Friday, March 30, 2012

Mine is bigger than yours....

I read with an enormous amount of amusement that Fidel Castro asked Pope Benedict, "So, what do you do?" in Havana , a few days ago. As you can probably tell, I am still thinking of Cuba. And wondering why the officials at the Cuban Embassy in Delhi are so mad at me for my recent column in Asian Age? Any guesses?
This appeared in CREST...

Mine is bigger than yours!

A Cindy Crawford look alike in a clinging, hot red gown bent low to offer India’s Cigar King, Chetan Seth, a limited edition Romeo y Julieta that was about to be launched amidst much excitement and fanfare. A Whitney Houston clone was belting out ‘I will always love you,’’ her voice tremulous and tender. The venue was a spectacularly decorated marquee at the gigantic Pabexpo Centre in Havana where over five hundred cigar aficionados from across the world had gathered for the closing ceremony of the XIV Habanos Festival in Cuba. It is with some irony that non-smokers ( me!), at the glamourous venue, noted that the proceeds from the famous Humidor Auction later in the night, would benefit the Cuban Public Health System( oh, one of the gorgeous, fully loaded humidors went for a staggering 750,000 euros). But then again, nothing is as it appears in Cuba ( pronounced ‘Koo-ba’). At a dinner to commemorate the 520th Anniversary of the discovery of tobacco in Cuba by the Europeans, the cloud of smoke hanging just under the beautiful chandeliers was thick enough for a knife to cut through it.But was anybody complaining?Nope. They were too busy puffing on their not-so-guilty pleasures to bother about their own or anybody else’s lungs.
Over the years, the annual Habanos Festival in Havana has acquired a cult status. Cigar smokers cross seven seas to make it for the week long celebrations that include elegant parties at top restaurants, all-night Mojitos at the Verandah Bar of the historic Hotel Nacional, dancing to Cuban jazz bands at any of the late, late clubs, or merely hanging out at Hemingway’s favourite bar. Acquiring multiple boxes of hand rolled ( forget all that nonsense about nubile ladies rolling cigars on naked thighs) , limited edition ‘beedis’ is an attractive bonus.But the icing on the cake is the rare opportunity to enjoy new products that are launched at the Festival, much before the rest of the world gets to sample them. Habanos has 27 top brands in the market ( such as Bolivar,Punch, Trinidad,Diplomaticos). It is important to note that so far at least the Habanos are the only cigars that have been totally handmade for over 200 years. And that as early as in the 18th century, Cuban tobacco was recognized as the best in the world.Some cigar stalwarts stick to classics, like Cohiba’s Linea 1492, which was launched in 1992, to mark the arrival of Christopher Columbus to the island. While other more adventurous types are spoilt for choice at the numero uno cigar destination. Take Montecristo, which is one of the most acclaimed Habanos brands.In 2010, it decided to expand its portfolio with the launch of the new Linea Cohiba Biheke in three new vitolas ( sizes). These went on to become instant best sellers, even though they were shockingly pricey. Try talking price to any one of the sharp international distributors who gather at the Festival to negotiate deals! At the moment, it is the Russians and Chinese who are being actively courted given the potential and size of the two. But with Chetan Seth (along with his lovely daughter Ameeta Seth), projecting a 30% annual growth in India for what the trade calls ‘sticks’, it will be interesting to see how it moves in the next few years. As of now, ‘Cingari’ Chetan’s company, which he set up in 1996, sells a respectable number of top cigars , catering mainly to connoisseurs who also rely on Seth’s expertise to guide them. Buying the right cigar is a pretty complicated affair, as any genuine cigar lover will tell you. Apart from the four senses (sight, smell, touch and taste) involved in the appreciation of the cigar, it is also a matter of the right mood, the right company and the right setting. Cigars are complex, sensitive creatures. Amateurs or experimental smokers are advised to proceed cautiously and stick to lighter-flavoured cigars before daring to experiment with the Big Boys. It is considered awfully rude to abandon a good cigar before getting to ‘understand’ its true character. Similarly, cigar lovers shudder and cringe if ever they spot someone stubbing out or crushing an unfinished cigar - “The right thing to do is to let it die with dignity,” advises a regular, who also points out that the ash from a cigar should never be tipped but allowed to fall gracefully. Your best bet is to stay out of a glowing cigar’s way if you are a non-smoking woman wearing a wonderful frock.
Cigar smoking is a growing cult , especially with global thirty somethings who see it as an essential lifestyle accessory that signals their arrival on the international scene of slouchy tycoons and sultry sirens stylishly drawing on their Piramides Extra ( launched by Cohiba, the cigar world’s most prestigious brand, at this Festival), sipping a Single Malt or a Cuban Rum aged for many years in oak barrels, and nibbling on Iberico ham canapes.Since cigars are increasingly recognized as the new status symbol, it’s important to get the basics right. Puffing away 5,000 bucks in one go, needs a certain level of derring-do, even for India’s new elite. Lighting up a Habanos is seen as a celebration, and most cigar lovers make an occasion of it. Which is precisely why the Festival in Cuba has acquired such a special status making it almost mandatory for cigar lovers to make the long trip to Havana during the last week of February. Let’s just call it a pilgrimage of sorts, where devotees flock to worship at a distinctly phallic altar created from dried and cured leaves that generate clouds of highly aromatic smoke when lit. Heaven, insist fans, would be incomplete without a magnificent humidor filled with the best Habanas. And yes, size does matter – thicker is better than longer, when it comes to cigars, that is! Let’s puff to that.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Overwhelmed by Oman....

I was going back after a decade to Muscat. As always, with an open mind. It was to attend the 7TH Muscat International Film Festival, put together by former desi journalists who are based in Oman now. The roll call of names mentioned was impressive. Susan Sarandon was due to fly in the same day as I had to return to Mumbai.But Forest Whitaker was there.So was Darren Aronofsky. Omar Sharif didn't make it because of poor health. And Roger Moore also had a genuine problem. But with the humble and very likeable Billy Boyd ("Lord of the Rings'), and a roster of stars from India ( Nandita Das, Victor Banerjee, Sharmila Tagore, Mohanlal) and the Middle East, I am not sure whether Saif and Kareena's last minute no-show to attend the red carpet premiere of 'Agent Vinod' was a matter of great significance to anybody but the organisers who were exceedingly miffed and refused to accept 'security issues' as a legit excuse. However, the show must go on and did. With great performances by Sivamani. Dhanush was saved for the finale. And I thought to myself, this was a pretty terrific effort and the line up of international stars wasn't half bad, given the location.
As for me, staying at the legendary Al-Bustan Palace Hotel ( run by the Ritz-Carlton ) was a memorable experience. And for my daughter, it was the menacing, black, demonic mountains which surround Muscat that enchanted and scared her simultaneously. She found them 'demonic' and 'angry'. But the blue-green, calm sea made up for the sinister looking ranges. And so did dozens of friendly dolphins frolicking in the warm waters early one morning. As all of us on the dolphin watch cooed and swooned at the uplifting sight, it was Nandita Das' son, all of 19 months and very sleepy at that hour, who got the last word. "Pheeeeesh!" exclaimed the tot ecstatically.
I shall post images in a day or so. Yes, including those of the 'angry' mountains.
I missed the biggest bash of recent times - Mukesh and Nita Ambani's glittering party for Sachin Tendulkar. Who in turn missed Rahul Dravid's felicitation event. Between The Master Blaster and The Wall, cricket fans got their fix. Let's see if the IPL manages to attract more interest this season than it did in the previous two.
This appeared in Bombay Times yesterday....

“ Lock up your wives and daughters….”

This is just so spooky! Nearly forty years after it was written, a headline has popped back into my consciousness to haunt me. I plead guilty. Mahendra Sandhu is back in the news, thanks to ‘Agent Vinod’ and the rather lop sided, left handed tribute paid to the former actor ( Sandhu sensibly moved on decades ago and got himself a proper day job). But when he first burst into Bollywood, in 1973, he was hailed as the next big thing.The desi Bond, if you please. Primarily by ‘Stardust’ the film magazine I was the editor of at the time. Excited by the prospect of predicting mega stardom for a guy who seemed to have it all, we went flat out to anoint Sandhu as the next superstar. He had the right credentials – rugged Panju good looks, an FTII background and enough hair on his brawny chest ( shirt permanently unbuttoned) to make the cut. We set up an elaborate shoot with Sandhu which involved a heavy duty bike, jaunty shades, a forest of chest hair and lots of attitude. The pictures looked great even without photo shop ( that nasty little magic trick which was still to be invented). And I was the one who went ahead brashly with a headline that has come back to mock me – “Lock up your wives and daughters, Mahendra Sandhu has hit the town.” The lukewarm reaction to our rah- rah story was the writing on the wall. My guess is that Sandhu read it before anyone else . After several similar duds (17 films in 19 years), he changed tracks and going by a recent interview, he sounds like a happy man running, and minding, his own business. Good for Sandhu. A lesser person would have collapsed and gone into a tailspin of depression, frustration and that awful cycle of questioning failure. Here was a guy who had been crowned king a bit too prematurely, a bit too hastily. It was a rash decision, and it backfired.
It was also a lesson well learned - about hype and its nasty repercussions. This, in an era when there were no image consultants, managers and publicists. It was a virtual free for all, with the in-built risk of a free fall if the expectations created were not met. Why didn’t Sandhu’s career take off? Who knows? There were worse actors hacking it at the time, and certainly less good looking chaps who’d made it ( some of them are still around featuring in meaty character roles and enjoying an autumn of glory). Sandhu disappeared without a trace. Till ‘Agent Vinod’ happened. Perhaps film makers will flock to Sandhu yet again and entice him back into the industry with roles that are more appropriate than the one which bombed ( Sandhu was the original ‘Agent Vinod’). It will will be interesting to see if that does indeed happen. One thing I do know, if Sandhu accepts the offer, I won’t be the one writing headlines hailing the arrival of a dangerously attractive middle aged actor on the prowl. Once, as they say , is enough. I am still blushing at the memory!
P.S. Could ‘Agent Vinod’ be a jinxed title? Is that the official excuse????

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The world is coming to Cuba....

Couldn't resist adding some more images to go with the column on Cuba that appears in Asian Age today.
I guess no explanations are needed. The pictures speak for themselves. In case you are wondering who that cutie is, I found him on a side street and he had great attitude. As for the cops, trust me they weren't delighted posing with roses on duty. But I convinced them they looked adorable.... which they do!
I'm off to Muscat this evening. More from there when I get back next week....

The world is coming to Cuba….!

“ I live in Cuba. I’ll die in Cuba.I don’t know what freedom means…” Alexander, the burly tourist guide in Old Havana, sounded really angry as he sipped a Mojito( a delicious cocktail that was born in Cuba along with the Pina Colada, Cuba Libre and Daiquiri) inside one of Hemingway’s favourite bars near the port. The only time he had been ‘allowed’ to leave the country was during his military service (compulsory). As a crack Marine officer, he was privileged enough to visit a few countries in South America. And now, like many of his disgruntled countrymen, he is waiting for Fidel Castro to die. Sounds terrible. But it’s true. Though Cubans aren’t sure what will happen to them after Fidel joins the maker, they are willing to take their chances. For a country of just 12 million, which relies heavily on tourism to fuel its economy, Cuba is stuck in a scary time warp. It appears wretchedly backward to outsiders, and people like Alexander, who have managed to get out and see what’s happening in the rest of the world, are getting increasingly impatient. But even an angry Alexander concedes not everything is awful about Cuba, and points to high literacy levels ( education is free) and excellent health care ( free, as well). Equally, teenage prostitution is rampant and a national concern. He hopes his three young children will grow up in a better, more prosperous Cuba.There are thousands of vulture-adventurers across the world waiting breathlessly for Cuba to open up. While there have no official sightings of the ailing and frail 86 year old Castro in recent times, his eyes and ears are everywhere. Old fashioned spying is still big business in Cuba, and those who want to look at investment opportunities in the future, are aware they are being followed and their conversations recorded by spooks who look and behave like small time villains from vintage Hollywood spy thrillers. The Cold War is still on in Cuba. And that’s the way the State prefers it.
Rumours and stories about Castro do the rounds all the time. Castro ‘scoops’ ( “He knew about the plot to kill John F. Kennedy”) make international headlines even today. Surprisingly, I didn’t spot a single statue of the leader anywhere, though there is one of Mahatma Gandhi in the centre a beautiful park surrounded by ancient Banyan trees. The average Cuban is well aware of Castro’s close links to India. As an official pointed out, “ Fidel had embraced Indira Gandhi at an international event and referred to her as his sister in the presence of world leaders.” Mother Teresa has her statue near the quay and is a revered figure in the largely Catholic country. But there are very few Indians in Cuba, which is odd, given that it is a pretty laid back life one can enjoy. Blessed with a salubrious climate, Cuba is an attractive destination with pristine,picturesque beaches and good hotels in Havana. Then there’s the Cuban Rum, of course. And the world’s best cigars. It is during the last week of February that Havana comes alive with the Habanos Festival (in its 14th year ), during which cigar aficionados and distributors from across the world descend on Havana for seven days and nights of celebration. If there’s one thing Cuba is justifiably proud of, it’s the reputation of its hand rolled cigars ( 200 years of tradition), which dominate the international market and are the ultimate status symbols for cigar lovers everywhere. Super brands like Cohiba, Romeo y Julieta , Montecristo launch new products at this prestigious trade fair that attracts global celebrities, some of whom participate in the nail biting humidor auction on the final day of the festival.Enthusiasts from faraway China are the new entrants on the block. The Russians beat them by a few years.
“Are there rich people in Cuba?” someone asked rather ingenuously. Yes, there are rich people in Cuba. But one doesn’t see them except at high profile occasions like the Habanos Festival, when they emerge from their sprawling villas in the tony Miramar district, to hobnob with jet setters who have flown for over twenty hours ( Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand) to party with like minded cigar fanatics willing to puff away 5000 rupees per cigar, without blinking. At the magnificent Hotel Nacional ( built in 1950), one feels like a mysterious character out of a period film.At the sprawling Verandah Bar , which is open 24x7, there are wheeler dealers and smooth operators from all over, dressed in mandatory linen suits and rakish Panama hats, cutting sharp deals with Cuban babus. Opportunities galore are attracting speculators and land sharks who are anticipating a gold rush once Fidel hands over power or passes away, whichever is sooner. Already, real estate developers are eyeing prime properties and figuring out ways to invest in Cuba, smartly bypassing the present, crippling bureaucratic paper work, much like India’s. We have been a bit too lethargic and sleepy to bother with Cuba. Which is a pity, given the historic ties we share. While America is still a bad word , CNN and Walt Disney channels are available in five star hotels, but strictly no McDonald’s so far. In fact, such is the paranoia about all things American, that any credit card transaction routed through the U.S. is refused!And , of course, you cannot get greenbacks exchanged for local currency anywhere.“All this will change,” assures a long time resident, a colourful Indian , who has been living in Cuba for 17 years. For one, the dilapidated , brightly painted cars from the ‘50’s which have been converted into taxis, may be replaced by modern machines like the few sturdy Mercs which drive well heeled tourists around. Already, there is enormous interest from German nostalgia freaks determined to acquire the funky, finned Impalas and other vintage beauties from another era.
This is the very era that charms those who keep coming back to Cuba.The Japanese are recent converts. But it is the Chinese who will eventually dominate Cuba. And it won’t be just the cigars they are after!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Youngistan's newest hero:Virat Kohli

As you can tell, I am still in Havana mode. It's really hard to switch off. Which is the reason why Papa Hemingway hung out here as much as he did.
The pics are a mixed bunch. I made friends with the resident peacock who'd stroll through the beachside restaurant and demand banana chips with an aggressive call.
Of course, you know that's Ernest himself, cast in bronze and surveying the scene at his favourite restaurant (El Floradita). And at his favourite bar (Dos Hermanos)where locals claim the Mojito was invented (note: another Che cap! I am a total groupie!)And there's one more Che moment, this time with the 'original' Che cap.And there's the lovely nail art picture of one of the ladies rolling Cohibas.

This appeared in Bombay Times yesterday....

Youngistan ka new hero :Virat Kohli
It is absolutely extraordinary to see the birth of a new superstar right in front of ones eyes, as it were! Everything about Virat Kohli suggests ‘He is the one’. He has success written all over him. Already, Virat is being talked about as the next captain of the Indian cricket team. Yes, even after Dhoni managed to clinch the dramatic victory over Pakistan in Mirpur on Sunday. All this, while the nation was still on a collective high , reveling in Sachin Tendulkar’s hundredth century in international cricket. For Virat to still steal the show suggests a few things. First, cricket fans are ready to move on. Dhoni is Dhoni. But, hey, Virat is hot! On and off the field. That’s how the game itself has evolved over time. Today, it is not about past records and glorious innings. It is about the here and now. How well you perform… present tense.Not how brilliantly you performed… past tense. With memory spans getting as short as attention spans, cricket lovers are constantly looking for the next big thing. Fans display their impatience and boredom very quickly. There is less sentimentality and more expectation even from die hards who can rattle off scores and records of their favourites effortlessly. But like in every other field, the demand is for fresh blood, for newness, for the dashing outsider, who walks in and wipes the floor with the stalwarts still swaggering around. Bollywood is on a similar ‘khoj’ as well. It’s just that in Bollywood, the stakes are a bit too high to invest millions on a newbie. In that sense, cricket works differently. There is no one ‘producer’ who is taking that big risk by banking on a dark horse. If a film tanks at the box office, it tanks. It cannot be reshot and released again, with all the errors fixed. Cricket gives the boys countless chances to prove themselves. In a crowded, competitive field, it is easy enough to spot a dependable, competent player. There are several of those. But for a cricketer to make it to superstardom, some other qualities are essential. A certain derring- do. Guts. Style. Confidence. Bravado. When Virat is on the field, it’s hard to look at anybody else. He is a crowd puller, who also happens to play bloody good cricket. Strange, how quickly India is ready to kiss Dhoni goodbye as a captain. We can be so horribly fickle! Even cruel. But then again, not everybody on that field is a Tendulkar. India has worshipped the man for twenty-three years. That is one hell of an impressive innings he has played. The country , in turn, waited patiently, even indulgently, for Sachin to achieve his cherished milestone. Today’s restless teenager is not as accommodating.This fan pays for instant thrills and wants to watch fresh players who bring new energy to the game.The very same cricket lover did not wait for even two years after Dhoni triumphantly brought the World Cup home,before looking over his shoulder . Ingratitude? Not really. If the game itself has changed, it is only because the fans have driven the change. Virat has brought the missing oomph back into the team. India is ready for him. Is Virat Kohli ready to lead Team India?

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Kantabai's version of the Union Budget!

Aaaaah - holiday pics! Someone did ask for them, right? RIGHT?
Well, here they are anyway, and lots more where these have come from... you are warned!
I often get the order wrong, but here goes from top to bottom: C'est moi at the Cohiba factory pretending to smoke a cigar... effect ke vaastey!
That's the Bellucci ( Belushi?) bloke, people were going ga-ga over. Wonder why?
And one more of the magnificent Hotel Nacional...
Augustus Eglesias... heard of him? Powerful singer. Cuba's A.R.Rahman
My absolute hero - a childhood hear throb. Che remains the world's most inspiring rebel. A true warrior who famously said, "My dreams know no limits..."
The main square in Havana..
This appeared in Sunday Times today.....

Budget-wudget : “Where has all my money gone….?”

Kantabai was in an impatient mood as she scrubbed and cleaned her memsaab’s Italian marble floors while the Union Budget was being discussed on ET NOW, the saab’s favourite business channel.Kantabai was not impressed. First, she wanted to know why there were such few women on any of the experts’ panel on tv shows. After all, rising prices affected women first. Plus,she had a few basic questions to ask Pranabda and all those mighty financial wizards decoding the subtext of the Budget for the benefit of dumbstruck television viewers. None of this was making the slightest sense to her, but Kantabai was candid enough to admit it. Her saab was jotting down notes and scribbling numbers on a thick writing pad as if he understood everything. Her memsaab was busy fixing hair and nail appointments at the friendly neighbourhood spa and complaining about additional taxes on luxury goods. Kantabai was cross, really ,really cross. She’d heard her railway pass would cost more when she renewed it next month. And she really didn’t care which minister lost his job for annoying some agitated Didi screaming hysterically in Kolkata and asking for his resignation. Kantabai’s drunkard of a husband had told her to cut back on virtually everything, food included. He’d muttered something about PPF interest rates being slashed, which she took as yet another way of telling her about the tough ( tougher!) times ahead for the family. What was a ‘maamuli aadmi’ supposed to do? Each year it was the same kahani. Kantabai was sick of it. The answer to her fundamental question every year : ‘Will prices ever come down ?’ remained the same : NO! If that was the case, what was the point in wasting everybody’s time? Kantabai was not interested in why prices never came down. All she wanted was an assurance from the sarkar that her children’s life would be qualitatively better than her own. She didn’t want her daughter to scrub floors and clean toilets. She didn’t want her son to become an underpaid hamaal. She didn’t want to live for the rest of her life in a filthy shanty town without water ,electricity or toilets. But was anybody listening?
Kantabai kept hearing stories about what a great future was in store for every Indian provided people worked hard ( ‘discipline’ was the new magic word) and sincerely. She was told if she managed to save some money from her meager salary, she’d be able to educate her children. But what was left to save after toiling in three homes from 6 a.m to 8 p.m? Phir bhi, aapun ke mantri log are making bada bada bhashans and boasting that life will improve. From what Kantabai could tell, life had definitely improved, maybe not for her, but for the saablog in whose homes she slaved. From one car, they now possessed three-three cars ( babalog had grown up and needed their own, na?). Diesel or petrol, she wasn’t sure. Made zero difference.Kantabai’s parivar didn’t possess even a cycle. Each room in her saab’s house had a big tv, which was good because Kantabai could now watch her favourite serial in the afternoon while ironing heaps of clothes. The saablog also ate out three times a week. So, less bartans in the kitchen sink for her to scour, as compared to five years ago. Memsaab also discarded good, hardly worn sarees, jeans, even nighties. In the past, Kantabai would be given soiled, torn clothes from time to time. Saab’s old shirt-pants were enough for her husband. And memsaab had started tipping regularly for extra work during her kitty parties. Kantabai got far many more days off, now that the saablog traveled to their farm house on the weekend and took two or three foreign holidays a year. Sometimes they brought back imported presents for Kantabai which she carefully stored for her daughter, making sure not to remove the nice wrappers.Even the leftovers she was allowed to take home at night, were better, tastier these days, especially Chinese dishes which her children had started to love. Last Diwali, her memsaab had given her a cell phone! Memsaab had said it was just a present, but Kantabai knew it was to keep calling her at home on her rare off days to issue instructions. And yes, Kantabai had to pay her own telephone bills.
As Kantabai kept listening to Pranabda droning on and on, she laughed out loud. So many maha plans for the nation. Such fantastic promises. Her saab was clapping sometimes and frowning at other times. Talking about sensex-bensex or just sex. She heard him talking on the phone and saying it was a ‘mixed budget’. He said that every year. Memsaab was complaining about having to pay more for powder-lipstick. The Babalog were indifferent, planning the next weekend party, ordering daaru and other things from the regular supplier. Kantabai went back to work with thoughts of getting back to her community tap on time before it ran dry. Like this year’s Budget, Kantabai’s life was also ‘mixed’. But there was always next year…

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Aman R.Ali's interview in Newsline..

Couldn't resist another Che shot. This was taken just outside Naples , with a darling ice cream vendor. Nothing can beat Italian gelati. Nothing!
Pakistanis treated me well. Really well.... I'd like to reciprocate someday soon. But sorry, their judicial team wasted everybody's time in Mumbai. And nobody was amused. Send better people next time. Not this bunch of cynical, ill-informed chaps.

Interview: Shobhaa Dé
By Amna R. Ali

The collective triumphs and successes of the alluring Shobhaa Dé shout a life well-lived. Model, writer, editor, columnist and life guru she has gathered innumerable accolades along the way. Now, at 64, she is still a show-stopper at fashion shows and dons the necessary accoutrements of high fashion with natural ease. Blessed with compelling charm she is a persuasive and expressive narrator of stories, especially her own. On a recent trip to Pakistan, she spoke candidly to Newsline about things that matter to her the most.
Successful author, columnist, opinion-maker, often you’re branded a socialite. Do you care about image and labels?
Actually, I’m pretty on top of my life. Labels are what lazy people create and stick on other people. I’ve always carved my own path and walked on it, had fun and done what I wanted to do, pretty much on my own terms, so it no longer bothers me. It’s just that sometimes I wish some of the journos would do their homework a little more.
Your milieu is urban India, your hometown is Mumbai. You say you’re a liberal Mumbai girl. How would you describe cosmopolitan broadmindedness in one sentence?
To be inclusive and accepting of differences, to me, that is really a cosmopolitan mind that respects other opinions, is comfortable with dissent, is challenging stereotypes, and, in a word, it would be an openness – an openness to life itself and a lack of narrow-minded judgemental attitudes that are polarising so many parts of the world.
You’ve always been provocative and daring, but you struck a nerve with traditionalists. What is the perfect balance between traditional culture and modern values?
I would say that the balance comes if you adopt the best disciplines from other cultures, be it western or eastern, or our own subcontinental culture. It’s like being at a gourmet meal and being in a position to get the choicest entrée that you desire, or your palette desires. One should try and combine the best choices in one’s own life without losing out on one’s essential self and the core of who you are, your identity. I’ve lived my life, but my identity was one thing that there was never any self doubt about, and I think that has really helped me to maintain a sense of equilibrium.
I struck a balance between the modern and traditional – that was a very conscious decision. Rebelling against something for the sake of rebellion is a part of growing up; I’m sure I must have done some really stupid things as a teenager, but I never lost sight of the bigger picture even then. It was never about bucking the system to an extent that it would be dangerous to myself or would compromise my family.
In the past decade or so, one has seen a globalised India and an economic boom that has fuelled massive social change in a young India. What do you think has been lost along the way?
Perspective. In this mad scramble to go global and to aspire to all the symbols of wealth and consumerism, we have lost perspective. To not allow oneself to be consumed by materialism is, I think, the biggest challenge for this generation. They are in such a tearing hurry but they don’t know where they are actually headed; they want more and more and more.
Career women in media or in finance are unable to find that wonderful balance where they can also stop and smell the flowers, instead of just hurtling from one goal post to the next.
In your books you speak of issues which are often considered very personal: Spouses, the truth about marriage, how to deal with menopause. You advise all age-groups on how to live and love. What is your fount of knowledge?
What a tough question you are asking me. I don’t know, it can’t really be explained. I believe almost all of us, especially women, are extraordinarily intuitive and they live on a different plane. I know I may sound batty saying it, but they do. Because of the requirements of our society, where women don’t always have a level playing field, we have devices which help us to cope with crisis and with different situations which cannot be explained logically. So where does my knowledge come from? If I get an answer or if I see something intuitively, I cannot in very logical, scientific, precise terms say where I got it from, or whether I picked it up from such and such library. It is there, I cannot explain it. It cannot be deconstructed.
Many parallels have been drawn between the two glam girls of the literary world, Shobhaa De and Jackie Collins, who both base their novels on the lifestyles of the super-rich and famous. Please comment.
I cannot tell you how sick I am of this glam stamp. I refuse to be apologetic and explain my appearance. The glam girl thing is something that has always been levelled against me. This is how I have always looked; had I looked differently or had my background been different, it would be another story. I refuse to conform to the khaddi-wearing journalist type stereotype and I refuse to be anything other than who I am. Jackie Collins was a very long time ago. This question is irrelevant now, a lot has happened since then. Years ago, a Time magazine writer decided to stereotype me as the glamorous writer from India. Well, it’s the world I know, I cannot suddenly write about rural realities. Do the rich not deserve to be chronicled, are their lives that unimportant? This is a world that I completely understand so I can write about it better than most other people who may not be a part of it.
Showbiz is about vicarious thrills, you say, especially via commercial, mainstream and celebrated cinema. What do you have to say about the Stardust-isation of the media?
Today if I were tell you that ‘Brand Bollywood’ is the biggest brand out of India, – it wouldn’t be untrue. It has happened, whether we like it or not. It’s the power of cinema but it’s also the power of marketing. I’ve seen Bollywood change and get corporatised; movie stars have become very sure of their own positioning in the market, and are going about it the way Hollywood stars have gone about it for the past twenty years – they have agents and business managers who leverage their brands. This is all new, just see how the press devours Bollywood – even a scrap of it – you throw them a morsel and they come running. It could be anything, it could be the World Economic Forum even; unless there is a Bollywood element, you don’t get the press.
The super fantastic success and the obsessive interest in Bollywood has led to the Stardust-isation of the media. It’s easiest to put a picture of Shahrukh Khan on the front page – even a mainstream paper like the Times of India will do this. All in the hope that, perhaps, the reader may read the serious stuff.
What is the state of Bollywood today? Is it mediocre?
Not at all. Bolllywood has some extremely smart people, they’re doing business in the millions and producing technically world class films. I hope, personally, that Bollywood never changes, and nor the Bollywood formula of boy meets girl, which is essentially based on fantasy and wish-fulfillment and aspirations.
Today they turn it on its head and present it differently but at the core it’s the same story. Parallel, experimental, smaller, indie films are breaking a lot of rules, speaking in a completely new language and finding their own audience – that’s thanks to the multiplex. Now we see mature audiences who can pick and choose; if they don’t want to watch a Dabangg they don’t have to. They can watch Bol.
Can you comment on hypocrisy in Indian society, a place where in cinema the pelvic thrust is acceptable while an innocent lip-to-lip is not?
The lip-to-lip has now become kosher, you can show it and they do. But a lot of the movie stars themselves don’t mind the pelvic thrust, they do mind kissing their co-stars. I don’t know whether this is because kissing is seen as essentially part of western culture. The pelvic thrust is derived from folk traditions and folk dances that have always been very raunchy. The lyrics have a lot of double entendre, a play on words, so it doesn’t somehow shock us as much as it has been part of a film tradition, even regional cinema tradition, for the longest time. Even Katrina Kaif’s new number Chikni Chameli is based on a Marathi folk song about a chicken that ran away. It’s a conscious decision on her part to change her image and if she does a very successful item song like that, chances are she’ll earn crores of rupees from it because she’ll be invited to perform at live shows.

I don’t see that as hypocrisy, no.
Are you one of those people who blame Pakistan whenever an act of terrorism takes place in India?
No, I think it’s lazy reporting which is reckless and dangerous. Unless it’s been established beyond any doubt where they came from, as in the case of the 26/11 bombings. Even in Pakistan, I would not hesitate to say this. But I certainly wouldn’t say that all our troubles and every terror attack in India is because of Pakistan.
What’s the best way, in your opinion, to give peace a chance?
Dialogue and more dialogue. Much more can be achieved through dialogue, cultural exchanges and re-establishing a healthy trade relationship, than finger-pointing and playing the blame game, which is counter-productive. Unfortunately politicians manipulate public opinion and presume to speak for a whole nation.
How would you describe your evolution from Socialite Evenings to Shobhaa at Sixty?
A writer’s mind is not static, there are bound to be changes in what one is writing. Socialite Evenings was my first book and I still love and adore it. It was so from the heart, it’s from the gut, and so unselfconscious with all its raw edges, but I couldn’t have remained stuck in that, and I couldn’t have remained stuck as the editor of Stardust, that was 40 years ago, even though people still associate me with it. I still continue to model a lot, believe it or not, at my age it’s very flattering. I’ve been asked to be a show-stopper at fashion shows and if it’s a charity-linked event, I’ve done it. I don’t wish to to remain at point A, my writing is a reflection of all that I have lived, and experienced and enjoyed. The change is evident in every book. It would be kind of boring to write the same old book a hundred times over.
You’ve been a successful daughter, wife, mother, sister, friend, citizen – do you have any regrets?
None at all. Sometimes I joke and say I’m like Dev Anand, I’m a person who lives completely and totally in the present. One has no control over the future, the past is over, and the only thing that one can live is ‘the now.’ And you try and live it the best way you can. I don’t see any point in regret. If there is something that you can undo or a hurt you’ve caused then, yes, by all means fix it. But I have no time to expend on negative energy. I would rather use that energy for something else, something that’s positive and now, and maybe for tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

"Inappropriate touching" - Bollywood Ishtyle

I wanted to share a few images of Heavenly Havana with my blogdosts. The first few are of the hotel we stayed in, which I absolutely loved, especially the 24x7 Verandah Bar with its wonderful Mojitos.
The little girl was celebrating her first birthday in the large public square, while close by a bride in sunny yellow was on her way to get married. Watching all this from his balcony was a Cuban guy ( the heat was obviously getting to him!), and in an Old Havana bar, a local dancer was showing off his sexy moves to an overwhelmed Canadian woman! I'm missing "Koo-bah!"
This appeared in Bombay Times...

Frankly, most readers fell off their chairs while reading about a recent incident in Goa, where yesteryear’s actress,Ameesha Patel apparently had a flaming row with some guy and accused him of ‘inappropriate touching’. All this was reported in delicious detail in a weekly, and had the tittering classes tittering some more! After a stormy walk out from the mutual friend’s sangeet celebrations, the guy at the receiving end of the actresses’ wrath refused to apologise, insisting no such ‘inappropriateness’ had taken place. The same actress had also (allegedly) been told to ‘cover up’ by senior actor Sanjay Dutt recently, when she flashed far too much cleavage at another high profile function. I guess,her skimpy choli was considered ‘inappropriate’, too. This is plain ludicrous and shows the extent of the double standards that exist in Bollywood. What is good for the goose should be good for the gander, too. But when it comes to the females in our film industry, the males instantly gang up to supposedly ‘protect’ the lady’s honour. Meanwhile, the Big Boys themselves can pretty much lech, paw and ‘persuade’ even the most unwilling females to bed them ( it’s considered a ‘favour’, remember?). But show the same medieval-minded macho studs a woman with attitude, and they get Neanderthal. Ameesha Patel is a big girl and can look out for herself. She is closer to 40 than 30. If she chooses to flash her cleavage ( and she does that a lot!), it’s entirely her call. She doesn’t need a big brother to defend her modesty. About the ‘inappropriate touching’ … well, surely an experienced woman of the world like an Ameesha, knows the difference between a friendly pat and groping? For now, let’s leave the ‘inappropriateness’ of our item songs aside. It’s obviously one rule for performances on screen, and another for off-screen nautanki. It’s time our filmi ladies stood up for themselves and told the bullying hulks where to get off.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Karachi Diaries....

From the top: With the Coco Chanel of Pakistan.
At a wonderful sunday brunch.
The lovely bride dressed in a traditional Indian designer lehenga.
Gorgeous ladies at a Sangeet.
This appeared in Asian Age-Deccan Chronicle on Saturday...

Karachi Diaries

Clearly,I am a fast learner. Minutes after walking out of the Karachi International airport, after a rather eventful PIA flight from Mumbai ( more about that later), I noticed the printed t-shirt of our baggage handler.Here’s what it said, “I am a bomb technician.If you see me run,try and keep up.” I swear this is true. I looked at my local minder nervously and gulped. She was sweetly saying, ‘Welcome to Karachi,” as she instructed an armed guard in the front seat of the car to make sure we arrived safely at our hotel. I figured the best way to enjoy the next four days in Karachi was to do as the Karachiwalas do and pretend aal eez welllll. The short hop between what could have been sister cities ( Mumbai and Karachi) takes just an hour and a half. Recordings from the holy Quran are played right before take off. Most of the passengers on this particular flight were Karachiwalas. One of them, a blousy woman wearing an animal print outfit was irate as she fidgeted in her seat. She’d been deported by our Mumbai cops on arrival and she was not amused. “I’m losing so much business!” she kept screaming, till she was firmly asked to shut up. An elderly couple seated behind me didn’t like it at all when I reclined my seat later in the flight, to take a short nap. The woman kept kicking hard, till the stewardess intervened and offered me another seat. The old lady asked loudly, “Hindustani hai ya Pakistani?” I’m guessing she would have kicked regardless!
We ( Indians and Pakistanis) share so very many things, besides the obvious ones ( culture, cuisine, clothes,complexion). And yet, the one thing that separates us is temperament.Mutual hostility, I can understand. But the total suspension of logic is harder to accept. Several people I spoke to referred to the Mumbai 26\11 terror attacks, and tried to convince me Pakistan had nothing to do with what took place. Who then could have orchestrated those attacks? And where did Qasab come from? “Look, wherever he came from, it wasn’t in a dinghy from our shores. That route is impossible to navigate without getting caught by naval patrol boats. If you ask us, the whole thing was an American-Israeli plot to discredit Pakistan in the eyes of the world.Why would Pakistanis attack a Jewish place? If it’s not the Americans, it’s your own people who did this. Please stop blaming us.” Well, since I am not top cop Rakesh Maria from the ATS, and was a temporary mehmaan in a neighbouring country, it seemed wiser to order some more food and change the topic.
“Would you like to meet Dawood?” an influential gentleman asked me casually, like he was asking me whether I wanted to meet a famous Pakistani cricketer or movie star. He added, “His home is less than 500 yards from where we are right now.” Suddenly, the delicious chicken piece I was about to swallow threatened to choke me. This was so unexpected. I instantly jumped at the opportunity and asked him to fix it up anytime…that night itself…. the next day. Another friend , listening to this conversation, interrupted quickly to say, “Don’t talk nonsense, yaar. Dawood doesn’t live in Pakistan, remember?” Someone else laughed, “ I ran into him at the hospital when I’d gone for a blood test recently.” This conversation was going nowhere. The offer was promptly changed. “ Okay. No Dawood. But if you want to meet Chhota Shakeel…?” I declined politely before standards fell further.
Though Veena Malik is the one who generates maximum contempt for stripping in India ( “ surely , there are better ways to make money… what a shameless woman. India will use her and throw her like they did with Meera”) , our politicians fare no better, especially Narendra Modi. The biggest fear seems to revolve around Modi becoming India’s prime minister. I told my local friends to relax – that’s not likely to happen any time soon, or at all. “Hindu Right Wingers” are another concern, and it’s no use saying these fears are somewhat paranoid and unfounded. At a wonderful mehendi-sangeet hosted in a grand mansion, I talked to a few of the youngsters between their choreographed dance numbers ( Dhinka Chika and Chikni Chameli, followed by Kolaveri Di). Their fascination for Bollywood gossip cancelled out any fears they may have harboured about India attacking Pakistan. Similarly, extended conversations with the bleached blond Begum Brigade over a long brunch, revealed their obsession for desi fashion and an insatiable curiosity about society scandals across the border… with zero interest in political affairs. I have to say this: in terms of hospitality, they beat us hollow! There is just no comparison. In terms of beauty, Pakistani women are streets ahead. Where we score is in our basic ‘buddhi’ and ‘dimaag’. Our education system as compared to our neighbour’s, is far superior. And our society appears more stable. Divorce and multiple marriages are so rampant, not an eyebrow was raised at a ladies’ lunch when in response to an innocuous question – “ How’s your husband?” the reply was a prompt, “Which one, jaani? I’ve had so many of them!” But I’ll give the last word to a kind porter who saw me through the chaotic maze at the airport while checking in for my return flight, “ Pakistan needs a Khomieni. He really cleaned up his country and killed all the corrupt people.” Somehow, future prime minister Imran Khan does not quite fit the bill in this regard! Just as well…

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Priyanka:Ishtyle alone isn't enough!

Okay. Her dimples and sarees didn't get the votes for Bhaiyya in U.P. and Akhilesh is the new God on the block. Why not? 38 and raring to go. A.Y. has turned out to be the real game changer in this key election. Is Akhilesh Yadav the face of New India? Is he the Obama we have been waiting for? Too early to crown him just yet. But why do I get the feeling the results would have been qualitatively different had Priyanka taken the plunge???
People are asking whether Mayawati is learning to dance to the Baby Elephant's Walk?
This appeared in The Week. Timed to co-incide with the Fashion Week in Delhi and slap (hopefully embarrass!) a few of those over- rated designers strutting their bakwas, bekaar stuff on the catwalk.

Priyanka G : Ishtyle icon 2012
Eat your hearts out, fashion designers. There’s one truly stylish individual in India who doesn’t need you! She doesn’t need designer gear, nor high street labels . Nor does she need to hire the services of a pricey stylist to put herself together each time she steps out. The fact still remains that Priyanka Gandhi is perhaps the most photographed woman on the sub-continent! Her every public appearance, is a media event. She hogs more mind space than India’s biggest fashionistas. And she does so effortlessly clad in nothing more ‘fashionable’ than a simple hand spun cotton saree, worn with a modest blouse with three quarter length sleeves. What could be more basic than that? Even so, these days Priyanka tops every poll that celebrates style.Howcome? It has to do with the x-factor. Some call it personality. Others prefer to describe it as charisma. Priyanka has it. Today, it is out there, and there’s no hiding her enormous crowd-pulling skills anymore. There are some blessed individuals who project undiluted magnetism .They don’t need image consultants or media managers to hog the limelight. Of course, it helps to be seriously good looking, which Priyanka most certainly is. But what cannot be faked is charm. Natural, unadulterated charm. When Priyanka smiles, that fetching smile reaches her eyes. When she waves to the crowds, she connects spontaneously… instantly. This is a gift, and so long as she does not take that gift for granted or misuse it, Priyanka will continue to win countless hearts.
Diana, dubbed the ‘People’s Princess’ was another such person. Except that Diana had an army of advisors who safe guarded her precious image ( not that they could help her when she most needed protection). Besides, she was dressed by the world’s top couturiers. Priyanka uses no make up and wears no jewellery . Diana’s tiaras, carefully coiffed hair, and slinky gowns enhanced her natural sex appeal. Priyanka’s admirers point out her wholesome, fresh faced, non-synthetic appearance, which reminds old timers of her imperious grandmother, Indira Gandhi . But unlike Indira, Priyanka’s personality is distinctly softer and decidedly feminine. Her impressive height and toned body would make her the darling of the fash- frat, if she but chose to play an obliging mannequin or a designer’s muse. Though she has been frequently spotted at Fashion Week, occupying the front row, her own outfits even at these high profile events have been discreet and understated. Clearly, Priyanka knows what she is most comfortable in - and that’s her own skin.
World leaders these days, women in particular, are under impossible public scrutiny. Michelle Obama, being the U.S. President’s wife, cannot escape a laser like examination of her wardrobe, with hundreds of international fashion sites, micro-analyzing her every public appearance. It is said women like her and Carla Bruni can make a young,unknown designer’s career go through the roof by wearing his or her outfit to a high profile event. That would hold true for Priyanka, too. She, more than any Bollywood actress, could be the game changer in the fashion business, where a celebrity’s endorsement counts for a lot. Instead, she chooses to support unknown weavers and promote craft skills of neglected regions of India. Much like her mother and grandmother before her. This is sending out a powerful message to the rapidly growing fashion industry in India. Young designers, particularly from the North East , are focusing on reviving looms, embroideries, even silhouettes that reflect regional aesthetics and sensibilities. Urban designers who have already made it big in the business are rethinking their strategies. Perhaps, scaling down on bling. Will skimpy, bikini tops worn with low slung sarees ( beware: Ameesha Patel is on the prowl), become a thing of the past soon? Will the wretched mermaid-style, embellished lehenga disappear altogether? I have my fingers crossed. My hopes are pinned on a graceful young woman, who could well become India’s ‘saree champion’. If someone like Priyanka does indeed manage to revive interest in traditional , beautifully woven sarees, chances our we won’t have to kiss the classic six-yards goodbye. Or else, the saree may go the way of the kimono in Japan and get converted into nothing more than a ceremonial dress that’s pulled out and clumsily draped for special occasions like weddings and funerals. About Priyanka’s severe , solid coloured saree blouses, I’m not as sure. Priyanka, with her long, slim arms can pull them off without looking frumpy. The rest of us unfortunate creatures do need a little oomph to liven up our sarees…. and lives!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Ab Mumbai door nahi...

We hit the hometrack running. Which is a good thing and a bad thing. London is cold and damp ( so what else is new?), and after blissed out days spent in glorious , sunny Italy, this is such a let down. But here's some good news : I had the best airline meal ever on the British Airways flight from Naples to Gatwick. It was delicious, piping hot, served with a smile AND there were 5 options to choose from!! Let's see what Jet Airways produces during the long flight to Mumbai. The Jet service is outstanding, the food is generally terrific, if a bit too heavy. The flight attendants look after each and every passenger most attentively. What more do you want? Hugs and kisses?
Yesterday was International Women's Day, and it was slightly strange spending it in a charming but distant land. However, I noticed countless flower sellers along the narrow , winding streets around Positano, selling bunches of bright yellow flowers. I asked Giuseppe, our local chauffeur, and he said those were Mimosa blossoms that men give to women on this day. It is a tradition. My husband promptly rushed to produce a bunch for me, and Giuseppe took a picture. Sweet.
As i said my goodbyes to the malevolent Vesuvius ( it really does look pretty menacing!), I thought of all the volcanic situations back in India. The winds of change are blowing. Change is HERE! We ignore our symbolic Vesuvius at our own peril! Jago, Congress, Jago!
On a lighter note, I went to buy some mozzarella at the airport in Naples. Guess what I discovered? Our Sikh community controls most of the Mozzarella production in the region. There is a Sardarji village in Italy dedicated to producing Italy's favourite cheese made from buffalo milk. I wish I knew how to make a desi version, considering the milk we drink in Mumbai comes from buffaloes, too. Blogdosts : any ideas on this front??

Never say never in Naples...

It is my last day in Italy, and Naples has been a revelation. It is not a particularly pretty city. In fact, it's pretty seedy and decidedly dangerous. Being an ancient port that sits at the base of an unpredictable volcano ( Vesuvius) and has Pompeii to flaunt in its backyard, Naples has been conquered so many times that locals claim there is a bit of every known human race in them. But it is the areas around the bay ( often described as the most beautiful bay in the world) that draw tourists from across the world, especially in summer. Right now, It's cold and damp. There are hundreds of Chinese and Japanese visitors flocking to Capri and beyond, but are the locals complaining? Hell, no! Given the shaky state of the economy, every euro is welcome. It's actually a pretty good time to be in Italy. One can bargain without shame and get the best deals in town. Locals insist they really don't care about Berlusconi's wild sex life so long as he agrees to reduce taxes! Most oldie goldies admire his guts and get a gleam in their rheumy eyes while discussuing the man. They insist it's all thanks to the tomatoes, olive oil and fish. That is their secret for a healthy, robust life, free of disease. They love their cherry tomatoes, gigantic lemons and fresh sea bass which they cook in lemon leaves ( yummy!). They also claim the local mozzarella is the best in Italy... and I believe them.
Capri, Sorrento, Amalfi.... God really took his time creating these spectacularly beautiful areas, where life is enviably languid and four hour siestas, mandatory. I have to confess I'm a bit sad to leave. I keep hearing Dean Martin crooning love songs from the '50's... and his voice makes me cry a little. There is a full moon hanging precariously ouside the balcony of my charming hotel which was built in 1870. The mood is mellow... and Mumbai, for once, is not as powerful a magnet, pulling me back to reality... and home.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

'' Call Me Raabert....."

This appeared last Sunday....Before the RESULTS..

This is all terribly confusing. First, Priyanka Gandhi calls herself a frog. Then Rahul Baba does ditto-ditto. And says, if my sis is a frog, then I’m a frog , too. That makes it two frogs in the pond… err, family. Then along comes an Easy Rider on a motorbike. But he’s no frog. He’s Robert. Robert Vadra.And nobody knows what to do with the dashing guy in designer shades. Not even the two frogs. One frog is Vadra’s wife. The other, his brother-in-law. Clearly, they weren’t expecting company. But hello! ‘Call me Raabert….” is right there. And from the looks of it, he ain’t going anywhere. “ I married into a political family….” Robert offered by way of an explanation, when he took the tentative plunge into politics last month. And that was that. Whether India’s premiere political family had any inkling about Easy Rider roaring off into the sunset with his band of Biker Boys, remains unclear. But going by the subdued official response to the First Son-in-law’s virgin foray into the political badlands of Uttar Pradesh, some instant strategic thinking will be required. And no, it’s not enough for Abhishek Manu Singhvi to issue polite, discreet statements that basically say very little, besides: “ Hell , no! We don’t really know what the devil is going on. But we aren’t jumping with joy at this unexpected turn of events.” A careful decoding of Singhvi’s guarded comment (“We have nothing to add after Priyanka’s clarification,”) reveals the prevailing anxiety within the First Family, with Mama Sonia caught in a bit of a bind. It isn’t the best situation for a mum to be caught in. First, both her bachchas declare they are, in fact ,frogs. Then comes Easy Rider with his Hell’s Angels, and makes it to all the channels and papers. This was certainly not a part of the master plan.But Robert Vadra has definitely added the much needed spice to the khichdi in U.P. Let’s see who suffers from indigestion now.
The buzz in Delhi about Easy Rider’s political ambitions has been doing the rounds for a while. It’s just the fear factor that has stopped everybody from talking publicly about it. That there was trouble brewing in paradise is again a purani kahani. Political watchers were not sure whether the alleged trouble was manufactured or real. The fact that Priyanka was seen hanging around Mama Gandhi more and more, was taken as a sign that Priyanka was merely being a good daughter and helping out during a medical and political crisis. Those in the know whispered there was much more to Priyanka’s involvement in the day-to-day affairs of the party. It was never openly discussed but the ‘Robert factor’( as it was euphemistically dubbed) was causing enormous concern. Today, now that it’s all out there, the question is : how does one deal with it on a long term basis? But such is the paranoia surrounding the family, that most people pretend they know nothing, have heard nothing and there is nothing.
Robert Vadra hard to ignore. Even if one did not know of his existence but were to spot him in a restaurant, chances are one would ask, “Who’s that guy. That one… with the tight tee and those biceps?” Robert resembles a movie actor from the ‘fifties or ‘sixties. He is beefier than Salman Khan, and with that rakish moustache and swagger, anybody with any sense will quickly conclude, ‘You don’t want to mess with this guy.” From the looks of it, his decision to jump into the political arena was taken without consulting anybody – not even his wife. Perhaps the poor chap was sick of waiting on the sidelines playing second fiddle to the first and second most important women in India. It’s a pretty wimpish role for a tough guy to play. Robert may have been restless and raring to go. And now (he may have finally figured out) is as good a time as any. In fact, Robert’s timing is superb! And he isn’t shying away from spelling out his ambitions. If his brazen attitude is embarrassing the First Family, that’s too bad. It’s okay for the two frogs to keep repeating they aren’t looking for political office. Easy Rider is more upfront. Oh yes, he’d like to play a political role, declared the son-in-law unabashedly. What else should Robert have done? And how long should he have waited? This is a new, unexpected twist in the script which is now called , “Dilli’s Damaad Also Rises.”
It is a tough nut to crack. If Robert ups the dilemma further and decides to ignore / defy the diktats of the High Command, he will be forcing a confrontation.. Robert’s no quitter. And he too has well-connected friends in high places. Flexing muscles comes easily to our guy. He must have thought about the repercussions of taking on several powerful loyalists. If he decides to ride solo, that will be the biggest political coup in the current scenario. But Easy Rider must also realize that without the absolute backing of his wife’s parivaar, it’s going to be a really bumpy roadtrip for him and his Biker Boys. Khair, if all else fails,there is always Dabbang -2.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Ola!! Havana was heaven!

Just left what may turn out to be the hottest destination for well heeled tourists in the near future - Havana. I went there expecting very little and have become a new convert! I still don't smoke cigars! I don't smoke, period! Nor do I drink well- aged Cuban Rum. Errrr.... I don't drink Rum. And there is nothing to shop for, apart from Che t-shirts, caps and mugs ( I bought! I bought!). But I did discover a very proud people. Proud of their identity. Proud of their nation ( just 12 million Cubans). Proud of their culture ( what music!). And generally unafraid of what the world thinks of them. That's confidence. The Cuban peso is nearly as strong as the Euro. And nothing is cheap here, least of all those coveted cigars. And no, the magnificent Cohibas ( grand fathers of all great cigars) are not rolled on bare female thighs as rumoured!
The cuisine may not be too sophisticated ( very basic and tasteless, actually), but a couple of outstanding restaurants are worth a visit. Particularly, Le Chansonier, which I was told was the big favourite of our Salman Khan and Katrina Kaif while they were shooting in Havana recently. Then there is the outstanding La Guarida in an old Palador ( residence), which the NYT rates highly. It is virtually impossible to get a booking there. It is also the locale for that delightful movie, ' Like water for Chocolate'.
Since we have always enjoyed a 'Hindi- Cuban' bhai bhai relationship with the country, I wasn't surprised to see a statue of Mahatma Gandhi in a beautiful park encircled by gigantic Banyan trees. More in my next post. Gotta run. Flight leaving for Genoa, Naples in a few minutes.
Ciao for now!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Bad behaviour is bad behaviour.No excuses!

This appeared in Times Of India


The Saif-Iqbal punch out story is still limping along, but it may soon be consigned to the dustbin. Which is a good thing and a bad thing. It will work in Saif’s favour if the media loses interest. And in Iqbal’s favour if the media keeps up the pressure (Jigna Vohra-J.Dey case would have been buried a long time ago had the press not stayed with it relentlessly). I think what is really bugging people in the Saif brawl is the issue of privileges and preferential treatment that celebs expect as their birthright. The word that keeps popping up is ‘entitlement’. Not the fault of the celebs at all. This is how the system works in India. Forget big ticket movie stars, watch how petty politicians and their lackeys bulldoze their way through sticky situations…. and everybody obliges, cops included. But, in the present more aware and citizen-empowered environment, the aam aadmi is displaying a belligerent mood. So, no amount of hiding behind the rather comical “We come from respectable homes”( then behave respectably, dammit!), arguments is likely to influence public opinion, which is hostile and aggressive. Bad behaviour is unpardonable and cannot be condoned. What is expected from a mature, educated professional ( let’s leave all that ‘Nawab’ nonsense out of it),is a straightforward , upfront account of what happened. Difficult, yes, without compromising his legal position. But definitely more honourable in the long run. If Saif is proven guilty, punish him. If not, get off his back.
Nope, being a high profile movie star is not easy. Never was, never will be. And times have changed a great deal from that era when that amazing trio of superstars (Raj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand) ruled the roost and never once attacked each other , either verbally or physically. Maintaining a level of decorum in public places has been thrown out of the window decades ago by an arrogant segment of Bollywood. What actually transpired that night in ‘Wasabi’ will be hard to establish without cctv camera footage.We have to rely on police expertise to piece it together convincingly enough. But one thing’s for sure, it will bear a negative impact on Saif Ali Khan’s image ( the other men from his group are non-entities). It is equally true that the public gets a sadistic thrill when a high profile person gets into trouble with the law. The upside of being a pampered celeb, comes with the downside as well. Perhaps, Saif was the chosen one for this particular reality check. But this avoidable incident should serve as a lesson to other celebs not to take the law into their own hands, rather, fists!