Posts Tagged ‘Amitabh Bachchan’

What Rajni missed when he went out to smoke

12 December 2012

Photo Caption

On his 60th birthday, school children in Bangalore hold up notebooks of the City’s most famous cinematic export: Shivaji Rao Gaekwad also known as Rajnikanth.

The books were supplied by the Rajniji Seva Samithi (RSS).

***

The website First Post has published excerpts from a new biography of Rajnikanth by the film scholar Naman Ramachandran, with this passage of his relationship with Kamal Haasan.

“In the beginning, in 1975, just how big a star Kamal Haasan was, today’s generation does not know,’ says Rajinikanth. ‘He was an even bigger star in 1975 than he is now. Old or young, a new artiste had never shaken all of India like he did. I had just entered the cinema industry then.

Apoorva Raagangal, Moondru Mudichu, Avargal, these were all my guru K. Balachander’s films—I became a hero with these three films. After that the films that came, big films like 16 Vayathinile, Ilamai Oonjal Aadukirathu, Aadu Puli Attam, Aval Appadithan—these were all hit films.

“For those films, if Kamal had said, ‘Don’t cast Rajini,’ nobody would have taken me. I got Ilamai Oonjal Aadukirathu solely on Kamal’s recommendation.

“So I acted in all these films and then, after I became a big actor, one day Kamal called me and said, ‘Rajini, only if you act alone will you get your own space. If you say no, the cinema world will use us, and you won’t be able to grow.’

“I listened to all that he said. After that I worked on my own.

“Then, after I became a big man, Kamal called me again one day and said, ‘Rajini, you have to be cautious in Tamil cinema. I have seen from a young age—MGR and Sivaji, though they had no rivalry between them, the cinema industry separated them. And because the industry separated them, their fans also separated. That shouldn’t happen with us. The producers and directors I work with, you should work with them too.’

“I don’t know how to thank him.”

Rajinikanth adds, ‘In other industries, people like Mammootty, Mohan Lal, Venkatesh, Chiranjeevi, Amitabh Bachchan and even Dilip Kumar look at me and are amazed how I managed to make a name for myself as an actor in an industry where Kamal Haasan exists. The reason is simple. I grew as an actor just by watching Kamal Haasan acting. I had the good fortune of being able to observe Kamal Haasan from close quarters.

During the shooting of Avargal I was sitting outside when K. Balachander noticed this and got angry. He sent word for me to return to the set and asked me, ‘Did you go outside to smoke? Kamal is acting; observe him. Only then will your acting get even better.’

“From that time, when Kamal acted I wouldn’t go anywhere; I would just sit there and watch. This is the honest truth.”

Buy the book here: Infi Beam

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

Also read: A stylish lesson in humility from namma Rajni

11 similarities between Rajni and the iPod

A hit, yes, but why does Rajni have such a hold?

The most testing day in the life of Rajnikanth

Don’t tell us you didn’t know this one about Rajni

How Rajnikanth caught the lion

One rule for ordinary Indians, another for SRK?

19 April 2012

The temporary detention of questioning of the actor Shah Rukh Khan by immigration authorities in the United States has, as is usual, created a small tsunami in the media tea cup. Everybody went into a frenzy and the external affairs minister S.M. Krishna adjusted his wig and demanded an apology.

Shashi Baliga has some searching questions in The Hindu Business Line:

“Why should US Immigration treat Shah Rukh or any other star or celebrity differently from you and me? And why should the MEA demand an apology in this case and not on behalf of thousands of other Indians who are similarly singled out?

“News is that Shah Rukh is seething at the “humiliation”, especially since the others travelling with him — among them industrialist Mukesh Ambani‘s wife Nita Ambani, who was accompanying him to Yale — were cleared without a problem.

“Would it help him to know that thousands of other Indians have undergone a similar experience?

“Actor Irrfan Khan, who is actually more widely recognised in the US because of his many roles in Hollywood movies, has been detained more than once because of his surname. Irrfan has taken it in his stride, Shah Rukh decided to talk about it.

“Because that is Shah Rukh’s I-take-things-head-on style.

“And because superstars don’t take kindly to obstructions in their path.

“Film stars are our new royalty; they are used to sweeping grandly through doors held open for them, protected by their mobile entourage, much like the maharajas of old. They are accustomed to people fawning over them, fighting to offer them gifts, begging for an audience in the manner maharajahs’ subjects used to. Many of their nicknames are telling — King Khan and Badshah of Bollywood for Shah Rukh, Shahenshah for Amitabh Bachchan.

“They live life king-like, if not king-size. Many of us travelling on an Indian passport have been asked to undergo a body scan or an extra search at airports abroad. Problem is, here in apna Bharat, there is so much bowing and scraping before ‘big names’ who get so accustomed to rules being bent or at least disregarded for them that they expect the same everywhere else.”

Read the full article: Mujhe pehachano, mein hoon Don

How TV channels will cover Aishwarya’s baby

8 November 2011

SHARANYA KANVILKAR writes from Bombay: The priorities of the Indian media are in extreme sharp focus courtesy Press Council chairman Justice Markandey Katju, who told the world just what he thought of us: idiots and ignoramuses diverting the attention of the people by peddling filth and froth, and deliberately dividing the country on religious lines.

Justice Katju’s “irresponsible” talk has been shot down by the chairman of the National Broadcasting Standards Authority, Justice J.S. Verma, who believes that it is time to shut down the press council as it has been ineffective in carrying out its mandate of protecting press freedom and maintaining/improving standards.

All that is for public consumption. But, behind the scenes…

It is clear that TV channels, news professionals and their “handlers” have been rattled by Justice Katju’s demand for an expansion of the press council’s powers to include electronic media. Which is why Justice Katju’s appointment soon after remitting office as a judge of the Supreme Court of India is being openly questioned.

It is also clear someone’s watching—and waiting to strike. So, the Broadcast Editors’ Association has put out an “advisory” to TV news channels on how to cover—wait for it—Amitabh Bachchan‘s expected grandchild; the first child of his son Abhishek Bachchan and former Ms Universe, Aishwarya Rai.

According to the Indian Express, the 10 directives read like “a good-manners’ guide to TV journalism”:

# No pre-coverage of the event

# Story of birth of baby to run only after, and on the basis of, official announcement

# Story not to run on breaking news band

# No camera of OB (outdoor broadcasting) vans at hospital or any location related to the story

# Go for photo-op or press conference if invited

# Not carry any MMS or photo of the child

# No astrology show to be done on this issue

# No 11.11.11 astrology show to be done

# Duration of story to be around a minue/90 seconds

# Unauthorised entry into hospital not permitted

Obviously, these guidelines strike at the very root of Indian news television, as we have known it. So, will “your channel” follow these directives? Do you, the viewer, care if these guidelines are observed in the breach, or violated wholesale? And if it does, do you, the viewer, have the energy to write to the NBSA and lodge a complaint?

There is a media history to the Bachchans. Big B has had a mostly messy affair with the media. When he was in hospital, an Aaj Tak reporter (now with NDTV) barged into his room in nurse’s clothes. The Aishwarya-Abhishek wedding was covered in its minutest details. It was even alleged that Aishwarya had been married off to a tree to ward off a bad omen, etc.

Will the latest AB baby have a flawless entry?

And, speaking unsolicited for the baby, does it deserve such a meek, uncelebrated entry, given that the only thing that has sustained Abhishek’s and Aishwarya’s rather sad professional career has been the oxygen of manufactured publicity to the pop of the flashbulbs (when they are pushing some silly product)?

And will the new Bachchan carry the blame for the rest of his/ her life of having driven out India TV out of business?  (Just kidding.)

***

File photograph: Amitabh Bachchan followed by wife Jaya Bachchan, daughter Shweta Bachchan, Aishwarya Rai and Abhishek Bachchan arrive to offer special pujas at the Sankat Mochan temple in Varanasi in 2006, on the eve of their wedding. (AP Photo/Rajesh Chaurasia)

***

Also read: When Prabhu Chawla called up Amar Singh

Amitabh Bachchan versus Mumbai Mirror 

When Amitabh‘s cold becomes hot news

Jug Suraiya takes on the mighty Bachchan

Sting camera that Amitabh Bachchan didn’t see

Anybody dalit in the media and speaks English?*

13 May 2010

The UPA government’s reported inclination to include an extra column in the 2011 census to enumerate caste, for the first time since 1931, has seen politicians and political parties close ranks, although the Union cabinet is said to have been divided on the issue.

But there has been an avalanche of criticism in the media. “A monumental travesty,” is one view in The Indian Express. “No sense in caste census,” declares the Financial Express. “Will it help reduce inequalities,” asks The Hindu. “No time to look behind,” is one view in The Telegraph.

On television, of course, it is as if the end is nigh upon us already, and they even quote the mighty Amitabh Bachchan—the son-in-law of a journalist—to bolster their view.

A similar dichotomy between the political class and the fourth estate greeted the implementation of the Mandal Commission report in 1989. And indeed when 27% reservation was announced for other backward classes in higher educational institutions in the first innings of the UPA government.

Could the media “disconnect” be because of the demographics of dominant sections of the Indian media, most of which are located in urban centres? Are there too many upper-caste, upper-class types and far too few of the other kind to understand and empathise with the logic, the dynamics, the imperative for a caste census or reservations?

In her Hindustan Times column, CNN-IBN senior editor Sagarika Ghose writes:

“In 1996 when B.N. Uniyal undertook a survey of national newspapers, he found that among 686 journalists accredited to the government, 454 were upper caste, the remaining 232 did not carry their caste names and in a random sample of 47, not a single one was a dalit.”

More recently, a 2006 survey of 300 senior journalists in 37 Hindi and English newspapers and TV stations found that “Hindu upper caste men”—who form eight per cent of the country’s population—hold 71 per cent of the top jobs in the national media.

“Dalits and Adivasis “are conspicuous by their absence among the decision- makers. Not even one of the 315 key decision-makers belonged to the Scheduled Castes or Scheduled Tribes.

“If men and women are taken together, the share of upper caste Hindus or dwijas in the upper echelons of the media is 85 per cent. These castes account for 16 per cent of the national population. Brahmins alone, the survey found, hold 49 per cent of the top jobs in national journalism.

“If non-dwija forward castes like Marathas, Patels, Jats and Reddys are added, the total forward caste share stands at 88 per cent.

“In contrast, OBCs, who are estimated to constitute around 40 per cent of the population, account for an “abysmally low” four per cent of top media jobs. In the English print media, OBCs account for just one per cent of top jobs and in the Hindi print media eight per cent.”

Read the full column: Caste off those blinkers

Photograph: the front page of Harijan, the weekly English newspaper published by Mahatma Gandhi

Also read: Why are they Tamils? Why are they all Brahmins?

Just 4% of population but 7 Brahmins in Indian team?

* with apologies to Edward Behr

Where there’s a Gill, there’s no way for our sport

4 April 2010

E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: I spotted the Ace Sports Specialist (ASS) at Gangothri Glades, answering questions from enthusiastic kids about the Davanagere lad, R. Vinay Kumar, who has just made it to the Indian squad for the Twenty20 World Cup.

I thought this was an opportune moment to get ASS’s views on ‘What Ails Other Sports’ in our country.

We sat on a bench at the Kukkarahalli kere not far from where a crocodile made its majestic appearance recently before going back into the lake after laying eggs.

“Why is the Commonwealth boxing champion Vijender Singh so disgusted with the boxing federation that he calls it a “hell”? Other sportsmen too have voiced similar opinion about their federations.”

“Most sane people will agree with that. Sports minister Manohar Singh Gill finds time to only criticise cricket which is not his business anyway. He hardly has time to run his own business, sports, but he has plenty of time to write the last-page diary for Outlook magazine now and then.”

“Vijender says his federation is always crammed with busybodies who have nothing to do with boxing and wonders who these people are and what they have to do with boxing!”

“Come on, Ramu, you know better. Isn’t this quite common with most federations headed by politicians? Their chamchas just hang around to pass time. They are only answerable to their political sugar daddies, not just of the Sharad Pawar kind.”

“Let me be specific. What is our sports minister doing to lift the hockey team from the 8th or 9th position to the second or third position? Is there a plan? Why aren’t we being told what that plan is? Why did coach Ric Charlesworth go back without taking the assignment as hockey coach?” I asked.

“May be the minister doesn’t have the time.”

“Or, for that matter, why doesn’t Gill do something about football in which India is languishing at the 3rd or 4th position—from the bottom,” I persisted.

“Look! He is otherwise busy. First he was busy wondering if he would  be nominated to the Rajya Sabha again. Now he is busy wondering whether Amitabh Bachchan should be the brand ambassador for the Commonwealth Games when namma Udupi boy Suresh Kalmadi has already made it clear he will not, probably because amma is keeping a tab. I understand the Maharashtra chief minister Ashok Chavan is so scared he goes to sachivalaya climbing the water pipes behind his office because of the fear he might bump into the Bachchans.”

It was time to change the topic.

“Even Prime Minister Manmohan Singh approached his Brazilian counterpart once to help us out in football.”

“I know. Had Gill had followed it up, Brazil’s coach Dunga would have landed here along with Pele to teach ‘bicycle kicks’ to our boys. Instead he is just happy criticising the IPL commissioner Lalit  Modi and predicting that IPL is doomed to fail one day!” ASS wailed.

“Such a pity! What is his routine in the sports ministry?”

“Who knows? Kee farak painda? When DDCA was criticized for ‘under preparing’ the Feroze Shah Kotla cricket pitch Gill pounced on it forgetting the CWG was heading towards its own disaster. Gill, if anything, should be more concerned what’s happening in his own backyard, i.e. the various federations.”

“What exactly can he do?”

“To start with he can shake up a couple of sports federations which have drug addicts as athletes on their rolls and the federations  just sleepwalk when WADA catches our athletes time and again. Next, find out what ails the badminton federation which cannot arrange shuttlecocks for camps before an international event! Or the winter Olympics team which landed up in cold Canada without warm clothing.”

“Ha ha.”

Naga-beda kannaiah, it’s not a joke. These things have happened. And nobody knows why our shooters cannot get bullets and other gear earlier but only while driving to the airport before a competition!”

“Elementary, as Sherlock Homes would say.”

“I hope you know Holmes never said that in any of Arthur Conan Doyle‘s books, but you’re right. We have many Watsons  holding important positions. Dr Gill should do the elementary things first for sports and not bother about how many Bollywood stars should dance, if Amitabh should be there or not. We seem to think cultural shows are the main thing in sports and athletic meets,” ASS interrupted me.

“That’s terrible.”

“Finally he could make sure deserving sportspersons are not left out of national awards. He could tie up with industry to ensure other sports are also encouraged by business houses. There is no use blaming cricket has become commercial; at least the players are looked after very well. When will we realise other sportspersons too need to be properly looked after?”

“So true,” I concurred.

Anda haage, Ramu, don’t be so harsh on Gill. He has a Mysore connection. His younger daughter was born here. In fact, her name is Kaveri,” ASS said as he departed with a wink.

Photograph: courtesy Commonwealth Youth Games

Also read: With sports ministers like Gill, God tussi great ho!

Aal iz naat well; sport needs a jaado ki thappad

Amitabh Bachchan, Aishwarya Rai & Journalism

20 February 2010

Amitabh Bachchan, who only eight months ago confessed he wanted to be a journalist in his next life, continues to have problems with those practising the craft in their current life.

Four months ago, the BBC’s “star of the millennium” was in a tug-of-war with Abhijit Mazumder of MiD-DaY. Earlier this week, he had problems with Kaveree Bamzai of India Today.

Today Bachchan, who played the conscientious media baron Vijay Harshvardhan Malik in Rann two weeks ago, is sparring with The Times of India group and Meenal Baghel of Mumbai Mirror.

The tabloid from the Bennett, Coleman stable, issued free with The Times of India in Bombay, ran a story attributed to “Mumbai Mirror Bureau” on his daughter-in-law Aishwarya Rai allegedly having problems in conceiving due to stomach tuberculosis.

“It’s no secret that Aishwarya is 37, and she isn’t getting any younger. But it now comes to light that the reason for her inability to bear a child at the moment is because she has been suffering from stomach tuberculosis for a while. Says a source, ‘The medication Aishwarya is taking for her stomach ailment is hampering her from getting pregnant. Until the tuberculosis is fully cured, she is unlikely to risk a pregnancy’,” reads the operative portion from the story.

Aishwarya Rai denied the story on the day it appeared, calling it false and fabricated, which the paper carried in full.

Now, Bachchan, who, according to Mumbai Mirror, is said to have described the ailment as rich man’s TB on his blog, has blogged back against the “soiled and unworthy piece of garbage” in post number 669, demanding an apology and a retraction for the “debased journalism”.

“The unprofessional and slanderous nature of this article in such an esteemed and respected newspaper as the Mumbai Mirror is deeply disturbing. It brings the author of this article into disrepute. It brings the editor that published this article into disrepute. It brings this particular newspaper into disrepute.

“Due to the illicit nature of this slander, I request a retraction and full apology. The full apology comprises the names of the individual journalist and chief editor, the journalist’s and editor’s unqualified retraction and refutation of the contents of thearticle, the apology should be addressed to both Aishwarya Rai Bachchan first and specifically, and also to the Bachchan family in general.

“The apology is to be printed on the first page of the entertainment section of the Mumbai Mirror on the same page, in the same size print, and including the signatures of the aforementioned journalist and editor and an immediate donation of a sum of (amount to be decided by members of my extended family of the blog) to a national charitable foundation of your choosing that supports those who suffer fromtuberculosis and an article in your newspaper highlighting its work.”

Newspaper screenshot: courtesy Mumbai Mirror

Also read: The strange and scandalous silence of Big B

How Big B has pushed India into a regressive, new low

Will Amitabh Bachchan do anything for money?

Will Amitabh do anything for money—dviteeya?

Free to live. Not free to do and say as we please?

3 February 2010

Professor Jyotirmaya Sharma of the University of Hyderabad and author of “Terrifying Vision”: M.S. Golwalkar, the RSS and India, in Mail Today:

“There is a significant difference between saying that all Indians are free to live wherever they want to, and saying all Indians are free to live where they want to and do what they feel like, live the way they want to and say what they wish to articulate.

“Living, doing and saying are activities and choices subject only to restrictions imposed by the Indian Constitution and the rule of law and are not activities that are hostage to the mercy of outfits like the RSS, Shiv Sena, VHP and the Bajrang Dal….

“In practical terms, this means that those Indians who choose to celebrate Valentine’s Day ought not to be attacked by the thugs of the VHP and the Bajrang Dal in the name of preserving Indian culture. It means James Laine has the right to write a book, using the resources of the venerable Bhandarkar Institute in Poona, without the Institute being attacked and vandalised by criminals of the Sambhaji Brigade.

“It also means that individuals have the right to convert freely to any faith as long as they do so voluntarily. It means that Aamir Khan has a right to express his views on the Narmada issue and not be hounded in Gujarat by lumpens encouraged by the tacit approval of the state government. It means Amitabh Bachchan the right to show Narendra Modi his latest film, and agree to be the brand ambassador for Narendra Modi’s Gujarat. It means M. F. Husain has the right to express his creativity in a manner that he chooses without being hounded out of the country into voluntary exile.”

Read the full article: Mail Today

Image: courtesy Prasad Radhakrishnan/ Mail Today

Also read: How girls pissing in their pants protect Hinduism

M.F. HUSAIN: Bolo Bharat mata ki jai, Bolo it’s a work of art

KUMAR KETKAR: Not the land of the cow, the land of holy cows

NARENDRA MODI: A  disgraceful asault on media freedom

The perils of page 3 journalism are crystal clear

29 October 2009

The BBC’s star of the millennium, the father of Abhishek Bachchan and the father-in-law of Aishwarya Rai, in his own words.

Newspaper facsimile: courtesy Delhi Times

Amitabh Bachchan hurls ‘sting’ bomb on Diwali

17 October 2009

bachhancamera

The BBC’s “star of the millennium”, Amitabh Bachchan, has always had a hate-hate relationship with the media, except when he has had to love it to push a product or push himself, which is usually the same thing.

In the first week of his 67th year in the solar system (birthday: October 11),  Mr Bachchan has got his long legs entangled in a classic multimedia landmine.

This time with the Bombay tabloid MiD-DaY.

The paper’s executive editor Abhijit Majumder had sought an interview with the actor to mark his birthday, his 40 years in Bollywood, and the launch of Bigg Boss 3. Bachchan, says he was initially willing to do an interview only by email, but relented to give a face-to-face interview.

The interview was published and, not surprisingly, as is usual with celebrities who think an interview is an advertisement, Bachchan complains on his blog that “it did not do justice to the responses I had given”.

What was surprising, says Bachchan, is that a video clip of the interview appeared on MiD-DaY’s website.

Writes he:

“I had never expected either the paper or any one else to have posted something which I would be unaware of. [And] now realize why Mr Majumdar wanted a personal meeting. He had placed a small “sting” camera on the table in front of me, without informing me that the interview was being video taped as well. He never told me that they had a video net facility in operation and that the recorded interview would find a place there.”

Bachchan accuses the editor of dishonesty and says the reason he had sought a one-on-one interview was with the “mala fide intent of recording the interview to be used as a live input on a video electronic facility medium that your paper runs.”

Video electronic facility medium, indeed.

But Majumder has hit back in the paper, printing a photograph of the actor sitting comfortably in front of the “sting” camera, and charging the actor of introducing a new word into journalism: a “sting of one’s own legitimate interview“.

Majumder says he had mentioned to Bachchan in the presence of the paper’s photographer and two unknown gentlemen who also seemed to be videotaping it, that the interview would be recorded on audio and video; that he had asked the actor’s secretary if he could bring along a photographer and somebody to video-record the interview.

“Either you are lying or I am. I would like to believe it is neither; it’s just your memory playing tricks at twilight.”

Of course, it is possible for a 67-year-old to have not spotted the device in front of him. Maybe he thought it was a simple tape-recorder like in the good ol’ days.

But an actor who fails to see a camera lens?

Photograph: courtesy Pradeep Dhivar/ MiD-Day

Link via Anamika Sengupta

A satirist takes on the star of the millennium

19 June 2009

jug-suraiya amitabh_bachchan jug-suraiya amitabh_bachchan

amitabh_bachchan jug-suraiya amitabh_bachchan jug-suraiya

The reverberations of Amitabh Bachchan‘s blog comments on the Academy Award-winning movie Slumdog Millionaire are now being felt in the “cesspool” of Indian journalism.

In his reaction to the movie, Bachchan wrote in January:

“If SM projects India as [a] third-world, dirty, underbelly developing nation and causes pain and disgust among nationalists and patriots, let it be known that a murky underbelly exists and thrives even in the most developed nations.”

That prompted a column in The Times of India by its in-house satirist Jug Suraiya on March 2.

Suraiya wrote that the reason people like Bachchan were angry with SM was not because it showed the world how pitifully poor India was, but because it revealed how culpable all of us were in the “continuance of poverty”.

“The real Slumdog divide is not between the haves and the have-nots; it’s between the hopers and the hope-nots: those who hope to cure the disease of poverty by first of all recognising its reality, and those who, dismissing it as a hopeless case, would bury it alive by pretending it didn’t exist.”

All very harmless, boilerplate stuff, but a month later, on April 3, Bachchan chose to respond to Suraiya with a long rejoinder that attacked the journalist.

I accuse the journalist Jug Suraiya of failing his professional ethical code of conduct by means of wilful error in the collection of facts…. He should be thoroughly ashamed of himself, not only as a professional journalist, but as a human being too. Mere opinion and ill-supported prejudice are contemptible in both species.

“My blog did not ‘spark off the current round of controversy on India’s poverty’… Nor am I ashamed of anything about my country. I may be highly critical in judgement, as any citizen of any nation should be, of the society to which I hold allegiance. In this light, I do not find that material poverty in India is ‘a terrible family secret’ as Jug Suraiya alleges.”

Now, Suraiya has hit back in the latest issue of Magna Carta, the in-house newsletter of the Magna group of publications, which had carried Bachchan’s rejoinder.

(Magna owns the movie magazine Stardust, which led a 15-year-long boycott of Bachchan at the prime of his career.)

In a letter addressed to the Magna group’s proprietor Nari Hira, Jug Suraiya writes:

“The newsletter said there was an ‘eerie silence’ from the press to Bachchan’s rejoinder. This is not quite true. The Guardian newspaper, which Bachchan had cited along with my column, has I am told done a detialed rejoinder to his rejoinder.

“In my case, I did not choose so much to maintain an ‘eerie silence’ as to exercise my option of fastidious disdain: I hold Bachchan beneath my contempt and shall not dignify him with an answer to his rantings (which, I am told, are written for him by an ex-journalist hack).”

Suraiya recounts meeting Bachchan years ago in Calcutta. He says he greatly enjoyed his performances and complimented him on them.

“Since then, of course, he has become an international celebrity who uses his iconic status to endose any and all products from gutka paan masala to cement, cars to suiting. There is a word for such indiscriminate commercial promiscuity. I leave it to you to figure out what it is.

“This together with his much-publicised ritualised religiosity makes him an object of scorn for me, all the more so in that he is, regettably, a role model for so many people of all ages, in India and elsewhere.”

Photograph: courtesy The Times of India

Also read: How Big B has pushed India to a regressive low

Before the slumdogs, the mahout millionaire

The beginning of the end of India as we know it?

2 November 2008

Meanwhile, as Indian States are busy with “The Great North-South Divide”, E.R. RAMACHANDRAN reports that officers of the BHiMARU special attaché landed at midnight last night at Santa Cruz airport in their own chartered aircraft.

The BHiMARU officers were received at the airport by the BHiMARU military wing with Z++ security. The team was whisked away to their headquarters in BHiMARU Nagar.

The governments of Bihar, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Prades recently started a joint operation to protect their citizens working in Bombay.

I had a chance to meet the BHiMARU charge d’affaires. After passing three security check points, the last one blindfolded, I was inside a 5’ * 5’ conference room.

“How will you take care of BHiMARU citizens?” I asked.

Hamara Army will escort the workers wherever they go .The UN peace keeping force has also extended their support to us by sending their troops from Rwanda and Congo. We have parked them just off the Gateway of India. Governments of Pakistan and China bhi hame support karenge. They will fly their forces whenever there is a need.”

“What about Government of India? Will they send their central reserve police if you need them?”

“You mean GOI? Since state governments are not under their control any more, their area of operation does not extend beyond Qutub Minar and Red Fort in Delhi. Their leaders have no work and hence need no protection either. They function in small pockets of Delhi like Chhota satraps and are protected by Indian Army. Indian Air force jets accompany their leaders when they fly out of Delhi. But that is very rare.”

“Do you feel the governments in the South, especially Maharashtra, are unable to give protection to your citizens?” I asked the deputy charge d’affaires.

“We don’t need protection from anybody. Our BHiMARU forces will crush anybody taking panga with us.  Jo hamse takrayega, unhe aise sabak sikhayenge, ki, unhe unki naani yadaaayenge.  Our naval gunboats are anchored in Bandra. We can launch an attack on Maharashtra government, police, MNS, SS or anybody from our naval base off Shivaji Park. Hamara submarines sabko paani piladenge.”

“How will the UP bhaiyyas run their taxi service in Bombay?”

“In the paan shops near each traffic signal, we will have our pailwans in muftiDara Singh will be training all these chhote ustads.  Amitabh bhaiyya and Amar Singh bhai are financing the whole thing. Troublemakers ko dho dalenge.”

“Who will give protection to the Biharis?”

‘The Patna Division of BHiMARU is funded by the government of Bihar. LalujiNitishji aur Paswanji are our fauj ke leaders. Those doing lifers in Bihar jails have been drafted into the Patna divison. MP has sent its dacoits from the Chambal.”

“Who is helping UP division?”

“Her Highness BMW is directly involved in this. These forces will be used in Bombay as well as Amethi and Rai Barelli before the elections. She feels, of late, goondas from the ruling party are seen moving around there suspiciously.”

“What does the Home Minister want to do?”

“You are again talking of GOI? Unka home minister is pestering us to offer him protection whenever he comes to Maharashtra.”

“Is there a chance for India to become united and live as one country again?”

“It is difficult to say. Dekho bhai, Southern Governments have also formed a union called GoMaTKKA. These are formed by the Governments of Goa, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra. They say they will protect south Indians in North. GoMaTKKA’s Army is supported by LTTE which run camps for the GoMaTKKA cadre in Colombo. They teach how to mix cyanide powder in sambar-rice and sabudana-khichhdi and things like that.”

“What will happen to India?”

“The way it’s going on, I doubt whether India as a country that you and I know of, will exist in future. It will all be replaced by satraps of MNS, SNS, DK, Ka Ra Ve, Mu Ka, Vaiko, Bajrang Dal, Naxal, Ulfa, Indian Mujahideen and SIMI,” concluded the charge d’affaires.

One question I’m dying to ask Raj Thackeray

8 September 2008

First the uncle, then the nephew. India’s most cosmopolitan city, Bombay, is being destroyed bit by bit by cartoonists in the name of “reconstruction” of the Marathi ethos. If old man Balasaheb Thackeray turned anti-South Indian sentiment in the 1970s into a cottage industry, and then stirred the communal potion as and when required, Raj Thackeray has looked north at the turn of the century.

In targetting poor migrant workers and taxi drivers from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, in demanding that all signboards be written in Marathi, in threatening those who refer to “Mumbai” as Bombay, Thackeray is going down an old, familiar route in the name of the Maharashra Navanirman Samithi.

Now, the tiger cub has gone for the jugular, “banning” the movies and posters of the Bachchans—Amitabh, Abhishek, Jaya and Aishwarya. And a boycott of all products endorsed by them.

The provocation? Jaya Bachchan’s comment at a music launch: “Hum UP [Uttar Pradesh] ke log hai, isliye Hindi mein baat karenge. Maharashtra ke log maaf kariye (We are from Uttar Pradesh and will speak in Hindi—Maharashtrians will forgive us),” which Thackeray and his thugs construe as an “insult” to Marathis.

What is the one question you are dying to ask a cartoonist with a morbid sense of humour?

Photograph: rediff.com (digitally altered)

Also read: Where you see Marathi, replace it with Kannada

Since all the problems have been solved, let us…

‘Parochialism offers an easy resistance to change’

Do political movements need to obey the law?

‘Thodo, phodo, ham sab tumhaare saath hain’

Quick, spot the real face of India that is Bharat

27 August 2008

Amitabh Bachchan, of course, thinks that India is no longer a third-world country; that it is a developed one. But have economic reforms—the process of liberalistion, globalisation and privatisation that began in 1991—reduced poverty?

The World Bank’s latest estimates of global poverty show that every third poor person in the world lives in rising, shining India. Of the total 1.4 billion global poor, 33 per cent are here. Worse, poverty came down much faster between 1981 and 1990, than between 1991 and 2005.

According to the new estimates, 828 million people (or 75.6% of India’s population) live on less than $2 a day (approximately Rs 80). In contrast, in sub-Saharan Africa, 551 million people (or 72.2% of population) live on less than $2 a day.

1980: 421 million (60% of population) live on less than $1.25 (approximately Rs 50) a day mark

1990: 436 million (51% of population)

1999: 447 million (45% of population)

2005: 456 million people (42% of population)

Map: courtesy earthtrends; data from World Bank working paper 2003

Also read: Everybody loves a good number: 93, 77, 54, 33…

‘Rising India’s share of world’s poorest is growing’

Indians should never ask where on earth Gabon is

Is India still a developing, third world country?

23 August 2008

Amitabh Bachchan in The Telegraph, Calcutta:

London, August 22: India should no longer be dismissed as a “Third World” country but should henceforth be given due respect as a “developed nation”, Amitabh Bachchan, said in London yesterday….

No doubt, economists will protest that India combines extremes of wealth and poverty, but Bachchan stated: “India today is a recognised force and I hope to see that India is no longer referred to as a Third World country or a developing nation – it should be referred to as a developed nation and a first (world country).”

Read the full article: ‘India a developed country’

Illustration: courtesy Bafta

Also read: Indians should never ask where on earth Gabon is

P. SAINATH: India is a nation of two planets: rich and poor

U.R. RAO: Rising India’s share of poorest is growing

Everybody loves a good number: 93, 77, 54, 33…

Eight-and-a-half lessons from trust vote tamasha

23 July 2008

1) Before the Indo-US civilian nuclear agreement (not “deal”, as Pranab Mukherjee pointed out) lights up a single 60-watt bulb, it has caused a tectonic change in our politics. There is rancour, there is mistrust, there is suspicion. As the sociologist Dipankar Gupta writes, there has been “a wholesale structural adjustment of our polity.” And the ‘laxman rekha’ of political morality hasn’t been crossed; it has been wiped out.

2) There is nothing very national about “The National Interest”. There aren’t enough Hindutwits or Commutwits (to use Ashok Desai’s delightful portmanteau) who have bought into it yet. And the 275-256 margin suggests that neither will become its sole proprietor any time soon. It requires some really dodgy characters and even more dodgy tactics to keep the flame burning. It’s not a pretty sight but what is after 22 July 2008?

3) The Congress is “tainted” in victory, of course, but make no mistake, so is the BJP in defeat and the Left in defeat. ‘Hamaam mein sab tainted hain.’ Only the naive will believe this hadn’t happened before because the TV cameras weren’t around. The 19-vote margin may make it a “numerical victory” or a “pyrrhic victory” for the opposition, but even a one-vote defeat for the government would have had them proclaiming a total rejection.

4) Of course, Manmohan Singh doesn’t come out smelling of roses, but the next time some lawyer in spokesman’s clothes, whether of the Congress or the BJP, clears his throat in the comforts of an air-conditioned television studio and exudes fragrantly about the media sowing cynicism about politics and politicians, tell him or her to take a long, lonely walk in Effingham.

5) It is impossible to compute human daftness, of course, but it requires mind-numbing daftness, or arrogance in equivalent measure, in the post-Bangaru Laxman era for a politician/fixer to be giving or taking money when the OB vans are parked around the corner of their drawing rooms flashing the latest rates as classified by A.B. Bardhan and Munawar Hasan.

6) The fear of losing the nearest election is the only thing that motivates our netas. There is no higher, no greater, no nobler objective. And that applies to the Left to the Right and every shade of centre. Which is why so little of the two-day debate was about the intricacies of the agreement, and so much of it was about making the most out of now.

7) If this is how our distinguished parliamentarians behave when they know that the whole country is watching them, when such an important issue is up before them, how must they be behaving when they know we are probably gawking at Sai Baba opening his left eye on India TV, or Amitabh Bachchan catching a cold on Aaj Tak?

8) Rahul Gandhi may be the best thing since sliced bread for Congressmen looking for their rozi-roti, but he is no Obama. Heck, he is not even Omar or Owaisi. Talking extempore may make for better viewing than reading from a prepared text as he did the last time round, but Rahul baba‘s public speaking skills suggest that he has a long way to go before he even utters “hame yeh banana hain” like papa Rajiv.

And this half-point:

We are a nation that seems to be living reality as lived on the ‘Truman Show’. If it is not IPL, it is Aarushi. If it is not Aarushi, it is the no-trust vote. If it’s not the trust-vote it is the cash for votes. We want our reality to be played out real time in front of our eyes and we want it now.

So, what do we do from today?

This piece also appears on rediff.com

The chronicle of a post-nuclear deal foretold

7 July 2008

E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: The cabinet met with its new ally for a breakfast meeting. Now that the Indo-US deal was through, signatures affixed, and agreements sealed, the team met to plan ‘what Next’?

The room itself was facing the west, with a cheerful open foyer instead of the dingy musty room they used the last six months. As songs of Mariah Carey and Bob Dylan swept the room, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made his entry.

Forever a sober person, he surprised everyone when he  breezed in, in denim knickers running down below the knees with matching Lotto footwear. His Benetton T- Shirt was a designer wear showing ‘I Did it!’ across his chest.

Gone was the namaste, being replaced by a cheerful ‘Hi’ and a firm Dale Carnegie handshake as he walked around the table.

“What’s our Agenda folks?” asked the Prime Minister as he sipped his chilled orange juice.

“We are here to explore other areas of cooperation after the Indo- US deal,” said Priyaranjan Das Munshi with black coffee in hand. Gone were the kadak chai and Bengali sweets like chum-chum and misti-doi from Das Munshi’s morning menu.

“Okay. Let’s move it,” said the PM kickstarting the meeting.

“The Indo-American Association wants to celebrate the nuclear deal. They have made posters  with  ‘Indi-USsi bro bro’—ten million of them to be distributed all over India and pasted on trains, buses, office buildings and also on the offices of the Left in Delhi, Calcutta and Trivandrum,” said Das Munshi. “T-shirts for students will come in later.”

“That’s great! Isn’t it?” said the PM while breaking a piece of chocolate doughnut and dipping it in black coffee and taking a bite. People habituated to seeing him dip aloo paratha into dahi were surprised to see this change.

“What else?”

“The Americans want to setup McDonald’s and Burger King in Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha canteens. Starbucks will also be part of this setup. It seems this was in ‘123’ Agreement Para IV sub text in small prints. They have sent their experts to design the location of the kitchens. After finishing in Delhi they will setup similar kitchens in Assembly and Legislative Councils in States.”

“Was it a part of the deal?” the PM asked and answered it himself. “It must have been. I didn’t read it with a honeycomb. Let them go ahead and do their thing.”

“The American Baseball league wants us to organize a  World series Championship on the lines of IPL  20-20. Lalit Modi and Shah Rukh Khan are already in Boston talking with Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees. If you clear this I will go next week and work out a calendar to squeeze this item in our schedule.” That was Sharad Pawar with a bagel in hand.

“Super Duper stuff! Good to get Baseball in here than beating the same old cricket stuff all the time.”

“We have no objection to it, Mr Prime Minister,” interrupted SP’s Amar Singh and continued, “But we would like Abhishek Bachchan to go with Lalit Modi. Since Abhishek studied in Boston, he knows the city and the game inside out. Also, he is not a Paanchvi Class-fail and will do a better job.”

“That won’t be a problem at all. Let’s switch the names’ said P.M. who was now eating Kellog’s power cereal.

“The US Department of Agriculture wants our farmers to use only GM Seeds. It seems this part was added by them just as our team was entering IAEA meeting hall. It is in annexure XXX which can’t be magnified. Even our CBI failed to enlarge this for us.”

“Let’s not go into the nitty-gritty as our friends from the Left were doing. They never read the Report but were only interested in annexures and comments on the margin.”

‘Anything else,” asked the PM while eating Apple Pie with black coffee.

“We have a couple of points to make,” said Mulayam for the first time.

“Shoot,” said the PM.

“I want actions initiated on what we have already agreed when we saved the Government from the ‘No Confidence’ motion. First. We want all cases against Amitabh Bachchan withdrawn and all the land purchases he made, restored to him.  Case against Jaya Bachchan allegedly giving wrong information before filing Rajya sabha election should be withdrawn. Next, we want you to talk to President Bush and arrange a lifetime award for Amitabhji in the next Oscar Award presentation. Our next list will be ready before the winter session of Parliament.”

“Done! Yes to all demands. Get George on the line. He will be in Camp David now,” said the Prime Minister as he dunked the last coffee gulp of breakfast

If you have to die, can you please do so in Delhi?

28 June 2008

The passing away of the only Indian to be appointed Field Marshal when in active service has been remarkable for the warmth of the ordinary men and women who queued up to say meebeenamet to the adorable dikra who put his life on the line for them.

It has also been remarkable for the complete lack of grace and gratitude, civility and courtesy, decency and decorum on the part of the bold-faced names rapaciously grazing the lawns of power in Delhi and elsewhere, for the brain behind India’s only decisive military victory.

Sam, the Bahadur, had been unwell for a while now. From about 1000 hours on June 26, reports of his being “critically ill” had appeared in the media. Yet, when the “expected tocsin” sounded at 0030 hours till the guns were fired in salute around 1500 hours on June 27, “civil society” chose to show its uncivility.

Pratibha Patil, the commander-in-chief of the armed forces with all the time in the world: Absent

Hamid Ansari: Vice-president releasing books and writing reviews of books by fellow-travellers: Absent

Manmohan Singh, the prime minister who could do with a bit of the field marshal’s charisma and heroism: Absent

Sonia Gandhi: daughter-in-law of the woman the field marshal called “sweetie”: Absent

L.K. Advani: prime minister in waiting of the party which would like to do to Pakistan what Manekshaw did: Absent

M. Karunanidhi and Surjit Singh Barnala: chief minister and governor of the state which Manekshaw had made his home for 35 years: Absent

Politicians may have their reasons. They always do. Maybe, there are issues like protocol. Maybe, this is one way in which “civil India” shows the armed forces its place. Maybe, this is why we are not as militaristic as Pakistan. Maybe, the knees are just too old to climb the hills.

But what about the armed forces itself?

A.K. Antony: the defence minister “now behaving like the chairman of the confederation of the armed forces’ trade unions“: absent “due to prior political engagements”

The chief of army staff: absent (away in Russia)

The chief of navy staff: absent

The chief of air staff: absent

The fact that the defence minister was represented by his deputy Pallam Raju, the fact that the navy and air staff sent two-star general rank officers, shows that however high or mighty, however rich or powerful, civilian or military, if you should die as you must, you should do so somewhere in the victinity of New Delhi—or Bombay. Or else, they must have some use for you.

Or else, too bad.

As he rightly surmised once: “I wonder whether those of our political masters who have been put in charge of the defence of the country can distinguish a mortar from a motor; a gun from a howitzer; a guerrilla from a gorilla — although a great many of them in the past have resembled the latter.”

The contrast couldn’t be starker:

# When Amitabh Bachchan was ill after being socked in the stomach during the shooting of Coolie, Indira Gandhi flew down to Bombay to show her concern.

# When Dhirubhai Ambani died, L.K. Advani cut short his Gujarat tour to pay his respects to an “embodiment of initiative, enterprise and determination”.

# When Pramod Mahajan was shot dead by his brother, vice-president Bhairon Singh Shekawat had the time to attend the funeral.

Our VIPs and VVIPs have time for dead and dying celebrities, crooks, charlatans, fixers. Not for a field marshal?

***

In his biography of K.M. Cariappa, the only other field marshal India has had (and who too died at age 94), air marshal K.C. Cariappa writes of his father’s cremation in May 1993:

“Honouring him in death as they did in life were Field Marshal Manekshaw, the three service chiefs all of whom belonged to the same course and at whose passing out parade from the joint services wing father had presided, the gracious chief minister M. Veerappa Moily and C.K. Jaffer Sharief, Minister for Railways representing the President as the supreme commander of the armed forces.”

Somebody should have told the geniuses in Delhi that Sam, the Bahadur, passed away in Wellington, Ooty, not Wellington, New Zealand. The nearest civil airport is Coimbatore, just 80 km away.

If this is how we say goodbye to our only Field Marshal, any wonder why Rang de Basanti could successfully tap into the angst of an entire generation?

In picture: (left to right) Admiral L. Ramdas, General S.F. Rodrigues, and Air Chief Marshal N.C. Suri in their final farewell, 43 years later, to the reviewing officer who took the salute at their passing out parade in December 1950 (From the book Field Marshal K.M. Cariappa, by Air Marshal K.C. Cariappa, published by Niyogi books).

This piece also appeared on rediff.com

Also read: 93 seconds to knock 93 years of a hero’s life

Sam Manekshaw: hero or villain?

Conceited, egotistical, narcissistic. The greatest?

18 June 2008

CHETAN KRISHNASWAMY writes: Brush it aside as a narcissist’s mindless natter on celluloid or a fading star’s exaggerated attempt to reaffirm his talent. Dismiss it as an egotist’s eulogy of himself or as another crass exercise in self-indulgence.

Bury the film, like sundry other critics have, in reams of cynicism if you may, but Dasavatharam, the maestro’s latest work, is a grand spectacle and Kamal Haasan is a goddamn genius.

And nobody can take that away from him.

The attraction is certainly not the script, which jiggles about as uncontrollably as Mallika Sherwat, who happens to be the villian’s moll in the film.

The film revolves around a US-based scientist Govind Ramaswamy, the primary protagonist among the ten. The upright scientist’s one-point obsession is to safeguard and retrieve a deadly virus vial from the many recesses it finds itself in.

From the safe vault of a lab in the US, the ‘vile vial’ traverses the globe to the southern Indian temple town of Chidambaram, frantically pursued by the scientist and an evil ex-CIA man Christian Fletcher—played by Kamal with a ferocity, that gets you in the gut and quite bloodily at that.

Even as the killer and hero blaze a trail across rural Tamil Nadu, punctuating the landscape with their Tom & Jerry escapades, the plot off-tracks into side lanes throwing up a bewildering array of characters, most of them enacted almost effortlessly by the doyen.

The heavy and layered prosthetic make-up, a tad overdone on occasions, does not subdue Kamal’s intensity in any manner.

The cantankerous Iyengar paatti (grandma) with a penchant to lock herself in cupboards; the activist Vincent Poovaraghan who spouts fiery Malbari-Tamil; President George Bush; the Telugu-loving, safari suit-clad RAW officer Balram Naidu; the gauche seven-foot-tall Kalifulla Khan, the revenge-seeking Japanese kung fu expert Shingen Narahasi; the cancer-suffering Punjabi pop singer Avtaar Singh…

With convincing and bold flourishes, Kamal builds the texture and nuance of each of these characters. The accent, inflection and intonation cutting across these characters are delivered with his trademark ease and felicity.

My personal favourite of the 10 avatars is the character of the 12th century Vaishnavite devotee Rangaraja Nambi. The film opens with Nambi who displays a pulsating brahaminical zeal, defiantly reciting the Vishnu Sahasranamam, even as the Chola king tortures him for not surrendering to the greatness of Shiva.

Nambi is tied to the stone deity of Narayana and ruthlessly consigned to the depths of the ocean. Asin Thottumkal, who plays Nambi’s devastated wife and later the role of the scientist’s accomplice in another birth, does a superlative job as a Brahamin belle. She is pretty but could have been less shrill in a few scenes.

Mallika Sherawat’s pole dance is most unsavory: I say this not because of a suddenly acquired refined sensibility, but for the simple reason that my seven-year-old son sitting next to me was gawking at her much more than I. The quick glances that I kept throwing his way did not seem to faze him one bit. My fatherly instincts revolted instantly.

Himesh Reshammiya‘s music plays somewhere but fails to resonate. Jaya Prada as Avtaar Singh’s wife is still beautiful. The other bit that deserves mention is Dasavatharam‘s special effects. The tsunami tearing into civilization and the havoc that it brings about is masterfully orchestrated.

Kamal also uses the movie to drive home some of his beliefs: When the delusional paatti clutches the dead body of activist Vincent mistaking him to be her son, the Brahmins trailing her are repulsed and attempt to convince her but she does not listen. Kamal who has written the story, screenplay and dialogues, for a brief, very brief moment makes a lofty caste statement through this scene.

In the end, disillusioned to see the heaps of corpses caused by tsunami-scientist Govind, raises the question of whether there is God at all. This could well be Kamal himself. A self-confessed rationalist and atheist.

His spiritual and social ideologies apart; Kamal will continue to dwarf his peers through his towering histrionics in Indian cinema. Dasavatharam is an act of arrogance, a creation of conceit, a maverick’s attempt to tell the world that he is the greatest.

And Kamal gets away with it.

Also read: Amitabh Bachchan is emperor… I’m just the king’

11 similarities between Rajnikanth and the Apple iPhone

And the sexiest South Indian South Asian actress is…

A hit, yes, but why does Rajni have such a hold?

Finally, a cricket team is only as good as its City

13 May 2008

ARVIND SWAMINATHAN writes from Madras: With the Yuvi team trouncing the UB® team in the Indian Premier League last night, there is one more reason for Vijay Mallya to get smashed tonight and tell his accountants to “stop payment” on the cheques of the players.

The poor little rich boy¤ can blame the horses, he can blame the jockey, he can blame the trainer, he can even blame the vaastu of the cheer girls. But, here’s a point to ponder: is the Bangalore team’s revival beyond Rahul Dravid, beyond Charu Sharma, beyond the players, beyond the redskins, beyond Mallya?

In short, to take a fatalistic view, is the pathetic performance of “Team Bangalore” just a reflection of the pathetic condition of “Brand Bangalore”?

Is it beyond cricket?

One of my pet theories is that the success of a City spurs success on other fronts and in other spheres, which then gets reflected in countless other ways. And to me, the plight of the Royal Challengers is only the most outward sporting manifestation of all that is wrong with the City they seemingly represent.

The late 1990s was what journalists (and only journalists!) call the halcyon period of Karnataka cricket which is really Bangalore cricket.

There were six, sometimes seven, players in the Indian team: Dravid and Anil Kumble, Javagal Srinath and Venkatesh Prasad regularly, and Sunil Joshi, Dodda Ganesh, Sujith Somasunder, David Johnson, Vijay Bharadwaj off and on.

The Karnataka team itself was top of the heap in the Ranji Trophy, and other domestic tournaments. Brijesh Patel was chief selector before a heart condition felled him. Talents like Yere Gowd couldn’t get in, so they had to go to Railways to chase their fortune. Dharmichand had to flee to Singapore.

There was, it seems, nothing that Karnataka could do wrong on the cricket field at the time.

Almost a decade later, they seem to do so twice a week.

The point I am trying to make—hypothetical as it is—is that Karnataka’s cricketing success was a small speck in a larger success story involving the State if not the City-State of Bangalore.

For starters, this was roughly the time the City was making “I” and “T” the two most important letters of the Indian alphabet. This was the time H.D. Deve Gowda was shedding his farming humility to become prime minister. This was the time Amitabh Bachchan was putting up the “Miss World” show. This was the time S.M. Krishna was coming in and jumbled up letters like BATF seemed like a manna from Mavalli.

Ergo: in the late ’90s, there was a buzz about Bangalore, a positive buzz which the team seemed to carry on to the cricket field. There was spunk in the Bangalore air, and a spring in everybody’s toes.

Swing into 2008 and the contrast is obvious.

When Mallya complains that he was constantly told that the practice facilities for the IPL team were bad, it seems like an echo of the general infrastructure complaint that is on everybody’s lips in Bangalore!

Of course, this is a debatable point but that is the whole point of this piece: debate.

You could run this theory to other cities and States too with some luck. When a delicate saboteur called V.V. S. Laxman was setting fire to the turf, Chandrababu Naidu was “hot”. Pullela Gopichand was winning the all-England tournament. Sania Mirza was breaking on to the scene.

When Tinu Yohanan was making his debut, Kerala was just coming off a high of Arundhati Roy winning a Booker prize, of K.R. Narayanan becoming the first Dalit president, of the State marketing itself as “God’s Own Country”, prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee was taking a holiday there.

Cut to Calcutta, and when Saurav Ganguly was looking skywards and imperiously gesturing to the planets to move squarer, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee was the in-thing in the small universe that is bhadralok.

Etcetera.

The short point is, when cities, states and City-States do well, there seems to be a sudden burst of creative output, sporting, literary, political, intellectual, etc. It is a massively osmotic process: everybody feeds off each other’s success/ image.

The afterglow is collective.

But when things go wrong, like ring a ring o’ roses, all fall down.

Of course, there are hundreds of other examples which can be offered to establish just the exact opposite. That’s why there’s a “Comment” button below! So, fire.

Photograph: courtesy Vijay Padiyar

The strange, sad and scandalous silence of Big B

26 February 2008

SHARANYA KANVILKAR writes from Bombay: Everything that’s happened over the past fortnight in this great metropolis built by those who have made it their home, from near and far, has been on expected lines.

A political nobody with a surname that is a byword for intolerance picks on the poorest of the poor “outsiders”. Unemployed and unemployable “locals” bash them up, and smash their source of livelihood for the benefit of the TV cameras. An opportunistic coalition here (and in Delhi) allows a cub-coward to purr, and then stages a mock arrest. The usual suspects hem and haw in the studios. The Supreme Court reads the riot act.

Where, in this well-scripted charade—what we Mumbaikars call “drama baazi“—where, I have been wondering, is Amitabh Bachchan?

Because, you see, this spark of chauvinism that has become a nationwide fire of identity politics was lit in his name.

Raj Thackeray said that though Amitabh had become a superstar in Bombay, his interest was in Uttar Pradesh. That’s why, he reckoned, Big B said, “Mai Dilli raha, Calcutta raha, Mai Bambai (not Mumbai!) raha. Phir bhi meri pehchan, chhora Ganga kinarewala hi hai.” That’s why he stood for elections from Lucknow. That’s why he had set up a school in Aishwarya Rai‘s name in UP. That’s why he sang “Khaike paan Banaras wale….”

That below-the-belt thappad and the media coverage of it is what caused hundreds of bhaiyyas and Biharis to take the fast train from Nasik to whereever they came from, many of them sneaking through the windows in fear; one of them actually giving birth to a baby in the sterilised environs of a stinking toilet. That is what has caused the exodus of migrant workers from the real estate industry in Poona bringing it to a halt. That is what led to a slanging match in the Bihar assembly. That is presumably is what led to a West Bengal minister to hit out at Marwaris. And so on.

But the voice of Mr Bachchan—the stately sutradhar in many a movie, the deep baritone in many a documentary—has been mysteriously missing.

The only voice emanating from the Bachchan household has been that of wife Jaya Bachchan, a Samajwadi Party MP.

“I don’t know who Raj Thackeray is, but I heard that he owns huge properties in Maharashtra…In Bombay…Kohinoor Mills. If he is willing to donate land, we can start a school in the name of Aishwarya here.”

And the only other voice has been that of family factotum Amar Singh, who said Big B was “sentimentally very hurt”.

“Let Thackeray come out with a list, what all he (Bachchan) has done for UP and what all he has done for Maharashtra. If he has not done much more for Maharashtra, where he is residing, then on his behalf I am saying, he will leave Bombay,” he said.

Yes, thank you, but where is the sage voice of Amitabh Bachchan, the BBC’s star of the millennium, in all this?

What does he think of his contributions being questioned so cruelly by a Raju-come-lately? What does he think of those finger-waggging goondas who killed an engineer who spoke their language in the name of their language? What does he think of the salt of the earth scurrying away to safety?

Who, in Amitabh Bachchan’s view, is an outsider in his cosmopolis?

Strangely, sadly, scandalously, we do not know, because Big B has been, like only Big B can, busy at work when not being “sentimenally very hurt”, letting his acting do all the talking, as Sunil Gavaskar might say.

Why, is a question the Biharis and bhaiyyas who have by now presumably reached their gaon, should be asking.

One way of looking at Amitabh Bachchan’s deafening silence is to see it as the right step. In an overheated atmosphere, there is no point adding fuel to the fire or else more lives and livelihoods will be lost. In a vitiated atmosphere, where the speculation is that the Congress and the NCP did all this to eat into the Shiv Sena’s core competencies, saying something could vitiate the atmosphere even further.

Maybe, but really?

How does a man who pops up in every second commercial on TV selling everything from chawanprash to cars suddenly lose his voice when the nation and his City wants to hear him most? How does a man who wails each time the taxman pursues him lose his voice when the axman starts pursuing the meek? How does a man who waxes eloquent of the “kum jurm” in Uttar Pradesh lose his voice suddenly when the jurm in amchi Mumbai is in his face?

Amitabh Bachchan may have his reasons.

Maybe the angry young man is no longer as angry since he is no longer as young.

Maybe the stakes—not just for himself but Abhishek and Aishwarya too, maybe for the entire film industry which has thousands of “outsiders”—are too high to be squandered on a two-bit Thackeray.

Maybe, but in his silence India’s most famous voice has failed Bombay—worse, he has failed the ordinary people of this country, the star-struck who camped outside his hospital and prayed for his health when he was swinging between life and death after being injured during the shooting of Manmohan Desai‘s Coolie.

Bachchan’s home, his family, his livelihood, his reputation, his contributions are intact, and beyond debate. But by not confronting a cub-coward head-on, by remaining silent, and by allowing two-bit goondas to drive fear and hatred into the hearts of thousands, Bachchan has failed the City of Dreams—the City where he realised his dream.

Maybe, AB Baby, bred on a billion commercials, has lost the art of speaking without a cheque dangling in front of him. Then, again, since the family has fallen back on Bal Thackeray for support, maybe the silence is appropriate.

Photograph: courtesy The Guardian

Also read: Will Amitabh do anything for money?

Will Amitabh do anything for money—dviteeya?

Cold is gold for the unwashed television masses

7 February 2008

The unseen hand of Rupert Murdoch in skewing the vision of news television in India, especially in the vital Hindi space, is a subject no media analyst, critic or observer has yet turned her spotlight on. Thanks to the headway made by the execrable output of Star News, news channel after Hindi news channel, has taken the same low, tabloid road in the name of giving what the viewer wants.

Villagers chasing snakes, ghosts drinking milk, supernatural incidents, election results as qawwalis, etc, all are dished out, Ekta Kapoor style, in an endless flurry of jump cuts as the distinction between news and entertainment is very nearly wiped out by head honchos with an eye on the meters.

Amit Sharma captures a moment of pure magic on Aaj Tak, which comes out of the respectable India Today stable, and which too has gone the same way in its quest to remain at the top. “Amitabh Bachchan ko thandh lagi,” reads the “Breaking News” super at the bottom. Translation: Amitabh Bachchan catches a cold.

Also read: Huh!

Link via India Uncut

‘Parochialism offers an easy resistance to change’

5 February 2008

The abhorable Tebbit‘s Test conducted on Amitabh Bachchan by Raj Thackeray is proof, if proof were ever needed, that parochialism is the first refuge of the pathetic.

In asking why Big B didn’t stand for elections from Bombay, in asking why he opened a school in Uttar Pradesh, the poor man’s Bal Thackeray has shown that he is a chip of the old block. The old man targetted South Indians; the young man looks North for inspiration. The irony is that Jaya Bachchan now seeks solace in the senior to blunt the junior.

Amrita Shah writes in the Indian Express:

“A traditional competitiveness with the North may underlie this resentment but studies by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences and the International Institute of Population Studies find that there may be a statistical basis for the perceived threat from the North. According to data analysed, inter-State migration from Uttar Pradesh has sharply increased, while a declining trend in migration has been evident from other parts of Maharashtra and neighbouring states like Gujarat and Goa. The studies also found that more migrants were arriving from rural rather than urban centres in the north, suggesting the possibility of a different stratum of migrant….

“It is absurd to expect single rather than multiple loyalties to be the norm. And it is against the law of the land and the freedoms enshrined in the Constitution to demand such tests of loyalty. At the same time, greater competitiveness and mobility brought on in a world of shrinking borders will make citizens more vulnerable to jingoistic demands of this nature. This issue may or may not blow over but in some form or the other the outsider issue will surface… Parochialism offers an easy resistance to change.”

Read the full article: Mumbaikar vs Mumbai

Also read: Local trains for locals? Local calls for locals?

CHURUMURI POLL: Aren’t Biharis Indians?


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