Wednesday, November 24, 2004

An evening with R

Everyone in college referred to him as ‘the mad Bawa’. And truth be told, R did act a little crazy. A permanent fixture on the last bench – when he did attend, that is – he’d compose songs with banal lyrics, and suddenly start singing them in class, startling professors and classmates alike. His antics had everyone in splits and many a boring lecture was livened by a teacher’s attempts to rebuke him. But R’s heart was in the right place, even if his head wasn’t. And he and I became unlikely but thick pals.

One day, after drifting for several years, R announced that he was going to appear for the IAS exams. Understandably, this pronouncement was received with rapidly lowered jaws, hoots of disbelief and even hysterical laughter. The guy who barely scraped through college was going to take on the toughest exams in the country. He really had to be crazy!

We met a couple of weeks later outside the public library where he spent a good part of his day, arriving with the first rays of the sun and leaving only when the staff forcibly ejected him. The gold-rimmed glasses gave further testimony of his newfound zeal.

“God, I stink,” were his first words to me. “Here see…” he thrust his armpit into my face. I turned my face away and laughed. Same old R, I thought.

But as the evening unfolded, I was forced to rearrange my views about him. His insights on racism, politics and Indian history astounded me.

“Jews have been persecuted by the Romans, Nazis and even Shakespeare,” he thundered. “Ever noticed how he constantly refers to ‘Shylock, the Jew’?” He didn’t just read 5 newspapers every day, from cover to cover, he even annotated them, adding his own insights. He dashed off fiery letters to editors for factual inconsistencies, using words like circumlocution and obloquy. Could this be the same R who struggled to pronounce ‘industrialisation’ during a college seminar, I wondered? Important dates, famous speeches – he was quoting them verbatim!

“You know I’ve always liked learning”, he said and when I snorted in disbelief, he hurriedly continued, “It’s just that I hated cramming. Now that I understand what I’m studying and can write stuff in my own words, it’s actually fun to study.”

“Fun, yeah!” I nodded stupidly.

In fact, I did a lot of nodding that evening. Firstly, because it took me a while to adjust to this new avatar. And secondly, because on seeing my incredulity turn to admiration, he just didn’t want to stop.

“One of my dreams now,”
he admitted, “is to lecture at college.”“Maybe I could even counsel the kids, giving them my own example.” We both burst out laughing.

It was a crestfallen R who called me a few days later to tell me that he hadn’t cleared the preliminary exams. As I sympathised with him, he brightened up and said, “Now I’m more confident than ever of passing the next attempt.” And I believed he would. After all, I had seen miracles happen…

P.S I'd written this some time ago. Since then R had a change of heart and got into business, a very successful one. However it was that one evening which changed my perception of him as a class jester forever.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Proof that anti-ageing creams work…

I was using a moisturiser on my face when Alison came up and asked me sternly, 'Leela, what are you doing?’

The question ended in a high-pitched squeak. I wondered exactly what I was being chastised for.

She wagged her inch-long index finger at me and in a tone dripping with authority, said, ‘That cream is for big people, not for you and me.’

Being mistaken for a 4-year old feels ridiculously good!

Wednesday, November 10, 2004


I am utterly fascinated by the Amreekan flair for the dramatique.

Do check out the gallery!

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Snide and Prejudiced

I will always be indebted to the gentleman or lady who coined the word execrable. My deepest gratitude also goes out to the one who came up with egregious. Thanks to these thoughtful folks, I can now describe the movie Bride and Prejudice without resorting to such weak, ineffective words like bad, appalling, disgusting, awful, terrible.

I saw it early this week and it wreaked havoc with my digestion for two days. I did my best to obliterate it from memory, but yesterday I read an interview with director, Gurinder Chadha, in an old issue of Time Out and the bile rose again…

‘I never intended to make a Hindi movie, it’s not my sensibility’,
she says. Truer words were never spoken. She goes on to say that hers is ‘a British movie that pays an affectionate tribute to Hindi cinema’. Perhaps in the same way that Judas’ kiss was affectionate.

Let’s overlook for a moment the effrontery to Jane Austen in the title. Let’s also excuse the absurd lyrics, dance epidemics and tepid dialogue. Out of the goodness of your heart, excuse Aishwarya’s incomprehensible indignation, Aishwarya’s credibility as a rustic Amritsar kudi, Aishwarya’s unidentifiable accent. While at it, condone the lack of chemistry, and surfeit of melodrama, which seeks to gleefully announce, ‘We are like this only.’

Now, that we’ve pardoned the whole balderdash, let’s come to the unforgivable part. How could a director who crafted the little gem called Bend it like Beckham go so wrong? How could someone who had discovered a warm, funny, inoffensive way of portraying Indian foibles, successfully cast the spotlight on the crudest, crassest, vilest behaviour of Indians? How can she claim to be ‘pissed off by films that parody Bollywood’ and then perversely misrepresent not just Bollywood, but India?

And who do we have to blame for this travesty of a movie? Believe it or not, Aditya Chopra! 'It was after seeing Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayengethat I decided to make my version of a Hindi film,' says Chadha and adds, 'I later told him that if Bride and Prejudice falls flat, I’d blame him.'

Aditya, I want my money back!

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Cinderella at the Ball

I’m a bit of a disgrace to the media fraternity (and sorority). 7 years of working in high profile advertising agencies and a media behemoth, and yet I cannot claim first name familiarity with any ‘celebrity’. Some of the biggest pashas of print sit less than 20 feet away from my work desk. From time to time, friends in other news agencies update me on gossip about them. My customary excuse to pass up most late night schmoosing is that it conflicts with my bedtime.

As it happens, in media, all virtue is a vice. Proclaiming utter disinterest in the Who’s Who, Who’s with Who and Who did What Last Summer can be bad for business. If not for these tantalising details, what are people going to buy your newspaper for? The news? Uh-uh, it’s no good being high brow with high society.

Luckily for me, redemption came in the form of a wicked looking black envelope. Two passes to THE ultimate crash course for social ignoramuses – The Bombay Times 10th Anniversary Bash. Months of gaucherie could be purged in single night, I thought gleefully as I set off with a photographer friend.

I came away suitably enlightened. Presenting the 10 invaluable lessons gleaned from the Bombay Times 10th Anniversary Bash:

Lesson No. 1
High fashion is remarkably low cost. All you need are sequins worth Rs. 20 from Crawford Market. Tack them onto a lacy bedcover or curtain or laundry bag, and voila, you’re haute tamale!

Fashion for men: Anything tight and tacky. Allowing Calvin Klein to peer over the top of your trousers is vital. If you’re really cool, sport a thong and show it off prominently.

Lesson No. 2

Never ever question people’s fashion sense. If the high priestess of fashion, Rekha and the ultimate gay style icon, Imam, sashay in wearing tent like robes, well tent-like robes are in.

Lesson No. 3
Be careful, be very careful at the food courts. Ask detailed questions about each item even if it makes you look foolish. After all, it’s better to eat crow figuratively than to come away with a mouthful of raw oyster.

When it comes to cheese, follow a sniff and nibble routine. Do not pop a sizeable chunk like the woman next to you, especially if the cheese is ‘Gorgonzola’, unless of course you like the taste of rotting flesh. (Still gagging)

Lesson No. 4
It’s possible to have 5 margaritas, 2 tequila shots and one Vodka with tonic and still be unnaturally sober. It boils down to a simple technique: Lift long-stemmed, wide-mouthed margarita glass from counter, steer yourself across narrow corridor teeming with sozzled, flying limbs, reach your corner, spot one remaining sip of margarita, down it. After 20 minutes, repeat the process.

Lesson No. 5
When Abhishek Bachchan, up in the DJ console, suddenly points at you with a look of recognition, do not instinctively entertain hopes of being the Next Big Thing. He’s merely waving to your photographer friend. Make a mental note however to keep in touch with photographer friend more.

Lesson No. 6
Tall, dark and handsome is soooo out, so last decade. Old, bald and iconic is in.

If you are a male model, learn to deal with loneliness or hang out with other model buddies. And watch as guys blessed with a face that only a mother can love, dance with a bevy of bootylicious beauties.

Lesson No. 6

Hah, to all you atheists! There is a God and his name is Alyque Padamsee. Else explain how a 75-plus, concave-postured relic can part crowds on a packed dance floor with a statuesque teenager clutching onto him like he was a Baywatch lifeguard? Oh no, there is a God and I’m a believer.

Lesson No. 7
You can be Andre Nair, chairman and CEO of the most powerful media network in South East Asia and still cut a ludicrous figure on the dance floor, especially when you dance with actions to ‘Yeh Wada Raha’. Note to self: If you intend to stay in media it’s a good idea not to let him catch you laughing.

Lesson No. 8
You don’t need cricket records to tell you Michael Slater is a gifted player. He’s a natural when it comes to scoring.

Lesson No. 9
A family that parties together stays together. Take for instance, the Vengsarkar family. Perhaps the current day team picked up the famous ‘huddle’ from this foursome.

Lesson No. 10
There is a certain advantage in being a Who’s Not. Nobody notices that your blue handbag and black shoes don’t quite match…