Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Peking Duck scores over Crumpets and tea....

Blogdosts.... if you are in Delhi.... consider yourself invited as my guest... but... do let me know so I can include your name on the guest list....

This appeared in Bombay Times today......

Danny’s Olympics’ Ceremony…

Chalo ji, koi baat nahi…blink! And the Indian Contingent was gone. Which is just as well given those ridiculous P.C.Sorcar- style turbans and our athletes strolling casually into the stadium like they were ambling at India Gate. Of course, nobody of any consequence from back home was there to cheer them on, either. Even though our otherwise travel-happy Minister-log jump on a plane at the drop of a topi.Most other countries were well represented with several Heads of State in the stands waving and encouraging their teams during the march past. Our priorities are clearly different. We were so busy stopping Suresh Kalmadi from going to London, we forgot everything else. As for winning medals – let’s get real. If we cheat our athletes at level one itself by providing sub-standard, ill-fitting gear, those poor things risk an embarrassing wardrobe malfunction each time they step into the stadium.

Danny Boyle’s vision for the elaborate Opening Ceremony will have its vocal critics and fans…. I’d say, more critics than fans. Boyle’s sweep was a bit too ambitious as he tried to include it all – from the rather grim and tedious Industrial Revolution to J.K. Rowling’s Lord Voldermort. While the musical score was outstanding and uplifting, some of the performances and poltically correct ‘statements’ fell a bit flat. In any case,it is nearly impossible to be completely inclusive and cater to all categories of minorities – from the hearing challenged singing ‘God Save the Queen’ to other displaced and disadvantaged segments of society. Boyle reserved several nods for the NHS and other great and glorious British social initiatives. But by focusing excessively on quirks big and small that define the multiculturalism of today’s Britain, Boyle lost the plot somewhere, and ended up with a mish mash - like the very mediocre Bangladeshi choreographer (most amateur contestants on our dance shows do a better job).From a tribute to the Beatles and the music of the Seventies, to today’s flirt-texting, Boyle tried in vain to showcase the spirit of contemporary Britain, but got hopelessly derailed in the bargain. Idyllic fields and meadows melted into edgier visuals. Perhaps it is inevitable that when you hire a noted film maker to give shape to such a historic tableau, he makes the spectacle emphatically cinematic. More movie-worthy than television-friendly. Though, to be fair, his Olympic rings of fire were spectacular and created a mighty impact.

Ultimately, it was left to Britain’s most enduring symbol – the Queen, to save the situation. What a good sport the old bat must be to agree to play a Bond Girl. And Daniel Craig has never looked hotter ( what an astonishingly well-cut suit!). Ditto for David Beckham. However, my vote is reserved for Mr. Bean. Now, that is what the world recognises as true British humour. No doubt Danny Boyle will be knighted ( he isn’t Sir Danny yet, is he?). And till the next Olympics roll up, we will continue to question some of Boyle’s dodgier sequences ( that extended hospital segment with dancing nurses and kids on cots) and wonder why he failed to touch a universal chord the way he had with Jai Ho! Now, if only Danny had thought of introducing a bit of curry flavor into the programme, perhaps us desis would have found the hoopla more appetizing. Frankly, Beijing was better… much as I hate to admit it. Peking Duck definitely scored over Crumpets and tea.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Sorry Oprah...but we just didn't get it!

Don't you love the Asya imagery? It is an NGO started by Ambika Nehru, a classmate of my son Aditya.... I'll be right there....
Have written about the Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games... shall post it here on Tuesday.
Have spent a wonderfully relaxed weekend with family and friends. Tomorrow starts on a hectic note. The rest of the week is insane. So... what else is new?

This appeared in Asian Age on Saturday....

Sorry Oprah…. but we just didn’t ‘Get It!”

Let me borrow Oprah Winfrey’s favourite phrase on her India show - “ I get it”! I totally do. Get India, that is. It’s Oprah, who clearly didn’t ‘get it’ at all, and mistook India – India, not areas of Mumbai - for a New York ghetto. Someone forgot to show her a map. And poor Oprah was confused. Let’s put it down to jet lag. Or to tunnel vision. After all, the iconic Oprah has spent the longest time looking through a lens in an American studio, talking to a semi-hysterical mid-Western audience of the converted, and getting Tom Cruise to jump up and down on a couch, while she got all teary ( she gets teary even if a kitten crosses a street).That’s Oprah. And that is also the remarkable part about her undeniable success. Let’s hand it to her - Oprah, at one time the richest and most powerful woman on earth, got to that enviable position by touching a chord in the hearts of millions. Nobody else in the history of television has ever managed to reach that height. Oprah was a one-woman conglomerate, who shrewdly leveraged her unique status into a multi-million dollar business that grew and grew and grew – not unlike her own size, which she also used to her advantage when it suited her. It is only now, in more recent times, that the Big ‘O’ has lost her edge… lost her groove… and nowhere was that more in evidence than when she climbed into gaudy desi designer gear and filmed her Next Chapter in India.

Have we over reacted to her show? Well… that depends. Most of the Indians who live in America, have been pretty sensible about their responses. They have dismissed the show saying it had zero impact, considering the profile of Oprah’s viewers, who in all probability switched off after a few minutes and went back to grill their burgers in the backyard. Oprah is no Amanpour. Her shallow take on world affairs is not taken seriously by anybody, least of all, policy makers. Ever since Oprah started to lose her star value ( ask around in Chicago and they’ll tell you exactly what’s up for sale from Oprah’s stable), her credibility has taken a serious beating. The Oprah era is officially over in America. Desperately in need of re-inventing herself, Oprah perhaps decided it was time to venture out of the cosy, controlled confines of her studio and into the big, bad world outside. The third world. She’s only one decade too late getting here. Huge mistake? It would appear so, judging by the sloppiness of the India show. Here was a terrific opportunity to anchor a really well researched and balanced programme that would do justice to her own image – forget for now, India’s image. Instead, Oprah blew it. There is really no justification for not doing ones homework. Here’s one of modern day television’s most-acknowledged mega stars with all the resources at her command. And what does she do with them? She shows up with her motley crew, hires a few local jokers, gets invited to homes – from a humble kholi in a Mumbai slum, to a palace in Jaipur, and then goes ahead with a narrative that is hopelessly riddled with clichés and stereotypes . Oprahji… we expected better.

It’s important to state here that India does not need an Oprah to sell itself to the world. So, we needn’t froth at the mouth and tear her to pieces for ‘demeaning’ Indian and Indians (sorry, Honey. But you ain’t that important).As for that much quoted Oprah-ism (“Do Indians still eat with their hands?”),why take offence?Of course, we eat with our hands. Do others use their feet? The annoyance ought to be directed at ourselves for our own ridiculous behavior. Sure, Oprah enjoys a formidable reputation and is an international personality. But, she was not treated like another tv professional, looking to can a commercial, entertaining show out of India ( poor Tim Sebastian – is nobody organizing a palace party for him?), but a visiting head of state. I doubt even a Michelle Obama would have generated such an OTT reaction. Oprah’s every step was breathlessly covered by our fawning mediawallas – from those hideous sarees and tunics she wore, to her every ‘Naam-aastey’. Was that Oprah’s fault? Of course, she played up her celebrity status to the hilt – which person wouldn’t? And just for the record, she didn’t exactly barge into people’s homes – no, not even the Kholiwalla’s. But there is no denying her crass and insensitive conduct as a guest, particularly with the Hegde family in the slum. Then again, it was left to Aanchal, the 12-year-old daughter of the Hegde family to show up Oprah’s abominable manners, as the little girl clarified her family’s position with disarming grace and dignity. It was Oprah who should have been red-faced at the end of this segment, and not the Hegdes.

Who can resist the temptation to exoticise India? Certainly not our Oprah. She went all out – camels, bullocks, cows, elephants, snakes and of course, the Taj Mahal. Which other country can boast of as many amazing photo-ops? Such contradictions? Such stunning contrasts? Why shouldn’t Oprah go the whole hog? The widows at Vrindavan… the silver thalis at a wealthy home, Bollywood stars and billionaires, Rolls Royces and horse carriages with a shower of petals?And to cap it all, an instant lesson in spirituality from Pop Guru Deepak Chopra, who assures Oprah that India’s Muslims are indeed ‘one of us’. No kidding, Sir! And that life is all about ‘living in the moment’ (Hello, Osho!). And so it went, with Oprah closing her eyes ( fake lashes in place), breathing deeply and declaring, “I get it!”

Pity, Indians didn’t.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Playboy comes to India.....!

Blogdosts, since you asked for more wisecracks... here's one from an opportunist!

The other two images are from Lisbon - the spectacular Fort and the picturesque Castle. Well done TiE for finding such awesome venues for your Retreat. I didn't at all mind singing for my supper. I was in excellent company - Lord Karan ( Cobra) Billimoria, and the jolly old Farouk Engineer.

Last afternoon was productively spent at my old haunt - St.Xavier's College. at a meeting of the Advisory Board, of which I am a member - very proud of it , too. We need to raise a 100 crores. And quickly. Any bright ideas? This is as a Corpus Fund from which to pay for more teachers, and upgrade facilities asap. Considering Yale has a Corpus Fund exceeding 200 billion USD ( or so I was informed!), what is a piddly 100 crores for quality education at a college that has produced over 50 Padma Winners - 5 in this year itself! That is quite a feat!


This appeared in The Week.... Sherlyn turned up demurely in a tacky saree for her press conference.... and I thought to myself --- Gurrrrllll, what were you thinking??????

She dares.... who bares...

Relax! She’s done it. We’ve seen everything. And nobody has died of shock. The hot news about a certain starlet appearing on the cover of ‘Playboy’ caused a minor flutter across assorted platforms in India.But that was it. After the initial and obligatory murmurs of protest – the usual nonsense about ‘How could a Bharatiya Nari do such a thing and bring disgrace to India?”’- people promptly and sensibly switched their attention to someone else, something else. Meanwhile, Sheryln Chopra, the starlet who bared it all, slipped back into Mumbai quietly, and fully clothed, much to the disappointment of waiting shutterbugs.There was no rioting on the streets, and nobody hurled abuses or tomatoes on Sherlyn. This is today’s woman, exercising an option and grabbing an opportunity. She stripped because she wanted to, not because someone was holding a gun to her head. Perhaps, Sherlyn also hoped to make some sort of dodgy history by being the first desi girl to bare it all for what was once the world’s premiere pin- up publication.But let’s get a little perspective here. ‘Playboy’, like Hugh Hefner, its geriatric founder, is a dying brand. Nobody pays good money any more to ogle naked ladies in lavish centrespreads, no matter how buxom. Why should they when one can feast ones eyes on still more sizzling images for free on the internet! If Sherlyn has been singled out for this dubious ‘honour’,chances are ‘Playboy’ is trying its level best to crack the potentially huge and very lucrative Indian market.

But what the marketing whiz kids at ‘Playboy’ probably don’t know is that the Indian reader has come a long way. And we have had our own versions of ‘Playboy’floating around for decades. Even those didn’t take off! Even if some of the centre spreads, who took it all off for them, did. Indian men obviously didn’t get their jollies from staring at air-brushed images of busty blondes with ceramic teeth and fixed up faces back then. It’s doubtful whether that tired old formula will work now. This is an era in which an ‘ófficial’ porn star like Sunny Leone has gone mainstream without anybody suffering a cardiac arrest. Open any movie magazine and you will see eye candy like you won’t believe! Starlets stripping for ‘çauses’ – from cricket to cancer on their websites, fail to get anyone drooling. Whether it’s a Poonam Pandey or some other hungry for publicity Bollywood aspirant, Indian viewers have pretty much seen it all.... and yawned. So which rabbit is Mr. Hefner going to pull out of his hat... rather, toupee? If that Bunny is called Sheryln, I don’t see too many takers.

More than forty years ago, Katy Mirza, a petite Parsi girl from Mumbai with a truly impressive chest, packed her bags and left to join the Playboy Club in London. People were mildly interested... yes. But it wasn’t as if Katy made front page news. Her decision was seen in the right context – as a smart and lucrative career move. Perhaps,it is just that for Sheryln as well. Once we tire of Sherlyn’s birthday suit pictures , there will be several other Indian girls who will happily bare all for Hugh and his crew. Big deal.All one can hope is that these women have the good sense to hire sharp agents and make a decent living out of removing their clothes for the cameras. Presumably, there are enough voyeurs still left in the world ( or in India), who will be mad enough to pick up a copy of a magazine that is still attempting to cash in on the old tits-and-ass formula. Really Hugh! It is so depressingly last century!

As for our girl Sheryln, this is her time to milk the story for all its worth – someone should tell her she’s in great company. Perhaps Sherlyn can check with her granny? Maybe even Grans is much younger than good old Hugh , who still hangs on to the title of “The Dirtiest Old Man on Earth”. The real fun will begin if Sherlyn becomes Hugh’s latest fiancée and moves into the Playboy Mansion to join his harem. But I seriously doubt if even that stunt will sell more copies of ‘Playboy’ in India. Our idea of dirty pictures is different... aha.... now, if Hugh were to give the luscious Vidya a call.... India would definitely sing a different tune that goes Óoh-la-la.... Ooh-la-la....

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Rahul Baba : "Read my lips....no more cameos."'

I love the holy month of Shraavan and have been observing certain rituals for years. The tough part is fasting on every Monday . This year, the first Shraavan Monday saw me on a long flight from Heathrow to Mumbai. It wasn't easy... but I managed. For someone who enjoys food as much as I do, staying away from most of my favourite dishes for as long a period is the hardest part. Which is probably why my naughty daughter Anandita sent me the image you see on top. Sadistic! The one below was taken at my other daughter Avantikka's super glam Hello! event a couple of weeks ago, where, as I had mentioned earlier, one needed brollies... not for the monsoon but the Moet. P.S. I was the only person clad in a saree... everybody else chose LBDs.

We have a brand new President in the Rashtrapati Bhavan. All eyes on Pranabda as he assumes his new role. Nobody could possibly do worse than Pratibha Patil.... a reliable cop-friend told me her relatives were charging 50 lakhs per appearance.... and booking her for several all across the country. So....it's not just Bollywood stars who make a fortune from appearance fees!!!!


This appeared in the Sunday Times

Read my lips....” No more cameos....”

This has been a strange week for Superstars. The original ,Rajesh Khanna, died.... and millions of women across India mourned the death of a man who, at one time was the absolute and adored sweetheart of the nation. An original. He came into Bollywood as a nobody. As a struggler who had won a talent contest. He was arrogant enough not to copy any of the reigning greats. He didn’t want to be the next Dilip Kumar or Dev Anand. He wasn’t competing with Dharmendra or Jeetendra. He was Kaka – take it or leave it. In movie after movie, he monotonously continued to play the vulnerable Lover Boy. It was his immense good fortune that terrifically catchy songs fell into his lap. But it is a bit unfair to suggest he became The Phenomenon, only because of those unforgettable hits. Or that Kishore Kumar and R.D.Burman should be given half the credit for Rajesh Khanna’s mind-boggling success. The fact of the matter is that nobody can actually deconstruct another’s success ( failure is far easier to explain). Success comes with its own baggage. Success generates enormous resentment. If the truth be told... and told bluntly... success sucks. Others in the orbit of a successful person start hating him or her, even if that feeling is carefully camouflaged. Highly successful people are often the loneliest in the world. Also, the craziest. And they don’t have to be movie stars for that. The amazing thing about Rajesh Khanna’s meteoric career was the realisation by admirers and critics alike that this was no larger than life demi-God. Rajesh in reality and on screen was defined by his ordinariness. Perhaps, this was exactly the quality that made him so endearing. Fans identified with him easily and completely. It actually helped that he wasn’t a star son and did not belong to any of Bollywood’s revered families. As an outsider with zero connections and influence ( unlike an Amitabh Bachchan, who didn’t exactly shy away from flashing his close relationship with the Gandhi family), Rajesh let his movies do all the talking. IImagine , he even conquered the animal world with the mega box office hit, ‘Haathi Mere Saathi’. No actor in the world can manufacture something like this. Nobody has so far discovered a way to duplicate and then manipulate charisma.

Which is why, it is amusing to see the near hysterical reaction to the stray – and very expensive – comment, made by Salman Khurshid when he referred to Rahul Gandhi’s ‘cameo’. It was as if the man had committed a serious crime by that throwaway observation. Loyalists and chamchas jumped down Khurshid’s throat for having the gall to say something as daring.. as ... as accurate. Overnight, Khurshid’s stock within the party crashed, as people speculated about his future. Off with his head, was the general consensus. Party acolytes held their breaths waiting for Madam’s response. Would Khurshid be permanently banished? Shunned and alienated? What sort of a penance would follow? Political vanvas.... for sure.... but for how long? Was Khurshid totally insane? What made him say something as outrageous about the Anointed One? The only political Superstar in India? The man with a destiny to lead us out of the wilderness into a fabulously sexy future? Seriously.... what was Salman on when he made that remark? What was he thinking? Well... the fact of the matter is that even after the initial shock and awe, the sky has not fallen down... not yet. We are all waiting for the wrath of God to deliver the verdict. Till such time, our Rahul Baba is doing what he does best – dimpling and staying away from the heat. This is good thinking. For, like Rajesh Khanna, perhaps even Rahul Gandhi has woken up to the truth about mass popularity – mediocrity is often a virtue in this arena. Mediocrity comforts the masses. Mediocrity is a likeable attribute. In a way, Salman Khurshid may have done us all a favour. One big difference though, A superstar cannot build his career on cameos alone. A superstar is obliged to deliver hit after hit. The way Rajesh Khanna did. It’s time for Rahul to deliver his virgin hit at the political box office. The audience is impatient and panting .... cameos can wait!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Oprah - Hai! Hai!

Well done,Rajyasree Sen... I have yet to watch the show, but there was a great deal of charcha on it in Lisbon, from U.S.-based TiE members who were angry and aghast.

Oprah in Mumbai

Why the US talk show host's recent India special, in which she visited a city slum and a party hosted by Parmeshwar Godrej, was shockingly ignorant and gauche.

This past Saturday, I had the dubious pleasure of watching Oprah’s Next Chapter: India on TLC. The name of the programme is pretty self-explanatory. And I’d already heard of her series, Oprah’s Next Chapter in the US where she “steps outside of the studio for enlightening conversations with newsmakers, celebrities, thought leaders and real-life families”. I’ve never been a great fan of Oprah’s—and the fact that she truly follows and believes everything that Deepak Chopra and Dr. Phil say has nothing to do with it. I do think though, that she’s a good interviewer, she’s well-informed, an easy conversationalist and is well-travelled. But all that has changed after watching Oprah’s Next Chapter: India.

Myopic, unaware, ignorant and gauche. This was Middle America at its best worst.

Two episodes make up the India episodes. The first being the one I saw and which I think was shot during her visit to the Jaipur Literature Festival this year. This was Oprah’s first visit to India. Now whenever an American or a British TV show host visits India, he or she is always accompanied on his travels through our very exotic land by someone living in India, a sort of cultural friend, philosopher and guide.

So was Oprah. She was taken on a guided tour through a slum in Bombay by the prince of poverty tourism—Gregory David Roberts. He of Shantaram and deplorable sentence construction fame. Who has anointed him tour guide to the slums of India? Oprah seemed quite happy to have one of her ilk show her around through the by-lanes of the slum. And the slum is where Oprah’s “oh-my-god-how wonderfully-pathetically-quaint-to-be-so-poor”avatar stepped out in full glory.

So Oprah trooped into one of our vintage slums to meet a family—parents and three children—who live in a 10 square foot room. Now I’m not surprised that Oprah was surprised to see an entire family living in such tiny quarters. Although I’m sure she could find cramped ghettos in the States. What surprised me was the amazing lack of sensitivity to the children’s feelings or the feelings of the parents who’d opened up their home to her. All the children go to school, and were extremely well-mannered and seemed happy and quite carefree like children their age are meant to be. They didn’t seem to realise that their home was smaller than the homes of others. Or that their father didn’t earn as much as he could.

But not for long. Once Oprah got through with them, they must have committed seppuku.

She asked the children how they could live in such a “tiny” room and actually wanted to know, “Don’t you feel it’s too cramped?” She also asked the six-year-olds whether they were happy. Which must have made them wonder why they shouldn’t be. She then interrogated the father about whether he was happy and satisfied. He got teary-eyed and said that he wished he could earn more and provide for a more comfortable life for his children. After making him weep in front of his family, Oprah said that she knows how awful it is for children to see their father weep.

She did look for a shower head in the toilet and seem amazed to hear they bathed with a bucket. And she marvelled at how all their clothes fit into a small shelf. She pointedly avoided any mention of the massive LCD TV that adorned their wall. That would have killed the sob story. When their older daughter told Oprah that she’d like to go to London to study further, Oprah also played her role as American ambassador to the hilt and said, “No. Come to America, it’s a lovely country. It’s the best.”

After visiting the strange exotic “slum people” who seemed to live on top of some magic faraway tree, she immediately proceeded to the home of one of Bombay’s richie-rich families. And then displayed her ignorance there as well.

The joint family which was dressed in full Indian regalia served her a meal on silver thalisand katoris. She looked at the food and then made her best statement of the entire episode—“So I hear some people in India STILL eat with their hands.” I don’t know what people in America are eating their hot dogs, pizzas and tacos with but perhaps Oprah’s home has evolved cutlery for all that. Then she told her viewers that ALL women in India live with their mothers-in-law and extended family.

Then to totally wash away all that grime of the slum, she got togged out in a Tarun Tahiliani sari to go and visit the home of the “Brad and Angelina of Bollywood”. Which if you didn’t realise, are Abhishek and Ash or as O puts it, Aaaarsh and Abheeeshuk whose child she said was “lit from within” whatever that means. I think it’s a condition that happens to children in Deepak Chopra’s homeland. Then she went to a party thrown in her honour by billionaire socialite Parmeshwar Godrej, which was the first accurate description of a person in the entire episode. She did marvel at the paparazzi outside the Bachchan home, which is quite impressive on any given day. And then we got to see her say hello to Piggy Chops, Shiamak Dawar, Anil Kapoor and all the Bollywood glitterati. She interrogated A. R. Raman—as she calls him—and spoke to him about how even he lives with his mother and whether he loves his wife who he had an arranged marriage with. And after I barfed a little in my mouth, it was the end of her journey to Bombay.

This story by Rajyasree Sen was originally published on Firstpost.com.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Kaka... I hate tears!

I got back after a brilliant trip to Lisbon a few hours ago. These two columns appeared over the weekend, along with another one in the Sunday Times...
Lisbon was a revelation... more on my trip tomorrow. Hopefully with pictures ( I took several). I was there as a Guest Speaker at the TiE Retreat.... I must have met some of the smartest brains on Planet Earth! Every second person was a billionaire-genius! And for all that, so remarkably grounded and humble. Good on you, guys! There's a lot our desi, homegrown billionaires can learn from these amazing men and women...

This appeared in the Mumbai Mirror...

“ Kaka.... I hate tears!”

My eyes are dry. I refuse to shed tears for a man who said he hated them. Such was the screen power of India’s only bone fide Superstar. When his character in the otherwise uninspiring movie titled, “Amar Prem"' uttered that sardonic line (“Pushpa... I hate tears!”), several swooning women across India promptly stopped crying! Yes, his romantic sweep over female hearts was that over whelming, that emotionally charged.For all that mass hysteria and adulation, Rajesh Khanna was no looker – Dharmendra ( Garam Dharam, if you please) was far better in that department. He was a pretty lousy dancer - producers roped in Jumping Jack Jeetendra for that. And he wasn’t such a fantastic an actor, either ( newbie Amitabh Bachchan effortlessly stole the show in Ánand’). And yet, when Rajesh Khanna did rule Bollywood, he reigned supreme, an unchallenged monarch with zero competition .What was it about this shortish, crinkly-eyed, pimply-faced, very average guy, who grew up in the crowded gullis of Thakurdwar in Central Mumbai and shot to the top, when no one was looking ? Disparagingly referred to as The Gurkha ( because of his eyes and short stature), nobody gave him much of a chance initially. He certainly did not pose a threat to the established heroes of the day.Significantly, he did not come from a filmi background. Without a Godfather to promote him, Rajesh Khanna’s meteoric rise was entirely based on the fact that his audiences adored him..... had fallen for him instantly. His love affair with his fans began the moment he appeared on the scene. As a chocolate box leading man, Rajesh Khanna posed zero threat to the husbands and boyfriends of his predominantly female fans. Interestingly, the women who swore undying love and devotion to The Phenomenon (as Stardust had dubbed him), did not belong to a specific age group. From ditzy teens, and their ‘mod’moms, to grey haired naanis and daadis, Rajesh Khanna was worshipped as the Ultimate Lover Boy. His brand of romanticism was unique – a compelling mix of tragedy and longing. His intrinsic vulnerability combined with a little-boy-lost sex appeal, made women across the board feel protective towards him. From that first time he tilted his head, crinkled those already crinkled eyes, looked deep into the camera lens and smiled .... ooof!... nothing more was required.... India had collectively turned to mush..

Yes, Rajesh Khanna was a megalomaniac.It was his absolute refusal to face reality once the decline in his career set in, that led to his eventual isolation from the film industry. An isolation so profound, that the few well-wishers still hanging around, watched helplessly as the lonely, depressed , bitter man continued to cling on to his delusions, trashing contemporaries and silencing anybody who dared to correct him. His decline was self-inflicted. His alienation, of his own doing. Always a complex creature, battling deep feelings of persecution, Rajesh Khanna cut a pathetic figure later in life when he deigned to show up at Awards’functions. Unable to cope with failure and oblivion once his glory days were behind him, Rajesh chose the bottle. Such a huge pity, given the wonderful ladies in his life, who continued to care for him long after he had pushed them away. His biggest champion in the media of the time, was the late Devyani Chaubal, who loudly and repeatedly took credit for having created Rajesh Khanna’s! Rubbish. His incredible success was his own. Devi and Kaka shared an intense love-hate relationship, and she died taking several of his best guarded secrets with her. But as one of the few constants in his turbulent and troubled life, Devi was perhaps the only woman he tolerated for several years as a part of his inner circle. That Devi and Anju Mahendru ( his long time girl friend) shared less than a cordial relationship, eventually led to Devi’s ouster from his sprawling seaside bungalow, sentimentally christened Aashirwad. By then, of course, Rajesh had dramatically married the alarmingly young and startlingly beautiful Dimple Kapadia in a midnight ceremony that caught the press sleeping.

There was however, another lady love ( she shall go nameless), who understood the essential Jatin ( Rajesh Khanna’s real name) when she shared his life and home. She was a stunning, sexy actress at the time. And much younger, too. In her company, Rajesh Khanna apparently discovered long suppressed aspects of himself and she claimed she freed him from the countless hang-ups he’d harboured as a diffident young man. During a conversation, she spoke candidly about introducing this insecure, uptight, self-conscious superstar to the abundant pleasures of skinny dipping and enjoying the sun on their naked bodies on a foreign beach . “ I liberated Kaka from all his inhibitions,” she laughed fondly at the memory. Were they truly in love? She smiled and shook her head, “ Kaka was incapable of loving anyone. He was only in love with himself!”

What does it matter now? Gone is the man who gave Indian fashion the ever popular Guru Shirt...and so much more.At a time when film publicity was handled by oily chaps who’d show up with grainy movie stills, it was Rajesh Khanna who effortlessly dominated Bollywood and captured hearts like no other hero before or after him. That is some feat when one realises he achieved this minus the push provided by the well-oiled P.R. machinery of today. And that too, in a way and on a scale that cannot be imagined – no, not even by the canniest celebrity managers working tirelessly to manipulate and calibrate their client’s every public smile, sigh and stare. The fans who stood outside Aashirwad for hours on end just to catch a glimpse of their film God, were not hired by canny publicists. The women who slashed their wrists each time he was linked to a co-star ( Mumtaz, Sharmila Tagore) or wrote him letters in their own blood when his film was a hit, were not staging stunts for Breaking News. Perhaps, Rajesh Khanna himself could not comprehend the extent of his power over the lives of people who worshipped him.Which is why there is a satisfying sense of closure now that he is no more. For the one thing nobody can ever deny Kaka is this - Rajesh Khanna did it his way. In life as in death.


This appeared in Bombay Times.....

The Doc and the Dhak Dhak Girl...

Gosh!! Thank God the dishy Dr.Sriram Nene has proved critics wrong by doing what he is so eminently trained to do – offered his services to the KEM Dean, Sanjay Oak.As a highly qualified cardio-thoracic surgeon who specialised in Mitral Valve repair surgery, Dr.Nene, who has relocated to Mumbai from Denver along with the family , had been increasingly spotted attending Bollywood events along with Madhuri Dixit,his beautiful wife. There was a great deal of media speculation that the handsome doc with movie star good looks himself ( a desi version of Richard Gere), may have been flirting with the idea of turning his back on doctorgiri permanently and joining his wife’s trade. Not as a hero ( though, whyever not?) but as a full time manager and business partner in the lady’s several ventures. Media sources insisted he had taken complete charge of her contracts and was cracking great deals on wifey’s behalf . Particularly, juicy endorsements for basmati rice and other products. He was also supposed to be steering her brand new television career in which she is making much more money than all her old hit films put together. Plus, there is the production house the duo is launching, for which they have already invested a huge amount by way of a sprawling office. As if all this is not enough, there was talk that Madhuri had asked for a plot of land for a dance academy ( which she subsequently denied). Also, there is land gifted to her ages ago, being developed in West Bengal. To say nothing about the Maharashtra Government’s request to get Madhuri on board as Brand Ambassador for the State (allegedly, she asked for an astronomical amount). That’s a lot of work for poor ole Madhuri to handle by herself!

Given her crazy schedule what with playing Judge Sahiba on a dance reality show, and her hectic travel plans ( she posted a rather strange picture of herself in disguise in front of the Taj Mahal), her loving husband must have decided to keep surgery and the scalpel on hold, till his wife’s biz affairs were set in order. Why not? It’s a little ironic, though, that when the two met and married in 1999, it was claimed the U.S. –raised Nene had never heard of an Indian superstar called Madhuri Dixit! On her part, Madhuri too had played down her extraordinary status in the imagination of her countless fans, and quietly started a new life as a suburban wife of a doctor whose practice had yet to take off. Two children later, she is back to reclaim some of the past glory and re-introduce herself to a new generation of fans. Nobody remembers her dud comeback film (Äaja Nach Le’). Today’s admirers are gushing over her dancing queen image on the small screen. And Madhuri is busy re-positioning herself as a Diva ( slightly difficult, unless she sacks her stylist).But it is Dr. Nene who is the real surprise package, as he gamely poses next to his glam wife, dressed in typical Bollywood –ishtyle designer gear . For over a year, Dr.Nene assessed the local hospital scene. It’s good to know he has opted to sign on with a BMC-run public hospital like KEM in an honorary post. But that can only happen after he registers himself with the Maharashtra Medical Council. KEM, which has a waiting list of 600 patients for various heart surgeries, could certainly do with the expertise of someone like Dr.Nene. And, if his gorgeous wife was to occasionally stop by and meet patients in the ward, their hearts would definitely heal that much faster!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Amar Prem. RIP Rajesh Khanna

I am off to Lisbon in an hour. It is going to be a long and sentimental flight. My thoughts will be on Rajesh Khanna.... even more than him .... on the death of the magical era of the seventies in Bollywood. I wrote a 1500 word tribute to him for Mumbai Mirror. Do look out for it tomorrow. I shall post it here once I am back next week. Till then, au revoir and God Speed.
Rest well, Kaka. You have earned it.....

This appeared in Asian Age a few days ago....

P.M.’s TIME is up!

Pehley, let’s get a few things into perspective. TIME magazine itself is on life support. Time was up for TIME more than a decade ago. Just like all life drained out of the once iconic LIFE much earlier. The magazine business is like that – cyclical. Particularly in today’s zamana in which every internet user is a magazine in himself or herself. And everything is out there – news, analysis, commentary, pictures, quotes, gossip, scoops – the works. Woh bhi, for free! Click... and you have the latest khabar in an instant. In such an environment, why would anybody pay for a slim American weekly that is more expensive than erudite? Given the choice, I’d any day opt for its livelier, more gossipy and better laid out cousin, NEWSWEEK. Or read blogs. Yet, despite its unimpressive circulation and eroded prestige value, some of us in India behave like TIME magazine is the Holy Grail, and every word on its pages represents the gospel truth. Balderdash. For starters, TIME magazine is not exactly unbiased ( which publication is?). TIME has always harboured a political agenda.Its international credibility is not all that high, either. Most American analysts dismiss it off as a lightweight. And in any case, their Asian edition is not read by either Americans or Europeans. So, why the hell are we getting so hot and bothered about the recent “ Únderachiever’story that presents a pretty unflattering portrait of Manmohan Singh?What has the magazine said that we, in India, don’t already know.... or that hasn’t already been said by countless desi commentators across various platforms? There is not a single revelation, insight or even a scrap of tantalising gossip in the flat and somewhat dull piece. The only catchy aspect of the cover story is the bold heading – Underachiever. It is a pretty cruel word to paste across someone’s picture. But there are few who would dispute the accuracy of the description. It is as cutting as labelling the slow coach in a class a ‘Dunce’ in the year book .

Such are the harsh, unforgiving times we live in, alas. Nothing flies without comment. And our poor P.M. has been at the receiving end of some pretty tough criticism. He is hauled over the coals on a nightly basis by over wrought anchors who pounce on any and every issue to run the guy down. That he has made himself such an easy and soft target is of course, entirely his fault. By not opening his mouth even to defend himself against serious charges, “Mum’’Mohan Singh has provided opponents ample opportunities to trash him without a contest or rebuttal. Then comes the TIME article, and everybody crows, “See.... this is what the international community thinks of India’s Prime Minister... shame-shame.”

Without dissecting the merits of the magazine’s arguments, my problem is with its motives. Call me paranoid. But I am convinced most foreign journals have a sly hidden agenda, American publications in particular. If the same magazine (TIME) had carried a pretty glowing tribute to Narendra Modi recently, it is certainly no accident that the Únderachiever’story followed. There is clearly a link... a pattern... to both articles. What the ultimate objective is, I leave to intelligence agencies to fathom.Which is precisely why it is important to add a sack full of salt to such reportage. Just as the Modi story was not taken all that seriously by thinking Indians, we should display the same level of healthy scepticism towards the Underachiever one , too. One can’t blame the editors of TIME for trying their little stunts. In such a fiercely competitive era, it’s fine to pull out all the stops and generate as much publicity as possible in order to get noticed on the newsstand. Sachin Tendulkar had also featured on the TIME cover after his historic 100/ 100 knock, and had been gushingly referred to as the greatest sportsman in the world. This was a bit much. Had they called him the ‘greatest sportsman in the cricketing world’, few would have quibbled.But in its eagerness to court Indian readers for its Asian edition, TIME is obviously going flat out to feature top personalities from the region.And we, of course, over react and fall over backwards with gratitude for having been thus acknowledged and ‘honoured’. The truth is slightly different. TIME , like any other foreign brand, is fighting for readers and ads in this lucrative market. India remains one of the last bastions for books and magazines in a world that prefers to read everything online. Wooing advertisers and readers with such engineered stories is the obvious way forward. Flashing Lists of 100 Most Powerful is another strategy. And we are absolute suckers for similar lists that come with an imported stamp of approval. Let’s call it our Oscars’Complex. Year after year, we cravenly hope at least one of our films will get some sort of recognition at the Oscars. That pat on the back is of such vital importance, we will do just about anything to make the cut and be seen on the red carpet. It is as if we have no faith in our abilities to judge our own worth. Or even that we require a foreign expert to hand out a certificate that validates our position.

After the longest time, I actually found myself feeling sorry for the man who, not so long ago was happily basking in the ‘Singh is King’ after glow. Poor Manmohan Singh. He really should have quit a long time ago! But what could he do? His hands were tied! Madam had not given him permission to do that!And, as the nation well knows, unless Madam gives the go ahead to put in those papers, our P.M. is stuck. And so are we. But we didn’t need TIME magazine to tell us , did we?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

POSTERAMA and Mumbai Monsoon

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This appears in the current issue of the Air India magazine....

Mumbai Monsoon

Dhonduram, the wizened old fisherman at Machchimaar Nagar in South Mumbai, understands the many moods of the sea far better than a weather satellite. For generations, his Koli family has read the message of the waves crashing against their fishing vessels, and known precisely when to pull up the neon blue fishing nests, bring the boats home to dock, and take a much needed break from their demanding, back breaking trade. This year was no different. Two days before the official shutdown of the waters surrounding Mumbai was announced, and the ferry boats stopped plying tourists to Elephanta Caves, Dhonduram quietly went about shutting shop in his humble shack on the edge of the sea. His family had interpreted the signs only too well themselves. His wife Shantabai, was relieved she wouldn’t have to wait for the turbulent sea to wash straight into the small home and sweep the steel utensils away without a warning. As always, her husband had accurately deduced exactly when the majestic, magnificent Mumbai Monsoon would unleash its mighty force on the metropolis.

Aahhh - the Monsoon!It was love at first sight for me. I fell for Mumbai and the rains on my arrival into the maddening megapolis which soon became my home. I was 10 years old. My father had been transferred to Mumbai from Delhi. He was overjoyed at coming back to the city of his ( and my mother’s) birth. As for me, I was leaving the Capital reluctantly. Delhi was where my friends were. And I would be leaving my comfortable colony life just as the plump, purple jaamuns would ripen and fall off the tree in our kitchen garden. I had cried throughout the train journey, all the way to Mumbai. But the moment, we stepped out of the crowded Bombay Central Station, and into the furious rains, I knew I was going to adore my new city. My tears mixed with raindrops, as we rushed to find a cab and begin our new life in India’s City of Dreams. Unlike most who dread the Monsoon, I have always made the most of the rains that whip Mumbai from June to as late as November ( global warming raises its ugly head!). The enchanting thing about the Monsoon is how dramatically it announces itself, and how spectacularly it departs. The Mumbai Monsoon doesn’t sneak into the city like a thief in the dead of the night. It makes sure you take note of its arrival by putting on an impressive show. The sky darkens ominously with clouds so bloated, they resemble an army of powerful ‘Rakshasas’’ marching aggressively across the firmament, accompanied by a deafening drum roll of thunder and an impressive show of fire power, as forked lightning cracks open the sky and crackles as it finds its targets on earth. There is nothing ‘pretty’ or gentle about our Monsoon. And try as I might, I cannot romanticise it, like our great poet ‘Kalidasa’ whose epic ‘Meghdoot’ remains the most evocative tribute to the romance of rain.

My Monsoon is a creature of fury, as it rages on through four soggy months, often without a respite. Sheets and sheets of harsh, sharp, pelting rain pour over poor Mumbai. The sea churns, rumbles and crashes over daunting obstacles , uncaring of who or what it destroys. Gigantic waves hit unwary strollers ( and sometimes drag a few away). Waves that are so awe inspiring, Mumbaikars foolishly gaze at the spectacle, as if in a trance, oblivious to the danger to their own lives.For there is something hypnotic about the Mumbai Monsoon as countless tourists from the Middle East will confirm. Families from the Emirates arrive in droves and check into seaside hotels along the famous Queen’s Necklace, just to soak in the atmosphere... and basically, just to soak! A few I have spoken to insist the rains hold such a special attraction for them because they don’t get any! How does one explain ‘rain’ to a child who has never experienced it, an Arab asked me, as he patiently waited for the first showers on Marine Drive. His wife, fussing over theïr brood of kids, said, “We are desert people.... our children love getting wet in Mumbai! Look – no raincoats, no umbrellas. We are here to get drenched!” Well...that’s perfectly understandable. It’s like the Indian fascination for snow!

It’s true, the incessant rain does make one hungry. Perhaps it’s psychological. Lethargy makes ones thoughts turn to food. Mumbaikars have come up with Monsoon menus that are pretty irresistible. Even street food acquires a twist with roasted corn ( bhuttas) being briskly sold along the many beaches. Our ‘cutting chai’’(peculiar to Mumbai) sees an impressive jump in sales, as motorists stop off for a quick cuppa before heading home. I am not a pakora (we call them bhajiyas in Mumbai) fan, but diehards insist there is nothing to beat piping hot pakoras with steaming tea, while watching the rains from a dry haven. But even the most ardent admirers of the Mumbai Monsoon will agree, it’s not always as alluring as it appears. Mumbai does experience pretty nightmarish situations when the tides are high, and our tempers even higher. Life comes to a virtual standstill as diligent Mumbaikars brave waist- high waters on flooded streets and railway tracks, attempting( and often failing) to reach their workplaces. This is the Monsoon God testing us – will Mumbaikars have it in them to cope without breaking down? Bringing the city down to its knees, begging for mercy, the Rain God finally relents and moves on. But not before creating havoc and devastation. Finally, it’s Narali Purnima – the night of a glorious full moon, which signals the end of the dramatic Monsoon. Once again. Dhonduram and his wife make an offering of coconuts to an insatiable sea. There are prayers and celebrations at the Machchimar Nagar, as fisher folk get their trawlers ready to brave the oceans once more. There is hope in their hearts and a prayer on their lips, that the sea will yield a bounty.Dhonduram looks up at the sky and seeks celestial blessings as he sails out optimistically.... the skies are clear, and the sea, calm....till the next Monsoon... and the next.


Monday, July 16, 2012

Cocktail ya Mocktail....?

Guys... what a Sunday! No internet. Blame it on the Mumbai Monsoon... or that's what Lazarus, my tech guy tried to tell me , when I blew!
I got my life back a few hours ago.... and am making the most of it!
This appeared in Bombay Times today...


As we emerged from a packed to capacity movie hall at my favourite, neighbourhood multiplex, a trendy young woman turned to her even trendier male companion and said, “ Yaar..... I swear I’d rather become a bewdi drinking mocktails than this Cocktail...” It was close to 11 p.m. Dinner time was done a long while earlier. Popcorn, no matter how good, is a poor substitute. I should have headed straight to the friendly, neighbourhood bar next door. But, by then even my desire for a monsoon cocktail had been taken care of. I was in Meera( Diana Penty) mode...ready to sing bhajans on an empty stomach and go to bed. Hell, this wasn’t what I had expected... not after those generous four star reviews. What’s a cocktail without a kick? This was a watered down version of ‘Vicky,Cristina, Barcelona’. Par, kahan Woody Allen and Xavier Bardem.... aur kahan hum log? Instead of Barcelona, we got done-to-death London with a sudden and entirely irrelevant side trip to Cape Town. Perhaps the entire crew on this film was high on whatever Veronica (Deepika Padukone) was consuming in the film. Perhaps, the script writer had O.D.-ed on it, but it was difficult after a point to remain engaged in this confused and confusing movie that for the longest time went nowhere in particular. Once the characters had been established in a slip- shod way ( why is Deepika abandoned by her rich parents? Why is her name Veronica?), the movie went into the rather tiring and trite ménage a trois track. Thank God for the two smashing leading ladies who saved one bad scene after another just by their presence and sex appeal. Diana Penty’s debut rates amongst the best in recent times. Not only is the girl absolutely lovely but she can act! That’s a bonus. Nobody expects actual acting prowess from our lissome models – well, here’s one with a terrific future. Katrina, beware. It isn’t Nargis you need to fear, it’s Diana. As for Deepika, hers is an award winning performance, particularly during the club scene in which she is totally wasted and a dramatic breakdown follows. Producer-actor Saif Ali Khan could have exerted better control over his own footage... we love the guy .... but please, does he have to be in every frame?

City-centric, uber-contemporary films that try and capture the zeitgeist of a certain kind of NRI lifestyle , often get it horribly wrong. There was nothing remotely authentic about any of the characters. If at all, they were comical and caricatural. Who lives, talks, dresses and behaves like that? In London???? That, plus the subtext which hasn’t changed in decades – if you want to marry a desi boy, don’t wear short skirts. If you do wear short skirts, don’t forget your knickers. If you want to impress the boy’s mother, touch her feet, cook lamb biryani, switch to Lajpat Nagar-–style salwar suits and light agarbattis in front of your favourite deity. So.... for all the so-called ‘modernity’displayed by the lead pair - the casual sex, sharing of toothbrush, alcohol bingeing and references to drugs, the message remains stuck in the previous century. Good girls don’t do it. And bad boys do it with bad girls, only to dump them later. Oh, I forgot – good girls stay fully covered up and their middle name is ‘sacrifice’. Really now!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Shoot me, the messenger

By Shekhar Gupta

The late Edward S. Behr (Anyone Here Been Raped and Speaks English? besides much else), a delightfully versatile journalist-writer, used to tell us, fellow travellers in conflict zones, a story from his days as a captain in the Indian Army’s Garhwal regiment. Apparently, a jawan of his battalion fired and killed two men leading a peaceful anti-Partition procession in Peshawar in 1947. The jawan had fired apparently without provocation, and he had fired to kill, rather than shoot at the legs as the instructions in those angry days were.

At the court martial, the jawan’s defence was very simple. These two guys were leading the procession. The moment they saw us, they unbuttoned their shirts, turned their bare chests at us, and started shouting, chhaati mein goli maaro (shoot me in the chest), chhaati mein goli maaro. So, the earnest Garhwali shot them in the chest.

We do not know what view the court martial took of this defence. But we do know for sure that the two protesters with bared chests died on the spot. Why, then, are we in the Indian media now walking around like those two unfortunate Pathans? For several months now, we are ourselves holding discussions, debates, seminars, even inviting politicians, high officials, eminent regulators and the sort, to discuss the idea of media regulation. At all these, we acknowledge that we have a problem. We also, naam ke vaaste, keep on repeating that a state-mandated or -controlled regulator is not what we want. Yet, we call politicians and retired judges to seek their views. They hold forth on how much they respect and value the freedom of the press, but how they also share “our” view that the time has come for some kind of regulation, some institutional mechanism to ensure “accountability”. Of course, at a time when everybody, from politicians to the judiciary, is being confronted with new instruments of accountability, how can the media, now so powerful, be left out? And the permanent footnote: but, of course, we (the political-bureaucratic class) should do nothing about it. Irrespective of who is speaking, the Congress or the BJP, this is always spoken with that Gotcha! smirk.

So why are we Indian journalists, among the most independent and powerful in the world, walking around with chests bared, asking the political class to shoot?

THE argument is, baba, we must do this, we must engage the politicians, the state, the judiciary. If we don’t do anything ourselves, they will move in and we will have nowhere to hide. Truth is, we flatter the establishment. This is undoubtedly the weakest full-term government in our history ever. This is also our most non-functional parliament. It cannot pass the simplest of populist legislation. This establishment has made two attempts to challenge the media, and in each case the retreat has been immediate. The group of ministers on the media, of which nobody has fully understood the purpose, was constituted with some enthusiasm, but has hardly ever met. Then we saw that meticulously drafted private member’s bill to regulate the media, from the Congress party’s once-rising young star Meenakshi Natarajan, and it was dumped at once. In fact, the only damage it should end up causing is to her own political career, unless, indeed, it was some kind of a command performance. In short, this is not an establishment that can challenge our freedoms, or even threaten to “regulate” the news media in any manner whatsoever. If their idea of striking terror in our hearts was the appointment of Justice Markandey Katju as the new chairman of the Press Council, it has only underlined the utter toothlessness of the Press Council of India, and just as well.

We will never submit to a regulatory body mandated, financed and run by the government. Justice Katju mostly just talks, and for heaven’s sake, he is not a bore, or a pinko revolutionary, or both. We have seen some like that at the head of the PCI as well, including — and notably — Justice P.B. Sawant whose main bugbear was not our indiscretions, but who owned our newspapers. He wasted most of his tenure promoting hare-brained ideas like newspapers run by journalist cooperatives. I did try to ask him at the odd seminar if he had seen us journalists run even a housing cooperative, as I was a member of one, and it was such a bloody mess. It still is.

Then what is it that we want? And do we really need something to regulate ourselves, to hold us accountable? Why are we journalists — having come out in the open, and discovered the unprecedented, unchallenged expanse of our freedoms — behaving as if we are suddenly struck with stage-fright? Or, could it just be that we are carrying a bad conscience, which is making us talk of regulation of some sort, as if to seek anticipatory bail, if not a full plea bargain.

THE fact is, we do have a problem. While there is a lot of praise for the great work the media has done in busting corruption, fighting social evils and improving transparency and accountability, our arrogance has grown into hubris. No medium can claim to be holier than the other. Paid news is the greatest crime in the history of the Indian media, it still goes on, is mostly monopolised by print. Sponsored pages, advertorials and product placements are published by many without even a hint of disclosure. People are not stupid. They notice and they are angry. There is no point then saying that, oh, this is a terrible thing, I know, but what can I do, at least I never do this. But people do not make such distinctions between good and bad guys. They think that we, by and large, have become dishonest and greedy. People also know the growing new phenomenon in Indian media, where several owners have acquired interests in businesses much more lucrative than the media, but where their newspapers and channels can be force-multipliers. Think of mining, property, power plants, all kinds of new money-printing areas where governments retain great discretionary powers. Fourth estate to real estate (and also vice versa) is the new ticket to riches in the media. You travel around the country, particularly the Hindi heartland, and ordinary people will let you know they are not missing any of this.

On the electronic side, many TV anchors and reporters have now graduated from being mere inquisitors to judge-executioners. They wag their fingers at their powerful quarry, and the question is always some variation on the same theme: why aren’t you admitting on this channel, now, that you are corrupt? Corrupt they might be, but aren’t they entitled to some usual journalistic courtesies? Like the right to reply? God knows, Suresh Kalmadi may have given you — and the CBI — a hundred reasons to suspect that he is corrupt. But who has given us the right to call him “congenitally corrupt”? People watch this too and, while they are angry with the political classes, they are getting fed up with our arrogance too.

In India, we do not have any specific laws guaranteeing media freedoms. Our freedoms, essentially, are drawn from a post-Emergency social contract between us and the people of India who decided they will never let their press be gagged. These freedoms have been reinforced and expanded by the Supreme Court. Today both are irritated with us. The Supreme Court is examining guidelines for us to cover judicial proceedings. People, by and large, are taking note of our corruption — mainly paid news — and our arrogance.

Our lifeline, that social contract with the people of India, is, therefore, under strain. It’s not just a contract, it’s the foundation of our democracy, the guarantor of the people’s right to know. Regulation will have the chilling power of prior restraint, often considered the worst form of censorship, where you gag yourself, where you don’t publish because you don’t know how the regulator — government, judicial, expert, call it whatever — will react. Any regulator will, by its very existence, need to define who a journalist is — for him or her to be regulated. In other words, not just the newsroom’s freedoms but everyone’s freedom of expression will be put to test. The answers lie with us. We have to introspect, clean up our act, bring back the old-fashioned editorial intermediation to our newsrooms. Of course, we will only be held accountable to our own audiences, and we have to go back to them with some humility. At the same time, we have to keep the establishment out of this debate. They may never like our message but we cannot invite them to shoot us, the messenger.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Third Gender Dilemma....

Do you like my tree story? I adore trees. Recently, my friend Olga gave me a gorgeous rubber tree which she had been growing on her own balcony. She said this particular tree resembled a pair of Tango dancers... and how right she was! Now that the tango dancers belong to me, I try and nurture them with as much love as Olga did.

I shot the tree images on my recent jaunt. The Olive trees are a few hundred years old. I also photographed Mulberry and Pistachio trees in Athens, but in my hurry, was unable to locate them in the folder.

I have to get dressed very quickly to attend my daughter's super-glam event. It will be raining Moet, so who's complaining??????


,This appeared in The Week.... days before Pinkie managed to get away from her tormentors. The picture of Pinkie in the papers this morning has her in a natty tee, a man's trousers..with a big smile on her face. One can only guess what a flood of unshed tears remain inside.....

Third Gender Dilemmas...

Yup. I have done it! Got in line and stripped for the cameras. Wait a minute, it’s not what you are thinking! Sorry. But I was referring to Nandan Nilekani’s Aadhar Card, which in a way, does strip you naked. That too, in public. I have to confess, the procedure was pretty harmless as such procedures go, but so damn intrusive, I just wondered what all that data was going to be used for!Here I was in a crowded hall, without a fig leaf to protect my modesty. There was hardly any aspect of my life that wasn’t out there. Two alarmingly young chaps were busy filling forms while all of us went through the finger printing, iris scanning processes. Apart from the indignity of it all, what surprised me was the section in which one had to tick or circle ( I forget), the sex thing – male or female. That’s when I noticed a third option – Transgender. That’s pretty neat! How progressive and forward thinking of Nandan to come up with this category. Then came the news that the Indira Gandhi Open University for distance learning programmes will include the word óther’ along with ‘male’’ and ‘’female’’ in application forms. This will kick in from July. If these are important markers, it is no small thanks to activists like Abheena Aher, who have been fighting for transgender recognition, claiming more than 40% of India’s transgenders are literate. This IGNOU initiative comes in the wake of requests from students who did not wish to reveal their gender. An additional problem arose with high drop- out rates for transgenders due to societal prejudices. Such is the stigma, that even those who have finished their education are often forced to identify themselves as ‘males’ while seeking employment. Activists like Santosh Joglekar are raising issues of adopting a non-discriminatory policy at universities across India, respecting the rights of those who do not wish to disclose their gender.

While going through these reports, one niggling thought kept swirling around inside my head. Would I employ a transgender ? Or would I find it ‘weird’? If one of my children’s friends were to cheerfully say, “Hi,Aunty...I am a Transgender.” What would my reaction be? Shock and awe? Non-chalance? An over eagerness to demonstrate my liberal position? Stupid questions. But I still need to ask a few. Like : which loo in a public area would a transgender be directed to – the one marked ‘M’or the one marked ‘F’? If the question of sharing rooms came up at a hostel, how would decisions be taken? These are practical issues demanding practical solutions. Just as the world is getting used to same sex marriages ( thank you, President Obama), along comes a brand new slot that has still to be understood before it can be factored in successfully in a social context.

Information available on transgenders in India is not at all comprehensive at the moment.Various websites offer case studies and testimonies, but frankly, even after going through several of them, I remain pretty clueless. Here are a few dumb questions for starters : How does one recognise a transgender? How are transgenders addressed in a formal situation – Mr. Ms , something else? It’s a tough world to negotiate, regardless of gender. It must be a thousand times tougher for those who, for now, fall into no-man’s land – neither here, nor there. I recall watching a classic ‘Priscilla,Queen of the Desert’ several years ago, and marvelling at the life of the protagonist. A lot of time has passed since then, but I still don’t know the difference between a cross-dresser, and a transgender. Where do our Hijras belong in a census survey? What happens to adopted children of ‘differently gendered’ individuals? Are they even permitted to adopt officially? Do their kids call them ‘mama’ or ‘papa’? I raise these questions deliberately, knowing they might raise hackles. But it’s better to be aware than make foolish, hurtful mistakes out of ignorance. While watching this season’s sleeper hit, the delicate and evocative “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel ”, the one love story that touched me the most was between a gay British retired judge, and an Indian man he had spent a single night with decades ago, and lost track of. Unable to get his former lover’s memory out of his system, the judge comes back to Jaipur to trace his friend.Almost miraculously, he manages to locate him. The man’s wife greets the judge and says, “Ï know who you are,” before he can introduce himself.There is no trace of hostility in her voice. Just graceful, unconditional acceptance of her husband and his choices. It was by far, the most powerful segment of the film. But I still can’t say whether or not the lover was a transgender.