Monday, May 16, 2016

Golden Goose

Image from Here

Whether the success of the Indian Premier League (IPL) resides in its format or Bollywood-isation, it cannot be denied that the IPL is a phenomenon. Neither controversy nor match fixing seem to dampen its bounce. Now that the IPL’s governing council has made a strong pitch to shift the IPL to either the UAE or South Africa, it is time to reflect.
The Indian Premier League has come a long way since the fifties when watching test matches was as leisurely as watching a glorious sunset. Back then, cricket was best represented by an old bra – no cups and hardly any support. Over the years, like films, cricket has become all about entertainment, entertainment and entertainment.

For understandable reasons, the IPL is perceived to be a Tamasha. That’s amusing, but wrong. What is touted as Tamasha is in fact, serious business. According to the BCCI, the 2015 season of IPL contributed Rs 11.5 billion to the GDP of our economy. When you have a golden goose there is a mad scramble to claim the eggs. Controversies abound. In an attempt to steady the IPL innings, the BCCI introduced new teams and removed the rotting fish. And yet, the cup of IPL woes runneth over. The Lodha Committee recommendations have ensured that playing IPL with a straight bat is not going to be easy on a spinning home turf.

One of the abiding ironies is that cricket fans love cricket but love to hate the cricket governing body. Perception rules. Consequently, every political controversy like Indo-Pak ties (Dharamsala match) and Marthwada (matches shifted out of Maharashtra) drought washes up on the shores of the IPL. A volley of PILs have stumped the IPL. Adding to the discomfort is the ED surveillance on alleged Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA) violations.

Nonetheless, the IPL is a home grown brand that needs to be nurtured even if it requires regular weeding. Worldwide, sporting leagues have contributed towards their respective sport. Like football and basketball, Indian cricket players are making more money by participating in the league games instead of playing international games.
You could shrug and say, how does the venue matter? After all, the IPL had moved to South Africa and UAE on two occasions. Fine. But would English Premier League (EPL) be as popular if it was, say, played in Singapore? Will someone in South Africa be as proud as apna Delhi-ite watching Delhi Daredevils walk in? An average middle class Indian was stingy when it came to shelling big money to watch a game. IPL changed that in one straight drive. Financial backing by big brands added to the brand value of the tournament. Let’s face it - sport thrives on sponsorship and money.

If and when the golden goose flies away, TV contracts and sweetheart deals with owners and the BCCI might benefit cricketers, but will it benefit an average cricket fan? More significantly, should we ignore that IPL was the trigger for various sporting leagues in Kabaddi, Tennis and Badminton? Should we forget that IPL is a fertile breeding ground for young talent? Should we disregard that IPL has ensured the maintenance and upkeep of many stadiums? Should we not care for what IPL does for tourism in tier-two cities?
It is unfortunate that ‘Indian Peoples League’ has become controversial punching bag. A brand that debuted with a bang in India shouldn’t go out with a whimper.  
(Full article in Diplomacy&Beyond)

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Hum Aapke Hain Goodwill Ambassador

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I’m Stumped looking at my Twitter feed that tells me that Salman Khan is the new good will ambassador for the upcoming Rio Olympics. All the righteous outrage begins to ooze out from my index finger on my phone. Hello, how can a Baghi, an alleged Partner in crime, be appointed as the Sultan of Olympics? I tweet like a sparrow in a tizzy, “Who the hell appointed Bhaijaan as the good will ambassador for Olympics?” Soon enough, when relentless Bhai fans Kick my Judwa ass in Andaaz Apna Apna, I have a Jagruti moment.

Much as there is little point in tweeting if you can’t annoy people, there is little point in being a brand ambassador if you can’t create a buzz. With all due respect, if PT Usha was appointed as a good will ambassador, no feathers would be ruffled. Peace. But it could well end in Nil Battey Sannata.
Right or wrong, Salman controversy ensured awareness about the fact that Olympics are round the corner. At a time when the country is suffering from IPL syndrome, if that ain’t an achievement, what is? Deservedly, the gold medal goes to Salman. And so, in that moment my outrage attained Veergati. 

So what’s the hullabaloo about? Well, it is more than a coincidence that Sultan Khan plays a wrestler in his upcoming movie Sultan. While the sport fraternity is crying foul, Salman’s appointment has ensured that Aamir is writhing on the mat even before the wrestling match has begun. Given that Aamir too plays a wrestler in his new movie Dangal, Raja Hindustani will now have to think of a novel way to promote his new movie.

Once the controversy was alive and kicking, it was the usual spectre of taking positions across the fence. Why can’t we have Rajyavardhan Rathore or PT Usha as our ambassadors, people raged? Track legend Milkha Singh joined the chorus when he said, ‘Salman has no contribution in sport, so why make him the ambassador?’ Wonder if Milkha Sir Ji would have felt the same way, if it was Farhan and not Salman. But the IOA said, Hum Appointment De Chuke Sanam. Go outrage.

Given that the controversy demanded views of the two important ladies, Katrina Kaif and Aishwarya Rai, the media was quick to oblige the nation. Katrina Kaif rebuffed the reporter by saying that Salman Khan has long been the very definition of controversy. Kat done, the microphone wielding fidayeen rushed to the other post card perfect ex who has been suffering from Panama-itis. The nation heaved a sigh of relief when Mrs B supported her ex Sanwariya. We now wait for an enthusiastic reporter to get us the views of Somy Ali, Sangeeta Bijlani, Zarine Khan and other Sanam Bewafas.
To judge Salman’s appointment by the yardstick of sport, rather than his popularity is to miss the purpose of appointing a goodwill ambassador. If the idea was to popularize upcoming Olympics and bring sponsorships, the controversy ensured that Salman had scored a goal.
The sad reality is that we live in a world where popularity and glamour bring sponsorships. We live in a world where selling a product is the only moral. So, how do we popularize sport without crass commercialization? Well, therein, my friend, lies the dilemma.

Bye, Phir Milenge!

Sunday, April 24, 2016

The Jewel in the Crown

Image from Here

 Just when we thought that the cries to bring back the Kohinoor diamond were fanned by the aftermath of the Royal visit, it seems, looming Punjab elections could be the trigger. How, you ask, will the return of a diamond help the people of Punjab? Just as the return of Tipu Sultan’s sword bolstered Kannada pride (even though the proud owner of unpaid loans fled to the UK), the return of Kohinoor is believed to restore the rightful legacy of Punjab.

According to the extra-long and dotted legend of the Kohinoor, the 158.6 gram (793 carat) gem was originally mined from Kollur mines in Guntur, Andhra Pradesh was initially owned by the Mughals, Shah Jahan is said to have used it as a prism to view the Taj Mahal. After the fall of the Mughal Empire, the diamond went back to Persia, only to be procured by Maharaja Ranjit Singh. In the aftermath of Ranjit Singh’s death, the Sikhs fought two wars with the East India Company army. Duleep Singh, the minor son of Ranjit Singh and the then Maharaja in Lahore, was defeated in the second Anglo-Sikh war. Punjab was thus annexed by the British, and the Kohinoor presented to Queen Victoria. Blimey, but the Kohinoor now rests ensconced in a crown in the Tower of London. 

As it happened, Indians filed a petition in the stiff upper court demanding their sparkle back. Friendly neighborhood, Pakistan joined the party, ‘Why should India have all the fun?’ ‘Humein Bhi Chahiye Kohinoor’.
No pressure, no diamonds. In response to the political pressure, the Indian government cited a law that does not allow it to bring back antiquities taken out of the country before Independence. They reiterated the stand of the previous governments that Kohinoor was a gift. And presents, they say, are for the pleasure of who gives them and not the merits of who receives them. Right? Wrong. The Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) said, “It is not possible for a young Duleep Singh to have gifted the Kohinoor unless he was tricked.” 'Humein Chahiye Kohinoor', they said.

After the morality foreplay by the media, the culture ministry said that they will try to bring back the pleasure, err, treasure, amicably. Meanwhile the Congress jumped in the revelry by saying, ‘Humein Chahiye Azadi. Err, Kohinoor.’ They forgot that playing politics with history is a dangerous game. Wonder why the gem of their crown didn't remind his friend David Miliband about Kohinoor when both had spent a long night with cows. What is it that they say about covering your stump before you hump, eh?

But polemics aside, in what is considered as a bad omen for men, the politicians should think twice before demanding the Kohinoor. Given that the curse of Kohinoor dates back to ancient texts, and also given that the history of rulers who owned the diamond is mired with torture and treachery, the Brits played safe. Our prissy colonizers ensured that the diamond goes to the wife of the male royal heir. And no woman ever hated a man enough to give back his diamonds. So much for pleasure, err, treasure.

Whenever a British celebrity flits by, we fete them with our Bollywood royalty and fawn over their flying skirts, but the prickly demand resurfaces, ‘Humein Chahiye Kohinoor’. When asked about the Kohinoor, David Cameron provided us with a gem of a different kind, “If you say yes to one, you suddenly find the British Museum would be empty. I’m afraid to say, it is going to stay put.” 

The idea of expecting a return gift is fatuous. And what we fancy isn’t always a reality. Regardless of how we try to dress up history - with emotions or summons, the Brits are unlikely to provide us with the pleasure of owning the treasure. And that’s the extra-long and short of Kohinoor. The diamond, of course. 

What else did you think? Kohinoor Basmati rice? Well, wokay! Good to know I have sanskari readers. 
Meme from Here

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Horsing Around

Image from here
This article has been published in my column Alka-line in a magazine called Diplomacy&Beyond

Has it happened to you? There you are, paying your outrageously high electricity bill, and wham - a sinking feeling envelops you. You wonder how Vijay Mallya could walk away with crores of unpaid loans when a single unpaid bill can render you to darkness for eternity. Your misery doesn’t end. Because when you are debating dinner choices, Vijay Mallya is perhaps debating which plane to board - a Hawker or a Gulfstream. Let’s face it, if wishes were horses, beggars would ride.

So you blame your fate and switch on the television to watch a game. But the only game being played is a sport where the CBI, SEBI, and ED are chasing the owner of a defunct Kingfisher Airlines. Once upon a time, Mallya, a Rajya Sabha MP and entrepreneur extraordinaire, straddled the corporate and the sporting world with practiced ease. His passion for all things royal, including horses, was evident at a stud farm in Kanigal where horses are bred for Mallya’s United Racing and Bloodstock Breeders (URBB). Talking of horses, a horse, they say, never runs as fast unless there are other horses to outpace. In February 2016, when banks realized that they had bet on a wrong horse, an unbridled Mallya galloped away to London. He left with multiple bags, equivalent to the luggage of seven passengers. “For 2 people, 7 bags aren’t much. I pack heavy. That’s how I travel,” Mallya neighed.

Once the stallion had bolted, opposition members climbed on a high horse. A Congress spokesperson said, “Mallya has run away from India using the ‘Fair and Lovely’ scheme of the BJP.” The BJP horsed around by saying, “Mallya is Congress’s baby. The UPA pushed banks to give him repeated loans.” Having closed the door after the horse had bolted, the finance minister, Arun Jaitley argued that the government couldn’t have put a cart before the horse because, “that day (March2, when Mallya left) there was no order of any agency to stop him from leaving the country. He left before the banks moved the Supreme Court for seizure of his passport.” The finance minister also gave a stern warning to defaulters to settle their dues or face ‘coercive action’. Well, you can lead a horse to water, but you can't force it to drink, right?

In order to squeeze the last pip of our outrage, the television channels showed us old clips where Mallya is canoodling with bikini clad girls and pretty air-hostesses but there was little talk about the bank officials who horsed around with Mallya. Why did they bet on a sick horse? How were the valuations done in a sinking aviation environment? When most airlines were losing money, what business plan was accepted as gospel? And why?

Given that Mallya chase has entered its last leg, Mallya got off from his high horse and offered to pay back Rs 4,000 crores by September,16. He claimed to be an Indian to the core who wants to return home. If buying Gandhi’s wire rimmed spectacles for $ 1.8 million wasn’t enough, Mallya can always say ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’ to prove his patriotism. Alternatively, he can take a return flight and bring Lalit Modi along.
Let’s not play ponies, but who wants the Trojan to return? He could reveal sleazy details about politicians, bureaucrats, banks and the media being together in bed.

So how do we win the Derby? Well, there is no point outraging in the Parliament when it does not lead to reforms in the financial sector. Bank distress is an old wound. There are many wounded horses listed by Credit Suisse in its report ‘House of Debt’. While the banks are contemplating a response to Mallya’s recent offer, the system will breed more Mallya’s unless the rot is addressed. Moreover, if the banks bargain for less than what is due, it will set off a dangerous precedent. When you and I can't get a small loan approval, imagine the audacity of negotiating with the banks via video-conferencing while sitting in London! What is clear is that Mallya horsed around not because he couldn’t pay but because didn’t want to pay.

That said, the only thing shorter than public memory is public enthusiasm. Once we are done with ‘Mall-liya Bhag-liya’ jokes, we could happily queue up to watch a Bollywood movie called ‘Mallya Returns’. My choice for the title role would be Anil Kapoor. What say?

Also on the Huffington Post.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Knotty Affairs - Kapoor and Sons

Image from here

Judge me. But I am the kind of movie goer who enjoys scenic locales, good looking star cast, contemporary setting and warm characters. No crime thrillers, violent sagas or sob stories for me, thank you. Is it any surprise, therefore, that I was looking forward to Kapoor and Sons.
Watch the trailer here.

As we know, stories are about protagonists, their goals, the obstacles they face and actions taken to overcome the obstacles. Talking of obstacles, a wicked villain mouthing dialogues like, “Tumhari maa aur behen meri kabze mein hai” is so eighty-ish. Khaandaan ki izzat is outdated. As is ‘parental dushmani’. Today, when parents are encouraging children to find love, when dacoits are missing and dons boring - hindrances come from the regrets, mistakes, quirks and obsessions of characters. Remember Piku? Or Dil Dhadakne Do? Both were about quirky characters and human fallibility where characters had created their own demons. Plus, of course, the magic of small moments. Likewise, Kapoor and Sons is about a flawed family where fault lines get exposed when characters come together.

Rajat Kapoor and Ratna Pathak Shah are struggling to save their marriage when their sons, Rahul (Fawad Khan) and Arjun (Sidhartha Malhotra) arrive to visit their ailing Dadu (Rishi Kapoor). The simmering acrimony between brothers and parents unfolds as Tia (Alia Bhatt) gets caught between a handsome Rahul and an embittered Arjun. While the elder brother, Fawad is weighed by a personal secret, the younger brother, Sidhartha, is desperate to emerge from the shadows of his successful brother. And then there is a dirty old Dadu (Rishi Kapoor), obsessed with a wet Mandakini of yore.
While every character is endearing, the holy bubble that encapsulates them keeps getting punctured as secrets tumble out. Several parallel tracks merge to unfold a tale. Set in picturesque Coonoor, the story is soaked in limpid showers of love, moist clouds of emotions and ominous rumblings of resentment.

Any engaging movie has to be about the seductions of magical moments. Like when Ratna cooks bhindi and Sidharth makes a face, when Fawad finds cigarettes in a cassette, when Dadu asks for a credit card to watch porn on I-Papad(I-Pad), or when Alia helps Dadu cheat while playing cards.

I have to admit that while watching Fawad Khan in Khoobsoorat, I felt he was overrated. In Kapoor and Sons, I stand corrected. His debonair looks and sheer presence lends oodles of charisma to the screen. Sidhartha Malhotra, as a second-best son in the film is equally impressive, if not more. With her impish smile, unbridled charm and glowing freshness, Alia Bhatt lights up the screen. She tugs at your heart when she narrates the story of her parents. 
Ratna Pathak Shah as the new age mom is perfectly at ease with taking care of the family and wanting to be an entrepreneur. She is in sync when she is with her sons, but strikes a jarring note with Rajat Kapoor. Just a bit.

Much like Amitabh in Piku, and Anil Kapoor in Dil Dhadakne Do, Kapoor and Sons belongs to Rishi Kapoor. Towards the end, you wonder, how a porn obsessed dirty old man can be so affable. However, I felt his prosthetic make-up could have been toned down. The thick layers hide the twinkle of his eyes when he says, "Itne bade bade bhi hote hain" and the torment of his emotions when he requests the boys to return.

This is not to say that Shakun Batra directed Kapoor and Sons is devoid of unpalatable moments. The film hinges on emotion but oftentimes the bickering between Ratna and Rajat gets over-the-top. Like in the scene when 90th birthday celebrations get hijacked by Ratna's knee-jerk reactions. But then, the story is about a dysfunctional family. Not a Sooraj Barjatya-ish perfect sweet family.

Despite minor flaws, the film succeeds in leaving a merry wink and a moist eye. And, yes. In the film, 'Ladki kar gayi chull' doesn’t sound as nonsensical as it does on the radio. It just blends like the imperfect yet warm characters. The film might not be Oscar worthy, but it is definitely fun worthy. I had a tripping good time. 

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

How to Drape a Sari

Image from here
Also on the Huffington Post

Women have engaged in the act of draping ever since the concept of clothing captured the imagination of Neanderthal women. And yet, some of us are destined to spend hours draping a sari. 

Those who wear a sari on a regular basis can hardly comprehend the dilemma of an occasional sari enthusiast. The cosmic dice never falls in your favor every time you are late for a wedding. All too often, you are rendered pathetic when it comes to length of the pallav, the symmetry of the pleats, or the fall of the border. Total helplessness. 
That said, several variables can dampen the enthusiasm of an occasional sari aficionado. The weather is one of them. The time allotted to drape a sari is another. As is a husband who can’t tell between a Georgette and a Crepe.
So, I am warming to the task of wearing a sari for a wedding and debating serious issues – like which sari to wear, which blouse will fit and what jewelry will match. That is when the husband starts it all. Subtly, of course. “We’ll take an hour to reach. The traffic is bad.” In short, hurry up. 

I struggle with the damned safety pin that refuses to dive in the folds of a Kanjeewaram. When I tuck in the pleats, the outcome does nothing to flatter my month long attempt to reign in my belly. Moreover, my back hurts after failed attempts to pin the pallav right. To add to the misery, the men folk don their suit and are ready in a jiffy. As drops of sweat begin to play with the make-up, I overhear the son, “Dad, why do you think women haven’t learnt the art of wearing a sari, in like, say thousand years? Isn’t it against evolution?”
This is when I’ve lost it. The husband comprehends the gravity of the situation and plays pantomime with the son. I notice their 'wink-wink, say-no-more' moment in the mirror. 

Finally when we reach the venue, we are the first to arrive. The anger simmers. As guests begin to arrive in Swarovski studded chiffons, I wonder if silk was appropriate for the pleasant weather. Nonetheless, I try to ginger up. But when women know that they are not looking their best, they get entangled in weird emotions. Don’t get judgmental. It’s human nature.

As the venue reverberates with ‘Congratulations and celebrations, I want the world to know I’m happy as can be’, the silence between us deafening. The husband tries to warm up. “You look nice. Moreover, who remembers what you are wearing?”
He gets it when a cousin chimes in, “Wow, bhabhi. Love this beige sari you wore at my wedding.” Bingo. Perfect timing.
If he gets a glacial look, he totally deserves it. Because his expression is like 'what have I done now'? Also because he can happily wear the same suit for the engagement, wedding and reception and the universe will not notice. 

It gets worse when the videographer captures our cold war for posterity. There is something about videographers who act as if they are capturing Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s magnum opus. The shameless pervert in them can never miss an embarrassing moment. Like when you are wiping curry stained hands in a napkin or tucking your bra strap. He will blind you with lights, trap you in a mesh of wires, shove his camera on your face, and ensure that you drown in the embarrassment of your forced smile.

The trigger for writing this piece is the reflection that a sari means nothing until a woman lives in it. And revels in the joy of being a woman. She either looks her best, or doesn’t. It is about something that feels right. And drapes right. Mind you, it has nothing to do with narcissism. Vanity perhaps?

All said, women dress for themselves, and of course, fellow XX brigade. If women dressed for men, as the saying goes, they would just walk around naked at all times.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

The Impact - Reel vs Real

Image Courtesy Here

“Look Ma, Milkha Singh,” a little boy nudged his mother. It didn’t hit me until I saw Farhan Akhtar emerge from the arrival terminal. Funny, how cinematic portrayal impacts impressionable minds. Remember how Nitish Bharadwaj became an embodiment of Lord Krishna after Mahabharata? Women would close their eyes and see Nitish’s smiling visage. Such is the power of cinema.

While biographical and historical movies open dusted chapters, they also stir controversies. It all began with the first blockbuster Mughal-e-Azam. Historians argued that Anarkali was, perhaps, one of Akbar’s wives and the mother of Salim’s half brother, Prince Daniyal. And Salim, they say, was a heavy consumer of alcohol and opium, very different from the gentle hero.The Sheesh Mahal, according to historians, was a royal bath and not a dancing hall as depicted in the movie.

Much like Bajirao Mastani, Airlift raised many questions. Shekhar Gupta, a journalist who covered the Gulf War writes, “Airlift has completely changed history. It steals a real event to build a Sunny Deol-style hyper patriotic yarn. We know that no soldier fights in real life as Sunny Deol, Stallone or Tom Cruise, so drama is fine. But did Airlift have to mythologize as much as it has done, particularly as it re-writes history with zero concern for facts? These are days when vigilantism is popular. The state and the system can do nothing, so a super Indian has to rise and fill in, the tricolor is unfurled to notes of Vande Mataram and we all have tears in our eyes.”

At one level, to judge a historical on the basis of authenticity rather than the effectiveness of storytelling is to defeat the commercial purpose. Commercial success, after all, is the only moral of a market place. So will Neerja, in the upcoming biopic sing songs on the flight? Yes. I mean, no, I doubt it. But of course, Sonam as Neerja can sing songs prior to the actual hijacking sequence. The rest can be easily attributed to ‘cinematic liberty’. Like Sanjay Bhansali’s disclaimer professing that the ‘film does not claim to be historically accurate’. God knows, in a country like ours where sensibilities get hurt at the drop of a hat, such disclaimers are a boon. Courtesy disclaimers, the reel Kashi Bai swayed to Pinga even if the real Kashi Bai could never imagine a merry dance-off with Mastani. Who knows if she had arthritis? Or vertigo? Just as reel Sunny Deol engaged in a hand-to-hand combat even if the real Major Chandpuri did not indulge in jingoistic ground combat during 1971, Longewala war.

Coming back to the way cinema impacts our psyche, it is interesting to note how we begin to see real characters from the prism of cinematic reel. After Jodha Akbar, the Akbar ingrained in our memories as a slightly rotund aging character has been airbrushed as a young Hrithik Roshan. Likewise, the present generation goes by the way Ben Kingsley played Mahatma in Gandhi. Thankfully, it was pretty close to the original, given that Gandhi was with us not so long ago. Also, given that the director stayed away from Bollywood song and dance routine. Part of the magic, perhaps depends on who enacts the character and how popular the film is. Because one has to jog memory to recall Pooja Batra as Noor Jahan or Manisha Koirala as Jahan Ara in the movie, Taj Mahal- An Eternal Love Story. Remember?

At one level, diving in the pool of nostalgia and fishing out old gems is a welcome thought. For one, Bollywood is not the only industry that exploits real life drama to recreate a fictional drama. Hollywood does it too. And ends up nurturing myths to create popular cinema. The Academy award winning movie Argo was said to sideline Canada’s role in the evacuation plan while giving all credit to the CIA. Likewise, Clint Eastwood’s movie American Sniper earned accolades, but critics slammed it for several distortions in the story. Two, because had it not been for Bajirao Mastani, many of us wouldn’t know about the great Maratha warrior.

Of course, it is too simplistic to assume that that Bajirao Peshwa sang Malhari the way Ranveer Singh did, or that he made passionate love to Kashi Bai after pouring water on her head. But it is undeniable that cinema etches history with such a vivid brush that it leaves an indelible mark. While it perpetrates a myth that Farhan Akhtar singing ‘Havan Karenge’ is actually sprinter Milkha Singh, it also brings alive a legend hitherto buried in history.