Shobhaa De en Sun Mar 13 10:53:40 IST 2022 what-sets-philosopher-chef-suvir-saran-apart-from-rest-of-his-tribe <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>After having spent 30 years in the US, and earned a coveted Michelin Star for the cuisine he curated and served at Devi in New York, superchef Suvir Saran is back where he belongs—home! Home being Delhi, which he left at 20 to explore the world and discover the power of food. He turns 50 soon, but makes it a point to stress he’s 49, not yet 50. After spending time with him at the JLF Maldives, and hearing him ‘In Conversation’ with my daughter Anandita, I was struck by two things: his innate humility and deep knowledge when it comes to all things culinary. It is the pride he takes in sharing both—his food and knowledge—that sets him apart from the rest of his tribe.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I have met the most obnoxious international chefs in my time, who have left a bad taste in the mouth with their posturing and egotistical attitude. Suvir disarms you with his ready smile, kind, observant eyes and an ease about who he is and what he does. His achievements are, indeed, staggering. Apart from the Michelin Star (the first for Indian cuisine and the only one given in North America to a non-French, non-Italian restaurant), Suvir is chairman of Asian Culinary Studies for the Culinary Institute of America (CIA), has judged innumerable food shows, written four bestsellers and has converted his passion for nutritious, home-cooked desi food into a global cult following.Beyond these credentials, however, is a man with enormous compassion and a much higher humanitarian calling, which sees him extend a helping hand to whosoever needs it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I experienced his caring myself, when he carefully guided me down a poorly lit spiral staircase at the observatory in Soneva Fushi, aware that I was dealing with a swollen and painful knee. Perhaps his own personal health emergency at the peak of his career has transformed his thinking. A series of seven concussions left Suvir ‘legally blind’ with blurred vision in one eye, stripped of motor skills and afflicted by aphasia (inability to comprehend or formulate language because of trauma to specific brain regions).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He came back (“to die”) to his parents’ home in Delhi, with little hope of recovery. And that’s when a near-miracle took place, thanks to his mother’s 24x7 bedside vigil. Suvir’s eyes light up as he recalls those days, when it was his loving mother who kept the faith that saw him survive.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I read his latest book titled Instamatic, which carries an evocative foreword by Shashi Tharoor, a man Suvir considers family and clearly adores. It is an unusual and fascinating book featuring a series of images clicked by Suvir on his iPhone, and seamlessly sewn together by his words written postcard style, with accompanying watermarks that capture the myriad moods of the vividly shot photographs; the best ones are from his 70-acre farm in upstate New York, where the resident ducks, geese and goats make great “models”. Tharoor describes Suvir as ‘a man who feels’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I corroborate the same thanks to a series of interactions at Soneva Fushi and later in Mumbai. Suvir has picked a path that involves giving back generously to the less privileged and making sure to follow the basic principles of responsible, sustainable culinary practices.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Along with Vardaan Marwah, the 26-year-old self-taught chef who is a business partner and collaborator, Suvir is all set to amplify his presence in India, and one hopes he will soon open a signature restaurant, which may finally bring a Michelin star to Indian shores.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>@DeShobhaa @shobhaade</b></p> Sat Jun 18 11:11:44 IST 2022 shobhaa-de-on-the-one-more-modest-gandhi-gopalkrishna <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Seems almost impertinent to write a chatty column on Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson after a chance encounter at the just concluded Jaipur Lit Fest in the idyllic resort of Soneva Fushi that seems to magically float in the Baa atoll of the Maldives. But Gopalkrishna Devdas Gandhi’s quiet, dignified presence cannot be ignored, no matter what the location. Over four days, we got to spend a few precious hours together relaxing and chatting, with sand between our toes and the wind in our hair.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This was between and after the well-curated sessions that made the JLF-Soneva Fushi so special. I would have thought someone like myself would have alienated the erudite, soft-spoken scholar with such a unique lineage. But we clicked instantly! I was like an excited, immature fan girl, eager for his attention and approval. As soon as my husband met him, I knew a long lasting family friendship had been forged. Before I could say, ‘Soneva’, they were on daak naam terms (my husband’s daak naam is also Gopal; Gopalkrishna became ‘Gopu bhai’, while my husband was addressed as ‘Gopal babu’ by the great man.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The informality of the venue took care of the standard stiffness one encounters at other lit fests. Here was the distinguished scholar, the 23rd governor of West Bengal, casually strolling barefoot around the island, clad in trendy lavender linen and chatting freely with other guests, while his elegant wife, Tara, and super gorgeous daughter, Amrita, enjoyed every moment of the ambience. All three generated awe and amazement, with the ladies showing up at sand bank cocktails in beautiful, handwoven saris. Earlier, Tara, a wildlife biologist, who loves to swim in the sea, had persuaded Amrita to join her in the azure waters of the Indian Ocean, where it is possible to meet and greet reef sharks (vegetarians), or see the magnificent manta rays gliding in the distance.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Gandhi’s new book is titled Mahatma: Restless as mercury… My Life as a Young Man. It is such an intimate, dispassionate and personal look at his revered grandfather, who like the rest of us, came with glaring fault lines!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When Gopal was discussing the book with Pavan Varma, his former colleague at Rashtrapati Bhavan, he spoke more about ‘Kastur’ than her husband, stressing on their complex, intense and rather strange relationship, where Kastur was expected to play an entirely subservient role—and frequently did not! Given the time the couple spent in various jails, separated for months, Gandhiji’s letters and public speeches were the only connect. It may seem like an odd love story, but Gopal made it very plausible, even tender, discussing the intensity of the feelings invested in the marriage. The expression in his eyes softened each time he referred to his grandmother. And he certainly did not spare his grandfather, critically analysing some of his peculiar traits and beliefs, without filters.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Since I greatly enjoy shooting pictures of people who interest me, I requested the family to pose for portraits. To my delight, Gopal posed away like Milind Soman—a true pro, sans any self-consciousness. At 77, he is remarkably agile and supremely alert. He is disarmingly witty and observant, without hard-selling or boasting—a common and annoying trait evident in some of is contemporaries. The thing is, he wears his identity lightly, like the finest Pashmina shawl nonchalantly thrown over the shoulders. Gandhi sells! I did not get that sense from this Gopal at all. And was pretty chuffed to spend time conversing lightly with all three of them. The Mahatma would have approved of their innate modesty and refinement!</p> Fri Jun 03 18:00:59 IST 2022 shobhaa-de-on-tasneem-zakaria-mehta-the-indomitable-art-historian <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The original launch day of Tasneem Zakaria Mehta’s labour of love, a hefty tome titled Mumbai: A City Through Objects—101 stories from the Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum, turned into a huge disappointment for the managing trustee (Tasneem) of this jewel of a museum. Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan had died the previous day, and the government of India declared a day of mourning and cancelled official functions as a mark of respect to the president of the UAE and the ruler of Abu Dhabi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I was scheduled to attend my friend’s function, at which the book was to be released by Maharashtra’s cabinet minister of tourism and environment, Aaditya Thackeray. I felt disheartened by the unavoidable postponement of an event that means so much to so many (the new date didn’t work for me). The last time I had met the luminously beautiful Tasneem at her art-filled home in central Mumbai, we talked about the enormous stress that goes into editing and proof-checking such an ambitious book. But then, the Tasneem I’ve known over the past 40 years is no quitter.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I remember her well as a beautiful young girl, greeting her politician/scholar father Rafique Zakaria’s illustrious guests at his beautiful apartment, each time she was visiting from Columbia, where she acquired her bachelor of arts degree in liberal arts, before doing her master’s in English literature from the University of Delhi. Today, with a PhD in cultural studies from JNU, Tasneem is recognised as a highly respected art historian, curator, cultural activist and a leader in India’s heritage preservation movement.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I know how hard Tasneem has worked to keep the museum going in the face of daunting odds. It was originally established in 1855, but thanks to Tasneem’s sustained efforts as director, visitors can today enjoy it in all its restored glory.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It’s lovely to be able to proudly flaunt our three generations of close friendship—I started off as her parents’ friend and today our children are close. We participate in each other’s lives with joy, and are there during occasions that really count. I enjoy Tasneem’s company as a gal pal—we often spend evenings at a favourite bar, and come away feeling elevated by the conversation. I glow with pride when I watch Tasneem in her official capacity as the lady who has determinedly placed her beloved museum on the world map, earning a UNESCO recognition for comprehensive restoration.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the sprawling home Tasneem shares with her husband Vikram Mehta, the eclectic art on the walls tells many stories; in particular, some of the canvases painted by prominent women artists reflect Tasneem’s staunch commitment to feminism.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>An invitation to dinner is much coveted—between Tasneem and Vikram, they know everyone worth knowing in the corporate, art, cinema, academic and social world. Visiting writers, award-winning filmmakers, thespians, public intellectuals, politicians of various hues, billionaires and assorted ‘famous people’ mingle in a relaxed atmosphere, over malts and wine, while a celebrity chef cooks an exotic meal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I was privileged to be the ‘guest of honour’ at an evening hosted by the Mehtas to mark my 70th birthday. It’s difficult not to get mushy about such an overwhelming gesture! I was thrilled, of course! But also embarrassed and shy. I recall making a real mess of my spontaneous ‘speech’ to thank Tasneem and Vikram, after a generous toast was raised in the presence of wonderful friends.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Well—here’s my plan. As and when Tasneem hits her landmark birthday, I shall happily return the honour by hosting a dinner for her—and this time, I’ll be far better prepared!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>@DeShobhaa @shobhaade</b></p> Fri May 20 11:34:17 IST 2022 ajay-devgn-is-now-assertive-and-super-confident-says-shobhaa-de <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>There are three actors in Bollywood whose careers do not fall into the fairytale category. They are not Bollywood royalty (such an idiotic tab), nor do they belong to any camp. And yet, over a career span of more than 20 years, all three qualify as Bollywood tycoons—can you guess who they are? Hint: all of them are overtly macho Alpha males, fitness is their mantra. They don’t attend Bollywood parties, are married to attractive ladies and oversee their vast businesses very shrewdly. The trio of Ajay Devgn, Akshay Kumar and John Abraham are on top of their game right now, making movies they control, while managing mini-empires without making a noise about it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After watching Ajay’s latest production (Runway 34), my lukewarm opinion of him changed dramatically. Here is an aviation thriller that is so convincingly mounted, you feel like one of the terror-stricken passengers on the doomed flight, which sees Captain Vikrant Khanna (Ajay) in the pilot’s seat, flying through a cyclonic storm, before landing on Runway 34 at Thiruvananthapuram.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Assuming a triple responsibility as produce-director-actor, Ajay is indeed soaring at 35,000 feet, with rave reviews pouring in for a movie that is taut and terrifying. Most of the scenes are shot in the confines of a cockpit, but there is nothing claustrophobic about the shot taking. If anything, it gives curious viewers an incredible window into the nerve-wracking atmosphere inside the cockpit during emergencies. Ajay displays maturity and restraint while managing to keep the audience on the edge of their seats, wondering when the worst will be over.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When Ajay, 53, married Kajol, a leading star, (in 1999), the film industry was rather surprised and amused, given their differences. She was an outspoken, bohemian bookworm, often found with her head buried inside a tome on the sets, while he was a rough and tough upcoming action hero, who barely spoke a word, either in his movies or in real life. Today, Ajay has over a 100 films to boast of, two national awards and several commercial hits. All this without possessing conventional good looks, overt charm or networking skills. He is pretty much a lone wolf, who does not go out of his way to court the press or seek publicity. Validation is not for him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I have known Kajol over the years, first, as Tanuja’s talented daughter, and later as cousin Gautam Rajadhyaksha’s most adored protégé. I remember one particular shoot for Kajol’s debut film (Bekhudi). The director wanted her in pig tails, and I was enlisted to braid her hair since nobody else knew how! I had found her impish, impetuous and spontaneous, on and off the sets. At 17, she was very aware of her family’s legacy and her own talent. So, when she married Ajay seven years later, I was as surprised as everyone else. Sensibly, both had shunned a splashy Bollywood style wedding and stuck to a private ceremony.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Today, Ajay is a bossman—assertive and super confident. He, obviously, believes in the power of numerology, given the strange, altered spelling of his surname, and the additional ‘F’ in his production house Ajay Devgn Ffilms. His stylised dialogue delivery and unique entry scene in every film reminds me of the late Raaj Kumar, who was an equally reticent actor preferring to let his movies do the bragging.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Runway 34 has taken off successfully and is cruising well at the box office. Directing Amitabh Bachchan (playing Narayan Vedant, a tough lawyer), must have been quite a challenge for Ajay. But both men held their own without yielding an inch during the climactic on-screen face off.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Assuming Kajol and Ajay are prepping their daughter Nyasa for a career in the movies, the next gen Devgn is already here!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>@DeShobhaa @shobhaade</b></p> Sun May 08 11:36:34 IST 2022 shobhaa-de-on-aryama-sundaram-the-rockstar-legal-eagle <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Mention Aryama Sundaram’s name and the instant response is: Aaaah! That brilliant Supreme Court lawyer with a prominent tilak. In fact, the tilak is a birthmark and not a caste or political party identity. Combine that distinguishing mark with Sundaram’s out-of-the-box thinking, and you get a unique individual.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His personality is on full display each time he appears on televised panel discussions on tricky legal/constitutional issues. Viewers listen intently to Sundaram’s forceful line of argument, while pompous TV anchors stay mum—they dare not interrupt him! Such is the senior advocate’s authority, the depth of his knowledge, to say nothing of his articulate delivery. For a man born into a family of illustrious lawyers (Sir C.P. Ramaswamy Aiyar was his grandfather), it is this impressive lineage he has to live up to—and does!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Here is a guy who started his career in advertising before switching to law. Sundaram’s erudite and supremely charming approach have won him loyal fans and high powered clients—he is seen as one of the most connected lawyers in India, on informal and cordial terms with the mightiest in the land. It is predicted he will soon become the attorney general of India—if political stars align, of course. At 38, he was the youngest in the history of the Madras High Court to become a senior counsel. He has not looked back since, going on to represent the BCCI in India, and dominating the field in corporate law with his dazzling intellect.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We know him as a close friend of the family, a true blue bon vivant, deeply interested in art, cigars, malts, wines, books, race horses, music, watches, cars, travel and all things bright and beautiful. On his 60th birthday, his Jorbagh home saw the rich and powerful, across political divides, letting their hair down while enjoying live performances by nubile belly dancers and mujhra artistes. More recently, on his 65th birthday, perfectly planned by friends as a hedonistic Easter weekend in Alibag, Sundaram, dressed in neon for a theme party by the beach, sported a shirt that read, “Call my lawyer”. There he was, puffing on his favourite Monte Cristo, shaking a leg to a playlist that went from Elvis Presley to ‘Oo Antava Oo oo Antava’. The celebrations had started as soon as bottles of bubbly were popped on the deck of a catamaran sailing at a leisurely speed to Mandwa jetty.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For me, personally, I owe Sundaram a big one. At a difficult time a few years ago, when I was being hounded by local political parties, who had tried several tactics to intimidate me, sending morchas to my residence, and threatening to blacken my face at a high-profile book launch at Crossword, all it took was one phone call to Sundaram. He fought my case fiercely in the Supreme Court; thanks to his superb presentation, I was not jailed on some ridiculous contempt charge.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He is the ‘chosen one’ with good reason. Behind the laid back bonhomie and ‘cool’ exterior, here is an admirably disciplined professional, who gets to work at 8.30am and does not stop till 10pm. He leads a great team and ensures every brief gets the required attention. Meticulous and thorough, his commitment to freedom of speech and expression is consistent, making him a role model for the next generation of legal eagles.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Outspoken and forthright, Sundaram certainly knows his priorities—work hard, play hard—and make time for those you love. Watching him enjoying himself on the dance floor, sporting a crazy rainbow hued wig, I looked up at the full moon illuminating the Alibaug sky and said a silent prayer for our friend—jeeyo hazaaron saal!</p> Sun Apr 24 10:18:27 IST 2022 ambani-the-artist <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>While I am immensely fond of the Ahmedabad-based Sonal Ambani, and enjoy meeting her, I have a major problem—I cannot understand a word of what she is saying! Sonal’s rapid fire, heavy American accented speech would stump even Americans. The Yankee pronunciation is clearly impossible to shed, even when she speaks Gujarati or Hindi. I tease her good naturedly about the way she speaks and demand an interpreter.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Even though I find it a bit strange that after being an Ambani bahu for years, and living in a palatial bungalow in Gujarat’s capital city—‘Amdavad’—Sonalben still sounds like a visiting foreigner. Interestingly, Sonal, wife of Vimal Ambani (Dhirubhai Ambani’s nephew), grew up in New York, where her father ran an art gallery. Today, the tradition is being carried forward by the attractive and ambitious Sonal, who is a pert and perky mother of two. Age? “Young at heart,” she giggles.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Later this month, her large bronze horse sculpture titled—Riderless World—will be on display at the Palazzo Mora in Venice. It is a prestigious initiative supported by the European Cultural Centre. And Sonal’s impassioned response to the monumental human tragedy—the six million people the world lost during the two Covid years. The impressive sculpture shows a horse with a broken tail and an exposed, carved out abdomen. It is placed on a marble platform, and projected behind it is a screen featuring the names of loved ones from 150 countries, who were cruelly snatched away during the pandemic.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One of my earliest interactions with Sonal was for the coffee table book she produced—Mothers and Daughters—in 2004, featuring 101 high profile maa-beti jodis .This was a tribute to her mother, Suman Prabhakar Sheth, who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Proceeds from the sale of the book went towards cancer research, as Sonal urged women to get a pap smear done on a priority basis.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I remember spending a wonderful afternoon at her home over a lavish Gujarati lunch served traditionally in silver thaalis. It was a delight to meet her father-in-law, Ramnikbhai, who was home for lunch and presided over the meal. It was Ramnikbhai who had started the textile division for Dhirubhai, and the brand ‘Vimal’ was named after his son. We chatted about art and politics, food and culture, while Sonal fluttered around, instructing the family cook in American-Gujarati!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I met her more recently at Tina and Anil Ambani’s son’s wedding party. Sonal was dressed in haute couture, with serious emeralds and diamonds adorning her. We chatted animatedly as her ever-indulgent husband and young son waited for us to finish the conversation. Years ago at the lunch in their grand and gracious home, I had noticed how close and integrated the family is, with children who are respectful, well-mannered, clever and considerate.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sonal was talking about her forthcoming show in Venice and understandably excited about it. I noticed that she had changed her hairstyle and lost a lot of weight. She pouted petulantly and touched her (non-existent ) “double chin’’. Her hair was poker straight and parted at the centre. I told her I preferred her with a little more weight, and her hair, a lot less severe . It was intense and pure ‘girly talk’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>She warmly invited me to attend the preview of Riderless World in Venice. I jauntily agreed. Like it was that easy to fly thousands of miles to admire Sonal’s wonderful sculpture. I came down to earth quickly enough—if only Venice was as accessible as Vadodara!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Thu Apr 07 16:36:48 IST 2022 economist-who-cooks-and-dances <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The iconic Jaipur Lit Fest unfailingly throws up a few shocks and surprises—thank God! How very dull the literary landscape would be without a couple of zingers to pep it up? In its 15th edition this year, and at a brand new venue, authors and readers were in a state of heightened excitement, what with two pandemic years of reading scintillating writers without the chance to interact in reality?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I was agog in anticipation as I made it for the last three days of what is frequently described as “The greatest Literary Show on earth”. For a change, I had decided to stay back for the grand finale—the Writers’ Ball. What a treat I would have missed had I skipped it! For there on the crowded floor, packed with attractive, gorgeously dressed young things on the vast grounds of the magnificent Leela Palace Hotel, was a super fit, familiar looking man, dressed in an embroidered kurta-pajama, energetically dancing to popular qawwalis belted out by Chugge Khan and his musical team, Rajasthan Josh. A few foreign delegates—adventurously clad in local colours and costumes, and fuelled by limitless beverages on offer—made the most of the incredible atmosphere that signalled the end of yet another successful JLF.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But it was Abhijit Banerjee who stole the show.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That is the thing about stereotyping famous folks. Till you actually meet them and discover some fascinating angles to your own version of the person. A Nobel laureate shaking a leg to robust beats of local musicians? No, are you sure that is Banerjee? How can I forget his latest bestseller which has nothing to do with economic theories and is devoted to Banerjee’s other passion—food!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I absolutely adore mixed signals myself. Why can’t a guy like Banerjee (61)—who spent 10 days in Tihar Jail (1983) for participating in protests at Jadavpur University and then went on to shine at Harvard, and collect academic accolades along the way—cannot be a superlative cook who loves feeding friends with culinary experiments that can now be tried in one’s own kitchen? That he has a mind and personality of his own, was made abundantly clear at the solemn Black Tie Nobel ceremony in Oslo, where the American economist with a desi heart, arrived grandly on the red carpet elegantly clad in a graceful Kolkata dhoti. That single image stayed with me and I went, “Wow! Gotta meet this dude someday.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Well, meet him I did, at the chholey baturey breakfast buffet counter at the hotel where authors and delegates were put up in Jaipur. It was the morning after the night before. I was bleary eyed and in search of dosas and coffee. We introduced ourselves. And he invited me to join him and his petite book illustrator, Cheyenne Olivier. I noticed that their table was laden with food. Aha, a man after my own heart! Healthy appetite. Loves dancing! Cooks amazingly. Where does it all go? He is spry, almost rake thin! But with that brain—who looks at the waistline? Banerjee sweetly referred to me as ‘Shobhaa di’, when I introduced him to my husband. I left them to discuss world issues, food and their love for dhotis.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Banerjee shared that he was accustomed to wearing dhotis in Kolkata, where he grew up in a traditional home (his father Dipak is Bengali, his mother Nirmala, a Maharashtrian—both are economists ).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Despite his global fame and success, Banerjee remains a down-to-earth, slightly old-fashioned bhadralok, respectful, formal and very polite. He has promised to cook for us if we are ever in his part of the world. And my husband is already thinking of what he can cook for him when Banerjee visits Mumbai, in July. Meanwhile, Cheyenne is keen on our trying out Banerjee’s recipes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I can see a long term friendship getting cemented over daab chingri and kochano dhutis. How delectable!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>@DeShobhaa @shobhaade</b></p> Wed Mar 30 11:52:35 IST 2022 whatever-be-the-price-of-honour-it-is-definitely-worth-paying-says-shobhaa-de <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>I think Gangubai Kathiawadi (marvellously portrayed on screen by Alia Bhatt) has the answer to one of the stupidest, most banal questions on earth: What do women want? The answer is obvious: “Ijjat’’ (izzat or respect) and izzat should be staring you in the face. Women want what men want. And a lot more. We are talking basics. Respect, dignity, opportunity.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As I write this column on International Women’s Day, I do not feel either cynical or angry. There is no cold rage, nor any frustration. There is a quiet recognition of ‘self’, which surpasses all else. These days I get to spend a lot of time with my two female, four-legged companions, observing them as they negotiate different spaces and hold their own.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>They remind me of myself. Bijou is a frisky, restless, curious young thing, constantly getting in and out of trouble. She is the teenage me. Gong Li is the grande dame—somewhat imperious and aloof—as she is entitled to be at her age. She is me today. The interactions between the two ladies are fascinating. I wonder—which one will get the better of whom eventually? It is the sum total of the lives of all women forced to devise their own survival strategies. The struggles are different, but a struggle it is.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Watching Alia Bhatt’s transformation from a sex worker to a rakhwali (brothel owner) herself, I wondered what sort of a toll it must have taken on Alia as she lived with the complex character for three long years, playing the title role of Gangubai Kothewali. I have seen the lives of the badnaam women in the infamous cages up close and personal, since my school was not very far from those overcrowded lanes. Later, as a journalist, I went several times to meet some of the girls and spent time listening to their stories.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That Alia convincingly conveyed the pathos and the hidden strength of Gangubai is commendable. Gangubai takes on a new role within the community, as an activist with political ambitions, fighting for the rights of the oppressed kids, who are denied access to education. In reality, it was a battle Gangubai didn’t win, unfortunately. But her spirited efforts have not been forgotten; a small bust of hers is installed and prayed to, even today. This is feminism at work, ground up.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Like the moving ‘sunflower story’ from Ukraine. Since most of us have been following the awful war in the Ukraine, it is most inspiring to observe the intense engagement of women in the crisis zone. Already, a powerful symbol of peaceful resistance has emerged in the form of sunflowers that stand for Ukrainian pride and the citizens’ resolve to fight on.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The story goes that an elderly local lady offered sunflower seeds to a Russian soldier and told him they would automatically get embedded in the soil of her beloved country once he lies down to take his last breath. And through his death, something positive and uplifting will emerge—a field of sunflowers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I was very moved by the imagery and as fields of sunflowers started to pop up on assorted social media sites, I marvelled at the lady’s gesture. This moment will remain frozen in history. Along with the video of the lone, battle-weary Ukrainian soldier reciting Persian poetry, as he stands in a huge, snow covered field, waiting for the bombs to drop. At the worst of times, hope manages to bloom and keeps us going. To this anonymous woman and man, the world owes a lot.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>International Women’s Day is many things to many people. It is a good day to take stock and decide what we are prepared to do or even sacrifice to get ijjat—whatever the price, it is definitely worth paying.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Thu Mar 17 12:23:04 IST 2022 the-big-b-of-business <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Let me not trot out a list of Rahul Bajaj’s business achievements—those are chronicled extensively and can be easily accessed. For me, the most interesting aspect of the 83-year-old’s legacy remains his iconoclastic personality.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Having known and observed the late industrialist, popularly dubbed ‘Hamara Bajaj’, I can confidently say, his feisty, often bombastic statements invariably came from a good space. If he did indeed possess a monumental ego, that too, emerged from his unshakeable sense of self—faking modesty was not his thing! His blunt, no nonsense attitude showed how much he enjoyed being ‘Rahul Bajaj’, and fed off an ever present rapt audience, respectfully hanging on to his every pronouncement.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This was the essential Rahul—physically and intellectually towering over his durbar. The roar and tone of his voice were sufficient to silence those around him. Rahul never disappointed his audience, delivering punches and hitting hard, knowing the full impact of his words. Nobody dared to mess with the patriarch.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>My husband shared a warm friendship with Rahul. They were a part of a tight group that met regularly to sort out matters of the world! These were eagerly looked forward to sessions, planned meticulously to the last cup of chai and the first bite of chilly cheese toast. ‘The Boys’ returned from these outings, happily recharged, with fresh insights and perspectives on current affairs, global concerns, local politics, business policies and more. Rahul’s invigorating, cerebral and analytical contributions were later gone over in hushed tones.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When the pandemic put an abrupt end to these ‘addas’ at various five star venues, the group switched to Zoom calls. This was not the same thing at all, and proved to be a strain. I had no choice but to overhear the loud and animated conversations, with a pre-determined agenda, to ensure the focus did not shift.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rahul knew he was larger than life, and revelled in playing up his image. Flamboyant and vain, he did not tolerate either fools or rivals. Recently, a common friend commented on Rahul’s quirkiness while assessing a candidate to head one of his divisions. The man being recommended was handsome, educated, articulate and super-confident. Rahul took under a minute to tell my friend, “His qualifications are good. But he may steal the limelight from me! Get me a low-key plodder, not a high profile chap like this guy.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Years ago, I was hosting a chat show—Power Trip— with an impressive line-up of India’s best and brightest. One segment involved an informal exchange between the guest and a person of his/her choice. Rahul chose his wonderful daughter Sunaina (Kejriwal), and I loved the mutual adoration between them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was clear that Sunaina was his golden girl—his expression softened and altered as I asked her a few questions about her relationship with her legendary father. Rahul the ‘awesome’ was instantly transformed into Rahul the ‘softy’. I like to believe his outward show of belligerence was a bit of a pose.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rahul, the family man, took his role as the head of his large clan very seriously. The same conservative person dazzled global communities at Davos with his savoir faire. Much as Rahul was proud of his Marwari roots, he was at heart an international bon vivant, who enjoyed the company of glamourous ladies, appreciated his drinks, music, dancing, fine clothes and finer conversations.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rahul lived life rajah size, but along with his outgoing persona came a quieter philanthropist who generously shared his wealth with multiple charities. As the grandson of freedom fighter Jamnalal Bajaj, Rahul was deeply influenced by Gandhian values (the Mahatma being a frequent house guest).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rahul’s family is busy planning a fitting tribute to the beloved head of the $14.4 billion empire. I suspect they will skip the usual, sombre and boring prayer meeting, and host a jolly sundowner, where Rahul’s friends and admirers will celebrate his marvellous life in the same spirit as he lived it!</p> Sun Feb 27 10:10:47 IST 2022 tai-second-to-none <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Ask any music lover what he or she thinks of Lata Mangeshkar’s voice, and the answer will be: “It’s the voice of an angel… a celestial being.” There was a unique divine quality to her singing that made her an unmatched phenomenon. It was the innocent, playful, pure voice of a pre-pubescent girl—thin and delicate, teasing and hesitant. Nobody could believe a woman in her seventies could croon a tender love song, and sound like a seventeen year old. As a vocalist who recorded more than 30,000 songs in 36 languages, Lata had no equal. She was well aware of her special status, even if her innate reticence ensured she never misused her position. She has the rare distinction of being a working woman for seven decades.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I did not know the legend, and was more in touch with her sister Asha Bhosle, who had once regaled us at our home over dinner (she had cooked her famous kebabs in our kitchen), with perfect imitations of her tai (sister), down to her baby voice, mannerisms and body language. The mimicry was not mean or cruel, but it did provide a glimpse into the decades-long sibling rivalry insiders often talked about.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Asha is far more ‘real’ and earthy, and frankly, I prefer her voice and versatility as a vocalist. Those who were close to Didi (as Lata was called), say she had a terrific sense of humour, besides a phenomenal memory. But the public persona remained aloof and distant, letting her songs create all the magic. We had a common connection in Gautam Rajadhyaksha, the great portraitist, who has the rare distinction of having captured the entire Mangeshkar clan in one frame—nothing short of a feat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What few people outside her inner circle knew about Lata was her fondness for gambling. I hear she was a frequent and valued high roller at casinos in Las Vegas. Only the BBC report on her passing made a reference to it. Frankly, it is hard to visualise the diminutive, demure lady in white playing blackjack, but if true, it humanises her that much more!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is believed it was Lata who inspired Raj Kapoor to immortalise ladies in white, whether in his movies or personal life, from Nargis to Krishna Raj Kapoor. Interestingly enough, each time I visited Pakistan, I would hear Lata’s voice at random venues, followed by animated discussions about her awaaz as compared with Noor Jehan’s. Someone would invariably say, “You have the Taj Mahal and Lata Mangeshkar and we have Lahore and Noor Jehan.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Strange, but Lata seems to have sung songs to match every mood and occasion known to the subcontinent. We turned to her seeking solace in grief, or joy in our celebrations.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Lata’s legacy is defined by her prolific output (at her prime, she would record three or four songs a day), as much as her mellifluous range. Famous music directors who worked with Lata insist she was the one singer who never ever hit a false note! She was also a ‘one take’ recording artist who slaved over her pronunciation and the all-important emotional nuances of the lyrics. She resolutely refused to play to the galleries by singing songs that did not meet her high standards. Cheap lyrics and gimmicks were not for our Lata tai!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is so much to learn from her extraordinary life…. Now let us wait for the statue, if not the controversial flyover to come up, though an international class music academy like The Juilliard School in NYC will better serve her legacy and ensure a 1,000 more nightingales are nurtured.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Thu Feb 10 17:56:41 IST 2022 dear-allu-arjun-come-to-bollywood-soon-shobhaa-de <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Confession: I had not watched a single film featuring Allu Arjun or Samantha Ruth Prabhu until I bought a ticket for Pushpa—The Rise and found myself mesmerised by their sheer star power on screen. Sure, Samantha appears briefly in her debut dance number on the screen. But hey, what a debut!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>No wonder Oo Antava made it to the top of YouTube’s Top 100 Music Videos list. Personally speaking, I did not know the identity of the sensuous dancer till I got home and googled her. But she had left me gob-smacked in the theatre. Oo Antava far outstripped Kala Chasma and Chikni Chameli—Katrina Kaif’s sizzling chartbusters—which are pretty hard to top by any artist. Sam’s moves did just that! Respect.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As for Allu Arjun—and his portrayal of a rough and tough sandalwood smuggler who rapidly rises to head the powerful, brutal syndicate operating in the dense, hard-to-access jungles of Andhra Pradesh—I can only say after 40 years of watching movies and tracking stars, here is one actor who gobbles up the scenery and spits it out, using his hypnotic eyes and body language to full advantage.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After Amitabh Bachchan’s Angry Young Man in Deewar (1975), here we have a “furious young man” setting the screen on fire with a mere twitch of his eyebrows. I had no idea who he was, and I had gone primarily to find out what it was about Pushpa that had got the box-office rocketing during restricted Covid-times. I came away dazzled by a madly talented stranger—not a heavily-marketed brand.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Once home, I hastily filled in the gaps by finding out more about the man. I will not bore you with details. A few years ago in Hyderabad, young family friends had proudly taken me to a nightclub called 800 and told me it was owned by a star named Allu Arjun. Well… the place was OK. I was indifferent and the star’s name did not register. Today, I am less ignorant and realise it is the same actor I am singing hosannas to after watching Pushpa.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When I mentioned this to my friends and family, they were equally in the dark—and mind you, all of us are avid movie-goers. That can only mean one thing—there is a huge disconnect. The star system in Bollywood is established globally and understood across India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pretty much everybody in south India knows who Shah Rukh Khan is, but how many avid movie fans from the north know Chiranjeevi? Or Mahesh Babu? Or Vijay Devarakonda? True, Bollywood films do not create the same hysteria in Chennai, Bengaluru, Kochi or Hyderabad as they do in the rest of India. But even superhit films from south India remain unknown here. All that is likely to change down the line.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I was so impressed by the dubbing in Pushpa, particularly the sprinkling of Marathi slang, I barely noticed it was not in the original language. Since Pushpa has been a success in four languages (Rs247 crore collection worldwide and counting), the future for dubbed movies getting a commercial pan-India release is looking bright!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At a time when the movie business across the world is struggling to stay afloat, creative, swift, out-of-the-box solutions are the only answer for survival. Combine this crisis of bloated budgets and astronomical star fees, with the other challenges posed by OTT platforms, and it is obvious what needs to be done—move forward with aggressive and creative marketing strategies, which include sophisticated, well-synced dubbing.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bollywood respects numbers and worships success. Despite the staggering popularity of mega stars from down south, the crossover has not happened. Cross-pollination is always a good idea and a healthy investment in the ecosystem. I am hoping we get to watch the amazing Allu as the lead in a Bollywood blockbuster soon.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>@shobhaade</b></p> Mon Jan 31 18:08:39 IST 2022 what-india-should-learn-from-djokovic-visa-row-shobhaa-de <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Irony piled on irony. The ‘Djoker’ had the last laugh as the Federal Circuit Court of Australia quashed his visa cancellation which had made world headlines. The Australian government was ordered to release Novak Djokovic from the detention centre, pay his costs, return his passport and personal effects within 30 minutes of the hearing. Naturally, the Australian Border Force had an egg on its face, as it had detained him as soon as he landed in Melbourne.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Despite the legal victory on January 9, there are rumblings galore with the possibility of the World No 1 facing a three-year entry ban—if the ruling is overturned by the minister for immigration and migrant services, Alex Hawke, who said he would use his “personal power” to cancel the Djoker’s visa again.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At the time of writing, the hearings were on, but the celebrations had already begun. The global euphoria was puzzling, given that Djokovic is not particularly liked. Tennis fans consistently jeer him when he plays Rafael Nadal or Roger Federer.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Despite not acing the popularity stakes, Djokovic still had his cheerleaders rooting for him as his legal team fought a tough battle for their client, who was holed up at the far-from-luxurious Park Hotel, which functions as a detention centre. Thirty asylum seekers detained with him described it as a “prison” that served “maggots and mould” for dinner.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In our own family, there were two distinct camps—pro-detention and pro-Djokovic. Even though I have never been his supporter, I did think treating him like a refugee was pretty shabby of the authorities. If they did not want an anti-vaxxer in their country, the position ought to have been made very clear, minus ambiguity, minus befuddling technicalities. From all published accounts, it was the timing that was off—and it was the timing Judge Anthony Kelly relied on to get Djokovic out at the earliest. My family members argued it must have been a case of “authorities” exerting pressure on the judge to save face and salvage Australia’s tattered image. Highly unlikely, given the transparency of the system in that country.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To me, it provided an interesting case study on how someone, as loathed as Djokovic, could generate such a powerful wave of sympathy even without a personality cult. It was widely felt he was not entitled to an “exemption” based on the universal “one-rule-for-all” principle. But once he was stuck in a detention centre, stripped off his passport and dignity, the story changed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As Indians, we react to everything emotionally and personally. Most of us will never get within five feet of Djokovic. Despite that, we responded to his crisis like this had happened to one of our players. That is the thing about sports personalities—we get over-involved in all aspects of their roller-coaster lives.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Will the “trauma” Djokovic faced translate into a more positive image for the player down the line? Will his contemporaries reach out to him and demonstrate solidarity, even friendship? American player Tennys Sandgren did point out that “two medical boards approved the exemption” while leading international dailies like The Times described the detention as an “extraordinary mix-up with the visa application”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Given the worldwide concern over Omicron, perhaps the Aussies should have just told Djokovic he was not welcome in their country—and there it would have ended. It is a lesson for all—India included. Rules cannot be open to interpretation, nor can the process be selective, based on the celebrity power of the applicant. Willy-nilly, the tennis world’s least-liked player has become an overnight hero, thanks to bureaucratic bungling! I guess it was in Novak’s stars!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>@shobhaade</b></p> Sun Jan 16 10:43:50 IST 2022 kapil-dev-is-at-the-stage-where-immortality-beckons-with-a-well-made-biopic-shobhaa-de <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Kapil Dev and I share the same zodiac sign (capricorn) and our birthdays are a day apart. Alas, there it ends! I so wish I had his ferocious appetite for scaling great heights and his phenomenal people skills.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I recall a birthday party he had hosted years ago at a fancy suite in the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. He had generously invited us to attend it and bring in my birthday, post-midnight. It was a fabulous evening, filled with rambunctious tales of cricketing masti, with Kapil holding court, surrounded by breathless admirers. Gallons of alcohol were glugged as Kapil regaled guests, speaking ‘Kaplish’—his unique brand of English that sounds more Haryanvi and is utterly captivating. Kapil’s confidence has always been such that he has managed to convert a “disadvantage” (lack of fluency in the Queen’s English) to an endearing trait that instantly connects to millions of Indians and Pakistanis.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kapil’s robust attitude to life has made him a champion of champions—the ‘Haryana Hurricane’ is the only player to have taken more than 400 wickets (434) and scored more than 5,000 runs in Tests. Awarded the Padma Bhushan (1991) and inducted into the ICC Cricket Hall of Fame, he is at that stage in his life when immortality beckons via a well made biopic (83)—starring the irrepressible Ranveer Singh as Kapil—which has set the box-office on fire!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I remember Kapil walking into a super-glam Bollywood party and completely stealing the show when he left all the chattering, preening celebrities and went to the service area where frenzied waiters were trying hard to keep guests happy. Kapil hung around with them, posing for countless pictures, his arm thrown around the overwhelmed waiting staff. The posse of photographers abandoned the other big-ticket stars and surrounded Kapil. I would like to believe he was being genuine and not trying to upstage anybody else. By speaking to the staff in rustic Hindi and Punjabi and acknowledging them, he had made their evening!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now comes the movie. According to sources, Kapil cut a mean deal with the studios and managed to get Rs15 crore as a fee, of which he kept five for himself, and distributed the rest among the team. As the son of a timber merchant from what is Pakistan today, Kapil is known to be a shrewd businessman. Each time I visit Chandigarh where he grew up, I pass Kaptain’s Retreat, his popular restaurant. He has interests in many other companies and a passion for cars. His wife, Romi, calls herself an entrepreneur. Their daughter Amiya was born 16 years after their marriage.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kapil leads a flamboyant public life, unlike some of his contemporaries. Teammates say he works hard and plays even harder! Why not? He is a natural athlete, a triple jumper in his youth, plays football and golf and excels at both. He will be 63 next month, and look at him! Something of Ranveer Singh seems to have rubbed off on Kapil—these days he sports hairbands, a ponytail and extravagantly sequined jackets. The two together cut quite an OTT picture!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The movie has clicked with millennials and Gen Z, who were not born when Kapil lifted the World Cup. People of my vintage can clearly remember the moment when India was weeping with joy and Kapil was by far the biggest icon alive! How our current Boys in Blue fare in South Africa remains to be seen. But, as of now, the cricketing triumph in 83 is what has captured our imagination. As always, Kapil has come out on top once again, inspiring thousands of young cricketers to pick up that bat, and hit the ball out of the stadium, just like their hero!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>About the movie, my lips are sealed. Go buy a ticket and watch it in 3D. Take a box of tissues; you will need it!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Here’s wishing readers fresh perspectives and new insights in 2022!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>See ya on the other side!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>@shobhaade</b></p> Sun Jan 02 11:01:31 IST 2022 pretending-to-this-day <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>It has been 30 years since my second novel, Starry Nights, was published. Forget the number of editions and covers the novel has seen over the past three decades—what interests me is its relevance today. Much has changed in India since the day Starry Nights outraged readers by its strong language, a liberal use of Hinglish profanities and its naked portrayal of Bollywood lives. But one thing remains the same—our hypocrisy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We continue to express our disapproval, whenever rules are broken. Thirty years ago, women were expected to write a certain kind of book—if they wanted their work to see the light of day. An exotic version of Jane Austen in a sari, was hoped for by publishers, too, unsure of how any other style or story would work in the ultra-conservative market. They were bang on! Starry Nights was an unapologetic bodice-ripper, with cuss words and crude sex. I was writing about a rambunctious film industry, replete with rollicking affairs and clandestine rolls in the hay.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Our wonderful movie stars—sexually adventurous then, as they are today—needed to be depicted and celebrated the way they were and still are! Come on… we are talking movie stars. Not well-disciplined, chaste, obedient boy scouts and girl guides! Their antics were wild and awe-inspiring. That is what made them different and impossibly alluring. So yes, Starry Nights refused to take the sanitised route.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There was Aasha Rani, the luscious, predatory protagonist out to make it—and make a hero or two, while she was at it. Shocking? Hardly so… except that back in those days, without social media, movie stars could hang on to their secrets and flings, their sexcapades and romps in foreign locales, without the outside world getting even a whiff of it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What has changed dramatically is all thanks to that beast called SM (Sado-masochistic Social Media). Nothing remains hidden, down to the last lip-filler and hair transplant. Actors themselves have become masters of media manipulation—mystique be damned. They go all out cranking up the publicity machine and upping their game by the micro-second. From risqué airport looks clad in what resembles inner-wear to glimpses of butt-cracks and cleavages as they slide in and out of luxury limos, our stars are ready to flash and flaunt at the drop of a g-string. Nothing is off-limits, nothing stays under wraps. Affairs, break ups, hook ups, divorce, proposals and propositions—bring it on!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Every celebrity is a commodity today. All movie stars want to monetise their ‘brand’. Not a moment in their hectic lives is considered too personal or sacred, not to be out there for the world to feast on. That is how the biskoot crumbles across the world. If you are in showbiz—you show!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Today’s stars are perfectly happy to play ball, provided someone pays for the ride. Thirty years ago, media itself was a lot less aggressive. There were no TRP battles raging and PR agencies rarely went beyond issuing bland press releases before a big movie launch. The private lives of stars attracted intense curiosity—but the real fun was to unearth a few juicy scandals, as we at Stardust did, with such aplomb.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Today, it is the stars who stage scandalous photo-ops, provided they are assured of getting a fat fee for letting it all hang out. There are price tags on every aspect of their lives. Having a baby? Do a book! Wedding? Call the networks for an exclusive deal. Divorce? Issue a public statement. Death in the family? Inform the media. Mental health crisis? Start a podcast. There are goals and goals to be scored and sold; fitness tops the list. Gain weight, drop weight, shrink, expand—but make sure it is all on Insta, kilo by kilo.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I love the new brazenness of Bollywood—no filters, no edits. Even the stodgiest of desis are getting used to the new normal where star kids hit international headlines on drug abuse charges, and reality shows stop at nothing. In a country where kissing was considered a mild form of perversion, gigantic movie posters now feature graphic lip-locks—and nobody dies at traffic signals.</p> <p>But, yes, Starry Nights still raises eyebrows—aren’t I lucky?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>@shobhaade</b></p> Sun Dec 19 11:27:52 IST 2021 shobhaa-de-writes-about-vicky-kat-big-day <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>I am guessing Katrina Kaif’s ‘Kala Chashma’ will be off when she marries Vicky Kaushal on December 9, at what is being billed as ‘The Wedding of the Year’ by Bollywood fans. It is a very interesting match, given their dramatically diverse backgrounds: Katrina, 38, was born in Hong Kong to Suzanne Turquotte. Nothing is known about her father (it is not cricketer Mohammed Kaif), but she has several siblings, who were raised in the UK like her.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Vicky Kaushal, 33, is an award-winning actor, born in a humble Mumbai chawl to a stuntman father and homemaker mother. Both Katrina and Vicky have made it big on their own and can be counted as top bracket stars today. Katrina is among the highest advance tax-paying actresses, and has an impressive 55,736,589 followers on Instagram.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The first time I interacted with Katrina was years ago at an award function, where we were seated at the same table. She was and remains, ethereally beautiful. She was polite but distant till she was called up on stage to present an award and speak about the event. Yes, her strong Brit accent was a challenge to decode, but her presentation was flawless and fluent—I was floored. Subsequently, I would run into her at prominent social events, where she conducted herself with sophistication and poise; no loud ‘filmy’ behaviour.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yes, Katrina’s roller-coaster love life made headlines, but she never dignified those wild rumours and hung on to her privacy. Incredibly enough, she has managed to maintain excellent relationships with all her ex-es, notably, the mercurial Salman Khan, who considers her family.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Vicky Kaushal attained superstardom after his brilliant turn in Uri—The Surgical Strike, with a series of top-notch performances in Raazi and Gangs of Wasseypur. Like his wife-to-be, he has maintained a low-profile life, with only a single faux-pas (caught in a candid video at Karan Johar’s infamous party).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The big question is what happens to Katrina’s soaring career once she becomes Mrs Kaushal, and maybe, opts for early motherhood? I suspect she will follow Anushka Sharma’s path, and set up a production house.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Katrina’s last outing has been opposite 54-year-old Akshay Kumar in Sooryavanshi, in which she sizzled in a rain dance, while playing a doctor (don’t laugh!). Known to be shrewd, ambitious and intelligent, perhaps her future energies will focus on building a Vicky-Kat brand, much like Virat-Anushka.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meanwhile, fans are agog as they hang on to every tiny detail about the forthcoming shaadi. Will the bridegroom opt for a full on panju, balle balle wedding and arrive on a white mare? Will Kat’s Sabya lehenga set off a new trend? Who will be invited and who, not? How cool that Vicky-Kat have beaten Ranbir-Alia to the altar! Aren’t we silly to waste so much time on such stuff? Maybe not!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With a vicious new variant staring us in the face (Omicron), God knows we could do with a little levity. Nothing like a super glamorous wedding of great looking movie stars in a magical setting (Rajasthan), to keep our spirits buoyant.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Katrina’s remarkable success story as an ‘outsider’ in the closed world of Hindi-speaking Bollywood is nothing short of a feat. As for the Punjabi munda marrying an English rose (insiders insist she is 100 per cent foreign, with no connection to India), this is the way forward in an industry that stands for inclusivity on all levels. ‘Abhi toh party shuru hui hai…’ Congratulations!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>@shobhaade</b></p> Sat Dec 04 12:13:09 IST 2021 neerja-birla-no-longer-viewed-as-just-kumar-mangalam-beautiful-wife-shobhaa-de <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The best thing about Neerja Birla at 50 (her milestone birthday was in April) is that she has come into her own! No longer is she viewed as just the elegant, beautiful wife of Kumar Mangalam Birla—one of India’s most respected billionaires—but as an articulate and dynamic personality in her own right. Having known her as the shy, demure, soft-spoken bride (they have been married for 32 years, and have three grown up children), the poised and eloquent woman I meet these days surprises and delights me!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Recently, her husband celebrated her 50th birthday with a well-planned three-day family retreat in Chandigarh, to which he had invited around 60 members of the extended Birla parivar. The posh and super exclusive The Oberoi Sukhvilas resort had been booked out for this private and precious occasion. I was invited to be ‘In Conversation’ with Neerja, since we have known each other over the years and there is a great deal of genuine fondness both ways. The idea was not to roast or grill the birthday girl, but to keep the interaction lively, light-hearted and engaging for the assembled family members. Neerja is a morning person, unlike me. She was as fresh as a bouquet of just-picked flowers, dressed in a pastel-coloured couture outfit, her eyes shining, her smile dazzling. And there I was—bleary-eyed but excited to draw her out and make the session rock. After all, her husband was seated in the front row, along with her mother-in-law, the wonderful Rajashree Birla.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I need not have worried! Neerja was on top of it from the first question itself! Both of us had decided not to follow a script, or stick to a format. The conversation was free flowing and surprisingly candid.</p> <p>Today, Neerja has taken on several roles and challenges that keep her on the move non-stop, as a philanthropist, mental health activist and educationist. She is invited as a motivational speaker across India, and is known to extend her support to several NGOs and charities dealing with underprivileged children. Neerja spoke about all her various commitments with refreshing candour, and did not shy away from saying it like it is, during a short banter with her husband, whose views on marriage and parenting differed from hers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I reminded both of them about the time years ago when we used to watch movies together at their private theatre, and how unobtrusively Neerja would ensure everyone was looked after. She was always traditionally dressed and several kilos heavier than she is today.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The physical transformation is pretty dramatic. At 5.7”, Neerja has the posture and elegance of a supermodel these days, as she makes&nbsp;solo&nbsp;public appearances dressed in casual couture that does not shout. She is an enthusiastic member of a club that attracts cross-country cyclists, who explore new destinations regularly. Her cycling trips through Kerala and Rajasthan, she says, have been real eye-openers, as the group made unscheduled loo stops in villages, and experienced nothing but warmth and genuine desi hospitality.</p> <p>Neerja told me that she and her children had started to read the Bhagavad Gita during the early days of the lockdown. It was their way of coping and bonding through this terrible period.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The next few years look exciting for Neerja and her close-knit family.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We attended the soft launch of Jolie’s—a trendy private club spread over 21,000sq.ft, and driven by Aryaman, her 24-year-old son, who till recently was a professional cricketer (Ranji trophy and IPL included). Ananya, her singer daughter, is making waves internationally, while Advaitesha, the youngest, is actively working to further expand the Birla mental health initiatives. Neerja’s glow of pride cannot be missed!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>@shobhaade</b></p> Sun Nov 21 09:17:08 IST 2021 mrs-wankhede-was-in-her-husband-corner-when-he-needed-her-shobhaa-de <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The saga of Sameer Wankhede—the high-profile Narcotics Control Bureau zonal director who had the ‘gall’ to arrest ‘Prince Aryan’ (as fans have gushingly rechristened him) is many things to many people. But in the eyes of Kranti Redkar, his 39-year-old attractive and feisty wife, he is nothing less than a superhero. ”I know my husband,” she declared dramatically during a press conference in Mumbai, as she went on to spiritedly defend the Indian Revenue Service officer who seems to be in hot water at the moment. Till she decided to jump in and fight for her husband’s credibility, Kranti was best known as a Marathi ‘item girl’ (as actors who dance to hit tracks are described), whose song ‘Kombadi Palali’ was her sole claim to fame. Born to a filmmaker father, Kranti, a true-blue Mumbai mulgi (girl), married the controversial Wankhede in 2017, 11 years after Wankhede’s first marriage to Dr Shabana Quraishi. Had Wankhede not hit the headlines after arresting Shah Rukh Khan’s son during the infamous drugs raid on a cruise liner, chances are Kranti would have remained an unknown person— active on social media (328k followers), with twin daughters, Zyda and Ziya, to raise—while her husband went about cleaning up Bollywood (Wankhede played the main role in the Rhea Chakraborty arrest, after the tragic death of Sushant Singh Rajput).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was only after Maharashtra minister Nawab Malik went ballistic after Aryan’s arrest and made serious allegations against Wankhede that the public sat up and took notice of the outraged wife who attempted to counter Malik’s charges across media channels, in an act that received a mixed response. There were supporters who lauded her for taking on the mighty, after she insisted, “We are not rich people… my husband is an honest government officer…. We are worried about our safety.” Then came the detractors who asked belligerently, “Why can’t Wankhede be man enough and stand up for himself? Why is he sending his wife to defend him?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kranti was no match for Malik, who was out to discredit Wankhede after publicly stating he would see to it that the IRS officer lost his job! Well, so far Wankhede has not been sacked.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The public interest in the case has all but disappeared after Aryan’s release on bail. That leaves a very distressed wife, still attempting to protect her husband’s tattered reputation and tarnished honour. Wives of high-profile men who are in a soup, never have it easy. If they speak up, they are dubbed attention grabbers out to milk the situation for personal publicity. If they keep quiet and stay out of the fray, they are accused of being ‘scared’ and ‘lacking a spine’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kranti has done what her conscience dictated. She was in her husband’s corner when he most needed her open support. What happens next is hard to predict. It is a complex case, with powerful protagonists at play. If Malik is done with Wankhede, the man can quietly go back to work, provided he gets to retain his job. SRK seems keen to get his own commitments back on track, while his son gets the required help from nutritionists and psychological counsellors. But one thing nobody can take away from Wankhede—he brought the issue of mass scale drugs consumption in Bollywood/Mumbai into public discourse. That—and the fact that his wife Kranti loves him to pieces!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>@shobhaade</b></p> Sat Nov 06 11:01:40 IST 2021 sidhartha-mallya-has-found-his-own-identity-and-voice-finally-shobhaa-de <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Sidhartha Mallya is used to being called a ‘Poor little rich boy’. As he says it in his book If I’m Honest, he has been called worse names. He addresses this put down along with many other hurtful epithets while writing about his mental health journey. I read the book over two nights, and wondered why Sidhartha chose to go public with his life at this stage. I have known the young man from the days when he was a plump, cocky schoolboy with a plum Brit accent. Behind the brash façade hid a wounded, lost child… and each time we met, I longed to assure him it was ‘okay to be not okay’ (as the popular phrase goes).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When I finished the book, I figured it was a deeply cathartic effort, which could have done with far tighter editing—surely, Sidhartha deserved that much! It must have taken enormous courage to share not just his own troubled life, but to also attach an earnest missionary zeal to the narrative. Sidhartha wants readers to better understand the process of healing, and to that extent, the book works well. When he describes what exactly is involved while dealing with obsessive-compulsive disorder, there is a huge takeaway from this information, since it is a personalised, identifiable account. Ditto for his different phases involving binge drinking, alcoholism, depression and a dependence on prescription drugs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But most people are more interested in knowing the worst about his father.&nbsp;Sidhartha is acutely aware of the ‘problem’ of being Vijay Mallya’s only son (he has two half-sisters and two step siblings). While he stops short of dishing the dirt, there is enough masala in the book to pique interest.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sidhartha would not have been this person had his life not&nbsp;been affected by the emotionally scarring events he was subjected to at such a young age. It is all there—his parents’ painful divorce when he was ten; the discovery of his father’s parallel family, about which he had no idea; his crippling sense of isolation as he found himself anchorless and adrift coping as best as he could, while his father went about his own adventurous life, oblivious to what Sidhartha was going through.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The message of the book is uplifting and positive. Sidhartha is not playing martyr or victim.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>My admiration is reserved for Vijay Mallya, who must have cleared the book before it was published. Vijay does not come across as a villain, and Sidhartha’s hero worship of his father is most evident. Having known the family over decades, I could empathise with Sid’s perspective and identify his multiple traumas. When he writes about his step-mother and grandmother, or his step siblings and half-sisters, there is anger and hurt, but no malice. It is a cruel, crude and voyeuristic world out there. Sidhartha, who has relocated to L.A., where he hopes to make it as an actor, has found his own identity and voice finally. He gained a loyal following, first as a casual and very witty cricket ‘commentator’ when he made off the cuff remarks on camera during the IPL matches (his father owned the Royal Challengers), and more recently, with his well-articulated podcasts on mental health issues. The young were in sync with what he was saying, and it is to his credit that he was not whingeing or whining.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The book ends on an upbeat note with Sid jauntily signing off by thanking his dog, Duke. When a troll commented, “You look like a dog,” Sid replied, “That’s an insult to dogs.” Sidhartha has ‘embraced’ his truth. He urges readers to do the same.</p> Sun Oct 24 09:38:20 IST 2021 aryan-khan-was-ncbs-target-and-trump-card-says-shobhaa-de <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Fans of superstar Shah Rukh Khan are neatly divided, following the dramatic arrest of his son—Aryan Khan, 23, who was picked up by the Narcotics Control Bureau, along with seven others, during a raid on a rave party being held on a cruise liner. Inevitably, his arrest dominated news channels, as anchors went into overdrive with breathless reports and flimsy information. The tragic death of four protesting farmers in Lakhimpur Kheri, who were killed after being hit by a convoy, was barely covered. Sad, but that is how global media operates when a JUICY high-profile celebrity story breaks.</p> <p>Aryan is being called a <i>bachcha</i> (child), a ‘good kid’ by supporters of his parents, and the irony of those comments gets lost in the overall noise surrounding the case. This is not a blame game at all—but at 23, Aryan is a full-fledged adult, a graduate, and should not be referred to or treated as a <i>bachcha. </i>Let the NCB do its job. Chances are, the young man (not a ‘kid’) will get off with a rap on the knuckles. As any other person in his exact circumstances also would, once the legal formalities get resolved. The thing is, Aryan is not ‘any other person’. There is a downside to being the son of one of India’s most iconic movie stars. Just as there are several upsides—too obvious to warrant elaboration. Had Aryan been just another rich man’s son partying on the cruise liner that night, the NCB would not have bothered to pump up their so-called success. Aryan was their target and trump card. Eventually, they found nothing on his person! But the way the story played out during those first few hours, one would have thought Aryan was caught red-handed with a huge haul of contraband drugs.</p> <p>At the moment, there is egg on several faces. People are asking why the NCB continues to focus so much on a certain section of Mumbai’s society, while ignoring the real culprits. Agreed, a famous catch sends out a strong signal to others .The party circuit quietens down while regulars wait for the storm to blow over.</p> <p>For the NCB to be taken more seriously by the public, the officers have to establish their credentials more convincingly. Aryan will always remember his few hours in custody, and perhaps choose his friends more carefully in future. But the raves will continue across India—in Goa, Delhi and Mumbai. In Jaipur, Lucknow and Chennai. In Chandigarh, Raipur and Ludhiana. Anywhere and everywhere the drug trail flourishes. Nabbing the big fish is far more challenging than picking up Aryan. But that does not get the NCB any headlines! The top guys insist they are serious about tackling the drug menace on a war footing. If so, citizens are keen to know what happened to the recent monumental drug haul at the Mundra port in Gujarat? What was done with the confiscated drugs? Was the entire consignment burnt? Or just a small part of it? Will the rest of the haul find its way into the market while law enforcers look the other way?</p> <p>Aryan is fortunate enough to have led a highly privileged life so far. He has enjoyed multiple perks being the son of a multi-millionaire father. Unfortunately, there is always a price tag attached to fame and fortune. This is not just a wake-up call, but a ‘grow up’ call. The family’s well-wishers should be mindful of the words they choose while talking about Aryan. “Allow the bachcha to breathe,’’ urged Suniel Shetty to the media. Suffocation comes in many guises. Beware….</p> Thu Oct 07 17:29:39 IST 2021 alia-bhatts-new-ad-questioning-patriarchy-is-overdue-need-says-shobhaa-de <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The one word I cannot bear these days is ‘woke’. Alia Bhatt’s new commercial for a wedding apparel brand has caused hackles to be raised across the board. The 28-year-old, award-winning actor is being heavily trolled for trying to be woke—and failing! Personally speaking, I liked the commercial for what it was saying—that brides are not ‘things’ to be ‘donated’, and we should stop calling young girls ‘<i>paraya dhan</i>’. The message is conveyed pretty powerfully when the groom’s parents join the brides’ and jointly perform what Alia calls ‘<i>kanyamaan</i>’ (honouring the bride).</p> <p>She urges viewers to drop the age-old term—‘<i>kanyadaan</i>’ and switch to the more dignified ‘<i>kanyamaan</i>’. Critics are attacking the brand and Alia, for promoting such a concept without comprehending the deeper significance of the Hindu marriage ritual, which, they insist, has existed for centuries. While it is fine to disagree with the premise of the commercial, personal attacks on Alia and her family must be condemned. There is also a nasty attempt to bring other religions into the debate, with trolls pointing out the Christian custom of ‘giving away the bride’ in church, and the Muslim practice of ‘<i>mehr</i>’. Several voices are condemning Alia for being a bit too ‘woke’ for her own good! The audacity of the commercial is also being severely damned by those who cannot stomach the underlying message, and have not bothered to look beyond the obvious.</p> <p>Today’s bride has a mind of her own. Alia’s bride challenges stereotypes, and does so with a smile and zero aggression. The commercial is aimed at a certain section of our society—the one that buys designer bridal wear from the brand she promotes. Agreed, Alia’s earlier outing for the same brand (Dulhanwali feeling) was lapped up by fans who totally related to a nervous bride’s mixed emotions and anxieties as she is walked to the marriage pandal. That was not a ‘message’ film—it was infused with empathy and sentiment, which touched many chords. It was innocuous and non-controversial, unlike the latest one.</p> <p>It will be interesting to see how the current uproar will impact Alia’s commercial standing, given that she ranks in the top ten Indian celebrities in the endorsement’s stakes, with a brand value of $36.5 million.</p> <p>Controversies are not new to Alia, given what a nose dive her popularity took after the tragic death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput, when movie fans were polarised by the nepotism issue and went after Karan Johar along with all the young stars he had launched—including Alia in <i>Student of the Year</i>.</p> <p>Well, the movie business has taken a huge hit during the pandemic, and actors are just about staggering back to work on sanitised locations. Alia has quite a few interesting projects in her bag, like <i>Jee Le Zaraa</i>, which features Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Katrina Kaif, and is billed as a ‘road trip’ movie, much like the other film <i>Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara</i> produced by the same team (Farhan and Zoya Akhtar). As for the outrage over the commercial, let us hope it starts a few healthy, meaningful conversations which go beyond the mundane. Questioning patriarchy is an overdue need in our deeply prejudiced and hierarchical society. I am no expert on wedding rituals, but let us take a closer look at the symbolism embedded in the commercial, which attempts to give a beloved daughter far more respect within her family by treating her as much more than a precious possession that can be passed from one family to the next.&nbsp;</p> Thu Sep 23 15:15:56 IST 2021 humble-neha-dhupia-didnt-allow-pregnancy-to-put-brakes-on-her-work-shobhaa-de <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>By the time you read this, mother/actor (in that order), Neha Dhupia may have delivered her second child. I met her a few days ago at a memorial service for a beloved common friend. She was full term and a little out of breath when she cheerfully told me the baby was due in a couple of weeks.</p> <p>The former beauty contestant—who won the Femina Miss India pageant in 2002, and made it to the top 10 at the Miss Universe contest in Puerto Rico—was born in Kochi, 41 years ago, to a Navy commander and his homemaker wife. After graduating from the University of Delhi with an honours in history, Neha considered a career as an Indian Foreign Service officer, but opted for acting instead.</p> <p>Having known her a little over the years, I can safely say Neha chose well and sensibly. She is a determined, focused and hardworking career woman, who does not allow advanced pregnancy to put brakes on her work commitments. She recently completed her latest film, <i>A Thursday</i>, playing assistant commissioner of police Catherine Alvarez.</p> <p>Such an option was unavailable to an earlier generation of female actors, which made so many of them either shun or defer motherhood, or even terminate pregnancies. Today’s ladies are far more confident about their worth and positioning. They have cleverly converted what was seen as a ‘liability’ (a so-called ‘bloated’ body) into a marketing tool. Like Kareena Kapoor Khan, who capitalised on each phase of her dual pregnancies, paving the way for others. Neha was aggressively trolled and fat-shamed on social media post-baby, but that did not deter her from fighting back and reclaiming her body!</p> <p>Neha’s filmography is not particularly impressive, but she does have a substantial following on Instagram (4.5 million), a platform she uses effectively to promote not just herself, but some of the charitable organisations she supports. There is authenticity in her posts, which connects well with her followers and leads to lucrative brand endorsements (paid posts).</p> <p>Neha’s overnight marriage in a gurdwara to fellow actor Angad Bedi, and the birth of her daughter a few months later, made her a hero in the eyes of her fans. That little girl is five years old today, and features frequently in her doting mom’s lively posts.</p> <p>As a competent podcaster of #NoFilterNeha, she has garnered 2.3 million listeners, with her guests (Kapil Dev, Rana Daggubatti, Bhumi Pednekar) candidly sharing personal aspects of their lives sans inhibition.</p> <p>Being besties with the likes of Karan Johar and Soha Ali Khan&nbsp;has provided a valuable leg up to Neha. It came as no surprise when Soha hosted a surprise baby shower last month for the radiant mother-to-be.</p> <p>I admire professionals like Neha who go about their lives minus the unnecessary starry airs frequently adopted by the film fraternity. She remains feisty, but approachable, and behaves ‘normally’ in public. It is a trait I had noticed way back in 2014 when we were in Colombo together. She was with her mother, and I was travelling with my daughter. I had to stay back for work, and the three returned on an earlier flight. Neha&nbsp;behaved like a concerned older sister and took good care of her nervous&nbsp;co-passenger.</p> <p>When we discuss ‘role models’ in our midst, we often overlook individuals like Neha—who is managing her life and its varied demands with admirable panache. Check out her Insta tribute on Teacher’s Day—it is personal, warm and sensitive, seen through the eyes of her daughter, and deals with the trauma of virtual teaching. Neha thanked overburdened teachers for seeing their students through the pandemic, without demanding any concessions.</p> <p>We need more Nehas to keep our spirits afloat, for who can say when this Covid-19 nightmare will end?</p> Thu Sep 09 16:18:10 IST 2021 shobhaa-de-remembers-pradeep-guha-the-quintessential-media-man <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Pradeep Guha was many things to many people. But, above all, he was a good friend. His sudden death last week, shocked and saddened well-wishers from every conceivable strata of society. Particularly devastated were those who ‘PG’ had mentored, nurtured and helped when they were unknowns. That was Guha’s gift—he could suss out talent in individuals who were not aware of their own potential, until Guha instinctively identified it—and then smoothly took over.</p> <p>PG lived, breathed, ate and talked media—he knew the business like no other professional I have encountered in my long media career. The big differential? He completely got media monetisation almost before anyone else, and brazenly created ‘brands’ out of established, fuddy-duddy publications like the Grand Old Lady of Bori Bunder. If today the 183-year-old is still the belle of the ball, it is thanks to Guha and his handpicked team that revolutionised the way media saw itself and wanted readers to see it.</p> <p>Readers, themselves, were converted into ‘consumers’ and every new addition to the <i>Times of India</i> stable was sold as a ‘product’. Rivals sneered and scoffed at the man who had dared to tamper with the sacrosanct, rarefied world of news and opinion. Boom! It was gone! All those lofty media barons who shrank from selling sacred editorial space in their publications soon fell in line with the Guha formula which was based on the premise: media was just another business where everything was for sale—including the masthead!</p> <p>Page 3 cheekily introduced a slew of celebrities and spawned a lifestyle revolution using a simple psychological strategy, which Guha had sensed long before it went mainstream. He tapped into aspirational India, and Page 3 became the ultimate narcotic for fame junkies who were willing to pay a small fortune, just for a tiny mention on the page. Guha shrewdly launched fantasies featuring larger than life narratives in a country that was starved of glamour and hungry for more. He also hosted the biggest, snazziest party—the <i>Bombay Times</i> party.</p> <p>Guha understood the power of celebrity: he created celebrities. His eye for identifying the X-factor led to so many of his protégés (Sushmita Sen, Lara Dutta, Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan) winning international beauty pageants year after year, leading cynics to wonder if India had a monopoly over beauty!&nbsp;Guha did the same with the Filmfare Awards, which he scaled up, professionalised and telecast worldwide.&nbsp;Mega stars sang and danced at these annual shows, which were as much about asserting clout as honouring talent. Guha, by then, had become something of a superstar himself, with actors thanking him profusely from the stage, as they gushed and preened for the cameras. Perhaps, this was Guha’s undoing. He had broken an unwritten rule and become bigger than the brands he promoted.</p> <p>For me, he was the garrulous, gregarious Bong, whose annual Diwali party, (hosted by him and his wife Papia at their fancy Khar penthouse) soon replaced the <i>Bombay Times</i> party and acquired its own coveted status. It was at this bar that the Bong gang conducted its own <i>adda</i>, with Guha presiding and trading jokes, while other non-Bengali guests floated around, networking and schmoozing, hoping to get noticed by the ‘Queen Maker’.</p> <p>Guha was a regular at our home, especially if there were visiting Bongs and when being unashamedly clannish was perfectly acceptable! Our friendship had nothing to do with anything other than a shared kinship and a fondness for good food. I will miss the Bong bon vivant… he lived the good life with gusto! Goodbye, Bondhu.</p> Thu Aug 26 15:51:27 IST 2021 shilpa-shetty-is-a-rare-attractive-woman-equally-admired-by-both-sexes-shobhaa-de <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The amazing thing about Shilpa Shetty is how easily she makes friends. She is one of those rare, supremely attractive women who is equally admired by men and women. I have known her and her family for years and marveled at her impeccable conduct in public. No tantrums, no starry airs, no attitude. Her professionalism is acknowledged by the exacting film industry, and after 29 years of being a part of showbiz, Shilpa, at age 46, has led a charmed life—especially after her hard won £100,000, when she defeated Jermaine Jackson, survived Jade Goody’s racist taunts and emerged victorious in the <i>Celebrity Big Brother</i> reality show (2007).</p> <p>Shilpa is in the news these days for entirely different reasons. The Bombay High Court threw out the bail application of her husband, Raj Kundra; he stays in jail, accused of peddling pornographic videos, destroying evidence and exploiting young starlets. After a longish silence, Shilpa issued a carefully worded press statement, asking for privacy as a mother of two children.</p> <p>The thing in this case is: despite the sleazy nature of the allegations against her husband Raj, by and large Shilpa has been spared and nothing rubbed off on her. In fact, many women felt sorry for her predicament—perhaps identifying with her situation. What is a wife supposed to do under such circumstances? Did Shilpa know or not know about the nature of her husband’s ‘business’? Should she be given the benefit of the doubt and exonerated? Even though she was (till recently) a co-director in his firms? Could she have been totally in the dark about the smutty videos that were being shot and sold to millions of subscribers internationally?</p> <p>So many wives have been similarly implicated in legitimate businesses owned and conducted by their husbands, and have blindly signed documents, without glancing at their content! Stupid? Of course! But a trusting wife rarely subjects her husband’s paperwork to the kind of scrutiny it demands. Shilpa will not be the first or last one to do the same—assuming that’s her contention. I have known highly-educated, business savvy ladies who have been ruined by their husbands’ corrupt ways. One does not have to look beyond the high-profile bankers in jail, whose loyal wives are under the scanner for signing dodgy documents. Traditional societies demand this level of unquestioning, unconditional trust and obedience from wives. A wife who dares to question her husband’s professional conduct or refuses to sign on the dotted line is viewed with suspicion and hostility.</p> <p>The few times I met Raj and Shilpa, I found them in perfect sync. Now, if that was a façade or a careful construct, is impossible to tell. The public projection of a very much in love couple, raising a young family, and posting cute videos, was credible enough for fans to swallow. Shilpa’s immense popularity as a judge on dance reality shows kept her visible and relevant. Significantly, when Raj was asked what sort of a business he was in that afforded both of them such a lavish lifestyle, he had laughed and answered, “I find it easier to run multiple businesses… than handle my wife’s <i>nakhras</i>.” It was a shrewd, non-committal response that gave nothing away, while Shilpa continued to slave in the studios!</p> <p>Perhaps the Kundra imbroglio will serve as a lesson to other equally ‘ignorant’ wives who claim they had no idea what their husbands did for a living. Till an unsavoury scandal lands not only the man you married into a hot soup, but also you, the gullible idiot who trusted the scoundrel. Despite her goodwill and popularity, not a single film industry personality (except Madhavan) spoke up for her. That is how showbiz works.</p> Thu Aug 12 15:57:00 IST 2021 amartya-sen-is-a-rare-gem-who-doesnt-take-his-own-genius-seriously-shobhaa-de <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Remembering, however, is not the same thing as writing a memoir,” said the much-celebrated Bharat Ratna and Nobel Prize winner in Economic Sciences, Amartya Sen, on the first page of his recently launched <i>Home in the World.</i></p> <p>It is indeed a brisk, breezy and delightful read---anecdotal and chatty. But, as critics have pointed out, it doesn’t quite hold up as a satisfying memoir written by an iconic world intellectual, gushingly described as a modern day Voltaire by noted economist Kaushik Basu, no less. In a recent essay, Pico Iyer has asked a significant question, “Where is home’’?</p> <p>For a cerebral nomad and quintessential philosopher like Sen, perhaps ‘no fixed address’ works a tad better than the loose English translation of Satyajit Ray’s masterpiece Ghaire Bhaire from which Sen has taken the title for his tome. “Home and the world are the same thing for me,” Sen emphasises.</p> <p>My last meeting with Sen was at an intimate dinner hosted by his adorable son-in-law, John Makinson. Sen had delivered a sterling keynote address at the Jaipur Literature Festival, followed by an erudite conversation with John. I am sure Sen (83 at the time) was pretty exhausted, but his legendary appetite for conversation, people, wine and great food, ensured he and his historian wife, Emma Rothschild, wouldn’t skip the elaborate dinner laid on in their honour by the Rambagh Palace Hotel. He was surprisingly relaxed and talkative as the six of us gupshupped informally and laughed a great deal. I had shared my ‘plan’ for Sen’s next book with John and Sen’s gorgeous daughter Nandana. After a couple of glasses of a superlative Red, I took a deep breath and announced, “I have an idea for your next book---I think you’ll love it.” Sen stopped eating and looked at me. Encouraged, I blurted out, “You should write a follow up to the wildly successful The Argumentative Indian…” I stopped. He waited expectantly. All eyes were on me. I said to the world’s most respected economist, “Please write a book on ‘<i>The Erotic Indian</i>’.” Silence. But not an outright dismissal. Recklessly, I went on to elaborate on the theme, taking care to mention it would be a thoughtful study on the history of eroticism in our part of the world, and not a trivial undertaking of our sexual peccadillos. What followed was a lively exchange on the literary merits of such a book, but Sen, regretfully confessed he was not an authority on the subject and would therefore have to pass!</p> <p>Sen calls himself an atheist, but his knowledge of world religions is staggering. His love for travel has had to be curtailed given his frail health, and the fact that he has endured serious sicknesses, including mouth and prostate cancer, since a very early age. But nothing can stop Sen!</p> <p>As a very vocal human rights campaigner, who is described as ‘a citizen of everywhere’, Sen is a rare gem who does not take his own genius seriously. He has an impish sense of humour, and the curiosity of an exceptionally bright child. His eyes sparkle and dance as he holds forth on a myriad topics with consummate ease, making it appear so effortless. So, I wasn’t surprised to hear Sen dismiss some of the more rabidly anti-Muslim views of the ‘other’ writer-genius---Trinidadian Indian Nobel prize winner V.S. Naipaul. “Absolute Nonsense,” Sen retorted when asked what he thought of Naipaul’s take on the history of India’s Muslim dynasties. Had Naipaul been alive, his withering comeback to Sen’s putdown would have been epic!</p> Thu Jul 29 17:54:59 IST 2021 aamir-khan-and-kiran-rao-are-inspiration-for-troubled-couples-shobhaa-de <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Ira Khan, 24, Aamir Khan’s daughter with his first wife, Reena Dutta, 50, shared a sweet video of a cheesecake recently. It was her first post on Instagram after her father, Aamir, 56, announced his divorce from Kiran Rao, 47.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Celeb watchers instantly deconstructed the ‘significance’ of Ira’s cheesecake video, looking for clues—how has the family reacted to this dramatic and unexpected divorce announcement from Bollywood A-list couple, who had held it together for 15 years and had a nine-year-old son from the marriage? Whether or not we accept it, people make celebrity marriages and divorces their business. Everyone has a view. This is a worldwide social phenomenon, so it is no use repeating, “It’s a personal matter between the couple.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That is the downside of being public figures: every aspect of life is played out in the public arena—birth, marriage, children, affairs, break-ups, divorce and death.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Divorce announcements in Bollywood were unheard of even a decade ago. Divorces happened. But, discreetly. There was still a great deal of stigma attached to it­—a stigma that seriously impacted careers, especially of female stars. Not so today.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the Aamir-Kiran divorce matter, both seem to be equal partners on all fronts. They co-founded Paani in 2016, to fight drought in Maharashtra. Like Bill and Melinda Gates, who insist their joint work at the foundation will continue, post-divorce, the Khans have also pledged to do the same. Melinda is a wealthy woman in her own right. Kiran’s net worth is reportedly $20million. She is a producer-director and screenwriter, who first met Aamir on the sets of Lagaan (2001), when she was assisting filmmaker Ashutosh Gowarikar, and Aamir was still married to Reena. True to their statement of staying friends and co-parenting their son, Azad, they were seen together in Ladakh earlier this week, on the sets of Aamir’s film, Laal Singh Chaddha.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Thousands of middle-class Indian couples, faced with the inevitability and trauma of divorce, seek guidance and take their cues from people like Aamir and Kiran. Divorce is deeply disturbing and emotionally shattering for most couples. In our society, access to counsellors is expensive and challenging. Most conservative families abhor the idea of divorce and urge warring couples to stay miserably together, rather than give themselves a second chance. A lot of film industry marriages are a sham that fools nobody. But for the watching world, it is viewed as a ‘stable’ marriage and the couples feature in glossy ‘happily ever after’ stories, which shower high praise on them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As a close family friend of Aamir and Kiran told me, “Every word of their statement is true. I can personally vouch that they are unimaginably genuine and sensitive human beings. Aamir once stated, ‘But Kiran and I never lie.’ How many of us can say that even to ourselves?” To that affirmation of loyalty, I can only add I have known both of them myself, but not this closely. Kiran, in particular, has come across as a ‘regular’ person—a far cry from other star wives with their airs and conceits. Which is why I was disappointed while watching their video about the divorce—Kiran did not open her mouth even once! She smiled and nodded blandly through Aamir’s short address, like she was a flowerpot or a ventriloquist’s dummy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The pandemic has taken a huge toll on urban marriages, with divorce cases spiralling and instances of domestic violence going up exponentially. A lot of troubled couples will no doubt seek inspiration from the way Aamir and Kiran are handling this, the most difficult time in their lives. Let us wish them the best.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>@shobhaade</b></p> Thu Jul 15 17:00:02 IST 2021 i-am-a-newly-minted-fan-of-shern-director-amit-masurkar-shobhaa-de <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>I took my time to watch the latest Vidya Balan starrer <i>Sherni</i>. I groaned: ‘Not another woke film’, since I had started and abandoned&nbsp;it thrice over, unable to get into the mood of Amit Masurkar’s film, currently streaming on Amazon Prime.</p> <p>And then, suddenly, it happened! I found myself inside a beautiful forest in Madhya Pradesh, following the tragic fate of a tigress and her two cubs, as a quietly determined, newly appointed forest office&nbsp;(brilliantly played by Vidya Balan) fights a battle she knows she is not likely to win.</p> <p>This is Masurkar’s third film, and my first Masurkar experience. I had skipped the national award-winning <i>Newton</i> (2017), which was India’s official entry to the Oscar’s and made a mainstream star out of Rajkummar Rao, playing a fiery election officer who is raging against a corrupt system. Masurkar’s first was <i>Sulemani Keeda </i>(2014), a comedy, I had zero knowledge of or real interest in.</p> <p>Let us call <i>Sherni</i> my virgin Masurkar movie—one that has left me panting for more.</p> <p>Masurkar at 40 is almost alarmingly self-assured for a man who started off as a student of industrial engineering in Manipal. He says it was Quentin Tarantino’s <i>Pulp Fiction</i> (the 1994 cult film) that dramatically changed his focus and made him deep dive into movies.</p> <p><i>Sherni</i> is about courage and female fortitude in the face of daunting odds. Masurkar could not have picked a stronger actor than Vidya for the de-glamourised role of a forest officer, who has seen it all up-close for nine years, but will not stop trying to beat the bureaucratic system. Vidya brings enormous dignity and intuitive intelligence to a role that demands not just commitment but a deeper understanding of social issues.</p> <p>The Masurkar-Balan combo, along with a stellar ensemble cast, including real life forest guards, have succeeded in creating a visually stunning world, where sounds and sights of the forest are seductively and lovingly captured by a technically sensitive crew that allows the camera to linger over small but necessary details of the wild, where a proud <i>sherni</i> roams.</p> <p>Masurkar is very clear about one thing—authenticity. And that, he insists, can only be achieved if filmmakers move out of their Mumbai offices and conduct meaningful, extended conversations with people outside.</p> <p>The parallel track that delves into the human <i>sherni</i>’s inner landscape is equally fascinating. Vidya&nbsp;captures the delicate domestic dilemmas in her marriage, with admirable restraint and subtlety, as she struggles to find ways to save the marked <i>sherni</i> in the jungle. While watching Vidya negotiate these two terrains, I marvelled at her choice of roles and her awe-inspiring controlled on-screen emotions, where every side glance and small smile successfully conveys her own struggles as a woman professional in a non-traditional posting. Up against narrow-minded, corrupt and devious men, she manages to hold her own, with the support of a passionate zoology professor, Hassan Noorani, superbly played by the versatile Vijay Raaz.</p> <p>I am a newly minted Masurkar fan! I cannot wait to watch his next venture, possibly a web series, going by the hints thrown. OTT platforms are providing adventurous movie-makers the most amazing opportunities to showcase unconventional subjects. <i>Sherni</i> comes with a strong feminist subtext that is marvellously understated. It made me think of all the human ‘<i>shernis</i>’ I know. Most of them have given up heroic battles and retired wounded—back in the very same jungle they sought to escape.</p> <p>Tiger conservation is at the core of Masurkar’s <i>Sherni</i>—but the narrative takes it beyond the survival of one courageous <i>sherni</i>. It is about courage, itself. Female courage. And all the <i>shernis</i> out there.</p> Thu Jul 01 16:32:35 IST 2021 lets-stop-cashing-in-on-sushant-singh-rajputs-death-says-shobhaa-de <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Sushant Singh Rajput‘s was a blighted life. June 14 marked the first death anniversary of a brilliant young actor from Bollywood, who was found dead in his Bandra apartment, hanging from the ceiling. His tragic and unexpected death triggered an avalanche of hyper-emotional responses, conspiracy theories, charges and counter charges… and the inevitable ‘insider-outsider’ showbiz debate that pitted one camp against the other.</p> <p>Then came the drugs and debauchery stories involving the guy gang he hung out with, indulging in reckless partying and irresponsible professional conduct. It was a story of a rapid descent into hell and self-destruction, which shocked his fans and disappointed those who had pinned high hopes on a multi-talented, brilliant actor in his prime.</p> <p>He was anything but a typical product of the Bollywood factory. An actor who read extensively, had a vision for himself that extended beyond films, and the gift of deep friendships based on trust. What most people seemed to be unaware of was his fragile mental condition and a dependency on prescription drugs.</p> <p>One year later, nobody is any wiser about what or who killed SSR. Given that his untimely death was politicised like no other by the Maharashtra Police and administration (one wonders why Sridevi’s equally mysterious death was not as avidly probed), it is shocking that the circumstances around SSR’s sudden passing remain a question mark. The handing over of the case to the CBI at a crucial stage of the police investigation smacks of a motivated plan to destabilise the government in Maharashtra and to hush up the possible involvement of a young <i>neta.</i></p> <p>That apart, the unprecedented outpouring of public grieving on social media was certainly not organic, even though countless fans were genuinely in shock.</p> <p>An orchestrated campaign was deliberately put out there, which polarised the film industry in a very ugly fashion, leading to multiple insinuations and unseemly victimisation of innocents. Ironically, after a point, SSR became a supporting actor in his own dramatic death scene!</p> <p>Was SSR deliberately sidelined and discriminated against by studio heads? If so, why? The film industry hungers for mega talent and star material. SSR, during a short run in the business, had established his credentials. He was a ‘bankable’ star with a long innings ahead of him. Why would producers and directors shun such a gifted actor? It made zero sense.</p> <p>Here we are, twelve months on with no real leads. For the past few weeks an attempt has been made to revive the SSR story, with tributes and memories flowing in. Co-stars and friends have penned touching posts to a young man who had obviously touched their lives. Not a single A-lister expressed anything publicly, which was rather disappointing but not surprising. The investigation is still on—chances are it will be dragged on and on, till public interest in the case dies altogether.</p> <p>SSR‘s tragedy was exploited by Nitish Kumar during the Bihar elections in 2020. And, it has ceased to have any political value in his home state now. Maharashtra seems pretty indifferent too, since the heat is off the young <i>neta </i>who has escaped scrutiny so far. SSR is expendable to all those who used his death for personal gain.</p> <p>It is time to stop this insensitive game of cashing in on a celebrity’s heart-rending death to further selfish agendas. Had SSR been alive, he would undoubtedly have occupied the highest rung in Bollywood’s pecking order as a superstar—such was his talent and appeal. It is time to respect his memory and move on.</p> Thu Jun 17 15:38:10 IST 2021 shobhaa-de-writes-about-mental-health-issues-related-to-post-match-stress <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Ravi Shastri is a super combination of flamboyance and determination. As India’s head coach, he has had his ‘moments’—not all of them laudatory. But it is important to remember Shastri’s track record as an ace cricketer. For all that, he wears his position lightly and with appealing nonchalance. He is a guys’ guy and a ladies’ man—quite a rare feat.</p> <p>Shastri turned 59, recently—and he still has fans swooning. The trolls were in overdrive, too, but then Shastri is Shastri, a jolly good sport who laughs off digs and carries on with his tough job of managing the boys.</p> <p>Witty, suave and charming, his post-playing days remain as colourful as those that propelled him into the international cricket arena as an 18-year-old left arm spinner, who took six wickets during his debut Test in Wellington. To say nothing of his scoring a century while facing Imran Khan and Sarfraz Nawaz during the 1982-1983 tour of Pakistan. That is the thing about Shastri—his derring-do! Clearly the team admires their straight-talking coach and the captain (Virat Kohli) has his ear. Shastri’s experience and standing make him a key player during these stressful times, with all the dramatic changes faced by the IPL. Getting the message through is an important part of a coach’s strategy—what he says to the boys in the locker room remains there. But when Shastri is confronted with a hostile press corps, he talks tough and stands up for the team, while also providing a bit of masala for hungry scribes to feed on.</p> <p>Now here is the question: How should sports stars deal with the media? Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka has thrown up an important issue and is paying the price for it! Osaka has talked about mental health issues related to post-match stress, when it is obligatory to talk to the assembled press—win or lose. The French Open is on, and tennis stars like World No 1 Ashleigh Barty see press interactions as ‘a part of the job’. A few ranked players have slammed Osaka, reminding her that it is press coverage that keeps the fans informed and provides invaluable perspectives to players themselves. Serena Williams has offered support to “the most marketable female athlete in the world”. Frankly, with so much money riding on sports, being visible and pro-active, seems to be the only sensible way. But what if a player is getting seriously affected by press conferences? Is that person not entitled to exercise choice? Not every player has the exact same temperament and fans pay to watch great games. Yes, it is entertainment at the end of the day, with multi-million dollar deals riding on successful tournaments. But my sympathies lie with Osaka, who stormed her way into global fame, when she dethroned reining superstar, Williams, and claimed the top spot.</p> <p>Are men less vulnerable to emotional pressure during matches? Do they not feel diminished after losing a match and facing a barrage of hostile questions from the media? Osaka said it is like “being kicked when you are down”.</p> <p>Sachin Tendulkar has bravely admitted to dealing with depression for a decade when he could not deal with the non-stop scrutiny. It is important to empathise with what athletes face during their peak years, when expectations are sky high and miracles are demanded.</p> <p>This is a good time to think about Osaka’s dilemma. What fans want to enjoy is top class tennis from an amazing player who serves at 201km per hour. If she chooses to opt out of the cruel post-match glare—so be it. Ditto for any man who may feel encouraged by Osaka’s stand and decide to speak up. Their time starts now!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Thu Jun 03 14:50:10 IST 2021 soumya-swaminathan-is--the-scientist-who-speaks-for-us---shobhaa <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Quick! When you hear the word scientist, which gender springs to mind? Be honest! I confess I am a victim of gender stereotyping when it comes to jobs like surgeons, engineers, pilots and astronauts. I grew up during an age and in an environment that placed working women in neatly labelled pigeon holes marked ‘female’; scientist definitely fell into the ‘males only’ category.</p> <p>It is but natural then, that so many decades later, I remain in absolute awe of highly accomplished women who are indeed changing the world, one major achievement at a time. Women like WHO Chief Scientist Dr Soumya Swaminathan. I only got to know of the articulate and attractive, Chennai-born, Geneva-based Soumya (62), after watching her fielding complex Covid-19 related questions on TV. I was mesmerised by her personality—the short, stylish, silver-grey hair; those handwoven, one-of-a-kind tunics, saris and stoles; the discreet bindi, and of course her erudition. Soumya says that we need more women role models in science. Indeed we do!</p> <p>Soumya’s softer approach works far more effectively than a cold presentation of stats. Her interviews are balanced and reassuring without running away from tabling hard truths. After developing a major fan-girl crush, I started to read up on her and was not surprised to discover she attributes her success to her parents—agricultural scientist dad and educationist mom. It is no wonder, their bright daughter won a prestigious science scholarship at 15 and there was no stopping her after that. It sounds like an enviable childhood, filled with fascinating interactions with legendary intellectuals, including Sir C.V. Raman, who visited their open-to-all home.</p> <p>It is only when a girl is exposed to such an invigorating and liberal environment that a Soumya rises and shines. Today, her own family continues the tradition, sharing their lives and triumphs across three continents. Her husband, Dr Ajit Yadav, is an orthopaedic surgeon in Chennai and lives there with his son. Their daughter studies in the US. This is a truly progressive, modern Indian family, which relies on weekly Zoom calls to stay in touch, share laughter and offer unconditional support to one another. Soumya prefers to walk to work in Geneva, though her elevated status at the WHO comes with a chauffeur driven car! She points out that “hypertension is the largest risk factor for premature mortality globally”, adding that “less than 20 per cent people have it under control in most low-to-middle-income countries”.</p> <p>Soumya is fortunate to have struck the perfect balance that clearly works for her and her family. Not too many women in India, or, for that matter, across the world, enjoy such a precious privilege. The pandemic has highlighted just how vulnerable and easily dispensable working women are universally. It is women who have taken the worst hit, it is women who were issued marching orders first, and it is women who are bearing the brunt while they struggle to pay off loans and contribute financially to their families.</p> <p>If more parents followed the splendid example of the Swaminathans, we would no longer automatically associate the word scientist with a man. So long as we keep those blinkers on, it will mean the end of millions of female dreams. Soumya’s Twitter followers are a sizeable 103.1k and growing. She tweets in her personal capacity. So far she has restricted herself to disseminating valuable medical information and retweeting other scientists and doctors dealing with the pandemic. But I would also love to know something about Soumya’s life beyond the laboratory. Please treat this as a ‘farmaish’, Soumya!</p> Thu May 20 16:24:29 IST 2021 we-could-do-with-many-more-didis-in-india-says-shobhaa-de <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Agreed, this is not the time to gloat. India is in the grip of a virus that is refusing to loosen its stranglehold. Even so, something exceptionally significant took place this week that will have a long-lasting impact on our lives. And it is okay to say ‘hurrah’ with loud cheers. A lady in a wheelchair successfully showed the door to a bully in a helicopter—it was a big, big win for West Bengal’s iron woman, the redoubtable Mamata Banerjee, and her All India Trinamool Congress party.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That she lost her own seat in Nandigram hardly matters, for she emerged as a superheroine, a one-woman army—feisty, ferocious and fearless, decimating foes and leading from the front. Well, staunch BJP supporters who had arrogantly written her off earlier and planned a victory parade for Narendra Modi and Amit Shah through Park Street, are busy mansplaining Didi’s whipping of the mighty party as a “woman” thing.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Shall we give credit to Prashant Kishor for this masterstroke? Didi is being positioned as the ultimate champion of the good ladies of Bengal—a female political leader who cares for females. A feminist icon. The BJP spinmeisters went horribly wrong by ignoring this trump card. Worse, they stooped to insult a woman. Women across India retaliated to the provocative “Didi, o Didi” taunt—the prime minister’s biggest campaign faux pas. This one line will mark his failure to win West Bengal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>From a street fighter to a feisty feminist, Didi is a self-made woman who has created her own political grammar. Unlike other female political leaders, she has not emerged out of a mould as someone’s wife, widow or girlfriend. She does not have a male mentor or patron looking out for her. If anything, she is the dominant figure extending support to relatively docile men in her entourage. Today’s Indian woman admires and identifies with these traits. Didi’s obvious disdain for female frippery, the absence of vanity, and her complete control over her narrative, make her a huge contemporary hero. Her brand of politics be damned! Paradoxically, critics, put off by Didi’s aggro attitude and confrontational politics, shifted gear after watching her perform during the elections. Aggro met aggro, and Didi became Durga astride a tiger.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Let us face it—nobody expected her to win this big. In hindsight, Didi watchers are talking about her humongous and loyal female vote bank that believes in her and sees her as their saviour. But more than her pro-women policies, it is her belligerence towards male opponents that impresses other women. It is not just oppressed rural women who seek inspiration from Mamata’s personality and chutzpah, it is urban, working women, too, who gush over her. Discriminated against for decades and desperate to break out of the patriarchal trap, Didi’s unfettered life provides enormous encouragement to any woman who has been forced to compromise her principles, her ambitions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Didi unapologetically owns her personal and political choices. When she threw the Khela hobe [Game on] challenge to the Modi-Shah camp, while being wheeled around with a leg in a cast, Didi became the brave, wounded soldier ready to fight till the last ballot was cast and the last bullet fired. Today, Didi is like an impregnable fort with the retreating armies of her opponents running for cover. She is readying herself to take on the role of her lifetime—as the prime minister of India. Nobody is laughing! She has set her sights on Delhi, and it no longer looks like a lousy Bong joke.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As for me… I am an amused observer. We could do with many more Didis in India. What is good for the women of Bengal is good for women everywhere.</p> Thu May 06 15:02:20 IST 2021 rahul-dravid-ad-is-unconvincing-and-manipulative-argues-shobhaa-de <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>I have to admit I was initially blown away by the Rahul Dravid road rage commercial that went viral after Virat Kohli tweeted it (Dravid is not on social media platforms). I was most impressed by the creative folks behind this effort, given that Dravid is known for his extreme reticence. Self-control of any and every emotion, on and off the field, is Dravid’s hallmark. How clever to cast him against type!</p> <p>Then came the troubling questions—why did Dravid agree to recast himself and challenge his own, scrupulously crafted image as The Wall? Commercial reasons? Or some other long-term strategy to reposition himself? Did the new angry Dravid work? Has he acquired a brand new constituency since the commercial went viral? Do people accept rowdy Dravid? How will he be able to live up to the ‘<i>Indiranagar ka goonda</i>’ tag?</p> <p>I revisited the commercial recently and this time around, I found it gimmicky, manipulative and unconvincing. Making a well-loved celeb do something out of the box is a terrific idea. But the messaging has to be carefully calibrated. What are we seeing and hearing in this much discussed commercial? That road rage, expressed with such aggression, is acceptable and understandable? That it is okay to threaten a startled, elderly lady in the car alongside? Or, it is normal under these circumstances (being stuck in a traffic jam), to smash rear view mirrors? And finally, does the ridiculous waving of the bat in a threatening gesture and yelling, <i>Indiranagar ka goonda hoon mein</i>, make the legendary cricketer more macho and heroic? Please! A cricket bat being used as a weapon is unacceptable, especially when it is wielded by a highly respected cricketer. These are strictly personal observations and reservations.</p> <p>There has been a great deal of chatter around the commercial, but does anybody remember or care what product was being endorsed? I’m scratching my head and trying to recall….</p> <p>Here is the flip side: What if Sania Mirza had been shown expressing road rage and waving her tennis racket, while screaming, ‘<i>Hyderabad ki goondi hoon mein</i>’. Would we have found it cute? Imagine Mithali Raj in a similar commercial. Acceptable? Women in sports have to adhere to a certain bland and goody goody image, whether it is on their social media posts or in the endorsements. This is true for sportswomen across the world.</p> <p>The Dravid commercial raised several issues about how the man popularly known for his calm is being reinvented as ‘everyman’. Our cricketers are not just celebrities, they are venerated across India and held up as role models. That is my point—should a role model be projected as an out of control, crazed with rage guy behind the wheel? Crazed enough to challenge a co-motorist and shout, “Come, come man… you just come.” Come and do what? Fight a duel? Cred, the creators of the ad, have managed to get a huge amount of mileage for their efforts. I have read interviews of how they were not sure of the mild-mannered Dravid being able to project white rage. But, man, when he let go, he really let go! The dormant volcano erupted and how!</p> <p>Women who vent in public are called hysterical harridans. An angry woman is dubbed unfeminine and unattractive. An angry man? Depends! Amitabh Bachchan made a career out of his ‘angry young man’ image. Our sweet and sincere Dravid could be on the verge of starting a new innings as a movie star! Good luck, bro.</p> Thu Apr 22 15:19:27 IST 2021 julio-ribeiros-booming-voice-can-wake-up-the-dead-shobhaa-de <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>I became an ardent fangirl of Mumbai’s legendary top cop Julio Francis Ribeiro from the very first time I met him at a glittering diplomatic soiree in Mumbai! I actually stammered and blushed like a giddy-headed schoolgirl, when I was a seasoned magazine editor and newspaper columnist at the time. Julio gallantly paid me a compliment, as his elegant wife, Melba, impeccably dressed in trademark pastels, looked on indulgently. Till then the only ‘Julio’ I had heard of was a delightful singer called Julio Iglesias. But, here, right in front of me was this towering figure of a man, nattily dressed in a well-cut suit, surveying the large and glamorous gathering with the trained eye of a cop keeping a look out for trouble.</p> <p>He was the much admired police commissioner of the city (1982-1986), and there were dozens of fans fawning over this quintessential Mumbai Boy. We continued to run into each other from that point on, and soon Mr and Mrs Ribeiro became family friends, gracious enough to attend our dinner parties. Julio would sportingly regale guests with his incredible cop stories—rarely holding back from speaking his mind.</p> <p>Julio (everyone addresses him affectionately by his first name) will turn 92 next month—but he is still the ‘go to’ guy when one needs a fiercely independent take on the shenanigans being indulged in by the Mumbai Police. Julio was recently approached by Sharad Pawar to head an inquiry into the messy Param Bir Singh-Sachin Vaze case. Julio simply stated, “I am not available”. He also added he would not touch something like this with a barge pole. It is Julio’s public stands on messed up matters like this one that impact our lives. No wonder he is seen as a cult figure and ‘citizen hero’.</p> <p>Decades ago, my first cousin (A.G. Rajadhyaksha) had the respect of the police force, too. Like Julio, he was upright and refused to play ball with politicians. He retired as the IGP (Maharashtra)—and that was that.</p> <p>Julio is different; he is gregarious and communicative. At 91, his booming voice can wake up the dead. Even though he regretfully admits he ‘shuffles’ these days and cannot match strides with his walking companions.</p> <p>Honoured with a Padma Bhushan, Julio was India’s ambassador to Romania where he survived an assassination attempt—his second; the first was after his bold, even controversial strategy to tackle the insurgency in Punjab.</p> <p>Julio is our hero, and I believe we have not acknowledged him adequately. Last week, when he bluntly referred to Mumbai’s notorious, trigger-happy ‘encounter specialists’ as ‘criminals in uniform’, our city cheered and thanked him for calling out the racket that successive governments have actively encouraged. That is Julio. During sensitive television debates, he confidently goes where others fear to tread. This no-nonsense quality of the man has won him admirers across the world.</p> <p>Years ago, Julio was at our home, while iconic cartoonist, the late R.K. Laxman, was discussing his latest work—from the <i>Crow Series</i>—that my husband had acquired from Laxman himself (Dilip was an avid collector of Laxman’s pocket cartoons). The two men were counting the number of crows in the picture. R.K. said, “54 crows.” Julio heard: ‘54 crores’. Julio joined them and exclaimed, “Wow, Laxman! Well done!” R.K. retorted, “54 crores, I say!” And everybody shared a laugh. Laxman enjoyed one more whiskey and the evening ended soon after. The playful side of cops is rarely on display in public. But Julio is not just another famous cop. I wish more of us had the gumption to firmly tell our netas, “Sorry, I am not available!” Had more citizens done this, Maharashtra would have been a far better place and not a den controlled by ‘criminals in uniform’. &nbsp;</p> Thu Apr 08 17:58:13 IST 2021 with-bombay-begums-pooja-bhatt-gets-worthy-comeback-she-deserves-shobhaa-de <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Let us start with a horror story: Recently, a 25-year-old man in Bareilly stitched up his wife’s private parts with aluminium thread, suspecting her of infidelity. He expressed no remorse when he was arrested. The victim survived after being left in a pool of blood. Yup, this actually happened. It is, no doubt, an extreme case of marital violence, but it does reflect the terrible reality faced by women in rural India.</p> <p>Then there is the other kind of equally disturbing urban reality—the sort projected in <i>Bombay Begums</i>, the Netflix series. It features Pooja Bhatt and a host of exceptionally talented actors. It is positioned in the rarefied world of modern banking, where, as we know, Indian women have led the charge for years. <i>Bombay Begums</i> is not that far-fetched, even if a few critics have shredded it mercilessly, going so far as to demand Netflix “sack” its staff for projecting “empowered women” in such a distorted fashion. A senior critic insisted she found the representation highly offensive. There is more to our lives, she said, than harping on exclusively female concerns—menopause, miscarriages and menstruation. I am not sure if these objections were based on squeamishness or prudishness.</p> <p>Pooja plays Rani, the boss lady of a bank, surrounded by male sharks in sharp suits out to get her. And yes, she is menopausal, often rushing mid-presentation to the executive loo to deal with hot flushes. Her deputy Fatima (Shahana Goswami) is faced with a dilemma after suffering a miscarriage (graphically projected), while her precocious step-daughter Shai (Aadhya Anand) agonises over delayed periods (staring at her stained panties when it finally arrives). Granted, this does not make for ‘pretty’ or ‘entertaining’ viewing, and I am sure several viewers squirmed. But, hello! Haven’t we all gone through similar incidents as women? Is blood and gore in testosterone-driven action thrillers more acceptable because it is male blood spilling on screen and not a female bodily discharge?</p> <p><i>Bombay Begums</i> deals with other issues, too—class divides, infidelity, betrayal, cover-ups, gender fluidity, religious prejudice, sexual harassment, body shaming and surrogacy. Pooja’s character is sharply delineated and mostly credible. She could have been projected as a one-dimensional archetypal power lady—ruthless, manipulative and insecure about other women. Fortunately, that trope has been junked to show her as a far more nuanced career woman, dealing with her share of domestic conflicts and not afraid to confront her many vulnerabilities. Men in her elevated position are rarely given similar problems to resolve.</p> <p>Pooja tackles the role bravely, playing her age—49—and making a heroic effort to handle clumsily written sex scenes. These feisty ‘begums’ drink, smoke and have sex freely on an ‘as and when’ basis. If a few viewers were wondering whether such stuff happens... erm, yes! Do teenagers snort coke, down shots and hook up with classmates? They most certainly do. Why shut our eyes to the drastic, even dramatic, shift in our society? Small-town India merged with the big, bad cities when no one was looking! So, the young girl from Indore who slips in and out of beds and relationships in <i>Bombay Begums</i> is not a caricature at all. Walk into any pub today, and you are likely to meet Ayesha (Plabita Borthakur). While the men in this series (Rahul Bose, in particular) have been reduced to clichés, it is important to remember that the series is driven by begums and not nawabs. Perhaps, season 2 will rebalance the dynamics.</p> <p>I was delighted to watch Pooja back where she belongs—on screen. Having known her since she was a teenager and admired her spunk, it was wonderful to see her as the begum of begums! Someone with her talent deserves nothing less than a meaty enough role to rate as a worthy comeback. I am glad she got it!</p> Thu Mar 25 14:05:50 IST 2021 didi-dada-and-disco-dancer <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>This is going to be one hell of a fight! The <i>Naagin</i> from Nandigram is pitching herself against the Cobra from Bollywood. Both are equally poisonous and well-matched. Not sure about <i>didi</i>’s dancing skills, but she has made a career out of making everybody else dance to her tune. That is, till a formidable combo (Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah) decided to change Didi’s soundtrack, take over her territory and hog the close-ups!</p> <p><i>Khela Hobey</i> (game on) is the Trinamool Congress’s battle cry in West Bengal. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is a fighter all the way. So what if her top honchos have jumped ship at the last moment? So what if Mithun Chakraborty, once her chosen one, is now with the BJP, repeating old dialogues from past movies? <i>Didi</i> is giving it back, with catchy <i>dialoguebaazi</i> of her own! Besides, she has a trump card―Rahul Gandhi. The Dimpled Darling will effectively split the vote and it will be advantage didi.</p> <p>With all the bizarre shenanigans going on, one chap has emerged sharper, shrewder, smarter than the rest―<i>Dada</i> (not <i>didi</i>’s brother!), otherwise known as Sourav Ganguly. He has chosen to stay out of the snake pit, even though he may have been promised the chief ministership by BJP bosses. “Everyone cannot be everything,” stated the canny cricketer, playing with a straight bat. Correct. Why walk away from such a prestigious/lucrative job―president of the cricket board―to get your hands dirty in a filthy political swamp?</p> <p>Having interacted with all three (albeit, briefly), here is what I think: the coolest of the lot is Sourav―the shrewdest, too. He is suave, soft-spoken and a strategist who does not show his cards. He also knows how to adeptly wiggle out of tight spots, with little collateral damage (reference: his ‘marriage’ to Nagma). Next comes <i>didi</i>―a fire-breathing dragon lady, capable of going to any lengths when cornered. Her brand of politics is not in sync with today. But who is brave enough to tell her to stop shrieking and start negotiating? Mithun used to let his grinding hips do the talking in the past. But at 70, those gyrations have become a joke. Oratory and mimicry are not the same thing, Mithun <i>da</i>. Besides, why be a poor man’s stand-in for Akshay Kumar on a political podium?</p> <p>At the moment, optics and high-pitched accusations are driving this key election. If the BJP manages to win a majority, it will be a tight slap in the face for <i>didi</i>’s supporters. She can accuse her rivals of “<i>tolabaazi</i> (extortion)”, but countless critics will accuse her party of the same. As for Mithun, who was magnanimously described as “<i>Banglar chhele</i> (Bengali boy)” by Modi, it remains to be seen what this cobra’s bite will deliver at the polls. “I am not a harmless snake,” he boasted to the crowd at the Brigade Parade ground. “One bite and you will turn into a photograph.” Whatever!</p> <p>The smooth and savvy Sourav has kept his shirt on so far. One hears a lot about the behind-the-scenes offers thrown at him. His sense of timing is legendary―do not be surprised if he jumps into the fray at the right moment. Maybe, he is being saved up for the last and highly crucial round of campaigning in the tumultuous state, where everyone wants to start a revolution.</p> <p><i>Didi</i> has had her chance to transform West Bengal―only her constituents can say whether or not she blew it. “You talk of ‘Sonar Bangla’ after selling Delhi,” she thundered in Siliguri, accusing Modi of several failings, including not being around citizens during the Covid-19 crisis, while she was in hospitals and on the streets. The crowd roared its approval. But cheers do not necessarily mean votes. Will West Bengal groove to ‘Disco dancer’? <i>Ki bolbo</i> (what say, eh)?</p> Thu Mar 11 10:51:20 IST 2021 a-thousand-dishas-will-rise-up <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The moment I heard about Disha Ravi’s dramatic arrest, I was tempted to instantly register my outraged reaction and express unconditional support. Why? Déjà vu! She reminded me of my 22-year-old self. In our youth, have we not felt passionately about causes that matter? Cynicism and worldliness surreptiously creep in much later. But, at 22, with ideals and idealism intact, we are ready to stake everything for our beliefs―right or wrong. Today, the climate activist, accused of serious charges by the Delhi Police, has catapulted into the international arena of high-profile catalysts for change, much like Greta Thunberg before her, and several others who are likely to follow in the footsteps of these two.</p> <p>I wonder if even two months ago, Disha could have imagined such a shift in her personal narrative and such a radical conversation around the prickly (unresolved so far) farmers’ issue, brought on largely by her arrest. Her youth (gender, too) is neither an alibi nor an excuse. At 22, she is not a giddy-headed little girl, who can be effortlessly swayed or brainwashed. Individuals younger than Disha have played significant sociopolitical roles throughout history. Age is no defence when it comes to sensitive issues expressed in the public domain. Nor is immaturity or ignorance. I am not here to plead her case, or explain the consequences of the ‘toolkit’ controversy. She has her family, friends and lawyers to perform that role.</p> <p>The response to the #fingeronyourlips movement makes it clear that the arrest has generated an avalanche of support for her, not just in Bengaluru, Delhi and Mumbai, but across continents. People are questioning the definition of “anti-nationalistic thoughts”―which is what she stands accused of. Being environmentally conscious cannot be deemed a crime or described as being anti-nationalistic. But, perhaps, the agencies know something far more incriminating about Disha, than the rest of us, who are merely going by her work in this space that is easily available.</p> <p>Disha is being carelessly called ‘Bengaluru’s Greta’. Come on, guys. Be a little original. Why look westwards for role models? We have enough climate change activists right here in India. Why not ask them a few pointed questions about Disha’s initiative? We are not the experts―they are!</p> <p>Till such time as we know what happens to Disha going forward, I can only go back to my own college years, when, absurdly enough, we were staging sits-ins, burning American flags and chanting slogans to protest the Vietnam War. It was not ‘our’ war―but our hearts were in the right place. We were raising our voices against oppression and injustice, and letting the authorities know that ‘Make Love, Not War’, was the only way to save the world. And yes, we also painted the internationally recognised peace symbol on our faces, exactly like Disha has done fifty years later. This is what being young is all about! It is the one glorious period of our lives when we are unafraid and romantic enough to believe we can change the world. It is a precious prerogative that must not be brutally snatched away by the state.</p> <p>The administration has inadvertently created a folk hero out of Disha by going after her so blatantly. They have alienated a huge segment of their vote bank! Not the smartest move, guys. Do not trample on the dreams of those who disagree with your politics. You may use your clout to silence them for now, but for every Disha you arrest, a thousand more Dishas will rise up. What will be your solution then? Let me guess―build more jails! Right?</p> Thu Feb 25 15:59:31 IST 2021 peecee-see-and-believe <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Priyanka Chopra Jonas is on a roll at the moment. <i>Unfinished</i>, her play-it-safe memoir, is due for publication this month, and the publicity blitz is on at full throttle. Priyanka is in London, staying in a bubble as she shoots for a forthcoming international production. We conduct our interview for the Jaipur Lit Fest between shots―she in an electric blue outfit, with a crackling fire in the background, while I sweat it out in muggy Mumbai. I had read her book in one go, and all of it was fresh in my mind as we spoke. I started with the last chapter first. There had been a barrage of non-stop back and forth between her publicists, me and the JLF team. There were far too many ‘sensitive’ questions that had to be avoided, even though they are mentioned in the book and are far from sensationalistic. I was amused by these fervent requests to keep our conversation sanitised and casual. I mean―PeeCee is a global personality who has smoothly handled television hosts like Jimmy Fallon and Ellen DeGeneres. What was she feeling so coy about?</p> <p>I have interacted with Priyanka for over a decade, and always come away impressed. She is highly intelligent, frighteningly articulate, ambitious and disciplined. The memoir is described as a journey of self-discovery―and, in many ways, it is exactly that. Priyanka meticulously traces her childhood, teenage years, the beauty pageants she won and her unexpected entry into Bollywood. The rest is a familiar story known to her fans―her foray into music, subsequent move to Hollywood, <i>Quantico</i> and now <i>The White Tiger</i>―she is the executive producer of the hit movie and plays ‘Pinky Madam’ with panache. As a UNICEF ambassador, her voice is being heard across the world, especially her work with underprivileged children.</p> <p>The book diligently chronicles her every triumph and achievement, and is sure to inspire young people. But does it reveal anything about her that is not in the public domain? Yes and no. She talks candidly about the racist comments she faced as a student in the US, and the taunts that came her way in Bollywood as a ‘dusky’ newcomer looking for the right break. As she herself states, she wants to hang on to 10 per cent of her life as a private space, not meant for sharing. The balance 90 per cent is all yours! I would have preferred to settle for a 60-40 ratio.</p> <p>The last time we met was when she agreed to deliver the prestigious Penguin Annual Lecture in Delhi (2017). I was gobsmacked by her delivery that night―she dazzled and was an incandescent presence on stage. She flew in and flew out within hours, made no starry demands and behaved like an absolute trouper. There was zero evidence of jet lag, fatigue or impatience as she met young fans from an NGO she supports, in the lobby of the Taj Mahal Hotel, some of whom wept with emotion when she hugged them and spoke a few kind words. Dressed in a shocking pink jump suit, she looked and behaved every inch the international star she is.</p> <p>All our encounters over the years have been relaxed, woman-to-woman exchanges. Priyanka’s mother, Madhu, is a ‘real babe’ (down-to-earth, outspoken) I enjoy meeting. But it is Ashok, her late father, whose presence dominates the narrative. She proudly carries him on her wrist with a tattoo that reads, ‘Daddy’s li’l girl’.</p> <p>And, yes, if you are dying to know what makes her marriage to Nick Jonas tick―Priyanka provides a mantra. For me it was the mention of a mandir next to the grand piano in their Beverly Hills home that said more about their bond than all the words devoted to their first date, unexpected proposal and present life.</p> Thu Feb 11 15:04:34 IST 2021 adarsh-gourav-actor-and-crow <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Confession: I had mixed feelings about Aravind Adiga’s Man Booker prize winner, <i>The White Tiger</i> (2008), when I read it back then. Those feelings were carried forward during the first few minutes of watching its Netflix adaptation. Not another movie about a western filmmaker’s idea of India, please! The opening sequence packaged every conceivable <i>desi</i> cliché―images of garishly painted Hindu gods and goddesses, poverty-stricken pavement dwellers huddling and shivering in the harsh Delhi cold, overcrowded bazaars, grime and filth, a clumsy voiceover and a crazy, drunken car ride. I was about to turn away in sheer annoyance when my attention refocused on an unknown (to me) actor―Adarsh Gourav, the ‘servant’ in the film.</p> <p>One look into his incredibly expressive, luminous and intelligent eyes, and I was hooked. Gourav, playing the low-caste Balram Halwai, a villager from dusty Laxmangarh who becomes a driver to the wealthy, venal Sharmas, delivers a performance that knocks the socks off unwary viewers like me. It is a case of inspired, brilliant casting, and Gourav, who has received rave reviews in the international press, could well be a worthy successor to Irrfan Khan, the most successful international actor from India.</p> <p>Gourav is a Jamshedpur boy, so is the leading lady and one of the producers of the film, Priyanka Chopra Jonas. While hers is a negligible role, it is Gourav who eats up the screen in every scene. Considering he is pitted against seasoned actors like Rajkummar Rao and Mahesh Manjrekar, it is no small feat. In his interviews, Gourav says he prepped for the role by working 12 hours a day as a plate cleaner at a food stall. It was this experience that made him acutely aware of how millions of Indians are ‘invisible’―we simply do not ‘see’ those who are poor, shabbily dressed and not famous. Gourav stayed ‘in character’ by dressing and behaving like Balram for three months, managing to fool a man who offered him 020 for lifting iron rods from his vehicle.</p> <p>Ramin Bahrani, who wrote, directed and co-produced <i>The White Tiger</i>, was Adiga’s college mate. By picking Gourav and extracting such a terrific performance out of the 26-year-old, the award-winning American director of Iranian origin has impressed audiences worldwide. Yes, there will be comparisons to Danny Boyle’s <i>Slumdog Millionaire</i> and Bong Joon-ho’s <i>Parasite</i>, given that all three films focus on ugly class divides, prejudice, inequality, rage and revenge.</p> <p><i>The White Tiger</i> features predictable bum shots of people defecating in the open, and the casual brutality of <i>maaliks</i> hitting servants and, in this case, framing the driver for a crime committed by his employer. It is when the worm turns and servitude is replaced by fury that the film engages viewers more fully. A lesser actor would have messed up the transition, but Gourav handles it deftly.</p> <p>If many of us squirmed while watching the scenes of the driver’s humiliation, it is because they are so familiar. Today’s generation refers to servants as house help or staff. But has anything really changed? Gourav plays his masters shrewdly, piling on the compliments, flattering them shamelessly, and smiling through the abuses hurled at him. We know he will emerge triumphant in the end, but because of a trite resolution, the ‘New India Rising’ message remains hollow and phony as a finale to an otherwise riveting watch. The ‘invisibility’ of our masses is the film’s far bigger takeaway.</p> <p>In Gourav, we may have found a talent capable of going well beyond the limitation of his scripted dialogues. He describes himself as “mostly an actor, occasionally a crow”. Intrigued? Watch him play Balram Halwai and figure which avatar appeals more to you. I am rooting for both―the actor and the crow.</p> Thu Jan 28 14:20:05 IST 2021 rajini-missed-the-bus <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Do not give me pressure and pain, I have made my decision…. I am saying ‘no’ to politics.” The “people’s leader (Thalaivar)” has got his fans into an absolute tizzy with his sudden about-turn. This is called bad politics. Either you boldly take the plunge and swim, or you keep your mouth shut. The most successful actor in the history of Tamil cinema clearly missed his cue―plain and simple. Besides, Rajinikanth is not a run-of-the-mill regional superstar―his fans worship him as God incarnate.</p> <p>For a man who started his adult life taking up odd jobs as a carpenter, coolie and bus conductor, Rajinikanth’s extraordinary story is worthy of a detailed biopic on Netflix. There are Bollywood stars who are far wealthier than he is. But hey, Rajini was honoured with a Padma Vibhushan in 2016, and his earlier films dubbed in Japanese and other languages make him a bigger global icon than any other Indian actor―including Amitabh Bachchan.</p> <p>Somewhere along the way to achieving his unique positioning as a “megastar” in the movie firmament (and following in the tradition of other stars from Tamil Nadu like MGR), it was inevitable that Rajini would be wooed by hungry political parties to hop on the bandwagon and capitalise on his stupendous following. But Rajini had other plans―he tantalised his admirers by announcing that he would start his own party and fight from every constituency in the state. His bombastic claim was met with healthy scepticism by political players―if at all, Rajini should have taken the plunge in 2016, they felt. It was already too late to leverage his popularity and fame.</p> <p>Then came Rajini’s recent health hiccup, that further derailed the key decision and made the waiting game painful. “Will he or won’t he?” as a political strategy does not always work. In Rajini’s case, the wavering resulted in a yawn. Nobody really cared after a point. This is the sad part. Two big stars from the south―Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan―have fallen flat trying to become mass political leaders. It is all about timing and branding. Both need to be in sync for a late career in politics to take off and soar. These two got it wrong.</p> <p>Superstars like Shah Rukh Khan and Salman Khan know their power and clout―they are smart enough to use politics and politicians to further their film ambitions, without stepping into that murky world themselves. Amitabh Bachchan tried and shrewdly withdrew after a tepid flirtation with the second oldest profession in the world. Not everyone possesses MGR’s magic.</p> <p>I have never met Rajini, but I did interact with his gorgeous daughter Aishwarya and through her, his wife, Latha. Both the accomplished ladies behaved in a refreshingly “normal” way―no attempt to attract extra attention, and no borrowed starry airs. Some of their Bollywood counterparts make a career out of reflected glory and strut around surrounded by beefy bodyguards. Aishwarya is stylish, sophisticated, well-read and charming. The parents have done something right! I look at a few Bollywood brats throwing their weight around, demanding privileges, and the difference in upbringing becomes instantly apparent.</p> <p>Thalaivar has spoken! Let us hope this is his final and well-considered position about getting into politics. It takes courage to back out at such a late stage―an actor risks losing face. Rajini has bowed out at just the right moment, without embarrassing himself any further.</p> <p>Health before all else, sir! I would like to think the pandemic is to blame for his ding-dong stance on politics. Covid-19 played wicked tricks with far too many folks and made some of us delusional. Rajini sir bailed out in the nick of time. &nbsp;</p> Thu Jan 14 14:00:38 IST 2021 the-tycoon-who-inspired-a-book <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Shantanu Naidu and Ratan Tata share a unique relationship. The legendary tycoon is an octogenarian, and Shantanu, a millennial. Age does not come into their incredible bond. They are ‘friends’—close, connected and perfectly in sync with one another. <i>I Came Upon a Lighthouse: A Short Memoir of Life with Ratan Tata </i>chronicles the enviable love they share—there is no other word to describe their partnership. The bond began in 2014 when Shantanu was a dog-loving student in Pune; an automobile engineer, he developed an innovation to save local strays from being run over by speeding cars. In a short note&nbsp;at the start of the book, Tata writes about how Shantanu came into his life—it started with their deep compassion for homeless, ill-treated, abandoned dogs and cats—and grew into something astonishingly tender and beautiful. Tata invested in Shantanu’s small start-up, after receiving a letter from him about his passion-project, Motopaws.</p> <p>Today, Shantanu works closely with the man who not only made it a point to attend his simple graduation dinner in Ithaca—cooked by Shantanu’s amma, after he finished his MBA at Cornell—but also offered him a coveted position (deputy general manager) in his own office, which is efficiently run by four handpicked people, three of them being women. Shantanu’s book (illustrated by Sanjana Desai) is all heart and sentiment. It is written with disarming candour and a touching simplicity. When he writes about enjoying strawberry waffles for breakfast at the spiffy New York hotel, The Pierre, with an amused Tata across the table, or when he describes his morning swims to ‘get some sun’ while on a Kerala break with the business magnate, there is an appealing sense of naturalness in the tone. It is like frenzied international travelling on a private jet with a world famous icon, and being in the presence of global celebrities at dazzling events is really no big deal for this young man from Pune! That is how intimate and true their feelings are.</p> <p>Tata is a reticent man. He guards his privacy fiercely and rarely attends public events. For all his genuine humility and modesty, his is one name in India which comes with a&nbsp;platinum edge.</p> <p>December is Tata’s birthday month—and one would imagine a man in his position would be busy cutting a multi-tiered cake with VVIPs. Nothing of the sort! Shantanu tells us that for the past few years, it is he who organises two cupcakes with a single candle, a ‘crappy’ movie, and pina coladas (for Shantanu) and that is how they celebrate! The book is about several such delightful anecdotes, which show Tata in a totally different light. Readers get to see his other, very human side which allows him to crack jokes with Shantanu about his curly mop of hair, or tease the young man about ‘lipstick on your collar’—a popular song from the 60s.</p> <p>‘Shantaa-nu’, as Tata calls his adoring executive assistant, is blessed and privileged indeed. He even&nbsp;has a picture with his&nbsp;arm flung around the&nbsp;legend! When he refers to his boss, friend and mentor as a beacon of light, it warms our hearts. I loved the bit where Shantanu shared priceless nuggets of their ‘pandemic time’ together, when the great man would watch over Shantanu as he finished a gigantic chewable vitamin-C tablet or reluctantly drank turmeric milk. Shantanu has given the world a real treat—by showing readers the most endearing side of a man who is seen as a superhero by millions.</p> Thu Dec 31 14:09:43 IST 2020 a-friend-through-and-through <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>I knew Tina Munim much before she became Tina Ambani. She was a vivacious, gorgeous young girl on the cusp of mega stardom. We met quite by chance at a tailoring shop in South Mumbai and clicked instantly. Soon after that encounter, I bagged her for a posh fashion shoot, which I supervised. I watched her as she effortlessly posed for the camera, which she clearly loved. I was struck by her unaffected, natural, no-nonsense conduct, minus any starry airs. I am delighted to share that that hasn’t changed, even if her surname has. Cut to 2020. This is the time of the year when a delicious and complex winter dish is prepared by eager <i>maharajs</i> (cooks) in Mumbai. Called <i>undhiyu</i>, it consists of tender beans, tiny aubergines and chunks of yam, slow cooked in pure ghee. Tina and I continue our friendship of four decades with a strong <i>undhiyu</i> connection—her cook makes it, and I eat it!</p> <p>This has been a week of <i>undhiyu</i> and much more. The Tina-led multi-speciality hospital in Juhu—Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital—is at the number one position in western India for the fifth year running (THE WEEK-Hansa Research Best Hospitals Survey 2020). Tina sent me a message conveying the good news, hastily adding, “Kudos to my committed team…. They stood by my decision on continuing all services during the lockdown and have performed a fabulous service to society without worrying about themselves, while staying put at the hospital throughout.” This is indeed commendable, but like I texted back—every team needs a dynamic leader to provide the right motivation—and Tina is that person. I witnessed it firsthand when the hospital opened and she took me there to proudly share the grand moment with her team. What impressed me was her knowledge and understanding of how each department worked. She knew almost every team member by name, and was informed, engaged and driven.</p> <p>This avatar of Tina didn’t surprise me. I have always known about her single-minded focus on matters she cares about—her family being her most important commitment. Observing her with her sons is to see Tina at her best—she is indulgent and affectionate, teasing them about their girlfriends and easily slipping into their world. Having watched the boys grow over the years, it is amusing to see two tall, hirsute chaps politely joining their parents’ friends at the dinner table, waiting to rush back to their rooms, somewhat embarrassed by all the sudden attention.</p> <p>Tina is known to be a fiercely loyal friend. Recently, when her costar of yore, Sanjay Dutt, was diagnosed with a serious health condition, it was Tina who ensured he received the best possible care at her hospital. Dutt is back on the sets, looking wan but picking up rapidly.</p> <p>For the past several years, Tina and Anil have maintained a comparatively low profile, concentrating on their projects, travelling extensively and avoiding the media. While Anil has been dealing with tricky business matters, Tina has enthusiastically taken to social media—Instagram, in particular—to keep the family flag flying high. Her frequent posts reveal little-known aspects of the Ambani <i>parivar</i>—archival wedding photographs, for example, or rare pictures of her father-in-law, the redoubtable Dhirubhai Ambani. She is quick to greet and congratulate family members—Mukesh and Nita Ambani, in particular, who have recently welcomed their first grandchild.</p> <p>Tina’s fascinating life is worthy of a Netflix series. Two years ago, she and I did a lovely shoot for <i>Harmony</i>, her magazine that celebrates senior citizens. She had just turned 60, and I had published my book <i>Seventy... and to Hell with it!</i>. Our respective interviews told our individual stories in an undramatic, honest way. It was more than a mere celebration of age; it was equally a celebration of friendship.</p> Thu Dec 17 22:01:54 IST 2020 et-tu-bhavna <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>How fabulous really are those Bollywood wives from <i>FLBW?</i></p> <p>Like everybody else who was tickled at the thought of watching a poor man’s version of the wildly successful <i>Keeping Up with the Kardashians </i>(13 years, 19 seasons and still going strong), I tuned in on November 27 to catch the latest Netflix reality series―<i>Fabulous Lives of Bollywood Wives</i>. Oh dear, oh dear, this was anything but fabulous, I groaned. It was downright tawdry, tacky… and taxing, to boot. Perhaps, deliberately so. <i>Keeping Up with the Kardashians</i> is equally terrible―but it still dominates ratings.</p> <p>The only star wife I knew from this show was Bhavna Pandey, better known these days as Ananya Panday’s attractive mother. What was this demure and well-mannered lady doing with those other overdressed women, jabbering mindlessly about nothing at all?</p> <p>All four protagonists are connected to Karan Johar, one of the canniest producers in Bollywood. This level of ‘dumbing down’ cannot be for real, you think naively. But it is! A show like this works best when it appeals to the lowest common denominator.</p> <p>All these wives are tough cookies. They run their own businesses besides swanning around as star wives―even though their husbands are far from being thought of as A-listers. Which makes the wives ‘B-listers’, seen more as Gauri Khan’s groupies. Despite that, they have created a niche for themselves as ‘aspirational lifestyle ladies of leisure’, who claim to go shopping only in a Rolls Royce.</p> <p>Coming to Bhavna, I have known her for over 20 years, as a quiet, efficient and sensible planner of swish events for brands like Cartier and Louis Vuitton. As an invitee to these posh evenings, I can vouch for Bhavna’s classy approach and smooth efficiency, dealing with prima donnas and tantrum-throwing stars. She is a naturally friendly and relaxed woman, which somehow does not shine through in this series. I remember her patient handling of a few over-demanding invitees asking for special privileges during a ‘royal’ elephant polo event in Jaipur. I also recall her discreet management of a slight scheduling glitch during a dinner at a Dubai event, which had the glorious Italian superstar Monica Bellucci as chief guest. My husband and I were seated at the head table with the diva, and there I was a goggle-eyed fan staring unblinkingly at Bellucci, who had required some urgent calming down!</p> <p>I had also known Bhavna’s late in-laws, Dr Sharad and Dr Snehlata Pandey, both of whom were well-liked, well-admired ‘Bandra-ites’, highly sought after by Bollywood stars. Bhavna’s gregarious husband, Chunky, was an unlikely actor back then and did achieve a modicum of success. He was better known in the movie world for his antics and sense of humour.</p> <p>As a businesswoman, Bhavna’s net worth is pegged at an impressive $20 million. She has been running a fashion label called ‘Lovegen’, which does have its young fans sporting easy, breezy, sensibly priced collections.</p> <p>Watching Bhavna in <i>FLBW</i>, I was reminded of her original understated personality and wondered about the on-screen avatar, which, while not being as cringe-generating as the other three, is still a far cry from the person I remember interacting with on multiple occasions.</p> <p>That is reality TV for you―there is nothing authentic about any of it. Even so, listening to these four cackling over ‘Le Bal’ and how prestigious it is to be invited to a pretentious soiree where young ladies are compelled to waltz with their proud daddies, inside an opulent ballroom in Paris, made me double up with laughter!</p> <p>Come on―surely Balle Balle is more your scene, ladies?</p> <p><b></b></p> Thu Dec 03 14:57:03 IST 2020 visiting-pune-again-donald <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>We are told Joe Biden has gone into a huddle with key advisers, as he waits for President Donald Trump to move over and take his butt out of the White House. Even as world leaders rush to congratulate Biden on his recent victory, Donald is still trying hard to delegitimise his rival’s win by tweeting, “He won because the election was rigged.” Yeah, right! Well, we will still have orange hair to contend with till January. We badly need a global jester to amuse us in these grim times.</p> <p>I recall our brief encounter in Pune, in 2014, with much amusement. Donald was not the president of the US at the time, but had informally announced his decision to throw his hat into the ring. He was in Pune to attend a big ticket promotional event for Trump Towers, his premiere entry into the luxury living space in India. Partnering Donald in this glamorised venture was local builders Panchshil Realty, promoted by Atul and Sagar Chordia, close associates of NCP strongman Sharad Pawar. Tout-Pune was agog at the thought of meeting Donald over a tightly structured evening. I was both curious and amused at the prospect of being in the same ballroom&nbsp;with one of the most unusual public figures on earth. I was not disappointed! Up there, on stage, with the gorgeous Lara Dutta as his interviewer, Donald effortlessly took over the show and dominated the conversation, as only he can. Lara had done her homework meticulously, and asked all the right questions, especially with regard to his business ventures in India and vision for the future.&nbsp;</p> <p>Larger than life? Tick. Garrulous? Tick. Super energetic? Tick. The man with seemingly tireless energy had flown into Pune for a few short hours, and was scheduled to jet off straight after the event. His sense of timing was as precise as his crazy sense of humour. I recall him tugging at his trademark orange thatch of hair to prove it was not a wig! The audience clapped and cheered as he came up with one bon mot after another, while a poised and charming Lara floored everyone with her equanimity.&nbsp;</p> <p>We were escorted to an anteroom by the hosts, for a quick introduction, handshake and photo op. The security around Donald was tight and thorough, as expected, but my daughters and I managed a few moments of face time with the individual who would soon become the ‘most powerful man on earth’. Hurrah! He made eye contact, engaged in brief social chatter, posed for pictures and was promptly hustled away by burly men in black suits talking to their cufflinks. The person I really felt for was Donald’s son (Donald Jr), who was accompanying his father and spoke after him. Imagine his predicament! Half the fancy crowd present in the ballroom had rudely left as soon as Donald got off the stage. But for me, it was the younger Trump who came as the real surprise package—bright, friendly, unpretentious and straightforward, as compared with his pompous, bombastic dad!</p> <p>Come January 2021, there will be an inglorious exit from the White House. Meanwhile, I am waiting for Barack Obama’s&nbsp;<i>A Promised Land</i>, which is likely to be the hottest book of the year, even if there are a few&nbsp;<i>desi </i>politicians in India who are squirming at his sharp observations and pointed digs. Why do I get the feeling Donald, with his towering ego, will be back in Pune soon? There are still a few apartments left to flog in his super swish development—that’s why!</p> Thu Nov 19 17:07:56 IST 2020 our-gentle-hurricane <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Kapil Dev and I share a common zodiac sign (Capricorn) and our birthdays are a day apart. Many moons ago, he invited my husband and myself to a lavish birthday celebration in a grand suite at Mumbai’s iconic The Taj Mahal Palace. It was a rowdy, lively party with Kapil in full flow. Unfortunately, we had to leave early and missed the rowdiest part! It was at the time when the Haryana Hurricane had conquered the world of cricket and was being hailed as the Indian Cricketer of the century, “one of the greatest all-rounders’’ and more. I remember thinking how totally natural and down to earth he had remained, exuding an unapologetically rustic charm, and telling me to overlook his shaky angrezi accent and vocabulary—not that it mattered!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kapil’s flair and confidence at the crease—who can even compare? I am not a cricket aficionado, but even I was awestruck going through his records and accomplishments as a legendary cricketer, who had pipped Sunil Gavaskar and Sachin Tendulkar to walk away with the Wisden title of the greatest Indian cricketer of the century in 2002. He described the win as his ‘finest hour’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All these glorious moments will soon be available to Kapil’s fans across the world in Kabir Khan’s much awaited movie, 83, starring Ranveer Singh as Kapil, with ‘83’ marking the year of India’s historic World Cup win, which had him captaining the team.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Despite all the honours (Padma Bhushan included), the essential Kapil Dev is still the lad from Chandigarh, born to a timber merchant father and a homemaker mother, as one of seven children. He once confessed he regretted not having paid more attention to education as a young boy, which may well be the motivation for Kapil starting a foundation (Khushii) along with Romi, his wife of 40 years, to educate underprivileged kids. At the time I used to meet them occasionally, either in Mumbai or in Delhi, I had noticed how effortlessly they would become the centre of attention, even at large gatherings with wall-to-wall celebrities present. At one such glittering party in Mumbai, which saw the biggest Bollywood stars in attendance, it was Kapil Dev’s arrival that caused the most excitement. Later the same evening, I caught up with him in a more secluded area, and was delighted to see him choosing to spend precious time with the waiting staff of the fancy restaurant—sportingly posing for pictures, signing autographs, sharing anecdotes—while other celebrity guests preferred to schmooze with one another. Refreshingly, Kapil had walked in alone, minus body guards or an entourage. I cannot imagine the current crop of cricket heroes doing that.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ranveer Singh is as approachable as the toothy cricketer he is playing on screen. Like Kapil, Ranveer is a live wire, who never snubs admirers begging for selfies. Ranveer can effortlessly carry that legacy forward. Both men are robustly in touch with ground realities, while aiming for excellence in their chosen fields. Kapil is known to be an ace and astute businessman. Ditto for Ranveer. Kapil has authored four books, including one on Sikhism. We are waiting for Ranveer to follow suit with a no-holds-barred biography. As a family, the Devs project a wholesome togetherness, which is adored by fans. No wonder, the 61-year-old Kapil’s recent health hiccup (angioplasty) generated deep and genuine concern across the world.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To be admired and worshipped as a sportsman is one thing—but to be loved and adored as a human being is a true blessing. As his loyal fans have consistently maintained, Kapil da jawab nahi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Instagram@shobhaade</b></p> Fri Nov 06 16:31:24 IST 2020 how-bad-are-bad-boy-billionaires <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Did India really need a tepid docudrama on a few ‘bad boys’ to understand what was going on? Hardly! When someone called Francis phoned from London more than a year ago and ran the Vijay Mallya proposal past me, I instantly refused.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But he was persistent. Countless calls and WhatsApp messages later, and after repeatedly stating that I would not badmouth a family friend, the shoot was finally scheduled. I did not provide access to my home, nor did I provide any leads. I granted an hour and told the team to hire a room at The Taj Mahal Palace, Mumbai, which is close to where I live. It was pretty obvious that they were in search of masala—anything sensational and negative that would damage Vijay’s reputation. It was only after they mentioned the participation of Vijay’s son, Siddharth, in the series that I came on board.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The probing questions, asked softly and politely, were shrewdly constructed to disarm the interviewee and get the person sufficiently relaxed to spill a few beans. Well… they picked the wrong person. All attempts to goad and bait me into saying terrible things about Vijay fell totally flat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Vijay is way too smart to let amateurs rain on his party! I am not here to sit in judgment over his life or business decisions—let the courts unscramble those intricacies. The Vijay we knew as family was far more interesting than the public persona. That ‘construct’ came much later, after he had decided to brand himself the ‘King of Good Times’ and court mega media attention. Back then, it seemed like clever positioning to enhance brand recall and push beer sales. Looking back it is this very tag that came back to bite him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Of course, Vijay changed over the years and the person we saw at his defiant 60th birthday party in Goa was by now a global ‘rock’ star—revelling in extravagance, flaunting his flamboyance. And, possibly, enjoying it all—the fawning courtiers, the lackeys, the groupies, the hangers-on.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We had been his house guests years ago at the very same Kingfisher Villa, during the housewarming party, which followed a very traditional ‘Griha Pravesh’ puja earlier in the day, performed by family priests he had flown in. Vijay was (and I am sure remains) a deeply religious man, a proud Gaud Saraswat Brahmin, who abides by rituals and dutifully adheres to his faith. He is an extraordinarily attentive son to Lalitha—his mother, the feisty matriarch, with whom I have spent quite a few entertaining hours, laughing and chatting about the ‘good times’, not all of them connected to her son.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Vijay has one of the quickest, sharpest minds, capable of calculating several unconnected matters simultaneously. He counts in Kannada, speaks fluent Bengali and is anything but a random ‘philanderer’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Unfortunately, this Netflix docudrama is a missed opportunity. It lazily skims the surface. There are no new insights and it has nothing fresh to offer. Regurgitating what is already in the public domain is a facile way to approach a multi-dimensional personality like Mallya. It was Sid Mallya’s impassioned defence of his father that salvaged this project from total collapse. Let us hope there will be a more comprehensive, in-depth portrait of a man whose wild reputation hides his other, far more complex side—the one I know and like.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Thu Oct 22 16:49:18 IST 2020 suhana-khan-comes-into-her-own <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>It cannot be easy being the offspring of a Bollywood superstar known as King Khan. But, Shah Rukh Khan’s 20-year-old daughter has frequently said she loves being called “Daddy’s Girl”. Last week, Suhana, who is an acting student at New York University, addressed the issue of ‘colourism’ head on in an Instagram post (she has 1.1 million followers). She wrote about her own experience of being called ugly at age 12, and more recently, with trolls who taunted her with nasty ‘<i>kaali billi</i>’ tags.</p> <p>While a section of social media hailed her for raising a sensitive issue, others trolled her for her stand, pointing out that her father endorses a fairness cream! This is the real dilemma faced by children of incredibly popular, iconic personalities, like SRK. If they decide to walk an independent path, they risk being mocked, and if they choose to remain in the shadows, they are laughed at even more for “doing nothing with their lives”.</p> <p>Suhana is no stranger to the double-edged sword that dangles over her. It started when she was featured on the cover of Vogue (India) at age 18. What Vogue considered a ‘scoop’ was dismissed as a gimmick by critics who pointed out the obvious—what had Suhana done with her life to merit a prestigious cover? Subsequently, Suhana’s parents may have advised her to lie low and focus on her studies. Clearly, with her latest post, Suhana has jumped back in and her views are being avidly discussed. If a superstar’s daughter has been a victim of ‘colourism’ in a country obsessed with fair skin, one shudders to imagine what it must be like for millions of other ‘dusky’ young girls.</p> <p>Suhana belongs to Gen Z. These are kids who take their individuality seriously and are known to speak up on issues they consider important. Suhana has called out those who cruelly discriminate against individuals based on their skin colour. By raising her voice, she has also demonstrated her willingness to go beyond being seen as a pampered star kid.</p> <p>She has been born under a spotlight, and will have to live with constant public scrutiny. She describes herself unselfconsciously as a ‘future star’! Not a ‘future actor’—which is very different. With two good looking brothers (Aryan and AbRam) and a high-profile designer mother (Gauri Khan), her life seems prescribed and unbelievably privileged. After all, SRK ranks among the richest stars in the world. Her brother Aryan is being groomed for superstardom, while little AbRam already has a considerable fan following at age 7. All three children must know their destiny as celebrities to Gen Next.</p> <p>On Gandhi Jayanti, Suhana and AbRam featured in their father’s social media post, recreating the famous three monkeys pose with another person. Even that well-intentioned post was dissected and critiqued by trolls, with a Sayani Gupta (actor) asking SRK to speak up for the truth and not just shut “your ears and eyes and mouths”. This may be the first time that a very junior female star has dared to take on SRK and his family. It will be interesting to see how Suhana responds not just to this jibe, but to what may follow.</p> <p>It was bold and brave of Suhana to put herself out there with the ‘<i>kaali billi’</i> post. It must have resonated with countless young girls and boys dealing with an unfair ‘fairness complex’, even within their own families. At the end of the day, she is just another 20-year-old, grappling with issues of identity and confidence. When she disarmingly says, “I have crooked fingers’’ in a promotional video, one can perceive her vulnerability, which makes her seem like any other girl—funny, awkward, defensive, appealing.</p> <p>Now that she has raised the banner of ‘colourism’, it is time to take Suhana Khan more seriously. When will we ever wake up to a ‘colour blind’ India?</p> Fri Oct 09 18:37:19 IST 2020 back-in-the-game <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The last time Urmila Matondkar was in the news was when she was photographed with Rahul Gandhi in March 2019. She had jumped on to the electoral bandwagon and was welcomed into the Congress by the ‘Big Boy’ himself. It is another matter altogether that she lost, and almost immediately resigned from the party, citing ‘internal politics’. But, while she was at it, she had emphatically stated her long-term commitment to serve the people of India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Urmila became a trending topic last week, when she boldly took on Kangana Ranaut and debunked the charges against Bollywood. She also came out in support of veteran actor and Samajwadi Party MP Jaya Bachchan, who had spoken up strongly in Parliament against actors who were tarnishing the entire film industry by badmouthing colleagues. By now, Kangana’s penchant for promptly hitting back at detractors is well known—and hit back she did!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was when she scornfully referred to Urmila as a ‘soft porn’ star, that an incensed section of Bollywood fans reacted and condemned Kangana’s crass comment. By then, Urmila had had her say across multiple platforms and thundered she would not ‘tolerate’ anybody attacking the good name of Mumbai and Maharashtra by daring to question the police about the investigations into the death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput. When I heard her raising the issue of ‘tolerance’, I half-wondered if she was all set to switch political parties and join the Shiv Sena well before the next elections.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For a bright, beautiful and articulate woman of 46, this would certainly be the right time to jump in, and stay in, not merely flirt with, politics. As a ‘Marathi Mulgi’, who studied in Mumbai and Pune (BA in philosophy), Urmila would certainly make a worthy candidate from her constituency (Mumbai North), with her glamour quotient and bhashan-making skills. She has the makings of a shrewd political player—pity she debuted in the political arena with the wrong party.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Her chequered showbiz career could have taken off to higher levels had she picked her projects better, after making a spectacular success of a role tailor made for her by her besotted mentor at the time, Ram Gopal Varma. As Mili Joshi in Rangeela, playing opposite two big heroes, Aamir Khan and Jackie Shroff, it was the petite but perfectly proportioned Urmila who walked away with the top honours and a Filmfare Award (1995). It was the same year that she acted in a Malayalam action thriller opposite Mohanlal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Despite these amazing breaks, Urmila did not manage to leverage her initial success, and was soon relegated to accepting offers to play judge on dance reality shows.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Perhaps, this is Urmila’s moment—she has certainly impressed prime time viewers with her sensible, sober views. She could have retaliated to Kangana’s taunt in the same language. But she did not.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I have known Urmila off and on over the years, even though we have not been in touch on a regular basis. She has been consistently warm, friendly, and well-spoken during our brief encounters. Years ago, she had spontaneously come to our home after an event, with her close friend, fashion designer Manish Malhotra. She disarmed the entire family with her bubbly personality. She has what it takes to become a politician in the mould of say, a Mahua Moitra, who is creating waves each time she speaks up in Parliament.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If Urmila does indeed join another political party, she should ensure she can handle ‘internal politics’—for which political party in the world is free of that mega menace?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Fri Sep 25 17:31:36 IST 2020 the-bong-of-bongs <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Nobody projected the best of ‘Bongness’, as much as India’s former president, Pranab Mukherjee. When he passed away on August 31, at age 84, after slipping into a coma, the heartfelt tributes from across the board said it all.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>People from different strata of society, and representing diverse political ideologies, wrote the most moving tributes to the gentleman universally called and referred to as Pranab da. Da, or big brother, is not just a respectful way to address a family member, it also implies a great deal of affection for the person. Not every political leader from West Bengal gets to be called ‘da’ by the people. In that sense, Pranab da, who has been dubbed ‘the people’s rashtrapati by the media, occupied a special place in the hearts of citizens, much like another former president, the late Dr A.P.J Abdul Kalam. Perhaps, their humble beginnings and spectacular rise to the top had a lot to do with the widespread admiration enjoyed by them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pranab da was born to freedom fighters in a small village called Mirity, and went on to acquire degrees in political science and history, followed by law. But far more than his academic qualifications and early career as a college teacher and journalist, it was Pranab da’s prodigious memory and incredible scholarship that impressed all those he interacted with.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I was all set to pull out my Bong Card (Bong through marriage) the only time I met Pranab da—at a tea reception organised by fashion designer Ritu Beri in a wing of the Rashtrapati Bhavan. It was a small group of mainly Delhi folks—and there was me! The protocol was amusing and I was tempted to giggle as officious members of the president’s team assigned specific ‘spots’ to each one of us, with instructions not to move an inch, or try to make conversation with the great man. That was a bummer! I had been practising my Bengali for a week, hoping for a minute or two with someone I genuinely had regard for.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Delhiwalas were most blasé, like they were totally used to hanging out with eminent personalities in grand settings. But even they were sweating, as the countdown began, and we stood to attention, waiting for gigantic doors to be ceremoniously opened. Voila! There he was, a diminutive man with a bemused expression. He looked like he wanted to be anywhere but in that beautiful salon, doing namaste to a bunch of strangers he might never lay eyes on again.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>An over eager man next to me stepped out of line—figuratively and literally—trying to impress Pranab da by throwing the name of West Bengal’s most prominent media man, and claiming proximity. Pranab da barely made eye contact with this corporate loudmouth who was crudely showing off his Punjabi-Bengali. Then it was my turn! Pranab da stopped and semi-smiled. I swooned! Wow, the president of India was actually smiling at me! Encouraged and emboldened, I stammered something in my far-from-immaculate Bengali. He smiled some more and declared, “It’s berry berry hot today!” And moved to the next person.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We were herded to an area just outside the salon for a group picture. Strictly no selfies, we had been warned by a stern ADC. There, under the blazing Delhi sun, for a few brief moments, all of us felt wonderful being Indians, and that sentiment had a lot to do with Pranab da’s unpretentious presence. And about how a person with Pranab da’s extraordinary grit, determination and wisdom came to occupy the highest position any citizen can dream of. RIP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Fri Sep 11 18:22:49 IST 2020 sima-the-unlikely-celebrity <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Like many others, I was most reluctant to watch <i>Indian Matchmaking</i> on Netflix. Till my daughter Anandita forced me to give it a shot. Once I started, I could not stop! And the only reason I stayed hooked was to see more of a 57-year-old woman named Sima Taparia. She was the superglue that held this enterprise together. In India, we have traditionally accepted the concept of an arranged marriage. It has worked for centuries, and is likely to work for a few more—if marriage itself lasts. We are a <i>shaadi</i>-obsessed nation, and no matter what the counter-narrative, we continue to endorse ‘official’ match-making as one of the ways of finding ‘suitable partners’. No wonder then, that Sima has acquired a cult status, not just in India but across the world, after the mega success of the show. Despite the jeers, memes, digs and taunts about her views, Sima has converted a 15-year-old hobby into a highly lucrative business model today. And the wonderful thing is that she remains pretty untouched by her newly-acquired celebrity status.</p> <p>How do I know? I met her over high tea hosted by Mumbai’s St Regis Hotel, with a hand-picked group of her admirers. Covid-19 protocol was firmly in place, as excitement mounted in the swanky suite. It was as if the curvaceous Kim Kardashian and not a pleasantly plump happy Marwari housewife-turned-star was about to walk in. Believe me, when she entered, there was applause! There she was, dressed and groomed like she appears on camera—and, equally relaxed as she got introduced to awestruck invitees, her well-dressed husband Anup by her side, smiling broadly, proudly taking in the warm response to his wife.</p> <p>I jokingly told Sima, “All of us are willing to ‘adjust’, ‘compromise’and ‘be flexible’.” These are the key words and instructions Sima sprinkles during her show. A show that now attracts fans from across the world. Over <i>garam chai</i> and cupcakes, we chatted like old friends, even though we had just met. That is the thing about Sima—not only is she comfortable in her own skin, she makes everyone else around her feel the same. Sima is a natural. What you see is what you get—no tricks. It is this precise trait that works big time on camera, since the show is unscripted—she walks in blind when the door opens and takes it from there.</p> <p>Sima herself received over 3,000 biz requests after <i>Indian Matchmaking</i> aired. At the moment, she is processing just 135 of those, and says disarmingly that she is unable to take on any more. Today, she has enquiries flooding her website from as far away as Nigeria.</p> <p>Sima states flatly that she sticks to a ‘certain status’ and does not take on any and every client. Recently, she shared a post that went viral about her own arranged marriage at age 19. But her story had a charming, romantic twist! One can sense the rapport and closeness between husband and wife as they exchange glances and communicate non-verbally, with enviable ease. Sima’s forthrightness and candour are her trump card. My daughter Avantika mentioned her divorced-with-children friends, who are interested in starting again. Would ‘Sima Aunty’consider such alliances? Sima’s prompt reply, “Why not? There is a market for them also.” I told her to consider gay matches, given the ever-growing segment for same-sex <i>shaadis</i>. Sima paused for a few seconds. It was something she had not thought about or attempted so far. I kept pushing, “See the numbers… tell your producers. It’s all about inclusivity these days.”I showed her a text message from a gay friend: “Please ask Sima to find me a <i>rishta</i>.” She smiled, “Why not? There is always a special someone for everybody.”</p> Thu Aug 27 14:22:00 IST 2020 adieu-amar <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The only way to describe the late Amar Singh (he passed away in Singapore on August 1) is as a “loveable rascal”. No matter what he did or said, no matter how outrageous his conduct, there was something most endearing about the man. I clearly remember taking two steps backwards when he arrived unannounced at our home, with a common acquaintance, for what was a private dinner for close friends. Far from being embarrassed, he made himself right at home, mingling freely with our guests and regaling everybody with his vastly amusing and highly gossipy tales. Mumbai not being Delhi, and this being more than 20 years ago, nobody knew what to make of this upstart who was so at ease, throwing big names around and making bombastic claims. Somehow, I warmed up to his rustic, raw, unfiltered personality and admired his chutzpah. Nothing and nobody can keep this man down, I remember thinking at the time.</p> <p>That is pretty much an accurate view, given Amar Singh’s highly controversial political career which saw great highs and abysmal lows, including a judicial custody stint under the Prevention of Corruption Act. Nothing fazed the man, not even serious allegations of corruption, not even being expelled from the Samajwadi Party by his mentor Mulayam Singh Yadav in 2010 for facing widespread scorn for contributing $5 million to the Clinton Foundation. For a man born to humble parents—he told us about his father’s modest locksmith stall in Kolkata’s Burrabazar—Amar Singh’s mind-boggling rise in public life is the stuff only masala movie scripts can rival. Oh yes, he tried his hand at movies, too, acting in a Hindi and Malayalam film.</p> <p>He enjoyed power play at all levels and got his high from cultivating wealthy, well-connected, influential individuals. If they were also glamorous and flashy, Amar Singh’s ecstasy became almost palpable! He fancied himself as a kingmaker, but behaved more like a college groupie around the rich and famous. I would watch him as he worked the room, hobnobbing and networking brazenly, shaking countless hands, air-kissing gorgeous socialites, flashing starlets on his arm, dropping names galore not bothered by snubs or sniggers. It was his rhino skin that kept him afloat, particularly when his chips were down and he was treated like a political/social pariah. The very same people he had gone flat out to help after cultivating them meticulously, shunned him publicly and blatantly. Like a whipped schoolboy who had been rusticated by the principal, Amar Singh licked his wounds in private and sulked openly. He gave countless interviews bad-mouthing those who he said had “betrayed” him. I had spotted him in Mumbai a few times during this period and wanted to gently tell him he had passed his sell-by date by then and had become more of an embarrassment, a huge liability to his old “close friends”. Mumbai society can be harsh and cruel to people like Amar Singh, who come up the hard way from the streets, become power brokers, but are regarded as nothing more than street hustlers.</p> <p>The last time I ran into him was at my own book event in Delhi. He was half his size and looked visibly sick. I failed to recognise him, and frankly, I was not sure whether or not his name was on the guest list. Not that any of this bothered him—he came up to chat and once again I marvelled at his gung-ho spirit. I recalled him telling me about starting his career in Delhi as a young graduate, working for K.K. Birla’s <i>Hindustan Times</i> as a liaison officer—the standard euphemism for “fixer”. He had chuckled: “I know all the big journalists in India and abroad because of my first job.” His candour was disarming. So was his “never-say-die” spirit. Amar Singh, adieu. In your own unique way, you will always remain <i>amar</i> in our memory.</p> <p><b></b><br> </p> Thu Aug 13 13:59:04 IST 2020 the-ever-combative-kapur <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>An Oscar is the kiss of death in Bollywood,” tweeted the award-winning actor-producer-director Shekhar Kapur to one of the most talented musicians alive, A.R. Rahman, who responded somewhat laconically. This exchange highlighted the increasing polarisation in Bollywood, as actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s tragic death continues to raise important issues of nasty behaviour and blatant discrimination in India’s billion-dollar film industry.&nbsp;</p> <p>Kapur comes with impeccable credentials as a filmmaker—he has deftly directed great actors, from Cate Blanchett (<i>Elizabeth</i>, 1998) and Heath Ledger (<i>The Four Feathers</i>,&nbsp;2002), to Seema Biswas (<i>Bandit Queen</i>,&nbsp;1994) and Sridevi (<i>Mr India</i>, 1987). He was keen on directing Rajput in the much-delayed&nbsp;Paani. The two had reportedly spent four months discussing and prepping for the project that did not get off the ground. He has gone on record to claim he knew people who had “wronged” the 34-year-old actor: “What happened to you was their karma. Not yours,” read his cryptic tweet, after the tragedy.</p> <p>&nbsp;Regardless of how this saga pans out, it is great to know that the 74-year-old Kapur continues to be combative—as he can well afford to be. With a net worth estimated at $25 million, he is in an enviable position to say and do as he please. He is also one of the few people in Bollywood to take a stand when required, as he famously did when a “trilogy” of his superhit directorial venture,&nbsp;<i>Mr India</i>,&nbsp;was grandly announced without informing him. He asked an important and very valid question: “Where is the director’s ownership on material he has created?” This did not go down well with the community, with people like Javed Akhtar questioning his stand.&nbsp;</p> <p>Given Kapur’s education and background (CA from London), he is entirely at home in an international arena, unlike some of his Bollywood counterparts. Yes, he is fastidious and picky when it comes to projects—because he can afford to be just that. Why compromise with one’s vision, particularly if the same vision has paid rich dividends in the past?</p> <p>The last time I met Kapur was a few months ago at a mutual friend’s dinner. As always, I found the genial Kapur at his relaxed best, happy to talk shop. But equally happy not to. Among other invitees, there was author Amitav Ghosh with his wife, since the dinner was in his honour after a book launch. It was a small group with most guests having long associations. The exquisite Hyderabadi banquet was the uncontested star of the night, as the host and hostess (filmmaker Zafar Hai and his lovely wife Colleen) graciously looked after guests. Kapur, who was born in Lahore, was in full flow, but quietly so—there was zero attempt to hog the spotlight or dominate the discourse. He and I were meeting after a gap of several years, but it hardly mattered. The connect was immediate and cordial. It was yet another marvellous soiree that underlined a dying Mumbai tradition, and reminded all of us of an earlier era where evenings such as this one were enjoyed by like-minded people, learning from one another and celebrating each other’s success in an open, generous way.</p> <p>One hears Kapur will be giving his statement in writing to the Mumbai police regarding his association with Rajput. So far, more than 40 individuals have been summoned by the cops. I am not sure for what exactly! Are the police as starstruck as the rest of the country? Or, do they want to demonstrate their efficiency in “cracking” this tricky case by getting statements from stars like Kangana Ranaut? Let us see what is unearthed. But our man Kapur has declared he will dedicate&nbsp;<i>Paani</i>&nbsp;to the memory of the actor who did not live long enough to star in what promises to be Kapur’s magnum opus.</p> Thu Jul 30 15:40:30 IST 2020