Friday, August 31, 2012

It's all in the Jeans!

Says Shantanu Das about his award winning picture, "Ëverybody loves glamour."
Blogdosts, do you agree? Do you like the image? I do! There are so very many stories in the photograph. Check out the guy on the right, clicking the glam gal on his camera. It happens all the time. Can celebs do anything about it? Naah. Not really.
Tomorrow afternoon at 5 pm, Mr. Amitabh Bachchan will be kicking off a global initiative when he launches Parikrma's unique Jeanaration programme at the Taj Land's End Hotel, Mumbai. It's interesting to see how this drive finally pans out. The idea is simple: Parikrma, a Bangalore-based NGO headed by the dynamic Shukla Bose, gets top stars to donate a pair of signed jeans for a worthy cause. These jeans are then auctioned on e-bay at the celebrity site. All the money generated goes towards providing world class education to the poorest, under-served kids, who would otherwise languish without the slightest hope of a better life. Parikrma has already seen over a 1000 kids through school and college during the 10 years of its existence. With this fresh impetus, many more will benefit.
Mr. Bachchan was kind and generous when I approached him, even though he is shooting non-stop for KBC, leaving home at 8 a.m. and often getting back at 10 p.m. He works much harder than people half his age. I felt guilty asking him to carve out time for Parikrma. We deeply appreciate his good will. And the kids haven't stopped smiling!
The Big B turns 70 this October. A little bird tells me there are major plans afoot to celebrate his landmark birthday in style. One of these involves 70 artists and 70 artworks. Ssssh! My lips are sealed... but going by what I have seen, this one is going to be a whopper of a birthday! Why not? Which other mega star has earned it in quite the same way?
How was Dilli? How CAN Dilli be? I had a one point agenda - to meet the new U.S. Ambassador - the first lady to be posted as the American Ambassador to India. It marks an important first and sends out the right signal, given her interests in women and child issues. I enjoyed meeting Nancy Powell - and welcome to India, Madam Ambassador!
There was a bonus thrown in as well. I met Manushi founder and passionate champion of women's rights, Madhu Kishwar, at the American reception, and invited her back to the hotel to have dinner with me. Over a two hour meal ( I had a brilliant foie gras omlette at 'Machaan'), we discovered we had several similar concerns. She has just won an important case defending the rights of cycle rickshaw pullers to ply their trade fairly. Well done, Madhu.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Hai! Hai! Now funerals as events!

This is a picture I keep going back to.... the magnificent Fort in Lisbon. It was a terrific evening.... and I couldn't stop clicking.

Am in Delhi for two days.... may or may not be in this space.... you have been warned!


My column in Bombay times today...

Hai! Hai! Now funerals as ‘events’…

“Itna sanaata kyun hai, bhai?” could well be A.K.Hangal’s epitaph. Such is the irony and tragedy of life. When the senior actor passed away at age 98, after dedicating over 50 years of his life to movies and theatre, merely a handful from the film industry showed up to pay their last respects. Hangal’s one liner from ‘Sholay’ ( “Itna sanaata…”) must have reverberated in the Vile Parle crematorium where his last rites were performed by his grieving son, surrounded by Raza Murad, Ila Aroon and a few others. Such a poor showing for a Padma Bhushan awardee, who had acted in more than 200 films! Expecting major stars to turn up at the funeral, the Mumbai police had arranged for a bandobast… but obviously, the big guys had other priorities. However, it has to be said that when funds were required to pay Hangal’s mounting medical bills, and it became known that the actor was leading a life of penury, several large hearted stars like Amitabh Bachchan, Aamir Khan, Salman Khan and Mithun Chakraborthy, generously came forward to help the family. All the more distressing that the turn out at the Grand Old Man’s funeral was as low…. Even if the tributes were lavish.

It’s now come to a point where we make zero distinction between ‘events’. Everything has been converted into an event. And numbers say it all, whether it is a movie premiere, fashion show, birthday, music launch, book launch, film preview,success party, shaadi …. or funeral. It’s only about the celebrity turnout. Another line from ‘Sholay’ comes back to haunt us today, “Kitney aadmi thhe?” Hungry for content, media wallas wait for hours , often in awful conditions, for the big names to show up. When that does not happen ( as in the case of poor Hangal), features’ editors holding up a page for the all important celeb images, tear their hair out in frustration. All that blank space has to be filled! A film star funeral generally guarantees several photo- ops . Look no further than Rajesh Khanna’s. There were enough images and quotes at his blow out of a funeral to cram into several supplements. Poor Hangal was not as blessed.

This is the way the cookie crumbles, not just in Bollywood-crazy India, but in Hollywood as well. From Michael Jackson to Liz Taylor and Whitney Huston, the coverage of their spectacular funerals was flashed across the globe for days and weeks , focusing as much on their achievements as on the celeb quotient at the ‘events’. P.R. firms have started to recognize high profile funerals as valid image making ( or breaking) opportunities. These days , it is not unusual to receive calls from assorted p.r. agencies crassly asking, “ So…. will you be attending so-and-so’s funeral?” The time is not far off when there will be show stoppers at crematoriums and fashion designers will create ‘looks’ for funerals, same as they create lehengas for weddings. Sounds horrible – but it’s happening!

A.K. Hangal will be remembered with love and respect by his Marxist colleagues. For a humble tailor from Karachi to make it in Mumbai’s film industry and contribute to over 225 films, is by no means a small achievement. Rahim Chaacha lived and died, as a brave and proud worker. Thank God, his funeral was not converted into an event.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Somewhere over the rainbow....

Two cities. Two cheerful images. The near perfect rainbow was spotted by my daughter Arundhati over the tennis courts of the Bombay Gymkhana. She interrupted her game to click it over her phone. The other image was clicked by our Blogdost Nitin Rai ( theyoginme) capturing the spectacular fireworks in Chicago. I found the pictures uplifting and inspirational on an otherwise unexceptional Sunday...more from me tomorrow... a hectic Monday beckons.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Raj ki Aag! Thackeray's comeuppance....

This picture was taken at the Citadel Awards' function in Pune recently.

This appeared in Asian Age today....

Raj ki Aag - Thackeray presents a new face…

Can a Tiger change his stripes… a leopard, its spots, a shark, its fins? No, na?But the ‘new’, ‘improved’ version of Raj Thackeray which was dramatically unveiled on 21st August at Mumbai’s historic Azad Maidan, took everybody by surprise – friends and foes alike. Perhaps his game plan was only known to key aides. But the man known for his choice expletives and insults, stumped everybody, especially the Mumbai police, when he refrained from flashing his characteristic rabble rousing , abuse spewing , fire breathing persona, choosing a more mature and restrained approach instead. I’d call this tactic a political master stroke. In one swift move , Raj acquired a new face and repositioned himself . He also sent out a super calibrated signal that said : I am the boss!Raj shrewdly picked the perfect platform to announce his elevated status. Mumbai was still reeling from and perplexed about the frontal assault earlier in the week that had seen two protestors dead, and several people ( cops included) injured. In an unprecedented development, rampaging mobs had targeted policemen and women constables, besides the media. This shocking and audacious attack on authority had shaken Mumbai, more so because the cops had been converted into passive sitting ducks, their rifles boldly snatched and their very dignity stripped. Raj Thackeray found his moment. And his speech. Raj talked about Maharashtra being his only dharma. It was a moment that could have been seized and exploited by any other politician. But wasn’t. This is where Raj scored. Critics called it political opportunism. Admirers hailed him as the Saviour Of Mumbai. Yes ! The same Raj who was routinely damned for destroying the city and attacking innocent ‘Outsiders’ was suddenly being praised for speaking up on behalf of concerned citizens Forgotten were his old disruptive rallies, his threats and aggression. Raj acquired a halo overnight. The Dark Knight had risen. All was instantly forgiven. But wait a minute - Raj had done what any smart player should – he had used the State Government’s vulnerability to consolidate his own position. Mumbai had been left quaking and worried. People expected the Raj rally to paralyse normal life. Citizens had taken all the necessary precautions, schools and colleges had shut early, shop keepers had sensibly downed shutters. Trouble – big trouble – was anticipated, After all, it was Raj Thackeray… and he was on the warpath. Instead, Raj pulled a fast one - he defied the stereotype, behaved himself, and effortlessly stole the show. The makeover was complete. To understand what this means, one has to deconstruct the Raj image first. Let’s see – what does Raj Thackeray stand for? That depends on who you ask. But, since public perception counts for everything in politics, the bald truth is Raj has a terrible reputation. His image sucks.He has been variously seen as an egotistical tyrant, hell bent on creating trouble, as a narrow minded, nakedly parochial leader unapologetically pampering the Marathi Manoos while terrorizing others, and worse. Raj Thackeray meant trouble. Period .

I’d say it was an image he had carefully cultivated , basing it on his uncle, mentor and Guru – Balasaheb Thackeray’s. Scare tactics, scrupulously adopted over decades of Balasaheb’s rule over the city, were now his nephew’s domain. Fear psychosis became the favoured instrument, and it worked. Nobody wanted to mess with this guy. Nobody dared to speak a word against him, no matter what the provocation. If Balasaheb could bring Mumbai to a standstill by a snap of his fingers, so could Raj. Consider the timing: his main political rival and first cousin Uddhav was dealing with health issues. When Raj decided to drive Uddhav to the hospital, it was interpreted as a pretty loaded goodwill gesture - would the warring cousins make peace and combine forces finally? Or was it Raj’s way of being one up on a weakened adversary ( after all, it was Raj in the driver’s seat – literally and metaphorically)?Well, his rockstar debut at Azad Maidan has been duly acknowledged as the big coming out party before the 2014 elections. He is being wooed by the Congress Party like never before. It’s an alliance made in heaven. If Raj sticks to the script and stays away from maari maari and goondagiri, he may succeed in convincing skeptics that he has grown up, and left his impetuous, hectoring ways behind. That may be a bit too much to expect just yet. While Raj’s urban fans definitely appreciate the latest makeover, his hardcore supporters love him for the old dialoguebaazi and dhamkis that send shivers down the spines of anybody in his path. Today, he has won just half the battle by getting rid of top cop Arup Patnaik , his bête noire, as the police commissioner. So far, R.R.Patil has not budged from his secure perch as Maharashtra’s Home Minister. Raj was baying for his blood , too. One head has rolled. The other may follow.If that happens, Raj’s position as the local Supremo, and Balasaheb’s worthy successor, will be hard to challenge.Till then, Raj should enjoy his current status as a poster boy for a better, safer Mumbai. With his trendy long hair and Aviators, Raj is playing to the galleries as Hero No.1. If for any reason, he loses interest in politics, there’s always Bollywood. Here’s a title for that blockbuster : Raj ki Aag.

Friday, August 24, 2012

What men want! Hint: It's white,tight and bright!

Shantanu Das is one of our most successful photographers. This was an image he shot at a recent event. I rather like it! What about you????

Am planning to watch a dhoom dhadaka film today...The Expendables. Not my kind of film, at all. Par kya karey? Family ke vaastey karna padta hai... but at least I know the dinner to follow at my daughter's home will be amazing and fun. Last night's dinner at our favourite restaurant The Table, was outstanding as always... particularly the shrimp dumplings in a flavoursome broth. Even on a thursday night, the place was packed and buzzed. I sipped a Perrier after the longest time. I needed to cool off, after a pretty passionate debate on NDTV , dissecting the abrupt transfer of Mumbai's Police Commissioner, Arup Patnaik.

The weekend is looking good. I'll be booking my tickets for Shirin- Farhad. Can't wait to watch Farah Khan on the big screen. I am so sure she'll be brilliant. More roles for the talented Ms. Khan? " I don't want to play anybody's mother," she told me last week. Okayyyyy... I guess being a real life mom to triplets takes care of her maternal instincts all the way...


I wrote this for The Week....

What men want: White, tight and bright!

Remember how we all mocked the launch of Fairness Creams for women in India all those many moons ago? Outrageous! Feminists declared authoritatively. Nobody paid the slightest attention to our strident squawks of protest. The market for the offensive product grew and grew and grew. It was soon declared the fastest selling cream in India, and before any of us could huff and puff some more, it was joined by its twin – a fairness cream for men! Apparently, the clamour for that product can barely be met by manufacturers.Who can argue against market forces? Or the persuasive powers of the male model – King Khan, himself? Soon, all of us shut up and a myriad brands of Fairness Creams continued to outpace demand on crowded supermarket shelves. One supposes, countless young couples found their dream mates thanks to the miracle of the cream. They also found glory in their jobs. And great success in any other equally stupendous activity they subsequently undertook. After all, their skin was now ten shades lighter than the one God had given them.

Not satisfied with lightening facial complexions, manufacturers discovered a fresh , new area of female insecurity that needed not just whitening, but also tightening. Thus was launched a brand new cream that promised to lighten the delicate skin of a women’s vagina. While that was happening, the cream promised a tighter private part that would impress future husbands. How? Well, the idea was to replicate a virgin’s non-violated, untouched orifice as faithfully as possible. To get this revolutionary product off the ground, the manufacturers of 18Again roped in starlet Celina Jaitley ( mother of twins, and a self- declared Gay Rights’ spokesperson) to endorse the controversial cream . If that dismayed her constituency, it hardly mattered. The dodgy product was launched anyway, amidst great fanfare and media coverage… plus, get this - nobody blushed. If anything, there were animated debates about the efficacy of the cream. Women asked, “Does it really work?” Tough question. Who can certify that? Think about it - a women’s face turning twenty shades lighter is visible to the world. But….her… errr….never mind!

Then came another wonderful product… this promised to bleach a women’s underarms! The advertising campaign was inspired and inspiring. It encouraged women to wear sleeveless garments now that their underarms were suitably white and worthy of close scrutiny by hawk eyed mothers-in-law. The bottom line remained the same – a white and tight vagina, in addition to smooth, fair underarms were the best ways to bag a good husband. But what about the man’s underarms and privates? Why not launch a bunch of products to address these key aesthetic issues that – hello! – do bother women? A lot! Or is that of zero importance in the marriage mandi? Does anybody really believe a young bride is blind? That she does not observe her brand new husband’s body…. armpits and other vital organs included? Should she also not insist on a more pleasing appearance when the moment of truth finally arrives? In all ‘fairness’, what if she turns up her nose at assorted anatomical details of her bridegroom’s jism being less than snow white? Or droopy? How can a sweet, trusting bride tell on her wedding night that she’s the one – the only one – her husband has ever touched? She can’t – right? And she has to lump it – whatever the shade of his skin in whichever area of his less-than- Adonis-like body. What’s the bet, canny cream makers are hard at work addressing this problem? If Shah Rukh Khan and Shahid Kapur could endorse a fairness cream for men and nobody sniggered. If Katrina Kaif can display smooth , hairless legs ( hair removing cream, along with a Fairness one) and Anushka Sharma shows off whitened arm pits … let’s just say we should take Celina Jaitley’s word for it that the 18 Again cream works big time. But… but…. what if it doesn’t? Will crest fallen hubbies demand their money back and send the bride packing? Pay close attention, girls : the future is bright only if you are white and tight where it matters. Got it???

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Bollywood's 100 Crore Club

Meet 9- year- 0ld Nolan. Have you seen a handsomer boy.... a more calm and beautiful one? I haven't! Not for the longest time. Nolan was in Pune last week to celebrate his 'Munjha'( thread ceremony). Going by his tranquil, Buddha -like expression, he really understood the significance of the ceremony and enjoyed himself. Take a bow, parents ( Nolan's mother is one of our Blogdosts), grand-parents and sister....


This appeared in Bombay Times today....

Bollywood’s 100 Crore Club

Bollywood’s latest obsession with movies that gross 100 crores in record breaking time, is both amusing and somewhat alarming. It has given birth to a brand new caste system in which the film industry is neatly divided into those who belong to the elite club and those that don’t. The latest entrant is ‘Ek Tha Tiger’, a movie riddled with so many absurdities, it’s pointless to list them. Not that it matters. It has crossed the magic number and who cares about anything else? The Box Office is king. And nobody argues with that. The problem is not with mass entertainers like Ek Tha Tiger raking in the big bucks, it is with the less than enthusiastic response to the real gems that fail to make this kind of insane money. Also, because of this 100 crore divide, movie makers have started to judge talent and success using this single yardstick and scoff at those who disagree. The 100 crorewallas really don’t care a damn what anybody thinks of their films. Most have taken to mocking movie critics who don’t gush over these crazily successful blockbusters. I have read interviews in which producers / directors sneer, “Who cares for critics?We pay zero attention to reviews and reviewers… we only look at the box office returns.” In such a complacent environment, there is no room for healthy debate, which is a pity. Given the profile of movie goers, there is ample space for all sorts of films… as the modest success of several indies has convincingly established. But so long as we only measure success using the 100 crore benchmark,we will be stuck with movies like ‘Ek Tha Tiger’ or ‘Bol Bachchan’ , which are fun,but certainly not brilliant on any level. Tiger is not Chulbul Pandey, and Ek Tha is not a patch on Dabbang. But its stupendous commercial success will be thrown in the face of anybody who displays a less than ecstatic response to the movie . The pressures on any ambitious film maker now is to aim for that 100 crore target – that’s it. And stars who have been a part of this 100 crore phenomenon are suddenly throwing attitude and jacking up their fees. Even if their performances have been lousy… and their roles, idiotic.

I watched Gangs of Wasseypur-2 inside a half empty hall at a multiplex. This was on a Saturday night. A few hours earlier, Mumbai had been ravaged by rioting mobs, and the atmosphere at the multiplex was tense. I attributed the thin attendance to the fear factor. There was a red alert in the city, and I had been advised by concerned friends to stay home. As the movie unfolded, I started to get goose bumps – the violence on the big screen was as grisly as the one Mumbai had endured a couple of hours earlier. An eerie case of life imitating art – or the other way around? I was totally riveted from the opening scene itself and found it difficult to breathe normally. Every aspect of the movie was powerfully dealt with – from the characterisation, dialogues, costumes, cinematography, music ( Oh! What music!) to the gory dance of death during the climax. Despite the bloodbaths that splatter across the screen at regular intervals, there was no gratuitous violence… and that’s preciselywhat made the film so chillingly real. As for Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s Faisal Khan , it is one screen role that will go on to define the genre. Much like Bhiku Mhatre or Langda Tyagi. Zeeshan Quadri as ‘Definite’ is an amazing find, and will go places really fast. But it is Huma Quereshi’s raw sexuality that sets the movie on fire. Huma makes most of our Bollywood’s 100 crore ladies look like insipid , sexless nannies. She is earthy, voluptuous and effortlessly gobbles up the screen. By any standards, GoW-2 is superb cinema. A must watch just to observe how seamlessly one gets drawn into the most terrible tale of revenge and retribution. But will it ever crack that 100 crore Club? Naah. And that ‘crime’ will be held against it while a pretty shallow Ek Tha… will keep the industry folks rocking till the next monster hit comes along at Diwali. If great movies were only about great destinations, would we need the ‘Discovery Channel’?

Monday, August 20, 2012

An evening with The Boys....

That's a rather sweet family pic clicked by my daughter Arundhati, with Aditya, my son, taken at one of the most glamourous parties ever hosted in Mumbai.

The Boys launched their lush, extravagant 10 kilo tome at what qualifies as the MOST lavish book launch in India... and possibly, the world! As the weight of their combined genius was weighing me down ( my Abu-Sandeep saree must have weighed 7 kilos, minimum), I sensibly decided not to move from my seat. The beautifully designed book with its deliciously homo-erotic images of nearly nanga British male dancers , is absolutely exquisite. Yes, there are several gorgeous women featured in it , too. Alas, they don't stand a chance! The men are just tooooo beautiful. But it was only after carefully going through the monumental tribute celebrating 25 years of Abu-Sandeep, that I realised just how important their contribution has been in the still far-from-mature fashion industry in India.

The long evening at Antilia, started well.... and got progressively better. Nita Ambani, along with Amitabh Bachchan, were the knock out show stoppers.The fashion show featured some of our veteran models like Anna Bredmeyer and Noynika Chatterjee - both, class acts. But oh.... it was the divine, heady music that completely captivated me. I asked The Boys for it ... and voila! I now have it. It's a Sony Music CD, Classic Bollywood,Shaken not Stirred. By the Bartender. What a medley,,,, what a remix! Seductive all the way.... especially, the dreamy version of Khoya, Khoya Chand and Babuji Dheere Chalna. How clever of The Boys to pick silky nostalgia for their immortal garments. An inspired stroke of genius.

This is what I wrote for their book....


Simply put: ‘The Boys’ are the best. There is a rare eloquence in all that they create, which is rare and unique. I use the word ‘eloquence’ and not ‘elegance’. Several designers in Indiacreate elegant garments. But only Abu-Sandeep manage to make their garments speak! Mind you, it really is the garments that do the talking… the wearer is merely the vehicle. When you are an Abu-Sandeep loyalist, you don’t have to say a thing! You merely float into the room for conversation to stop and the clothes to take over the rest of the communication! That’s how it has always been for this talented duo.

I can’t call myself an Abu-Sandeep loyalist, alas. But I do possess two outstanding examples of their work that bear ample testimony to their refined design sensibilities. Where does such inspiration come from? Can quiet, understated good taste be taught at a reputed international school of fashion? Does anyone really acquire such deep and abiding knowledge of craft skills going back centuries working in a Parisian atelier with a genius designer? Can a similar passion for all that is beautiful in the world be passed on by someone else? Impossible! Their aesthetic is distinctly their own. And one only has to recognize their immense talent for what it really is – a divine gift. ‘The Boys’ are blessed. Their art remains as ethereal and undiminished as it was when they began their fascinating voyage into the unknown, eccentric, egotistical world of fashion 25 years ago. How fortunate are they! And it is because of this precious gift that their label has seen the sort of appreciation only a few designers experience during their life time. The only reason why the two have been able to maintain their supremacy in the brittle and highly competitive world of couture, is because of their unshakeable self-belief and commitment to their art. It is indeed a sign of true confidence when senior designers like Abu- Sandeep refuse to go along with whatever is au courant or trendy, preferring to stick to their métier, and still succeed in holding their own, leaving panic attacks to lesser beings!

Their work is their meditation. It shows in the meticulous attention to detail that remains a hallmark of their label. Perfectionism always pays. Experts may spend hours deconstructing the Abu-Sandeep magic and analyzing their various ‘periods’ according to the cuts and craft skills they show- cased along the way. But the truth of the matter is more basic : Abu-Sandeep are timeless. I possess precisely two sarees designed by them, and I love both. I love them enough to be really, really possessive about them. Which means I deny access to my own daughters who otherwise have a free run of my wardrobe. I own some other equally wonderful sarees , but the Abu-Sandeeps remain special. One day, I shall pass them on to Anasuya Devi,my grand-daughter. Better still, maybe she will acquire her own sarees and kalidaar angarkhas painstakingly created by ‘The Boys’. Imagine that ! Three generations draped by Abu-Sandeep. Perhaps that really says it all!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Time for some 'serious work' folks....

The Boys launched their book, India Fantastique, amidst mega fanfare at Ántilia. It was nothing less than magnifique!! More on that soon... it was great to see senior models on the ramp. These ladies are still the asli Catwalk Queens.... as for the glittering crowd, I think it would be fair to say the real show stopper last night was Amitabh Bachchan, who stood ( literally!) head and shoulders above the rest.


This appeared in the Sunday Times today....

Time for some ‘serious work’, folks…

Thanks Rahul Baba! For once, the nation is one hundred per cent behind you. Last week, the Son of India declared he was ‘seriously’ not interested in what Baba Ramdev was saying or doing. Because he was more interested in investing his precious time doing ‘serious work’. This is seriously, the most serious thing he has ever said. And we should take him seriously. Oh come on… it isn’t that tough. 65 years after Independence, we haven’t taken ourselves seriously. Or, at any rate, seriously enough. No wonder nobody else does, either!Two extraordinary events polarized India last week, and had we paid more serious attention to the gravity of both situations, perhaps things wouldn’t have reached this sorry state. Today, we are dealing with a seriously nasty situation in which we are turning on ourselves - our own people are being chased out of one state after another and more or less ordered to go back to their home states in the North East. This is just too shocking for words! What crime have these Indian citizens committed? Why can’t assorted state administrations offer them the protection they are entitled to by right? What message is Delhi sending across the nation by making special trains available to hapless, terrified young people, to flee the Capital like petty thieves scurrying for cover? Yes, Rahul Baba. Serious (and immediate) work is indeed needed on a war footing, before the situation worsens.

Ditto for what Mumbai experienced just a few days before our 65th Independence Day, when for the first time in public memory, rampaging mobs systematically attacked the police, snatching service weapons, firing in the air, molesting female constables, torching police vans, fire engines, OB vans, private cars and two wheelers. Such a daring and dangerous development does not take place ‘spontaneously’. Someone was clearly testing the waters. But who? It was an unprecedented lethal attack on the vardiwalas, possibly to check the official response to it.Would the incensed cops retaliate brutally to the provocation, leading to a carnage?Would a bloodbath follow?Nothing of the sort happened mercifully - Mumbai cops displayed both maturity and restraint.Worse, the same hooligans desecrated the Amar Jawan Memorial smashing the glass case and stomping all over the site. Post the mayhem, several questions remain unanswered. No matter how efficiently Mumbai cops handled the aftermath of this awful incident, one thing cannot be dismissed easily.The Mumbai attacks on cops were carefully planned. They were the prime targets. All the other acts of wanton violence were incidental. What we mutely witnessed was the ugliest manifestation of power play involving warring politicians settling old scores and using the police force to do their dirty jobs for them. When cops become puppets of politicos, what faith can the public have in their ability to protect the city? Today, most sensitive appointments in the police force are determined by conniving politicians.The nexus is blatant and brazen. The home ministers of several states report to their bosses operating from Delhi. The most critical positions are filled by cops who are openly identified as being so-and-so’s men. There is no unity within the state cabinet, leading to divided loyalties in the police force. The day a top cop becomes someone’s man, anarchy rules.

We have reached the tipping point. The violence against citizens, be they students from the North East or Mumbai cops , is being strategized and manipulated by shadowy people with nothing to lose. Not a hair on their heads is likely to be touched in the chaos. Their names may never be known to us. It is a truly terrible situation with bureaucrats at war with other bureaucrats, cops at war with other cops, ministers, their hirelings…. everybody at war with everybody else.That leaves our preachers, maulanas, godmen and gurus – perhaps the most dangerous bunch of the lot. In such a strife driven environment, the few sane voices around don’t stand a chance of getting heard. Even if they do manage to articulate what needs to be strongly stated, who’s listening? Weak at the Centre, weak at the State level… India is about to commit hara kiri. 65 years ago, there was hope in the air. And great expectations. Today, those we entrust to lead the nation are on the backfoot, busy offering alibis and excuses. It has come to a point where we are passively permitting religious fissures to further divide us. Will our desperation compel us to pin all our hopes for salvation on an unlikely savior? Will the next Indian political blockbuster be titled ‘Ek Tha Rahul?’ Or wait… it could also be, ‘Ek Thi Priyanka…” Yup, folks. Serious work ahead!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Shekhar Gupta's 'We , the ignorant."'

My friend Olga sent me a text message at 8 p.m. last night to say Shravan would end at 9.48pm. y On one level , I was relieved and wondering what was for dinner ( Biryani, as it turned out). And debating whether or not to sip a glass of wine. Naaaah. Thought better of it... ate a shudh vegetarian meal, and quietly went to bed. I had really enjoyed observing Shravan this year, and was reluctant to abandon my familiar rituals as abruptly.
Lunch today changed all that. My daughter Arundhati who had observed Shravan as well, cooked a delicately flavoured Bassa ( roasted pepper sauce with fresh herbs and crushed garlic). That was it! Tonight is the night of a mega soiree - The Boys ( Abu-Sandeep) are celebrating 25 years in Fashion with a bash at a world famous address, that promises to rival Karan Johar's 40th birthday party. Moet awaits. Or will it be Dom????
Blogdosts... thought provoking and accurate.... as Shekhar generally is...

I'll post my take on the crisis tomorrow...

That is why we don’t get anger in Assam, fear in Bangalore

Please visit: or scroll down to read the article in its entirety.

We, the ignorant

By Shekhar Gupta

A venerable old teacher in my journalism school taught us the “three example rule”. So here are the three I picked up over the past week as India’s “northeast” hit the headlines for reasons happy and sad.

The first two came as Hindi cinema responded joyfully to Manipuri boxer Mary Kom’s success. No surprise that Shahid Kapoor, while hailing her as India’s “million dollar baby” called her “Maricom” as if she was some latest internet-mobile phone product rhyming with telecom he is endorsing, and kept the twitterati amused and indignant for a day. Then someone much older, enormously better read and cerebral, Amitabh Bachchan, said she hailed from Assam, only to correct it later. And finally, a little exchange I had with a genuinely well-meaning former civil servant (with long and distinguished service in the Northeast) on a TV show on whether Mary Kom’s success would change our perceptions of the Northeast. He wasn’t happy that so many boys and girls from the Northeast, now spreading all over India, were mostly working in our service industries, from restaurants to airlines, to hospitals. Why aren’t they doing more important jobs?

Each one underlines to us some aspect of the ignorance, insensitivity and patronising “mainstream” attitudes that we retain about the Northeast. You can understand Shahid Kapoor not being able to spell his favourite boxer’s name. He probably has no time to read the sports pages in the newspapers, or go beyond the glamour supplements. Mary Kom, I’d suspect, can spell better than him, and definitely can teach him a real thing or two about boxing. But Senior Bachchan? You can understand someone of an older generation (including mine) confusing a Naga, Mizo, Khasi or Garo for being an Assamese — Nagaland, Mizoram and Meghalaya were districts in old Assam. But Manipur?

IT is one of the oldest and most distinct states in India and has never been part of any other state. Its demographics can, however, be confusing. Its largest and most distinct ethnic group are the Meiteis of the plains, most of whom are Vaishnavite Hindus and non-tribal. They have given us many stars in weightlifting (Kunjarani Devi), boxing (Dingko Singh, Suranjoy Singh, Devendro Singh), archery (Bombayla Devi) and, not to forget, hockey (Thoiba Singh). Manipur’s hills are inhabited by diverse tribes and many of the conflicts that arise there, including the recent blockades, are because of inter-tribal tensions, compounded by lousy and corrupt governance. Even when I first went to Imphal as a reporter in January 1981, the state was often described as “Moneypour” for its leaky and corrupt government, large sections of which were hand-in-glove with one or the other of its many insurgent groups. Our northeastern state’s demographics can fox anybody. For every tribe that inhabits Manipur’s hills, Nagas, Mizos, Kukis and, of course, Mary Kom’s Kom (a microscopic tribe of just over 20,000), for example, a larger number live in a neighbouring state or Myanmar. So you can understand the senior AB getting mixed up.

The most important of the three, however, was the civil servant’s response — and not because it was lacking in empathy. Both in his lament that young northeasterners were coming to the mainland and finding jobs only (or mainly) in the services sector, and that more effort was needed to “integrate” the Northeast with the rest of India, he highlighted the fact that the establishment elite’s view of that region has not essentially changed in the last many decades. It is still a distant and estranged region that needs to be somehow brought into the fold, “Indianised”. That stars like Mary Kom would help “us” and “them” in that endeavour. And further, that, it can only change if somehow, people from that region, particularly those with distinctive northeastern features and therefore subjected to truly unfortunate and now criminally illegal racial taunts in our big cities (mainly Delhi), move into workplaces “more important” than the ones they are currently visible at.

It betrays, equally, a lack of understanding of economic mobility — people move into jobs and professions for which they have distinctive skill advantage. And also the added strength of work ethic, dignity of labour and casteless, classless social equality that our tribal societies mostly — and thankfully — still retain. I had my first exposure to this wonderful non-hierarchical view of life in my early travels to the Northeast when I found, to my total surprise, drivers, peons, police escorts all sitting down with the minister and his guests to eat at roadside dhabas. And then, at the Aizawl secretariat, a post-lunch table tennis game between my old friend Fanai Malsawma, then education minister, and his driver. As the driver thrashed Malsawma, he continued to remind him of how slow, lazy and leaden-footed he had become since he was made a minister. And others, mostly drivers and junior employees, sniggered and applauded. Show me a driver in the mainland who will thrash his minister at any game. Or, a minister who will take it in his stride.

IT is because of this remarkable tribal approach to life, casteless egalitarianism, dignity of labour, that tens of thousands of our minutest minorities have discovered how indispensable they are to the booming services sector in our big cities. And they bring some of the most remarkably unique talents, besides, indeed, boxing, archery and weightlifting. A majority of singers and musicians at our restaurants and bars, even at Rashtrapati Bhavan at the banquet for Barack Obama, are boys and girls from the Northeast. You cannot go to a restaurant, bar, or spa, fly on an airplane or be laid up at a hospital without finding someone from the Northeast performing a key function. Should we look down on them patronisingly? Can we even afford to? Go ask the owners of these businesses, even security companies, who are now running around the platforms of Bangalore’s railway station, pleading with their northeastern employees not to flee. These terrified young people represent the first generation of our northeastern compatriots to venture out, seeking a living and dignity in the mainland. We owe it to them — and to ourselves — to make them feel wanted, respected and secure.

Most of us do not even know how tiny these minorities are. There are just over a million and a half Nagas, less than a million of Mizos and all the tribes in Manipur do not add up to a million (7.4 lakh in the 2001 census). Add to that a million each of Khasis and Garos. Arunachal Pradesh has just about a million tribals. And the Bodos, much in the news for the wrong reasons lately? Just about 15 lakh, scattered over several districts of mostly lower and middle Assam.

Their rising presence and indispensability to our cities speak of their brilliant talent which, in turn, is only matched by our ignorance about them. That ignorance is responsible for our lack of respect for our most distant countrymen, as well as our failure to understand what makes them angry. The latest and the saddest example is our lazy view of the Bodo violence through the prism of our mainland’s communal/ electoral politics. Identity, ethnicity, livelihood and survival in the Northeast, including Assam, are very complex issues, fuelled by native peculiarities rather than our classical Hindu-Muslim paradigm. Most Bodos are not even traditional Hindus. Many follow their own indigenous faith, and a sizeable number are now Christian. They are not attacking these settlers because they are Muslim. Nor were the Lalungs, or Tiwas as they are known today (it will be a stretch even now to describe them as Hindus), who killed more than 3,000 in four hours in Nellie in February 1983. It just so happens that the settlers (who the tribes see as alien infiltrators) are Muslim, and Bengali-speaking. But it is better to leave such grave and complex misconceptions about our northeastern citizens for another day. For now, we are struggling to spell their names right, to even figure out where they are coming from. Thirty-one years back, when Arun Shourie sent me to the Northeast as this newspaper’s correspondent, the cashier had earnestly asked me in which currency he should be sending my salary. Events of the past 10 days would tell you that we haven’t changed very much since.

Shobhaa De

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Prachi deserves better... doesn't she??

I watched Ek Tha Tiger on Independence Day. Period.


The strange case of Prachi Desai...

By any standards, Prachi Desai is a talented and beautiful young actress. And yet, her career in Bollywood seems to be going nowhere. Howcome? Here’s someone who had made her mark – and made it strongly – with Rock On! her debut movie, opposite an equally talented actor,Farhan Akhtar. She came to Bollywood as a gift from the world of television in which she had reigned as Soap Queen in the hugely successful Kasamh Se. As Ekta Kapoor’s darling, Prachi’s position on television was secure and supreme. Tv audiences adored the fresh faced Gujju girl, and she had countless panting male suitors ready to slash their wrists for her. Prachi was India’s comfort food - like ghar ka dhokla or Ba’s ghee-soaked thepla. She dressed demurely, spoke demurely, acted demurely. As Ekta’s arm candy and a permanent fixture at the tv Czarina’s frequent parties, Prachi had her future and fortune cut out for her. Suddenly, something went ‘phut’!’And today, one hardly sees Prachi. Or, let me be more specific, the old Prachi. The new avatar is unrecognisable. She has shed kilos ( so has Ekta), fired her stylist ( so has Ekta) and acquired a hot, new wardrobe ( so has Ekta). Prachi is seen in designer wear, carrying the latest ít’ bags and generally partying it up – not as Ekta’s constant escort, but on her own. Despite the strong signal being sent out to Bollywood film makers that she is finally flying solo, is single and ready to mingle, nothing seems to be happening on the career front. Which is really a pity. Prachi deserves better.

So.... if it ain’t happening for the Pretty Prachi, what’s wrong? Well, the way Bollywood works, either you align yourself to a powerful person - preferably Salman Khan - or to a powerful camp ( KJo). If you decide to take your chances on your own, good luck to you, honey! In Prachi’s case, there’s another factor. For too long she was identified as Ekta’s girl. That privileged position has its upside when the going is good and Ekta still fancies the person, but heaven help you if there is a falling out. Perhaps that’s what happened to our Prachi. One minute she was up there, feted and pampered by all. And here she is today, her skirts getting shorter and tighter... but still zero meaty roles coming her way . For whatever reason, our television stars have not managed the cross over and become mainstream . Whereas Bollywood stars have not just swamped television, they have decimated everybody in sight, especially when it comes to reality shows. Prachi, poor thing, falls awkwardly in between. Unlike some of the other Soap Queens who came after her, Prachi finds herself dangling in a grey zone, patiently waiting for that big break in Bollywood if and when it comes.

There’s something slightly odd about the careers of TV stars the world over. They live and die with the soaps they act in. No matter how many women the world over fantasised about Don Draper, the dapper ‘Mad Men’’ actor ( alas, I can only recall the character’s name!), no Hollywood studio will take a chance with that guy and put big money into a major movie starring him. Why? Will the same man project less sex appeal on the big screen? Or is it just his TV character - the Don Draper persona - women have flipped for - and not him? Ditto for the lovely ladies from ‘Pan Am’’ or the devastatingly handsome young star who plays Vinnie Chase of the older hit ‘Éntourage’? Do you remember or care who acted in ‘Gossip Girl’? This seems to be an international phenomenon and who’s to say why this is so? Often, I glance at pictures of parties thrown by exceedingly successful but largely anonymous Television stars in Mumbai and I immediately turn the page. Some of the actors are startlingly good looking, very well dressed and most presentable. Especially, the girls. And yet, Page 3 has no space for them ( unless, of course, they are paying for the coverage). Not a single international brand has signed up a TV star for an important endorsement so far – despite their vast fan base. No international fashion house wants to fly any of these actors to occupy front row seats during the Fashion Weeks in Paris or Milan. Given the reach and popularity of Television soaps, this is rather surprising. But regardless of their good looks and glamour, TV stars are horribly short changed and rarely given their due. P.R. companies speak disparagingly about ‘those TV- types”, and they simply don’t feature on anybody’s A-list. Society hostesses shun them and consider them a bit too down market to include at a swishy soiree. If they get to open boutiques or stores, those are generally located in Tier -3 cities, never in Mumbai or Delhi. Sponsors are happy to shell out serious money to one film old Bollywood star kids with zero talent , but shy away from hiring well-established, hugely successful soap icons. Poor Balika Vadhu looks almost comical when she’s not in costume and weeping buckets on the small screen as a child bride. I watched her in some dance show and my heart bled. I guess, that’s the end of her reign.

Let’s hope Prachi Desai doesn’t go the same way. She really is lovely. I once ran into her and Ekta at the airport in Goa . She went all coy and simpered away when we were introduced. Ekta looked proud and proprietorial – after all, she had created Prachi. The two of them were taking a break, and looked really happy together. Perhaps they can start afresh and Ekta can create a new vehicle for Prachi . Because, once upon a time in Mumbai, Ekta loved Prachi. Because, that’s what genial Godmothers are supposed to do for their protégées.Come on, Ekta – do it! Prachi... aur hum sab ke liye....

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Original Daddy Cool....

With my favourite festival just a few weeks away, I was delighted to receive this sweet image from a well wisher...


My thoughts went out to Vilasrao Deshmukh's family. He was a Daddy Cool in the most positive way... an extraordinary father who encouraged his three sons to follow their individual dreams. The ever-smiling Deshmukh will be missed by his many admirers... this has been a sad week.... Prabhuddo Dasgupta, photographer extraordinaire, passed away a couple of days ago, and Deshmukh, earlier today....


Daddy Cool….

The old boy is something else… mind it! Let’s hand it to N.D.Tiwari.Not only was he in total denial during the prolonged period of a messy paternity suit filed by Rohit Shekhar, his biological son, but even today,after losing the case, Tiwariji remains unabashed and brazen as he declares boldly, “ I have full rights to live as I want.” For Shekhar and his mother, it has been an agonizing battle fighting for their own rights. Rights, that may now include another bitter war over N.D.Tiwari’s considerable property. Was that really what this was all about – property, money, assets? Perhaps.This ugly controversy could have been handled with more discretion and dignity, had Tiwari been more sensible. In the old days, men like him could walk away from their obligations and res- ponsibilities very easily. All they had to do after a one night stand was to callously abandon the woman.Powerful politicians could get away with this and more. But unfortunately for Tiwari, he hadn’t factored in a few key things when he bedded Rohit’s mother over 30 years ago and conveniently forgot all about it. God knows how many more Rohits and Rohinis Tiwari may have fathered! But here was one Angry Young Man, who was not prepared to let it go so easily. He went to court. And insisted on a DNA test. Thirty long years ago, such a test was not an option. How could Tiwari have anticipated such a twist in the tale? Obviously he hadn’t… and must have counted on immunity from any such investigation , if it ever arose.Who was Rohit Shekhar, anyway? A nobody. Who cared whether or not he was stuck with the tag of being born a ‘bastard’ ? Certainly not his father. But clearly Rohit was made of sterner stuff… as was his mother.

It takes real guts for a young man in our patriarchal, feudalistic society to take on a person who has far more clout and far more money. A man who obviously believed Rohit’s court case was nothing more than an annoying mosquito bite. Who cares about a son fighting for his mother’s honour?In a society where a woman like Rohit’s mother is invariably converted into the vamp of the piece for sleeping with a man not her husband, it is her moral character that is questioned. It is her child who has to bear the stigma of illegitimacy at every level. Tiwari must have counted on exactly that . It is to Rohit’s credit that he soldiered on. And it is to the courts’ credit that Tiwari was compelled to provide a blood sample that finally nailed him.

What happens next will be interesting to monitor. But if it does turn into a property issue, everything else be damned, well… Tiwari deserves it. And Rohit has certainly earned his inheritance after being deprived for three decades. If Tiwari does indeed have a change of heart and embraces the young man sincerely, apologises to his mother and unconditionally accepts both as family, it will make Tiwari a bigger person in the eyes of the public. But such a thing is unlikely to take place. Men like Tiwari have been getting away with sexually exploiting women and discarding them at will since time immemorial. Our mythology is replete with similar stories. India has typically condoned men like Tiwari and pinned the blame on women. What happens between consenting adults is indeed their business. But what happens to children of such liaisons is more worrying. Rohit Shekhar ( regardless of his motivations) may have done a huge favour to others in similar situations. The days of suffering in silence are over. Every child has the absolute right to fight for what is his or hers by law. Most illegitimate offspring of influential fathers don’t possess the required tools to fight for justice. Most abandoned women are too terrified of society’s backlash to take such a risky route. Some are killed before they can contemplate such a step. Others find their mouths sealed either with money or threats to physically harm them and their child. Rohit Shekhar could have been bumped off years ago. That he is still alive is a miracle. That he has won, is not just a personal triumph and vindication of honour, but a victory for thousands caught in similar traps. As for Tiwari…it’s too late for him to press the ‘Rewind’ button. And it’s no use keeping his finger on ‘Pause’. As for ‘Fast Forward’ – hell, if at 86, he’s still upto his old tricks, one can only hope for his sake he has discovered condoms.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Why Mumbai burns... again and again....

Watch Times Now at 10pm..... I hope we get a few answers....

This is written for Bombay Times.....

Why Mumbai burns… over and over again….

Let’s not beat about the bush for once and call a spade a bloody shovel. The arson and rampant acts of violence that rocked Mumbai last Saturday evening, had very little to do with Assam or Myanmar, and everything with dangerous games ruthless politicians play. This was no ‘spontaneous’ show of anger by Muslims demonstrating their hurt sentiments , this was an orchestrated, well co-ordinated and deftly executed political ploy that went out of hand at some point. Or else, 800 cops would most certainly have managed to stop the attacks on innocent people,the systematic burning of buses, vans, cars and two wheelers which went on for a good hour before it was finally brought under control. Had the cops swung into action earlier and asked for reinforcements, two lives wouldn’t have been lost, nor would we have had to deal with over 60 injured people, cops included. This cannot be passed off as ‘mob mentality’, when protestors had come well prepared for violence. Through all this rampaging and rioting, the shadowy figures instigating all of this remained safe and sound in Delhi and Mumbai, remote controlling wanton destruction in order to gain the all important political advantage in 2014. I’m pretty certain, half the youth rounded up near Azad Maidan would not know how to pronounce Myanmar, leave aside be able to pin point its location on an atlas. Misguided, mislead and possibly paid to take to the streets, they did what they were ordered to… and Mumbai suffered yet another blow.

There is something decidedly perverse about Mumbaikars accepting someone like an R.R.Patil as Maharashtra’s Home Minister, given his track record. Who can forget his infamous comment after the 26/11 Terror Attacks when he glibly said “such small-small incidents do take place in big-big cities!” On Saturday, he was once again on television channels talking about the horrific incident and rationalizing why Mumbai was caught on the wrong foot yet again. Let’s get ready to listen to the same old homilies about intelligence failure and why the state government is forever napping while Mumbai heedlessly burns… again and again. What has really changed after 26/11 ? The answer is depressing and brutal : nothing. The cast of characters handling such a crisis remains virtually unchanged. The cops take their orders from one lot of politicians. There is zero unity in the State cabinet and evidently no real attempt at crisis management. The State administration gets into the act hours after the damage is done. Lame excuses and alibis are trotted out with a straight face. We have no choice but to listen to hollow justifications and wonder what went wrong. It is really pretty disingenuous to claim “ much more damage could have taken place.” Really? How much more? Can someone quantify it, please? There was a great deal of self -congratulation over the ‘timely action and the restraint showed.” By whom? This time, the mediawallas were not spared either. What did protestors gain by torching OB vans? Beating up photographers? Where were the cops when that was happening? Who gave the orders to open fire on rioters?The average Mumbaikar has the right to ask which individual was in charge during those crucial hours?Or are we supposed to remain mum, dumb and clueless as usual? Unfortunately, we are as vulnerable to attacks from within and without as we were three years ago. When a city turns on itself, that is far more dangerous than an assault that comes from other shores. The message this time is pretty clear : We need to be saved from despotic, power hungry politicians and preachers before we save ourselves from protestors. But who is brave enough to bell the Big Cat ?

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Et tu, Fareed????

My take on the Fareed Zakaria mess....

It is really a shame that something as clumsy has taken place. For clumsy it most certainly is. What's the bet Fareed was clueless about the contents of his own column, which may well have been written by someone else? A careless intern, for example? This is a fairly common practice internationally. No different from hiring ghost writers and speech writers for big ticket celebrities who are too busy to pen their own speeches and columns. My guess is that Fareed must have left it to his team to file his columns and script his shows. Someone clearly goofed up. But the buck has to stop with Fareed. There wasn't sufficient scrutiny.. nor the required level of due diligence... and he has to pay the price for that lapse.
First Rajat Gupta, now Fareed Zakaria. Two of the most high profile icons in their respective fields have brought disgrace to their professions and also to India.

Saturday, August 11, 2012


All set for the Olympics' Football this evening? Blown away by Bolt? Amused by the Lion King's view?
Saturday Nite Live is looking amazing! I have a date with my youngest - Gangs of Wasseypur - and then on to a veggie dinner. My last SHRAVAN SOMWAR on Monday... the month has whizzed past, just like Bolt at the finishing line. I like his irreverence and attitude. That's how champions should be... Bolt in victory is anything but robotic.
While on vegetarian food, I had two interesting meals - one in Pune, at a tiny Bong place called Rice and Curry, run by Dipto, who urged me to try his eggplant cooked in curds speciality. It was yummy!
Next, a meal at The Lalit's redone Baluchi restaurant, which has spectacular vistas of Old and New Delhi. Imagine demanding vegetarian dishes at a resturant that specialises in North West Frontier kebab-heavy cuisine! But thanks to Mr.Vivek Shukla, the dynamic G.M. I got to sample bran phulkas and palak so green, I was on a chlorophyll high! This was right after the elegant soiree hosted by the Alliance Francaise as a part of their Writers' series. I was really happy to meet a couple of Blogdosts at the venue.

This appeared in the Asian Age today....

Rogues’ Gallery in Haryana…

Whether or not Anna Hazare’s rag tag army can actually make the difference to the nation’s moral compass, the rather obvious truth of the matter is, things on every level seem to be falling apart. Corruption rules. And women are the worst hit . Take what happened in Haryana. Today, men in power are safe in the knowledge that nobody can touch them, even if they are responsible for exploiting and killing women they have no further use for. A person like Haryana Minister Gopal Goyal Kanda, for example. He must not be allowed to get away with his crime… and a crime , it is … only because that has become the culture of our abjectly conscienceless society. Driving a woman to suicide after prolonged intimidation and harassment, is so routine, so shockingly ‘accepted’, nobody reacts with the level of outrage that such a terrible act warrants Unless Geetika Sharma’s family finds influential supporters in high places, chances are, her tragic death will go unpunished, and the brazen Minister will go on with his dissipated life, treating Geetika’s suicide as just another slightly annoying inconvenience which the media is wasting its time on. The same goes for the fiery Fiza, who met an equally grim end in Mohali, after her well publicized and very dramatic ‘marriage’ to another rogue-politician called Chander Mohan, a former Deputy Chief Minister of a State that produces arch villains. It makes one wonder what it is about Haryana and its men ? Is it their diet? What do these nasty men eat and drink that turns them into beasts? Where were their own mothers and sisters during those formative years when good values are supposed to be imparted to children? Or their fathers? Grand parents? Teachers? Friends?What has created this brutal climate of violence against women in the State? Booze? Murgi? Or just the narcotic called unbridled power?

Geetika was clearly a victim in the relationship, going by the evidence provided to the police. Kanda stalked and blackmailed a beautiful woman – an employee, and was willing to go to any length to destroy her subsequently.What was her crime? She had dared to move on with her life and wasn’t interested in continuing the relationship with her old boss. That was enough of an ‘insult’ for Kanda, to hound her relentlessly… get her fired from a new job… attack her character… accuse her of committing a financial fraud . To make matters worse, Kanda involved Aruna Chaddha, another female employee, to threaten and bully Geetika into submission. That Geetika preferred death over surrender to such a tormentor, shows the extent of her despair. Fiza’s case is equally pathetic. But unlike Geetika, Fiza ( originally Anuradha Bali) was an ambitious, go- getter, ready to switch religions and loyalties to ‘marry’ the much married Chandermohan ( Chand Mohammed, post-conversion to Islam), and launch a political party. That nobody around her realized she’d killed herself till her body was discovered four days later, is an even sadder comment on how we devalue women’s lives. And how easily the men who drive them to these extremes, generally get away with the crime, only because society at large has no sympathy for ‘such’ women. The operative word, of course, is ‘such’. If the woman happens to be clever AND gorgeous, God help her! She gets instantly branded .Finger pointing follows - the standard put downs (“ she must be conniving, calculating, cheap …she must have trapped that poor fellow…”) pile up. And when a tragedy does take place, most agree the woman had it coming. Or that ‘she asked for it.’ Even family members lack understanding and sympathy. They sound pretty relieved!They are often the very people who may have profited from the woman’s proximity to power and all the trappings that go with it. Geetika’s parents have released telling photographs taken on family holidays with Kanda. Were they that naïve as to not be aware of the nature of their daughter’s relationship with the Minister? Or, were they passive witnesses to the liaison? Happy to look the other way while the going was good? Now, her brother claims their lives are under threat and has asked for police protection. But why didn’t these same family members protect poor Geetika from this sadistic man and his cohort when she was being mentally tortured?

It is rather ironic that on the same day as newspapers were filled with stories about Geetika and Fiza, another sensational society story in Mumbai took an unexpected turn. Sheetal Mafatlal who had been fighting a very public and bitter battle with her husband Atulya and his family, received an unconditional apology from him and her step daughter. This could well be the first time any ‘wronged’ woman has had the bitter-sweet pleasure of tasting victory in such a manner. As of now, Sheetal stands vindicated. All those vicious charges against her have been dropped by three family members, leaving just a very hostile, unbending mother-in-law and two others, to continue the fight. Sheetal must have really good karma for this to happen, and , of course, excellent lawyers. It is indeed unusual that a sexy socialite’s pricy lingerie gets washed in public, and she emerges smiling for the cameras, with a sheepish husband swearing eternal love, by her side. Sheetal is clearly made of reinforced steel. She fought long and hard to secure herself on her own terms. Geetika and Fiza obviously lacked what it takes to survive multiple assaults on their respective characters. Today, both women are dead. As for the men – is it a wonder that they have distanced themselves from the tragedy claiming they were not ‘in touch’ with the victims. While Fiza’s family has not blamed anybody so far, the Sharma’s are trying to drum up support by insisting they are afraid Kanda will now hurt them. In both cases, two well connected men from Haryana have destroyed the lives of their one-time lovers. Will the men pay for their crimes? Why not refer to the Ruchika Gehlot case? There we have the answer…

Monday, August 6, 2012


Blogdosts, if you like the picture here, you must let Nitin Rai, also a Blogdost, know!! He is a superb photographer and I am going to invite him to share more images with us.

In fact, it would be a good way for Blogdosts to showcase and share different talents in this space... poems, short articles, sharp opinions.... and yes... photographs, too!


This is written for Bombay Times...


Since Fashion Week fever is in the air, here’s a chhota sa quiz for dedicated fashionistas : How many Fashion Weeks are there in India - 4 or 40? In how many cities and talukas of the country do we celebrate these momentous events - 6 or 600? How many designers participate… take a wild guess, 100, 200, 1,000 ? Do you know the names of at least 5 of them? Are they the same names you have been reading about for the past 20 years? Are you aware of their signature lines – you will be disqualified if you answer – “ forty metres of embellished chiffon.” Do you know your peplum from a saree petticoat? ( Don’t worry if you don’t – most designers are equally clueless). Why is a show stopper called a show stopper ? Does the show really stop with that person? Do real people actually wear any of the clothes that are on the ramp? Have you ever seen someone on the street in fashion show garments? You have? Liar! Why do film stars walk for their designer-friends? Money, is a good answer. But generally it is for the prime coverage of their new movie. Would you buy something worn by an out-of-work tv actress or an ex-Diva? You would? Then you deserve it! Does anybody in India really care about ‘Fall Collections’? Do we even recognize such a season in this part of the World? Fall ? What’s that? Can experts tell the difference between assorted designer collections? Or is that irrelevant? Can designers themselves tell between their own collections? Where are the stated influences from Egypt / Ethiopia / Columbia / Myanmar in those embroidered bridal lehengas? Why not just pay a tribute to the actual inspiration – Karol Bagh? Why don’t we stage a few well timed, high profile wardrobe malfunctions just to jolly things up and relieve the boredom? What about inviting ACP Dhoble to the front row or even as a show stopper? Now, that worthy gentleman would literally stop the show! Talking of the front row cat fights, why not auction front row seats to the highest bidder? Any number of socialites would gladly cough up for this dodgy honour. Are you aware of the number of good causes designers support? Lost kittens. Lost souls. Lost focus?

Fashion Weeks, all 104 of them, are great equalizers. Each one of them throws up new names – mainly from Bollywood. Or at least, names of those who’d like to crash Bollywood - from the ramp to a blockbuster sort of story. As a platform for clothes horses who catwalk through movies, there is no better opportunity. But for the rest of the bewildered, unwashed masses, Fashion Weeks provide good entertainment. This year, we are authoritatively told, thighs are ‘in’. So they must be, going by the looooong slits on skirts that end at the waist. Angelina Jolie of the right leg fame, would approve.Colour blocking has been replaced by monochromes – please feel free to decode arbitrarily. Prints are on their way out – unless Kate Middleton decides otherwise. Pencil skirts still rule – because Victoria Beckham says so. Eco-friendly is good for the soul. But not the ramp. Statement jewellery … like diamante studded cycle tyres worn as neck pieces, is awesome. Aubergine ( purple, yaar!), is the new yellow. Bondage is big. And Fifty Shades of Grey dominate, even if you aren’t heavily into S & M. Confused? Don’t worry. Another Fashion Week beckons… and another. If you missed the one in Mumbai, you can catch all the action in Jamshedpur or Wasseypur. Better still, go to Karol Bagh.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Playing musical chairs in Delhi....

Was thinking strongly about Gautam Rajadhyaksha today, while in Pune. We had spent some wonderful times together in this marvelous city. Soon,it is will be a year since Gautam passed away. While going through my files, I came across this picture he had shot of the beautiful Rekha and me at his home one rainy afternoon. Just thought of sharing it with my Blogdosts...

This appeared in Sunday Times today....


Playing Musical Chairs in Delhi….

Musical Chairs was one kiddie game I detested as a child.And continue to detest even today.I used to wonder why over wrought mommies would want to encourage toddlers to occupy someone else’s just vacated kursi? Where did the thrill lie? What were the special skills on display? Why were kids made to run around a row of chairs to music that stopped and started arbitrarily? Did the game make any sense to those playing it? Worse, did anybody really enjoy it? As I remember this dreadful diversion, the only person getting a kick out of it was the one controlling the music…. and causing panic. Those poor innocents looking bewildered and feeling confused, frequently ended up in tears, or on their butts, as more aggressive children rushed past them to grab a free chair.Often, I would witness insensitive parents admonishing their bachchas for not being fast enough, smart enough, agile enough, to grab that free chair, leading to more tears. And yes, it was always the class bully who won the prize.

Political musical chairs are played in a similar fashion. It happened this week. And the game is likely to continue. After Pranabda was given the most prestigious kursi (and a horse carriage ride) in India, without having to run around too much, everybody thought the music had stopped. But they were wrong. Madam had merely pressed the pause button. Pranabda’s old kursi couldn’t be left empty for long. If anything, given the unholy mess he had created as F.M. that was one chair which needed someone’s derriere to warm it quickly. Before other ambitious contenders could stake their claim, Madam moved swiftly and brought in an old hand ( P.Chidambaram) to kick start the sluggish economy and get the much needed money flow going. Some said P.C. (not Priyanka Chopra, mind you) would occupy this particular hot seat for a shortish period, while Madam plotted the next move. If he managed to convince skeptics that he was capable of some bold initiatives that would undo the damage inflicted by his predecessor, he’d be promoted and given an even better kursi ( keep guessing which one) . Meanwhile, P.C.’s old job was going… and Madam brought in another party faithful to warm that chair. Sushil Kumar Shinde’s first day as Home Minister did not get off to a great start, unfortunately, what with his cancelled trip to Pune overlapping with the blasts that rocked it. Not the most auspicious beginning, made worse by his tepid response to the explosions.Terrible timing all around, considering Shinde’s just relinquished Power portfolio and the monumental blackout that crippled 60 crore people in North and East India the very next day.Shinde’s quotes on Pune were almost as bad as newly minted Power Minister Veerapa Moily’s on the worst power failure ever, when he assured very angry citizens that he wouldn’t ‘allow’ such a calamity to recur. Right! Through all these natural and man- made disasters, two people remained dumb struck and characteristically quiet – our Prime Minister, and the Son of India, Rahul Gandhi. The former is waiting for instructions as to which chair he will be allotted next. And the latter probably believes every chair is rightfully his – all he has to do is choose.

That brings us back to Madam. And the difficult job in front of her. Playing musical chairs at this delicate stage is riddled with risks. Nobody is in the mood to indulge her beyond a point. There are heavyweights like Sharad Pawar, who need not one, but five chairs, minimum. And are willing to shove others out of the way, if needed. Everybody is eyeing just one kursi – the one occupied for now by Manmohan Singh. If Madam so decides, she could easily move P.C. into the top job after testing the waters for a few months. P.C. would be the apt person to keep that kursi garma garam for Rahul Baba – provided Rahul Baba wants the job in the first place. Given the unmistakable signs of indifference and apathy on our Baba’s part ( poor guy…. let him party in peace in London and Jeddah, if he wants to, yaar), Madam will have to accelerate the tempo of the music and remove a few chairs from the long row. Finally,there will be just two people left in the game. God help us if the bigger bully wins! Well… if that happens, India will have to switch to Kho Kho and Kabbadi.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Oprah.... this one is for you!

Blogdosts, do watch this balanced, classy and fair portrayal of Mumbai. The presenter is Sir Christopher Meyer - a former Ambassador . "Networks of Power" is a series on cities like Moscow, London, New York, Paris, Shanghai - an engaging portrait that tries to decode these complex destinations for viewers who maybe unfamiliar with them. The narrative unfolds gently, through the voices of the people who make the city what it is. Sir Christopher is unfailingly polite, curious, non-intrusive and well-informed.
Watch it and let me have your comments.... compare this effort to Oprah's pathetic, poorly researched Next Chapter.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Lagey raho, Anna....

Two Lisbon views, one taken from the Esplanade under the beautiful bridge, where I went for a solo lunch of rubbery cod at a smart Cafe, and the other from the ramparts of the historic Castle on top of the hill.


I was looking for a Raksha Bandhan image in my files but decided against it. I am not a raakhi tying type of sister... and in any case, it was never a family tradition. I honour my brother Ashok during bhai dooj at Diwali... and he honours me back. None of this protection-votection nonsense. I am capable of taking care of myself, thank you. If required, I am happy to 'protect' deserving men , too. And please spare me the bogus : "He's my rakhee bhaiyya,"rubbish.
While listening to Anna Hazare's Jantar Mantar speech this afternoon, for the first time, I related to what he was saying. And I thought to myself, if only Anna had spoken in a similar vein earlier, without prompters and others speaking on his behalf, his movement would have gathered better momentum today. Power to the People is the only sensible way forward. And if Anna does decide to launch a political party ( why the hell did he wait this long?), there will be any number of young people willing to take the plunge. Let's not worry about the Blinking Game for now... if the fast is indeed broken tomorrow evening, it's all good.... point made. Point taken.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012


Writers, etc.” is a monthly literary platform jointly organised by the Book Office of the French Embassy in India and the Alliance Française in Delhi. “Writers, etc.” is usually our platform for books, a space where the written word gets primacy, where literary ideas and their practitioners can genuinely interact with each other and the general public, coming together to ask pertinent questions and seek their answers: what role does books play in contemporary societies? How do practitioners see their responsibilities vis-à-vis the public and, turning that over, how do we see them? How has literature adapted to its place among the growing pantheon of varied and addictive forms of cultural transmission? The aim is also to encourage audiences to discover new texts, to explore new genres and styles, and to think, quite simply, about writers, etc…

Shobhaa De

Shobhaa De

Shobhaa De is one of India’s top best-selling authors. All her 17 books have topped the charts and created records and the 18th one with a provocative new title, the soon to-be-published “Sethji” is already creating waves in literary circles. De gave a new definition to the mass market best seller with her breakthrough, bold and highly individualistic style that spoke a new language. She is recognized as an important social commentator and an authority on popular culture. Outspoken and forthright, De chronicles today’s India in her own inimitable style.

Born in Maharashtra in 1948, she was educated in Delhi and Bombay. She graduated from St Xavier’s College, Bombay, with a degree in psychology and began a career in journalism in 1970. She is married with six children and lives in Bombay.
Recipient of several awards for her journalistic contributions, De writes prolifically for Indian and International publications. She runs four weekly columns in mainstream newspapers and magazines, including the Times of India, Bombay Times, Deccan Chronicle, Asian Ageand The Week. Her books are best sellers in several regional languages, including Punjabi, Hindi, Gujarati, Malayalam, Bengali and Marathi. Her books are in translation in Spanish, Italian, German, Hungarian, Portuguese, Turkish, Russian, Polish and Korean at present. Her first book in its French edition was published by Actes Sud in 2010.

Shobhaa De is the author of the following books: Socialite Evenings (1989), Starry Nights (the original title of Bollywood Nights 1989), Sisters (1992), Strange Obsession (1992), Uncertain Liaisons (1993), Sultry Days (1994), Shooting from the hip (1994), Small Betrayals (1995), Snapshots (1995), Second Thoughts (1996), Selective Memory (1998), Surviving Men (1998), and Speedpost (1999), Spouse : The truth about marriage, Superstar IndiaFrom Incredible to Unstoppable, Sandhya’s Secret (2009) and Shobha at Sixty (2010). She has also written the autobiographical Selective Memory: Stories from My Life.

Chiki Sarkar was just 29 when she became the head of the newly-formed Random House India in 2006. There, under her watch, the publishing house launched a bestseller in the form of Rujuta Diwekar’s diet bible Don’t Lose Your Mind, Lose Your Weight, and the highly acclaimed Chinaman by Shehan Karunatilaka. Last year, she was appointed publisher ofPenguin Books India, making her at 34, the head of the country’s largest English-language publishing house. Sarkar, has a degree from Oxford University and worked at Bloomsbury Publishing in London for seven years.

Thursday, August 9 at 6:30 p.m.
Alliance française de Delhi


Blogdosts, as mentioned earlier.... and I mean it .... you are invited!