Shobhaa De en Sat Jun 22 12:29:06 IST 2019 girish-karnad-and-the-power-of-modesty <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>I had a massive crush on Girish Karnad for decades. If that sounds schoolgirlish and superficial, it is fine. It is the truth. I am sure there are countless other men and women who felt the same way about Girish. When he played Smita Patil’s uncaring, unfaithful husband in Umbartha (1982), a marvellous Marathi film, I waited breathlessly for him to be back on screen, even though the film centred around the effortlessly brilliant Smita. Girish’s role was not as well-written, and he certainly did not walk away with the best reviews. But that hardly mattered to diehard fans like me. He often repeated his reason for working in films: screen roles paid his bills. He made enough money from movies to fund his plays, his real passion projects.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is much to learn from people like Girish, who seemed immune to the labels thrust on him. From being called a modern-day Socrates to an “urban Naxal”, he took it all in his stride. As a literary genius, rooted in Kannada culture, the other Girish—suave, urbane, sipping a drink and enjoying great food at soirees—was equally at home in glitzy settings. Unshaken and far from apologetic when faced with controversies, like his takedown of V.S. Naipaul during a lit fest in Mumbai or his opinion (mangled by careless mediawalas) on Rabindranath Tagore’s plays, Karnad stuck to his guns. This remarkable honesty of opinion and the strength of his convictions set Girish apart from the herd of politically nervous, self-declared intellectuals.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The last time I saw Girish was at a lit fest in Bengaluru a few months ago. He was wheelchair bound and half his size. He had tubes in his nose and an oxygen pack. He showed no trace of self-consciousness, as visitors gaped and whispered. It was obvious he was gravelly ill. As a lifelong fangirl, I rushed across to greet him. He looked up and smiled benignly. My heart skipped a beat as my eyes briefly met his. Those eyes! Like melting caramel! I went back to my table with a sinking feeling. I knew I may never see him again.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A year or two earlier, we had shared the stage at yet another literary event. I remember marvelling at his equilibrium and dignity when a brash, uncouth ‘writer’ hijacked the inaugural ceremony, ignoring the stalwarts onstage and brazenly plugged his new book to the young crowd. It was obvious those readers had little knowledge of the chief guest’s vast body of work. For them, Girish Karnad was possibly just another senior writer representing a bygone era. Despite the younger author’s crudeness, Girish did not flinch or show the slightest annoyance. He carried on with his enthralling keynote address, sprinkled with sharp political commentary and criticism of the government’s policies. I was disappointed by the indifferent applause at the end of his address. It was another poor reflection of this TikTok generation’s reading habits. The loss was entirely theirs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Much has been written by Girish’s contemporaries, who had been lucky enough to know the man who wrote brilliantly, thought brilliantly and lived brilliantly. The man who made early choices that shaped his future in significant ways. The Rhodes scholar who loved Hindustani music and the powerful playwright who straddled many worlds simultaneously. A colossus who wanted to slip away minus the fuss. Girish had instructed his family to decline a state funeral and to avoid any pomp and show when the end came. This is called class and good breeding. Girish Karnad’s contribution to our understanding of ourselves will remain through his incredible thoughts and words. As for me, it is that voice and those eyes that I will always recall, each time one of his plays is staged.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Sat Jun 22 17:41:58 IST 2019 our-man-in-washington <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>When my husband and I met Harsh Vardhan Shringla, the youngest Indian ambassador to the United States of America, he was, at the time, the youngest Indian ambassador to Thailand! We hit it off instantly! It was a delightful experience spending time with him and his wife Hemal, at their tastefully done up residence in Bangkok. What struck me about him was his innate grace and humility—nothing put on, nothing fake. He was natural, likeable and relaxed, as he chatted with our small group on a muggy evening in the capital of Thailand. The other guests were local VIPs and celebrities, and a few prominent Bangkok-based Indian businessmen. I was also introduced to the then King’s sister, and to a petite Thai princess named Priyanandana, who was once married to Maharani Gayatri Devi’s son Jagat. Gosh! What a small world!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Once I discovered Harsh was a Mayo College boy, who later went to St. Stephen’s in Delhi, several connections popped up spontaneously, and as the evening progressed, over excellent khaana peena, a grand evening was had by all. We also spent time on a well-organised evening river cruise, during which Harsh chatted informally and easily with everybody. I have interacted with many other Indian ambassadors over the years, but never with one who displayed such refinement and intellectual sophistication. Hemal, his artistic wife, was equally chilled out. I have met a few exceedingly snooty wives of Indian ambassadors, who behave like empresses with embassy staff, and treat guests with barely disguised condescension. As a couple, both of them were refreshingly ‘normal’, given his impressive credentials. Harsh speaks French, Vietnamese, Nepalese, English and several Indian languages. The soft-spoken boy from Darjeeling is a foodie and has a great eye for art. With his interesting postings (Israel, Bangladesh), he has a repertoire of stories and observations that provide fascinating insights into his busy, rich life.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On New Year’s Day this year, Harsh (IFS batch of 1984), presented his credentials to the President Donald Trump. Perhaps for the first time, one of our ambassadors indulged himself on this momentous occasion. Harsh not just shot a video of the short and picturesque ride up the drive-away to the White House, where a ceremonial welcome and guard of honour awaited him, but also posted it on Facebook. It was a charming clip from inside his car, and he frequently zoomed in on the Indian tricolour fluttering on the bonnet. For some reason, I found the whole thing deeply moving and got goosebumps, as I watched the final shot which showed our dapper ambassador emerging from the car, and being smartly saluted by White House staffers before stepping inside the imposing doors of the most famous living quarters on earth. He was off to an auspicious start!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With Narendra Modi back as prime minister, Harsh will be focusing on consolidating the even closer ties that both nations clearly want to cement going forward. So far, Modi has not been as visibly effusive and demonstrative with Trump as he was with Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama. Harsh being a low key, discreet diplomat, will work quietly and efficiently behind the scenes to ensure various fresh initiatives are green lighted soon.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As for me, I don’t have immediate plans to visit the US, but, honestly speaking, I am tempted to do so, for one reason alone: my affection for this elegant and compassionate man, whose intellect is formidable enough for him not to show it off. That sort of showing off is best left to amateurs! Shringla is a class act. India’s relations with the US are in his safe hands.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Fri Jun 07 11:45:42 IST 2019 ruchir-sharma-tripping-on-indian-elections <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Here’s a quick recap for readers who may not be familiar with Ruchir Sharma’s byline and books. A highly successful New York-based investment banker, Ruchir runs a $20 billion-plus fund (Morgan Stanley), but his heart goes dhak-dhak for the country of his birth. For the past 25 of his 45 years, he has made it his mission to track the chaotic, dramatic but totally spellbinding process of the Indian elections. His latest book, Democracy On The Road, chronicles in marvellous detail all that was observed and experienced by his 20 high-powered fellow travellers as they trundled through the land, meeting farmers and leaders, eccentrics and godmen. This was Ruchir’s 28th road trip with more or less the same group that has stuck it out in conditions that are anything but luxurious at times. Never mind that the group has been dubbed the ‘Limousine Liberals’ by critics!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>During his book tour in India, one of his pit stops was Mumbai, where Anil Dharker, founder of Literature Live, had organised an ‘In Conversation’ between Ruchir and myself. I had about a zillion questions for the articulate author, having devoured his page-turner of a tome in one go. I told him the book read like a thriller. Has he already pitched it as a web series to Amazon Prime? Netflix? Ruchir blushed a little, but avoided a straight ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. He preferred to stick to his script and take the audience through his sharp and acute political comments in the book. Despite sensing his reluctance, I stubbornly soldiered on, hoping to crack Ruchir’s resistance to take our talk outside his book.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Given his high intelligence and easy charm, Ruchir, who is a sprinter, and a film and wildlife buff, has a fascinating ‘back story’. Babuji, his maternal grandfather, was a famous defence criminal lawyer and landlord in Bijnor. The book begins with an insightful family history, which explains Ruchir’s deep and abiding interest in India and its political landscape. Ruchir attended his first political rally at age five, when Indira Gandhi came campaigning to Bijnor, attracting thousands of folks. Ruchir says he has noticed that many a time villagers flock to these rallies only to gawk at a helicopter landing! It holds true even today.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Well, that Boy from Bijnor is now on the world stage, with a column in The New York Times and international publishers clamouring to grab his next title. Ruchir writes that he likes the “family feel” of desi politics, and is always overwhelmed by the warmth and hospitality of strangers as they host lavish feasts for his caravan during their halts. I wonder if those same strangers would extend this generosity to a band of non-entities; Ruchir’s group has well-known personalities like Prannoy Roy. Ruchir, who features on important lists like ‘Top 100 Global Thinkers’, is modest and low-key, besides being a great listener. He doesn’t miss a trick, which I noticed at the small dinner we hosted at our home for him after the event. He was attentive and keen to converse with all the guests, often bending low so as not to miss a line or a word. These traits are incredibly valuable while maintaining detailed notes on road trips. His encounters with Mayawati, ‘Captain’ Vijayakanth, Sonia Gandhi, Vasundhara Raje and other colourful characters make the complex political process and crazy local dynamics come vividly alive. His cross references to history also add the much-needed perspective to contemporary socio-economic-political-cultural-religious developments over the past 72 years of India’s independence. The book ends on an upbeat note: “.... in an era when democracy is said to be in retreat worldwide, it is thriving in India.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Thank you for your optimism, Ruchir Sharma. I can only wistfully add: I wish!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Sat May 25 12:19:48 IST 2019 didi-is-namo-in-drag <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>She is something else, our Mamata Banerjee—the woman who would be prime minister. What is the first word that comes to voters’ minds when one says ‘West Bengal’? Violence! And, violence it was that disrupted the fifth phase of the ongoing Lok Sabha elections when seven of the state’s 42 seats with 83 candidates and 1.17 crore voters went to the polls. Despite the heat, the state saw a 74.42 per cent turnout, which is far better than Maharashtra’s 57.32 per cent. High drama was expected in Didi’s state, and high drama is what we saw, complete with booth capturing and skirmishes galore. Cadres of her party—the Trinamool Congress—are known for their aggression, and anybody who has encountered members of Didi’s squad in Kolkata will uneasily narrate the ordeal of having to deal with them. This is what’s called ‘Didi Style’. Nobody wants to mess with the fierce chief minister of West Bengal—the woman who seems confident of displacing Narendra Modi as prime minister. God help us all if such a calamity does indeed take place. For, Mamata is Modi’s alter ego. NaMo in drag!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What astonishes me (being an honorary Bong through marriage) is how meekly Kolkata’s boxwallas have surrendered to Didi’s diktats. Those stuffed shirts and starched tangails are not known to put up with bullying. But such is Didi’s control, nobody dares to utter her name in vain. Didi has effectively silenced and browbeaten any opposition to her policies—jailing critics and journalists, and making it abundantly clear that she will hit back at anybody who refuses to toe her line. Compared to Didi, even a woman as ferocious as Mayawati appears mild-mannered and likeable. That’s saying a lot!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Whatever happens on May 23, the red-letter day when citizens will know the poll results, one thing is for sure: both these ladies will play a pivotal role in India’s future. I have no problem with assertive women, but I do have a problem with bullies, men or women. Mayawati and Mamata are bullies of the worst kind. Had Mamata established her credentials as an able administrator and attracted investment to her state, her bullying would have been viewed differently. But apart from cosmetic changes in Kolkata and a much-needed cleanup drive, Mamata hasn’t exactly covered herself in glory. The bhadralok shudder at the prospect of being in the same room as Didi. She, in turn, has utmost contempt for the decadent, over-privileged snobs who look down on the unwashed masses, preferring to stick to their own. Today, the snobs are pushed to the edge of society by the brash new breed surrounding Mamata.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I had spent an entire day with Didi while she campaigned in and around Kolkata. That was a long time ago. My experience back then had been pretty positive! I was told to sit in the backseat with her loyal supporter, while she sat next to the driver of her Omni, talking nonstop in her, by now familiar, high-pitched voice. She struck me as being a woman on a mission, with a one-point programme—herself! She was out to win, at whatever cost. Nothing wrong with that! Which politician jumps into politics to lose? Mamata was a woman possessed. And that’s how she remains. I thoroughly enjoyed watching her work the crowds, as we drove through lush, green hamlets, with bedraggled villagers cheering her. She spoke at me, not to me, rarely bothering with eye contact. A couple of times, she insisted on my being on a makeshift stage with her, as she harangued the motley bunch of sweaty volunteers to gather bigger crowds at the next stop.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mamata is not a kingmaker; she is the king! If any ally is harbouring illusions of getting her support to form the next government without Didi extracting several pounds of flesh, forget it. The only way is her way, or the highway. I am looking forward to the fireworks!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Fri May 10 13:11:22 IST 2019 rajeev-sethi-master-of-all-trades <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>I cannot be objective about Rajeev Sethi. I became his admirer over 40 years ago, and I am proud to be his friend. People describe him as a visionary. I see him as a philosopher. Rajeev will chuckle when he reads this. But any person who has the innate capacity to transform lives like he does, is not a mere scenographer, revivalist or crafts king.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Talk to the weavers and artisans who are part of Jiyo and you will understand Rajeev’s deep and abiding commitment to keeping our traditional skills alive—not by showcasing them in museums, but by finding markets for the products. These are true repositories of our heritage and traditions. Rajeev has extended their life lines, by providing a valuable framework through Jiyo. Rajeev emphatically repeats, “Jiyo belongs to a million hands.” It does. Every craftsperson is a stakeholder. Profits from the sale of their products go directly to the person. Rajeev and his dedicated team are key facilitators who identify skills, provide funds and encourage craft communities to give a contemporary twist to their work. It is this twist that is changing the commercial future of people who had all but given up on their ancient knowledge base (from basketry to herbal medicines) and switched to city jobs that had nothing to do with their precious legacy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jiyo was registered ten years ago. But Rajeev himself has been on this path for four decades. I remember many visits to his tiny office/studio in New Delhi years ago, and meeting the most extraordinary people in the course of&nbsp; long afternoons. They would drift in and make themselves right at home—jugglers, acrobats, balladeers—while Rajeev divided his time and attention between visiting ambassadors, international designers, and global celebrities. His world embraced everybody! And what a rich world it was—and still remains.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Decorated by the German and French governments, Padma Vibhushan Rajeev Sethi is extraordinary and unique. The early Festivals of India, staged in America and France, provided a glimpse into what was achievable if the right platforms were provided. More recently, his incredible feat in creating all the massive artworks inside Mumbai’s iconic T2 air terminal has been widely appreciated.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;Despite all his stupendous successes, Rajeev’s current dream remains incomplete. Jiyo is one accomplishment that requires a massive amount of engagement in order for it to grow. When Jiyo came to Mumbai, the response was tremendous and the craftspeople who participated went back with their pockets full and many orders to take forward. This edition featured skilled crafts communities from 22 districts representing the Red Corridor. Rajeev has meticulously mapped similar communities in over 600 districts across India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A weaver spoke feelingly about his experience and described Rajeev as the rain that fell on his parched land and gave birth to a large, fruit-bearing tree that sheltered so many under its shade. Throughout these heartfelt tributes, Rajeev stayed in the background, making sure to call a shy person by name, urging him or her to share their beautiful creations on stage, in the presence of a very high-profile, informed and supportive audience. It was a pleasure to hear Jaya Bachchan interviewing a Jiyo member.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The message is clear: We must never forget the hands, eyes, hearts and minds that narrate our stories and proudly share them through their exquisite creations. While chatting with Rajeev’s team, my own sensibilities were further sharpened. Ever since then, each time I drape a sari, I silently thank the weaver behind it and seek a blessing for those magic hands. May they grow stronger and stronger with each passing season.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Sat Apr 27 17:28:44 IST 2019 what-makes-sabyasachi-sabyasachi <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The year was 2000. A new millennium with immense possibilities and promises was upon us. There was palpable excitement in the air. And, it was evident at a bridal fashion show being held in South Mumbai. In the clutter of glitter and tinsel, designer after designer had presented over-dressed desi brides, complete with ornately embroidered lehengas, fussy dupattas and enough jewellery to weigh down a Christmas tree. My eyes glazed over after a point—there was nothing new or original on the ramp that night. Till, an unknown designer’s name was announced. I idly looked up as this person’s bride walked out. And, boom! I was fully awake, and impressed. Why? Because I had never seen any bride dressed like a librarian! The bride wore nerdy chashmas and was carrying a pile of books in her arms. Her make-up was messy; her hair in braids and her feet shod in sensible walking shoes! Where did this incredible bride come from? She had popped out of Sabyasachi Mukherjee’s cerebral head! He was a fresh National Institute of Fashion Technology graduate, taking baby steps into the big, bad world of fashion. And, he was doing it his way! I loved his iconoclastic vision—it was Sonagachi meeting the Sorbonne.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sabya has steadily created an impressive fashion empire, starting modestly with a single store and growing into India’s most successful fashion brand. Celebrating two decades of Sabyasachi recently was a must-do event for all those connected to fashion in India and overseas, some of whom had flown in especially for the event. Sabya collaborated with his friend Christian Louboutin to showcase a breakthrough collection of leisure wear that had admirers gasping. I gasped, too. I had moved away from the typical ‘Sabya’ look for a while, and had not fallen in love with any collection in the same way I had in 2000. His ginormous success with fashionistas in Bollywood—he designed for Anushka-Virat’s and Deepika-Ranveer’s weddings—had led to an entire ‘fake Sabya’ industry, selling cheap knockoffs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Driving home from the latest show with my daughter and son-in-law (diehard Sabya fans), I marvelled at the designer’s success story and astute money sense. Sabya has redefined the business model of pricy designer wear in India, by scaling it up sensibly and charging an arm and a leg for bridal wear. For a certain segment of our society, being described as a ‘Sabya bride’ remains the single most coveted compliment! So, how did Sabya do it? He is unafraid to buck the system. Period. Combine that with originality, and you get a brand that has the potential of going global. Sabya works like a beast, putting in crazy hours and supervising the smallest aspects of the business. He is fortunate to have terrific family support, with most family members involved with the label. His ambition dictates his craft. He says he is looking at the next quantum leap that will propel his company to a Rs 2,000 crore turnover! He will be launching a fragrance soon. And, his magnificent jewellery is already being showcased on India’s richest and most influential buyers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Being Sabya is definitely not as effortless as it looks. I recall meeting him at Deepika Padukone’s mental health initiative a couple of years ago, where he spoke feelingly about his own struggle with depression. We all have our demons. Sabya is bravely battling his. I always enjoy our brief encounters—I guess it has a lot to do with our shared Bong connections. Watching Sabya take a bow with Louboutin at the grand finale, I recalled his first ramp appearance that had left several fashion watchers bewildered. Today, they are among his most ardent admirers. I await the opening of his grander than grand mega store in Mumbai, which one hears will recreate the majesty of Kolkata in all its vintage glory. What if Mamata Banerjee, dressed by Sabya, inaugurates it? That will be the day!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Sat Apr 13 21:07:45 IST 2019 keiko-hagihara-bang-arrives-in-india-with-a-bang <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Keiko Hagihara Bang is a magnetic force of creative energy. She is a Singapore-based ‘immersive media expert’, frequently described as a visionary and futurist. But, to me, she is simply ‘Keiko’, a wonderful friend I made more than a decade ago. She was then producer-director of a promotional film made by Singapore Tourism, especially for desi visitors who had started to flock to the island country in large numbers. I was the chosen one! It was the Singapore experience seen through my eyes. I remember meeting Keiko for a briefing before the shoot and being most impressed by her dynamism and efficiency. I thoroughly enjoyed my shoot with her team.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We lost touch a little after that, till I received her jaunty email informing me of her arrival in Mumbai. We promptly set up a date to meet at my home. Keiko was in Mumbai to promote all things Korean, from K-Pop, movies, TV series to lifestyle products. How come? Well, Keiko’s husband heads an international bank in Korea, and she shuttles between her offices in Singapore and Seoul. Keiko is half-Japanese (father) and half-American. Since we met, she has produced more than 50 films and many more documentaries. She has been a reporter for CNN, NHK and CNBC, and broken great stories, besides getting involved with a UNESCO project—Beautiful Minds—that helps girls get a better life through education. And, these are just some of the things Keiko has been up to!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>She arrives dressed in chic black, wearing dramatic architectural silver jewellery. Keiko is on a high! She has just concluded a mega deal with a local television partner and will soon be announcing an ambitious programme, involving a festival of Korean films. She will also be back with one of the most popular K-Pop groups, starting with a concert in Mumbai and then in Chennai. “Everyone expected us to pencil in Nagaland for the first concert,” she says, laughing. “K-Pop has a huge fanbase in the northeast. But, our research showed a great deal of enthusiasm from young people in Chennai and Kolkata, too.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Keiko has studied fandom across cultures closely, as is evident in movies like Hip Korea: Seoul Vibes and documentaries on icons like Jackie Chan. She can roll out data about cross-cultural music influencers like the phenomenally popular singer of ‘Gangnam Style’. She says she is focusing on ‘technology-led storytelling’, which is the future of entertainment. Her knowledge and understanding of the various mediums and platforms available today is so vast that at the end of an hour my head was reeling! Vibrant, articulate and attractive, Keiko is on a mission to break boundaries by exposing the young to what is going on in other countries. She was so impressed with Gully Boy that she wants to take it to Japan and Korea.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I offered her snacks like Gujarati dhokla, Bengali sandesh and Kerela tapioca chips. She couldn’t get enough of them! An adventurous palate is the other thing we share. As Keiko reeled off statistics, she talked about how terrifically well Prime Minister Narendra Modi and South Korean President Moon Jae-in hit it off, paving the way for significant commercial and artistic exchanges.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Her deep understanding of fandom is what intrigued me the most. She has spent long hours tracking the influence of K-Pop over fans who do not understand Korean lyrics, but are hooked! When the first K-Pop group to perform overseas went to Peru, the members were stunned to see 10,000 fans at the hotel. She expects the same to happen when K-Pop comes to India. I am sure she is right when she predicts mega success for the various artistes she will be lining up in the coming months. She is also pushing Korean corporations to participate in expos to further business interests that will be a win-win for both countries. Keiko certainly has arrived in India with a Bang!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b><a href=""></a></b></p> Sat Mar 30 16:30:38 IST 2019 the-smile-thats-sonali <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>I first met Sonali Bendre when she was a fresh faced, lissome ‘next-big-thing’ in Bollywood. We connected immediately. It was such a relief being able to converse with someone in Marathi! Sonali fit into the category of a ‘Maharashtrian beauty’. It was a description I had heard my father use for young ladies who exuded a specific sort of allure—natural, un-self-conscious, and fine-featured. Sonali was all that and more. She was exuberant without being fake, and her laughter sounded genuine. Over the years, we would meet at functions big and small… and chat animatedly. Along the way, Sonali married Goldie Behl, a good-natured, loving filmmaker. Soon, a son was born. Her career took a backseat as she focused on her family and began to explore other areas of her life. She was seen as a judge on reality shows, fabulously presented in stylish gowns, her make-up impeccable, her mannerisms friendly, but not over familiar. Her followers and fans supported all her ventures, as Sonali launched a popular digital book club in 2017. It was a great platform, and Sonali made the most of it, sharing her views on new books, recommending new titles and staying engaged with the audience at all times.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And then… boom!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Last July, Sonali announced something that shook up her world. And ours. “Life throws you a curve ball when you least expect it…” read her post. Sonali had been detected with high grade metastatic cancer. Her chances for survival were a low 30 per cent. It was hard to believe that a beautiful, young woman with so much ahead of her was struck down by the dreaded Big C. What did Sonali do next? She decided that she was going to face her challenge with a smile and share the experience with her followers without camouflaging anything. She declared bravely, “I am taking the battle head on…” It was a brave and wise decision. We were ‘with her’ in spirit all the way…. while her close-knit coterie of friends made frequent trips to New York to bolster her spirits and show their love for her. Through the ordeal, it was Sonali making light of it and displaying candid pictures that documented every major step—like the time she had to chop off her lustrous hair and go bald during her chemotherapy treatment. Not only did she post pictures of herself getting tonsured, but also asked her fans for advice while selecting suitable wigs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sonali is back in Mumbai. And I met her at the recent Akash Ambani wedding. She was looking resplendent in a heavily embroidered, burgundy designer outfit. Her open trademark smile was as charming as before. She was being warmly greeted by old friends and complete strangers, as she stood with a beaming Goldie, graciously accepting the compliments and attention. She currently wears her hair in a stylish short crop which suits her face. I asked her about her immediate plans and she said she was staying put in Mumbai, not rushing to New York. We agreed some of the best oncologists in the world are right here in India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sonali is in good hands. And may she go from strength to strength—our precious New Year baby (her birthday falls on January 1). Perhaps, without her realising it, she has touched millions of lives. It is her positive take on coping—not just with cancer, but all that goes with triumphing over it—that has made her a superhero. The picture she posted after she got dressed for the big Ambani wedding sums up her ‘never say die’ attitude. Sonali captioned her post jauntily by stating, “It has been a while since I got out of my track pants…” Well, my dear, whether clad in casual tracks or in dazzling designer gear, it is your radiance that lights up the space you occupy and all of us are more than happy to bask in its after-glow.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Fri Mar 15 11:27:45 IST 2019 in-bold-print <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Shashi Deshpande is a petite force of nature—spry, sure, sharp and so contained. Ramrod straight and soft-spoken, Shashi exudes an unambiguous no-nonsense attitude that makes it obvious she will not tolerate fools or entertain sycophants. We shared a stage at the recently concluded Times Lit Fest in Bengaluru, along with the intellectually formidable Nayantara Sahgal. Our combined ages that evening worked out to 243 years, with a decade separating me from Shashi, 81, and another separating Shashi from Nayantara, 91. Our given topic—The Originals—was perplexing. And, the brief asked us to question #feminism. Our packed session got off to a lively start, with Shashi admitting she often asked her grandson to help her out with social media trends. But, once both these feisty ladies got talking, there was just no stopping their flow. Both of them have seen more life than most people in the audience. But, here they are looking ahead, not back. There is much to say, and they are doing just that, fearlessly and eloquently.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Both have new books flying off the shelves. Shashi’s is a memoir—Listen to Me—which elaborates her experiences as a writer. I recalled her quote: “There has never been a shortage of males criticising women’s writing.’’ Oh yes, dearest Shashi. Don’t we all know it! I had also read Salman Rushdie’s nasty piece on her, written in retaliation because she had not thought his The Ground Beneath Her Feet worthy enough of an award (she was a jury member). Her memoir lucidly traces her literary path, strewn with multiple recognitions and awards (Padma Shri, Sahitya Akademi award). She talks about her annoyance at being slotted as “a woman writer who wrote about women’’. There are equally telling anecdotes revolving around Shashi having to deal with the usual rubbish of belonging to an “exclusive ladies’ club” filled with “women who wrote in their free time”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While Shashi did resign from the Akademi to register her protest after the killing of Gauri Lankesh, she, unlike Nayantara, did not return any award or honour. Both writers spoke passionately about their concerns, given the present environment targeting writers, thinkers, poets, artists and filmmakers. While Nayantara is far more forthcoming in her strident criticism, Shashi, in her firm and forceful way, makes her political stand very clear, arguing that there is no area of life that is free of the political, starting with family. However, it is the essential lives of women that preoccupy her as a writer. Shashi’s hero, quite obviously, seems to be her writer father, a prominent Sanskrit scholar. I was privileged to meet her doctor husband in the author’s lounge, and briefly observe their easy camaraderie. Despite a programming glitch that had scheduled Shashi for two parallel sessions, she remained calm and accommodating. Nayantara and I were happy to wait for her to finish the other session and join us. Shashi doesn’t mince words when asked a question. She adjusts her prominent mangalsutra, fiddles with the pallu of her traditional sari, runs her fingers through her short cropped salt-and-pepper hair and says it like it is. Shashi wears her brilliance and position a bit too lightly, methinks.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nayantara’s latest novella, The Fate of Butterflies, is a hard look at the brutality endured by victims of gang rape. Nayantara lives alone, travels alone, asks for no preferential treatment, and waves away any extra solicitous offers of help with a delicate wave of manicured fingers as she soldiers on. These are lonely battles fought by warriors like the two exceptional women. They do not need to be patronised, certainly not by men or the establishment. They need to be listened to. Shashi and Nayantara, we are listening. Very, very keenly.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Sat Mar 02 11:46:07 IST 2019 meeting-chitras-sita <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The session at the Jaipur Lit Fest 2019 that I was most looking forward to was my interaction with Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni at the launch of her latest book, The Forest of Enchantments. I have, for long, admired her scholarship and eloquence. When I received the advance copy, I noted the dedication: To my three men—Murthy, Anand and Abhay... for teaching me love. I started reading the book, intrigued by those lines. It had never occurred to me that love could be ‘taught’. I had always believed that love has to be felt. Instinctively. There was clearly a lot to learn from this erudite lady (PhD in English, Berkeley) who teaches creative writing at the University of Houston. I met her husband for a few minutes before our session, and was moved by his total, undisguised involvement and pride in his wife. She, in turn, was attentive and loving towards one of the three men who taught her love—Murthy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Her adoring fans greeted her arrival on stage with a loud applause. Chitra is used to it. Ten years after The Palace of Illusions became a bestseller, she was ready with another captivating tale. After Draupadi, it was Sita’s turn for a literary interpretation. Chitra’s first person narrative takes a while to get used to. The conversational passages in which Sita, one of India’s most revered mythological characters, chats with her husband Ram, using contemporary idioms, can lead to a severe disconnect, as it did for me. But, after the first 20 pages, I was riveted. I could ‘hear’ Sita’s voice as she moved seamlessly from being a spirited and beautiful princess of Mithila to assuming responsibility as Ram’s dutiful wife and queen of Ayodhya, who joined her husband and brother-in-law Laxman during their 14-year exile in the forest.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The forest is as much a star here as Sita, and yes, it is filled with enchantments. Chitra’s descriptive prose about Sita getting accustomed to her new life, communing easily with birds and animals, in a magical, intuitive manner, draws readers into her many dilemmas and disappointments. As Chitra read out a few passages, her rapt audience gobbled up each line and word. The questions that followed were informed and fascinating. She dealt with them like a competent teacher, perhaps anticipating a few of the more obvious ones and nimbly dodging the more politically loaded queries.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dressed in a black silk sari, Chitra cut a striking figure, delving confidently into the ‘Sita syndrome’ (my words, not hers) and the final act of hers (returning to Mother Earth voluntarily, instead of facing one more agni pariksha [trial by fire]). The Ramayan has been a source of much debate and discussion in recent times, especially Sita’s complex decisions. Chitra has invested years of deep study, researching and discovering ‘her’ Sita. She referred to Sita’s dilemma as a #MeToo moment, given its boldness. The readers responded enthusiastically to the clever analogy, and related to the many sexist issues in the telling of Sita’s story. Chitra considers the Ramayan “one of the greatest and most tragic love stories—not just in our Indian culture but in the world”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In my reading of the book, I had felt that Chitra’s representation of Ravana was most intriguing. I asked if Sita was indeed attracted to his virile personality and extensive learning. Chitra did not fall for it and deftly deflected the question. Given the dramatic twist at the end of her narrative, I guess that was the smarter route to take. Chitra ends the story on a poetic, philosophical note, with Sita forgiving Ram and reminding him that love “doesn’t measure who is worthy and who is not. It is like the ocean. Unfathomable. Astonishing. Measureless.’’ Who can disagree?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Sat Feb 16 10:59:59 IST 2019 at-home-in-health-care <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Recently, I received an invitation to an event titled, ‘A Decade of Distinction’. It was from Tina Ambani, and the chief guest was their close family friend, Amitabh Bachchan. Initially, I was a little confused—I thought it was to felicitate Mr Bachchan. But then it would have read five decades of distinction! Tina phoned soon after and we chatted about this particular landmark celebration, which marked ten years of the Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital—a passion project for Tina. What an achievement! I recalled attending its grand opening and wishing her all success at the time. From the word go, it was evident just how committed and involved Tina was in ensuring world-class facilities for patients. I walked around with her, a team of doctors accompanying us from floor to floor and explaining the vision behind this ambitious project. I saw Tina’s eyes gleaming with excitement as she described what had gone into creating this glittering, state-of-the-art hospital, aptly named after her mother-in-law—the matriarch of the Ambani family.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I could see Tina’s husband Anil beaming with pride as he talked about the hospital being Tina’s “third child”, as her two sons hugged their mother. Surrounded by her maternal family members and close friends, Tina herself was glowing and radiant, as she congratulated her motivated team.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I was surprised to note how well-versed Tina was with medical terminology, and how invested she was in every aspect of her dream project. She knew the nursing staff by name, and was aware of the latest technical breakthroughs internationally. This was not a rich businessman’s wife indulging herself with a vanity project. Oh no! Tina was the consummate corporate person—a hands-on leader, with a long-term view.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Well, that ‘view’ is here! And while Tina talked with justifiable confidence in the future, as her long-time friend, I felt a surge of proprietorial pride—after all, I had known Tina since she was 16 and one of the most popular movie stars in Bollywood. Watching her walking around the hospital, so assured and informed, I looked back at her incredible life—from a Munim to an Ambani—and smiled to myself. She is a woman who has done it her way. A woman who certainly knows her priorities. Tina and I reside within one kilometre of each other in South Mumbai. It takes up to three hours in hideous traffic to reach her hospital. Tina scrupulously makes that trip to and back at least three times a week. Well, her responsibilities have just trebled with the opening of three more cancer care hospitals in Maharashtra (Akola, Gondia and soon in Solapur). Taking health care to where it is most needed—the hinterland—is worthy of applause. Yes, given our dearth of good hospitals outside the cities, Tina’s plans are indeed filling a huge gap. At 60, Tina has found her métier—she will move ahead with determination and hard work, having created a vital niche for herself through a brand patients trust and professionals recognise. This is no small achievement! Let us watch how she takes her investment in first-class medical assistance forward in an even more detailed and focused way. As for me, I feel wonderful seeing how Tina has evolved over the years. She could so easily have been just another wealthy, bored and self-indulgent wife. Instead, she chose to be a leader in a tough, challenging field and is doing an excellent job.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Sat Feb 02 15:17:10 IST 2019 rip-meera-sanyal <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Banker-turned-politician Meera Sanyal died recently at the age of 57 after battling cancer for two years. The extraordinary thing about Meera was her steadfastness in whatever she did. In 2014, she quit as the CEO and chairperson of the Royal Bank of Scotland to join the fledgling Aam Aadmi Party. While corporate honchos go on and on about being the change you want to see, not many give up a cushy position to pursue an ideal. Meera had the moral courage to do just that.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>She urged others from her background to join her, reminding them that if they wanted to clean the political system, they had to take the plunge themselves. Meera walked the talk. She did not preach from a pulpit, or make grand, pompous statements at seminars and conclaves. She simply wore her heart on her sleeve, pinned the party’s symbol—a broom—on her sari pallu, jauntily wore the ridiculous-looking AAP cap on her head and got to work.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Along with volunteers and her loving husband Ashish, Meera walked tirelessly through the South Mumbai constituency, understanding the problems faced by the people in the over-crowded slums that coexist cheek-by-jowl with some of the priciest high-rise apartments in India. She addressed countless meetings for members of posh building societies, urging them to get involved. While people listened to Meera attentively, they clearly did not vote for her. She got just 5.7 per cent of the votes. But she was not deterred in the least. That her mission was cruelly cut short by her cancer is another matter.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I had the privilege of knowing Meera through Manjeet Kripalani, a common friend who was her press secretary at the time. I jumped at the chance to participate in a walkabout with Meera and her band of loyal volunteers, as she went campaigning, clad in an elegant handloom sari, her radiant smile disguising her fatigue—a result of all those sleepless nights and other pressures. As we side-stepped garbage strewn in the narrow alleyways of the slums, I could sense the apathy of the voter towards this ‘fancy’ lady from the ‘other’ side of the social divide.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Later, while chatting casually, they asked me, “What can this memsaab know about our troubles? Has she ever starved? Gone without water in the taps? What can she give us?” Meera was too gentle and genteel to muscle her way into these over-crowded vote banks, accustomed to candidates walking around with stacks of notes to distribute to local bullies. One such man came up to me and said, “Tell this madam to come back with cash. Then we’ll talk.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>She smiled when I mentioned this. “Please tell him madam has no cash to distribute. But madam will work for them night and day, and make sure they get water and most importantly that every child goes to school.” This was not an empty promise. While she was at the bank, Meera mentored the microfinance programme which financed over 6,50,000 women in rural India. She also chaired the bank’s foundation, providing livelihood assistance to 75,000 women-led households. Over one million children worldwide benefitted through the Right to Play organisation she was an active member of.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Born in Kochi to a naval hero (Vice Admiral Gulab Mohanlal Hiranandani), Meera reached great academic heights (INSEAD and Harvard included) and had a very successful career in banking, which she quit to serve the people. Meera was the real thing. A compassionate and kind woman who believed in mentoring young people and imparting a valuable lesson: No hand-outs. Merit and hard work over charity and concessions. This is her legacy. She touched many, many lives. She deeply touched mine.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Fri Jan 18 12:11:42 IST 2019 ranveer-one-of-a-kind <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>For sure, 2018 was the year of the wink. First it was Rahul Gandhi who teased and tantalised India with the sly, conspiratorial wink in Parliament. And to end this dramatic year on a high note, let us hand the wink-trophy to actor Ranveer Singh, whose chart-busting track, Aankh Maarey from Simmba, is playing in the most popular clubs worldwide. It is the perfect “wink-wink” song to launch 2019 in style. Happy new year, readers!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As we speak, the newly-minted bridegroom is honeymooning with his beautiful bride at a secret destination. Ranveer-Deepika have kicked off 2019 on a jaunty note with the super success of Simmba, and the grand production that was their marriage. I ran into the couple soon after their shaadi, at the “other” wedding of the century. You know which one (wink-wink!).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ranveer resembled an ecstatic schoolboy who had just been declared the prom king. I asked them to pose for me and they sportingly obliged with Ranveer declaring, “Come on, we are actors. What do you want us to do?” Once I was done, I showed him the pictures and asked him to pick the one he liked. His response: “Pick the one in which she looks the best... and is laughing. I love her laugh.” My word, besotted! Over the moon… as if he cannot quite believe his good fortune in having bagged his co-star of super-hits like Ram-Leela, Bajirao Mastani and Padmaavat. Certainly, their chemistry on screen has always been unmissable. But I can recall so many occasions when I ran into them, with Ranveer being entirely natural and exuberant around his lady-love, frequently kissing her neck and hands, while Deepika displayed far more restraint.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ranveer Singh’s career has been extraordinary, starting with his very first film in 2010 with Anushka Sharma (Band Baaja Baaraat). They were dating at the time, and I found myself seated right behind them on a flight to Bengaluru. His PDA, even then, was unabashed and spontaneous. Compared to the self-conscious, stiff posturing of his seniors, Ranveer comes across like an egoless, natural “everyman”. I have watched him greet pesky fans and interact with junior production chaps without ever making them feel like he was doing them a favour.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With his crazy antics and crazier wardrobe, he is a compulsive attention-seeker, eager to please the audience. I find this a very endearing trait in a movie star of his status and calibre. He has the smarts, and is never at a loss for words. These are unrehearsed, unscripted exchanges, and they always come as a surprise. We expect our stars to be narcissistic. By contrast, Ranveer is sharp and well-informed. His native intelligence also shows through in his nuanced performances on screen. He can go from being a rough-and-tough street bully (Gunday) to a feared and respected peshwa (Bajirao Mastani).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I would be most interested in seeing him portray Devdas. I feel Ranveer’s potential as an actor-of-depth remains untapped, and would provide rich raw material for a fresh take on the classic. His mind is an original, and with a smart, wealthy and talented woman by his side, Ranveer is poised to become one of the biggest superstars India has ever seen. As a couple, they engage with audiences most effortlessly. If they pick their movies well, they could join the ranks of Hollywood greats who created onscreen magic, and off-screen couple goals.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As of now, all it took was a wink from Ranveer Singh playing a corrupt cop in Simmba to eat up the box-office at the end of a year that was pretty mixed for Bollywood. The three Khans need to worry.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Sat Jan 05 16:07:01 IST 2019 the-disruptor-whom-I-like <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Forget the other two mega Bollywood weddings for now. Fans have finished OD-ing on those. Every tiny detail has been greedily devoured and regurgitated. There is collective shaadi-induced indigestion in India at present. But the forthcoming wedding of one of our most unusual women is bound to take social media by storm as and when it does take place (it is scheduled for December 31 in Los Angeles). For those who are wondering what makes Rakhi Sawant so unique, let me just say I have followed her eventful life for over a decade. I have yet to meet someone like her. She is so dramatically different from ‘normal’ folks, it makes me wonder: Is she plain insane… or super smart?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The last time we ran into each other was at Kolkata airport where Rakhi had gone to collect her visa for America. She was busy posing for selfies with the security staff when she spotted me. We promptly hugged and kissed and started speaking excitedly in our native Marathi. On the long flight back to Mumbai, I caught up with the many bizarre developments in her crowded life. She showed me her Instagram posts with justifiable pride (507k followers at last count).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rakhi is indeed indefatigable, as she updates posts by the minute, sometimes making sense, but most times not. In her many outlandish get ups and even more outlandish utterances, she sends fans into an absolute tizzy, as she graphically demonstrated how to wear a chastity belt during the #MeToo controversy. “My body is my temple…,” she routinely purrs, as she discusses flavoured condoms.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Well, Rakhi, certainly, seems to have met her comic match in someone called Deepak Kalal, a cross-dressing You-Tuber and blogger who was noticed during the eight season of India’s Got Talent. According to his CV, he used to be a hotel receptionist till he acquired a sizeable following in Pakistan and India after posting videos on Kashmir. Amazingly enough, his father was an engineer with the Mumbai Municipal Corporation. Both his parents frequently feature on his videos.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In a ridiculously staged press conference about the forthcoming nuptials, Kalal crassly told reporters about Rakhi’s virginity, which he had had tested and confirmed twice over by a doctor. All the while, Rakhi, head demurely covered, simpered next to him, before putting a mangalsutra around his neck. The wedding announcement is perfectly timed to get extra social media exposure while Bollywood groupies are still swooning over the other mega star weddings. That is the essential Rakhi—a brazen, out there social media creation, much like the Kardashians in Hollywood.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>During the course of our flight, she leaned over conspiratorially, and in her best ‘sistaah’ voice, told me to look at her chest. I did as told. “I have removed my implants,” she confessed, “See… my boobs are gone. They are what sell. I know that. But health comes first. I will put them in again after a few months of rest.” Candid and upfront. Just like that. Which is why I like her.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Before a hasty ‘goodbye’ while still on the aircraft, she shot a quick video, in which she said she was thinking of kidnapping me. It was at the time when journalists were indeed being kidnapped, even killed. I warned her not to be silly. It could land her… and me… in a mess. Rakhi laughed. Perhaps that was the whole idea! A dramatic arrest at the airport as we stepped out? She is so much fun. Honestly speaking, I would rather spend an evening with Rakhi Sawant, watching her antics, listening to her mad cap stories, and cracking up with each anecdote, than with a bunch of unoriginal, predictable, boring, pompous VVIPs—from any sector! Rakhi is her own woman. She works hard. She breaks rules. She is a disruptor. What’s there not to like?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Fri Dec 07 14:51:55 IST 2018 days-with-the-diva <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Zeenat Aman and I were invited to the first edition of the Jaipur Lit Fest being held in Adelaide under the auspices of OzAsia. It was an interminable flight, and I had been dreading it for days prior to the departure. As we landed in Singapore, my spirits rose at the sight of a familiar person—yes, indeed, it was my old friend Zeenie Baby herself. We had three hours in the lounge to catch up on each other’s lives, and then three whole days in Australia to keep one another company between hectic sessions and receptions. It was Zeenat’s first trip Down Under. As for me, I was happy to spend time with a brave and warm individual I have known and worked with over five decades. We started our modelling careers at around the same time and shot several campaigns together, notably Taj Tea. We also posed for several editorial shoots for mass circulated magazines like Femina, helping each other out with make up and hair styling tips. Of course, after she joined Bollywood we lost touch completely. Our paths rarely crossed, even after she retired from the movies to raise her two boys. But, the reconnecting happened spontaneously and easily, as if the intervening years had been nothing more than a small pause.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The thing I rediscovered about Zeenat is her innate shyness. She keeps to herself and speaks very little. She does not like impromptu requests for selfies or small talk. But, she responds to intrusions with graciousness and obliges fans with a smile and a nod of acknowledgment. It was great to see how two generations of overseas Indians reacted to a former star with so much excitement. Whether at the airport or at the festival venue, Zeenat was regarded with awe and admiration—which of course, she fully deserves as a breaker of Bollywood moulds. It was Zeenat who changed the popular perception of desi heroines by boldly bringing in her westernised style and uninhibited presentation. It took an equally westernised film maker (Dev Anand) to tap into Zeenat’s sensual personality and present her in a tailor-made role—that of a chillum-smoking hippie looking for love in Kathmandu. With her rendition of ‘Dum Maro Dum’, Zeenat instantly became the sweetheart of millions, and paved the way for others like Parveen Babi to follow. Just as audiences were delighting in the new avatar of the modern Indian girl, Zeenat accepted Raj Kapoor’s offer to play a tribal woman with a half-burnt face in Satyam Shivam Sundaram. I asked her what made her take such a quantum leap and she laughed at the memory, recounting how every single actress in Bollywood chased that one single dream—to be an R.K. Heroine.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On our last day in Adelaide, at the after-party for delegates, we were all left stunned when Zeenat obliged everybody by briefly singing and swaying to ‘Dum Maro Dum’. The younger lot could not believe they had been in the same room as such a huge diva and even danced alongside her. Did Zeenat herself have a good time letting her hair down after years of struggling with various problems? I think she did. On our long flight back to Mumbai, we talked about her multiple challenges as a single parent.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Zeenat Aman is a no-quitter. She is fighting on courageously, travelling the world—from Norway to Surinam—where her fans give her abundant love. As she commented wryly, “I did not have time to enjoy my fame back then; I was too busy working.” But, today, she is enjoying the fruits of all that labour, with her sons by her side and her loving friends to remind her that she is special.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Thu Nov 22 17:07:18 IST 2018 tejs-tear-jerker <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>God knows what is the real story behind this 29-year-old Bihar politician’s decision to abruptly divorce his bride of six months, but I am rooting for Tej Pratap Yadav. For once, a young man is playing the victim card successfully and making his family look bad. I love the fact that a desi laadla beta is calling out his own parents. Unheard of! He says he was coerced into marrying the young, glamorous, ambitious and educated Aishwarya Rai.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was not just a big fat Indian wedding, it was positively obese. Well, when the bride’s grandpa happens to be the former chief minister of Bihar (Daroga Rai), and the bridegroom’s father is the notorious Lalu Prasad Yadav (also a former chief minister), out on parole for the nuptials, high drama is only to be expected. Billed as one of the most extravagant weddings in recent memory, the couple made it to the front pages of most national dailies.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I am following Tej Pratap’s media announcements closely. If he is making a manipulative political move, it is likely to backfire. He claims he is a “simpleton” (read school drop-out), who was forced to marry an “urbane” Delhi girl. His mother Rabri Devi—Bihar’s political matriarch—had startled social media last year when she said that she did not want a “mall-going woman” as her bahu. Not sure whether Aishwarya makes the cut, but there she is, back in the marital home, with the entire family rallying around her, and isolating poor Tej Pratap.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Again, this is a most unusual stand to take for a traditional Indian family. Normally, the son can do no wrong, and the daughter-in-law is never right. Tej Pratap has a younger brother, Tejashwi Yadav, who is politically stronger at the moment, and also on Aishwarya’s side. He wants bada bhai to pipe down and not go public with his marital woes. Meanwhile, the aggrieved groom is crying himself hoarse saying his marriage is over, because he is like the North Pole to her South Pole. Citing mental cruelty and incompatibility, it looks like Tej Pratap is determined to end this farce. He has filed for divorce and the next hearing is set for November 29.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Critics of Tej Pratap say he has a penchant for staging press-friendly stunts. He knows his photo-ops and happily performs for scoop-hungry camera crews. His unexpected decision to divorce his freshly-minted wife has taken his political supporters by surprise. But, hey, a man is entitled to speak his mind and end a marriage that has no meaning for him. He asks plaintively, “What should I do? Should I die bit by bit every day? Or hang myself?” I find that pretty heart-breaking.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Generally, one hears such language from a woman who feels trapped in a loveless relationship. I am intrigued by the reversal of roles. Just like a young bride’s family advises her to “adjust”, Tej Pratap’s folks seem to be doing the same. Good on him that he is taking them on and not getting pressurised into prolonging his agony. Aishwarya must have her own version of what derailed the marriage. She has the clout and support of her in-laws to see her through the crisis, especially now that she has waltzed back into the home she had abandoned.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tej Pratap at this point sounds determined to defy convention and his family members. This could cost him a tidy amount, in political terms. But, then, now that he is a self-declared rebel with a cause, he must stand by his beliefs and fight the good fight till the bitter end. I guess Diwali is not going to be too dazzling this year for the Yadav parivar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Sat Nov 10 15:23:31 IST 2018 akbar-has-no-legs-to-stand-on <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Lies have no legs,” M.J. Akbar had thundered soon after his return from an official trip to Africa. It had been a week of disgrace for the minister of state for external affairs, after a sizeable number of senior women journalists hurled a slew of charges at the once venerated editor. Overnight, Akbar’s reputation was reduced to mud, and howls of protest demanding his resignation filled media space. True to character, Akbar flatly refused to oblige. Instead, he turned the tables on his main accuser, Priya Ramani, and announced that he would be filing a defamation case against her. For that purpose, an army of 97 lawyers from his friend’s prestigious law firm were instantly made available to him. Please note: 97!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His obdurate stand and strong denials of any wrongdoing were seen as acts of hostility and defiance by a majority of citizens—even those who did not support India’s freshly minted #MeToo movement.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Well. He blinked first. And, resigned. After all the initial bluster and theatrics. Full disclosure at this point: My husband and I have been casual friends and genuine admirers of Akbar for 40 years. Frankly, in all these years, we have not seen him misbehave with any woman. Yes, he has been high-handed and arrogant, and he does not and will not suffer fools. He has spent evenings at our home, holding court and keeping other guests enthralled by his scholarship and sharp wit. Years ago, we were delighted when his daughter got married. And, I had briefly interacted with his talented son Prayag and his daughter-in-law at the Jaipur Lit Fest last year. I love Akbar’s wife Mallika—a soft spoken, compassionate and wonderful lady.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The very first film review penned by Akbar was published by me in Stardust, when I was the editor. He was then an eager reporter looking for a break in Mumbai, the city he had relocated to after finishing his education in Kolkata. Akbar had written a fine piece on Mere Apne, starring the legendary Meena Kumari. Needless to say, Akbar’s review was brilliant. But not many readers understood it! Years later, we both laughed at that particular journalistic foray of his.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Once he shifted to Delhi, our paths rarely crossed. But whenever they did, the encounters were consistently warm and chatty. Which is why this immense feeling of being let down by someone we believed in. Aggressive, yes. Imperious, yes. Hot-headed, yes. But a sexual predator? Today, as he claims innocence and threatens to sue his accusers, we are finding it difficult to reconcile the two, disparate images. Which one is the real M.J. Akbar? Do us all a favour and please stand up!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When I read the graphic accounts of sexual harassment shared by his accusers, I believed them. The hurt was real. For too many years, media followed the archaic ‘dog does not eat dog’ principle. Everybody either looked the other way or kept mum when blatant wrongdoings were taking place. Thank God that has changed. Priya Ramani threw the first curve ball, and since then, several women journalists have narrated their nasty experiences. As events unfold, we will be bombarded with more revelations and more denials. It is important to maintain perspective and let the law take its own course—be it with Akbar, Vinod Dua, Gautam Adhikari or anybody else. There is a huge distinction to be made, of course. As a former minister, Akbar represented India and Indian citizens, especially during his frequent travels abroad. Should we make absurd concessions for this one man and wait patiently for the trial to begin? Definitely not! By all means exonerate yourself, honourably if you can, Mr ex-minister. But till your name is cleared, the right thing to do is fight the battle fairly. Lies do have legs, Mr Akbar. As you must have discovered.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Mon Oct 29 11:42:45 IST 2018 lobsang-sangay-tibets-charming-champion <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The biggest star of the just concluded Himalayan Echoes literature festival (third edition) in Nainital was the articulate, dynamic and dishy Lobsang Sangay, elected president of the Tibetan-government-in-exile. Inviting him to the festival was indeed an inspired idea—good work, Janhavi Prasada (director of the festival). During her opening remarks, Prasada introduced the man, whose name means “kind-hearted lion”; the same man was once called a “hopeless son” by his father. Today, he is a globally sought after leader passionately articulating the cause of his people.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At 50, Sangay cuts a dashing figure. Impeccably and fashionably attired, the Harvard-educated human rights law expert speaks his mind with clarity and fluency, especially when he describes the plight of his fellow Tibetans. He talked about his childhood in Darjeeling, where he was born to refugee parents, and sold sweaters to make ends meet. Despite the early hardships, he managed to win scholarships and come up the hard way. As the political spokesperson for Tibetans, he has an enormous responsibility on his hands. He says he gets all the guidance from the spiritual leader, the venerated Dalai Lama, who has anointed him the sikyong (ruler or regent). It is a role he takes most seriously, as was obvious when our flight from Delhi landed in Pantnagar and a contingent of local Tibetans rushed to greet him and seek blessings.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At the festival, he was relaxed and charming, frequently cracking jokes at his own expense. During a conversation with author Patrick French, who has visited Tibet more than once and written about it, the sikyong reeled off several anecdotes of his many travels, narrating how many times important meetings at government levels were cancelled at the last minute because of pressure brought on organisers by the Chinese. His message of peace and non-violence translating into the eventual goal—Tibet for Tibetans—is delivered firmly with admirable determination. He talked about patience being the key attribute, one which Buddhism preaches and propagates. He cited examples of the Berlin Wall coming down when nobody expected such a development to ever take place. He mentioned the break-up of the Soviet Union, and stated that a similar turning point would come for Tibetans, too.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Listening to him in rapt attention were several prominent citizens of Nainital. Given the festival’s emphasis on the environment, ecological issues and the furthering of cultural arts and crafts of the region, the venue was appropriately festooned with Tibetan prayer flags and dotted with stalls showcasing local, artisanal produce.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Driving to the ever popular China Peak (aka Naina Peak), which is a popular place for trekking and camping, I thought of the irony of the name given by the British to the picturesque site. Here was Sangay informing us about the many injustices Tibetans faced at the hands of Chinese oppressors, and here we were, enjoying the salubrious climate and making plans to visit China Peak on our next trip! I want to suggest a name change to Prasada—why not lobby with local supporters and rename the popular picnic spot? Why China or Naina Peak? Why not Tibet Peak? That would please Sangay. He could be invited back to Himalayan Echoes with his wife and three-year-old daughter. Who knows, anything is possible, like he said. Tibet may yet reclaim its freedom. Till then, a strong, independent and distinct identity will have to do!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Sat Oct 13 17:37:33 IST 2018 guhas-gandhi <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>We were attending Ramachandra Guha’s fourth or fifth book launch in Mumbai —forgive me for losing track. Guha is such a prolific historian who pens so many tomes with such ease, his genius totally astounds and stumps folks like me, who eventually stop counting. His latest work Gandhi: The Years That Changed the World, 1914-1948 is one more 1,000-pager, that is so heavy that, readers may require a mini-crane.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I am intimidated and daunted by Ram and his book. I am not planning to read it. But my husband, most definitely, is. Please note, I do not address the public intellectual as “Ram”. I am deferential and meek in his presence, not chummy. Critics and jealous authors call him “overbearing”. This is entirely understandable. Ram has to deal with pesky fans who constantly bombard him with idiotic questions. Lesser beings (most of us) are treated with studied kindness by the great man. But, even his cultivated patience snaps at times and that is when one catches Ram in full flow—dismissive and imperious, sarcastic and caustic. I like that. Humility does not suit everybody.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He is a superlative orator and can hold audiences spellbound. Once, many years ago, we were on a lit-fest tour in South Africa. A prominent author dropped out ungraciously at the last minute, leaving a scheduled slot or two open. The poor organisers approached Ram and asked timorously if he would fill in for the writer who had ditched. Ram sportingly agreed. And, what a performance it turned out to be. He spoke for an hour (without notes) on one of his favourite subjects—cricket. Ram reeled-off anecdotes, dates, personal stories in a manner so engaging, he had the crowd begging for more. I was overawed by his delivery.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ram clearly has a magnificent obsession—Gandhi. He has researched every aspect of his life with such thoroughness and precision, Ram probably knows Gandhi better than Gandhi knew himself. Listening to him talk about his latest book, it was as if he was discussing the intimate details of his best friend’s life. Maybe that is exactly what the Mahatma has become—Ram’s best friend. This book comes with a teaser of a revelation—Gandhi’s “spiritual affair” with the cerebral, beauteous and sophisticated Sarala Devi Chaudhurani. Ram is not the first historian to allude to this relationship. But, he is certainly the first writer to put it out there as boldly. And why not? For too long, we have stopped regarding Gandhi as a flesh-and-blood man, and converted him into a sexless saint, a God. We cannot imagine him falling in love with a woman and desiring her. Whether or not this “affair” remained unconsummated, nobody can say for sure. Ram assumes it did. What a pity.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>During the one hour book discussion, Ram effortlessly ran through historical nuggets, complete with cross references that left the audience awestruck. Leafing through the book, I started with the last page first. Here is a tantalising quote, “Gandhiji had no private life as we Westerners understand the expression.” The quote is attributed to Reginald Reynolds—“an English Quaker who interacted with Gandhi over a period of twenty years.” Ram also threw it in casually that his editor had knocked-off 40,000 words from the original manuscript. I immediately thought he could spin-off yet another Gandhi-book out of the discarded material. Ram also said more than once that the real “hero” of his latest book is Gandhi’s loyal secretary, Mahadev Desai. Maybe we can expect a comprehensive biography of Desai’s next.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>How does Ram write so well and write so much? Silly question. He just does!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Fri Sep 28 14:39:08 IST 2018 john-on-a-roll <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>John Abraham seemed to suffer from the Dharmendra Syndrome for the longest time. Let me explain: Dharmendra was the hunkiest movie star of his time. He was not nick-named Garam Dharam for nothing (I plead guilty! I was editor of Stardust at the time and loved coining these handles). The first time I met John was at an awards function. He had won his trophy in the Best Male Model category—a cakewalk for him, given the competition. He was not particularly chatty. And did not hang around to socialise over cocktails like the rest of the high-profile winners. I figured out years later that our Johnny Boy is a far cry from Dharmendra. If Garam Dharam played up his rustic roots and charmed countless swooning females off their feet during his heyday, John remained the quintessential Bandra Boy—urban and aware. It took him time to earn his stripes in Bollywood, given that he was not playing ball with the big studios, nor sucking up to powerful producers. It was believed that he was no great thespian who would dislodge the reigning Khans, either in the acting stakes or commercially.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Something changed. John turned producer. John opted out of the dating game. John got married.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His films as actor/producer did respectable numbers in the competitive film market. And overnight, Bollywood started to take John seriously. Today, the ball game has dramatically changed. The irony of ironies being the launch of the sequel to the iconic Sarfarosh. Bagging the role of ACP Ajay Singh Rathod, originally played by Aamir Khan (India’s most cerebral actor), is no small triumph for John. His generous response to the new development was insisting that he is “deeply fond of Aamir”. The role came his way after director John Mathew Mathan decided he needed a younger actor! Oooops.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I am guessing the commercial success of John’s recent films, Parmanu: The Story of Pokhran and Satyameva Jayate, has a lot to do with this casting coup. No matter, Bollywood today is saying, “John is on a roll.” Good for John. As for doing a sequel to Dostana, after the spectacular success of the original, viewers will be wondering how John will top ‘that’ scene—the canary yellow swimming trunks, butt-revealing one. If Karan Johar does revisit the story with fresh actors, he will definitely have to cast someone with as spectacular a butt as John’s.</p> <p>The serious side to his life as a film producer is now firmly established. He says he would not venture into making a biopic on a known star or famous personality. His focus will remain on India’s unsung heroes—doctors, engineers and the common man. Meanwhile, the missus and he duck out for quiet dinners and outings, without any fanfare, unlike other Bollywood couples who make sure their publicists call up photographers each time the couple heads out. His attractive wife, Priya Runchal, stays under the radar, and that is the way the Abrahams prefer it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I have known the Abraham family in quite another context. John’s brother and parents were friends of my late brother Ashok. Allen, John’s architect brother, had helped remodel my brother’s Bandra home a few years ago. Since that time, the friendship had steadily grown. It was wonderful to notice how unaffected the whole family was by John’s starry image and success. They continue to be regular Bandra professionals—well-liked by the close-knit community and respected for the quality of their work. John is a product of this solid, sensible, educated and stable environment. It shows.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Fri Sep 14 15:05:53 IST 2018 my-friends-with-benefits <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Allow me to brag a little: I have interacted with two distinguished Nobel laureates so far! V.S. Naipaul, of course, was a studied act—think about the air of utter contempt he exuded towards lesser beings (everybody). When I encountered it, I found it more amusing than annoying. Over the years, I met him in short bursts and loved the practiced art of withering disdain he projected towards his fawning admirers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Years ago, he attended a dinner party at our home, with his then partner—an imposing, garrulous Argentinian lady called Margaret. She was his ‘advance party’. Her job was to arrive a few minutes earlier, leaving the great man waiting in a car close by. This was to scan the crowd at the venue and quickly filter it. Were the people present worthy enough of Sir Vidia’s august presence? Was the whiskey being served premium enough for him? It was a neat drill. She would stick her head in from an ante room, survey the scene quickly, and then disappear. If she appeared again, it was with Naipaul, who then greeted his subjects with a slight nod and settled into a corner with a tumbler of the best. Hosts got delirious at the thought that they had passed the Naipaul test! That the lofty one had deigned to honour them with his visit!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Since we did not supplicate ourselves, nor was I prostrating at his feet in sheer gratitude, I guess he figured if he wanted to enjoy a drink at our home, he would have to behave like any other guest. The sight of freshly steamed mini-idlis threw him off guard. He asked me in a somewhat cross voice, “What on earth are these?” I told him. He looked stricken. “Where are the implements to eat these things with?” he quizzed. Margaret scuttled off in search of suitable ‘implements’ (knife and fork). Apart from that, Naipaul was perfectly well behaved and, mercifully, didn’t insult any of our guests.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>My husband and I met the adorable Amartya Sen at a Jaipur Literature Festival dinner. Here was a Nobel laureate who wore his multiple honours as lightly as the navy blue pashmina shawl draped across his tweed jacket. Not for him the lofty grand standing or posturing of Naipaul. He was relaxed, charming, humourous and fabulous company. My husband and I had met him earlier, of course. But this was different. We were with his daughter Nandana (a close friend of ours), and her husband John Makinson (such a darling!). Amartya was with Emma Georgina Rothschild, his third wife, a quiet and observant scholar. The conversation sparkled minus any stiffness, as we discussed Bengali cuisine in minute detail and relaxed over glasses of a splendid red, carefully picked to complement the delicious Rajasthani food. A few years earlier, I had discussed a book idea with Amartya. He had been startled and might I add—a tad flattered! And what was the idea? I had vastly enjoyed Amartya’s The Argumentative Indian, which had become an international publishing sensation. Taking off from that terrific title, I wanted him to write, The Erotic Indian. Alas… it wasn’t to be! I am not sure who shot it down—it could have been Nandana, the loving, protective daughter! I still think it’s a great idea, and Amartya should do it!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Two brilliant minds. And so totally different in their thinking! Sen’s recent opinions on the Indian political scenario are radically opposed to Naipaul’s endorsement of the present government’s stated policies and outlook. Naipaul leaves behind a hefty body of work. So would Sen. Both men offer intellectual banquets to readers to feast on for generations to come. This is called legacy. I feel privileged to have met two unique geniuses at different points in their lives and mine. Friends with benefits? You can say that again!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Fri Aug 31 15:36:51 IST 2018 bhatt-and-his-daughters <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Mahesh Bhatt is invariably described as a ‘maverick’. And I wonder why. Is there a sly putdown buried inside the adjective? A suggestion he may not be the sort of person to be taken too seriously? And yet, after having known him over the years (and worked with him to create one of India’s longest running soap operas, Swabhimaan in 1998 ), I can say the Bhatt I know is intense, passionate and intellectually evolved enough to take nothing all that seriously, least of all himself!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As a path-breaking filmmaker who readily confessed to cannibalising his own fascinating life, over and over again (perhaps unable to come to terms with his traumatic childhood, raised by a single mother), Bhatt likes playing to the gallery and shocking the naive with throwaway comments about being a ‘Bastard child of a Muslim mother’. Forty years ago, that statement generated shock and awe. Today, we live in a world where anything goes. And Bhatt is better known to this generation of film fans as ‘‘Alia Bhatt’s father.” It is, of course, Bhatt’s forte to turn even this description around as a badge he owns—which he indeed does.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This ‘Daddy’ phase is dipped in déjà vu for his contemporaries. But with a charming twist. I remember Bhatt slipping effortlessly into the role of the equally indulgent and proud father, when Pooja Bhatt (Alia’s half-sister) debuted in Bollywood, with a film titled, Daddy. Unlike Alia, who is low-key and soft-spoken, Pooja was a spitfire who was expected to ignite the silver screen and stay there, thanks to her mentor being none other than ‘Bhatt Saab’. Nobody bitched about nepotism back then—it was smoothly taken for granted. Pooja’s career didn’t quite pan out as planned. But that’s another story. Today, it is Alia who is on top of her game, and it is good to see how gracefully she and Bhatt are handling her immense fame and popularity. There is nothing bombastic about Bhatt’s praise for his talented daughter. And he is uncharacteristically subdued when he discusses her future.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I remember Karan Johar talking to me about a ‘young, talented, plump’ girl called Alia, just before he signed her up for Student of the Year. We discussed the possibility of doing a book about her dramatic weight loss programme before filming started. It was a year that not just transformed Alia’s silhouette dramatically, but also changed her future forever. It is to Bhatt’s credit that as an established filmmaker of repute himself, he shrewdly left the launch of his lovely daughter Alia to Karan Johar—and look how that trust paid off! Perhaps even Bhatt had not realised Alia’s acting potential at that point. I spoke to him a couple of times at that time, but those were entirely different conversations, around social/political issues that concerned us both. Not once did he push Alia’s name into the chat. And I liked that. Bhatt has let his children chart their own paths—standing by them, sure, but not overwhelming them. This is hard for a parent, given the invasive levels of scrutiny. He is sensitive enough to figure there are three other kids in the family, who also need his support and encouragement. I can’t wait to watch Bhatt playing what may turn out to be his stellar role—Grandpa Bhatt! Of course, he will spin a movie out of the experience. Not for nothing is he Bollywood’s most loved cannibal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Sat Aug 18 20:12:36 IST 2018 the-colourful-dilliwala-tycoon <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>As they say in old Hollywood movies, “You never know who you might meet in Moscow.” Well, I was fervently praying I would run into Dr Zhivago. Particularly since my beautiful Russian friend had taken us to the famous restaurant that bears his name. The traditional food served at this historic place was superb and all the waitresses looked like super models. But... there was no trace of Dr Zhivago. Moscow itself was glittering and preening for the FIFA World Cup.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A few years ago, my husband and I had travelled to St. Petersburg and it had not been a very pleasant experience. After surviving that, we were braced to face just about anything in Moscow. For the first day or two, we only ran into well-behaved millionaires and billionaires from India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I met many other football enthusiasts from across India. Most of them were successful techies and dynamic entrepreneurs who had paid the top buck to attend what is undoubtedly one of the greatest shows on earth. I ran into them all the time and everywhere. But, it was my unexpected encounter with a desi, self-styled ‘tycoon’—in the elevator of the swanky Ritz Carlton Hotel in the heart of the city—that left the greatest impression during this turbo-charged trip. By the time this brief meeting took place, I had gotten used to the sight of every second person in Moscow strutting around with burly bodyguards while getting in and out of Maybachs with tinted glasses. Locals proudly told us Vladimir Putin’s cavalcade features eight bulletproof Maybachs. This may be why I didn’t pay special attention to the two heavies who tried to block our way while we were getting into the elevator taking us to the lobby of the opulent hotel after a super glam rooftop party.</p> <p>I overheard a nondescript looking man standing next to me, firing off loud instructions on his cell phone in fluent Russian. I turned to the rude, inconsiderate person, and oh-oh—the guy looked Indian! He was Indian! He noticed me staring, held out his hand and introduced himself by name. No, the name did not ring a bell. I was blank. He seemed like a cute puppy, eager to make friends. He added he was originally from Delhi and the men with him were his business associates from London. Okay. Encouraged and curious, I asked him conversationally and most casually, “Are you an arms’ dealer?” His heavies moved in a little closer, and stared menacingly at me, awaiting orders from the boss. Gosh! This was so much fun! The boss looked stumped for a moment, then laughed. “I am a tycoon—not an arms’ dealer. Mining. I have mines in 49 countries.” Oooooh! Fancy! He whipped out his phone and asked for my number. I promptly gave it. My husband glared disbelievingly. His wife had done it again! The mysterious tycoon said how fantastic it felt to speak Hindi with Indians like ourselves, in this bizarre setting. “I am sending you my business card... you will understand everything.” With that, he and his heavies marched towards their fleet of limos. He was back on his phone, yelling at someone in Russian. Minutes later, he called to say he had enjoyed meeting us and we were welcome to join him in any one of the 49 countries from where he runs his empire. I made a few polite noises and thanked him for the offer. The minute he disconnected, I googled him. He was indeed a self-made, self-styled ‘tycoon’. How come he spoke such fluent Russian? I so wished I had spoken some more to the guy, who had given the impression that he was on buddy-buddy terms with Putin.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For now, I am still trying to piece Mr X’s story together. He came across as an upfront and brazen braggart. He wants to be understood! Or else those armed heavies listening intently to instructions on their ear pieces will make sure that there is no scope left for doubt. I liked the colourful Dilliwala tycoon. I get the feeling our paths will cross again someday. Till then—Nostrovia!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Sat Aug 04 17:23:23 IST 2018 being-frank-helps <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>I was away in Prague when I read about Sonali Bendre’s brave announcement about her cancer. Initially, I was in a state of disbelief, and thought it was someone’s lousy idea of a joke, or worse, a promotional trick for a new TV show or web series. It was only after common friends phoned and messaged from New York that the truth sunk in. Yes, this beautiful young woman was indeed unwell, and she was not afraid to share the sad news with her fans and well-wishers. Her posts have been heartbreaking but also inspiring. This is really how one should deal with such awful news—take it on the chin and fight back! Sonali is doing just that, and our prayers are with this spunky lady, mother of Ranveer, a gorgeous little fellow, and wife of a mild-mannered, consistently pleasant film director, Goldie Behl.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I have known Sonali for years. We connect on a very basic level, both of us being proud Maharashtrians. We always converse in Marathi and indulge in non-filmy conversations, mainly about kids and books. Sonali is very aware and well read, but never shoves her high IQ down the throats of friends who may have other interests. I also know from our common publisher that she is a thorough professional who meets her deadlines and displays no starry airs during book promotions. Sonali has recently found her niche as a much-photographed fashionista, who is consistently on point, be it on the red carpet or at the by-now-ubiquitous airport outing. As a judge on reality shows, Sonali was seen as an unbiased and friendly person, who spoke her mind without offending any participant. Perhaps that has been her most enduring character trait—her genuinely good nature, minus filters. And, it is this that will see her through the crisis.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I am so proud that Sonali did not hide her medical condition (metastatic cancer). And, she shared facts as well as her emotions with her fans, which not only added to her list of admirers, but also set the right example. Earlier, Irrfan Khan had also taken to social media to talk about his rare condition. He had followed it up with a philosophical letter to his fans, which was seen as a reassuring and heartwarming gesture. Both stars have taken a route that involves direct communication with their vast fan base. It has worked big time. In an earlier era, Manisha Koirala and Lisa Ray had dealt with their cancers in a similar fashion and won hearts.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Gone are the days when Bollywood stars would go to great lengths to hide illness. If at all there was any communication about the star’s condition, it came via a press note issued by a secretary. Most times, the whereabouts of the ailing star were kept secret, and information withheld till it was too late. It was considered “bad for business”. Today, if a star lets everybody know something is wrong, it is considered “good for business”—affected producers can take a call for under-production projects and plan better, like it has happened with Irrfan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One of her closest gal pals dropped everything and rushed to be by her side in New York as soon as she heard about the ailment. This lady is a busy professional, with several key projects in the pipeline. And yet, she didn’t think twice about getting on the first available flight to be with her friend. That is the sort of loyalty and love Sonali inspires.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sonali refers to the stage IV cancer as a “curveball” life has thrown at her. I am certain she will deal with it heroically and come home with her signature smile in place and her dancing eyes shining, ready to dazzle her host of admirers. For me, Sonali remains the same ‘Maharashtrian mulgi’ I had been so impressed with decades ago when she greeted Michael Jackson with an aarti, dressed in a traditional nine-yard kashta sari (1996). This was before she got married to Goldie. Speedy recovery, darling Sonali. We want you back in the hood, and make it fast!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>P.S. Your recent video on getting your tresses cut broke the internet, and our hearts.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Sat Jul 21 15:39:35 IST 2018 can-sanjay-do-a-bachchan <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Unfortunately, I will be in Prague when this year’s most awaited Bollywood movie, Sanju, releases. I will definitely catch it on my return, but, till then, I can talk about the man on whose life the film is based. For starters, it takes a lot of courage to endorse a book or movie based on one’s life. If that life is a troubled one, it only makes it harder. In Sanjay Dutt’s case, I am still wondering why he agreed. Can’t be the money. Can’t be the fame. He has both. Regardless of how the film is received, at least for this generation of fans, Sanjay’s controversial life will make the mind boggle. Going by the trailer, the movie has boldly tackled all that he has dealt with in his 50-plus years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As a viewer, I do not care all that much about 100 per cent accuracy. What is more important is the telling of the tale—has Rajkumar Hirani succeeded in capturing Sanjay’s agony and ecstasy? Will viewers feel his pain, understand his confusions, accept his choices and, finally, forgive him his myriad transgressions? Will talented actor Ranbir Kapoor deliver a convincing performance as Sanjay Dutt? Now, that is the toughest call. Consider the challenge—a big star playing the role of an iconic hero from his father’s generation. Tough! Ranbir has a lot riding on the film. Almost as much as Sanjay himself.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The last time I ran into the gentle giant was at a Japanese restaurant in South Mumbai. He lumbered in with his wife Maanyata and a strange looking man. Sanjay, whose father I knew, and whose sister Priya I meet frequently, is a great favourite of my husband. Sanjay and he share a passion for watches.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is something loveable about this bumbling man-child. He appears vulnerable and gullible, bewildered and lost, and it is these very traits that make him so popular. Affectionately addressed as ‘Baba’ by the film fraternity, Sanjay generates a great deal of goodwill across the board. He is known to be crazily generous; it is believed that his wife is the one in control of his life and finances.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>‌Today, Sanjay is like an ageing lion, past his prime for sure, but still the king of the jungle. It is a unique position to be in. Most of his contemporaries are treated like has-beens, and are being offered character roles. He alone continues to loom larger than life in movies that showcase his special talents. I watched Bhoomi recently, and could not take my eyes off Sanjay, playing a single father to the luminous Aditi Rao Hydari, who was playing a rape victim. It is not a brilliant film. I found it a tad tedious, and old fashioned. I watched it for Sanjay. In the first half he plays against type, as a sincere, humble, working class man. It was in the second half that Sanjay came into his own, combining his old action hero moves with an avenging father’s rage. That is when I thought, Sanjay, more than any other hero, could make the transition and slip into Amitabh Bachchan’s senior citizen superstar league—provided he works on his discipline. If Bachchan is still up there, it is because of the professionalism he brings to the job. While I secretly hope Sanju Baba never actually grows up and starts behaving his age—for that will make him like everybody else—for the sake of his fans, I want him to continue acting in his specially packaged projects. He deserves the sort of comic turns he is so brilliant at. Nobody pulls off goofy lines and corny dialogues like Sanjay does. Nobody dances as clumsily, either!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If Ranbir succeeds in capturing even 70 per cent of Sanjay’s unique appeal, the entire exercise would be worth watching. I have seen Sanjay’s life fall apart. And, I have rejoiced when he put it back together. As he inches towards his sixth decade, I get the feeling that he will prove to the world what a competent actor he is.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Thu Jul 05 19:30:14 IST 2018 when-messi-messed-up <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>I am not a football fanatic. I know very little about the beautiful game. But that doesn’t mean I am indifferent to the excitement that has overtaken global fans during the FIFA World Cup. After watching the live telecast of Lionel Messi messing up that penalty kick and inviting universal scorn, I have started taking more of an interest. I was with a small group of footie aficionados in Goa the night of the Messi mishap. These were serious devotees of the game, not lightweight admirers. Before the dramatic moment, the men had momentarily stopped breathing. Their whiskey tumblers, half filled with a precious 25-year old single malt, were suspended midway to their open mouths. Every fibre of their beings seemed to be focused on that one man and the kick he was about to take. The nervous energy was getting to me! Boom! There went the kick! And, phutttt! Here came the anti-climax! Silence. Nobody spoke. The expressions of the three men registered deep shock, incredulity and disbelief. The god had failed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was only later that I thought of the heroic save and the man behind it. No matter how it goes for that amazing team from Iceland from this point on, Hannes Halldórsson has found a place in the exciting, uncertain history of the World Cup. And that, I guess, is why millions of sports lovers follow the game and are ready to give up their sleep, and more, for their favourite teams and players. Watching that defining penalty kick as it happened, was like observing a larger-than-life idol collapse into a heap of dust within seconds. But, simultaneously, it was also being lucky enough to witness the birth of a hero—the goalkeeper. He later admitted he had scrupulously studied Messi’s psychology and, in a way, anticipated the direction of that crucial kick. Hannes won a massive overnight fan following for that save. But, for many of us, the fact that he is a former filmmaker, added to his mystique. In fact, the composition of the entire team from Iceland is so fascinating. It makes you think that if a country of under four lakh citizens can produce world-class athletes, what is our excuse in India?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I recall my own encounter with two legendary World Cup heroes years ago. It was a fun encounter which took place in Monaco, the day before the grand prix. We were on a friend’s luxury yacht and moored next to us was another luxury yacht that was hosting a lively deck party. We were shamelessly ogling, as very fashionable celebrities arrived to sip champagne with the hosts and party the night away. Suddenly, someone spotted Brazilian players Ronaldo and Ronaldinho and everybody gasped! “We want to meet the superstars,” we declared. The captain of our yacht looked visibly embarrassed and pointed to the security on the pier. “There’s no way anybody can get past those bodyguards,” he said. Just then, a mini-miracle took place! The captain from the party-yacht asked our captain whether we had a case of champagne to spare—they had run out. Aha! Just the chance we needed to gate-crash the Ronaldo-Ronaldinho party. We offered to take the magnums over personally. Yup, we were that eager. A deal was struck. We could go across, but on the condition that we would not stay more than five minutes! We agreed cheerfully, grabbed our mobile phones, and clambered on board like school kids experiencing the ultimate fan moment! When we said we were from India, there was much cheer and bonhomie. The evening ended brilliantly! We got our pictures. We got our autographs. And temporarily, I, too, caught the football fever!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Hmmmm. I seem to have caught a fresh infection now. Maybe I should head to Moscow, armed with bottles of the finest champagne, and wait for Cristiano Ronaldo to run out of it!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Sat Jun 23 15:44:35 IST 2018 the-alia-factor <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>She is a petite, slip of a girl with dancing eyes. Alia Bhatt neither looks like a movie star, nor behaves like one. That is how confident she is—of her talent and her choices. After Raazi, Alia is right up there with Deepika Padukone, commanding similar fees and status. And yet, she is out and about, minus bodyguards or an entourage, her face devoid of make up, her hair pulled back into a casual ponytail and her clothes pretty nondescript. Which is precisely why India adores Alia. She is as fragile or as tough as your neighbour’s daughter. On screen, she effortlessly takes the subtle hues and shades of the character she is portraying.</p> <p>We ran into each other at a South Mumbai multiplex screening Veere di Wedding. I was, of course, pleasantly surprised, more so to see her in the company of two ladies who could be her future in-laws—Ranbir Kapoor’s mother Neetu, and his sister, Riddhima. All three of them looked pretty normal—posh ladies from an upper middle class family, catching a movie together. Alia, sans make up and clad in a simple cotton salwar kameez, was positively incandescent. We chatted briefly, I congratulated her without specifying what for. It was only later that I read Ranbir Kapoor’s confirmation of their status. Yes, they are dating. The young actor spoke cautiously about their relationship. Given his romantic history, I guess he is not taking chances with this one.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For top female actors, here or anywhere in the world, there is a cost attached to marriage, much as we would like to discount such prejudice. Say what you will, but whether it is Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Rani Mukherjee or Kareena Kapoor—their current movie offers are limited, when it comes to playing conventional romantic leads. We remain stuck in that groove, making it hard for young women to take the plunge, get married and then weigh their career options. No wonder Deepika has not announced a wedding date so far—she is right there on top of her game.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Alia is also at that inflection point in her career. I am ‘phone friends’ with Alia’s grandmother, who is German and retains her unique guttural accent. We have long chats about social and political issues. Yes, Alia is also discussed sometimes. Alia’s father (Mahesh Bhatt) and I had collaborated on a long running television serial on Doordarshan, called Swabhimaan. Mahesh is the best kind of maverick. Alia, I suspect, is more like her elegant, talented actor-mother, Soni Razdan. Alia is lucky to enjoy so much love, understanding and support from her unconventional family.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The dynamics that dominate the movie business are strange indeed. Fantasy is the key. In an earlier era, audiences wanted heroines to be untouched and pure. They were deliberately dressed in white, and stuck to chaste, modest outfits, which strongly sent out the ‘look, but do not touch’ message. Today, nobody bothers—whether a top star shows up on the red carpet wearing skimpy designer lingerie, or a female actor masturbates on screen with a handy vibrator. Our fantasies have been tweaked in keeping with 21st century mores, but they still remain.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Alia can oblige the panting millions, with her radiance, freshness and supreme talent. Raazi is a flawed film and I really wonder whether or not the character of Sehmat ever existed, as claimed by the author. Not that it matters, for by the end of the film Alia has smoothly transmogrified into Sehmat, the Indian spy with an angelic demeanour, who cleverly wins the confidence of the extended Pakistani family she is married into, and betrays their trust without flinching—for the sake of India, of course. For more, go watch the film. I am sure even Pakistanis will adore this dainty spy and forgive Sehmat her treachery.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Fri Jun 08 20:00:40 IST 2018 the-girl-who-wants-it-all <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Priyanka Chopra, popularly known as PC or PeeCee (no, it does NOT stand for politically correct or polite conversation), is India’s first and, so far, only global star. This much is accurate. Seeing the wall-to-wall coverage she received recently, as she swept into the grounds of Windsor Castle to attend her Hollywood gal pal Meghan Markle’s spectacular wedding, it was obvious our PC was up there with the international roster of A-List celebrities like Amal Clooney and Victoria Beckham. Even though I didn’t go gaga over her lavender Vivienne Westwood suit and those rhinestone-studded killer heels, she managed to attract a great deal of attention among 600 invitees from across the world. How does she do it? I think I have the answer: she is smart, and hardworking. And, she works with a fantastic team—from managers, stylists to PR people. She hires the best, and leaves it to them. For her part, she focuses on the job in hand and gives it her all.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>PC is always on top of her game, and leads her team with a smile and very specific instructions. I have observed this enviable trait in a few of our Bollywood stars—the ones who come from an armed forces background. Think Lara Dutta, Preity Zinta, Sushmita Sen, Gul Panag and Neha Dhupia. These ladies understand discipline and the benefits of team spirit. Most of them have schooled across India, speak multiple languages and think on their feet. They are accustomed to change and fitting in, thanks to their fathers’ postings. They possess the all-important killer instinct that our pampered star kids totally lack. One disadvantage? These girls are dealing with, what can loosely be termed, a Bollywood mindset, which is chaotic and unorganised most of the time. Despite that, the fauji girls manage to do well, once they crack the system.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In PC’s case, both her parents played a key role in shaping her choices. Today, it is her mother, Madhu, who is her pillar of positivity. Between the two of them, they run an impressive business empire, with Madhu handling day-to-day affairs and PC taking the lead in fronting deals that are as diverse as producing regional films to investing in real estate. Industry sources say she is an important stakeholder in the luxury flats market, here and abroad.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I have interacted with PC several times over the years. When I invited her to deliver the Annual Penguin Lecture 2017, it was at a time when she barely had a spare minute, what with her insane travel/endorsement/shooting schedules. She was not getting paid a dime for delivering a 45-minute address to close to 4,000 people in the audience. That’s a lot of work, especially for someone who makes astronomical amounts by way of appearance fees. And yet, she agreed. No fees. No fuss. Once committed, she stayed committed, flying in for the lecture held in Delhi and flying out the same night to attend Virat-Anushka’s wedding reception in Mumbai. Once at the venue, she was electrifying and passionate, as she talked about her life and the values that shaped her. She took questions from the audience most sportingly, and dazzled even hardened critics.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As a world celebrity, PC is aware of her role in the scheme of things. She is a UN ambassador, and makes sure she lends adequate support to causes. Her innings in Bollywood are at an interesting point: she can afford to pick and choose her next big project, provided producers here can afford her fee. Quantico has dwindled out after three seasons, but it established her as a Hollywood star with a strong identity. When we meet, I joke about her American drawl and she laughs good-humouredly, explaining it comes and goes, depending on which part of the world she is in!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It will be interesting to monitor what’s next for PC. Frankly, I see a great future for her in politics. She is capable, intelligent, articulate and loved by the youth. Why, even our prime minister made time to meet her in Berlin last year. We need women like her in Parliament. But will PC bite? Watch this space!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Fri May 25 18:58:05 IST 2018 man-animal-conflict <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>When Pakistani politician (and the most photographed captain ever of the Pakistani Cricket team) Imran Khan announced his third marriage to a lady described as a ‘spiritual healer’, there was a great deal of derisive laughter across social media platforms. Pakistan society was just about recovering from his hasty divorce from wife No 2, when the news broke. His latest wife (mother of five, Bushra Maneka aka Pinki Pir), seemed an unlikely candidate for the dashing Pathan. Their wedding pictures were equally intriguing if not downright comical, with a coy looking bridegroom, blushing and bashful, proudly gazing at his begum, who remained fully veiled.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Khan’s first marriage to Jemima Goldsmith, daughter of a London-based billionaire, had lasted nine years and produced two sons. His second marriage to television anchor Reham Khan was over in nine months. People in Pakistan speculated that the latest one would not last beyond nine weeks. Oh well... at least he confused his critics. Pinki Pir rushed back to her maternal home after a month or so. And, not much has been heard about her marital status since then.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The reason why marriage No 3 fell apart (according to Pakistani media), is because his new begum had successfully banished Imran’s pet dogs (they interfered with her religious activities), and his sisters (They interfered. Period) from his palatial Bani Gala residence. As anybody who has followed ‘Im the Dim’ ( a brutal description bestowed by the sneering British press when he dared to marry one of their most celebrated Sloane girls—Jemima) through his many misadventures will confirm—Khan has only been true and faithful to his pet dogs and loving sisters. Clearly, Pinki Pir was not happy with this devotion.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I have met Khan a few times over the decades, and interviewed him for a television series I was hosting called ‘Power Trip’. Frankly, at no point did I find him ‘dim’. Vain and self-obsessed, yes. Naive and gullible, yes. But also, pretty articulate and well-read. He had devastating good looks, but, beyond his charisma, he nurtured rather strange beliefs about Islam and politics. I remember attending a fiery public address in Lahore, which had several top guns from business swooning at his feet. He had looked the part, dressed in a steel grey Pathan suit, a gauzy shawl carelessly flung over his left shoulder. We met briefly and talked about our mutual friends.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I asked my local friends in Lahore about his political future, and received a mixed response. Die-hard followers insisted he would become prime minister of Pakistan. Yes, even with his flimsy political reputation.</p> <p>I reminded him of a sit down dinner in Mumbai, many moons ago, where our gorgeous hostess had placed me to Khan’s left (Goldie Hawn was on his right). The conversation was pretty bizarre. He had raved and ranted against the ‘corrupt west’ and the evil influence of western television. Hard to believe this was the same man who used to regularly party with international glitterati and hobnob with Bollywood’s top heroines! The same rakish cricket captain who had once checked into the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, in pursuit of Bollywood’s hottest sex symbol of the time (Zeenat Aman) who was staying there. He even posed shirtless for a cover story of a glossy I edited at the time! He looked grim and disapproving when I joked about it and said firmly, “That was then.’’ I continued to sip wine, while he piously stuck to water and more sermons. It was a very tedious, and definitely boring, evening.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Today, it seems his political career is as good as finito. And, the only way for Khan to stay relevant and stay in the news is to keep getting married. For all we know, Begum No 4 may be waiting in the wings. This time he had better make sure she gets to know and accept his pet dogs and doting sisters, before he takes the plunge!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Fri May 11 14:22:58 IST 2018 she-transformed-my-destiny <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The Jaising aura! It is unmissable. Unmistakable. I met Indira (“Indu” to friends) in Mumbai more than 40 years ago. I was awestruck. Four decades later, I remain awestruck. Even though I discovered soon after getting to know her as a friend, that behind that formidable facade is a soft, kind, vulnerable woman with a girlish giggle. We share a common friend—veteran reporter Olga Tellis—a legend in her own right. There was a time when we used to meet regularly, and chat without filters on any and every subject under the sun… later, our lives took us to different zones. Indira shifted to Delhi as a fiery senior advocate in the Supreme Court. We stayed in touch, of course, but barely. When Fortune magazine announced Indira’s name on its annual list of 50 Greatest Leaders 2018, I was informed about the honour by Olga, who sent me a message expressing her excitement and delight.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Feisty and fearless, Indira is not someone to mess with, and she makes that abundantly clear at the very first meeting itself. Brisk, fair and articulate, she cuts to the chase quickly, providing a practical road map to the person seeking her professional advice. She really shines when helping out the poor and underprivileged. I saw this for myself during the 1980s, when I would visit the office of the NGO she had started with her dynamic husband, Anand Grover. The Lawyers Collective (which had its license cancelled by the Modi administration in 2016) was based on shared idealism and strong beliefs in social justice. I would watch countless despairing and distraught people walk in, desperately seeking help and guidance. They would always be given time by someone from the group of committed lawyers working long hours in the cramped, non-air-conditioned space in an old building near the iconic Flora Fountain. Indira and Anand themselves would pay close attention to the varied issues, and then plunge right in, no matter how crowded their schedule. From tirelessly fighting on behalf of the victims of the Bhopal gas tragedy, to addressing the plight of Mumbai’s pavement dwellers (a landmark judgement was subsequently delivered, thanks to the joint battle fought by Olga and Indira), the fight for equality and justice remained paramount. More recently, Indira helped draft India’s first domestic violence law. The UN appointed her to investigate into the persecution of Rohigya Muslims in Myanmar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Of course, being Indira, she has had her share of run-ins with the powers that be, and boldly taken on those standing in the way of justice and progress. She was also the first female additional solicitor general of India (2009-2012). She faces flak from opponents and critics for some of the stands she takes. But Indira would not be Indira if she does not give it right back.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After reading about her latest accolade, my mind went into throwback mode. Yes, those were indeed simpler times, of landing up in her office at Fort, chatting over chai, watching her juggle dozens of heavy legal files, overhearing her instruct her cook to prepare Anand’s favourite dish, asking whether Handloom House had a new collection of Andhra Ikats—Indira’s incisive mind was always racing, and in overdrive. As it remains to this day. I feel fortunate to have had access to her as a lawyer, and later as a friend. It does not matter whether or not we meet regularly or even at all. I feel confident enough about our friendship to believe she will take my call, and we will be able to pick up from where we had left off years ago.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If the Supreme Court becomes child friendly on May 1, by introducing a crèche, it will be yet another initiative aggressively pushed and promoted by Indira, to better the lives of working women. Personally speaking, I owe you and Anand a new shot at living my life differently. Thanks to you, I got the second chance I needed. So, here I am—one more grateful woman whose destiny was transformed, due to your unstinted support and intervention.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Fri Apr 27 16:27:51 IST 2018 this-policewoman-means-business <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>It had been an exhausting day at the lit fest, and all I wanted was a cuppa. There were seriously famous writers and celebrities floating around in the designated open air area for participants at the Delhi edition of the event. I was smiling and reacting to complete strangers on auto pilot, with a somewhat glazed/crazed look in my tired, bloodshot eyes. Just as I was about to take my first sip, a lady politely asked if she could join me. I groaned mentally and brought back my fixed ‘public’ smile. Something about her face and expression caught my attention instantly, and we got chatting. She had just finished her own session—a panel discussion on policing. Someone came up to congratulate her on her presentation, and she accepted the compliment graciously. “Don’t you know who she is?” a common friend asked me. I didn’t. I was given a ready reckoner—hello! Roopa D. Moudgil! I leapt out of my chair to hug her! What followed was an amazing conversation, when she told me about ‘that’ episode. The one that had shot her into the limelight for exposing the VIP treatment being extended to V.K. Sasikala inside a Bengaluru jail. I was instantly fascinated. She told me many stories, which were as colourful as they were hard-to-believe. If this is how some of our prisons function, who can possibly mind being incarcerated? She described Sasikala’s daily routine with clinical precision. From Roopa’s vivid and credible account, J. Jayalalithaa’s closest companion was a ‘prisoner’ only in name. Her life within those walls, was not just comfortable, it was also unbelievably privileged!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Recalling the media attention her expose’ had generated, Roopa laughed it off and said she was merely doing her job. Yes, she was promptly transferred as ‘punishment’ for her audacity. At present, she is the inspector general of police of home guards and civil defence, Bengaluru. And, once again hitting the headlines! Roopa is clearly not someone to mess with!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Years ago, as a superintendent of police, she had arrested Uma Bharti and even back then, Roopa had attracted enough attention as a go-getting, uncompromising policewoman who meant business. She refused to cow down to political bullies. That was her stance then. And, that is her stance today. Recently, she once again proved her mettle when she turned down a cash award of Rs 2 lakh offered by an NGO. Well, this NGO is run by a BJP Member of Parliament, and Roopa made it very clear as to why she was turning down the award. She said it went against her principles, and her conscience would not allow her to accept an award offered by any political party. By publicly snubbing politician Rajeev Chandrasekhar, the man behind the NGO, Roopa made a strong point for our police forces to stay miles away from political patronage—regardless of the hues of the party.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A person like Roopa plays a very important role in reminding us that probity in public life is not an alien concept. We tend to clump police officers across the board into a basket labelled ‘corrupt’. Unfortunately, we are right most of the time. I like Roopa for not playing the gender card and crying ‘victim’ each time she was transferred for merely doing her job. Namma Bengaluru Foundation should have known the character of their upright potential awardee. Roopa cannot be purchased. Not for Rs 2 lakh or Rs 2 crore. I guess that for some die-hard, politically dishonest individuals with a clear agenda, that is almost impossible to digest. Here is hoping Roopa continues to give indigestion to several more arrogant folks in future.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Sat Apr 14 17:07:14 IST 2018 fight-well-warrior <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Irrfan Khan and I share the same birthday. That is our bond number one. Irrfan is an unusual man. He has demonstrated this trait once again by sharing news about his illness on a public platform. He has been diagnosed with a comparatively rare condition (a neuroendocrine tumour) that is potentially life threatening. Irrfan did not flinch or shy away from explaining its implications to those who speculated about his hospitalisation in Mumbai. That’s him—upfront, unlike the rest of the herd. I had sensed as much at our very first meeting in 2001. I had chanced upon a movie, The Warrior—his first international venture—and was struck by his screen presence. He was not all that well known then, and very few people had heard of this man from a feudal, Nawab family in Jaipur, with his hooded eyes and superbly articulated, baritone voice. He was magnificent in his litheness and restraint. I was impressed enough to write a tribute. And, he was moved enough to reach out and offer to meet me. I promptly invited him home. We sat at my dining table (which is my ‘office’!) and chatted for an hour or so. He was remarkably clear about his views and objectives. I enjoyed his self-deprecatory humour, and his wry comments about not being ‘handsome’ enough for Bollywood. And, look where he reached! Well beyond Bollywood! Who can forget his performance in The Namesake, The Life of Pi or Maqbool? Or, his romancing Deepika Padukone in Piku? And, much before that, his tour de force role in The Lunchbox? Irrfan remains one of our most sophisticated and consummate actors. His new movie (Blackmail) is ready for release. And, we all want him to be there for the big launch. Even as he undergoes treatment in a London hospital, Irrfan the philosopher is busy posting poems by one of my personal favourites—Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke. Irrfan’s wife Sutapa Sikdar keeps his fans informed about his condition. This is really the way it should be for celebrities. If there are health issues, those should be transparently shared. Far better to receive such news straight from the horse’s mouth than via the unreliable grapevine.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When I ran into Irrfan after several years, it was at a biz summit in Raipur, where both of us were speakers. I had just finished my session and was leaving the auditorium, when I spotted Irrfan being escorted backstage by a bunch of fans. We saw each other and stopped for a quick exchange. I told him I was coming back to attend his session, which, of course, I did. There were several obvious changes in the Irrfan who had met me wearing a simple, white, khadi, kurta pyjama, and this suave international celebrity, dressed in customised-couture, with a polished demeanour and perfectly gelled hair. This person was a man of the world, someone comfortable in a Tom Ford tux on a red carpet at the Oscars, schmoozing with top global stars as an equal. And, why not? Irrfan has more than earned his place in the sun as an international, who probably has many Hollywood top dogs on speed-dial. He was in the driver’s seat during his session. His answers were candid and clever, his choice of words impressive. Of course, success changes people. Irrfan had definitely changed, as do most celebs once the world opens up for them. I listened to his responses to some pretty sharp questions from the audience. He did not miss a beat as he joked about the functional bathtub he has positioned in the centre of his drawing room. Irrfan was on a roll, on top of his game. And, I applauded his chutzpah. We exchanged warm, knowing smiles. I felt proud of his swag, as he exited stylishly, leaving a trail of bespoke fragrance behind.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We await your triumphant return to movies and Mumbai, Irrfan Khan. I know you will be channelling your inner warrior and fighting the good fight valiantly. Till then, we pray for your swift recovery.</p> Sat Mar 31 13:15:53 IST 2018 big-man-bigger-heart <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Earlier this week, I received the sweetest call. It was as unexpected as it was welcome. The caller introduced himself as a cop. For a minute, I shrugged and thought to myself, “Now what?” He got to the point instantly, and identified himself as the inspector from Madhya Pradesh who had lost 65kg within one year. Oh, him! My friend Daulatram Jogawat? I promptly congratulated him! That is quite a feat. For those who are not aware of the story, it was my tweet that had inadvertently led to the cop’s impressive and dramatic weight loss. A tweet which had stated precisely this: “Heavy duty bandobast in Mumbai today.” The image happened to be that of Jogawat in uniform, talking on the cell phone. It was a hazy image that had been floating on social media for a while. Nobody knew the policeman’s name. And, nobody was able to clearly read which state he belonged to. Okay. I had goofed on that one. I had mixed up his cadre. Fortunately or unfortunately, that ‘fat-shaming’ tweet of mine changed everything. I was massacred and trolled, and accused of mocking a person who was unwell. I felt terrible!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The press located Jogawat soon enough, and hounded him for a reaction. Perhaps bewildered by all the attention, the poor guy, who weighed 180kg at the time, revealed his various other ailments, which may have been overlooked in the past, but were connected to his excess weight. Reacting to his sorry plight, immediate medical intervention was generously offered by the Mumbai based bariatric surgeon, Dr Muffazal Lakdawala, who had earlier operated on Egyptian national Eman Ahmed Abd El Aty—insensitively identified in the press as ‘the world’s heaviest woman’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So, why did Jogawat phone me? The good man called to thank me for ‘saving’ his life. Dr Lakdawala had offered to treat him for free. This was an incredibly generous offer, and Jogawat promptly accepted it. Once the programme was announced, Jogawat was once again chased by the press to damn me. But, this large-hearted gentleman desisted, preferring to publicly thank me instead. Frankly, I had done nothing to earn his thanks. I was just happy his life was getting transformed. Last week, he was interviewed by Mumbai Mirror on his remarkable weight loss, and once again Jogawat singled me out to express his appreciation. Since he was in Mumbai, he informed a reporter from Mumbai Mirror that he wanted to meet me. I instantly agreed. Jogawat’s call came soon after. And, what he said was my reward. He told me he has yet to achieve his target. He wants to shed another 30kg before he meets me—he calls me his ‘elder sister’, and he wants my aashirwad. I was touched and stumped. I am nobody to bless this determined and kind man. We chatted for a while, and he promised to come back with his family. I have invited all of them to our home.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is much to learn from this story. Jogawat could easily have been swayed and manipulated to condemn me. But, he chose to look at his peculiar predicament far more positively. He showed maturity and restraint, because he may have sensed a total absence of malice in my tweet. He preferred to focus on the upside, and vowed to get back into shape. The tweet motivated him to confront his problem. Meanwhile, that same tweet spawned an entire industry! All sorts of publicity seekers jumped into the picture and offered their services for free to the police force—dieticians, nutritionists, personal trainers, self-styled experts—everybody wanted a piece of Jogawat... and the publicity!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I am looking forward to our meeting in Mumbai soon. He sounds like a sensitive and sensible gentleman. Those idiotic trolls and media folks should learn from Jogawat. Not only has he triumphed over his condition, he has displayed more grace and generosity of spirit than most of those ignorant critics put together.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Fri Mar 16 18:04:53 IST 2018 kalaripayat-martial-marvel <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>I enjoy lit fests. But, only up to a point. Being a lit fest veteran, I have to admit, I am kind of jaded and done with the circus. Someone needs to reinvent the format before the next season is upon us. There are lit fests and lit fests, of course. Every city in India seems to host one or two or five these days. They have replaced fashion weeks in some metros. Pretty much the same set of people show up in carefully curated designer gear, handpicked to match the tone of each event. I have started enjoying the side shows far more than some of the ponderous, studiedly intellectual discourses. Then, there are the lit pests to deal with—random folks who have never held a book in their hands, but demand selfies.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As for me, I create my own entertainment at every venue. And, manage to have a jolly wonderful time. Take the recently concluded Kerala Literature Festival, billed as “the second largest in Asia”. It has its own charm and attraction, since the venues for the sessions are on the beach. I would believe the KLF boast, after seeing the numbers at my session on a Sunday evening crowded with competing events. I am sure half the crowd was there to see the lovely and well-spoken actress Padmapriya, who was in conversation with me. I was captivated by her, myself! She was the gorgeous surprise number one. Then came my visit to CVN Kalari, a kalaripayat institution run ably by Vijayan Gurukkal and his charming son.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I was prepared to attend a training session just to understand what it takes to become an accomplished kalari practitioner. My daughter and I found out soon enough, when we were escorted into a large, airy arena with a sand floor. The place exuded an overwhelming testosterone vibe. One by one, the ‘warriors’ walked in, reverentially bowing to their bearded, grey haired guruji, after paying obeisance to the images of various deities, as also to a pyramid of weaponry. I watched their warm-up exercises, and was astonished by their agility, given that the men were pretty chunky, and not whippet like. Despite their girth, they were remarkably light on their feet. Discovery of the morning: Nothing was faked. This was the real thing. The gleaming daggers in their hands were killing instruments. Their spears could pierce a rhino (okay, a buffalo), and those lethal looking double-edged, flexible swords (urumi), were just that—lethal. But, what took my breath away was a demonstration of the technique called Kathiyum Thalayum [Knife and Cloth], which has a person defending a knife attack, armed with nothing more dangerous than a length of fabric, held in both hands. Never has six feet of fine muslin looked as scary! This manoeuvre has to be witnessed to be believed. It establishes the practitioner’s total mastery over his body and mind. If, in a real situation, such a person loses focus for even a microsecond and misses crucial eye contact with the antagonist, he is dead. Simple. It is this perfect coordination over muscles and mind that make this martial art so magnificent.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I found the experience absorbing and thrilling on several levels. I am told modern day karate and kung-fu owe a lot to kalari. Look at the way those two martial art forms have been aggressively marketed across Southeast Asia and beyond. God’s Own Country has one more ‘exportable’ treasure. We should be sending our best exponents abroad to show the world where it all started. After getting back to my far more mundane life in Mumbai, I watched the videos we had shot, and marvelled at the skill of the men in that arena. Each one had ably demonstrated what it requires to get there—guts, discipline and commitment of the highest order. We should all learn from this ancient martial art and find the kalaripayat spirit within.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Sat Feb 17 15:06:12 IST 2018 bollywood-sexual-exploitation-priyanka-chopra <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> Fri Dec 22 16:46:21 IST 2017 cary-grant-of-the-east <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> Sat Dec 09 20:40:44 IST 2017 the-underutilised-vidya <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> Sat Nov 25 15:08:02 IST 2017 a-bull-and-the-power-of-love <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> Wed Nov 08 00:26:09 IST 2017 rewriting-the-governors-role <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> Thu Oct 26 17:13:55 IST 2017 the-arya-magic <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> Sat Oct 14 14:57:38 IST 2017 the-good-judge-wins-it-all-for-us <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> Sat Sep 02 17:23:19 IST 2017 a-lot-to-crow-about-croatia <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> Fri Aug 04 13:04:38 IST 2017 mumbais-tryst-with-female-diplomats <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> Thu Jun 08 19:31:31 IST 2017 aishwaryaa-on-the-apple-box <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> Thu May 11 16:14:33 IST 2017 second-time-lucky <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> Fri Apr 28 10:14:15 IST 2017 a-city-of-neo-hijabis <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> Wed Mar 15 16:41:02 IST 2017 voice-of-sanity <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> Fri Feb 17 16:11:56 IST 2017 fest-impressions <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> Fri Feb 03 13:11:52 IST 2017 love-in-the-time-of-scoops <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> Fri Jan 06 11:14:20 IST 2017 man-who-should-be-bond <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> Fri Dec 23 12:17:39 IST 2016