Shobhaa De en Wed Nov 02 11:33:14 IST 2022 when-rani-mukerji-tells-her-story <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>When I ran into Rani Mukerji at an award show last month, I had not watched her latest film—<i>Mrs Chatterjee vs Norway.</i> She spoke movingly about her role as Debika Chatterjee and its impact on her own life. I was familiar with the case, and had followed the real life saga of Sagarika Bhattacharya (the real life Debika), who had fought the government of Norway to get back the custody of her two children, forcibly taken away from her during her stay in the country. It was a high-profile case that had made international headlines and projected Sagarika as a fearless tigress defending her cubs against a powerful enemy—Norway. Thanks to the timely intervention of the late Sushma Swaraj and activist Brinda Karat, the prolonged custody battle ended on a happy note with the kids reunited with their mother.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rani’s interpretation of Sagarika’s trauma is compelling and authentic, instantly drawing viewers into the brisk narrative that recreates the drama, with a few creative flourishes. Rani remains faithful to the character and never once loses her grip over the scene she’s playing. Though critics have singled out her courtroom monologue in which she quietly states, “Am I a good mother or a bad mother…. I don’t know. But I am ready to fight for my children… for justice in any corner of the world….” This is the money-scene that demands applause in theatres and moves mothers to tears. But, for me, Rani’s shining moment was in a scene when she comes home after a crucial meeting with the minister, only to face anger, hostility and accusations from her in-laws, who have already declared her “mad’’ and “unstable” publicly. Ignoring her enraged husband, Rani/Debika proceeds to fix her comfort food—a typically Bengali dish of ripe banana mashed into a bowl of milk—that she ravenously consumes. Not a word of dialogue is spoken by her… but my word! The defiance of her body language and those blazing eyes do all the talking.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This is Rani at 45, intelligently choosing projects that showcase her prodigious talent. Rani could so easily play <i>maalkin,</i> as the queen bee in Bollywood, being the wife of Aditya Chopra, who owns Yash Raj Films that has just raked it in with <i>Pathaan,</i> starring Shah Rukh Khan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Even after the critical success of <i>Mrs Chatterjee vs Norway,</i> Rani has not gone overboard with nonstop self-promotion. Neither has she pushed herself to keep up with the other heroines of her vintage, who try a bit too hard to look ‘hot’ and trendy on assorted red carpet events. There is a quiet air of contentment about her persona that’s a sign of her confidence. She’s at ease with her position in life—an attribute that is so refreshing in showbiz where every second person displays such high levels of insecurity.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rani always speaks to my husband in Bengali when we meet, using a formal, respectful term of address. With me, she is far more relaxed as we exchange pleasantries. The last time we met on her turf (YRF studios) was when I had approached her with a book offer, which she had politely turned down after much consideration. The timing was off, she said, as she was a new mother, focusing on baby Adira (now seven). Rani did not have the mind space for such a commitment back then.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Well, here’s the good news—she is working on a book (how do I know? We share the same publisher). Knowing how meticulous Rani is about all aspects of her life, I am sure the book will be an engrossing read, replete with Rani’s candid insights and anecdotes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I look forward to Rani <i>ki kahaani.</i></p> Sat May 27 15:04:47 IST 2023 rajkumar-charles-is-now-king-charles <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Now that the coronation <i>tamasha</i> is behind us, let us examine the mockery of monarchy in today’s aggressive social media times, and say it like it is. For starters, even the comparatively subdued and scaled down ceremony at Westminster Abbey on May 6 looked joyless and shopworn. “Uneasy lies the head,” etc, summed up global sentiments, as several big-ticket guests politely declined to show up for an antiquated, out-of-sync Brit ritual that bordered on the absurd, given the tattered state of the empire. A severely dysfunctional royal family representing the House of Windsor, paraded its multiple neuroses on camera, making it harder still for loyalist royalists to express their adoration of the newly anointed king, who insists on his shoe laces being ironed every morning by a servile valet.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Being batty is a peculiar Brit privilege, especially when it comes to royalty. The international outrage has little to do with King Charles’s personal peccadilloes; it is more about propriety and restraint in a changed world order, especially at a time when Britain is reeling under formidable economic woes. It is a question of timing. And public sentiment. Queen Elizabeth was a deeply loved, greatly revered titular head of the commonwealth. Just her presence and engagement with the public generated revenue for the country, making her a top tourist attraction and a powerful symbol of all that one associates with royalty. Her son has no such cache. She was loved. He is loathed. Subjects did not mind subsidising the queen and her large family during her lifetime. That narrative has dramatically changed. Had King Charles and his courtiers been a little more sensitive, he would have had himself anointed king in the privacy of the palace, surrounded by his immediate family. Additionally, had he chosen not to conduct such an elaborate coronation ceremony, a great deal of embarrassment would have been avoided. As so many <i>desis</i> lamented, “No matter what the differences are within a <i>parivaar,</i> it is important to present a united front to the public. How could a father single out his own son (Prince Harry) and subject him to universal humiliation?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Fortunately, for Charles, not everyone was as critical or cynical. Surprisingly, Mark Tully gushed over the occasion in his column titled—The king’s coronation is a testament to the crown moving with the times. Surprised? Tully went on to exclaim, “Charles just had to say, ‘I come here to serve rather than to be served’.” He expressed sympathy for the king who had to see the pain and suffering of his aunt, Princess Margaret, because she was not allowed to marry a divorced man. Gosh! That must hurt! Tully mentions the genius of the British crown. And there are references to the “Hindu” Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who read the first section of the New Testament. Tully is not the lone fan. My own daughter, Anandita, rushed to London to be there in time to watch the coronation with other enthusiasts. She is an unapologetic royalist, and even though the rest of us bombarded her with criticism, she kept sending videos of exultant crowds lining the route, cheering the new King.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>My own brief encounters with King Charles and Queen Camilla years ago were highly entertaining. Both of them were exceedingly pleasant as they chatted amiably with the natives. I wish heiress Akshata Sunak had worn a beautiful sari on coronation, instead of a nondescript blue Cinderella tea dress by Claire Mischevani. A sari would have taken away nothing from the optics. On the contrary, it would have stolen the show!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Charles has been to India ten times. Let’s wait for the 11th royal visit of Britain’s new raja.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>@DeShobhaa @shobhaade</b></p> Fri May 12 11:21:48 IST 2023 the-simple-genius-called-sachin-tendulkar <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>It is hard to believe that cricket’s ‘boy wonder’ has turned 50! I am writing this on his special birthday, with my heart puffed up with parochial pride—<i>Aamcha</i> Sachin from <i>Aamchi</i> Mumbai is dominating media space, with fans and commentators falling over backwards to laud the man who made cricketing history.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is hardly any major recognition Tendulkar has not bagged, including the country’s highest civilian award—Bharat Ratna. But for me (not being a cricket aficionado), Sachin’s larger than life persona goes well beyond statistics and accolades. There is something deeply moving and relatable about his spectacular story. Sachin is synonymous with success, stability and sobriety. Sachin is as wholesome as a millet <i>bhakri</i> (a humble Maharashtrian staple), even though as an established global gourmet and foodie, his personal vote goes to Japanese cuisine.There is not a trace of the ‘bad boy’ sports star about our boyish ‘Tendlya’ (an affectionate Marathi pet name). He is well-dressed, well-behaved and well-mannered at all times. Nobody has seen him tiddly, forget drunk. He has not been involved in any romantic <i>lafdas</i> (a Bambaiya word that means scandal), even though Bollywood assiduously courts him. Sachin portrays the original, goody-goody family man, always accompanied by his wife Anjali, who never leaves his side.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Since retiring from cricket, he appears far friendlier and more relaxed than during the old days when his characteristic aloofness generated negative comments. Having watched him play at different venues, from Sharjah to Wankhede stadium, I have never ceased to be awestruck by his cool. Many moons ago, we were in a hotel elevator with other team members just before the match was to start. While the others were chatting amiably with invitees to the match, Sachin kept his head down and refused to acknowledge fans in the hotel lobby. I remember thinking it was rather rude of him, at the time. Today, I know better—such is Sachin’s focus and commitment to cricket, he refuses to expend even an iota of precious energy on social greetings, choosing to conserve every bit of it for the game.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>My son Aditya respects Sachin to another level. So, for Aditya’s 40th birthday, I could think of no better or more meaningful gift than a Sachin memento. I decided to be brazen about my ask and routed the request through Anjali. To my absolute delight, a personalised, signed jersey was delivered on time, accompanied by a sweet note. That same jersey has been beautifully framed by Aditya and enjoys the pride of place in his room. Frankly, even I was surprised by Sachin’s generous response, and thanked him profusely when we next met. He smiled and shrugged it off—I think he instinctively understood just how much that jersey meant to Aditya. Behind the social reticence is a man who understands his own worth as an inspirational figure for millions across the world.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When the stadium reverberates to lusty cries of ‘Sachin, Sachhhhhinnnn’, the legend knows they are cheering for a hero they worship as a demi-God. He cannot let them down—it’s a question of faith…. of belief… in one man’s ability to transform a game into a quasi-religious experience. No other sportsperson in India has been able to touch so many lives nor scale such unimaginable heights of fame and glory.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What makes Sachin, ‘Sachin’ is not all that difficult to decode: It is his own small family. Plus, his parents, brothers, a sister and the two people who were equally cherished as family—his coach [Ramakant] Achrekar sir, and his agent, the late Mark Mascarenhas. Sachin makes it look so easy to be Sachin. But hey—that’s what gourmets say about the best sashimi, too.</p> Sat Apr 29 08:59:11 IST 2023 meet-rohit-khattar-and-chef-manish-mehrotra-the-supremely-talented-food-wizards <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>It is the loveliest feeling in the world when you realise two extraordinary individuals you have known for years are right up there in the global culinary world, which has finally recognised the enormous potential of India’s rich, diverse cuisines thanks to their efforts at the iconic brand—Indian Accent—which is all set to conquer Mumbai palates after winning top international awards and wowing New York.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Take deep bows, Rohit Khattar and chef Manish Mehrotra. Rohit comes with admirable academic credentials and easily qualifies for the big 10 of the food and beverages industry in India, with his impressive portfolio of 30 restaurants, two hotels and India’s most comprehensive performing arts and convention centre (India Habitat Centre). It is solely Rohit’s vision, commitment, passion and hunger to excel in his industry that has won him global recognition, with Indian Accent being the only restaurant from India to make it to the world’s 50 best restaurants list.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I take both these supremely talented food wizards a little bit for granted, having known them well before they became legit international celebs. While Manish is credited for reinterpreting nostalgic Indian dishes—notably, his unbelievably light and airy ‘Daulat Ki Chaat’ dessert, which is said to have originated in Afghanistan before travelling to the royal courts of India—he started his career at my favourite neighbourhood restaurant (Thai Pavilion) with another old friend and legendary chef, Ananda Solomon. It was only after the Delhi launch of Indian Accent (2009), that Manish rose to prominence. It took two years for Dilliwalas to get used to Manish’s entirely inventive approach to old favourites, but the twists were tantalising—like the blue cheese naan! Word of mouth about the brilliant chef soon had gourmet diners flocking—and talking! He is now the culinary director and corporate chef overseeing Rohit’s food empire.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I was fortunate to be invited by Rohit to attend a pop-up in Mumbai recently, and was not sure I would meet either of them. But, hello! Chef was right there, ensuring every dish coming out of the kitchen at Jolie’s (the glam private club established by the young Aryaman Birla), was presented impeccably. I greeted him with squeals of delight while congratulating the team for the big win.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When Rohit launched Chor Bizzarre in London (1990), it created a sensation for its eccentric décor and authentic Kashmiri food. I was invited to conduct a creative writing workshop sometime around then, and to our amusement we discovered not too many desis wanted to pay for a writing workshop, and the Brits were happy with their own writers, thank you! We laughed and bravely carried on, keeping ourselves amused with Mumbai/Delhi stories and eating the most delicious khaana. Rohit’s lovely wife, Rashmi (who designs all his projects) and their two children kept us company, as we chilled out enjoying London in the spring. Little did I know then just how fast Rohit would scale up his projects and make such a huge success out of all of them. With his passion for jazz, theatre and more, Rohit is a visionary with an eclectic world view and the hard-nosed business sense to see the most challenging hospitality enterprises through.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mumbaikars are hungrily waiting for him to launch Indian Accent at BKC, with executive chef Shantanu Mehrotra helming the restaurant. Perhaps, Rohit will get to spend more time in Mumbai once that happens. And we can hang together as we once did in London. Waiting impatiently to savour Manish’s signature masterpiece—the Daulat Ki Chaat—in Aamchi Mumbai. Go on… get your bibs on, Mumbaikars.</p> Fri Apr 14 16:43:18 IST 2023 when-venkatesh-prasad-wife-ticked-off-raj-thackeray-shobhaa-de <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The first time I heard of Bapu Krishnarao Venkatesh Prasad was 26 years ago. I don’t know too much about cricket, even less about cricketers. The person who was talking about this stranger while blushing prettily was my Benguluru friend, Jayanthi. It was a candid, woman-to-woman tête-à-tête with me being the older woman. She was seeking my advice on the budding romance between her and a lanky, successful cricketer who had captured her heart. “Go for it!” I encouraged Jayanthi. What was there not to like about this shy, self-effacing, old-fashioned bowler who was making waves! And Jayanthi did! Soon after their marriage came their son, Prithvi. When I called to congratulate Jayanthi she joked, “He’s a long, long, long baby—definitely takes after his father.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For a while, I followed Prasad’s career as he gradually shifted from playing for India to being an expert commentator and bowling coach. When I met Mrs and Mr Prasad recently at my book launch at the Taj West End, Bengaluru, I was delighted to see how good both of them are looking—fit, trim, wonderfully well-dressed and full of beans. Jayanthi has lost none of her sparkling, infectious joie de vivre, and Prasad retains his disarming reticence, as he lets his attractive wife hog all the attention. We talked of old times and laughed at some crazy memories of Jayanthi behind the wheel, as we sped to the impressive Titan factory in Husur. I recall hanging on to the seat of the car, as Jayanthi whooshed past traffic at breakneck speed, chatting and talking the whole time! I’m not sure if anything significant has changed about her—I certainly hope not! While all of us at the table were busy exchanging notes about old times and common acquaintances, Prasad was nibbling at his food, eating tiny portions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jayanthi teased her husband about being such a stickler with diets and adhering to his intermittent fasting programme no matter what. “He won’t touch a morsel of food till 12:30pm….” Jayanthi shared, much to Prasad’s embarrassment.We talked IPL and cricket, and how the game had changed since he played for the country and created such a sensation back then. Or the time Javagal Srinath and Prasad forged a formidable combo, when he was a new ball partner with his statemate. Unfortunately, Prasad got passed over in 2001 and took to coaching, even though his supporters believed he still had a lot of active playing years ahead of him. It is refreshing to meet a celebrated cricketer devoid of an ego.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I watched Prasad posing for pictures with the waiting staff of the Taj, with a kind word and a smile for all. Meanwhile, Jayanthi and I were laughing uproariously at recollections from the past—famously, when Jayanthi had sharply ticked off politico Raj Thackeray for smoking during the finals of the Titan Cup at the Garware Stadium, despite prominent signs banning cigarettes. This was when Raj Thackeray was still a force to reckon with and seated in the VVIP enclosure. He had arrogantly ignored her polite request, forcing her to draw the attention of the cops hanging around, who did not dare say a word to Thackeray. Eventually, Thackeray was persuaded by his groupies to stub out the ciggie and not create a scene.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jayanthi remains as gutsy and indomitable even today—one more reason to love her. As for Prasad, he will be with his team (Kings XI Punjab) as bowling coach in Mumbai during the IPL, and I’m hoping his wife will join him, too.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>@DeShobhaa @shobhaade</b></p> Sat Apr 01 14:56:32 IST 2023 hollywood-here-is-ram-charan-shobhaa-de <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The best looking, even the most stylishly dressed actor at the Oscars 2023, was not Idris Elba, it was our very own Konidela Ram Charan Teja, wearing a sharply cut asymmetrical Shantanu &amp; Nikhil three-piece black ensemble. Accompanying him on the world’s most watched champagne carpet was his pregnant wife, Upasana Kamineni, equally elegant in a white sari (the couple’s combined net worth is an estimated 02,500 crore). As the S.S. Rajamouli gang exulted after winning the Oscar for the turbo-charged superhit song, ‘Naatu Naatu’ from RRR, there must have been countless Indian cinema movie buffs, who sat up and asked themselves, “Why have we not seen more of this talented man?” Frankly, I had felt the same way after watching RRR and trying the tricky hook step of ‘Naatu Naatu’. It was only after Ram’s appearance at the Oscar’s that I connected the dots and recalled a common friend gushing over the superstar. He had slipped into Mumbai most unobtrusively for a promotional shoot, and the local paps had left him alone—they had failed to click his airport look, nor was there a contingent tailing him to the studios. He had gone largely unrecognised, even though RRR had generated a huge buzz across India and emerged as one of the biggest hits ever. For all his mega success and popularity down south, three Filmfare awards, and making it to the Forbes’ India Celebrity 100 list, Ram Charan, with an impressive Instagram presence of 12.9m followers, remains a comparatively unknown movie star outside his zone.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All that is likely to change with his Oscar’s appearance. Strange how one single, high-profile moment in an illustrious and prolific career can suddenly alter popular perception? That goes for Jr NTR as well. Two enormously talented young men—both, sons of legendary movie stars.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This is not another column on how the south has conquered the north—far from it. It is more about the power of media in creating and projecting stars from Bollywood at the expense of far more successful (even in terms of what they earn) actors who exist outside Bollywood’s insular orbit. Ram Charan owns a polo team, is a co-owner of TruJet, and at 37, not just a leading actor, but a producer and entrepreneur, as well. He is married to his school sweetheart, who is carrying their first child. All this makes for excellent copy, but I have still to read Ram’s interviews or marvel over his bon mots, soundbytes or fashion spreads. Why so?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I asked his media team in Mumbai about the absence of Ram’s publicity of the kind generated by a Ranbir Kapoor or Ranveer Singh each time they step out. I was told Ram prefers it this way and is not keen to go flat out to woo the paps. And that he values his privacy and abhors the pomp and show of strutting around Mumbai with an entourage of beefy bodyguards. This attitude alone warrants an award in a city that thrives on headline seekers who make a career out of outraging prudes and posturing in public.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Here is a man who seems to go about his life and business with far more discretion and dignity, sensibly focusing on making movies that leave a huge impact on the box office. To date, Cherry (Ram’s pet name) has acted in 30-odd films. He is also self-aware enough to give himself an annual break when he undertakes the 41-day Ayyappa deeksha at Sabarimala Temple, as a spiritual and self-disciplinary programme to destress and detox from the demands of his profession.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When I saw a galaxy of top stars from the south gracing the cover of India’s glossiest celebrity magazine, and heard the most wonderful stories about each and every award winner at the glitzy night in Hyderabad, I said to myself, “About time, too!” The awesomeness of people like Rajamouli is a given. Now we have a Ram Charan making it to the best dressed lists of The Wall Street Journal, Variety and others. Way to go—you are indeed the Cherry on the Oscar’s cake, Ram Charan! Hollywood is waiting with open arms to grab you.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>@DeShobhaa @shobhaade</b></p> Sat Mar 18 17:09:29 IST 2023 shehan-karunatilakas-life-beyond-booker-shobhaa-de <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>None get to choose where they are born. Many try to steal the credit.” This is the intriguing line to Shehan Karunatilaka’s collection of quirky short stories titled—The Birth Lottery and Other Surprises.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Well, personally speaking, Shehan himself was the biggest surprise when I finally got to meet the Sri Lankan literary sensation at a recently concluded literature festival in Thiruvananthapuram. I had seen him earlier at the Jaipur Literary Festival (we were staying at the same hotel), and I would watch him with his statuesque wife and two young children, as they enjoyed breakfast, before leaving for the festival venue. But we didn’t speak. In Thiruvananthapuram, thanks to Kanishka Gupta, our shared literary agent, Shehan graciously presented three signed copies of his award-winning books, and totally overwhelmed me by his generous gesture. That other envious delegates tried to steal at least one of the books from me says a lot about the writer’s growing fan club. For all his fame and popularity (he won the Booker Prize in 2022), Shehan seems most unaffected by the adulation. At 48, he has the slightly worn appearance of a hippie-era musician looking for a gig. Unsurprisingly, he is, in fact, a gifted bass player with a rock band, owns a collection of guitars and admires The Police.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida, which won him the Booker, is described as a “metaphysical thriller, an afterlife noir” by Neil MacGregor, chair of judges, The Booker Prize 2022. It has received raves for its inventive narrative and whimsical prose. The protagonist, Maali Almeida, is described in three words—photographer, gambler, slut. The word slut appears quite frequently in the books and at one point, Janela Fernandes, a character from the short stories collection explains, “A slut is a woman with the morals of a man.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Shehan’s skill at creating worlds within worlds and turning our world upside down makes him one of the hottest writers in publishing circles. I have been devouring his work ever since that meeting in Thiruvananthapuram, which saw a generous sprinkling of well-known writers, sipping drinks and discussing their own genius. Here was this guy, with eyes like burning coal, disheveled hair, an unruly beard, dressed in a nondescript hoodie, doing what good writers should—but rarely—do. He was casually walking around, informally chatting with all and sundry, wearing his fame lightly and with complete nonchalance. What’s more—he looked interested in other people and their stories! That’s a rarity in writers as a breed. “I can’t understand why humans destroy when they can create—such a waste,” Shehan writes. And then it makes you wonder about his penchant for teasing readers. Given that much of his writing reflects “the world’s dark heart”, is he having fun by making fun of us, his besotted readers?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I wish I had spent more time talking to Shehan, instead of wasting it on retired ambassadors and jaded bureaucrats peddling their latest, utterly boring tomes. Here is a startlingly original voice articulating deeply profound, very philosophical truths, particularly about the civil war in his country, but doing so adopting dark humour and subterfuge, woven into bizarre yet thought provoking scenarios that keep a reader begging for more! Shehan warns you: “Never [read] in sequence. I don’t with other people’s works. Why should anyone with mine?”</p> Fri Feb 17 17:25:03 IST 2023 nari-hira-magna-publishing-stardust-magazine-owner <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>January 2023 marked two milestones in the colourful, glittering life of Nari Hira—bossman of Magna Publishing Co. Ltd. His birthday on the 26th. And grand celebrations on the 28th, to mark 50 years of his iconic film magazine—Stardust. He remains my first and only boss—five decades after we launched Stardust with a bang, and changed film journalism in India forever.</p> <p><br> It was pretty thrilling to be on stage with Mr Hira (I still call him that), as a parade of Bollywood stars came up to receive their awards. Some of the oldie goldies boldly shared how some scoop had upset them. Others, like Anil Kapoor, expressed gratitude for the support extended during their struggling years. The younger lot coyly confessed that their mothers forbade them from devouring Stardust when they were schoolkids. All this was music to my ears! I chuckled at the memory and then reminded myself that 50 years of publishing existence was truly a big deal!Nari Hira had audaciously broken every known rule at the time and swiftly become the game-changer and market leader.</p> <p><br> Since I left Stardust more than 40 years ago, there is brain fog when I look back on those crazy days of working like a beast from what was popularly called the ‘Çat House’ by fans of Neeta’s Natter, with the signature sign-off of the most read column in the subcontinent—Meeeeeooow! Was Neeta my pseudonym? I’m not telling! But running into a few stalwarts from my zamana—like Shatrughan Sinha, whom we had nicknamed Shotgun Sinha, was a delightful experience.</p> <p><br> It was when Rekha—the eternal diva—arrived, that fans went into a frenzy, and Mr Hira’s eyes finally lit up! At 68, Rekha continues to break hearts and diva goals. Mr Hira turned to me and declared triumphantly, “A pretty good turn out!”</p> <p><br> I was happy for him. Stardust was his baby, and he did succeed in creating an iconic brand that had loyal followers across the world. The scene has changed dramatically, of course. Not that the changes bother the bossman. He knows he is sitting on a goldmine—those archives are worth a lot more than Adani shares at the moment. But, when I ask him what he plans to do with the treasure, he swiftly changes the subject and mentions a top actor’s “bad breath’’, adding, “I bet he doesn’t brush his teeth”. I want to hug him in that instant—but control the urge. At 86, Mr Hira’s sharp, vitriolic observations and asides are as I recall them from five decades earlier. Nothing misses his eye or ears.</p> <p><br> Nari Hira’s has been a charmed life, starting out as an advertising guy in sharp Savile Row suits (he hired me as a junior copy writer at a princely salary of Rs 350), and subsequently going on to establish a media empire with a bouquet of glossies—some successful, some not. He pioneered video films, mainly for adult consumption, decades before Sunny Leone came on the scene. In a way—he has seen it all and done it all, as a gutsy publisher who broke several moulds. We have remained friends throughout, and that is a huge thing for me—as I hope it is for him, too!</p> <p><br> When I was asked to say a few words, I gushed, “Stardust was not a job—it was a love affair.” It is true! Mr Hira inspired an entire generation of reporters and feature writers, who went on to chart new territories with other media houses. But Magna was where it all began—as Hira’s devoted chelas and chelis.</p> Sat Feb 04 14:09:28 IST 2023 suraj-yengde--the-rockstar-writer <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Frank admission: I had heard of the book (Caste Matters), but forgotten the name of the author. The book (published in 2019) is frequently described as explosive, and Suraj Yengde, the 35-year-old author, gets blurbed as a first generation dalit scholar, educated across continents, who challenges deep-seated beliefs about caste and unpacks its many layers. I had not read the book—but now I will, after meeting Suraj at the just concluded Kerala Lit Fest in Kozhikode.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dressed like a rockstar in strawberry pink drainpipe pants, a rainbow hued ganji hugging his lithe frame, fitted navy blue blazer with a foppish pocket square, pitch black shades (indoors) and a halo of unruly curls framing his face—the man had attitude written all over him, as he pulled up a chair and introduced himself. Our connect was instant and fun!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Once done with the valedictory function, Suraj, his Slovenian companion Tasha, and I drove for an hour to eat the best mango fish curry on earth at the famous Paragon restaurant. I bombarded Suraj with questions about his past, present and future as we conversed energetically in our common mother tongue—Marathi. Suraj’s extraordinary trajectory is worthy of a full length film, starting with his life in a slum in Nanded, sharing one cramped room with his family of five. The visuals are straight out of Slumdog Millionaire, and his narrative is equally compelling as he vividly describes beating all odds at school and college, to finally achieve what very few have—dalit or not. By the age of 25, he had two PhDs under his belt and was already on his way to being acknowledged as an international scholar worth watching, having impressed academia (Harvard/Oxford) with his impassioned commitment to his life’s mission and calling as a writer/speaker determined to have his voice heard.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Today, Suraj is being courted by top literary agents (he has just signed on with David Godwin) for his next book. For a student who had shivered his way to Lucknow in sleeper coach, without a blanket or sweater in the bitter cold, and went on to win a debate which came with Rs5,000 as prize money, Suraj today flies business as he jets from country to country and stays at the best hotels, flaunting his flamboyance and intellect unselfconsciously. I commented on his sharp sartorial choices and he readily admitted how a female Italian friend in Geneva (he was working for the UN), stared at his tennis socks at a formal dinner for diplomats and recommended a few changes in his wardrobe.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Suraj was candid enough to discuss his earlier mixed up attitude towards women, especially while dealing with a clear ‘no’. (“European women are far more direct than Americans. I used to get hurt and vindictive as I would see the ‘no’ as a personal rejection and brood over it for weeks”). Today, it is the same Suraj who negotiates the many complexities of gender and caste politics, while ceaselessly reviewing himself.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As we finish our feast, which includes the chef’s personal favourite (fried anchovies in tamarind sauce), and promise to reconnect at the ongoing Jaipur Lit Fest, Suraj’s eyes are shining with excitement and anticipation. His work speaks for itself. But it is his persona that fascinates me, as I laugh and assure him he’ll get all the attention he seeks at JLF—after all, he is so marketable. Besides, he no longer wears tennis socks with dress shoes! Yup, Suraj has come a long, long way from Nanded. The sun is shining on him!</p> Sat Jan 21 14:54:19 IST 2023 tata-group-veteran-r-k-krishnakumar <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>To some, it may seem a little sad to begin the new year with a column on an individual who is no more.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>R.K. Krishnakumar aka KK, who passed away aged 84 on New Year’s Day, was not just a business stalwart in the Tata group, but a deeply venerated corporate professional. Such was the respect for the reticent man—known to be Ratan Tata’s confidant—that it seems totally appropriate to acknowledge his contribution and bid him an affectionate farewell.</p> <p>On his retirement at 75, Krishnakumar had occupied several key positions within the mighty Tata fold, serving as a trustee of the Sir Dorabji Tata Trust and Sir Ratan Tata Trust (which hold 66 per cent of Tata Sons). But the best thing about the man was his low-key image, which made him one of the most imposing and powerful individuals in India Inc. Such was his personality and innate modesty that very few people would have recognised the man responsible for so many vital business decisions on the rare occasions he attended public gatherings. He was the man who had Ratan Tata’s ear, but remained disarmingly unobtrusive till the end.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mumbaikars can never forget the image of Ratan Tata with Krishnakumar by his side, watching the iconic dome of their beloved Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in flames during the vicious 26/11 terror attacks. Two brave men, leading from the front, letting their employees know they were together during Mumbai’s darkest, most terrifying hour. The Tata Welfare Trust was started soon after, but before that, they visited the homes of every single affected employee’s family and assured them care and support.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was also Krishnakumar, with the full support of Ratan Tata, who dealt with an explosive situation in Assam in 1997, when ULFA activists kidnapped an employee and demanded ransom. It took months of skillful negotiations to bring the situation under control. Krishnakumar’s closeness to Ratan Tata went well beyond officialdom—both men preferred privacy above all else. Their personalities were in sync and most compatible.</p> <p>Whenever I ran into Krishnakumar and his talented, beautiful wife, Ratna, I barely got a couple of sentences out of him. But with Ratna, our shared passion for handwoven, traditional saris always led to a lively conversation. With her knowledge of our rich textile traditions and a great eye for the unusual, Ratna and I collaborated for a fashion show celebrating the most exquisite looms of Varanasi. Her proud husband looked on and applauded shyly as impressed invitees in the vast Taj ballroom rushed to book orders and encourage the weavers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For a topper with a master’s degree from Chennai’s Presidency College, Krishnakumar’s steady climb to the top echelons at Tata was remarkable. He joined the Tata Administrative Service in 1963, but shot to prominence in 2000 with the bold buyout of Tetley Tea for £271 million. After retirement nearly 10 years ago, he was rarely seen in public. But with a Padma Shri under his belt (2009), two years after he stepped down as managing director of the Indian Hotels company, Krishnakumar seemed to have devoted his life to looking after various welfare trusts, and in particular Ratan Tata’s pet project—shelters for stray dogs. In fact, when Bombay House—the most famous corporate office in India—reopened post renovation, Ratan Tata dedicated a portion to a kennel.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With Krishnakumar’s passing, yet another era of Tata titans has gone. Ratan Tata must be bereft without the quiet presence of Krishnakumar, who had travelled the globe with him often in his private jet, which Tata himself piloted at times. The tributes are still pouring in, but the most valuable one comes from Ratan Tata, who said, “I will always fondly remember the camaraderie we shared both within the group and personally. He was a true veteran of the Tatas and will be missed dearly by all.” Nobody could have said it as eloquently.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>RIP, R.K. Krishnakumar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>@DeShobhaa @shobhaade</b></p> Sat Jan 07 11:08:45 IST 2023 justice-d-y-chandrachud-key-judgements <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Old friends of Chief Justice of India Dhananjaya Y. Chandrachud call him ‘Danny’, a nickname given to him by one of his teachers at Mumbai’s 162-year-old Cathedral School, which counts Salman Rushdie and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto as ex-students. His parents, former CJI Yashwant Chandrachud and classical singer Prabha Chandrachud, call him ‘Dhanu’. In Bambaiya lingo, he is known as ‘genius aadmi’. Those who have been following his career say in chorus with undisguised pride, “Danny is the CJI India needs now!”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The CJI’s colleagues credit Mumbai a great deal for “shaping” him as a forward-thinking liberal. Between November 9, 2022, when he took over as CJI, and December 16, as many as 6,844 cases have been wrapped up. As he stated recently, “No case is small or big enough for the court.” Applause!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At a recent high-profile wedding reception in Mumbai, which saw India’s legal eagles in attendance, the buzz was that the CJI himself would show up. I kept my eyes peeled for a sighting in the 1,000-strong crowd. I have long admired the learned judge for his bold views on contentious issues.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>An “accidental lawyer” who loves cricket and music, Chandrachud, 63, is known for his dry wit and quiet put-downs. I love one particular anecdote: when an advocate asked for a date after January 13, the CJI joked: “Is it an auspicious date suggested by an astrologer?” The advocate confessed it was his wife’s birthday. The CJI responded, “Very valid reason….”, and a new date was promptly fixed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chandrachud is married to lawyer Kalpana Das (his first wife, Rashmi, tragically died of cancer in 2007). The couple has two foster daughters, and he has two sons from his first marriage.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chandrachud’s far-reaching judgments as a Supreme Court judge have made him a legal legend. He has twice upturned his father’s judgments, which, by any standards, is a pretty gutsy thing to do given the old boy’s formidable reputation. His penchant for revisiting stagnant issues and pushing for reform has made him a public hero. Awestruck admirers refer to his various progressive rulings—like the recent ban on the medieval “two-finger test”, used to determine whether survivors of sexual assault are “habituated to sex”. In September 2018, in a historic judgment that was hailed across the world, a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court that included Chandrachud decriminalised homosexuality.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While waiting for the sprightly CJI to put in a cameo at the wedding, several senior advocates pitched in with their opinions on the man they called a “shrewd tactician, a sharp politician, a radical thinker and daring activist who has the prime minister’s ear”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Whether or not he has NaMo on speed dial, the fact remains he has played a key role during watershed moments. Like in the Sabarimala case, where a majority of the five-judge Constitution bench declared that preventing the entry of women of menstrual age was unconstitutional. Equally transformative was the judgment that affirmed the right of women, irrespective of their marital status, to seek safe and legal abortion till 24 weeks of pregnancy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It goes without saying that any individual bucking the system and being perceived as a man in a hurry to change the establishment will attract his share of strident critics and generate controversy. Fortunately, for the dynamic CJI, his army of admirers (count me in!) far exceeds the fuddy-duddies interested in maintaining the status quo. Going by some of the mixed comments about the CJI that wedding night, I could also sense the envy of the old guard. They were clearly resentful of a man who fearlessly goes where others are afraid to tread.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Lagey raho, Danny!</p> Sat Dec 24 17:13:27 IST 2022 cartier-india-strategic-director-swagata-baruah-bottero <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>There are a few rare individuals whose inner light shines bright and illuminates any room they happen to be in. Swagata Baruah Bottero is one of them. She is the lady with a demanding, high-powered job at Cartier—the world’s most iconic jewellery brand. The exciting news first: Swagata, as Cartier International’s India affairs and strategic director, is spearheading key initiatives that will focus attention on India in the months to come. Swagata and her team kicked off the ambitious programme by signing our very own Deepika Padukone as brand ambassador, ensuring the star’s multi-dimensional interests get as much importance as her extraordinary beauty.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Swagata calls Paris her home—the Tezpur-born lady has been in France for 20 years and her new responsibilities at Cartier are a dream come true for her. With two girls—Meera and Maya—to look after, Swagata and her French husband (also in luxury) lead a pretty hectic life, flying trans-Atlantic and visiting India. They take turns to be home with their daughters.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I met Swagata in Mumbai over a leisurely lunch, organised by Tikka Shatrujit Singh, who, after a successful stint at LVMH, has come on board as a well-connected consultant for Cartier. I was utterly disarmed and charmed by Swagata, who graduated from Delhi University and went on to get her masters from ESSEC and INSEAD business schools in France. Her vision for India and Cartier is passionate and inspiring. She is keen on projecting the country of her birth in the best possible context and is planning many India-centric promotions globally, including spectacular window displays during Indian festivals. Her deep understanding and knowledge about Cartier and its long history with Indian royalty—who can ever forget the stunning ‘Patiala Bib’ created for the Maharaja of Patiala in 1928—is something Swagata plans to showcase across the world.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Cartier’s flagship store in India is in Delhi, but plans seem to be afoot to open one in Mumbai shortly. Swagata wants to create a high-impact event to mark the occasion. She mentioned how the young in India are buying non-traditional statement jewellery with a great deal of confidence and flair. The famous Cartier love bracelets are likely to fly off the shelves, with women ‘stacking’ them up for the wow factor! Swagata is in tune with this emerging India, and is unlikely to take the caparisoned elephants and decorated camels approach in future promos. This is evident from the way Deepika’s shoot was conducted for the prestigious campaign—it was stripped off desi exotica and pictured naturally.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This is just the start, Swagata told me with a broad smile, as we discovered a few old connections and talked easily about our families, children and common friends. Her parents visit Paris regularly, and she looks forward to large annual get-togethers with cousins, aunts and uncles in Tezpur. While Swagata misses India, it is Paris that has embraced the dynamic strategist and given her such a great opportunity to lead a crack team and create waves. I am guessing we are going to see a lot more of Deepika and Swagata in the coming months. Here are two strong women from India making a major statement together.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India is back on the luxe map after a long lull. This was strongly signalled by the arrival of the legendary editor of Vogue—the redoubtable Anna Wintour—in Mumbai. It is good business to invest in India right now, given the imminent collapse of several European and British markets. Valentino is all set to open a huge store in Delhi. And, LVMH recently launched an exclusive Rani Pink shoe collection. Luxury is not new to India; it has existed for centuries. Glad to note the world is finally waking up to it. And, the ultimate stamp of approval comes from Swagata, who is all set to dazzle the world with Cartier Joailliers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>@DeShobhaa @shobhaade</b></p> Sat Dec 03 10:47:38 IST 2022 films-like-uunchai-play-an-important-role-in-legitimising-ageing <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>I am planning to watch a movie titled Uunchai on a priority basis. Ask me why? Simple—because I relate to the subject and admire the star cast. It is described as a Hindi-language adventure drama, which sounds odd, given that it is about three elderly gentlemen (Amitabh Bachchan, Anupam Kher and Boman Irani) setting off on a sentimental mission in honour of their beloved friend who passed away. They ambitiously plan a trek to the Everest base camp. But, it turns out to be a far more complex journey involving several strands and complex inter-personal emotional issues. It is mainly about coming to terms with age and its limitations, and ways to negotiate pitfalls that accompany the winter of life.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We all get there, sooner or later. Making a film on as delicate a subject takes courage, no matter how stellar the cast.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bachchan just celebrated his 80th birthday. Rajnikanth is 71. These extraordinary men have dominated the imagination of movie buffs for over five decades, thanks to consistently superlative performances. Their Hollywood counterparts, Michael Caine (89), Al Pacino (82) and Robert De Niro (79), have not been seen on the big screen for a while, even though they are acknowledged amongst the finest actors of all time. Let us face it, getting starring roles post 70 remains a daunting, distant dream, no matter how many awards and accolades feature in the CV. Henry Fonda was 76 when he and his co-star Katharine Hepburn won an Oscar for On Golden Pond (1981), which remains a classic.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dealing with age and ageism, sensitively and appealingly, requires a first rate script and a competent director. But, above all, it needs confident actors willing to embrace their years and play their roles with enthusiasm. Bachchan frequently thanks producers for displaying faith in his abilities and signing him for new projects. This shows innate modesty combined with high intelligence, for an actor who has already surpassed other actors two generations after him. Most of his contemporaries are relegated to being footnotes in cinema’s history. To describe Bachchan’s feat as ‘staying power’ is wrong. There are thousands dying to ‘stay’… but, unfortunately, have no takers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Cinema is a cruel medium, where every new line on the face takes away a few lakhs from the fee. Men are not spared, much as feminists like to believe otherwise. The pressure to look flawless and perfect, especially in close-ups, is forcing young actors to adopt drastic measures, including intrusive surgical procedures. Some of our younger stars are looking ghoulish, like they are at a Halloween ball, because of botched up work they have done on themselves.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is not just people in the glamour world who obsess over new lines and sagging muscles. A few of my female friends regret going to cosmetologists who have ruined their faces after promising to take off 20 years. Well, yes, the first brush with Botox was indeed fantastic. The women came away feeling rejuvenated and filled with confidence. Then came the next encounter with scalpels and abrasive skin treatments. They were hooked. Till the day their faces turned waxen, and their foreheads turned immobile. They were unable to either smile or cry! Too late, warned their docs, operating out of shabby clinics and holes in the wall in central Mumbai. You can’t stop now! Or else you’ll look even worse.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Films like Uunchai play an important role in “legitimising’’ ageing and providing an emotional context to life, once your prime years are well behind you. Age is not a crime, but is often treated like one. The basic premise of the film is positive. Just like life at any age should be.</p> Sun Nov 20 11:25:35 IST 2022 stop-intruding-into-virat-kohlis-private-space <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>No, it is definitely not okay for any guest in any hotel of the world to have their room filmed and the video posted on social media. That such a major travesty happened to Virat Kohli, one of the most popular and incredibly successful global sportsmen, has sharply brought into focus the tricky issue of celebrity-privacy. Virat’s impassioned post after the video went viral, and has triggered a much-needed dialogue on similar serious breaches in the past. That this outrage took place at the Crown Hotel, Perth, has generated further debates on basic security violations.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While the errant staffer has been dismissed, it is still a matter of deep concern, given the scrupulous screening standards and the layers of personal protection our cricketers enjoy. If this is the abysmal level of diligence, the system itself needs a thorough re-look.“Where can I expect any personal space at all?” demanded Kohli, who has an estimated net worth of Rs950 crore. Where, indeed? This is the plight of celebrities across the world and there are no easy solutions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Remember John Lennon paid with his life in 1980 when a fan attacked him as he left his residence in New York. If Kohli’s room was effortlessly accessed and filmed, it could as effortlessly have been vandalised. Let us take it several steps further—an explosive could have been planted in his room endangering his life.‘Virushka’, as Virat Kohli and wife Anushka Sharma are called by fans, are the ultimate power couple in India, with a combined net worth of Rs1,250 crore. They live in a lavish sea-facing home in Mumbai’s Worli, and possess an impressive collection of luxury cars.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>From their marriage in 2017, to the birth of their daughter Vamika (2021), their polite requests to respect their privacy have been largely respected by the media in India. The occasional grab shots of the baby have upset the parents—understandably so. But their relationship with fans and the press across the world has been consistently positive and respectful. Virat’s latest controversy underlines just one thing—the insatiable hunger fans display as they devour every forbidden scrap they can pounce on.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, hey—didn’t all of us watch the video greedily? I did! I felt ashamed of myself but only after I had watched it twice and noted the placement of deities on Virat’s side table—such a deeply personal detail.Fandom is based on voyeurism and vicarious thrills. But, as Virat and Anushka pointed out, there are limits to how far hero-worship can go. My view is it can go all the way. Including filming stars under the shower by placing cameras in the bathroom. Housekeeping staff are notorious for going through personal belongings of high-profile guests. New laws need to be introduced, banning cell phones while on duty. This applies to nursing staff and ward boys treating famous patients. With horror and shame, I recall the images of Rishi Kapoor in the ICU going viral—who shot the video? Obviously, a staffer with access to the late star’s hospital bed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This is Virat’s birthday week. It is time to grant him his fervent wish and stop intruding into the man’s private space. Sacking the person who shot the video is but a small step to stall an escalation of this prickly controversy. The point is, it shouldn’t ever have happened. Happy birthday, King Kohli!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>@DeShobhaa @shobhaade</b></p> Sun Nov 06 13:13:50 IST 2022 bollywood-actor-govinda-deserves-recognition-shobhaa-de <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>In keeping with his reputation of coming late to sets, Bollywood star Govinda made it to his seat across the aisle from me on a flight to Jaipur in the nick of time. We were meeting after decades, and it took me a while to recognise him minus his peach coloured lip and brown eyeliner. His hair was sparser and he was several kilos lighter. But once he broke into a smile, every passenger on the packed flight knew who he was.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was great catching up with the 58-year-old who has acted in over 90 films. We chatted animatedly for two hours, mainly about films and filmmaking.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Govinda, being a commerce graduate, knows a thing or two about the business of films. Not that this knowledge helped him when his career hit a low, and he was dubbed a has-been. He had flirted with politics (2004-2008) and flopped there as well, by not turning up in Parliament and finally resigning, saying politics is a waste of time.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The man I was talking to, was talking sense, despite these downturns. He came across as a thoughtful philosopher who is nobody’s fool. With both his children waiting to make it in Bollywood, Govinda is very clear sighted and upfront about what sort of films attract audiences. A star has to remain a star, no matter what the role or character, he said forcefully, and cited several examples of superstars who forgot these basics and tried to project themselves as the characters envisioned even by great directors like Mani Ratnam (Govinda had played Hanuman in Ratnam’s Raavan).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>By now, the excitement in the aircraft was palpable. The crew was requesting Govinda to come to the back of the aircraft for selfies. He was all smiles and courtesy as fans of all ages mobbed him when we landed in Jaipur, where he was scheduled to appear as a showstopper for a prominent jewellery brand. He charmingly dodged the question of how much he was charging. A prominent “influencer” on the flight told me later that his Insta feed went nuts after he posted a selfie with Govinda. My daughter was equally starry-eyed, though she has not watched a single Govinda film! My son said, “I love him! He is the best.”</p> <p>I recalled the time when the then editor of the Stardust Annual had got Govinda to interview me at my home! A cute reversal of roles. The headline was pretty idiotic, “Mass meets class.” Govinda turned up five hours late, and I was fuming! He walked in dressed as a cop and smartly saluted me! He had come straight from the set after driving for two hours in heavy traffic—all was instantly forgiven. Since we were so behind schedule, I guess Govinda decided to save time by stripping off his police vardi there and then in the living room, shocking my young daughter who exclaimed, “Mama, please ask him to use dada’s bathroom to change.” Govinda laughed good naturedly and scurried off. The editor had prepared a set of questions for him to ask me. He took one look at the list and tore it up. “I have my own questions ready!” That is the quintessential Govinda—confident, positive and fun.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>They say his comic timing is unbeatable. On the Jaipur flight I discovered his skills as a linguist. He spoke to me in fluent, accent-free Marathi with several colloquialisms thrown in. Known to improvise his dialogues and add his own punch lines in films, here is a man who is still to receive the recognition he richly deserves. There is an entirely new audience waiting to see him on the big screen in a role that is his worthy of his talent.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sign him up someone. We want to see him back as ‘Hero No. 1’.</p> Fri Oct 21 19:15:31 IST 2022 lets-go-beyond-aishwarya-rais-beauty-shobhaa-de <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Less than a month from now, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan will turn 49. I watched her in Mani Ratnam’s magnum opus, Ponniyin Selvan: 1, and was mesmerised by her luminous beauty once again. Rai plays queen Nandini in this historical, which has generated a great opening weekend collection… but left me cold. I waited only for Rai to reappear on screen and enthral me—that happened rarely, which to me, is a lost opportunity. Perhaps, Ratnam is saving Rai for the next instalment where she is likely to have a meatier role with more dialogue. The thing is—Aishwarya can act—her beauty invariably gets in the way. But being an avid Rai-watcher from the time she made her debut in Ratnam’s Iruvar (1997) to her latest cinematic outing, I have consistently felt Rai’s prowess as a competent actor has been under-utilised, so bewitched are we by the appearance.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I revisited her earlier promotional clips from Devdas, where Rai is the much younger, trusting and innocent Paro to Madhuri Dixit’s older enchantress Chandramukhi. Reversal of roles! Here, she is, in PS-1, playing a seasoned seductress Nandini, to the fresh faced Trisha in the role of Chola princess Kundavai. Trisha is dressed even more elaborately than the heavily bejewelled Rai. Yes, the age difference is evident. But it is Rai who remains ravishing and riveting, as she seamlessly steals the scenes of them together.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rai should retain her lofty image. Showbiz is full of terribly thirsty stars craving publicity. Rai, sensibly, stays away from most high-profile parties, and her public appearances are restricted to family outings and obligatory endorsement events. Despite being trashed for some of her bizarre red carpet appearances at Cannes, Rai, as a global L’Óreal ambassador, is there on the Croisette, year after year, still loved by international paparazzi. That’s called staying power.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Having known Rai as a model, practically from the time she moved to Mumbai, I feel an enormous amount of motherly affection (combined with pride) for her. I have given her prestigious awards at glam events and been present during a few important moments in her life. Each time, I have noted her essentially well-mannered conduct while interacting with her team and others. Yes—her giggle! Perhaps, it is a nervous giggle, during which she buys a little time before responding to trick questions. About the strange accent she puts on during international promotional activity, I guess that’s an occupational hazard.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At the Bachchan’s Diwali parties, I have seen Rai’s involvement with the smallest organisational detail, as she makes sure each and every guest is well looked after, while her in-laws stand at one spot and receive everyone. Good upbringing shows!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Big F (fifty) is upon one of our most admired stars. It works differently for men in showbiz. In PS-1, Rai’s partner is an ageing traitor (R. Sarath Kumar) who she refers to as “old gold”. Rai plays the role of being the old man’s fancy, with a touch of irony and a great deal of cunning. Nandini’s negative shades are a welcome departure from the usual candyfloss representation of lovely ladies on screen.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With 46 films in five languages, a Padma Shri and countless accolades, it is about time, we as an audience, got over Rai’s beauty and looked beyond it, in all fairness to her. But then again, beauty of such iridescence, is rare and precious. Just as the world cannot get over the brilliance of the Kohinoor, for now, Rai will have to wait for another decade before we stop gawking. May her beauty never diminish….</p> Sun Oct 09 11:45:13 IST 2022 give-king-charles-iii-a-chance-to-settle-into-his-new-role <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Since the myth of British monarchy exploded almost as soon as the queen’s death was officially announced on September 8, taking potshots or firing canon balls at King Charles III has since become a global sport. Memes galore highlight his multiple eccentricities and OCD issues. Like viral clips of the newly minted monarch throwing un-kingly tantrums over a leaking pen, as he swore during a formal ceremony in Northern Ireland, “I can’t bear this bloody thing… every stinking time!” The public scorn shifted from the leaky pen to his sausage fingers, and his insistence on having his shoe laces ironed by a butler. The bonny Charles was still behaving like a spoilt toddler—a super brat aged 73.</p> <p>For all the flak he is getting, there is something to be said for a man who regularly talks to plants and has strong views on global warming. Who can fight genes, though? His father, prince Philip, was notorious for saying and doing outrageous things, making wildly racist comments and offending countless people. All was forgiven back then. But that era is over—people in public life are expected to behave themselves, especially if the public is paying their bills. Besides, Charles has been an understudy, a work in progress, for decades. If he does not get his royal act together, he might find his royal ass out of Buckingham Palace, sooner rather than later.</p> <p>However, the queen will always get my vote for being a working woman all her adult life, completing her last official assignment of receiving Liz Truss at Balmoral, two days before she died. This calls for applause. Duty before all else is something her son may find difficult to manage, given his temperament.</p> <p>I had the opportunity to meet Charles and Camilla Parker on three occasions. The chats were brief, of course, but not inane. I noticed how well briefed both of them were when introduced to a bunch of strangers they were unlikely to ever meet again. “What sort of books do you write?” the king (he was a prince then) asked. I replied, “Bodice-rippers, mostly.” He laughed heartily and looked around for Camilla to join us. This was at a charity dinner in his old London residence.</p> <p>The second and third times were during his visit to India, when we were invited to a grand reception in his honour hosted by Mukesh and Nita Ambani at The Oberoi. The couple managed a few seconds of face time with a few guests. This was followed by his visit to Pune, where he and Camilla were guests of the Poonawalla family. Charles had a packed schedule—a visit to the Serum Institute of India, followed by a reception at the Turf Club to meet corporate heads, industrialists and other prominent Punekars. An elaborate high tea was organised in honour of the duchess, at the Poonawala mansion, for a few handpicked ladies. We were given specific instructions and advised to follow royal protocol. Fortunately, we were not expected to curtsy—my silk sari might have slipped right off, had I tried a dip and tripped!</p> <p>The duchess was refreshingly normal, and chatty. It turned out to be a posh version of a kitty party, as we discussed children and pets over pastries and sandwiches. She came across as a sensible and kind woman, who knew the role she was expected to play—and did so with charm and humour. Meanwhile, my husband was twinning with Charles—both wearing beige linen suits! The pictures show them grinning widely and looking relaxed.</p> <p>Let us give the guy a chance to settle into his new role. There will be a significant shift in how the world responds to his reign. For starters, henceforth, it might be wise for Charles to carry his own pen.</p> Sun Sep 25 13:43:59 IST 2022 shobhaa-de-on-jacqueline-fernandez-the-goodwill-she-earned-vanished-overnight <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Cannot think of a more bizarre ‘love story’ featuring an ace conman operating out of a luxe ‘office’ inside Tihar jail, and a leading Bollywood actress, who accepted lavish gifts worth over 05 crore from this ardent suitor over seven months of their ‘affair’. Now that the ED has accused 37-year-old Jacqueline Fernandez, the gorgeous Sri Lankan model/actor, in the 0215 crore extortion and money laundering case against her ‘boyfriend’, Sukesh Chandrasekhar, her lawyer is going to have a tough time explaining why the star accepted extravagant and pretty unusual presents (an Arabian stallion valued at 052 lakh, three Persian cats at 09 lakh each, diamonds from Tiffany’s, hand bags from Hermes and countless haute couture dresses).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jacqueline is pleading innocence claiming she had no idea that the man she had posed with for intimate selfies with while he was out on bail was an ace trickster who had allegedly diddled Aditi Shivendra Singh, wife of the jailed former Religare MD, of over Rs200 crore.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Bahrain-born Jacqueline is no babe in the woods. She is a bright, well-spoken, educated, beauty pageant winner who got into Bollywood in 2009, after acquiring a mass communications degree from the University of Sydney. In fact, till she found herself in this monumental mess, dealing with a lookout notice that prevents her from leaving India, Jacqueline had convincingly established her credentials in this tough industry as a popular, well-liked professional nobody bitched about. Friendly and outgoing, in an environment that is notoriously indifferent to ‘outsiders’, here was a multiracial, hard working actor who had found widespread acceptance in India’s cut-throat movie and advertising world.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Her fortune changed overnight after the ED named her—all the goodwill vanished and she has been dropped from big ticket projects like The Ghost with Nagarajuna. Nobody is accepting her version of the narrative, in which she claims she had zero idea of Sukesh’s antecedents and assumed her generous benefactor was making all those video calls from his corner office!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meanwhile, Nora Fatehi and other nubile recipients of Sukesh’s magnanimity, are wondering what awaits them now that the ED is hot on the trail of Sukesh’s lovelies, who allegedly used to visit him in Tihar, where he reportedly entertained them in style with food and alcohol from the Taj.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The few times I met Jacqueline, I was charmed off my feet by her open and genuinely friendly behaviour. Jackie is like Priyanka Chopra—very international. Like PC, she is also a good businesswoman with sound investments. She has made good money in showbiz, especially after being a judge on a dance reality show. How on earth did someone as smart and successful fall for a jailbird, who avoided meeting her in person citing Covid restrictions! Had she Googled the man, she would have discovered his actual address (Tihar!); he has been in jail since 2017! Her lawyers are talking about a ‘larger criminal conspiracy’ and calling her a victim.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I met her at the Mumbai International airport just before the lockdown and we had a quick chat over coffee. She was looking fresher than a just picked daisy, sans make-up, and clad in casual jeans. No comical ‘airport look’, and no annoying hangers on. She could have been any other, very attractive, corporate woman catching a flight to attend a convention overseas.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With all this going for her, Jackie blew it after forgetting her better sense and getting trapped by a smooth-talking conman who posed as a fan after extracting her number from her make-up man.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now that most of her assets have been attached, I wonder how her ‘friends’ in Bollywood will treat her. So far, not a single one of her colleagues has come forward to express support. Her next big release is a movie titled Ram Setu. Maybe Chandrasekhar has already arranged a private screening inside Tihar—popcorn and beer, on the house?</p> Sun Sep 11 11:35:17 IST 2022 films-like-laal-singh-chaddha-would-have-tanked-on-their-own-boycott-or-not <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>#BOYCOTT IS SO</b> yesterday... move on!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I recently visited a popular hill station near Mumbai named Panchgani. In the old days, it was famous for its strawberries. Today, locals proudly say, “Aamir Khan lives here.” People of Panchgani are hardly the star-struck variety. After all, it’s a Brit zamana hill station, founded by Lord Chesson in the 1860s as a summer resort for goras sweltering in the Deccan heat. Aamir must have been charmed enough to buy a two-acre plot with a colonial cottage at Sydney Point, with sweeping views of a verdant valley. It is here that he married Kiran Rao in 2005 (they divorced in 2021). The cottage is an important landmark in Panchgani these days, as tourists stop their buses to click pictures.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I was thinking of Aamir as I drove up to the famous Table Land. What is all this nonsense about asking the public to boycott his latest film Laal Singh Chaddha? The film tanked on its own, without any help from troll armies. But this is about targeting an individual and pushing cinema-goers to boycott his film because his views are not compatible with theirs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Aamir is not your typical Bollywood star. He is known as ‘Mr Perfectionist’in the film industry. Over the years, he has invested in what he loves the most—movies—and given fans plenty to admire as a filmmaker/actor who follows his own vision. Some movies broke records and did exceptional business, but his latest one clearly failed to capture the imagination of viewers. That’s the nature of movie-making. There is no formula! Aamir has always done it his way. It’s an artistic and business risk that banks on healthy returns at the box-office. Aamir’s personal and political views are his own.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What the cancel culture is attempting to do today is ugly and unprecedented. Calling citizens to boycott films, indulging in intimidation, stoning theatres, burning posters and effigies—come on! Whether it is Aamir Khan or Hrithik Roshan, this sort of targeting is unfair and a blatant act of hostility. The climate is such that any perceived ‘lapse’ can be pounced on to demand a boycott. Hrithik is in a soup for a food delivery ad in which he has mentioned ‘Mahakal’, a restaurant, and not the temple by the same name. The backlash was swift and aggressive. The actor has expressed his ‘sincerest apology’ and there it should end. But will it? The ‘Mahakal’ restaurant in Ujjain does high volume business for Zomato that used Hrithik in the ad. Why has the restaurant not been asked to change its name? If Roshan is being accused of hurting Hindu sentiments, it begs the question—how come the restaurant flourishes?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Each time an actor is pushed into issuing apologies for an inadvertent ‘error’, a nasty message goes out to other celebrities to watch their every public utterance, in case some vested interest/lobby launches a hate campaign and pulverises the individual. Film stars make the softest targets in our country. Only the biggest are systematically brought down in this bully-boy manner. Shah Rukh Khan’s Pathan is already being damned, before its release.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The strange thing about all the recent boycott campaigns is the glaring contradiction involved. Akshay Kumar’s Raksha Bandhan tanked along with Laal Singh Chaddha. They would have tanked whether or not a boycott was demanded. Word-of-mouth had done the job far more lethally and swiftly. Digging up old interviews and remarks without providing any context is a Machiavellian tactic we should all guard against.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Aamir’s latest had an embarrassingly low opening (Rs11.7 crore on day 1). His Thugs of Hindostan (2018) had opened with Rs52 crore, before sinking. This is a reflection of an idealistic movie maker being out of sync with changing audience tastes. There are no alibis for failure in the movie world—not even boycotts.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A trip to Panchgani for some heavy-duty introspection seems overdue.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>@DeShobhaa @shobhaade</b></p> Sat Aug 27 11:13:33 IST 2022 shobhaa-de-on-vijay-gokhale-the-diplomat-scholar <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>First impressions: Wow! A non-pompous IFS civil servant! Rare. That too, someone with Vijay Keshav Gokhale’s impressive credentials. He is a reputed Sinologist with two China books to his credit, was the former ambassador of India to China and Germany, and a former foreign secretary of India. Gold standard. The setting: A common friend’s lovely flat in Pune. Gokhale (63) is a Pune boy, who has returned to his home town after retirement. His wife Vandana (Nagpur girl) and he became proper Punekars, forged new friendships, and blended seamlessly into the genteel upper-middle-class crowd, where the ladies play mahjong, are fond of gardening and cooking, and the men pursue their interests (golf, anyone?) in an affluent, leafy, upmarket enclave of the bustling city. The conversation flows easily, as we frequently break into Marathi and figure out a few connections we share as co-Maharashtrians. Gokhale is fluent in—get this—Mandarin Chinese, Sanskrit, Marathi, Hindi and English. I reckon it is safest to stick to Marathi!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I liked Gokhale’s ease and sense of humour, just as I liked his wife’s down-to-earth attitude. Given their joint experiences and distinguished background, they could so easily have been insufferable, opinionated show-offs, reeling off names of VVIPs they have entertained at their home during Gokhale’s fascinating career as a diplomat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Gokhale is currently a non-resident senior fellow at Carnegie India, a Delhi-based think tank. For all these accomplishments and accolades, it is refreshing to meet someone who speaks without measuring every word, and is surprisingly candid while expressing opinions on the present scenario. Even better—he listens keenly and allows others to speak, minus bombastic pronouncements from his side. The day the Gokhales came over, the international buzz was about Nancy Pelosi’s dramatic Taiwan visit and its implications. Considering Gokhale has had the rare distinction of serving in both mainland China and Taiwan, his views were eagerly sought by all. He expressed himself articulately and lucidly, providing a sober perspective, even as Chinese jets were flying around the skies over Taiwan. While The New York Times headlined Nancy Pelosi’s visit, describing it as “utterly reckless, dangerous and irresponsible”, the feisty 83-year-old defied critics and went ahead with her plan, supposedly against President Joe Biden’s wishes. Thomas Friedman warned “bad things could happen”, while Chinese nationalists wondered why Pelosi’s plane was not shot down!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, here in Pune—as we sipped a lovely, mellow white wine from South Africa, and desi Old Monk rum, munched on Mexican tacos, French cheeses, Norwegian salmon and Japanese rice crackers (can’t get more global)—it was a treat to listen to Gokhale’s considered analysis and get the sort of insights from a ‘man who knows’, someone who has been there and done that. For a civil servant who has worked closely with ministers like the late Sushma Swaraj, S. Jaishankar (an IFS colleague) to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, all eyes are on Gokhale as he plans his next tome. I had missed meeting the couple at the Jaipur Literature Festival earlier this year, but was glad to get to know them in Pune over two delightful evenings.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Our men and women from the elite IFS continue to do their challenging jobs often under circumstances that are far from conducive. The sort of machinations that go on behind the scenes are the stuff Hollywood thrillers are made of (remember Mr and Mrs Smith, with the incomparable casting of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie). It is time we scripted our own version. And, no, I am not suggesting Mr and Mrs Gokhale as a title!</p> Sun Aug 14 10:18:32 IST 2022 shobhaa-de-on-ranveer-singh-and-the-naked-truth <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>I tried to deconstruct India’s ambiguous attitude towards nangapan (nakedness) to a BBC correspondent who was writing a report on actor Ranveer Singh’s recent nude photo shoot for an international publication. For starters, I was certainly not offended by the fact that the actor had decided to bare it all for the cameras. Like I said—his body, his choice. The widespread outrage was misplaced. What did bug me was the lack of aesthetics, plus the tackiness of what ought to have been a breakthrough, cutting-edge shoot with one of India’s most admired superstars. The equally puzzling question is why did Ranveer sign up for such a yucky shoot in the first place? He is not promoting a new film. It can’t be for the money—he has scads of it, going by the staggering amount (Rs119 crore) he shelled out for his quadruplex in Bandra. Could it be for the shock value? Doubtful. Ranveer shocks fans every time he steps out fully dressed in bizarre OTT Gucci—the kind of gaudy, flashy couture even rap singers avoid. Discretion is not Ranveer’s forte—which is great! He has always been out there with a vengeance, and that’s his personality type. Is he a compulsive attention seeker? Sure. Most stars are, only they camouflage it better.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ranveer has polarised desi reactions once again, and must be enjoying the meme fest thoroughly. He loves his bod, okay? Then comes the question of ‘propriety’—such a hypocritical, pious, typically Indian sentiment! “What about his conservative in-laws? They must be so ashamed. Bet they’ve stopped going out… as for his poor wife… can’t imagine her embarrassment now that the whole world has seen her husband’s bared butt.” Give them a break! The Padukones are no strangers to the antics of their flamboyant son-in-law. Deepika Padukone, his actor-wife, has done risqué sex scenes with suggested nudity with her co-star Siddhant Chaturvedi in Gehraiyaan recently.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What if Deepika had done a similar nude shoot that left nothing to the imagination? If not Deepika, any other top Bollywood actress could have stripped for a publication and taken her chances with the public. What do you think would have happened? There would have been FIRs filed on obscenity charges, for starters. Followed by mass shaming and name calling. Ranveer, too, has not been spared the besharam (shameless) insults. But, I am pretty certain Deepika would have faced a lot worse.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Ranveer I have seen and encountered over the years has been pretty consistent—he is an unabashed exhibitionist and revels in the attention he generates. He is also hyperactive and cannot stay still for more than a minute. He can be disarmingly funny, charming and clever, endearing himself to one and all as he willingly clicks selfies, often on the fan’s own phone! As an entertainer, he has few equals (even though I was most disappointed watching him with Bear Grylls last month). For a highly articulate person, of late, Ranveer’s vocabulary has rarely gone beyond four letter words, making me wonder—is he dumbing down to match his co-stars? Or has he figured his fans understand this lingo the best?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While we continue to debate his butt-naked shoot—what with an FIR filed—Ranveer himself must be counting the money generated by the pics. In terms of ‘exposure’ alone, he beat world figures to it. Will all this publicity translate into more endorsements? A Hollywood break? If not, the lyrics of his Gully Boy song will have come true: “Tu nanga hi toh aaya hai…Kya ghanta lekar jayega?” [You come in this world with nothing, and go back with nothing.]</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>@DeShobhaa @shobhaade</b></p> Sat Jul 30 11:47:14 IST 2022 shobhaa-de-on-the-doctor-with-a-difference <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Mumbai’s legendary physician, often described as the best diagnostician in India, has a divine presence. I can vouch for it. When Dr Farokh Erach Udwadia appears before his congregation (anxious patients in the spacious waiting area of the Breach Candy Hospital), a perceptible hush descends, with people scrambling to their feet and bowing low to greet him. Despite the reverence and love he experiences each time he steps out, Udwadia never plays God, even if he is treated like one. At 90 plus, his eyes twinkle and his skin glows as he greets the faithful with a smile and a few soft words. For most, just a nod is enough to make them feel instantly better.</p> <p>Recently, Udwadia debuted as a playwright at the National Centre for Performing Arts in Mumbai, with a one act play titled <i>Oganga</i>, which he wrote on his hero, Dr Albert Schweitzer. Oganga is the term for healer, and Udwadia completed the play during the pandemic as a tribute to the 19th century Alsatian-German theologian, medical missionary and humanist. Said noted filmmaker Sooni Taraporewala, director of the performance, which stars Jim Sarbh, “I fully see the similarities between the two doctors….” True. Both men work tirelessly to heal people and share a passion for music.</p> <p>While Schweitzer played the organ, Udwadia plays the violin, and they worship Bach. Most importantly, both possess unlimited reserves of empathy and compassion. Udwadia, a Padma Bhushan awardee, always stresses, “Medicine is learnt more at the bedside than from books… read poetry to know what suffering is… you can’t treat merely an organ, you have to understand the human being first.”</p> <p>Udwadia belongs to the legendary doctor families of Mumbai. His surgeon brother, Padma Shri Dr Tehemton Udwadia, has a formidable following across the country. Udwadia’s son, Dr Zarir Udwadia, is among the world’s top experts on tuberculosis. I have had the privilege of interacting with father and son, though at entirely different points. I consulted Zarir for my mother, and ‘God’, when I needed an immediate intervention for my son—I literally stormed into Udwadia’s consulting rooms, my eyes flooded with tears, my voice cracking, as I pleaded, “Doc… do something!” And he did. Very calmly and most authoritatively. I remain indebted for life.</p> <p>Fortunately, our recent interactions have been social and not medical. His lovely wife, Vera, is used to patients swooning at her husband’s feet in public, and smiles indulgently when there are effusive public displays of gratitude. Udwadia frequently ‘diagnoses’ a condition over dinner going by the gait, posture, movements, which he shares with Vera. Both are sought after for their erudition, elegance and refinement.</p> <p>“Medicine has lost its path,” Udwadia once said, referring to the blatant commercialisation of the medical establishment. He is also not overly impressed by technology and the age of super specialisation. “A doctor needs all five senses to arrive at the right diagnosis. But before any of this, a doctor needs to listen. So often, patients are not given the chance to explain their symptoms…. Doctors, these days, are in too much of a hurry to take the trouble to study the case.” How right he is!</p> <p>Unfortunately, I could not make it to the premiere of <i>Oganga</i>. It is a passion project put together with love by three amazing individuals—Udwadia, Sooni and Jim. All three are known for their commitment to excellence, and here they are collaborating on an important project that celebrates the life of a great humanitarian who spent his life curing the poor and needy in the jungles of equatorial Africa, with limited resources and an abundance of love. Like our own beloved doc.</p> Sun Jul 17 17:46:24 IST 2022 shobhaa-de-on-sheryl-deepika-and-choices <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>What do Sheryl Sandberg (52) and Deepika Padukone (36) have in common? More than what outsiders may imagine, given that they occupy entirely different galaxies. Sandberg (networth of $160 million) announced she would be stepping down from her power position at Meta Platforms after 14 years to “write the next chapter of her life”. It was seen by a section of feminists as ‘selling out’, given the spectacular success of her bestseller Lean in: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, which urged women to push ahead in their careers and go for the kill. The ‘Tech goddess’ and ‘Meta maker’ disappointed fans worldwide by stepping off the treadmill to focus on herself and her family. Sandberg has two teenagers from her late second husband, Dave Goldberg, and is engaged to TV producer Tom Bernthal, who has three children himself. She calls it a ‘blended family’. Critics dubbed her a ‘mid-life maniac’ for walking away. A fortnight ago, Deepika Padukone, whose net worth is pegged at $30 million, was rushed to a hospital in Hyderabad from the studio she was shooting in, due to a ‘health scare’. The producer promptly rubbished reports and called it “a basic diagnostic test for blood pressure related issues…” This was a huge relief for her fans who were genuinely worried about the actor-producer’s health. Close observers (me, included) had noted how exhausted Padukone looked in her publicity shoots, despite the great couture she was draped in, or the flattering make-up that did not quite camouflage the fatigue in her eyes. Padukone, who married actor Ranveer Singh in 2018, is a global celebrity, who endorses top international brands, is paid Rs15 crore per film, and lives a fantasy life that any young woman would die for. She was diagnosed with clinical depression in 2014, and went on to inspire all those suffering from mental health issues, by setting up the LLL (Live Love Laugh) Foundation that brought mental health into conversations.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sandberg and Padukone have enjoyed amazing success from a very young age. The depth of their commitment to what they do has made them icons for working women everywhere. It is a wonder they have managed to hang on to their sanity and continued to strive exceptionally hard to achieve their objectives. It is unlikely I will ever meet Sandberg, but I have met Padukone a few times and always marvelled at how natural and pleasant she is with everyone around her. Both ladies function under tremendous emotional, mental and physical pressure, with millions of eyes scrutinising their every move. Sandberg has stepped back for now after suffering a huge tragedy when her husband died. Padukone and Singh are still to start a family. Given their individual movie schedules, it is a challenge to be in the same city at the same time. While moving to the next phase of their life together, they will have to reconsider several options, and, perhaps, make major life goal changes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Stress and strain claim too many victims as we struggle to juggle countless balls in the air and constantly walk on the edge of a cliff. Sandberg has sent out a timely reminder to those who want to rethink their priorities and make changes that they are entirely entitled to—regardless of how those changes are judged. Whether or not Padukone suffered a ‘health scare’, perhaps her body is signalling to her to slow down and be kinder to herself—relax more, chill more, laugh more. Punishing shooting schedules and non-stop travel have a nasty way of catching up. Shine on, ladies!</p> Sun Jul 03 10:07:06 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