money for this lot. Pack up was announced. The assistants fluttered around, putting away reflectors and lights that weren’t used (but paid for).
And I thought of Gautam.
Invariably dressed in a simple, comfortable white kurta-pyjama. Never rushed. Always chatty and cheerful. Unfailingly courteous to one and all — be it a gawky , desperately young first time model, or a Forbes’ List billionaire. No wonder he retained his position as an ace portraitist. No wonder people lined up to get themselves photographed by him. No wonder Gautam was a legend.
In a way, I bullied my cousin into getting ‘professional’ about his hobby. “Start charging for your pictures,” I suggested. That was over twenty-five years ago. He looked aghast. He was genuinely horrified. This was when he was working at Lintas, after a short stint as a lecturer of chemistry, and shooting for fun.
At the time, there were three or four outstanding, world class commercial photographers working in Mumbai. There was the cerebral snob, Jehangir Gazdar, who flew his own plane. Mitter Bedi, who specialised in industrial photography, Ashwin Gatha who went overseas and did very well as a fashion photographer, ‘Balsi’ (Balsara) who died young, and ‘Obi’ (Oberoi), who disappeared into the Lonavala hills and took to horticulture.
Gautam soon joined the Big Boys, but instead of picking the far more lucrative route via advertising campaigns, he decided to concentrate on magazine work, especially shoots involving movie stars. There was a time when a cover shot for top film glossies could not be assigned to anybody but Gautam. Stars were prepared to wait, take flights, change their schedules, change their entire personality if needed, to be photographed by Gautam. This was especially true of newbies in Bollywood, who believed a portfolio shot by Gautam was as good as a passport to instant fame. Many times, it was! Gautam’s reputation as a star maker was firmly established by then.
His early shoots with Smita Patil, Shabana Azmi, Sridevi, Rekha, Kaajol, Aishwarya Rai and most famously, Madhuri Dixit, did not just accelerate Gautam’s career but created a big buzz around his lovely leading ladies as well. He was crowned the Pharaoh of Faces!
A few years down the line, Gautam graduated from shooting movie stars and models, to photographing personalities. From J.R.D. Tata to Lata Mangeshkar, he managed to cover an impressive gamut of celebrities, including a few famously reticent individuals. How Gautam managed to relax these mighty individuals is another story. And this is where his genius comes in. Gautam was a remarkably intuitive person, who knew exactly which buttons to press, especially when he sensed his subject’s shyness or self-consciousness.
Gautam’s greatest gift as a photographer was that he saw beauty in everybody he photographed. And so genuine was this attribute, he made each and every one of his countless subjects feel beautiful… look beautiful. Momentarily, people forgot their flaws, big and small, and lulled themselves into believing they were indeed special… alluring… attractive. Or at any rate, worth a second look. What may have started out as a mere technique to relax those in front of his lens, soon became an intrinsic part of Gautam’s character.
From the hundreds of mails I have received since he passed away, most have been from regular people narrating a sweet, touching incident with Gautam playing a stellar role. Almost without an exception, these spontaneous mails talk about how he made people feel, not just look.
Everybody left his studio with a big smile, convinced they were indeed stars, if not in the movies, than in their own eyes. How absolutely wonderful!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

When celeb 'shaadis' go phut....

I was delighted when Nana Chudasama, the Chairman of Giants' International, a 39 -year-old social service organisation, promptly accepted my suggestion to honour Gautam Rajadhyaksha, posthumously, by giving him this prestigious award, four days after his sudden demise. Thank you, Nana. It was a grand function, as always, with a host of deserving receipients, like veteran TV anchor Vikram Chandra, media moghul Ronnie Screwvala, actor Farhan Akhtar, prominent doctors, educationists and of course, my old friend Y.K. Sapru of the Cancer Patients Aid Association. Gautam would have been delighted with the award... it would have meant a lot to him... such a pity, it came this late.
"The perils of living in a fish bowl " reads the headline for my column in the Sunday Times .... and this is the one I gave. Which one do you prefer??? :

"When celeb ‘shaadis’ go phut…."

Show me a person who doesn’t salivate over ‘salacious gossip’, and I’ll show you a bore! Come on… it’s human nature to want to know the dirty details about your neighbour, his wife, his kids, even his pet dog. That wonderful desi phrase: whyfor you are wanting to poke your big ,fat nose into other people’s lafdas? No other kaam-dhanda or what?’demands a candid response, “Frankly, no yaar! I am pretty faltu these days… tell me more.”As of now, the presswallas are pretty divided and the jury is out on how much coverage to give dishy C.M. Omar Abdullah’s official announcement ( he has split from Payal,his wife of 17 years). The rather silly argument is : “But it’s a personal matter… is it of national importance?” Ummm. Is Salman’s surgery of national importance? Does it impact India’s economy if Sheetal Mafatlal waltzes off with jools and canvases worth crores from her marital home, that may or may not belong to her? Does the future of Kingfisher Airlines change if Siddhartha Mallya marries Deepika Padukone? Will India go into deep shock and depression if the number one ‘It Girl’ of today, Vidya Balan goes public with a ‘dirty’ secret? It’s time to grow up and smell the spicy rassam. There is hardly anybody one earth who isn’t curious about what’s going on in the lives of public figures. Good looking, high profile public figures, at that. Omar Abdullah is almost a movie star. He has been the poster boy for the Congress Party ever since he jumped into the political arena. His father, Faroouq Abdullah, remains a rakishly attractive senior citizen, with a colourful reputation he has never bothered to hide. Omar’s tabloid credentials, in that sense, come from an impeccable lineage. And I am glad he has taken the best route available to celebrities caught in such sticky circumstances. Omar took the wind out of media sails by being upfront about the status of his failing marriage. This is how it is handled by mature, modern, clever people. Why wait for the muck to start flying? Why not pre-empt the inevitable coverage by making the announcement yourself and in the most dignified way possible? Why run away from what is already in the public domain?
Omar Abdullah has shown the way. Link-ups,break-ups,patch-ups, happen. Nobody is interested in these kahanis if the main protagonists are non-entities. But as soon as a person chooses the harsh glare of the spotlight, it’s time to kiss privacy goodbye. A celebrity can’t have it all – incandescent fame and a reclusive life. Unfortunately, the two (fame and zero privacy) are inter-linked. The Omar-Payal story read like a fairytale about today’s progressive India, given the assorted faiths and nationalities involved in the alliance. If the marriage and the arrival of two beautiful children , received extensive coverage in the press at the time without anybody squawking, ‘ But is it of national interest?’, why not just shut up and treat the impending divorce in the same spirit? Tabloid journalism across the world spares nobody. Look at how the media handled Arnie S and Tiger Woods when their marriages fell apart , publicly and rather horribly, with charges and counter charges ? Those men had no choice but to take it on the chin and move on with their lives and careers. So it shall be for Omar. It is entirely up to him and his estranged wife Payal how they handle the after math of the recent announcement. If they choose to wash dirty linen in public, you can bet there will be any number of takers.Scratch the surface and we are all voyeurs, living vicariously, feeding off stories about famous people’s fortunes and misfortunes. Forget the moral huffing and puffing. As we say in the media - brutally and crudely – a story is a story. Deal with it.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Happy Birthday, Gautam!

A few minutes from now, I'll be heading to Gautam's studio-cum-home. It's his birthday. He would have spent it in Pune, amidst great dhoom-dhaam, inaugurating the Symbiosis School of Photography - his dream project. We shall gather for a few hours, his friends and admirers... listen to Maria Callas, talk about him with love... a lot of love. And then go home... back to our lives, our routines, our families, our obligations. C'est la vie... shrug the French philosophically. Yup. That's life.
This appeared in the Hindustan Times on the 14th...

There are photographers. And there are great photographers. Gautam Rajadhyaksha was a great photographer. Not because he was the best. But because he made his subjects look their best. I don’t know of a single person privileged enough to be photographed by Gautam who didn’t emerge from his studio feeling – and looking - like a million bucks! It was this special ability of his, to transform fairly ordinary looking people into divine, sublime, ethereal creatures that was incomparable. In fact, his portfolio shots of aspiring models and actors were often so stunning, potential clients would look crest fallen when they actually met the same persons in the flesh. For all that gloss, there were no tricks involved. No gimmicks. Nothing more complicated than understanding the single most important aspect of photography – light. Gautam had mastered light, and nobody could compete with him when it came to lighting a face…. and almost miraculously finding that unique something about the individual, which others could not see, but he somehow managed to capture.
For me, he was the younger brother I bullied into taking up professional photography, and later writing. Out of selfish motives, of course. Why waste in-house talent, I argued, when he was reluctant initially. Once pushed, there was no looking back! He became the absolute darling of top movie stars who refused to be photographed by anybody else. It was said, Gautam had the magic touch. If he photographed an aspirant, that was as good as a ticket to big time. I can recall several early shoots, notably with Kaajol and Tina Ambani. Apart from those unforgettable images of legends like the Mangeshkar sisters, Sachin Tendulkar, J.R.D.Tata, Dhirubhai Ambani, M.F.Husain, Rekha, the Bachchan family and several other personalities, all of whom became his life long friends.
That he died almost literally with a camera in his hand, speaks a lot about his commitment to his art. Some of the pictures he shot as recently as yesterday, have yet to be downloaded. But for those of us who spent so many glorious hours listening to operatic arias, while he cajoled us to give just one more shot, another smile, a different angle… go the extra mile for that perfect image, Gautam shall remain not just in our hearts, but also in our living rooms as we flaunt his portraits with as much pride as others flaunt their paintings. Why not? Gautam was indeed a master… and so shall he remain, the undisputed King of Portraiture.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Man with the Magic Lens....

Last night after I got home from Gautam's funeral, I told myself 'this is not the time to cry... just get to your laptop and do what you have to do. Write those tributes... you owe him that much'. There were 8 requests pending from various newspapers. The deadline was the same for all - 9.30 p.m. It was close to 8 p.m. when I started writing the first of 6. The one you are reading here was the last one to be sent off. That's because the editor, Siddharth Vardarajan of The Hindu, had very kindly extended his deadline by half an hour. It was well past 1 a.m. when I finally switched off my cell phone and called it a night. It was one of the longest nights of my life. Gautam... and dead?
Extraordinary... there has been an avalanche of condolences from across India, across the world...all of today. I knew Gautam was loved and admired. But even I didn't realise just how much.I received calls from people I haven't been in touch with for years. People who may have met Gautam once... twice. But he had touched their lives and left a lasting impact. If you ask me, it was his innate goodness as much as his huge talent that people responded to. As I was framing the obituary for the Times of India , I asked Virginia, a mutual friend, to locate appropriate lines from Puccini's 'Tosca' ( Gautam's favourite opera). She found them swiftly (google, zindabad!)... and here they are : "I lived for my art... I lived for love...I never did harm to a living soul..." . Perhaps, Gautam is singing the same aria for the angels right now...


This appeared in The Hindu today....

The Man with the Magic Lens….

Gautam Rajadhyaksha was an accidental photographer. For a man who started his career as a lecturer in chemistry, and then went on to become one of the most celebrated photographers of our time, Gautam’s love affair with the camera could well be described as a guilty passion! But once he was up and running, after a stint at Lintas, Gautam rapidly established himself as The Chosen One. From Rekha to Amitabh Bachchan, from J.R.D.Tata to Sachin Tendulkar, Gautam captured them all. And did so with such simplicity and elegance! This was really his signature – the uncomplicated, divinely lit, perfectly framed portrait that went beyond a mere ‘ ‘pretty picture’ and managed to steal an elusive aspect of his subject’s personality. Astonished editors would often wonder what it was about Gautam… what was Gautam’s ‘jadoo’? How come he made everybody look so damned gorgeous? The truth is, there was nothing more complicated behind his artistry than enormous sensitivity and high intelligence. Gautam instinctively decoded his subjects. He was the quintessential people person. To be in his warm and homely studio was to feel you were at home – and indeed his studio was also is home! Most professional photographers treat their subjects as objects. Like it is a job that has to be done, and done quickly. Gautam gave each and every person in front of his lens, the same level of leisurely attention and utmost respect. He’d be the reassuring uncle with a nervous model, and a firm grandpa with a child artist. And when it came to movie stars, Gautam would switch between a fastidious school teacher demanding good grades to a conspiratorial best friend, relaxing everybody in the studio with dollops of harmless gossip. This ability to disarm even the high and mighty, led to some brilliant photo shoots which caught the celebrity off guard. And yet, these were not candid shots! These were carefully calibrated images, which Gautam had visualized inside his head much before the celebrity’s arrival.
We were close. Gautam was a confidante and friend before he was a cousin. I had pushed him into a career in photography at a time when he was a little diffident about his ability to make it in a fairly competitive and uncertain profession. We would both laugh about our middle class hang–ups and insecurities. Appreciation was very important to him and he valued feedback from those whose opinions counted. His scholarship and knowledge remain unparalleled in the world of Indian photography. Watching the new breed of what he termed, “digital photographers’, he’d analyse gimmicky, stylised images in the glossies and immediately point out the technical flaws. And yet, there was zero resentment. If anything, Gautam had grown into a benign father figure who willingly extended support and help to anybody who approached him. As the Guru of Portraiture, Gautam has no equal. It’s such a pity he passed away three days before a very significant date – Gautam was to turn 61 on the 16th of September, and the occasion was to be marked by the opening of the Faculty of Photography at Symbiosis, Pune. He had been working tirelessly for the past two years on setting up this ambitious project. It was a dream that remained unfulfilled for a man who made the dreams of countless people come true when he turned them into stars through the magic of his lens.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Sharam Karo,Bhai.... Sharam Karo!

The tides have been unusually high today. Which may be either good news or bad news for the Ganpatis going into the swirling waters for Visarjan. I feel sad and sentimental saying good bye to Mumbai's favourite deity. I used to stay awake till 3 a.m. in the past to watch the magnificent Lalbaugh Chha Raja on his last journey. These days I prefer to meet him when he presides in his pandal. I managed a rendez -vous after midnight three nights ago, and came away overwhelmed. He has that effect on devotees. All that I wished to tell him remained mostly unsaid, as I stared and stared and stared wordlessly, carried away and awe struck in his mighty presence. The power this deity commands has to be experienced.... for close to an hour after leaving the pandal, my heart was still racing and I could think of nothing but his glorious visage. Next year, is next year. I feel blessed this year. That's good enough!
Amitabh Bachchan was gracious enough to make time for Aparna Velankar, even though it was a hectic day and the roads around 'Janak' ( his office) must have been jam packed , what with all the Ganesh pandals in the vicinity. But... and here's an important 'but'. Such is his attention to detail, he got the ever-efficient Rosy from his office, to re-schedule the original appointment, pointing out thoughtfully to Aparna that the roads would be even more crowded with Gauri-Ganpati visarjans that day. Meticulous would be an understatement to describe Mr. Bachchan's style of functioning.That's something to learn for all those ill-mannered movie brats who think nothing of keeping people waiting for hours and hours while they 'relax' in vanity vans and ping away during important interviews. After all that, the Big B also found the time to blog about the appointment and share the experience with his faithful followers.The topic I had in mind for him ( The power of 'sanskaars')is going to be the highlight of the Deepavali bumper issue I'm editing for Lokmat this year.
This appeared in Asian Age on saturday....

Sharam Karo, bhai, sharam karo….

Yup.It happened.The nineteenth terror attack on the Capital in fifteen years. So far, the body count is 12 deaths and 90 injured. By the time someone takes the trouble to total it all up, India will have moved on ( 24 hours later, most people already have), and those who don’t live in Delhi will shrug and talk about ‘intelligence failure’, ‘security lapses’, ‘crisis in leadership’. Out-of-work movie stars will tweet away, offering prayers and condolences, and television anchors with grim faces will attempt to grill the usual suspects, embarrass a few and reprimand the rest. There it shall remain. Manmohan Tauji will tut tut ‘It’s a long war’ and beseech the ‘People of India to stand united’, remain ‘calm’ . Chidambaram Chhacha will issue some more somber sounding statements( does he just recycle them from a master list?). And that will take care of the situation… till the next blast… and the next. And till such time as every Wednesday will make Indians fear it may be another Black one. There is something called immunity. Just as cockroaches, dog ticks, certain strains of bacteria stop responding to powerful drugs and pest control chemicals, human beings too develop a resistance to acts of terrorism. How many times can we go ‘Hai Hai’ and beat our breasts? Those responsible for the safety and security of the nation count on just that. This ain’t America , boss. Nor is it Australia. Or any other country that has declared zero tolerance for terrorists. Here, we keep those accused and convicted of terror attacks in conditions that are denied to a majority of God-fearing, law -abiding citizens. Even the Sri Lankan assassins of a former Prime Minister have been spared from the gallows so far. Afzal Guru? Let’s not even go there! Ditto for Qasab. So long as we play these dangerous political games in a clumsy attempt to prove something dubious to the world (“ Look guys! We are a democracy. Please be impressed.”) we shall have to resign ourselves to living with terror. And slippery, weak politicians whose sole objective in life is to hang on to their kursis and make money.
What does the average Joe do in such a desperate situation? I received a really dumb email with a request to stand in silence and pray for the dead. Respecting the memory of those innocent people who were blown to bits on 7th September, is one thing. But the pointlessness of such chain mails makes me see red. There was another email which expressed outrage at the fact that not a single politician in the last 5 years was directly affected by terrorist attacks. It was as if the chattering classes would have felt a little better had a couple of netas lost their limbs or lives in similar attacks . This is just such a childish and churlish reaction!But one can understand where it’s coming from. There is so much repressed rage against the ruling class right now, that it would somehow appease the masses if those lofty politicos enjoying z-category protection at tax payers expense were as vulnerable as that poor Pawan Jaswal from Gurgaon who had come to the HC to attend a hearing on his employer’s case and was instantly killed.Increasingly, affected people are vociferously articulating their anger and contempt for leaders as was evident when Rahul Gandhi was heckled when he showed up at the RML Hospital. This is the bold writing on the wall that politicians need to pay close attention to. It indicates a shift in people’s attitude towards those in power . So far, the high and mighty have been insulated from such outrage because the cowering masses have grown accustomed to treating VIPs like ‘maap baap’, bowing and scraping in their presence. But, watch out!Nobody is likely to be spared in future, least of all bechara Manmohan Singh, whose kamzor position at present is encouraging dissidents to shout him down, when he trots out platitudes like, “Co-operation, not accusation, is the need of the hour.” Try saying that to 21-year-old victim Amanpreet Singh Jolly’s grieving father. Or to the wife of 54-year-old Vinod Jaiswal, who was blissfully oblivious she’d been widowed till much after 4.30 p.m. when the sad news was finally broken to her by Ashok, Vinod’s brother. Unfortunately, not too many people will remember these tragic stories even a week from now. Not even the media.
The government cannot hope to get away with alibis and excuses each time the nation is shattered by demonic acts of terror. The buck does stop with those in power. It is the primary duty of our elected representatives to protect lives of citizens.People don’t care if it is the ‘LeT hand’, or Harkat, IM or some other terror group’s ‘foot’ that’s responsible for the HC attack. 68% of people polled blamed the blast on ‘the lack of a political will to tackle terrorism.’’
Sharam karo, bhai, sharam karo.The mood of the nation is belligerent.Public anger is as lethal, as dangerous as an IED. All that’s required is a trigger. And such a symbolic blast can cause far greater damage than anything placed in an abandoned suitcase.
It’s ‘champi’ time for politicians. The smart thing to do would be to keep shut and get to work. Oh yes - netas should definitely stay away from the RML Hospital – we don’t need any more casualties there.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Why Kiran Bedi....?

I attended one of the most satisfying book launches of my life. The first time author? The frail but sprightly Sidney Pinto, a charming 85-year-old who has penned a delightful novel titled 'Louis Puttichenna - The Servant Boy from Mangalore.' Not only is it a swift read, it is a bloody good story, full of passion and intrigue, with as many twists and turns as a rivulet in the author's 'native place'' - the one he has written about with such flair and panache. The book is well observed, detailed, and dare I say it, even erotic! Sidney has created some wonderful characters, and like I mentioned at the launch, I can see a movie in the book. As for the star of the evening - Sidney himself - he was dressed in a fancy kurta pajama ensemble and busy flirting with all the pretty girls fluttering around him. When one of them asked solicitously whether he needed extra oxygen from a cylinder that was kept in readiness for him, he replied, " Of course.... the sight of so many beautiful women is making me breathless!" I am looking forward to his next novel. And I'd be more than happy to publish it!
This appeared in The Week....

Why Kiran Bedi….?

It happened to Barkha Dutt. Now it’s Kiran Bedi’s turn. At this point in time, ‘Crane’ Bedi, India’s most high profile, female (ex) top cop, has talked herself into a corner, going by the widespread hostility she has generated on the internet during Anna Hazare’s 13-day agitation. Since she was one of the key players of the Anna Campaign and visible on tv screens 24x7 during the period, there was just no escaping the Bedi onslaught. Whether energetically dancing with the tricolour, giving regular updates on Anna’s condition, mocking parliamentarians or just being officious, Bedi, clad in her trademark, macho salwar-suits with matching jackets was the tough talking spokesperson everybody loved to hate. Her ‘Anna is India, India is Anna’ declaration did not go down too well with critics, who kept urging the over eager former cop to calm down and take a break. Or, at least give poor viewers a break. That is Kiran’s personality – you either love her or loathe her. Ignoring Kiran is not an option! Well, now that the Ramlila show is over and everybody has gone home, it’s time to deconstruct the event ( for it was a carefully structured event, with highly capable event managers, make no mistake about that) and get a sense of the personalities behind Anna’s rise to superstardom. Let’s be honest, we live in intensely image-conscious times, driven more by perceptions than reality. Anna’s fast turned out to be a made-for-television protest – whether it was planned that way or not. People across the length and breadth of India, watched a 74 –year-old man taking on the mightiest in the land, fasting for his one-point mission, which is to root out corruption through the Jan Lokpal Bill. A mission that found countless takers in a nation that had reached boiling point dealing with venality and graft on an every day basis and at every level. But for Anna’s mission to succeed, he needed a crack team to push his agenda forward. His Gang of Four, included top brains ( Arvind Kejriwal, Shanti Bhushan, Santosh Hegde and Kiran Bedi). Kiran must have been allotted the ring master’s portfolio, for that is how her role appeared, as she shepherded Bollywood celebs to the dais and kept up a non-stop entertainment show against the backdrop of India’s two Gandhis – the original and the freshly-minted one - Anna Hazare . The visual alone was photogenic enough, but Kiran’s full-blooded performance was electrifying!
Given that a victory ( albeit, qualified) has been declared by the Anna Camp, why then does Kiran continue to attract so much flack?Perhaps it has something to do with her appearance and attitude. Compare the crowd’s favourable response to Medha Patkar ( brought in at the tail end of the sensitive negotiations), who held the stage clad in crumpled home- spun sarees, ill- fitting blouses, her unkempt, undyed hair in a careless braid. Her speeches were strident and uncompromising, forceful and fierce. But she refrained from nautanki ( reference: Kiran’s infamous mimicry act) preferring to concentrate on getting valid points across, as emphatically and swiftly as possible. She exploited TV time to her own advantage, without once inviting ridicule. That’s smart. Medha is brilliant at what she does, but this was the first time that she was given such a gigantic platform to air her views on a subject that found universal appeal. Anna’s protest against corruption had many more takers than Medha’s contoversial Narbada Dam campaign. If some viewers felt uncomfortable with Kiran Bedi’s hectoring style, it was Medha who restored the balance and brought in the required gravitas. Even though both women were on the same side of the fence, their respective styles were entirely at a variance. Medha’s was more cerebral as she attempted to educate the masses, Kiran’s more playful as she took the showbiz route to entertain, rather than inform the restless crowd. The rather unfortunate message Kiran sent out was that of a publicity hound hogging all the limelight, hamming it up on camera, while colleagues did the real work outside the glare of the spotlight. Kiran’s folly should act as a lesson to all those supporters of worthy causes. There is something known as overkill. And a little restraint hurts nobody. Manish Tewari will no doubt agree!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Yellow Boots? Ugh...

K.C. College ( phew! 6000 students in one smallish building near Churchgate Station - that is what I call space and time management!). That's where I spent my morning, addressing the bright, young first batch of the Media course, which offers a master's degree after two years. I found the kids very charged up and well informed. It was a pleasure interacting with them... and ha ha ha ... they got to hear a pretty candid account of what it's really like in this mad business. I hope I didn't disillusion those sweet idealists too much! Of course, they should go out there and change the world!!
This appeared in Bombay Times.... with due apologies to Nancy Sinatra!

These boots are made for walking….

I watched “….Yellow Boots,” and exited the multiplex with my brains scrambled! What the hell was it about? And pray, in what way did the colour of the boots have anything to do with the bizarre story, which went nowhere?There’s something mad and annoyingly self-indulgent about a certain set of self-declared arty, over-hyped,intellectualised film makers these days, who make films that seem to be specifically designed to befuddle ( and NOT in the ‘Inception’ way). Viewers who don’t ‘get it’ start suspecting their own sensibilities, others who claim they’ve ‘got it’ , come away feeling superior. But the truth of the matter is, not even the film maker ( in this case Anurag Kashyap) has actually ‘got’ anything.But again, this attempt is sweeeeet – it’s a besotted man’s ‘tofaa’ to his new wife (Kalki Koechlin), who has co-written the movie and is the girl in those damned boots! I heard a viewer comment, “This lady Kalki should change her name to Kinky! Man…. This movie is just so twisted and weird!” Perhaps , after the artistic success of Dev-D, Kalki has figured out her brand positioning in Bollywood – she gets to play all the kinky roles that mainstream heroines shun. She plays them convincingly, too. Her obsessive character in “…..Boots,” is in search of a missing father. While she looks for the guy, she works in a sleazy massage parlour and offers ‘hand jobs’ for an extra thousand bucks. Several transactions later, viewers start feeling queasy at the sight of all the discarded tissues in the waste bin. But ‘Ruth’ ( that rhymes with a certain unmentionable Hindi gaali), soldiers on ( she is on a mission, remember?) with what she euphemistically calls ‘handshakes’ or ‘happy endings’, till we hurtle towards the (anti)climax. In between, a whole bunch of caricatures with no relevance to the story, bob in and out of the film – a druggie boy friend, handcuffed to a window grill, who is forced to pee out of the window. And an adorable baddie Chittiappa from Karnataka (Gulshan Devaiya), who prefers his ‘handshake’ through a thick towel. But the real star of this kinky-indie, is Puja Sarup, the cell-phone addict who runs the seedy parlour. Despite all these obvious flaws, I still didn’t mind the 350 bucks I spent on this pointless tale about incest and child abuse. Kalki definitely has a future.Kinky is ‘in’.

The movie I am holding my breath for is ‘My Brother Ki Dulhan.’ Our ‘Kat on a Hit Tin Room’ has outdone her own Sheila in this role, going by the promos. Guns, guitars and roses coming up!
Jehangir Sabavala passed away as quietly and discreetly as he had lived.Elegant and refined even in death. I loved the story about Jehangir as a student, turning up at the J.J. School of Art in his stately car, with a personal valet carrying his paint brushes and palette! He sliced through the boring stereotype of an artist starving in an attic , clad in shabby clothes and sporting a scruffy beard. Sabavala was India’s cravat-wearing Dali. But unlike Dali, Jehangir’s precise, subdued paintings reflected his aristocratic approach to art as well as to life.They really don’t make them like him any more!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

I am Salman,You are Salman,We are all Salman!

This is the 'Jhoola' picture , shot by the late Mitter Bedi, that hangs in one of the large Celebrity Windows in the corridor of the Taj Mahal Hotel. I am very proud of it... it is an honour to be included with the likes of international greats - Pandit Ravi Shanker,Sunil Gavaskar, Amitabh Bachchan, The Beatles, Richard Branson, Presidents, Prime Ministers, Sports Stars, Movie Stars,Kings and Queens.You like???
This appeared in the Sunday Times, but for some inexplicable reason, the people in charge of making the page changed the headline to a less naughty one : New Supermen of the Besotted Masses. BORRRRRIIIIINGGGG!
Khair, it's their prerogative. Just like it is Naseer Hussain's prerogative to call our cricketers 'Donkeys'. Harsha Bhogle.... really!!! How could you take that lying down?
I am in a feisty mood this drippy sunday. Must be the modaks I had at lunch. Our home experiment wasn't too successful... but the effort was sincere. Am kicking myself for not having asked my mother for the exact recipe when she was alive.
Today is the last day of the Society Collections. I am tempted to go back for the third time and pick up some more Diwali decorations.
However, I did very well at Reena Bodani's Design Quest ( it's her virgin show at Design One, which starts on the 8th ). I love Reena's design sensibilities and splurged on her elegant stationery ( she's happy to personalise it for customers).
I also enjoyed shooting for Ahlan's Special Issue, India's Hot Hundred, with my daughter Avantikka and grand-daughter Anasuya Devi.Once we were done with the shoot in the Rajput Suite of the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel (imagine! it was in the same suite that my iconic 'Jhoola' picture was shot, 40 years ago!), we went down to the Sea Lounge and celebrated Anasuya's premiere visit to our favourite hotel. A tiny chocolate cake sent across to the table, marked the occasion. Such a 'Taj' touch!
How did we mark the end of Shravan? Well, Arundhati, who observes it with me, was away in Leh on a camping trip, and broke hers at an altitude of 15,000 feet. I was at Avantikka's home and raised a glass of sparkling wine!Alas, at sea level.But that single glass made me feel I was at 30,000 feet. That's what I call a real 'high'.
Now for our annual darshan of the magnificent Lalbaugh Chha Raja!

I am Salman,You are Salman,We are all Salman…

Feel the punch.Feel the heat.Feel the kick.Feel the powerrrrr!
Feel it? If you just did, it’s called the Salman Hangover.And those are lyrics from the title track of Salman Khan’s latest release ‘Bodyguard’, which has smashed all box office records on the first day of its perfectly timed Eid release. Incidentally,it is a monumentally ridiculous film.Does that matter? Salman’s myriad admirers are on a high.So are Anna’s (even after ‘pack up’ was called at the now deserted Ramlila grounds).These men do not have fans, they have devotees. After two consecutive superhits, Salman’s producers were hoping for a hat trick with ‘Bodyguard’. Their only worry was the stupendous success of an earlier production that was running to a packed house and had virtually captured every available sub-continental eyeball watching television, 24x7. The script of that particular production changed by the hour and was compelling enough to keep a billion Indians riveted for close to a fortnight. It was a unique and original script, though a few ‘khadoos’ critics insisted it was a remake of Richard Attenborough’s ‘Gandhi’. So what? ‘Bodyguard’ is a re-make , too. Audiences don’t care, so long as they get their money’s worth. The Ramlila verion of ‘Gandhi’ guaranteed ‘houseful’ shows and was fully paisa vasool. Its canny producers ( Team Anna) realizing its potential as a national and possibly, an international blockbuster,had gone flat out to leverage its popularity, with marketing gimmicks that generated shock and awe. Caps, flags, placards and soundbytes were neatly in place, as were pre-booked slots on popular tv programmes including a reality show that enjoys high ratings. The positioning and placement of the ‘product’ ( Jan Lokpal Bill) was shrewdly calibrated to appeal to the target audience ( same as ‘Bodyguard’s’). If Katrina Kaif was sweet enough to help out good friend Salman with an item number ( feel the heat, you guys!), Team Anna was fortunate enough to have Kiran Bedi dancing a daily jig on the dais ( could have done with better choreography, though). The music of both productions was mediocre, though Team Anna scored with live performances, a few of which drew top stars like the other Khan – Aamir.
But just like Salman devotees don’t really bother with the side shows and are there solely for Salman, Team Anna’s core group understood it was Anna who attracted those mammoth crowds – just Anna.That’s what real superstardom is all about. It knows no logic and there’s nothing remotely rational about the hysteria it triggers off. The Wave is everything – and professionals know exactly how to time it, ride it…. just like competitive surfers. But no matter how cold bloodedly minders try and manufacture the magic or capitalize on a craze, at the heart of such madness lies something entirely ephemeral. It is called love. And that cannot be manufactured. People love Salman and Anna. Unconditionally, at that.It would appear these two men have absolutely nothing in common. One is a 41- year-old, pumped up movie actor whose specialization lies in the many and highly innovative ways of removing his shirt on screen( a water hose does the job in ‘Bodyguard’).The other is a bird- like 74- year- old who may have never worn a shirt ( except in the army).But both men are seen as avatars of ‘Superman’ by besotted followers.One performs unbelievable physical feats on screen ( Salman single handedly slays no less than fifty baddies in ‘Bodyguard’), the other does so in real life (fasts for 13 days without a single sign of fatigue).. Their stupendous success defies the odds. Their undeniable charisma sees them through life’s most daunting tests. Salman plays a simpleton in ‘Bodyguard’ – an innocent, trusting person called Lovely Singh ( you read that right!). Anna is such a person in real life. Both men are single, though Salman is ever ready to mingle. India is their extended family. And such is the fanaticism of their followers, one word spoken or written about either, generates an avalanche of abuse. Clearly there’s zero tolerance for criticism.Allegiance is everything and camps are closed to ‘outsiders’. Interestingly enough, Salman’s last hit, ‘Dabbang’ was launched at a time when his only rival was Baba Ramdev (I had written a column on their similarities in this space). Ramdev’s fortunes went downhill right after. Today, it’s Anna Hazare, and he is still going strong. But it is Salman Khan who leads a charmed life and seems indestructible.
It’s got to be that shirt trick!