Sunday ka Funda

"The kindness I have longest remembered has been of this sort, the sort unsaid; so far behind the speaker's lips that almost it already lay in my heart. It did not have far to go to be communicated."

- Henry Thoreau

But some silences are helpless, forced by nature. The striving to communicate becomes a cry.
Watch this truly touching Thai commercial for life insurance:



Bollywood’s Killing Fields

Her life is pornography. Even as their bare bodies are entwined for a few minutes of pleasure, Mahi Arora is capturing the scene on her camera.

I know a wannabe Mahi from years ago. Strange hands splashed whipped cream in her cleavage, crawling higher and lower than needed, the movements robotic. There was awkwardness in her demeanour. I watched this helplessly at a photographer’s studio. The girl and I both rookies, our silences bought by fake dreams. She was a struggling actress and I was there to capture that struggle, write about it, take the message to the world. I felt like a lowlife. And when I did speak, the response hit me: “We are preparing her for the movies.”

This was foreplay where everyone wanted to be a part of what might be a success story. Kingmakers, rag makers stitching clothes so close to the skin that the needles poked into pores. 


The film Heroine has been panned by critics because it uses clichés. By turning away from clichés we often lose out on truth. It is superficial in parts because Bollywood is superficial.

The casting couch is a reality few want to accept even if they have made the mandatory visit to The Permanent Suite.  After the first time, it ceases to be about sex or even power. The “heroine ka rate-card” reveals how she is being degraded to fight for every endorsement, party invitation, paid guest appearance at some rich person’s wedding as the bride’s friend and not a celebrity. The diva is now a hanger-on, acting that part in real life so that she can retain the title of superstar.

I wept during the film not because Kareena Kapoor has torn every emotion to reveal shreds, but because I thought about whipped-cream Shanti. A name so common it had to be changed. It did not alter her destiny. Her foundation lay thick on the face, ending at the jawline, revealing another shade of neck. She was the tacky adornment in a few films that released in seedy cinema halls. Then, she disappeared.

I saw her a while ago at a televised award function. She was clapping away, her makeup a bit garish but not gauche, and a new body that she could afford to buy. Her rate-card had been made. She did not need to act anymore. Her applause was genuine. It was for a contemporary who had made it. She knew what their respective prices were. This was happiness projected.  


Every day brings a new story of desperate measures to seek attention. Some years ago when I read about a starlet’s tale of woe, I knew there was something amiss. She called up a newspaper office in an agitated state to talk about a photographer who was blackmailing her. She said, “The pictures were taken of me in a bathtub, but there was no indecent exposure. It’s no big deal, but I just felt they should not be published anywhere.”

So why was she making a big deal of it? If she believed that a picture in a bathtub did not constitute indecent exposure, then what was she worried about? Nobody pushed her into it. She had posed for them, some had been printed, and she had not objected at the time. The photographer would not gain much, for the supply of women in bathtubs exceeded the demand. But, by creating a buzz, she sent out a message to those who mattered – the filmmakers – that she had no qualms about posing in such a manner. She had to rescue her soap bubble existence.

It is not difficult to understand the extent people will go to in order to become automated products in phantom factories. It is a cruel world and they unknowingly make it even more cruel by sleeping with the nightmare. Often, the women hang on to men, sometimes to further their career or to portray themselves as a hit pair or to enhance self-esteem.


In Heroine a desperate Mahi, hands shakily holding cigarettes, liquor glasses, pills, eyes glazed with self-pity, is addicted to love. She clings to it and when she is tossed out like a squashed insect, its hair-like feet still writhing with life, she does not hesitate to use her private moments. She tells her PR agent to leak out the love-making clip with her star boyfriend. Had she captured it as a keepsake, or did she instinctively know that the only way to keep people was to be ready to risk losing them?

It happens with madams in brothels who were once prostitutes. They sting back at the new girls and the pimps with a mixture of benevolence and cunning. They are recreating their misery. The masochism psychologically scars them.

Heroine’s director Madhur Bhandarkar has created some caricatures. There is also pop psychology about people from broken homes and he is not as harsh on men. In a way, this works because the female star’s loneliness comes across more poignantly. She is leading an LSD existence, hallucinating about herself. Bollywood has amplified her persona, so when she sees it reduced in the bedroom or when her mouth tastes dust from the street, she internalises these as her own flaws. 

Clark Gable, who had a number of famous Hollywood stars as conquests, said he preferred prostitutes. “Because they go away and keep their mouths shut. The others stay around, want a bit of romance, movie lovemaking.”

He was expected to recreate in his bedroom what he had done under the arclights. That is the fantasy many of them begin to believe. And they try out various ruses on fading magic carpets.

Mahi, beaten and defeated, leaves for autumnal Europe where she can deny who she is. Is there really any escape? The Bollywood she was a part of thrives on killing identities. It is always synthetic spring here.

Published in Express Tribune, Sept 29

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Also an old post here: The Fedora in us 


Rumours, News and Selective Probity

If it is gossip, then the consequences can be damning. It is about two powerful people. Hina Rabbani Khar is Pakistan’s foreign minister. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari is seen as the political heir of the Pakistan People’s Party. A Bangladeshi tabloid splashed a story about their affair. Besides an 11-year-age gap, she is married with two kids.

The Indian mainstream media, as well as non-mainstream avenues, have highlighted this bit of news. Hindustan Times front-paged it.

I do not see how it is any different from carrying a story on former Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi’s CDs or the daily dose of scandals, which include intimate medical updates.

The media has quoted from the story in the tabloid.

The Blitz mentions a greeting card Hina sent Bilawal on his birthday with a hand-written message: “The foundation of our relations is eternal and soon we shall be just ourselves.”

Despite Zardari’s tough stand, Bilawal is said to be adamant on going ahead with his plan to marry Hina. The tabloid claimed that Bilawal has even threatened to resign as President of PPP.

The Bangladeshi publication has been called “sleazy”. Had it talked about new terror training camps in Pakistan, do you think we would have seen it as suspect? It would be given the status of evidence. There is a platonic tone to the article, unlike what the tabloid press in the UK indulges in. Incidentally, Prince Harry’s nude pictures story as well as Kate Middleton’s did make it to our front page as news items.

Therefore, the Hina-Bilawal one is nothing to get stuffy about. While it is true that Indians will make a meal of anything Pakistani, do we accord similar respect to a Veena Malik or a Shoaib Akhtar? Why, a while ago there were rumours about Asif Ali Zardari’s affair with a lady in Canada. Bilawal’s own outings in London were splashed as news.

If a publication uses improper language or passes moral or any sort of judgement on this, then one may question it. Right now, we have a situation where the social media that invariably spills over into mainstream media is now judging the probity of such a move. Some well-known names have been repeating the story, only to say how wrong it is, not to forget even tagging Bilawal so that he knows that they are against it.  Does it not amount to wanting to be on the right side? Had both the individuals not been in positions of power, would the attitude be the same?

Recall how Imran Khan’s love child as well as Jemima Khan’s affair with Hugh Grant later became big news. If the current rumoured affair is a personal matter – and obviously it is – then we need to ask whether the media should continue to carry stories about industrialists’ families or actors and their private lives. I am talking about those that are on the front page where dirty linen is washed, property disputes, sex change, amount of belongings robbed, everything is delineated in disgusting detail.

We seem to get this call of the conscience selectively. I remember the insurance company ad with cricketer Yuvraj Singh. He had already shot for it before he went for his cancer treatment, but when it was aired some people found it offensive, insensitive, in bad taste. Now that he is back, the ad has changed. He speaks about surviving. He is as much a part of the game. Where is the recollection of concern over insensitivity now? The same happened when Aishwariya Rai Bachchan put on weight post-pregnancy and the pictures were online. People were full of empathy. “Leave her alone, she is a true mother,” seemed to be the chorus. Had she got back into shape soon after, these same people would have admired her for being a “yummy mummy” instead of letting herself go.

Replace these names with less known ones and they’d be toasted, if not dismissed derisively.

If the Hina-Bilawal story turns out to be true, it will be interesting to watch the reactions. I’d also like to see if there will be any op-eds doing a ‘sociological take’ on the matter of “privacy”. Therefore, everyone is culpable of adding to what they dismiss.

If it is false, or denied, the Bangladeshi tabloid will have to apologise at the very least. There will be theories about who planted it. It is possible that there could be political rivals or even a foreign hand behind it. The stories about the stories will keep the ‘non-story’ alive. 


Libya syncing

Can you imagine Libyan pro-democracy group overtaking the headquarters of an extremist organisation, that too to protest against the killings at the American Consulate? This is what happened in Benghazi against the Ansar al-Sharia:

Thousands of protesters took to the street earlier on Friday, declaring loudly that they represent the real sentiments of the Libyan people, not those who were behind the deadly attack 10 days ago, reports CNN. One man stated: “I am sorry America. This is the real Libya.”

At first I was baffled and elated by turns. It sounds nice. In many ways, it is. But, is this the real Libya? Can we forget that the anti-Gaddafi rebels were looting property and striking poses in his and his family’s homes, making a mockery of the democracy they were claiming as their own?

This is probably to gain international attention. The signs read: “The ambassador was Libya’s friend” and “Libya lost a friend.” Christopher Stevens was known to be a good person. However, the United States at one time was quite comfortable with Col. Gaddafi. They, too, were friends, although he was friendlier with others.

The report has thrown up one interesting fact, though:

Tribal leaders are the strongest social force in the country and have come forward to demand that the militias disband. Tribal leaders in Benghazi and Darna even announced this week that members of their tribes who are also militiamen will not have protection from the tribes when faced with anti-militia protests, meaning the tribe will not avenge them if they die.

And they say the civil war is over in Libya…

Tussi chha gaye, Sardarji! Will Manmohan Singh's Moment Last?

Time to roll out the red carpet?

I am not alluding to Dr. Manmohan Singh’s faith by addressing him as ‘Sardarji’ here. Sardar is a leader, and for the first ever time he spoke as one in his eight-year-long tenure. But all good packages don’t always have fresh and edible contents. In fact, the fine print on the package can be misleading.

Yet, I’d like to learn from the PM’s speech on the economic policy decisions for two reasons:

  1. I know precious little about the economy in terms of fiscal deficit and inflation. Therefore, I cannot see the issue holistically.
  2. He addressed the nation directly, instead of selecting a favourite media outlet to express his views, which is truly what a leader ought to do.

There were obvious political moments:

No government likes to impose burdens on the common man. Our Government has been voted to office twice to protect the interests of the aam admi.”

The aam aadmi does not read party manifestos. The aam aadmi, and even industry bigwigs, like freebies.

The government has taken away the freebies:

“Let me begin with the rise in diesel prices and the cap on LPG cylinders. 
We import almost 80% of our oil, and oil prices in the world market have increased sharply in the past four years. We did not pass on most of this price rise to you, so that we could protect you from hardship to the maximum extent possible…Much of the diesel is used by big cars and SUVs owned by the rich and by factories and businesses. Should the government run large fiscal deficits to subsidize them?”

This is utterly wicked. But, then, that is what politicians do. It is not as though the corporate guys will take out a morcha; Dr. Singh works in a FICCI manner, more or less. This is really a buffer comment to hide the small cars, small homes that will bear some of the burden. It may not be huge, but with this statement he has tried to build confidence, conveying that the rich will take the blows. Reminiscent of Indira Gandhi’s “Garibi Hatao” slogan that later transmogrified into the License Raj.

It is time to revisit history and the PM did just that. He brought in 1991 when he as finance minister in P.V.Naramimha’s Rao’s cabinet made the economy ‘free’. The problem was, and continues to be, that freedom will always be in the hands of a few; that it might percolate to the lower strata is a bonus, never the main concern. I don’t wish to be a killjoy, but weren’t the big scams with lobbying and kickbacks the result of just this free-for-all?

Fine, kerosene has been left untouched because it is used by the poor. This is simplistic thinking, especially when he asks:

“Where would the money for this have come from? Money does not grow on trees. If we had not acted, it would have meant a higher fiscal deficit, that is, an unsustainable increase in government expenditure vis-a-vis government income. If unchecked, this would lead to a further steep rise in prices and a loss of confidence in our economy.  The prices of essential commodities would rise faster.  Both domestic as well as foreign investors would be reluctant to invest in our economy. Interest rates would rise.  Our companies would not be able to borrow abroad.  Unemployment would increase.”

He has created a Robinhood scenario. Rich subsiding the poor. Only, the rich will get a backdoor entry through “building investor confidence”. Is this good for the economy in the long run? How many of the poor will be employed, how many health and education schemes will see fruition as a result? Of course, this is putting the cart before the horse. The reason is that the horse can gallop away and leave the cart behind.

The PM’s views on the world situation, however, cannot be discounted:

“You should know that even after the price increase, the prices of diesel and LPG in India are lower than those in Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Pakistan.”

“The world is not kind to those who do not tackle their own problems. Many European countries are in this position today.  They cannot pay their bills and are looking to others for help.  They are having to cut wages or pensions to satisfy potential lenders.”

There is absolutely no doubt about this. India has remained relatively unsullied by the fall of the big economies, but who had to bear the brunt? And who were the people responsible for part of the major bungling? Wall Street. Big men with big greed.

His emphasis on global investment is a huge concern.

“The world is not kind to those who do not tackle their own problems…I am determined to see that India will not be pushed into that situation.  But I can succeed only if I can persuade you to understand why we had to act.”

It is, indeed, better for a nation to let its citizens work on the money than depend on loans directly. The “begging bowl” syndrome has not afflicted India to a great extent.

And this, the country can be proud of. The country should also be proud when people question it, for only then can there be true progress. India is not a single state whose development module can whitewash its other ills. To be more blunt, Manmohan Singh is not Narendra Modi.

We all know that there is a need for growth, but it cannot happen with a magic wand. In the process of the economy being stabilised, there might be little tremors. Can’t help but paraphrase Rajiv Gandhi’s comment (“When big tree falls, earth will shake”): When big tree is planted directly in the soil, there will be some mud that will come loose.

At this moment, my ‘aam aadmi’ imagination can only conjure up diesel-guzzling SUVs being splashed with sludge.

© Farzana Versey


Sunday ka Funda

"The most important things are the hardest to say, because words diminish them."

- Stephen King

Listen and lose yourself in other words, as I am doing now...



Nothing much needs to be said here. But, for money they will divide their own gods. And, do note that it is about being king of Mumbai – Mumbaicha Raja. The landscape is the posh Mumbai, not slums, and it is slumdwellers who need prosperity that Lord Ganesh promises.

Be ready as the starched ones overtake this little bastion too in pandal politics.

Update: Sept 17:

Obviously, they do not look at this blog. But TOI now has a new ad with public transport and the rest!


Sunday ka Funda

...for Dr Verghese Kurien 

"The revolution is not an apple that falls when it is ripe. You have to make it fall."

- Che Guevara 

Dr. Verghese Kurien did not need to do that. He just made the villagers of Anand in Gujarat realise that the milk their cattle produced could reach all of India if they got together. It came to called the White Revolution in the mid-70s. The brand Amul is now part of every household in some form.

I once saw him at Mumbai airport. Bureaucratic safari suit. Eyelids with many folds. The face of a philosopher. To my surprise, many people recognised him - those one might consider to be more likely fans of film stars or cricketers were either staring at him or wanting to talk with him. It was the sheer power of what he had created. How else could one explain this at a time in the mid-90s when there was no exposure via social media or quick snapshopts on TV? At a time when I recommended to a friend visiting from overseas the film Manthan (produced by the milk cooperative) that I had watched thrice and his response after the first few scenes was, "Did not know you were such a dehati (villager)?

I can recall so many scenes and that simmering one where Smita Patil is washing her legs and her eyes meet those of Girish Karnad, loosely based on Dr. Kurien, and the rustic Naseeruddin Shah who keeps spitting out "Aa sisotee" (this society, for the cooperative).

The song from the film continues to be used in ads. This is what revolutions are - when people are not encouraged to protest but create. And the milk and movement continue to flow...


Aamir Khan: Only a matter of Time

It is not the fact that Aamir Khan is on the cover of the September issue of Time magazine that is as important as how he is projected.

Recall how our beauty contest winners won with that finale answer about their idol being Mother Teresa? The purpose was a clear need to sell beauty products to the huge Indian market. Once that was achieved, we had the Bill Gates-Warren Buffett philanthropy where our industrial bigwigs were lectured about the art of giving, something they had mastered thanks to income tax exemption to channelise black money. Publicly aired social consciousness is only a part of this.

The extracts from the Time story makes it seem as though the Indian population is a willing hostage to one actor.

The blurb itself sets the tone:

"He's breaking the Bollywood mould by tackling India's social evils. Can one actor change a nation?"

Would they say the same about Hollywood stars who speak on social issues or take strong political stands? India’s social evils have great demand for a hungry media, at home and outside. For the outsider, this obviously has some exotic appeal.

"Now, with his groundbreaking TV show Satyamev Jayate (Truth Alone Prevails), he has dispensed with commercial considerations to indulge his conscience. With it, Khan has taken on the mantle of the country's first superstar-activist.”

Has he dispensed with commercial considerations? We have been through it here before. The conscience does not gather a herd. What does being the first superstar-activist mean? There have been films from years ago that raised social issues - Duniya Na Maane, Do Bigha Zameen, Mother India. These were not a candyfloss look at farmer suicide, widow remarriage, dowry, poverty. And I am not even talking about regional cinema and parallel cinema.

The piece is obviously a paean when it says:

“It's a ballsy move, and potentially jeopardizes his status as the beloved idol of millions.”

If anything, it has got him a new audience, the sort that attends rallies by Anna Hazare or Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s Art of Living sessions. It is utterly patronising to read that the show tackled subjects that “are precisely the sorts of harsh realities from which many of Khan's fans seek escape in his movies”; it probably works for this group.

If anything, the actor fancies that he does films that have a message, whether it is Lagaan, Rang de Basanti, Taare Zameen Par, Mangal Pandey, Peepli Live. He makes a point to go on a road show as a ‘messenger’.

"Can a movie star affect the mores of a nation of 1.2 billion? It might just be possible in India, where a national obsession with cinema, unparalleled in the world, gives popular actors an influence beyond the imagination of Hollywood scriptwriters.”

Such a limited understanding. There are places where cinema halls have been shut down. Films are banned. If the national obsession is an escape, then it applies to realistic cinema too, for that reality is not mirroring what people go through, but what characters go through. Cinematic projection of such truths is like sharing misery with others, if we really wish to look at films in that manner.

Hollywood actors use a particular issue and take it to a forum to push for change. One may be cynical about their motives, but the public does not assume they will bring about change.

“Whatever Khan chooses to do next in his quest for grace, there's a good chance it will lift India a little closer to what he - and fellow Indians - would wish their country and society to be.”

This is just so weird. It builds up an individual as a messiah, that too on a personal “quest for grace”. India has several dreams and different people have different dreams. This certificate of granting one person the keys to the kingdom is so feudal. I wonder why Time magazine did not make him wear a maharajah turban in the cover picture. Or, perhaps contemporary maharajahs just look intensely into the eyes of the camera.

(c) Farzana Versey

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The rest of my pieces on Satyamev Jayate are here


Sunday ka Funda

"I don't like to commit myself about heaven and hell - you see, I have friends in both places."

- Mark Twain

Musical Snares: Sur-Kshetra

Himesh-Atif: No war this?

May I ask Asha Bhosle ji why are only some Pakistanis allowed to be our guests and others are not? While Raj Thackeray is busy acting out his job profile of politics, I do wonder about the politics of commerce.

The promos of the music reality show Sur-Kshetra have been on air for weeks. Raj chose the press conference to hit out. That too with this statement:

“Would Veer Savarkar have endorsed Bhosale’s decision to collaborate with Pakistani singers?” alluding to the family’s “loyalty to the freedom fighter”.

Veer Savarkar is of little relevance here. It is Ms. Bhosle’s comment that is:

“Maharashtrians believe in the mantra of Atithi Devo Bhava (the guest is god)…Nationality is of no importance, we are here to praise talent. As a human being, I believe in being nice to everyone.”

I have been watching Ashatai judging the just-concluded Indian Idol and loved her beyond her singing. There were contestants from several parts of India. She never felt the need to dispute Raj Thackeray’s barbs about Biharis, UPites and others. And why is she asserting her Maharashtrian identity?

So, when Raj rebuffs her with, “Is this ‘Atithi Devo Bhava’ or ‘Paisa Devo Bhava’?” there is some truth in it.

Let us call this Indo-Pak trade instead of soft-focusing it as music has no boundaries. And, yes, there is hierarchy where even some Pakistanis are allowed. I have mentioned this earlier that while Sheema Kermani, actor-dancer-activist (and she says so without obfuscation) invited an Indian dancer to Pakistan, she was not granted visa. A fairly well-known Pakistani in the entertainment industry surprised me by saying, “Some are favoured.” He gave up on a co-project with some Indians because of the problems. All is not as good as the marketing fellas will have us believe to raise their TRPs.

Abida & Asha; Mota maal/baal. Pic TOI

And Asha Bhosle is now a big part of it:

“I don't like politics...I don't understand it. I love Maharashtra and I am a Maharashtrian. I am a singer....I understand the language of music.”

Music, and sports, have entered the political space. I just saw a promo of the same show where one contestant was praised for her singing and keeping the Indian laaj. Sur-kshetra is promoted as a battle between two clearly demarcated sides – contestants and judges. Why is Asha tai playing naïve not to understand that this is Indo-Pak politics? Has she been invited to perform there? Should it not be mutual for a level-playing field? 

Do we not have singers and actors of the 'calibre' of Veena Malik? Or that expressionless wonder Ali Zafar? Our music directors meet their singers in Dubai. How many of them have reciprocated? For those in denial or with poor memories, read Jagjit Singh and Abhijeet's views on this

I love Iranian cinema, Japanese poetry, Spanish dance, and literature, music, art from several places. These are personal choices. So, if I love Pakistani musicians, it is again in my individual capacity. It is intriguing, though, that we want to highlight differences in an area where they ought to be solved – diplomacy – but come together where we do not need to. Pakistani music has not reinvented sur and taal. It follows the Hindustani gharanas, the raagas. Even Sufi music goes back to Amir Khusrau, and was he Pakistani? He wrote in Farsi and Hindvi.

If music is beyond politics, then why do artistes project themselves as ambassadors of their countries and act like activists? Talking of peace on a public platform is also activism.

This televised musical peaceful co-existence is just banking on emotional love-hate that Indo-Pak ties thrive on.

So, it is true. Money has no language, no country. And no culture.

PS: The battle on the show pits Indian Himesh Reshammiya against Pakistan's Atif Aslam. The super jury is Asha Bhosle, Abida Parveen and Runa Laila, the 'illegal immigrant' Bangladeshi or a buffer?

(c) Farzana Versey