Saturday, June 30, 2012

Any 'Satya'' in this....??

The truth about Satyamev Jayate’s donationsT

SUCHETA DALAL June 26, 2012 02:53 PM |

The donation numbers look strange, the actual terms and conditions are not so clear and the show is flagging

On 20th June, Moneylife wrote how Satyamev Jayate (SMJ), the do-gooding show that was to redefine prime time and claimed to reach a massive 40 crore Indians (over just five episodes) had collected just Rs1.7 crore for seven NGOs so far. Of this Rs85.25 lakh has come from Reliance Foundation (numbers provided by them), which had offered to match the donations received from others.

SMJ’s website ( had 13 NGOs on the list, of which seven received the funds until then: Unique Home for Girls, Snehalaya, Amarjyoti School, Family of Disabled, Himmat, Childline and Azad Foundation.

While I wrote to Reliance Foundation, I also contacted SMJ’s official PR agency (Hanmer MS&L) listed on its website and asked for the donation numbers. Late that night, after our report was published, a Hanmer executive wrote to say that she didn’t have the numbers, but the Rs85.25 lakh that Reliance Foundation had paid reflected only the first five days of donation and that Snehalaya had in fact received Rs70 lakh. She promised to get me the exact numbers by 21st June afternoon.

This was after seven episodes had already been aired. We sent a reminder on 23rd June and also pointed out a mistake in the “terms & conditions”, which said that the exact donations received would be announced on Asar, a programmed aired on Aaj Tak channel every Friday night. In fact Asar is aired on ABP News, formerly Star News. This gross mistake was corrected on 25th June along with certain other changes.

Finally on 25th June (seven weeks after the show went on air), five days after our report, the Hanmer PR person wrote to say SMJ has received Rs1.9 crore through Axis Bank and another Rs25 to Rs30 lakh through text messages (so much for precision and disclosures), which means “Rs3 crore plus” of donations after adding “Rs85 lakh donated by Reliance”. She writes, “Reliance only doubles the amount collected in the first week (after telecast date). From a legal perspective, there needs to be a cut off date for Reliance to double the amount”.

But hasn’t Aamir Khan been looking us in the eye (through our TV screens) and telling us that Reliance Foundation will match the donations received? Then why is its contribution less than half the total received? As always, Reliance Foundation seems to have bargained a phenomenal deal—a big dollop of publicity for Nita Ambani’s plans to change the world, being economic with the truth (in terms of what it would match) and coughing up just Rs85 lakh over six weeks, when advertisers have been paying Rs8-Rs10 lakh for a 10 second spot! Bharti Airtel, the presenting sponsor, is understood to have paid Rs17-Rs20 crore while associate sponsors (Skoda, Coca Cola, Axis Bank, etc.) have paid Rs6-Rs7 crore each for far less visibility than Reliance. Why don’t the terms and conditions mention that Reliance Foundation only matches donations of the first week?

Naturally, we found this breezy obfuscation unacceptable and demanded a break up. By now, Star India officials had corrected the terms and conditions and updated the website. They have finally updated the website to say that the show had yielded—630,298,439 connections, 8,839,494 responses, 2,778,984 community members and Rs30,160,678 in donations. There was still no clarity about how these figures were arrived at and who got how much. On asking for a detailed break-up, we received an email from them.

The numbers are interesting (see table). Data for the first two episodes indicates that nearly half the donations were received in the second week after the telecast, despite the flutter on social media caused by the programme’s first episode. Secondly, Snehalaya, the NGO featured in the first programme garnered Rs1.3 crore or nearly half the total donations generated by the first six shows. Yet, barely 2.2% were through sms. Digital marketing experts may explain why sms-happy Indians were so reluctant to donate through texts, but apparently donated through more cumbersome online contributions to Axis Bank, that too a week after the episode. It will be interesting to see how many of the Axis Bank donations came from overseas transfers.

Childline and Himmat managed to attract the next highest number of donations (around Rs40 lakh each) while The Humanity Trust, West Bengal which has been subject of nasty innuendo because it was confused with another trust of the same name (finally corrected and explained by SMJ’s website only on 25th June) had the third highest collection of Rs27 lakh. But given the fact that it is this show that probably had the maximum impact on public consciousness, the amount collected was strangely too small.

What is however evident from the numbers, is that SMJ is fast losing steam. Only two episodes have really made waves—the first on female foeticide, mainly because it startled people and the second on medical malpractices, because it affects us all. Also, the massive clout of the pharmaceutical and medical equipment manufacturers ensures that we get to know so little of the sleazy underbelly healthcare sector. In fact, media reports on medical malpractice rarely go beyond doctor’s negligence.

The political class, which was wary after the first episode, has now begun to ignore the show. SMJ still has the potential to pack a punch for social transformation, but it needs some changes. For one, many viewers say that 90 minutes is far too long on a Sunday morning and there is no follow up action from the producers. They and Aamir Khan Productions obviously expected to just sit back and rake in the moolah and the glory. If activism could be reduced to show business, India would not need drastic transformation 65 years after independence.


Was back in Amdavad after a couple of years. Lots of changes. But a few wonderful constants - like the peacocks. And the Neem trees. Hundreds of both! Just there. Part of the city- scape.

One lovely new discovery - talented designer Anuradha Vakil's jewel of an atelier. Here's one hugely gifted fashion designer who lives her art. Anuradha's 'space' is as stunning as her exquisitely woven and embellished sarees.... garments. But it is really Anuradha the Collector, I find so enchanting. Her hoard of tiny glass bottles, tea pots, kettles, other quirky objets, tell their own story of a life lived in the appreciation of all things bright and beautiful. And yes, right outside the large window of the room in which we were sipping tea, was a gigantic Neem tree with not one but four peacocks perched on it. Pure magic!

The Award Ceremony ( "Women of Excellence'') was dignified and appropriate. For me, it was an honour to share the dais with three extraordinary women - Amma ( the legendary Mrinalini Sarabhai), Dr.Indira Parikh ( educationist par excellence. IIM and more), and the fiery politico Jaya Jaitley, who recalled our "Gurjari'' days when we both ran around looking for stringy, backless cholis.... what fabulous memories. I guess we have all come a long,long way.... niccceeee.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Why do we expect so much from Aamir Khan?

Blogdosts, I am back. Exhausted and holidayed out! Florence was fabulous, as always. Porcini and truffles.... come on, who could ask for anything more? The cruise was also amazing, and Corfu tops my list of great ports. I have lots of terrific pics to share.... don't know where to start!

Meanwhile, I am just so happy for Hema and Dharmendra's little girl, Esha, who will be getting married on Saturday. I hope to be there.... Hema is one woman I have always admired, and I know just how important the day is for her as a mother. The invitation is so Hema! God bless Esha and Bharat.


This appeared in Sunday Times. I received reactions from Aamir fans and critics. Now, I await yours!

First, a confession. I have not watched a single episode of Aamir Khan’s Sunday Morning Sermon. Not because the show doesn’t interest me, per se. But because Sunday mornings are precious and I don’t want to cringe, suffer, weep and wail on a day that is reserved for some well earned R & R after six days of mazdoori. Sunday mornings are for a leisurely family chat over upma and coffee. Having said that, one must hand it to Aamir for attempting the near impossible – getting television audiences to watch Aamir doing a Bharat Pita, or a modern day version of ‘Rajani’(1985), in which the late Priya Tendulkar took everybody to task for slipping up and making a mess of things. Priya’s style was more abrasive, strident and confrontational, but the content was essentially the same – citizen activism. She also tackled the ‘burning issues of the day’ and did so with a fire and brimstone approach that worked very well with the janata at the time. Priya’s packaging was far from slick. And the show was put together on a shoe string budget. Being the daughter of a fiery intellectual ( Vijay Tendulkar), Priya’s positioning was perfect. She soon acquired iconic status and a gigantic fan base. Aamir didn’t need a hit show for that – he already had both .

So, why has ‘Satyamev Jayate’’ raised so many hackles and generated heat in unlikely quarters? It’s only a show. And Aamir ain’t God! He is only a star-anchor doing his job. And doing it well. Yes, he gets paid a big fat fee for making the nation uncomfortable, week after week. But that was the whole idea. So far, the issues he has tackled are pretty old hat. These are just some of the social blights India has struggled to come to terms with for ages.Aamir the Crusader wasn’t the first to table them. Several agencies have been hard at work for decades, trying to spread awareness, whether it’s about medico-legal issues,Khaap politics, sexual abuse, female foeticide or child marriage. Aamir ‘s fans could easily have turned away tiredly with a ‘been there, know that’ shrug. But that hasn’t happened. Why? It has to do with the Aamir Phenomenon. No other actor in the country is as acutely conscious of his own power. No, not even the other two Khans. Aamir’s level of intelligence is such that when he applies his mind to doing something – anything - from his next big movie to an endorsement for a fizzy drink, he looks beyond just the bottom line. He looks at the future. His own first. And then the future in a cosmic sense. He takes mammoth risks. Some would argue those are well calculated ones. But can anybody in the world predict what the Next Best Thing could be? Aamir’s strike rate has been pretty astonishing so far.If it’s just a gut feel he goes by, what a gut! In the case of ‘Satyamev Jayate’, the risk has been still greater. Aamir was attempting to change the viewing pattern of fickle Indian audiences . That too with a show which is devoid of any entertainment value. The subjects are grim. And going by reviews, there is heavy duty rona dhona involved. By airing SJ on a Sunday morning, Aamir hoped to carve out a brand new slot for himself. A slot with virtually zero competition from other Bollywood stars. To achieve his objective,Aamir didn’t pick a game show – he hoped to become the game changer! The reason why critics carped is because they insist Aamir does not offer solutions. Nor does he see the problem through. But, hello!That’s not his job! We are missing the point here. Aamir is merely a performer, who has chosen this particular format over say, a Khatron Ka Khiladi type of show. That’s smart! If he wants to be the Asian male version of an Oprah Winfrey and build on his brand with a show that impacts a billion people, it’s an astute move.Aamir knows what his admirers expect from him – a lot!And they readily admit this depressing show would have tanked but for Aamir.Alas, even an Aamir cannot play Atlas for much longer, without expectations soaring still higher. It’s a tough call.If Aamir pulls it off, he can write his own ticket to anything - Bharat Ratna, included. But if he flops, well, he’ll still get to keep his fee. And then go back to doing what he does best – movies. Bah! India will have to start looking somewhere else for a Saviour.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

We're all going on a summer holiday...

Cliff Richard??? Remember that lovely, old song??? "We're all going on a summer holiday... no more worries for a week or two.... fun and laughter on our summer holiday...."
Well... I'm off on mine!
This time tomorrow, I shall be in one of my dream destinations, with travelling companions I adore!
By the time we get back, India will have a brand new President. And who knows, maybe a brand new Prime Minister, too! Sonia likes pulling rabbits out of a hat. I think this rabbit will astonish India, and possibly, the world.
I shall be sailing on a calm Mediterranean sea....
Miss me like mad!
I certainly know I shall miss you, my Blogdosts!!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

IPL - Lessons this season taught us....

This was a column that never saw the light of day. Puchho kyon? Because the Editor chickened. Said it was way too dicey, since the owner of the publication was also a team owner. So much for freedom of expression. Khair, I had to share the axed column with my beloved Blogdosts. Aap hi bolo - what would you have done in the Ed's place???

Lessons this season of the IPL taught us....

For a cricket-ignoramus like me, the IPL is about entertainment, not cricket.

Several cricket buffs whole- heartedly agree. But refuse to admit it. I feel like saying, “Ït’s okay, darling. It doesn’t make you less of a cricket fanatic to say it. If anything, it will establish your credentials as an asli cricket fan, who loves the game but also enjoys a side-show called the IPL.” Which is why I don’t feel in the least bit embarrassed when I declare unabashedly that I totally loved this sleazy season... and I am ready for more. This was by far the most entertaining IPL to date. And forget all that breast beating about which match was fixed, which wasn’t and who made how much money betting on what. Come on, guys. This is Bharat Desh. And we are discussing commercial cricket. Not gilli-danda. Of course, there’s betting. Of course some naughty cricketers are taking cash for throwing matches. Of course, humungous amounts of money has been made by oily dalals. That’s what makes the IPL so much fun! Which other sport in moralistic India offers such an amazing bouquet of thrills? Where else do you find so much sleaze? Name one national pastime that has as much masala. Why, even all the yearlong shenanigans that take place in Badnaam Bollywood look bhola bhala and innocent in comparison to the high drama of the IPL.

If you ask me, the two heroes of the IPL-5, were Viraat Kohli and Siddhartha Mallya. Viraat came into his own and showed fans what a greenhorn Captain is capable of if entrusted with responsibility. It doesn’t matter that his team didn’t make it to the Finals. By then, Viraat had picked up his own momentum, bagged lucrative endorsements and broken several hearts. He’d also undergone a flattering make over that showed off his better physical attributes, and gave him a new swagger. At 23, Viraat can be forgiven for strutting his stuff on the field and showing off. Give the guy a break. He’s playing good cricket with a straight bat. He is the future Captain of the Indian team. That is, once Captain Cool decides he’s had enough of cricket and joins Bollywood officially.

Siddhartha Mallya may have found himself in a spot of trouble with ‘that’ tweet. But there were several young people who secretely agreed with his views on how a ‘Future Wife’ should behave. Personally, I was vastly amused, and for the longest time my Gmail status read: Are you a Future Wife? I wrote two columns on the subject and received an avalanche of reactions. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the phrase Future Wife’’ sneaks into the popular lexicon soon. I’m seriously thinking of asking Sid Mallya to write a book on the subject. You know why? Because somewhere beneath those jibes and hoots that greeted his tweet, there was a grain of truth buried in there. And”frisky young women( groupies!) who like their drinks and IPL parties, were asking themselves a little worriedly whether or not they would make the cut as Future Wives! So Sid, you really did trigger off something there, even if you don’t know it.

The IPL is about sex, booze, drugs and parties. Why not just say it out loud and be done? So what? If, in between all this off-the-field action, a few decent shots are played ( Dhoni’s magnificent 50), and a few great balls delivered... good for the fans. But we have finally reached that mature stage to boldly acknowledge a couple of home truths. The first one being the IPL has very little to do with the great game of cricket. Once we accept that premise, the rest is easy. Equally, the IPL will attract all types. Women like Zohal Hamid and others with no known antecedents. This is a worldwide phenomenon. Where there are sports stars, there are chicks. Where there is big money, there is betting. Where the stakes are high, there are fights. Deal with it. Grow up! Men will be men... they will fall for ‘honey traps’( don’t you just love that description?). Ladies with a penchant for jocks and instant publicity will cash in on opportunity. Some bad eggs will be caught on camera fixing a match. Some will be caught with their pants down. Others will blow a fuse and hurl filthy abuses at officials. Hota hai. But that’s exactly what makes the IPL format so irresistible. Imagine if all those good looking players ( some with great butts), were to be good little boys, retiring to their rooms after a testosterone-driven game and tucking themselves into bed with a harmless comic, after drinking a cup of hot cocoa. Lights off at 10p.m. No masti, no girls, no booze ( Chris Gayle – are you reading this , and falling off your chair with laughter?). B-O-R-I-N-G!

I can’t wait for IPL-6. Here’s hoping there will be many more juicy scandals and fisticuffs next year. And someone, please, please invite Zohal Hamid back to cheer for Luke Pomersbach, now that they’ve kissed (?) and made up . That is, if Luke is still in the team, and Zohal has not become a Past Wife!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

"Come on... let's twist again!"

Madonna flashed her breasts - again! At least she doesn't pretend it's a wardrobe malfunction....


This appeared in The Week....

Madonna’s W./E. - Chick Flick?

Even as I key this in, Madonna is somewhere in the region, doing what she does best – entertaining swooning fans. I know several die hard desi devotees of the Empress of Pop , who booked tickets to concerts in Abu Dhabi and Dubai as soon as they went on sale , determined to attend the Material Girl’s electrifying performances since chances of her coming to India in the near future are remote at this point . Personally,having been a Madonna worshipper for decades, it’s interesting to note how effortlessly she has won over two generations of music lovers. From senior citizens to teenagers, we all know - Madonna is the one. You can keep your Lady Gaga.

Having established my pro-Madonna position so emphatically, it won’t come as a shock if I confess I actually liked her ambitious directorial film W./.E. which didn’t impress critics(even though it did win awards for costumes and music), nor did it win her additional fans. But, what it did prove is that Madonna is no quitter. This is a passionate film about Wallis Simpson, a woman who has been consistently despised world-wide for seducing Prince Edward, the adored King of England, and compelling him to give up the Empire for her. The twice divorced Wallis Simpson has been the subject of several books , but it took a Madonna to give her a fresh spin and present this historic love story in an entirely different light. Madonna’s Wally is not just a scheming, conniving, crafty social climber. If anything, she is something of a victim, trapped in a situation from which there is really no escape. I ended up feeling sorry for poor Wally and what she gave up, rather than sympathising with that whining wimp of a king.... and what he gave up. It was only a kingdom, right?Of course, Wally is hugely ambitious. But so is Madonna! This movie is as much about Madonna as it is about the Duchess of Windsor, who describes herself in the movie as ‘the most despised woman on earth.” That sentiment is not too far from Madonna’s own controversial reputation. Perhaps it is Madonna’s close identification with Wally , that propelled her to make the film. Look at the parallels – W./E. explores the life of an American divorcee ( Wallis-Madonna) who falls in love with a posh Brit ( Prince Edward- Guy Ritchie) and tries in vain to win the hearts of class-conscious Britishers ,invoking scorn,rejection and contempt in the bargain. There is also an annoying contemporary track which I found most distracting . It’s about a woman named Wally, married to a shrink called Edward.... and... oh, never mind. It’s tedious and complicated. The fact that Madonna chose to write, direct and produce W./E. shows her tenacity and commitment. Not for nothing is she known as an extreme control freak! Several stars she approached for W./E. walked out of the project unable to deal with her demands. Despite all the odds, she went right ahead with the expensive project, using her personal standing to get jewels from Cartier’s and clothes from Dior, Chanel and other designers. She also raided her own house and used pieces of furniture, crockery and drapes to create the right ambience. But at the end of it all, there was the inescapable feeling that the Mighty Madonna was actually in search of vindication for herself. By presenting one of Britain’s most reviled women in a sympathetic light, it appeared as if Madonna was pleading her own case! This was a bit surprising – why bother? By aggressively getting into her ex-husband’s territory ( film direction), Madonna’s fiercely competitive spirit was once again on parade . By projecting the modern-day Edward as a cruel, sadistic, jealous husband, maybe Madonna wanted to demolish the myth about Guy being the good chap who was wronged by sweet ,ole her!Whatever Madonna’s motivations, it’s a film worth watching because of its perspectives. By ‘softening’Wallis and humanising her, Madonna took a huge risk of antagonising her critics – most of whom slammed her for taking liberties with historical details. But like the character of Mohammed al Fayed says in the movie, “History is all about interpretation.” This is in the context of letters he possesses, written by Wallis to and about her husband – the sulking ex-King in exile, licking his wounds in the South of France and behaving like a petulant school-boy.When he is dying, he asks Wally to dance for him, as he lies in bed, a sick and broken man. It is Wallis who emerges as the far stronger person, when she dutifully does the Twist to Chubby Checker’s classic, “Come on, let’s twist agäin...” It is the single most telling scene not just about Wallis, but about women. Countless women ,cornered and caught in tragic circumstances that are rarely discussed because women foolishly wait “for situations to work out.” Of course, they never do! But do we learn? Madonna should know!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Kaun Banega Rastrapati?

This appeared in Sunday Times yesterday....

Kaun Banega Rashtrapati...

Welcome to the latest Reality Show in India. The race is on for the top job and there are any number of contestants fighting tooth and nail to win the jackpot.And what a jackpot it is!No exaggeration, but becoming the President of India may well be the most coveted position in the world. What perks! What a residence! And zero responsibility. No wonder so many hopefuls are frantically scrambling for the honour. Clearly, they are greatly inspired by Shrimati Pratibha Patil’s tenure. And longing to step into her chappals. Here is a lady who was propelled into the Rashtrapati Bhavan as our 12TH President, almost by default. Startled but entirely delighted when her name was thrown into the ring less than twelve hours before the announcement , Pratibha swiftly grew into the ceremonial role and didn’t look back even once, except to check if her entire family was right there behind her, as she merrily traipsed the globe. It’s silly to ask what exactly she did during her tenure. She wasn’t expected to do anything, for God’s sake! And she was good enough to oblige. Which is pretty much why she’d been hand picked for the job. These are delicate decisions that require forward thinking. Those who orchestrate such mighty matters, are good with math. It’s all about getting the numbers right. Who knows what may happen during a national emergency? Which person could pull the rug from under the feet of which party? What then? Aha – that’s when a compliant President comes into the picture. It helps to have someone co-operative sitting pretty as the Head of the State, the Commander –in- Chief of the Armed Forces.All it needs is some nifty juggling - addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. Basic stuff. An accommodating Prezzie doesn’t get into details. It’s left to experts. A number here, a number there – big deal. Everything can be managed. Yes , baba. Even in a democracy!

· The current Presidential race is slightly different. There is open lobbying for the job. Nobody is shocked. We live in different times, and soliciting is no longer considered bad form. It’s fine to go out there and hustle to become the President of India.Nobody blinks. Nobody goes ‘tch tch’. That’s how it’s done aaj kal. Look at the blatant way in which our top stars aggressively pitch for plum roles in Bollywood blockbusters.There’s no shame attached. After all, dhanda is dhanda. Same thing here.The Presidential race has also been reduced to the bargaining power of candidates. And what’s the use saying stuff like, “Would Dev Anand or Yusuf Saab have gone around with a begging bowl asking to be cast in a coveted role?” We know the answer. Was there less competition back then? Not really. But the heroes had their pride and self respect to consider. A few hints here and there may have been dropped. But there it stayed. Ditto for our former Presidents ( well, not all, but most of them). Going by the fierce horse trading taking place on the national stage, we have diminished the nomination process to haggling in a noisy mandi . A tacky affair between interested parties and their sponsors.

But,unlike other Reality Shows on television, this one doesn’t need a star anchor. Nor a panel of celebrity judges.Some canny producer should instantly cash in by jumping on the Presidential bandwagon and announcing a show of shows - the first of a kind, in which the aam aadmi can participate . Why not? It would be a win-win situation for all. And the gullible of the land would actually believe their votes have made the difference! The show could be cleverly formatted adopting various platforms. ‘SMS your choice to’’ kind of stuff. Twitter, Facebook.... the possibilities are limitless. And highly lucrative, too. Since the people of India would be directly involved in such an enterprise, it would have to be converted into a talent based show. I am sure Purno Agitok Sangma can sing, dance, play the guitar, pull strings and so on. Pranabda would need some coaching in this area, but he has other skills which could be tapped into - miming?? Someone else could blow his trumpet or undertake playback singing ( strictly Rabindra Sangeet, of course). If we get this right, we would have our Indian Idol in Rashtrapati Bhavan... without involving Asha Bhosle. And then the Rashtrapati Bhavan could host the biggest rock show in India – what a gig that would be! All Bharatwaasis, warmly invited.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Fun column from Pakistan!

 Must say, what a zabardast party the London ka goras laid out for their Malika, no? So many different, different functions. Almost as good as what Janoo calls "the late, great basant". I tau watched everything from start to finish on Kulchoo's computer. Vaisay I think so the Queen could have smiled a bit more. She looked a bit sarrhial through out. And why wasn't she wearing a crown, haan? Least she could have done. But thanks God, Kate looked nice in that red outfit. But if I'd been her I would have added some ruby jhumkas and carried a nice red Birkin to complete my look. But maybe she didn't because as Mulloo says, Birkin tau itna sakht common ho gya hai. Every wannabe begum has five five six six.

But one thing I was very impress with. Did you see how Queen and her husband, the Duck of Edinburgh, the way they stood all those hours on the royal boat all down the river? Imagine, yaar, she deep into her eighties and he almost hundred years old and standing so long without even holding on to anything? If the Old Bag, Janoo's mother had seen it, she would have said they must have eaten lots of desi ghee as kids. It strengthens your bones, na. I said to Aunty Pussy that you tau must be remembering the Queen's carnation 60 years ago? And she said, "hai, jaan, how could I? I was only five then!" I swear, what a bear faced liar she is! She's even older than Sir Clip Richards.

Vaisay did you see how he was leaping around on the stage at the concert? Like he was twenty or something? And Grace Jones like a pehelwan, I swear! Janoo says she's at least 65. Thanks God she didn't take off her big plastic headdress because I think so if she had, her plastic face would have come off with it also. And did you see the fire works? And the lights ka show? Uff total tabahi! And next day they had this big lunch jiss pay total ordinaries like gardeners from Regent Park and nurses from hospitals were invited to come and sit with khandanis like Kate and Queen vaghera. Imagine!

Why can't we ever have anything fun like that in Pakistan? A big party where everyone's invited and there's raunaq and gaana bajaana? I suppose mullahs will say it's anti Islam to enjoy and Imran will say it's beghairat to party when we're bangrupt and in any case even if we did have it, the Taliban would burst at least three four bums and kill a hundred people and kidnap fifty others, so I suppose achha hi hai that we just sit inside our guarded, walled houses and watch other countries celebrating and enjoying. Sigh.
Pakistan's Social Butterfly in person is elegant, beautiful, witty and charming! I met her over dinner in Mumbai and was mesmerised! I think her writing style is unique and very original, which is why she is so successful. She gets all the nuances just right. And all those malapropisms are totally brilliant! She drives her point home adopting subterfuge and humour.... that neither the mullahs nor the generals can do a thing about!!
I have been holding my breath for the rains. So far, not even a drizzle. I was asked to write a longish essay on the Mumbai Monsoon for the Air India magazine, and I promptly shot it off, feeling most 'Kalidasa'. God knows whether the magazine will ever see the light of day. I mean, how can there be an Air India magazine if there's no Air India???
Tomorrow, I plan to watch 'Shanghai'. More after the movie has been hungrily devoured along with the Inox popcorn ( best in the world).
As I key this in, I'm waiting impatiently for my 'Ramu Ki Chai'' t-shirts which I spotted online. The design is a take off on Starbucks, and very clever. Marketed through Tribal Routes, I plan to wear mine over the weekend.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

"Don't Angry Me..." what a line!

I watched Rowdy Rathore ( very strange title - Rascalam Rathore would have been better), first day, third show. It was obvious from the title track itself that this was a Rassam-Western, 'Sholay'with a Telegu accent. But what a riot it was! Well... at least the hysterical first half. Post-interval, the movie just gave up and died... like the hundreds of extras, single-handedly demolished by two Akshays (all hail the return of the double role!). But wait - I swear just the sheer vulgarity of it all, was dazzling. From Sonakshi's Pussycat from Patna moves ( most of her close-ups are waist down), to Akshay's hilariously imbecile dialogues - "Don't angry me!" is my current favourite, Prabhudeva's directorial effort delivers egg-xactly what it promises - glamourised garbage. Did I mind the four hundred bucks (not counting the pop corn) I spent per ticket? Naaaah! I came away singing Chinta ta ta. BTW, the perfectly cast nutcase who played the evil rapist son of Bapji was pretty, damn good. Who is he??? Blogdosts - do let me know.


I have had my standard Sunday afternoon pig out. Home made idlis, dosas, sambar, chutney. Strange. This is what we pounce on in a Bengali-Maharashtrian home. It is produced by two young ladies who work with us - one is from Kanpur, the other from Jharkhand. Imagine - no maach-mangsho, no shrikhand-puri or aamras-poli. Just a free , happy Republic of Food. Niccccceeeee....


This appeared in Asian Age yesterday....

West Bengal’s M.C. oops, sorry,C.M. is a total rockstar! Last week she established her credentials as an entertainer par excellence, even managing at times to overshadow Bollywood Badshah, Shah Rukh Khan. This is no mean feat! Didi’s song -and-dance show at the historic Eden Gardens was so riveting, it hogged television time and wiped out any other news that sultry afternoon earlier this week. This was Didi’s personal ‘Poribartan’, and her fawning fans went gaga, demanding more and more of it. The “new,impoved’ Mamata Banerjee was seen in a ‘never before role’, as Bollywood publicists gush when a heroine raises the bar ( Vidya Balan in ‘Dirty Picture’). Here was the fierce Chief Minister, slayer of fire breathing Commie dragons, best ‘bondhu’ of Hillary Clinton, the TV guest who walks off shows, the woman who sees a Maoist, not a bright student questioning her in the studio,the persecuted soul who’s convinced the Venezuelans are plotting to kill her…but at the KKR ‘bhictory’ celebrations, how she dazzled! Didi was seen simpering and blushing while SRK hugged and kissed her in the presence of thousands. Strictly brotherly moves, of course. Phir bhi! Wow!

After that amazing and unexpected display of her softer, more feminine side, political pundits are left scratching their heads and wondering whether Didi’s uninhibited act, is likely to backfire… or will it earn her extra brownie points? Going by the rapturous support she received in her home state, it’s safe to say, her well-calculated move acted as an instant pick me up… a booster shot. It was like a thirsty man on a muggy afternoon in Kolkata, walking into the Tolly Club and sipping noisily from a tankard of well-chilled beer.Aaaah! What a feeling! The unwashed masses going without essentials in rural West Bengal, must have felt the same way when Didi danced with Bollywood’s biggest star. The image was positive and uplifting for the poorest of the poor supporters, mesmerized temporarily into believing “aal eez well”. After all, even the Governorsaab himself was being led by the hand by their Didi, and persuaded to join in the fun and games. As Bengali intellectuals from various factions conceded, albeit reluctantly, since there really is nothing else worth celebrating in Didi’s broke State, what’s wrong in some much-needed hoopla when a cricket team wins a Club tournament? KKR lifting the IPL trophy was just what the doctor ordered. At least for those few euphoric hours, it was possible for Didi’s supporters to forget their woes and laugh! Those of us who found these orchestrated shenanigans not just ludicrous, but entirely out of proportion, were hooted out and dismissed as ‘cynics’, ‘spoilsports’, worse. Self -styled analysts took pains to deconstruct the Bong psyche and explain to a skeptical nation that it is in the dna of Bengalis to celebrate exuberantly through song-and-dance, any excuse being good enough. Look at how Bengalis enjoy Durga Puja. Indeed,they have a point. But I find it hard to believe that these very same people did not see the celebration as a pretty cold blooded, image-fixing exercise that was more a political rally than a spontaneous gathering of cricket fans. At a time when Didi herself is reeling from various embarrassments and gaffes,along came a cricket trophy that was rather circuitously linked to Kolkata (via the name of the franchise). Bas! That was enough to lift spirits and forget everything else. A privately owned , affluent club had won this season’s tournament. No doubt it was a thrilling finish and an admirable victory. But for the State Government to get involved,made some observers ( yes, those humourless cynics!)wonder about the politics behind the mass celebrations.Apart from the obvious, perhaps annoying question( “Who paid for the party?”), remains a lingering doubt about the altruistic intentions behind the scale and manner involved. Was it not a clever way of pumping up Didi’s rapidly waning popularity?As a mighty show of strength, it must have convinced her largely illiterate and desperately poor cadres that Didi was still the Boss. Bigg Boss! Watching her in action on the field, she was at once a Sergeant Major, Traffic Controller, deejay and Security Incharge. As she firmly led the Governor by the hand and dragged him for the photo-op, it was pretty evident who was calling the shots. When she screamed instructions into a mike, you bet the cowering masses either took cover, or scampered off to do her bidding. This was Didi’s show, and she wanted everybody to know it.

Well, the show is over. We have a brand new, bona fide World Champion in Vishwanath Anand. Putin himself has crowned him King of the Chess board. This is Anand’s fifth win. Mamata has got into the act again and demanded a Bharat Ratna for Anand. But I doubt she’s going to follow that up with a big bash for him in Kolkata. Perhaps, encouraged by Didi’s showmanship, will the equally formidable J.Jayalalithaa pull out the stops and line up elephants for Anand’s victory parade? This just may become the new political game in town – felicitating our few international sports stars. Not a bad plan, when you think of it. There is a fuzzy ‘feel good’ factor involved. And with the poor rupee’s disastrous showing, politicians are desperately looking around for excuses to distract the electorate. It’s a good thing at least some Indians are on a winning streak in something! Or else we would be forced to confront real issues, with zero solutions. Then what?

No point asking Manmohanji. Even his dentist has advised him to keep his mouth shut!

Friday, June 1, 2012

The Penguin Car...

I so wanted to buy this beauty... but she's not for sale! The sturdy , dependable Ambassador car, certainly deserves not just a makeover, but a remarketing, rebranding exercise. Errrr... a diesel version of this old gas guzzler, that is!
Customised to mark the 25th year of Penguin Books in India, The Penguin Car travels all over the country, packed with great books. Isn't that a novel way to market titles?? I did this quick promotional shoot for VOGUE (India) in Jaipur. The picture was shot by Ananth Padmanabhan, who is a very competent photographer, as you can tell. He has an entirely different day job. He heads Sales & Marketing at Penguin.

This appeared in Bombay Times today....

Bandh ko bandh karo!

One had foolishly believed that the era of old-fashioned ‘bandhs’ was well and truly over. Apparently not! Here we are dealing with yet another unproductive day in which the only thing achieved” is a monumental loss of revenue. Whoever these Bandh blokes are, by forcing citizens to bunk work and stay home, they will only be invoking anger and scorn. If this is their way to attract attention and gain political mileage out of what is a gigantic national crisis ( rising prices!), they are wrong if they imagine the people of Mumbai are with them. Of course, the fuel hike is the trigger. And of course, it affects the aam aadmi( not politicians) the most. But by staying away from work, will fuel prices come down? Will it make one jot of a difference? We all know the answer. Despite zero popular support, despite the 2003 High Court rap and fine, politicians are at it again – this is dadagiri at its clumsiest.Today’s Mumbaikar should stand up and defy such a diktat that is perverse and serves no purpose. Bandhs as a form of political protest, had their day a decade ago. Even then, the aam aadmi used to feel frustrated and annoyed at being compelled by a bunch of goons to bring normal activity in the city to a halt. There was no sympathy for those Bandhs back then, there is none now. It is the pheriwalas and small traders who suffer the most when the city shuts shop. Let’s be honest, what do most people do during a Bandh? Do they spontaneously take to the streets to register their rage against the government? Do they join the organisers to show their solidarity to the cause? Do they use the extra free time to pressurise the powers that be in a meaningful manner? Forget it. People stay home, watch television, take long afternoon siestas, and wait for the Bandhwallas to go away so they can saunter out and catch a movie without being pelted with stones or beaten up.

A city like Mumbai simply cannot afford a Bandh. A day’s lost wages is a huge loss here. If the BJP’s Sudhir Munganitiwar describes the Bandh as a litmus test, and issues ultimatums, he risks his own credibility. It is worth asking who or what gives this person or any other person, the right to allow or disallow freedom of movement? Threats and dumdatti are so yesterday…. They worked at a time when people were unaware of their rights and went along with random diktats from random people. Who determines the nature of essential services’? Who defines what exactly constitutes ‘essential’’? Who compensates people who consider a marriage date éssential’? And surely people have every right to celebrate in whichever way on whichever day they see fit? What happens to all the food that has been pre-ordered? Guests who may be travelling from other cities for the happy occasion? This is grossly unfair. And even those citizens who are appalled by the price rise and very angry with the government , will agree that a Bandh’ will not solve this problem. Ít would be far more democratic if political parties were to display a more constructive attitude and urge people to conserve precious fuel, till we see a correction and a major rethink at the Centre. Indulging in a show of strength or plain dadagiri will only antagonise the aam aadmi already reeling from daily problems. Mumbai should not allow itself to be held to ransom by a small group of motivated people like this. Jago,Mumbai,Jago. Kaam karo, kaam karo! Bandh ko ignore karo!