Shobhaa De en Wed Nov 02 11:33:14 IST 2022 why-i-want-to-go-on-a-biryani-date-with-dongris-darling-munawar-faruqui <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The extraordinary story of 32-year-old Munawar Iqbal Faruqui, winner of the 17th season of Bigg Boss (Indian television’s biggest reality show) is worthy of a biopic. Frankly, I hadn’t heard of the stand-up comic, poet and rapper, till I watched the coverage of his victory parade, when he took the trophy to his modest home, waving to a sea of delirious fans cheering him as he stuck his head out of the sunroof of his fancy car. At first, I thought I was watching the usual fan-mania outside Shah Rukh Khan’s Mannat—the superstar’s palatial seaside bungalow. But hello! These visuals were from gritty Dongri, not snotty Bandra. Dongri—Mumbai’s most notorious ghetto, once home to gangsters like Dawood Ibrahim, Haji Mastan, Tiger Memon, Chhota Shakeel, Abu Salem. Dongri—from where the dreaded D-Gang operated. Dongri—shunned by Mumbaikars, and damned by cops. Here was a son of Dongri, who had won the hearts of millions of viewers and walked away with prize money and gifts worth more than Rs1.4 crore. This was no freaky win. The thousands who had turned up to greet him, did so out of genuine admiration. Shopkeepers in Dongri had put up his posters, while neighbourhood eateries offered discounts on food. Their boy had won! A Dongri boy had brought glory to their neighbourhood. No longer would Dongri be seen as nothing more than a dangerous, overcrowded slum that bred international gangsters and where crime was a way of life. Munawar had altered and upgraded Dongri’s image overnight!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Munawar, a driver’s son, left Junagadh in 2002 after his home was burnt during the Godhra riots. His father moved the family to Mumbai, and subsequently, Munawar lost both parents. He dropped out of school, did odd jobs, sold utensils at Rs60 a day. Till he discovered his forte—black comedy! Not everybody was amused by his humour. Munawar spent 37 days in jail following his arrest by the Madhya Pradesh police in Indore on New Year’s Eve 2021, when he was picked up mid-performance for what was called a ‘hate speech’. Several stand-up comedians representing southeast Asia, stood by Munawar, offering support and solidarity, citing their right to freedom of expression.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Today, Munawar has 4.7 million subscribers to his YouTube channel, 11.6 million followers on Instagram. His net worth is pegged at Rs8 crore, based on his fees of Rs15 lakh per paid post, and Rs2.5 lakh per stage show. His video, ‘Dawood Yamraaj &amp; Aurat’ has garnered 20 million views, and Munawar is already planning his next professional moves.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His personal life is as interesting as his dazzling rise to fame. But fans are not judgmental at all. On the contrary, they admire him for being upfront and responding candidly to frequent ‘womaniser’ rumours. His dating pattern is avidly monitored on social media. Life on the fast track is likely to transform Munawar’s disarming personality—that’s a given. Soon, he will be seen sporting designer wear at red carpet events and schoomzing with celebrities from the other side of the railway track. Munawar’s makeover is on. You can take the man out of Dongri, but you can’t take Dongri out of him—and that is Munawar’s real strength. Dongri inspires his work and lyrics. Dongri is his bedrock. When a Dongri resident said “the trophy has finally reached Dongri”, it was a rich tribute to the grime and dirt of Dongri and led to the success of Dongri’s darling—Munawar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I want to go on a biryani date in Dongri with Munawar. Working on it!</p> Sat Feb 10 15:01:51 IST 2024 how-asha-thadani-is-visualising-hope <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>There is an open door, shut by a closed mind….” This is the line that grabbed me when I opened Asha Thadani’s catalogue, Broken—Dalit Lives, which introduced viewers to her just concluded exhibition of photographs in Delhi. Asha has been chronicling the lives of the most marginalised citizens of India, and reminding us powerfully that, “The human spirit is never in chains, imagination is never in shackles and creative expression through art, song, verse and dance, allows them freedom of the mind, in a defiance of the caste cabal.’’ Asha’s searing series of photographs, visualises the lives of 10 such dalit communities, in the fervent hope that at least a single door for a closed mind opens.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Asha is a photographic artist based in Bengaluru, and has been creating images that explore power structures since 1996. Her works have received international recognition and been shown at important museums like the Albert-Kahn Museum and Garden, Paris, and the National Centre for the Performing Arts, Mumbai. Nominated for the prestigious Henri Cartier Bresson Award (2015), Asha continues to address social injustices by deep diving into the human tragedy behind the most dehumanised segments of our society. She writes, “The dalit life has been one of isolation and pain, and systemic injustice.’’</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As I went through the wonderfully written text by popular podcaster, writer and magazine publisher, Ramjee Chandran, my eyes refused to focus! Let me explain. There was one particular image of a little girl, at the coal mines of Jharia, that shook me up. I simply couldn’t look the child in the eye without cringing in shame. I started to read the bone-chilling text accompanying this section, titled The Unseen Suffering, and my stomach churned—rogue mines employ four lakh people, including women, and children who are not yet 10. They live as bonded labour and work 18 hours a day. That little girl’s direct gaze—defiant, scorching, challenging—began to haunt me. And I reached out to Asha, through our common friend, the extraordinary Prasad Bidapa, to express what I felt about Asha’s powerful work. That little girl now resides in my home in the form of a life-size photograph, sent by Asha. It’s interesting to note that her presence has disturbed the domestic equilibrium enough for visitors who stop and stare and sometimes ask, “But why would you want such a picture on your wall? Doesn’t it bother you?” Of course, it does! Which is why it is there.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is another, equally compelling portrait of a handsome, rugged young man posing with a cluster of goat heads. Yes, goat heads. I plead ignorance! I had no idea that a dalit tribe called the Holeyas harvest the brains of goat carcasses for a living; the brain being the part of a goat that fetches the most money. Dalit males who specialise in extricating the brain are as young as 10 or 12. Their life expectancy is 35 to 45. They often die of bites from the ticks on the heads of the goats being burned, or from toxic furnace fumes. The young man stares back, his eyes blazing—pride? Anger? Rebellion?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Some days ago Prime Minister Narendra Modi consecrated the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya with much pomp and ceremony. More than a century ago, in a village in Chhattisgarh, Parsuram Bharadwaj, a dalit, was stopped from entering a temple. He decided to express his protest by tattooing the word Ram on every part of his body, as a challenge to Hindu orthodoxy. Others followed. Today’s Ramnamis, looking for jobs in big cities, don’t wear their devotion to Ram as visibly. Asha calls the Ram tattoos, “A chant in writing.” It is the devotion of the defiant. I cannot wait to meet Asha—she has given so much ásha (hope) to India’s most wretched.</p> Sat Jan 27 15:38:30 IST 2024 fareed-zakaria-style-and-substance <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>I am pretty certain the first time I met Padma Bhushan Fareed Zakaria (well-known journalist, author and columnist), he was wearing half-pants. He was a schoolboy living in his parents’ home in south Mumbai, and we were friends of the Zakarias (Rafique and Fatima). The handsome, suave and very refined young person we subsequently ran into over the years is today a global figure, and at 59 carries off his multiple international awards and accomplishments most elegantly. Fareed self-identifies as a “çentrist and a secular, non-practising Muslim”. His father was a prominent politician from a Konkani Muslim family, and was an Islamic theologian, who was known for his advocacy of traditional Islam. Fareed’s mother was an editor, and gave me my first major break as a national columnist. Our ties go back decades.</p> <p>This time, we were meeting in Udaipur, at the wedding of my god-daughter Malika, Fareed’s niece. Tasneem Vikram Mehta, Malika’s mother and Fareed’s sister, is one of my dearest friends. The occasion was emotionally charged and deeply sentimental, as all the invitees to the three-day celebration in the magnificent Mehta family <i>haveli</i>, overlooking the Fateh Sagar Lake, enthusiastically participated in the well-curated festivities. Malika’s father, the erudite Vikram Jagat Mehta, and Tasneem, made sure every guest at the intimate <i>ghar ki shaadi</i> was made to feel special. Fareed, clad in a brocade <i>bandhgala</i>, played the benevolent <i>maamu</i> [maternal uncle], receiving guests and enjoying the proceedings. The man about whom it was said, “Fareed is so well-versed in politics, he can’t be pigeonholed…’’ sensibly avoided talking shop at the <i>shaadi</i>, which may have disappointed his admirers, dying to pick his brains and get his take on issues like the Ram Mandir. Given that Fareed has made it to several international lists of top analysts of our times, his decision to respect the mood of the rituals and not hog the limelight was the right one.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Fareed’s cover essay in a news magazine, after the 9/11 attack, was titled, “Why they hate us…’’ and was passionately argued at a time the world needed a deeper perspective. More recently, when Fareed declared, “The world sees what America does not…” people paid attention. Ditto, when he announced “A new world order needs new thinking…” Forbes had him on the list of “25 most influential liberals in American media”, making it clear that Fareed’s words count.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His weekly show on TV is eagerly watched by several diehard fans, including my 87-year-old sister, who was thrilled to see her hero in the picture I sent from the <i>shaadi</i>. His provocative topics ensure he keeps his viewers riveted. In his characteristic non-intrusive way, I noticed how Fareed is never ever “off the job”—quietly asking relevant questions, probing, observing, without the other person feeling the slightest discomfort.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That is the hallmark of a professional journalist, who rarely ‘relaxes’ even in a social setting—who knows where the next scoop can come from? His book, <i>The Post-American World</i>, talks about the “rise of the rest”—us! And others. Well, it is a perspective nobody can afford to ignore. It is refreshing to learn Fareed loves cooking! Food, that is. Not media stories. Seeing how fit he is, one wonders about his palate-discipline, given his culinary passion. The Mumbai boy in half-pants to the tuxedo-wearing Upper West Side New Yorker, our Fareed has come a long, long way in the world. We are proud of him!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>@DeShobhaa @shobhaade</b></p> Sat Jan 13 11:12:33 IST 2024 multifaceted-mozez-singh <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Rizz—the catchword of 2023—is possibly a tad overused, but let us hand it to people who don’t acquire ‘rizz’. They are born with it. I place storyteller, filmmaker, writer, producer, director Mozez Singh in this coveted category. He has ‘rizz’ written all over him! Today, he is poised to make a major mark in the cut-throat world of films, with a soon-to-be launched documentary on another Singh—popular rapper and hip-hopper Yo Yo Honey Singh. The trade buzz is strong, and it is being hailed as one of the top Netflix releases to look out for in 2024. Mozez called it an “exhilarating experience”, describing the process as an “adrenaline-filled creative ride… and my entry into the hypnotic world of documentary filmmaking”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mozez tasted success with his earlier films (<i>Zubaan, Human </i>and<i> White Noise</i>), and won the prestigious Rising Director Asia Star award at the Busan International Film Festival. Today, he is amongst a small, select group of talented filmmakers who are sought after by prestigious production houses. Please note: his ‘rizz’ factor does not originate in his movie triumphs. Mozez just has to walk into a room to create an impact. It is his unique personality that draws attention even before anyone knows who he is. Chameleon-like and mercurial, man-boy Mozez has become a muse for several top designers who see a global, magnetic personality in him. Given his lithe good looks and an extravagant wardrobe that can go from Tom Ford to Goa beach hippie chic, Mozez revels in the attention and remains a perennial sartorial adventurer. As a clothes horse, his gender fluid appearance provides inspiration for cutting-edge fashion shoots that break the mould.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Flamboyant and androgynous, Mozez himself could be the subject of a future documentary, given his charmed life. “Fashion should be freeing,” Mozez stated in an interview, living up to his commitment towards normalising LGBTQ+ choices.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mozez’s aesthetic comes from his beautiful mother, Maheep Singh, whose wardrobe he used to raid growing up in their sprawling mansion in Delhi. His collection of bold jewellery is from Hanut Singh, his childhood friend.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A life of privilege, for sure—Mozez’s grandfather was the founder chairman of Ranbaxy, a legacy pharmaceutical company. Mozez could so easily have been another entitled Delhi brat, running around the world doing his richie-rich celebrity thing. That he chose to come to Mumbai and made his career in an entirely different field is to his credit.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mozez was a precocious 13-year-old schoolboy when I first met him at his stunning Delhi bungalow, filled with contemporary art and rare silver. I was there to shoot for a magazine feature, that required a tiger skin for me to pose on. Dilip Mehta, the renowned photographer and a friend of the Singh family, picked their magnificent residence for the shoot. Suddenly, I noticed two teenaged boys lurking around and gawking at the strange spectacle being staged—Mozez and Hanut! Today, we share a terrific friendship and share our views on anything and everything—from politics to books. His bachelor apartment, in trendy Bandra, boasts an impressive library, where he spends most of his time reading, writing and creating. With his frequent travels to exotic destinations in India and across the globe, Mozez’s restless mind rarely demands a break.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I like his spiritual energy field—as an ardent Shiva devotee it was the beautiful altar at the entrance of Mozez’s super-chic apartment that left the strongest impact. Shiv bhakti and avant-garde fashion—great combo!</p> Sat Dec 30 10:45:50 IST 2023 bowled-over-by-jessica-posner-odede <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>I was intrigued when media personality Alex Kuruvilla sent a tempting invitation to an evening of cocktails, connections and conversations about the ‘Power of Girl Effect’, hosted in the Zenith at the St Regis Hotel. Dressed in a crisp white blazer, Jessica Posner Odede, CEO of Girl Effect, an international NGO that helps girls in Africa and Asia make choices on multiple levels, was busy greeting invitees. Supporting her in this inspiring initiative was global media mogul Jonathan Newhouse.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Around us were some of India’s best known philanthropists, like Adar and Natasha Poonawalla. After the informal meet and greet formalities, Alex introduced Jessica and her dedicated team—giving guests an idea of what exactly Girl Effect is all about. It was left to Jessica to take us through her incredible journey from Kenya to India, that has led to Girl Effect making vital inroads and transforming lives of confused adolescent girls here and in Africa—those who have no direct access to much-needed information regarding basic female health. Nor do they enjoy the emotional support required to process sensitive matters involving taboo subjects—menstruation, contraception, pregnancy and more. It was when Jessica heard a teenager say, ‘the first time I menstruated and saw blood, I was convinced I was dying’ that she decided to do something about it and launch Girl Effect, which has reached more than 23 million young Indian women online.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Go forth and shine,” she urges girls, while encouraging confidential conversations in a safe environment through media and tech products. In India’s Hindi belt, Girl Effect proved to be a real boon, with young girls relating to content such as a specially created web series, chatbots, a girls-only Facebook group, and an informative website, which Jessica claims encourages every girl to write her own story. An online community—Bak Bak Gang—provides a safe space for non-judgmental conversations about love, life and sex. Bol Behen acts as a virtual big sister and offers advice to girls at every stage.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When the dynamic, articulate Jonathan proposed an eloquent vote of thanks, several questions arose in the room—around how one could contribute. This was the prime objective of the evening, and it was heartening to see the passionate engagement of high-powered invitees, ready to open their wallets and extend support in whichever manner.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>My husband and I were blown away by Jonathan’s prodigious memory—travelling across the world, interacting with hundreds of people as he has been doing for decades, Jonathan retains an awe-inspiring recall, even for the tiniest detail. He reminded both of us about our conversation back then, and we shared a few laughs—mainly over my tattoos and his! Since mine are powerful pro-women <i>Kanji</i> symbols, they seemed an apt representation of Girl Effect—what a delightful coincidence. Jonathan said he had to make sure to cover his inking while travelling in Japan, where tattoos are associated with Japanese criminal gangs (Yakuza). While tattoos are not illegal in Japan, most visitors cover up at temples and shrines, and make sure not to expose their tattoos while strolling through the streets of the country. Phew! Jonathan just saved me from future embarrassment since we are travelling to Japan soon. Thanks Jonathan—that was a very valuable tip, indeed—I will make sure my arms stay covered!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As for Jessica, she made me aware of how urban, female youngsters living in Tier-1 cities, take sensitive information so much for granted. Compared with their less privileged counterparts across India, our young female adults are so much better armed to deal with adolescent challenges. It is time to step up and offer other far less informed counterparts the same knowledge-access as we enjoy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>@DeShobhaa @shobhaade</b></p> Fri Dec 15 18:19:44 IST 2023 tanvi-jindals-own-muso <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Tanvi Jindal Shete at 36 is a petite bundle of super-charged energy. Daughter of Sajjan and Sangita Jindal, mother of two tots, director of Jindal South West (JSW) Foundation overseeing the education portfolio, and the dynamic founder of the just opened MuSo (Museum of Solutions), Tanvi’s life spins at unbelievable speed. Her involvement with young minds started in 2009 as a member of the first cohort for the Teach For India fellowship programme in a low income school. After graduating in economics from New York University, Tanvi decided to invest time, energy and money in a passion project—the incredible MuSo. As a space dedicated to empower children to think out of the box instead of staring at static museum displays as passive participants, MuSo offers a world-class experience, possibly, the only one of its kind in India, which encourages visitors of all ages to learn and be inspired, as they walk through nine vibrant floors, meticulously designed by the best Indian and international brains.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I was invited by Sangita to experience MuSo along with my grandchildren before its formal opening. Can’t claim I was jumping with joy—it was a Sunday morning and I rarely step out on Sundays! But which grandma can say “no” to a carnival, live music, food stalls and a staggering amount of activity for restless <i>bachchas</i>? Not only did I make it, but also I became a <i>bachcha</i> myself! I was taken for a great walkthrough by Nameeta Premkumar, the creative force behind some of the most engaging exhibits. Since the opening theme is water, every floor focuses on water and its vital importance—the earth’s survival depends on how we respect our water resources and conserve them for future generations. These narratives are skilfully showcased with apt installations that talk about conservation and eco-responsibility without being boring or preachy. I fell in love with Puddles, the vividly colourful sea turtle, who is the star of a lyrically shot film showing Puddles on a journey through oceans that are rapidly getting denuded of coral and other aquatic life due to our abuse and ignorance.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I was introduced by my friend Surya (key member of the MuSo team) to Michael Peter Edson, the energetic chief museum officer, who left Washington, DC, and a cushy position as director, web and new media strategy, for the prestigious Smithsonian Institution, the world’s largest museum and research complex, to come on board. This is Mike’s first trip to India—and he is already in love with all things desi! After just over a month of being in Mumbai, he is very much at ease and in tune with all things Bambaiya. Mike’s Diwali Puja celebration with the extended Jindal family will always remain memorable, he said, with a twinkle in his eyes, recounting how seamlessly the playlist switched from devotional music during the puja to contemporary club right after, when young people got a party vibe going and started grooving to Taylor Swift tracks.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I bought two well-crafted Puddles for my youngest grandchildren, who were nowhere in sight! They were busy playing in water in a designated area, where bright yellow water proof ponchos are provided to young enthusiasts as they splash around and follow a water trail that teaches them to respect the world’s most precious resource. This is pro-active learning at its imaginative best, in a brightly lit museum space that lets children run around in a safe, supervised setting that’s filled with wonder and delight! Bravo, Tanvi and team. I hope MuSo travels to other cities soon… kids across India will cherish this very special centre designed just for them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>@DeShobhaa @shobhaade</b></p> Sat Dec 02 11:49:26 IST 2023 goodbye-prithvi-raj-singh-oberoi-the-ultimate-hotelier <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>I woke up to the sad news that Prithvi Raj Singh Oberoi (popularly known as Biki) had passed away aged 94. He had stepped down as executive chairman of the group that runs 32 hotels, with a presence in seven countries, after an astonishing career that had successfully redefined the very meaning of hospitality in India. The word ‘prithvi’ in his name is significant―Oberoi was known as the ultimate hotelier across the world, respected by peers and admired by those in the trade who wanted to be more like the diminutive legend, impeccably dressed at all times in well-cut Savile Row style suits, perfectly set off with elegant ties and pocket squares. Dashing and dynamic, alert and forward–thinking, he was a true bon vivant who recognised the best life had to offer―and was always striving to make that available to his guests at any of the Oberoi Hotels across continents.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yes, there will be multiple tributes and heartfelt prayers as mourners pay their respects to a lovely man, who had inherited a hotel empire from his father, and had grown it to its very impressive present. Among all the Oberoi hotels I have stayed in over decades, it is the Oberoi Grand in Kolkata that remains special. The 500-room property in the heart of Kolkata―shrewdly acquired by Biki’s father (Rai Bahadur Oberoi) as a distress sale during the cholera epidemic―remains the grandest of all the Oberoi properties, with its old world charm and discreet opulence. I also adore The Oberoi Cecil in Shimla (built in 1884) for much the same reasons―it spells distinction and history in every corner and clearly held sentimental value for Biki, given the wonderful reopening of the heritage hotel in 1997 to which we were invited, along with a few of Biki’s friends from Delhi and overseas. Over a relaxed weekend, we saw the supremely considerate host in Biki, looking after his special <i>mehmaan</i> as only a generous, thoughtful lord of the manor does.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Each time we met Biki, the spontaneous warmth and signature style were on full display. Charming, courteous, sometimes chomping on a cigar, at other times instructing staff to pick up a piece of paper from the vast grounds, here was a man whose attention to detail was mind-boggling. Since the hotels were―and remain―personality-driven, these high standards were non-negotiable and diligently followed by well-trained teams, most of them from the Oberoi Centre for Learning and Development (OCLD). Our daughter Anandita had made it to the last round of this highly coveted, strictly merit-driven and frighteningly competitive pan-India programme. It was time for the toughest part of the interview―the walk! This is where nervous aspirants enter a large hall and have to walk its entire length to meet the bossman himself. Biki was known to ask strange questions that had little to do with hospitality. My daughter had mugged up every conceivable response to questions about hotel management, food, service… what she hadn’t factored in was the curve ball Biki threw: “Hello! How are your parents? Do give my regards to your mother.” Anandita candidly replied, “My parents are well… and my mother is waiting for me in the coffee shop downstairs.’’ Biki chuckled and said, “l will come and say hello to her.” Which he did. He also told me how well Anandita had done and I should be proud of her. But she wasn’t selected! Later, we were informed it could have been because Biki felt she was too privileged to take the heat in the kitchen!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I wish I had had the chance to tell him so many years later that Anandita has worked exceedingly hard to strike out on her own―privileges be damned. And, yes, had she made the cut that morning, she would have made him and the group very proud, too.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>@DeShobhaa @shobhaade</b></p> Sat Nov 18 11:18:08 IST 2023 borwankar-the-first-female-police-officer-to-boldly-take-on-the-system <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Legendary top cop Julio Ribeiro, 92, penned an interesting column recently, in which he bracketed two very different women—a top cop (Meeran Chadha Borwankar) and the much-discussed TMC MP Mahua Moitra. Frankly, I cannot think of two women who are more dissimilar, but I loved Ribeiro’s very modern take on both.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I had briefly seen Moitra at the Jaipur Lit Fest earlier this year, where she had swept past the gawkers, swishing back her hair, and adjusting her fine sari, surrounded by hefty bouncers and a flock of drooling admirers. She looked and behaved like the diva she indeed is.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At the Tata Lit Fest in Mumbai this week, I was on a trailblazers’ panel with a bona fide star—the indomitable Borwankar, whose latest book, <i>Madam Commissioner—The Extraordinary Life of an Indian Police Chief</i>, has been creating waves and ruffling several political feathers since its launch. Borwankar walked into the author’s lounge, without bodyguards or bouncers, and no fawning entourage. Dressed in a smart blazer with an embroidered IPS badge on the pocket, the feisty woman did not need ‘showcasing’. Soft spoken, with a no-nonsense approach, here was a woman who had handled many highly sensitive, hugely high-profile cases during her tenure, and did it with utmost fearlessness.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I had read the book and rejoiced in Borwankar’s triumphs over entrenched bureaucratic systems that are difficult to challenge. The fact that Borwankar has named names in her book, and rattled the likes of Maharashtra Deputy CM Ajit Pawar, makes her an unusual former IPS officer—unafraid of possible repercussions from those in power today. But, then, what are threats to the woman who rode a motorcycle on night patrols in Mumbai’s notorious dock areas and tackled the prostitution racket head on. Being a crack shot and expert horse rider certainly helps. Today, at 68, Borwankar (teetotaller and strict vegetarian), maintains her athletic frame and exudes teenage energy as she briskly walks up on stage and our session starts with Borwankar telling a rapt audience about her daredevil encounters with some of the most dreaded criminals in Maharashtra (I include politicians in this category).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>She receives enthusiastic applause when she responds candidly to questions from the audience. As the mother of two boys, she has had to deal with parenting challenges when the kids were younger, and she had to take tough calls, sometimes from riot torn areas where her personal safety was at stake.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Later, post our enlivening session, we met over a dinner at a trendy restaurant close by. Borwankar was joined by her bright and fun son Ankur, a lawyer, who oversees her publishing contracts and helps her out with speaking engagements and other books-related marketing decisions. They are a good team—communicative and comfortable with one another. As Maharashtra’s first female district police chief as well as its first police commissioner, Borwankar’s place in history is ensured. But that she did not hesitate to critique the country’s criminal justice system and fight the good fight, taking it to the highest level, speaks a lot about her commitment and integrity, and loyalty to her uniform. Today, there are several outstanding women police officers at every level. But Borwankar was the first to break the mould. Did she face resistance and resentment from male colleagues? Oh yes! Especially during the arduous training period when she was the only woman in a dining hall filled with men, with a batchmate taunting her by playing cheap film songs and berating her for speaking Punjabi English.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Her book is a candid account of what the police uniform means to a determined cop, who successfully handled the early jeers and jibes to emerge on top of her game—undaunted by unprincipled netas transferring her for not playing ball. Borwankar was the first female police officer to boldly take on the system. Let us hope she isn’t the last.</p> Sat Nov 04 16:57:12 IST 2023 the-elusive-mona-who-gave-it-all-up-to-become-mrs-dev-anand <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>For the past month, the media has been abuzz celebrating iconic actor Dev Anand’s birth centenary. The excitement has not surprised his fans, what with over a 180 invitees to a special screening of <i>Guide</i>—organised by the National Museum of Indian Cinema (NMIC)—dressed as Dev Anand or his lovely co-star Waheeda Rehman. And, Waheeda was conferred the prestigious Dadasaheb Phalke Award the same week! In the ongoing hoopla, one person was missing—Dev Anand’s wife, screen name Kalpana Kartik, all of 92, and living the life of a recluse. It was only after a small news item appeared, with a quote from the lady, that fans woke up to the realisation she was very much around, even if far from visible. As Dev Anand’s co-star in five films, Mona Singha (Kalpana’s real name), the beauty queen from Shimla, sweetly confessed she still felt her late husband’s presence and recalled how he always addressed her by her given name—Mona.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So much is known about Dev Anand. And so little about his missus. Fans know Dev <i>saab</i>—his spectacularly successful, six-decade-long career, with over 100 films, a Padma Bhushan and the Dadasaheb Phalke Award. His last film was released the year he died in London aged 88, with a register in his hand, working on his next project. His BA degree in English literature from Lahore made him something of an oddity in Bollywood. But it also added to his sheen as a polished, refined, sophisticated actor with a distinct style and westernised mannerisms. The characteristic loping walk, his head-nodding during songs, and those oversized, high-collared bomber jackets with heavy scarves, and caps worn at a rakish angle, created the stylish Dev Anand brand, which remains intact even today.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I had met and interviewed Dev Anand, so I can safely add that he was an intensely self-absorbed man, permanently “in character” and totally submerged in the cinematic world. He referred to movies as “motion pictures”, and spoke knowledgeably about world cinema. He neither flaunted his private life, nor hid it. His conversation was easy and urbane, unlike the more rough language used by some contemporaries. He barely ate or drank, taking care to maintain a painfully lean frame. At film events, it was soup; not whiskey. And salads, not biryani. Disciplined and meticulous, he leveraged the potential of their banner—Navketan Films—and produced films he believed in. He unsuccessfully courted politics and paid a huge price for refusing to endorse Indira Gandhi’s Emergency.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The triumvirate (Raj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar and Dev Anand) dominated commercial cinema and established themselves as cult figures, with loyal fans imitating their every style innovation—from dialogue delivery to sartorial experiments.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Today’s movie goers are being re-introduced to these greats of Indian cinema, thanks to the efforts of archivists who have rich material on these stalwarts, which is waiting to be mined. As for me, I am far more intrigued by the elusive Mona, who gave it all up to become Mrs Dev Anand and live in the shadows, after starring in films like Guru Dutt’s <i>Baazi</i>, with her debonair husband. I’d give anything for a biopic on Kalpana, with a small detour that features Suraiya, who died unmarried—after a well-publicised romance with Dev Anand that went nowhere, because her conservative family disapproved. Sigh, those times were not half as savage as today. The gossip was less snarky, and the media environment spicy rather than toxic.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I am waiting for a comprehensive retrospective of Dev Anand’s films, which will provide today’s movie buffs with important insights into the making of immortal movie legends like Dev <i>saab</i>. Believe me, their gold standard status is no accident!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>@DeShobhaa @shobhaade</b></p> Sat Oct 14 14:55:14 IST 2023 ragneeti-will-be-the-latest-power-couple-in-the-corridors-of-delhi <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>A fashion guru friend was invited by a leading TV channel to be on an “important’’ panel. The burning topic of the day was not Manipur. Nor Canada. It was a celebrity wedding in Udaipur. The minutest details of the high profile nuptials involving the young, dashing MP from the Aam Aadmi Party and the accomplished Bollywood actor, were being avidly discussed across media platforms.</p> <p>Raghav Chadha (34) married Parineeti Chopra (34), with a roster of famous guests representing the two entirely different and yet overlapping careers of the bride (actor) and the groom (politics). Both Raghav and Parineeti come with impressive academic credentials—Raghav was a practising chartered accountant with an MBA certification from the London School of Economics, while Parineeti has earned a triple honours degree in finance, business and economics from the Manchester School of Business. The Ambala born, award-winning actor is a trained Hindustani classical singer with a BA honours in music. Apart from their noteworthy degrees and similar cultural backgrounds, they also happen to be startlingly good-looking—a big bonus in our frenzied social media obsessed times, where imaging is the main story, and success is measured by how many ‘likes’ each post on Instagram generates. No wonder, these two pre-planned their publicity by taking full control of the coverage and creating the catchy hashtag #Ragneeti, a clever play on <i>rajneeti</i> (politics).</p> <p>There is something about showbiz <i>shaadis</i> that arouses the voyeuristic demon in us. While I don’t know the protagonists personally, I was hanging on to trivia surfacing on the internet, much like their devoted fans. I knew the bride had the groom’s name embroidered on her trailing veil—this is a new trend. No more demure ghunghats–it is Princess Diana style diaphanous veils, worn over heavily embroidered lehengas. The colour palette was beige-ivory-white, which made for soft, dream-like optics, as wedding guests floated across the lake in decorated boats, to the beats of local dhols. Discretion and good taste dominated, from the décor to the publicity leaks. The message being: wealth whispers. Ambition shouts. Raghav and Parineeti are seasoned public figures, accustomed to being in the media glare.</p> <p>I remember being captivated by Parineeti’s performance in <i>Shuddh Desi Romance</i> (2013), which remains a personal favourite and something of a breakthrough movie, in terms of what it said about arranged marriages and individual aspirations of young India. With the late Sushant Singh Rajput as her co-star in this unconventional story about a tourist guide in Jaipur (Sushant) going through pre-marital panic, till he meets Gayatri (Parineeti) on the same bus, and is struck by how independent-minded she is. After a steamy kiss during the journey, and many misadventures later, realisation dawns, and the two love struck young things make important decisions about the future. The theme broke many rules of commercial cinema and brought smaller cities like Jaipur into sharp focus. So much social change was taking place, especially in the lives of women who refused to conform to their family’s notions of a perfect domestic life, and the movie captured it all via a quirky script and stellar performances by the leads.</p> <p>Raghav’s career moves have been pretty bold as well. From a secure job at Deloitte, to taking a plunge into politics and gaining prominence as the youngest member of Parliament from Punjab, he is an articulate spokesperson for his party. Going by the presence of political bigwigs including Chief Ministers Arvind Kejriwal and Bhagwant Mann at the recent wedding, it is safe to conclude RagNeeti will be the latest power couple in the corridors of Delhi. And no, Parineeti’s globally famous cousin Priyanka Chopra couldn’t make it to Udaipur. But the blessings came via Instagram! &nbsp;</p> Fri Sep 29 17:42:27 IST 2023 the-romantic-side-of-harish-salve <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Between the sharp sartorial choices of the UK’s first lady Akshata Sunak (Can we please stop calling her Mrs Murthy?) at the recent G20 extravaganza in Delhi, and the even sharper responses to Harish Salve’s third wedding celebrations in London, India’s chattering classes were spoilt for choice. Both celebs threatened to upstage the G20 extravaganza. People forgot all about the great Delhi Declaration and gobbled up every morsel about these two public figures. Akshata has been crowned a bona fide fashionista on social media, while the jury is still out debating whether or not Salve, 68,—the former solicitor general of India—has finally found his soul mate in Trina Akbar, 61 (third time lucky)? There was a great deal of masala generated at Salve’s wedding reception, held at Masala Zone amidst an interesting star cast of family and friends, including Lalit Modi, Lakshmi Mittal and Gopichand Hinduja.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The thing about Salve’s discreet wedding is the exaggerated political reactions to the news. It had to do with Salve’s nomination to the eight-member committee for studying and submitting a report on the possibilities of ‘one nation, one election’. While Lalit Modi played master of ceremonies and raised a toast to the blissed out newly-weds, various politicos fumed and raised objections, claiming that the third time married gentleman is driving the fate of our democracy. Calm down! What has Salve’s third <i>shaadi</i> got to do with his impressive legal credentials? So what if a controversial meat trader from Delhi named Moin Qureshi is supposed to have played cupid in this match? Or that Salve divorced his second wife, Caroline Brossard, after a short-lived marriage, which took place after Salve divorced Meenakshi, his wife of 38 years? These are deeply personal choices. Matters of the heart cannot be contested as easily as say, some of the big legal cases Salve has fought and won. In 2020, Salve was appointed as a Queen’s Counsel for the courts of England and Wales. According to the grapevine, Salve today is a partner in Golistan, a company he has set up with his newest wife, who, friends say, is the granddaughter of the last king of Afghanistan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Salve not just marches to a different beat, he dances to it! He is an ace dancer, who can out jive anyone half his age. Watch his moves on the dance floor, and John Travolta can take a walk. How do I know? I jived with him briefly at a wedding once, and promptly collapsed after a few moments. I had my excuse—I am older! Salve is unstoppable. Not just on the dance floor. Our few conversations were lively and engaging enough for me to propose a book. We had a fairly lengthy conversation in Delhi, and Salve seemed interested, if somewhat distracted. After a few follow-up calls, I backed off, not wanting to be a pest. Such a pity. Being persistent can be a huge virtue. Lawyers are persistent. That is how they win big ticket cases.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It will be fun to monitor what happens next in the opulent life of a flamboyant lawyer, who clearly doesn’t give a damn about narrow-minded public opinion back home in India. He knows how to handle celebrity status…. and celebrities. Internationally, Salve arguing the Kulbhushan Jadhav case, caused major ripples and propelled the senior advocate into a different league.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Perhaps, it is time for the romantic in him to take precedence over demanding court work. If he’s wearing his heart on his sleeve and focusing on matters of the <i>‘dil’</i> over legal matters, let’s rejoice for him. For now, it is honeymoon time for the love birds. Complicated legal cases can wait….</p> Sat Sep 16 16:20:15 IST 2023 meeting-the-maestro-zubin-mehta-in-mumbai <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>One of the world’s most respected conductors of western classical music was back in the city of his birth, and expectedly there was high excitement across Mumbai as soon as his concerts were announced. Mumbaikars adore “Aapro Zubin’’ and feel proprietorial about the legend, who, at 87, continues to exude rock star vibes as fawning admirers vie to get a picture clicked with the son of Mumbai. I have been a Zubin groupie for decades, ever since I watched him conduct, immaculately dressed, whether sporting a tuxedo or the traditional Parsee dagli. Zubin provides a visual and musical treat on the podium, conducting with an exaggerated flourish and much drama. His ear being perfectly attuned to every note since the age of 16, when his self-taught violinist father Mehli Mehta “allowed” the teen to conduct at rehearsals. Zubin’s musical scholarship kept growing, and is still growing, for the man who believes in the power of music to transform lives.<br> </p> <p>Recently, we were privileged enough to be seated at his table in the imposing Crystal Room of The Taj Mahal Palace for an intimate dinner featuring a dazzling musical repertoire performed by the highly talented students of the Mehli Mehta Music Foundation (launched by Zubin’s father in 1995 and ably led today by Mehroo Jeejeebhoy).<br> Zubin looked visibly tired after a long flight—his irritability with pesky selfie-seekers (me) was understandable. We had met on several occasions in the past, and had a few common friends as well. I promptly whipped out my phone to establish my credentials by sharing a few images from previous occasions. His face softened and he turned to his wife, Nancy, to show her the photographs, especially the one that had been sent to me by his childhood friend, and cricketing buddy—Cipla’s chairman Yusuf Hamied, which showed the duo posing in front of the old Cuffe Parade mansion where they were neighbours. Aaaah…. Cuffe Parade. My hood. Once the ice was broken, it was so wonderful to chat away with the couple and recall memories of a city (Bombay/Mumbai) we love.<br> </p> <p>Soon it was time for the Padma Vibhushan awardee to get on to the stage and begin a scheduled conversation with media stalwart Karan Thapar. It was going swimmingly well, with Zubin talking candidly about his life, telling the rapt audience that he still counts in Gujarati, not English, and how distressed he was when his professional driver took time to locate his old home because of all the changes in the city. More than 20 minutes into the free-wheeling exhaustive chat, it was clear Zubin was fatigued. He turned and asked the audience in Gujarati whether they were also hungry and wanted to eat dinner.<br> Thapar had one final question for Zubin: “Two of the countries you love the most—India and Israel—are going through bad times…. Does that upset and hurt you?” Zubin deftly countered, “Is India going through bad times?”<br> </p> <p>Karan replied, “It depends on who you talk to…. ” The audience would have none of it. “ No politics!” someone shouted. But by then the dam had already been breached by Zubin’s earlier comment about a deleted line from his interview to a newspaper: &quot;I hope my Muslim friends can live in peace forever in India.&quot; This was in response to Karan’s question: “What do you think of the sort of country we are becoming? I am talking about the treatment of minorities, Muslims in particular…&quot;<b><br> </b></p> <p>It is important to remember that Zubin, along with the Bavarian State Orchestra, had performed in the Mughal Gardens, Srinagar, in 2013. All fees were waived. He had conducted in Sarajevo, and raised funds for the victims of Yugoslav wars. As a citizen of the world, he has no equal in his chosen field. Call him an activist, and he is sure to protest. The maestro clearly lives by his passionate belief in the transformative power of music to soothe and heal. That is not politics—it is humanism. Bravo!</p> Sat Sep 02 16:14:01 IST 2023 meeting-dear-friend-mohan-agashe-once-again <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Veteran, award-winning psychiatrist-actor, Mohan Agashe, has a bone to pick with me. And he has a point. Decades ago, I was mesmerised by his sterling stage performance playing Nana Phadnavis in Vijay Tendulkar’s masterpiece—<i>Ghashiram Kotwal</i>—a scathing socio-political satire, which is now a 50-year-old cult play about the abuse of power and caste during the early eighteenth century Peshwa period.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mohan believes I am stuck on that one role of his, when he has been recognised for countless other amazing on-screen roles—from M.F. Husain’s <i>Gaja Gamini</i> to <i>Dr Prakash Baba Amte: The Real Hero.</i> More recently, he is being lauded for playing a grandfather figure in <i>Do Gubbare</i>, streaming on Jio Cinema. I met him at a special screening and made the mistake of bringing up a <i>Ghashiram</i> revival, considering Mohan, today, at 76, is about the same age Nana was in the play. But Mohan had played the despicable character when he himself was still in his twenties. So inspired was I by Mohan’s character that we had acquired two precious watercolours when Husainsaab painted the <i>Ghashiram</i> series.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mohan is a Punekar. I am half a Punekar. His Marathi is far better than my Bambaiya version. We meet rarely, but when we do, the connect is immediate. Mohan is cerebral without being oppressively so. As the principal investigator for an Indo-US joint project on cultural disorders of fatigue and weaknesses, and as someone who was instrumental in establishing the Maharashtra Institute of Mental Health, way back in 1991, Mohan leads a hectic life—travelling, acting, attending workshops and seminars. His love for the spotlight started when he was a child artist in theatre and culminated when he took over as director general of the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), during a challenging period. He has his own loyal following, including in Germany, which honoured him with the prestigious Goethe Medal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Padma Shri Mohan Agashe wears his laurels lightly and has a wicked sense of humour. When he invites me to his events and I plead off with legitimate reasons (“My children are demons. I have a lot of them. And grandkids, too. Grrrrr… birthdays, anniversaries, occasions never end in this family’’), he will have none of it. This time, too, he shot back, “Shobhaa, I should get priority for old time’s sake… elderly, single people like me also need your attention at the right time… or else I’ll only be a memory for you.” Instant guilt kicked in, as I left my daughter’s lunch half-way and headed to the venue of the screening. Mohan looked happy to see me. He was flirting with an attractive organiser and told her some nonsense to make her laugh as we posed for publicity pictures. I couldn’t stay for the screening, but sure enough, I received a text from Mohan: “These days we badly need a good detox agent in entertainment…like <i>Do Gubbare</i>…. Try watching, I assure you it is damn good.” So it is. Mohan’s performance has generated waves, as most of his performances do. He mentioned a new project he is shooting for in Delhi. His co-star? The beauteous Sharmila Tagore.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Not sure when or where I will meet Mohan next. But I am glad he used his psychiatric training to induce enough guilt in me to drop everything and rush to his screening. We are both at a stage where we can make such “unreasonable” requests of one another and get away with it! Here’s to old—and entirely genuine—friendships!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>@DeShobhaa @shobhaade</b></p> Sat Aug 19 11:08:57 IST 2023 why-i-admire-janhvi-kapoor <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>No! I will not compare Janhvi Kapoor with her mother, the legendary Sridevi. Sri was Sri, unique in every way. Janhvi, at 26, is just about coming into her own as an actor, and the comparison seems redundant. Having watched her in <i>Bawaal</i>, a small budget movie, minus frills and thrills, I was once again filled with admiration for the young star who has had to endure snarky barbs all her life for being the child of famous parents.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The circumstances under which Sri died remain mysterious. Janhvi was desperately young and vulnerable at the time, and she was waiting for her 2018 debut film (<i>Dhadak</i>) to release. It is hard to imagine the impact of this monumental trauma on a young girl prepping for her big moment—the one she’d probably dreamt of sharing with her illustrious and well-loved mother. It is to Janhvi’s credit that she has conducted herself admirably back then and during these past five years during which she has endured intense scrutiny. Each time she steps out of her home, she is papped by a posse of eager beavers, and unlike a few of her contemporaries, she handles the press like a pro—with a ready smile and friendly banter.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Janhvi’s choice of films has been interesting. I watched her in <i>Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl</i> (2020) and was struck by her sensitive, convincing performance in a role that was anything but glamourous. I skipped <i>Mili</i> in which Janhvi spent most of her screen time trapped in an icebox. Now comes <i>Bawaal</i> with Janhvi playing a simple Lucknowi girl battling epilepsy, married off to a man who sees her as a ‘defective piece’. Janhvi and Varun Dhawan are stealing hearts and giving a run for their money to two flashy stars—Alia Bhatt and Ranveer Singh—whose big ticket movie is running simultaneously. How’s that as an equaliser?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For a student of the reputed Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute, Janhvi’s professional training is impeccable. This is the same institute that has produced global stars like Marilyn Monroe, Angelina Jolie, Scarlett Johanson and Lady Gaga, to name a few. It is known for its emphasis on ‘method acting’, which encourages actors to tap into their own emotional experiences when they perform. Watching the ease and maturity displayed by Janhvi in <i>Bawaal</i>, it is evident that here’s an actor willing to let go of vanity and star trappings to get under the skin of the character. Stripped off make up in most scenes, Janhvi lets her large expressive eyes do the talking, resorting to understatement over high histrionics.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The last time I met Sridevi was at the lavish wedding of a top cop’s son. She could only talk about her daughters as she shared her excitement over Janhvi’s debut, explaining why Boney Kapoor, her producer-husband, had picked this script over several other, far more glamourous ones. A clever decision, as it turns out. Frankly, anybody can do those other, far more commercial, candy floss roles with ease. Janhvi could effortlessly pull off a contemporary version of her mother’s iconic ‘Hawa Hawaii’ song from <i>Mr India</i>, or sign up for the next big production helmed by the likes of Sanjay Leela Bhansali. It is to her credit she has picked roles that focus on her acting and not her curves.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yes, her latest steamy promotional shoot with Dhawan has generated a controversy, but the girl has been raised to live with sticky issues since childhood. No wonder she was described as a ‘Gen-Z Culturalist’ by designer Gaurav Gupta.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Popular and well-liked in a notoriously harsh film industry, I am waiting to see her next move. And for those who are keen to know her precious beauty secret, Janhvi says it is a spoonful of ghee first thing in the morning. Try it! I started yesterday.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>@DeShobhaa @shobhaade</b></p> Fri Aug 04 15:22:49 IST 2023 the-rise-and-rise-of-harsh-vardhan-shringla <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>There is absolutely nothing “accidental” about the steady and impressive rise and rise of a self-effacing powerhouse, who has steered India’s policy in all the right directions from the time he joined the Indian Foreign Service (preferring the rigours of diplomacy to the cushioning of a corporate job) aged 22 and became the youngest Indian consul general to Vietnam at 26. Packed off to a boarding school in distant Ajmer at age nine, his far-seeing father figured that an education away from his beloved Darjeeling would do the boy a lot of good. Clearly, it was the best decision for Harsh Vardhan Shringla who, as India’s distinguished foreign secretary and earlier ambassador to the US, impressed Prime Minister Narendra Modi enough to name him chief coordinator of India’s G20 presidency.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With so many awe-inspiring credentials, I was stumped how to address the great man when I was invited by Gateway House to be in conversation with him, for a roomful of Mumbai’s diplomatic community and a few friends of the foreign policy think tank that is ably headed by Manjeet Kripalani. So, I asked him directly what he was comfortable with, and he answered simply, “Call me Harsh…” There is a bit of a backstory here: I have known Harsh from his earlier postings, notably the one in Thailand where he was a highly popular consul general, loved by locals for his accessibility and helpful attitude. He had graciously hosted a few rowdy writers (me included) as a part of a festival of India. There he was, with his artistic wife Hemal (a Mumbai gal) taking us on a beautiful night cruise in Bangkok, as we enjoyed the sites along the… river, and behaved boisterously as writers tend to, once their official readings are over. Harsh was a calming presence. Someone described him as the “Shahenshah of friendship”, another explained, “He is the most grounded diplomat, and hence, most loved.’’</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The gush is understandable. But make no mistake. Behind the Buddha-like outer façade, lurks one of the sharpest, shrewdest brains—competitive and competent, direct and articulate—clearly a diplomat ready to play hardball when required. Our interaction was highly engaging and informed, thanks largely to Harsh’s extended responses to questions on India’s policy vis-à-vis our neighbours and the world beyond.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Harsh had clearly impressed Donald Trump enough for the then president to invite him to the White House for a warm farewell at the end of his term as ambassador. Getting him to open up about his myriad experiences as a diplomat, including fascinating encounters with amazing people, was the easy part for me. Harsh made it easier still by taking his time to respond to questions… thereby ensuring we had a ‘meaningful’ dialogue—but no controversies! Given that we were there to discuss his recently launched biography titled—<i>Not An Accidental Rise</i>—authored by Dipmala Roka, there was much ground still waiting to be covered. We would overshoot the time, and there was room for one final question from me. I decided to make it a frothy one, just to change the tempo of the earlier intensity. “Has the era of champagne soirees and formal bandhgalas come to an end in the contemporary, more hard-nosed universe of urbane diplomats?” Harsh burst out laughing. I had hoped that he would assure us the glamour has not gone out entirely from the rarefied world of international diplomacy. But he confirmed my worst doubts—it is all work and no play these days. Where are you, 007, when we need you the most. I definitely dream of sipping a martini with Harsh at a bar in Casablanca. Shaken and not stirred, of course!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>@DeShobhaa @shobhaade</b></p> Fri Jul 21 16:03:37 IST 2023 zeenat-amans-life-has-been-anything-but-a-placid-lake <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Why hello there, Instagram!” is how nonchalantly Zeenat Aman made her debut on the ‘gram, after her younger son, Zahaan, worked on his mom for seven long months, reminding her that she was after all ‘The Zeenat Aman’, with fans worldwide. Zeenat garnered an impressive number of followers within minutes of her virgin post in February this year, and today her blue tick handle boasts of approximately 2.7 lakh ardent global devotees who shower the 71-year-old, silver-haired showbiz icon with abundant love. Says an analyst, “She is not trying to sell anything, not even Zeenat Aman!” Regardless, thanks to her Insta following, Zeenie Baby is being flooded with commercial offers and editorial coups.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As a college drop-out (California), after being a school topper and head girl at a convent school in Mumbai, Zeenat went on to win the Miss Asia Pacific International title in 1970, and bagged her first major role in Dev Anand’s <i>Hare Rama Hare Krishna</i> in 1971.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We met at a jewellery photo shoot around this time. I noticed Zeenat’s strong American accent. She was accompanied by her mother and was perfectly relaxed in front of the camera—statuesque at 5’9’’, curvaceous and poised, I marvelled at her supreme self-confidence. We went on to do several editorial and advertising shoots together, travelling to locations across the country, and putting in long hours posing for elaborately designed campaigns. Zeenat kept to herself and was far from chatty.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Over the years, we remained in touch, even after she had bowed out of Bollywood to marry and have children. Nearly three decades later, we found ourselves on a long flight to Melbourne. We were invited to participate in a Festival of India, organised by Teamwork. The layover in Singapore was long, and our short stay in Melbourne, a bit too brief. I was keen to attend Zeenat’s session with Sanjoy Roy, but she sweetly requested me to stay away, confessing my presence would make her self-conscious, even nervous! What? Zeenat—nervous? We met just before her session, and posed for pictures just like in the old days. She was dressed in an extravagant sea green outfit covered with intricate <i>zardozi</i>. Yes, she had her trademark shades on indoors, and exuded a regal allure, as she glided into the auditorium to enthusiastic applause.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Later, the same night, as our small group relaxed over wine and music, we asked the young talented musicians and singers if they knew the chords for ‘Dum Maro Dum’. Of course, they did! Once we got the track going, Zeenat sportingly swayed to the 1970s anthem that is still played at <i>sangeets</i> and celebrations wherever Indians reside. She laughed and told me how she accepts invitations from nostalgic desis in distant countries, who host her in style and continue to hang on to their memory of an iconic star who once ruled the roost in Bollywood. Between her and Parveen Babi, India saw a complete rejig of the traditional, stylised film heroine stereotype in gauzy/gaudy saris, bouffant hair, padded cholis and garish makeup.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I found my inner mettle…,” she now writes, adding, “The only thing that is in my control is my attitude….” It is precisely this upfront attitude that is serving her well in her fabulous silver-grey years. Her life has been anything but a placid lake, having endured two abusive marriages and a few serious betrayals, which might have drained a lesser woman. Not our “Babushka” who stands tall in the pride month as a proud ally and icon of the LBGTQ+ community. For one of the few senior citizens who find Instagram “liberating”, it is time to say, “Why, hello there, Zeenat Aman.” In your words, your life has indeed been ‘magnificent’. May it remain that way….</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>@DeShobhaa @shobhaade</b></p> Sat Jul 08 15:49:09 IST 2023 sajni-gill-and-her-empire <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>We were meeting after several years. The setting was surreal. As was the journey from our temporary home in Canggu, Bali, to Sajni Gill’s sprawling ocean-front mansion on a cliff in upscale Uluwatu, three hours away and right next to the swish Bulgari resort. Our three hour drive time through insane traffic to chill with Sajni (who’d especially flown in for the day from Singapore), was efficiently halved by a manic cop on a motorbike, shooing vehicles off the road to let us pass. This invaluable service had been organised by Jagdev Singh, Sajni’s husband and business partner.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The impressive estate with an infinity pool, gym, spa and every conceivable modern luxury, serves as an occasional getaway for the industrious Gill family, which includes two children, Sunaina and Sanveer, who are an integral part of the vast Gill empire that spans more than six countries and controls over a 1,000 stores, employing more than 5,000 people, 65 per cent women. As Sajni puts it, “Equality and empowerment are the two fundamental pillars that underpin gender parity.’’ The Gill story is awe-inspiring and fascinating once you understand where it started. As Sajni and I caught up on the spectacular deck that overlooks an expanse of the blue-green Indian ocean, I listened to a charged up woman in a simple Batik kaftan, wearing discreet jewelry, as she discussed her latest passion project—Scoop Wholefoods—which already has nine stores in Singapore, a strong online presence, and several offers to go global. What is Scoop? Sajni describes it as an “organic, zero waste, sustainably sourced, bulk wholefoods store”. Sajni sources the best nuts and seeds from across the word, grown by farmers who understand the value of produce that’s free from additives, preservatives and other harmful chemicals. I sampled her plump, jade green pumpkin seeds and instantly became a believer.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Armed with a degree from Harvard Business School, Sajni, today, is a far cry from the woman who opted for an arranged marriage to a near stranger and moved to Singapore more than 40 years ago—future unknown. Brought up by a single mother, who was raising two young daughters on a meagre alimony, Sajni and her sister learnt the value of hard work early in life. As did her husband, the youngest of six children, who, at 18, left his father’s sports goods business in Jakarta and branched out on his own. Today, the two of them work closely together and run Gill Capital, while overseeing the operations of more than 60 top brands in their kitty, including H&amp;M, Hershey’s, Decathlon and the wondrously successful Candylicious (billed as the world’s biggest candy store). The practical and grounded Jagdev said in an interview, “If there’s no money, there’s no fight. Then the money comes and the fight starts. It can destroy everything you’ve ever built.” Wise words.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sajni handed me an important book, which she credits with having transformed her life after she was diagnosed with cancer over six years ago. Sports Nutritionist Lyn-Genet Recitas, the author of several books, is one of the most sought after practitioners of mindful eating in the world. Her book, <i>The Metabolism Plan Workbook dominates The New York Times</i> best-seller list, along with her other titles. Sajni attributes her cancer recovery to Recitas’s sensible and achievable food goals, which Sajni continues to advocate and propagate to “those who listen.” Well, I was listening keenly. And have recommended the book to friends, who are keen to make changes in their diet, but don’t know where to begin. Seeing Sajni’s glowing skin, shiny nails and bright eyes, I am planning to order my own ‘scoops’ online. Till my nuts and seeds arrive from Sajni’s store, I will be a good girl and start drinking single malt thrice a week—a brilliant Sajni recommendation! Cheers!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>@DeShobhaa @shobhaade</b></p> Sat Jun 24 11:18:33 IST 2023 why-anurag-thakur-needs-to-do-more <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Our residence in a SoBo neighbourhood is totally unaccustomed to the sight of VVIP convoys speeding into the complex with cops and random political workers swarming around the lobby. Well, that is what happened last week. We gawked as a top draw politician stepped out of his swanky SUV and received a bouquet from a group of ardent, starry-eyed supporters. Late evening walkers were startled and flummoxed by this unexpected intrusion, as building watchmen jumped around to ensure the neta was not inconvenienced by rude residents unaware of the dapper gentleman’s identity. I promptly whipped out my cell phone and clicked pictures of a compact young man wearing a sky blue linen bundi, smiling benignly at the motley congregation. Oh oh… it was Anurag Thakur, the youthful, light-eyed, outspoken Union minister of sports, youth affairs and information and broadcasting… and we were face to face. What fun.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This was a couple of days after the delirious IPL finals, and it was M.S. Dhoni whose name emerged during our brief conversation. Dhoni is India’s sweetheart like no other sportsperson. Thakur gushed over the cricket icon and said he was overwhelmed by the response to Dhoni when the captain of the winning team (Chennai Super Kings) lifted the cup and the entire stadium bathed in yellow (CSK’s team colour), cheered.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Thakur beamed as we spoke… the four-time MP whose father was the former chief minister of Himachal Pradesh, and whose beautiful wife, Shefali, comes from a political family herself, is an unusual man (he is the first serving MP from the BJP to become a regular commissioned officer in the Territorial Army) who does not shy away from controversies. Critics tried to derail his political career during the 2020 Delhi elections, when he urged supporters to “Gun down traitors’’—an inflammatory slogan aimed at members of a minority community. Articulate and outspoken, he doesn’t hesitate to stick his neck out—a trait that has cost him his position as the president of the BCCI. Some of his outbursts have been distinctly unparliamentary, but Thakur has successfully ridden the storm and emerged relatively unscathed. His most recent response to the plight of our female wrestlers, was tepid and ambiguous.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Unfortunately, during our all-too-brief meeting in the building lobby, there was no way I could raise the shocking issue.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For one, our encounter was impromptu, and ministerji was all charm and smiles and chuckles. Thakur was surrounded by fawning admirers waiting impatiently to hustle him into a waiting elevator. Despite the bustle, Thakur was the seasoned, well-programmed politician making nice with a stranger—me! He generously extended an open invitation to me and my husband to visit Dharamshala. He placed his right hand over his heart, bowed slightly, and said, “Please be my guest….” Few of our neighbours stared in disbelief as Thakur swept past them and headed to whichever apartment he was visiting. He called himself a “Mumbaikar’’ and assured me he loves my city. Since us Mumbaikars are characteristically informal, regardless of the person’s elevated status, I signed off with a cheery, “ciao’’ before slipping into our car. His acolytes were not amused.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Well, with the international press taking up for the wrestlers, Thakur needs to up the media game and do better than offer platitudes and excuses while asserting his government has “done more for sportspersons than any other government”. Sure. Let’s start with taking strong action against the accused—BJP MP Brijbhushan Sharan Singh—who has 40 cases pending against him. The wrestlers have been arm-twisted enough.</p> Sat Jun 10 15:28:49 IST 2023 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