A friend through and through

I knew Tina Munim much before she became Tina Ambani. She was a vivacious, gorgeous young girl on the cusp of mega stardom. We met quite by chance at a tailoring shop in South Mumbai and clicked instantly. Soon after that encounter, I bagged her for a posh fashion shoot, which I supervised. I watched her as she effortlessly posed for the camera, which she clearly loved. I was struck by her unaffected, natural, no-nonsense conduct, minus any starry airs. I am delighted to share that that hasn’t changed, even if her surname has. Cut to 2020. This is the time of the year when a delicious and complex winter dish is prepared by eager maharajs (cooks) in Mumbai. Called undhiyu, it consists of tender beans, tiny aubergines and chunks of yam, slow cooked in pure ghee. Tina and I continue our friendship of four decades with a strong undhiyu connection—her cook makes it, and I eat it!

This has been a week of undhiyu and much more. The Tina-led multi-speciality hospital in Juhu—Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital—is at the number one position in western India for the fifth year running (THE WEEK-Hansa Research Best Hospitals Survey 2020). Tina sent me a message conveying the good news, hastily adding, “Kudos to my committed team…. They stood by my decision on continuing all services during the lockdown and have performed a fabulous service to society without worrying about themselves, while staying put at the hospital throughout.” This is indeed commendable, but like I texted back—every team needs a dynamic leader to provide the right motivation—and Tina is that person. I witnessed it firsthand when the hospital opened and she took me there to proudly share the grand moment with her team. What impressed me was her knowledge and understanding of how each department worked. She knew almost every team member by name, and was informed, engaged and driven.

Tina Ambani | AFP Tina Ambani | AFP

This avatar of Tina didn’t surprise me. I have always known about her single-minded focus on matters she cares about—her family being her most important commitment. Observing her with her sons is to see Tina at her best—she is indulgent and affectionate, teasing them about their girlfriends and easily slipping into their world. Having watched the boys grow over the years, it is amusing to see two tall, hirsute chaps politely joining their parents’ friends at the dinner table, waiting to rush back to their rooms, somewhat embarrassed by all the sudden attention.

Tina is known to be a fiercely loyal friend. Recently, when her costar of yore, Sanjay Dutt, was diagnosed with a serious health condition, it was Tina who ensured he received the best possible care at her hospital. Dutt is back on the sets, looking wan but picking up rapidly.

For the past several years, Tina and Anil have maintained a comparatively low profile, concentrating on their projects, travelling extensively and avoiding the media. While Anil has been dealing with tricky business matters, Tina has enthusiastically taken to social media—Instagram, in particular—to keep the family flag flying high. Her frequent posts reveal little-known aspects of the Ambani parivar—archival wedding photographs, for example, or rare pictures of her father-in-law, the redoubtable Dhirubhai Ambani. She is quick to greet and congratulate family members—Mukesh and Nita Ambani, in particular, who have recently welcomed their first grandchild.

Tina’s fascinating life is worthy of a Netflix series. Two years ago, she and I did a lovely shoot for Harmony, her magazine that celebrates senior citizens. She had just turned 60, and I had published my book Seventy... and to Hell with it!. Our respective interviews told our individual stories in an undramatic, honest way. It was more than a mere celebration of age; it was equally a celebration of friendship.