Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Lots of 'Agni' in 'Agneepath'....

Here's the pic from the Governor's 'At Home'. The gracious lady is the Governor's wife,Radha. I have received a wonderful letter from the Guv himself. I'll post it here tomorrow. Umesh Kashikar, who is the Guv's P.R.O , has forwarded it to me... and I appreciate the effort greatly.


Kya good-looking hai hum!

Hrithik Roshan has no business being this good looking! Really! It is these very God-given looks that have become a bit of a liability for the poor man. Yes, one can always say, “Get over it ”. But that doesn’t happen easily. In an earlier hit (“Zindagi….”), Hrithik’s Greek God appearance worked for the character and mood of the movie. Distracting, but apt. In ‘Agneepath’, it’s harder to focus on Hrithik playing Vijay Dinanath Chauhan ( tch-tch… that should have read : Chavan) , simply because he looks far too posh for the role. Put the man in a shabby ganji, locate him in an overcrowded chawl, he’ll still resemble a poster boy for the good life – an Armani model slumming it over the weekend just to check what life is like on the other side of the railway tracks. I have yet to meet a Maharashtrian man who looks anything like Hrithik ( and it isn’t just about those blue-green eyes, or carefully blond-streaked hair).Then comes the performance. Again, it’s hard not to compare it to not-so-handsome Amitabh Bachchan’s original Vijay, with burning coals for eyes and that exaggerated gravelly voice. Hrithik’s interpretation is a more nuanced one – brooding, intense, not half as volcanic.It’s easy to fall in love with Hrithik’s Vijay – it’s a wonder the evil Kancha ( man mountain Sanjay Dutt) doesn’t flip for him!So, does the film work for today’s audiences?Forget the staggering box office records for the moment. The answer is ‘Yes’. And I say this after having shut my eyes and blocked my ears through all that blood-and-gore ( it is one of the most stomach churning films in recent memory, replete with sadistic, graphic close- ups that I couldn’t handle). It is also very dated , with an ambiguous time frame. This may be the reason why it works – with all that rona-dhona, honour, glory, revenge masala we used to lap up decades ago. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if nostalgia for an old-fashioned genre that once defined Bollywood stages a triumphant comeback after this blockbuster. No special effects, no 3-D. Just heavy duty melodrama. And one truly ridiculous scene of Zarina Wahab delivering a baby. Zarina!! But the undisputed superactor in this colourful retelling of an old film is Rishi Kapoor, whose curled lips and heartless sneers speak a new language of polished villainy. Rishi’s Rauf Lala steals the show effortlessly, reminding us once again that genius is all in the genes.
George Clooney and Hrithik Roshan suffer from the same problem – both make the cut as ‘The Sexiest Men Alive’. Trust me, that’s a serious handicap. If Clooney does win the coveted Best Actor Oscar for his role as Matt King in ‘The Descendants’ it would be for playing a cuckolded husband – which woman in her right mind would cheat on someone who looks like Clooney? Geddit?? It’s Bollywood’s way of telling George, “It’s okay, dude. We forgive you for being so blindingly attractive!” It’s poor Brad Pitt’s problem as well. What can these actors do? They are brilliant at their craft. But nobody wants to look beyond their obvious sex appeal. Tough, huh? Well, a guy’s gotta do, what a guy’s gotta do. Good luck, George. About the movie, it belongs to three people – Robert Forster, playing Matt’s father-in-law,Shailene Woodley playing Alexandra, Matt’s troubled teenage daughter, and Nick Krause as Sid, Alex’s chilled out boyfriend. Clooney is a bonus!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Air India can learn from Finnair!

It's been raining movies this weekend. Agneepath followed by The Descendants.Not that I am complaining about either! More from me on both. The idea is to make the most of January's last Sunday... I bet half the world is sighing, "Oh God! First month gone in a flash!" Gayaa toh gayaa. As for me, I'm in the mood to sign up for a flash mob performance of 'Chikni Chameli' outside the Mantralaya. Better still, the mob should opt for the original Marathi version - 'Komdi Palali."


This appeared in the Asian Age today...

Maa…. Tujhe Salaam!

I’m writing this the morning after the night before.India’s 63rd Republic Day went off without an ‘incident’, and we should be so relieved. Imagine. It has come to that. For nearly a fortnight before the 26th Of January, there is an extra high alert all over the country.Which means it is not the best time to be traveling, especially if Delhi is your destination. First, you deal with the notorious fog ( surely, there’s a foreign hand somewhere?) that delays flights for hours on end. Then there’s the deadly red alert, which means further delays and mysterious procedures. Add to that, the presence of countless men in camouflage gear, bearing serious weapons and looking menacingly at weary, sleep deprived passengers. No, it’s not fun at all. The drill is slightly different in Mumbai, where the biggest Republic Day woes revolve around the ‘no booze’ rule. Restaurants, pubs, clubs and bars remain largely empty. And those die hard tipplers who can afford it, jump onto flights taking them for heavy duty r&r to Phuket ( shunned by the smart set these days, but popular with Bollywood holiday makers), Colombo or Rangoon( for the determinedly hip). Given the slight nip in the air, Mumbaikars grab the opportunity to air moth- balled shawls and sweaters and complain about catching a chill. Nobody really thinks about the State of the Nation while admiring the tastefully lit up Mantralaya. This is just as well. No matter what those bods in the Capital tell us, the story isn’t all that wonderful. And it’s slightly silly to keep pointing out the price of ‘mutter’ and ‘pyaaz’. Yes, those damned veggie prices are down by a couple of bucks. So what? The other, more significant statistics remain depressingly stagnant, and oppressively frustrating. At the moment, India’s report card isn’t reading well, never mind the fickle Sensex ka yo-yo. Or any of the other indicators of Bharat Mata’s ‘progress’ that swing as tantalizingly as Katrina Kaif’s hips in the latest superhit ‘item song’ (‘Chikni Chameli’ from ‘Agneepath’). Despite all the above, magic happens. As it did last evening, at a charming, old- fashioned Republic Day Reception , hosted by Shri K. Sankaranarayanan ,the well liked Governor of Maharashtra and his wife, Shrimati Radha , on the lawns of what has to be one of the grandest Raj Bhavans in India ( the one in Kolkata comes a close second).
I make it a point to attend these ‘At Homes’ each time I receive an invitation. Some Governors like me, some don’t. I’m guessing Shri Sankaranarayanan likes me, since I was invited for the second year running. This is just as well. I like him , too. And I enjoy the archaic drill on such occasions, replete with several colonial flourishes, like a military band playing Viennese waltzes, once they’re done with a brassy version of the national anthem. This is the moment everybody waits for. By then, a warm, melon hued sun is setting in the bay on the edge of the manicured lawns. A discreet drum roll alerts invitees to the presence of ‘Important Men’ who appear as if out of nowhere on top of a stone stairway that leads to the lawns. These represent the top brass of the State – Shri Prithivaj Chavan, the Chief Minister , and other members of the cabinet who walk right behind these two worthy gentleman. There is an appropriate hush, as members of the consular corps, visiting dignitaries ( the health minister from Quebec, this year), top cops, lawyers, business people, plus, assorted hustlers and other usual suspects stand aside respectfully to allow the slow passage of the Guv to a gilded sofa placed on a carpet over the lawn. While the Guv’s entourage follows at a small distance, various pushy invitees stalk and waylay the poor C.M.. thrusting cards into his hand, and clicking pictures with him on their cell phones ( Facebook, zindabad!).Meanwhile, a long queue starts to snake its way towards the gilded sofa, where the Guv and his gracious wife, nod and smile at people they are not likely to meet ever again. Tea is served . Coffee, too. Out of large stainless steel containers with convenient taps. Cake, sandwiches, samosas get piled on to the plates of those who aren’t busy schmoozing and sucking up to VIPs and prefer snacks over sycophancy. These form a minority. As the sun sinks into the Arabian Sea, a plaintive last post is sounded, and the tricolour comes down.Mercifully, no speeches are made. Not so mercifully, invitees complain that the parking lot this year has been shifted to Chowpatty Beach, nearly two kilometers away from the Raj Bhavan. Security issues are cited, but that explanation placates nobody. I spot India’s premier Oscar winner, Bhanu Athaiya, patiently waiting for her car. She is on an Oscar road trip across the country for a tv channel as a run up to the big event.It’s been years since an Indian won that precious Oscar. If only those dumb Hollywood guys who decide these things were to start a fresh category for the Best Item Song of the Year, India would win Oscar upon Oscar, year after year. Till such time, we’ll have to console ourselves and be grateful that Anil Kapoor gets mobbed in Agra, while Tom Cruise needs hired fans in Mumbai.
But for me, this lovely, newspaperless morning was made lovelier still when a friend sent me a link to a Youtube video that featured the good looking crew of Finnair dancing to a rollicking Bollywood track (“Om, Shanti, Om”) on a Republic Day flight to Delhi. Now, that’s what I call a real celebration. Why couldn’t Air India have thought of it first?

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Proud to be Indian!

I am sitting at home and thinking to myself.... It's kinda appropriate to be posting a column about Yoko Ono on India's 62nd Republic Day. 'Give peace a chance' , the immortal anthem written by Yoko's husband John Lennon so many moons ago, remains frighteningly relevant today. And there's Yoko, energetically carrying on in her own unique way... raising the bar with each cause she backs.
I shall attend the Governor's 'At Home' this evening, held on the manicured lawns of the magnificent Raj Bhavan, and then rush to watch 'Agneepath'. More on the movie tomorrow.
Meanwhile... here's saluting India. A great nation. Proud to be Indian.


“Give peace… and women…. a chance!”

Yoko Ono is one hell of a woman. She has guts. And tenacity. She also has tremendous self-belief. As the loathed and reviled wife (and now, widow) of the legendary John Lennon, Yoko has been accused of many ‘crimes’. But I think, her biggest one (according to critics) is that she has refused to buckle under, and disappear quietly into the woodwork. The feisty ‘protest artist’ as she describes herself, is in India to woo and perhaps celebrate the women of this country with a show aptly titled, “Our Beautiful Daughters”. In a free wheeling interview to a daily, Yoko Ono spoke engagingly and passionately about her concerns, making several references to her late husband’s immortal anthem which featured the inspiring lyrics that urged each and every one of us to ‘make the world a better place.’ Yoko insists she has been doing her best to take that theme forward. But the most telling quote in the interview stated, “ The whole world is starting to realize that it was the most unwise thing to have ignored woman-power, to run societies with male priorities.” Yoko articulated what millions of women across the globe deeply believe in, but cannot articulate as lucidly. Yoko also clarified she was never a flag waving activist for women’s rights. She said she had spent her entire life merely being herself, which automatically meant ‘promoting women’. As an avant- garde conceptual and performance artist, Yoko has invariably and inventively tested the limits, challenged stereotypes and broken rules. Unfortunately, the international art world has stubbornly refused to take her seriously.Ditto for the music world. If anything, Yoko has been consistently snubbed by the art elite, most of who happen to be men, as she herself dryly pointed out. But instead of retreating hurt and spewing bile, Yoko has soldiered on, undertaking high risk projects that have generated controversy and comment, but rarely any appreciation.
Women like Yoko Ono almost always generate hostile responses since they cannot be placed inside a neatly labeled box. When she married the man who was acknowledged as ‘the most talented Beatle’, she got savaged in print by John Lennon’s besotted fans that saw her as a weird outsider, a control freak, a gold digger. The fact her husband respected and trusted her, did not count for much. After his brutal murder, she was expected to lie low or preferably, disappear altogether.But she wisely refused to walk away from her husband’s mighty legacy. Against tremendous odds, she hung in there and faced the barrage of anti-feelings that confronted her each time she was seen in public. Her ‘protests’ were viewed as stunts and gimmicks. Her public rebellion was dubbed suspect. And her appropriating John’s persona was called cold blooded and opportunistic. Yoko became the official ‘Evil Witch from the East.’ And even today, so many years later, she remains a persona non-grata in snooty circles.
Women in India are far more open minded and accepting of people like Yoko Ono. She says she has been welcomed and greeted by so many intelligent and beautiful women from the Indian art world. This is an accurate and reassuring observation. Yoko Ono is not perceived as a ‘threat’ by anybody in this part of the world. In America, her Japanese identity may have been held against her. Fans of the Beatles continue to blame Yoko for the split, and she is still made to answer for that high profile break up of the group. Had she conformed to the assigned role and behaved like a groupie (which is what most wives of famous musicians turn into), maybe she wouldn’t have generated so much heat. But Yoko Ono it was who persuaded her husband to pose naked with her for the jacket of their album. And it was Yoko again who defiantly sat next to her husband, holding hands, during their first trip to India. This was at a spiritual retreat in Rishikesh where men and women were segregated and made to sit separately. Expecting Yoko to be a good girl and behave herself was never a part of the plan! Thank God she didn’t disappoint anyone. Let’s wait and see what Yoko does on her second trip to India! Let’s hope she manages to generate shock and awe this time round as well.

Monday, January 23, 2012

My 'Saafa' moment in Jaipur.....

Since there is a charming comment on the 'saafa' in my friend Meenal Baghel's lively 'Mumbai Mirror' today, I thought it a good plan to share images with my blogdosts. Alas, there were no jewels on the turban, just a 'Penguin 25 Years' tin badge pinned on it! It is a terrific time to be a Penguin. And I am indeed exceedingly loyal to the imprint that has given me so much over those very 25 years that we are celebrating this year, with a series of exciting events. I wish I could have carried my bright and beautiful 'Socialite Bag' that night, but it was swiped! What an imaginative merchandising opportunity. Since 25 authors, along with 25 iconic titles, are being honoured via post cards, mugs and cloth bags, how could I not carry my own one which acknowledges my first ever book, 'Socialite Evenings'? The other bags worth possessing are 'The Bag of Small Things' and 'The Suitable Bag'. No prizes for guessing which fabulous authors inspired those - right???
This appeared in the Bombay Times today.... fingers crossed the videolink does happen...

Jab Salman gayab ho gaya!

The single most vibrant ‘presence’ at the Jaipur Lit Fest was of someone who wasn’t there! Had Salman Rushdie really shown up, I’m certain he’d have overshadowed Oprah Winfrey. Thousands of Salman supporters were hoping against all odds that Rushdie would defy conventional wisdom and turn up at Diggi Palace. I guess the ‘cooked up’ death threats took care of that key decision, leaving the Talk Show Queen to hog the limelight minus any competition. Since Salman has indeed become the cause celebre of this annual Carnival ( Literary Kumbh Mela), the issues raised by his absence have hi-jacked the Festival itself. Nobody could have anticipated this dramatic turn of events, least of all, the organizers who had invited Salman in good faith. The debate will continue long after the Festival ends , and the Jaipur Lit Fest 2012, will be remembered for all the wrong reasons. Salman will become the literary martyr who was ‘lied to’, and other authors who boldly read passages from the banned ‘Satanic Verses’, will get their muted wah wahs for ‘showing guts’. At least one of them , managed to flee to Bangkok fearing arrest. So much for ‘guts’. The others quickly packed their bags and left town. Salman Rushdie ‘Superstar’ will undoubtedly eat out on the story at other international Lit Fests, and everybody will eventually forget that the entire controversy was manufactured by politicians to serve their own purpose. The big question to ask is : will protesting writers boycott the Festival next year ? No chance! It has grown into such an attractive monster, most hungry writers would prefer to be devoured and consumed by it…. rather than be ignored and left out! But the ghost of Salman Rushdie will haunt the venue for years to come.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Big 'O' moment with Mumbai cops...

Blogdosts, I got back from the Jaipur Lit Fest late this evening. And no, I didn't attend THE session of the Fest - the one that led to a near stampede. People started to pour into the Diggi Palace grounds at 7 a.m. to grab their seats for the Oprah interaction ( she refused to take questions from the audience). By 10 a.m. all approach roads were sealed! I hear Oprah was at her scintillating best. And Barkha Dutt did a brilliant job of interviewing her. But I am a little puzzled - did Oprah really say, "This is my first and last trip to India?" to another journo? I had met Barkha at the totally amazing Penguin party the night before and asked her to throw that question to Oprah. Apparently, Oprah told Barkha she wants to come back to India again and again and again! So, honey.... which one is it??? Never again? Or again and again?

This appeared in the Sunday Times today...

The Big ‘O’ leaves Mumbai cops cold!
Oprah spontaneously mopped the brow of a profusely sweating waiter with a napkin she’d grabbed from his tray… and followed that up with a warm hug. Onlookers thought the overwhelmed young man would faint there and then! He didn’t, but it was easy to conclude the magical ‘Oprah Effect’ had effortlessly claimed another lifelong fan! Her presence is indeed so powerful, so magnetic, it’s impossible not to get instantly drawn to her. It’s equally impossible not to blabber inanities, gush embarrassingly, take pictures, and generally carry on in a cringe-making manner that would shame teenage fans at a rock concert.Everyone wants a piece of Oprah. And here’s the surprising bit – Oprah wants a piece of everyone! It is this single and unique quality to engage with a complete stranger and make that person feel like family, that is the key to Oprah’s phenomenal global success.She calls herself ‘Everywoman’. But she is actually ‘Everyperson’. She doesn’t have to work the room. The room walks up to her. And when she throws back her head to laugh at yet another clumsy compliment, her laughter is genuine. Having got the gooey stuff out of the way, it’s time to get down to brass tacks. What exactly is Oprah doing in India (it’s her first trip, and it sure has taken her years to make it). Bluntly stated :She’s here to make money.Tap new markets. Recast herself in a brand new show titled Oprah’s Next Chapter.There’s a huge, immensely profitable constituency waiting to be exploited.She said she was planning a five hour special on the country. That’s a lot of footage. Television is a ravenously hungry beast. To feed five hours of crackling programming, Oprah would need ten times as much material. No dearth of that in our land. Especially for a really smart and extraordinarily dynamic businessperson who heads the world’s rich list for women. It is evident from her high energy levels that never seem to flag, that Oprah works 24x7. It’s a relentless pace , but as she put it, it’s love that keeps her going. Love for what she does. And she does that superbly well - better than any other tv personality on earth. Does she never tire of meeting people and hearing the same old, recycled, trite reactions? Never, she exclaims dramatically, adding, “It’s a new person every time.” Her delivery of the simplest lines is so emphatic and convincing, it does not encourage contradiction. Her own clichés (about the ‘great Indian family’, and how happy the poor in India are) expectedly, went unchallenged.
As Mumbai’s Most Wonderful swirled around the world’s most charismatic woman, frequently tripping over their vertiginous stilettos… and words… Oprah did not miss a trick.She took it all in, listening keenly, watching closely, absorbing, making mental notes. Occasionally, she called the attention of her minders and managers, while her competent crew filmed away.From Bollywood stars to Indian billionaires, they were happy to be in Oprah’s court.Mumbai did go unabashedly gaga over Winfrey! She looked at the sea of fashionistas clad in all-black and commented, “I was planning to wear black myself, but was told women don’t wear black in India.” Oh-oh. One factoid wrong! There goes the head of at least one researcher! She was also informed that unlike Tom Cruise whose handlers had to hire crowds when he arrived in Mumbai to promote his latest film, she was by far a bigger draw.Ouch! It was Tom who had ludicrously jumped up and down on Oprah’s couch to declare his love for Katie - making the cut as an unforgettable ‘Oprah Moment’! From a swishy soiree one glorious night, hosted by Parmeshwar Godrej at her magnificent seaside villa , to a walkabout through a sprawling slum the next day, Oprah sure had the taste of real Mumbai. But apart from the super celebrities of the city who glided up in droves to welcome Oprah, she also had the chance to encounter Mumbai’s asli bosses – our diligent cops! It was their moment to shine as they remained unimpressed and unmoved by the momentous occasion or the mega celebrity in their midst.There they were, pointedly standing their ground and refusing to budge from the beach where a stage had been erected for a performance in Oprah’s honour. Rules are rules, they insisted as they broke up the glamourous party after commenting dismissively, “ Yeh Oprah-Woprah kaun hai?”
Let’s call that a reality check. Knowing Oprah, she must have been amused…. and impressed! Perhaps it marked a first for a lady who we all believe has done it all and seen it all. At least, she’ll never forget Mumbai no matter where she goes in the world. Our adorable Pandu Havaldars have ensured just that!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


Tuesday, January 17, 2012


Met the most famous woman in the world at a smashing dinner party last night. Oprah Winfrey is all that she's cracked up to be - warm, engaging, human, witty.... AND a thorough professional. She is never off the job, even when she is being charming and sociable. Her mind is switched on even in her sleep - I'm sure. When she speaks to you, she is speaking to YOU! HER ATTENTION DOES NOT WAVER FOR A MICRO-SECOND.SHE IS ALL YOURS! Apart from the media frenzy that blocked the road leading up to the spectacular Godrej Villa, where India's supreme hostess Parmeshwar Godrej presided over a gathering of the mightiest and glitziest ( movie stars, tycoons) it was the near hysterical reaction of jaded, seasoned socialites falling over themselves, tripping over flowing gowns and sky high heels to pay homage to the empress of talk shows, that came as a bit of a shock. Did I have my 'Oprah moment'? Helllll, ya! Am I telling? Naaah.It was way too personal. Way too special.
I'm hoping to meet her again in Jaipur at the jewel of a Lit Fest that kicks off over the weekend. I'm there as a proud 'Penguin'. 25 years of Penguin Books in India is an impressive landmark. And for me, it's doubly meaningful, having been with the imprint from the very beginning. To mark the occasion, Penguin is re-issuing Popular Penguins - 25 of their most important titles. I am honoured and proud to have one of mine ("Starry Nights") included. It's a fabulous list - from M.K. Gandhi to Vikram Seth. From Jawaharlal Nehru to Arundhati Roy!
Congratulations, Penguin!!! Let the celebrations begin!!

This appeared in Bombay Times today...

All the world’s their stage…

I have a sneaking admiration for committed theatrewallas. God knows how they do it… memorise dialogues running into pages and pages, rehearse endlessly for weeks, and finally go up on stage to perform in front of strangers they can make eye contact with. No retakes. No special effects. No 3-D gimmicks. No editing. If they goof up, they goof up. There’s no one around to yell, ‘cut’. There are no vanity vans on standby. And more often than not, there’s no money to be made for all that effort. It’s gotta be love! That much was pretty evident at the packed performance of Anish Trivedi’s ‘Famous Last Words’. A small, tight cast, ably helmed by the ravishing Dipika Roy ( who has also directed the comedy-thriller), kept the audience amused and tickled by their wonderful rapport and terrific sense of timing. It’s a slim and slight play which is fortunately devoid of any fake flourishes (‘Waiting for Godot’ gets its share of swipes and is described as ‘pretentious crap’). Anish, who plays a fading writer declared dead by his divorced wife ( too complicated to explain why in this space), boldly does a Salman Khan by going shirtless in a couple of scenes (“I’m half- naked in the play,” he’d stated recently, and got asked, “…. but, which half?”) Mercifully, he does not do a Ranbir Kapoor and drop his towel , which is just as well. The last time a stage actor flashed his buns on a Mumbai stage was over 30 years ago when Kabir Bedi opened Alyque Padamsee’s ‘Tughlaq’ dressed in nothing more modest than a bright red langot. In “Famous…” it is really Sahil Jaffrey, the fresh faced actor playing Ryan, who steals the show with his effortless, goofy portrayal of a flunkie. And, of course, there’s Amrita Puri, who adds angelic oomph to her Tanya by delivering yet another wide-eyed ingénue, babe-in-the-woods performance (the ‘Gujju from Gamdevi” as Sandy tartly describes her) . Dipika’s interpretation of Sandy, an ‘over- the- hill harridan’ is at once arch, cunning, sharp and sexy. But more than all of the above, what appealed to me the most was the way the credits listed out the contributions made by a host of people . This is a true mom-and-pop show, involving not just Dipika’s husband Bharat ( official photographer), daughter Ariana ( production assistant?), but also their domestic staff, drivers, and peons. Anish’s wife, Vineeta is billed as the costume designer (perhaps, it was she who persuaded Anish to let the towel stay in place?) What a lovely way to promote genuine inclusiveness and get everybody involved in this intimate enterprise. The only family member missing from the long list was Golly, the Kewalramanis’ handsome black Labrador. I am registering a strong protest on Golly’s behalf! Woof! Woof!
Leonardo Di Caprio has been singularly unlucky when it comes to winning an Oscar after being nominated thrice. But if he is bypassed yet again this year after delivering a stupendous performance as J.Edgar Hoover, it will be a real shame. Clint Eastwood’s documentary style movie about the man who worked under eight American Presidents as the feared and loathed FBI Director for 37 long years (1935-1972), is not a brilliant film (in fact, it’s pretty boring). But Leo is brilliant. So is Judi Dench who plays his mother.The film would have worked better as a gay love story ( very powerful and moving) between Hoover and his long time Deputy, Clyde Tolson. But Eastwood preferred to make it a dull political biopic instead. Ah well… who cares, if Leo does win the elusive statuette he so richly deserves.


Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Fabulous Five - Hot List 2012!

Blogdosts, I have been very naughty this year. I skipped the Dream Run and sent off my two daughters to sweat it out on my behalf. I know I missed out. But there were reasons. Valid reasons. However, I am happy to report I raised a respectable amount of money for CHILDLINE, enough to qualify as a Dream Merchant. The girls felt exhilarated after clocking in decent timings respectively. Later, they met up with a REAL Marathoner, Siddhartha Mallya , who had successfully completed the 42 km run. They've been friends since they were kids... and they are so proud of Siddhartha's achievement. So am I!

This appears in the latest issue of 'Hello'.

The Fabulous Five:Hot List 2012

Kicking off the list is an unlikely, low-key, virtually unknown individual called Cyrus Mistry. As recently as six months ago, most people would have looked totally puzzled and asked, “Cyrus…. who?” Today, the world of international big business is falling over backwards to get to know the man hand picked by Ratan Tata as his successor.This unassuming 43-year-old is perhaps the most-watched corporate honcho on the sub-continent at present . And why not!Brand Tata is valued at a staggering $50 billion.But more than the valuation, taking forward the mighty Tata legacy itself will pose the single biggest challenge to Mistry. As the son of a billionaire father ( Shapoorji Pallonji Mistry), Cyrus is no stranger to the world of immense wealth and power.And yet, it’s easy to miss this non-descript family man, even in a small crowd. I observed with some amount of amusement as Mumbai’s socialites clamoured to get introduced to him at a glamourous soiree recently. There was Cyrus, hanging around casually in an over-sized black shirt hanging over jeans, as assorted wannabes lined up to shake hands with the Crown Prince of the Tata Empire!
That brings us to the Princess of India, the charming and cheerful Priyanka Gandhi. Here’s a young woman who cannot escape her destiny. A destiny so loaded, it is at once scary and scintillating. Try as she might, Sonia Gandhi’s daughter will not be able to fight the magnetic pull of politics in 2012. There are murmurs and whispers galore doing the rounds in Delhi that Priyanka has already taken on her mother’s mantle and is being groomed for the same position (Party President). If this is being kept under wraps for now, it is with good reason. Politics is all about timing. With a huge question mark over Sonia Gandhi’s fragile health, Priyanka’s official entry will have to be perfectly calibrated. Chances are, Priyanka, and not brother Rahul ,will prove to be the real game changer in the run up to the elections. The battered and tattered Congress Party is banking on Priyanka to salvage what’s left of its prestige. Will Priyanka prove to be the lucky talisman? The verdict seems to be a big ‘Yes’! From her mother’s campaign manager in 2004, to her mother’s successor in 2012, Priyanka’s role was pre-written in her womb, as it were. “People are a strong pull, not politics,” she once famously stated. Well, by assuming her fated role, Priyanka will get her myriad admirers to chorus, “You’ve made the right choice, baby!”
Virendra Sehwag stole Sachin Tendulkar’s thunder on the 8th of December 2011, by becoming the highest individual scorer in an ODI match against the West Indies, thus propelling him into a league of his own. As a holder of multiple records, Viru , as he’s affectionately called, has had an extraordinary innings as a top order batsman known world wide for his right arm off break and his special ability to hit one boundary after another. An interesting factoid about this modest sportsman is his vegetarianism that has inspired a vegetarian restaurant aptly called Sehwag’s. His maiden venture may soon grow into an international chain given the glow of success he’s basking in right now. Married in 2004, at a wedding hosted by Arun Jaitley, the chunky cricketer nicknamed the ‘ Nawab of Najafgarh’ (his hometown) has a gigantic fan following of true blue cricket lovers across the world. 2012 may see this triple century man, create still more records.Clearly, the old order has to yield place to new…. about time, too.
From the world of fashion, I have my money on the Man from Nagaland – Atsu Sekhose. Not only is he talented and well-trained ( NIFT Delhi), but he has apprenticed with Tarun Tahiliani before branching out on his own. As a young designer from the North East, Atsu is proud of his roots and happy to flaunt them! Even though his design sensibility remains international and subdued, his ethnic identity, evident in his craftsmanship and individuality cannot be questioned. Bold enough to back the North East Fashion Weekend in an attempt to focus on craft legacies from a neglected region, Atsu has found several high profile supporters for his wearable, stylish clothes.To call him a ‘Rising Star’ will not do justice to his growing reputation. There is an enormous amount of originality and a painstaking attention to detail that define his collections. 2012 should see Atsu right up there with the best in India. That is, if he isn’t snapped up by an international fashion house before we can say, ‘ruffles’. If that does indeed happen ( he richly deserves a global platform), he will join the likes of Manish Arora and Bibhu Mohapatra who are making an impact on catwalks across fashion capitals of the world.
Nargis Fakhri has two choices ahead of her. She could fade away as the flavour of the season after her debut film (“Rockstar”). Or she could stick it out and take over from Katrina Kaif eventually. Tenacity, grit and ambition count for a lot in Bollywood. Katrina sensibly banked on all three during her arduous journey to the top. Yes, it is a cruel and competitive business. Does Nargis have it in her to hang in there, work hard – bloody hard – and succeed? If she follows Katrina’s example, and conquers exactly the same drawbacks Kat faced when she entered Bollywood ( language and nationality issues), Nargis would do exceedingly well. She has the freshness and beauty of a young Manisha Koirala , and the sex appeal of an international star, to win over this generation of fans ck of those Botox Beauties dominating Bollywood well past their ‘sell by’ date. Does this American product born to a Czech mother and Pakistani father, have what it takes to rock Bollywood?Definitely. But getting to know a certain Salman better, would fast-track her career. That’s for sure!

Friday, January 13, 2012

2012: The year of the heroine as 'hero'!

Yet another Marathon is upon us. But I sense a chill in the air. and it has little to do with the mercury being substantially lower than is normal at this time of the year. Like with most 'events', Mumbai once again displayed how fickle-minded it is. The Mumbai Marathon has lost its original glam quotient and the 'kya kool hai hum' set has moved on to other thrills. No matter, the act of giving has not been totally forgotten. Though, I do find it strange that after so much effort and bandobast, all this super rich city can contribute is a measly 12.5 crores to various causes. That is chicken feed! But at least our Sealink will get its due footage. And Milind Soman will once again demonstrate his awesome fitness levels. Now we know what exactly Bipasha finds attractive in her boyfriends, past, present and future... stamina.
Bhago , Mumbai, Bhago!!!

This appeared in Hi! Blitz!

2011: The Year of the ‘Heroine’ as ‘Hero’….?

“Vidya Balan is the real hero in Bollywood.” The first time I read that remark, I seriously thought it came from a bitchy rival. This was just after critics had finished going gaga over ‘Dirty Vidya’ and the impressive box office figures of her latest movie had started to come in. But no! It was a genuine, if back- handed compliment from an industry source and seen in the right context, it also made perfect sense. Vidya carried ‘Dirty Picture’ on her hefty shoulders, all by herself. When was the last time a Bollywood heroine managed such a feat? Even the multi-faceted Priyanka Chopra delivered a dud with ‘Saat Khoon Maaf’. And she had seven men to prop up the film. Vidya had a senior citizen ( Naseeruddin Shah doing a brilliant take off on Sivaji Ganesan) as a co-star. I am not counting Emraan Hashmi ( blink and he was gone!). It was Vidya’s show all the way.Ekta Kapoor and Milan Luthria had conspired brilliantly to get the maximum mileage out of their co-operative heroine. Maximum exposure , too. And Vidya, clever girl that she undoubtedly is, went along gamely, perhaps realizing that this would be her unchallenged hour of triumph. And such a woman-centric film would possibly not come her way again. It was a brave call to take for all three. For, had it backfired, not only would Ekta have lost money, but Milan and Vidya would have lost face. And perhaps, a rosy future in Bollywood, too.
Whatever happened to woman-oriented movies like ‘Sujata’, ‘Bandini’, ‘Charulata’,
“Seeta aur Geeta’ ‘Bandit Queen’ ? Considering the vintage of those classics, it is fair to say, we have moved several steps backwards in Bollywood. This is ironical, given all the big talk about women’s empowerment and how lucky we are to be living in this day and age in which women are calling the shots. If that truly was the reality, why would we be celebrating the success of a solitary film that revolves around a Southern porn-star named Silk, who’s the central character of ‘Dirty Picture’?Why would we be making such a big deal out of Vidya – undoubtedly, a superb actress ? Are we desperately searching for the next Smita Patil? Or even the next Tabu? That is the opinion of a top female star I got chatting with right after the success of ‘Dirty Picture’. Said this luscious star somewhat tartly, “Well… Vidya had nothing to lose. But those of us who are in the big league would never touch such a role.” I asked her to name the others she considers her big league equals and she giggled, “You know… all of us… Katrina, Priyanka, Bebo, Aishwarya.” And that puts Vidya…. errr, exactly where? The actress paused before saying sweetly, “Vidya is not a star. She maybe looking to become the next Tabu. Matlab, a thinking actress. We prefer to be stars and divas.That’s the only way to grab all the top endorsements.” Aha – so, that’s what it is. Career decisions are no longer about scripts and roles. They are about the ads that follow a commercial hit. Fair enough. It is the girls stuck in between who are finding the going tough – girls like Kangana, Sonakshi, Anoushka, who are neither here nor there, but latko-ing in between. I remember running into Kangana at a really posh event, where she was looking rather lost even though she was dressed by a top designer brand. She looked around boredly and commented, “I look so much better than some of the actresses who bag big brands. Why do you think those people don’t approach me?” I summoned a top photographer and asked him to explain. After all, he was the one who recommended stars to those international brands. He told Kangana bluntly that her image was all wrong! I was taken back. What was so wrong about it? Before it got more detailed, I changed the subject. What if this happens to Vidya? Her film is a huge hit, and the producers are over the moon , but Vidya’s uninhibited performance ( with all that tongue rolling, lip biting, jiggling and wiggling), is likely to impact her positioning. It will be interesting to monitor how it goes from here. Either, she could zoom to the top of the heap and take on all those smug and snooty actresses on her own terms, or be happy doing the odd strong role that showcases her talent and allows her to shine. But the more important question is: how will Vidya cope with our top heroes with their fragile egoes? Which one of them will have the himmat to act opposite her and risk being overshadowed? Frankly, I cannot think of even one. Is Vidya the Meryl Streep of India? A fearless actress who goes where others refuse to tread? Streep is likely to walk away with the most prestigious acting awards for her portrayal as Maggie Thatcher in ‘The Lady’. Balan as Silk will certainly be the top contender here in India . But which award will she walk away with – Best Heroine? Or, Best Hero?? Watch out, everyone!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Sunny (Leone) days are here again!

Blogdosts, I wrote this before an honourable judge decided to defend this gutsy gal in public and urged fellow Indians not to let her torrid past affect their attitude towards her new life in India. I like this guy already!!!!
Meanwhile, I found myself defending Salman Rushdie's right to be at the Jaipur Lit Fest. Mind you, that's different from defending Rushdie himself ( not that he needs me as his spokesperson). On one such panel discussion, a particularly rabid person got very personal and antagonistic towards me...but when that happens, it is best to refocus on the issue and ignore the baiter.I'll be at the Jaipur Lit Fest myself... and so will Rushdie. Inshallah!

This appeared in The Week....

Sunny days are here again…

Over the New Year weekend which we spent at our farm house with family and a few close friends, an unlikely name kept popping up in casual conversations – Sunny Leone’s. Sunny , who? Sunny,what? Surprisingly, it was the men in the group who hadn’t heard of Sunny! Perhaps that had to do with their vintage and the fact they weren’t the audience for a reality show called Bigg Boss. But when they were told that a full- fledged, self- declared porn star was in the house, they suddenly perked up and asked for the television set to be switched on. As it happened, we caught Leone’s ouster , as well as a repeat telecast where she was playing coy during a rain dance.The men couldn’t understand what the fuss was about. Imagine the irony of it all – starting a brand new year discussing the life of a woman who has made a name for herself acting in euphemistically titled ‘adult’ films!
Why not? Her presence in the show had initially sent shock waves across India. And the debate at the time was mainly about underage viewers innocently surfing the net to know more about the latest entrant into a show that has a huge fan base cutting across age and cultural differences. According to one of our guests, searching for Leone on the net comes with its own risks as video after explicit video gets thrown up, showing Sunny doing what she, err, does best. Let’s leave it at that. These very graphic clips demonstrate the lady’s extraordinary skills and leave nothing to the imagination. If anything, they astonish viewers. Should such a person be invited on to a show that is designed for family viewing? Has Sunny’s presence in Bigg Boss acted as an endorsement for porn shows? Are kids getting unknowingly exposed to highly objectionable sexual content involving unnatural acts, multiple partners, permutations and combinations that are considered kinky, even violent? Apparently, this has indeed been the fall out of Sunny’s presence on the show , and parents are not amused. Her managers have been accused of using Bigg Boss to promote her own adult website and capitalize on the publicity generated.
Let’s face it, Sunny Leone is a hard core ( pardon the pun) professional. She was invited to be a part of Bigg Boss. She was paid ‘bigg’ bucks for it. This was just the sort of business opportunity her managers were looking for. India represents one of the world’s fastest growing markets for porn. She has been upfront and unapologetic about her choice of career. As a Canada–based performer born to Indian parents, her public life is there for global voyeurs to gasp at. She was here to market herself and further her ambitions. Her business plan cannot be faulted. So far, she has been offered a Bollywood film by Mahesh Bhatt. More movies may be in the offing. Perhaps, she’ll be back in the house for the grand finale. Her next few moves( on her web site , in particular!) will be closely watched. Like several other business people, Sunny is happily cashing in on the ‘Go East!’ advice. This is where… ummm… the action is. This is also where tolerance still exists in abundance! India remains the ultimate paradox. While K.K. Seetamma, head of the sexual harassment panel at Bangalore University, is busy trying to implement a ‘saris only’ rule in his state, elsewhere, a porn star is accepted with a philosophical shrug and minus too much of a fuss (“A gal’s gotta do what a gal’s gotta do”). It is only here that Veena Malik, a Pakistani actress, can allegedly pose nude for an adult magazine cover shoot and elicit a tepid reaction from both sides of the border. On one level, we are becoming blasé and shock proof, on another, there’s a misguided attempt to cover up women, in the name of protecting them! Why not ask men to behave themselves or face prosecution instead, Mr. Seetamma? Would men respond differently to Sunny Leone today if she adhered to the ‘long sleeved blouses with modest sarees’ dress code? Would incidents of rape come down (as Mr. Seetamma insists), if women stopped ‘tempting’ men by wearing ‘obscene clothes’? Will desi bachchas become porn addicts after watching Sunny at work? Elsewhere in the world porn stars contest elections. Here we have Sunny pouting like a babe in the woods and accusing her Bigg Boss co-contestant Amar Upadhyay of violating her modesty while performing an assigned task. She primly reminded viewers that Amar was a ‘married man with kids’! And she herself a ‘married woman’. That is so cute!
2012 sounds like a promising year. And Sunny days are here again to brighten our dull lives! Yenjoy!

Monday, January 9, 2012

We need better 'players'..... kyon?

Utterly dull monday... but what beautiful light! And delightful weather! The shawls are out. And trust our Bollywood hotties to climb into heavy duty boots as soon as the mercury dips a little! I hear Delhi socialites are draped in fur, like they'd need to be if they were in Moscow or Helsinki. It's a lovely feeling to shiver a little in Mumbai and get those light Pashmina stoles out of mothballs.My desire to devour hot gajjar halwa is overwhelming! But I'll happily settle for the yummy fresh cream and strawberries cake they serve at 'Wasabi' for special occasions. My daughter Anandita tells me the high tea at the Sea Lounge is exceptionally good, too. Sigh! Toujour Taj Memories!


This appeared in Bombay Times today...

When one watches crores of rupees being blown up in clumsy action scenes as cars pile up on cars, and random bombs go off in the distance, it is time to pick up the carton of half -eaten pop corn and beat a hasty retreat from the cinema hall. Never waste good popcorn. Even more importantly, never waste precious time. I am a great one for self-punishment and have happily subjected myself to far worse films than a turkey like ‘Players’. Let’s just put it down to new year fatigue and a growing intolerance for waste on all levels, but I really couldn’t stand this three hour punishment which relied on a Johnny Lever to resolve its mighty crisis.That’s called ‘desperate’. ‘Players’ made me wonder what makes veteran movie makers back something as ridiculous and as nonsensically OTT as this remake, which totally lacks any cinematic coherence. ‘Players’ literally goes all over the place – from New Zealand to Moscow. But for what ? The motley cast changes costumes and sleepwalks through what is meant to be a super slick effort revolving around an ambitious heist. Which desi chor would undertake a mission this impossible ( stealing tons of gold from a train that’s en route to Romania from Russia)? And this bunch looks not just hopelessly amateurish, inept and unintelligent, but manages to generate misplaced laughter during key scenes. One just hopes no self respecting Russian watches the movie. It could lead to Putin launching a full scale attack on us just to let our audiences know what happens when a Russian general loses his cool ( he definitely does not start stripping off his clothes and singing ‘Mera Joota Hai Japani’, as the joker in a cheap pink satin shirt does in ‘Players’). But yes, I can see the sternest Russian melting into a puddle at the sight of a sizzling Bipasha performing an item song in a tacky bar. Yup. It’s as easy as that. Bips as a seductress is more lethal than a guided missile, and perhaps our own Ministry of External Affairs should consider hiring her services to sort out India’s myriad problems.
To make up for the torture I had subjected myself to, I went and watched ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy…” Let me just say, I regained my sanity, as well as my faith in movies. Despite mixed reviews to this cold war spy thriller, I found myself at the edge of the seat ( popcorn ko maaro goli!), not wanting to miss even a single line of dialogue , or visual clue. After a long time, I actually found God in the details – and what details! Every meticulously constructed, brilliantly lit scene revealed subtle props that were certainly not there by accident. For a movie in which the script is so finely calibrated, and the dialogue as economical, the challenge is to not blink! Or lose focus even for a micro -second! It was a good way to handle a post-New Year’s Eve condition. I recommend ‘TTSS’ over tomato juice to anybody looking for a quick fix to a hangover. Watch it attentively – you’ll sober up instantly. As for ‘Players’, sorry, even if you go to a theatre fully tanked up, you still won’t be able to sit through it!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

When India shrugs and moves on...

It has been a beautiful Sunday - cool, clear, glorious all the way. I'm looking forward to meeting my neighbours at an elegantly put together annual dinner on the extensive lawns downstairs. I hope they're serving Bellinis ( my current obsession!). The year has started on a delightfully high note and my children have made me feel beyond wonderful. This can be scary ! Three guesses for figuring out why!!! Come on, guys. You can do it!!

This appeared in Sunday Times this morning.

When India shrugs and moves on….

I’d sent out my usual, cheery New Year greetings to friends and family last week, jauntily describing 2012 as ‘the year of ‘Hope and Optimism.’ Most recipients responded enthusiastically and echoed the sentiment.But one person differed vehemently - my Italian publisher. He asked in his toota-phoota English, “What is there to be optimistic and hopeful about? Italy is sinking.” Hai, bechara! So true. Fortunately, India remains pretty buoyant. So,perhaps, we could start feeling a little better about ourselves and stop the self-flagellation. Positive thinking has its uses. And now is the time to get out of the ‘we are such losers’ groove, crank up our flagging spirits and get on with it. To those who insist nothing is going right ( cricket! Corruption! Prices!), let’s concentrate on a few things that are (food inflation, for example).On so many levels, last year was a defining one. Apart from the Anna-factor, that briefly galvanized the nation, the fact that so many biggies were marched off to the clink, made the average citizen lull himself into believing in justice and the power of public opinion. That is a fantastic development in a country that had virtually surrendered to terminal cynicism and permanent resignation. We had all but stopped believing in our own strengths as a democracy, which is bolstered by a billion-plus free voices.
Today, those voices are busy testing their own range. If they do get amplified, 2012 may yet see a fresh demonstration of people power. Blood has been tasted. And the aam aadmi is thirsting for more. Unfortunately, our attention spans are a bit too short. We expect instant results. When those don’t happen,we shrug and move on. As in the case of Anna and his aborted movement. A movement that lost its momentum and got derailed before critical mass could be reached.Even skeptics like myself, were somewhat disappointed by how swiftly ardent supporters abandoned Anna and went back to waiting in the wings for the next Superman to show up and save them. Talking to young people, their disenchantment with Anna - the God Who Failed - revealed their deep-seated frustration and angst. Worse, it reflected their abject apathy. Unlike the young and the restless across the world, who took it upon themselves to fight for change and freedom, in India we expected someone else to do the dirty work for us. Lighting candles, signing petitions, marching and fasting to express solidarity for a cause, was one thing. Putting oneself on the line, giving up privileges, facing arrest and generally being pro-active, quite another. As of now, students seem to be waiting for some sort of divine sign at the beginning of 2012. Aware that Anna may be too frail to take the dream of a corruption-free India forward, they have pinned their hopes on a new messiah emerging from the shadows and leading them into an era that spells ‘clean’ in capital letters.What if such an individual fails to show up? What if, we slide back still further?
The single biggest disillusionment of 2011, was the handling of the Lokpal Bill by our worthy parliamentarians. It now appears as if there was zero intention of the Bill getting through from the word go. All that drama was just that – a cleverly scripted production to try and convince citizens that the worthies meant business. It was such a shrewd, vile and deceptive move, it almost fooled the unwary (who closely followed the live debate) into believing the UPA was sincere, and the BJP, perverse, even obstructionist. For all the gullible public knows, this could well have been a part of a master plan, that allowed both factions to fake heated exchanges, hurl accusations ( reality television at its most dangerous!) and engineer a deadlock. What a brilliant strategy, if true. Kya ‘setting’ kiya, boss! For once, politicians and bureaucrats were united in their objectives. Which one of them could possibly want a clean up of the system? Is there any political party in India that can afford close scrutiny? Which neta is mad enough to want transparency and accountability in public life? Scuttling the Lokpal Bill while pretending to get it through , was an act of genius. Whatever we are witnessing today ( BJP appealing to the Prez to reconvene a Lokpal session) is nothing but an eyewash. There are far too many skeletons rattling around in cupboards across party lines and all over the country. As a futuristic scenario, another forty years of debating the merits of the Bill suits everyone splendidly. By then, Anna’s original supporters will be in their sixties and seventies. And the new generation of netas will still be talking pointlessly about ‘‘subversion of parliamentary democracy.”
Where are the real ‘Players’ when we need them the most to pull off an authentic Italian… oops, Indian job?

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Anna:From King Kong to Mickey Mouse...

This appeared in the Asian Age on Saturday...

Anna : From King Kong to Mickey Mouse.
One thing was proved in 2011 : India needs better laundries. And dhobis. All our dirty linen was right there for the world to see. And no amount of Robin Blue could white- wash our soiled international reputation as one scam after another hit the headlines. The stains were of the permanent kind, unfortunately. Like leaked ink on pristine white school uniforms. Obstinate and indelible. Despite this far- from- pretty picture, there was a silver lining, too. As citizens reeled from one scandal after another, there was also a sense of something major, something positive, taking place under the grimy exterior. Finally, the C-word was out in the public domain. Corruption not just defined the dirty doings on parade in 2011, but it also became the centerpiece of an overdue national awakening. India desperately needed a symbol, a catalyst, a change agent. And that responsibility fell squarely on the frail shoulders of just one person – a 74- year- old man called Anna Hazare. Anna came out of virtually nowhere, and became an unlikely, overnight folk hero, capable of generating mass hysteria. Everybody suddenly wanted to ‘be Anna’ not just support him. Anna appropriated this monumental, moral responsibility (I would like to believe it was by design and not through default), and kick- started an aggressive anti-corruption campaign on a brilliant note. What happened subsequently, will need years of decoding by historians. But what cannot be denied is that a man, who started off as King Kong, ended the year as Mickey Mouse.
Where did India’s Saviour go wrong? Oh… there will be books devoted to that in the future, I’m sure. But I’d say, Anna slipped up when he stepped off the dusty highway of social activism, and stepped on to a lofty pedestal. Anna failed the day he started to play Gandhi-2. The 21st century Mahatma. There are no second acts in history. There are only pretenders and wannabes. Mahatma Gandhi’s struggle took 30 long years before it succeeded. It was a strategic battle fought against foreign rulers. Anna and his misguided team treated their agitation like a cup of instant coffee. Get the mix and temperature right, whip up some foam. Voila! It’s done. Perhaps, carried away by the first wave of spontaneous euphoria, Team Anna sensed victory in the offing. The ‘brains’ decided to scale up the protests. In the bargain, the tone got shriller and shriller. And minor characters began to overshadow the star – Anna. References to the ‘Second Freedom Struggle’, did nothing to tone down the tenor of the andolan. Prompting critics to snigger, “What’s needed is a third Freedom Struggle - to free poor Anna from the clutches of the coterie.” With Anna more or less marginalized and the coterie hogging centre stage, it was already a doomed strategy that would eventually derail the agitation. The worst fallout of the Flop Show was the sense of disillusionment it generated in the hearts and minds of young Indians, whose hopes were pinned exclusively on Anna. When their Messiah faltered and failed, they turned away feeling cheated and let down. I’d say, the ‘dirtiest’ picture of 2011, was that of the half-empty MMRDA grounds in Mumbai. That single image signified the anti-climactic end to what could have been a passionate, inclusive movement which could have transformed India – not overnight. But over time.
We lost an invaluable advantage. We lost the momentum. We also lost the plot! Chances are , India may have to wait for another decade or more for the next Anna Hazare. Whoever that person turns to be, let’s hope it’s a better team he or she picks. Though we aren’t back to square one yet, the scenario is looking pretty grim. Politicians have won a key round by stone walling the Bill yet again. And cynicism has replaced idealism. Questions and debates revolving around a ‘stronger’ Lokpal Bill are likely to remain unresolved, unanswered. For the rather obvious truth is that nobody wants it! Least of all the political class. Forget Anna’s version of the Jan Lokpal Bill (uncompromising and unrealistic), but even a Lokpal Bill with more teeth than the one under scrutiny, will be played like a ping- pong ball in the days ahead. Technicalities and alibis will be trotted out to ensure there is a stalemate. Citizens will be palmed off with the standard excuse: ‘This is how things work in a democracy. The parliament is supreme’. More dirty pictures of rowdy parliamentarians will hog prime time on television, as hyper-ventilating anchors ‘demand answers” (but from whom, beta?). In all the ensuing confusion, the aam aadmi will meekly go back to doing what he does best – minding his own business and getting on with life. This is the exact and shrewd calculation our netas are banking on – wear down the believers. Distract them. Confuse citizens. Soon, they’ll tire, and forget there was someone called Anna Hazare.
Poor Anna. For all his flawed vision and obduracy, he meant well. He fasted. He suffered. There was nothing fake about any of that.Which is precisely why he touched so many hearts. Those same hearts are broken today. Does Anna have the will or even the desire to reconnect with his original , impassioned war against rampant corruption? Or has he switched sides and become a politician himself? Instead of campaigning against a political party and thereby denigrating himself, Anna should consider withdrawing from his spot under the bright glare of lights, and introspecting. Away from his minders. Away from the media. Away from sycophants. Perhaps he’ll get an answer to what he and his countrymen are looking for – how to effectively tackle the monster called ‘Corruption’. And when lightning does strike, I’m confident Anna will be good enough to share his homegrown wisdom with the waiting world. The unprecedented success of a movie called ‘The Dirty Picture’ proved one thing : Indians have come of age and can handle, ummm… dirt. In all its forms. Let’s hope 2012 will be India’s ‘Ooh La La’ moment. It’s time for the world’s hottest item girl to graduate and become a full fledged heroine.
Happy New Year, readers!

Monday, January 2, 2012

2012: The Year of Hope and Optimism!

Happy 2012, Blogdosts!! Let's keep this space lively, interactive, honest and FUN! I hope you had a great start to a brand new year. I certainly did! I hope to keep the same spirit going all through the next 12 months. One thing I do know - if you feel good, you LOOK good! So, here's to terrific beginnings... your time starts NOW!
This appeared in Bombay Times today...

2012 : The Year of Hope and Optimism…

Happy New Year, readers! I wonder how many of you are able to focus this morning and read this?For those who are indeed cold sober, beady eyed and bushy tailed, my special congratulations. Today is the first day of a brand new year.And I get the distinct feeling 2012 is likely to be upbeat and positive, give or take a few hiccups.Let’s not go into rewind mode and spoil our mood over what happened and what didn’t in 2011. It’s over. And good riddance, too. I’d say the best fallout of the past year was the clarion call to citizens given by a 74 year- old -man who became an unlikely youth icon - Anna Hazare. Never mind that his Mumbai show ended not with a bang but a whimper. He did perform a very important role despite all the bungling and mismanagement. He gave something precious to the aam aadmi – a voice. What we do with our newly discovered larynx is up to us from this point on. We don’t need Anna to fast. We don’t need him to hold our hand, either. We just need to make ourselves heard.
Two young men are going to be watched very carefully indeed in 2012. Both have had leadership thrust on them. One is still an unknown entity. The other was born famous. But both have one thing in common: monumental responsibility. And of course, both are the ‘Anointed Ones’. Cyrus Mistry and Rahul Gandhi are likely to be the most scrutinised, most searched 40- somethings in India. As heirs to vast empires ( Tata’s, and India), on them are pinned the hopes and aspirations of a billion-plus Indians. As Tata followers frequently boast, “ The state of India is often judged by the state of the Tata companies!” Both men are inheritors of staggering legacies. History will definitely judge these two. How they perform in 2012 will be monitored with hawk-like precision by the world, not just India. Rahul has had a head start in public life , virtually from his cradle. Cyrus has preferred to live more privately and well below the radar. The mentors of both are towering personalities – Sonia Gandhi and Ratan Tata. But eventually, the buck stops with Rahul and Cyrus. Will they deliver?
In movies and cricket, it is time for the established superstars to show some grace and move on. Leave it to the youngsters. How long are you chaps going to hang on to your thrones and crowns? Fans of both are clamouring for excitement and change. Viewer fatigue has set in. If Sachin does not get that blessed century in 2012, the sky will not fall down. If SRK does not wipe the floor with the competition, it won’t lead to a national calamity.Ditto, for all those lambey race ke ghodey who have outlived their relevance in other fields but are stubbornly hanging in there, clinging on desperately to the status quo. Whether in cricket, politics, movies or business, 2012 is going to see immense churning and change. Yes, it’s going to be that sort of a year. How do I know? Shall we put it down to a woman’s intuition??
Here’s to a super sexy, spectacular and surprising New Year ! Party on…. the night is going to stay young throughout 2012. Kasam se!