Category Archives: Celebrity Watch

A tale of two love stories in Bollywood

The mid-1980s were the best of the times, they were the worst of the times for Bollywood.

Amitabh Bachchan – In and As ‘Mard’

At one end, it was going through a terrible phase – the era of Amitabh Bachchan was on the wane and his favorite team of producers-directors, in a desparate attempt to recapture his lost magic produced terrible movies such as Mard, Shahenshah, Giraftaar etc. To make matters worse, a bunch of Amitabh wannabees such as Govinda,  Mithun Chakraborty, Chunky Pandey were busy creating their own cacophony of movies with bad storylines, lousy music and terrible production values.

At the same time however, Bollywood saw the rise of two whiz-kid directors, both with a deep sense of destiny and a strong pedigree. Sooraj Barjatya came from the strong tradition of Rajshri Productions, while Mansoor Khan was the son of famed producer-director-writer, Nasir Hussein. The similarities did not stop there. Both the production houses had seen better days, although the financial situation of Rajshri was way more precarious. And both sought to revive the fortunes of their legacies through marquee love stories that redefined Bollywood forever. And both of them introduced two stars that still rule Bollywood, although in different ways and degrees. Yes, we are talking about Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak and Maine Pyaar Kiya.

Both movies were huge hits, although Maine Pyaar Kiya really took the nation by storm. At the same time, almost everyone who came of age during that period had a strong favorite. People watched both the movies, loved both of them but had a visceral following for one of the other, starting from songs, the actors, and the movie itself.

Two decades after the movies were released, I watched them again recently in quick succession and realized that my own opinion still remained the same – that Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak was a better allround movie overall – it was better scripted, had better production values, was better acted and as Bollywood movies go, was less over the top compared with Maine Pyaar Kiya. And those qualities have allowed Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak to become a classic that can be watched multiple times even after two decades, while Maine Pyaar Kiya comes across as too loud, too card-boardish, too amateurish, and way over the top.

The trajectories of the two directors later on vindicates this judgement. Mansoor Khan carried on to make another all time classic called Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar. His next two movies unfortunately were copies of Hollywood movies (Akele Hum Akele Tum based on Kramer v/s Kramer and Josh based on The West Side Story) and pretty mediocre ones at that, but no one can accuse him of having shoddy production values, or having cartoonish, over the top characters. Sooraj Barjatya however went on to make travesties such Hum Aapke Hain Kaun, Hum Saath Saath Hain, Main Prem Kee Diwani Hoon and Vivah. Several of these movies were major hits and Hum Aapke Hain Kaun is one of the biggest Bollywood hits ever but these were some of the most regressive, unrealistic movies ever made in Bollywood (which is saying a lot) with some terrible production values and acting. In some sense, they were the non-violent equivalent of the formulaic, later stage Amitabh Bachchan, or Mithun/Govinda movies – the wheel had come full circle for Sooraj Barjatya.

Sidney Sheldon : an Indian’s Tribute

Sidney Sheldon died earlier this week after a well lived life of 90 years. I am not an expert on his literary works nor his life but I can say that his work had an endearing influence in the early-life of most English-speaking Indians of my generation. And that almost-life-changing contribution is the introduction to pulp-fiction and American Pop Culture.

Along with Harold Robbins, he was the author reading whose books marked an Indian teenager’s entry into adulthood. These were books that your elder siblings would keep from you for their adult content. But really, even besides the erotic graphic mentions of “facts of life”, these pulp fiction works were also a teenager’s first introductions to real human emotions – love, hate, envy, greed, anger, revenge and ofcourse, lust.  His work provided a sudden and a pleasurable evolution from Hardy Boys’ and Nancy Drew’s sterile world, where crime and violence did exist but not real men, and never real (or pleasantly unreal) women.

Sidney (and Harold) also offered a peep into (what-seemed-then) the Real America of the upper class. We do know better now, but in those days of only Doordarshan and an occasional Oscar-winning movie, the perspective offered by his novels into the American way of life was like an authoritative documentary to the multitude of information starved, pre-internet, pre-Discovery teenagers.  The depth of this insight resounded with me recently when a friend on a call from India spoke knowledgably about the different American Time Zones since he had read about them in a Sheldon novel, years ago.

I don’t know if, in the years to come, Sidney will be as widely read in India as more teenagers spend their time on Xboxes and Youtube ; and they surely don’t need him to graduate into adulthood from whatever they read-and-do in pre-teens these days. What we do surely know that for many of us, he will remain the first and foremost name in pulp fiction. Also, our view of the American life would always be tethered or compared against the wonderful picture of freedom, civil liberties, entrepreneurship, greed and lust that Sidney painted.

(As an aside, though on a similar note, I do think that Harold Robbins is perhaps the best recorder of popular history of the Great Depression and the resurgence of capitalism that followed.)

Indra Nooyi’s Graduation Remarks

Good evening, everyone. Dean Hubbard, distinguished faculty, honored graduates, relieved parents, family, and friends, it’s a distinct pleasure to be in New York City this evening to celebrate the biggest milestone to date in the lives of you, the young men and women before us: your graduation from Columbia University Business School. It may surprise you, graduates, but as big a night as this is for you, it’s an even bigger night for your parents.

They may look calm and collected as they sit in the audience, but deep inside they’re doing cartwheels, dancing the Macarena, and practically speaking in tongues, they’re so excited. This is what happens when parents anticipate that their bank accounts will soon rehydrate after being bone-dry for two years. So, for everyone here this evening, it’s a very special occasion. And I’m delighted to share it with you.

I am keenly aware that graduates traditionally refer to our time together this evening as the calm before the storm. Some graduates — perhaps those who minored in self-awareness — refer to the commencement address as “the snooze before the booze.” However you describe my comments this evening, please know that I understand. It wasn’t that long ago that I was in your place. And I remember the day well. I knew that I owed my parents — my financial benefactors — this opportunity to revel in our mutual accomplishment. Yet, as the guy at the podium droned on about values, goals, and how to make my dreams take flight, I remember desperately checking and rechecking my watch. I thought, “I deserve to party, and this codger’s cramping my style!” In one of life’s true ironies, I am now that codger. Well…I’m the female equivalent. A codg-ette, I guess. And I now understand that values, goals, and how to make dreams take flight, really are important. So being a firm believer that hindsight is one of life’s greatest teachers, allow me to make belated amends. To that distinguished, erudite, and absolutely brilliant man whom I silently dissed many years ago: mea culpa. Big, BIG mea culpa!

This evening, graduates, I want to share a few thoughts about a topic that should be near and dear to your hearts: the world of global business. But, I’m going to present this topic in a way that you probably haven’t considered before. I’m going to take a look at how the United States is often perceived in global business, what causes this perception, and what we can do about it. To help me, I’m going to make use of a model. To begin, I’d like you to consider your hand. That’s right: your hand. Other than the fact that mine desperately needs a manicure, it’s a pretty typical hand. But, what I want you to notice, in particular, is that the five fingers are not the same. One is short and thick, one tiny, and the other three are different as well. And yet, as in perhaps no other part of our bodies, the fingers work in harmony without us even thinking about them individually. Whether we attempt to grasp a dime on a slick, marble surface, a child’s arm as we cross the street, or a financial report, we don’t consciously say, “OK, move these fingers here, raise this one, turn this one under, now clamp together. Got it!” We just think about what we want to do and it happens. Our fingers — as different as they are — coexist to create a critically important whole.

This unique way of looking at my hand was just one result of hot summer evenings in my childhood home in Madras, India. My mother, sister, and I would sit at our kitchen table and — for lack of a better phrase — think big thoughts. One of those thoughts was this difference in our fingers and how, despite their differences, they worked together to create a wonderful tool.

As I grew up and started to study geography, I remember being told that the five fingers can be thought of as the five major continents: Europe, Asia, Africa, and North and South America. Now, let me issue a profound apology to both Australia and Antarctica. I bear neither of these continents any ill will. It’s just that we humans have only five fingers on each hand, so my analogy doesn’t work with seven continents.

Clearly, the point of my story is more important that geographical accuracy! First, let’s consider our little finger. Think of this finger as Africa. Africa is the little finger not because of Africa’s size, but because of its place on the world’s stage. From an economic standpoint, Africa has yet to catch up with her sister continents. And yet, when our little finger hurts, it affects the whole hand. Our thumb is Asia: strong, powerful, and ready to assert herself as a major player on the world’s economic stage. Our index, or pointer finger, is Europe. Europe is the cradle of democracy and pointed the way for western civilization and the laws we use in conducting global business. The ring finger is South America, including Latin America. Is this appropriate, or what? The ring finger symbolizes love and commitment to another person. Both Latin and South America are hot, passionate, and filled with the sensuous beats of the mambo, samba, and tango: three dances that — if done right — can almost guarantee you and your partner will be buying furniture together.

This analogy of the five fingers as the five major continents leaves the long, middle finger for North America, and, in particular, the United States. As the longest of the fingers, it really stands out. The middle finger anchors every function that the hand performs and is the key to all of the fingers working together efficiently and effectively. This is a really good thing, and has given the U.S. a leg up in global business since the end of World War I. However, if used inappropriately — just like the U.S. itself — the middle finger can convey a negative message and get us in trouble. You know what I’m talking about. In fact, I suspect you’re hoping that I’ll demonstrate what I mean. And trust me, I’m not looking for volunteers to model. Discretion being the better part of valor…I think I’ll pass.

What is most crucial to my analogy of the five fingers as the five major continents, is that each of us in the U.S. — the long middle finger — must be careful that when we extend our arm in either a business or political sense, we take pains to assure we are giving a hand ..not the finger. Sometimes this is very difficult. Because the U.S. — the middle finger — sticks out so much, we can send the wrong message unintentionally. Unfortunately, I think this is how the rest of the world looks at the U.S. right now. Not as part of the hand — giving strength and purpose to the rest of the fingers — but, instead, scratching our nose and sending a far different signal. I’d challenge each of you to think about how critically important it is for every finger on your hand to rise and bend together. You cannot simply “allow” the other four fingers to rise only when you want them to. If you’ve ever even tried to do that, you know how clumsy and uncoordinated it is. My point here is that it’s not enough just to understand that the other fingers coexist. We’ve got to consciously and actively ensure that every one of them stands tall together, or that they bend together when needed.

Today, as each of you ends one chapter in your young lives and begins another, I want you to consider how you will conduct your business careers so that the other continents see you extending a hand…not the finger. Graduates, it’s not that hard. You can change and shape the attitudes and opinions of the other fingers — the other continents and their peoples — by simply ascribing positive intent to all your international business transactions.

If you fail, or if you are careless, here’s a perfect example of what can happen: A U.S. businesswoman was recently in Beijing, China, on an international training assignment for a luxury hotel chain. The chain was rebranding an older Beijing hotel. As such, the toilets in the hotel had yet to be upgraded. There were no porcelain commodes, just holes in the floor. Until recently, this was the standard procedure in China. Now, 8,000 miles removed from the scene, you and I — and most Americans — can shake our heads and giggle at the physical contortions and delicate motor skills necessary to make the best of this situation. We’re simply not used to it. But to loudly and insultingly verbalize these feelings onsite, in front of the employees and guests of the host country, is bush league. And yet, that’s exactly what this woman observed. In the hotel’s bar, the woman overheard a group of five American businessmen loudly making fun of the hotel’s lavatory facilities. As the drinks flowed, the crass and vulgar comments grew louder, and actually took on an angry, jingoistic tone. While these Americans couldn’t speak a word of Chinese, their Chinese hosts spoke English very well, and understood every word the men were saying. And we wonder why the world views many Americans as boorish and culturally insensitive. This incident should make it abundantly clear. These men were not giving China a hand. They were giving China the finger. This finger was red, white, and blue, and had “the United States” stamped all over it.

Graduates, it pains me greatly that this view of America persists. Although I’m a daughter of India, I’m an American businesswoman. My family and I are citizens of this great country. This land we call home is a most loving and ever-giving nation — a Promised Land that we love dearly in return. And it represents a true force that, if used for good, can steady the hand — along with global economies and cultures. Yet to see us frequently stub our fingers on the international business and political stage is deeply troubling. Truth be told, the behaviors of a few sully the perception for all of us. And we know how often perception is mistaken for reality.

We can do better. We should do better. With your help, with your empathy, with your positive intent as representatives of the U.S. in global business, we will do better. Now, as never before, it’s important that we give the world a hand…not the finger. In conclusion, graduates, I want to return to my introductory comments this evening. I observed that as big a night as this is for you, it’s an even bigger night for your parents. I ascribed their happiness to looking forward to a few more “George Washingtons” in their bank accounts. While this is certainly true, there is another reason. Each of your parents believes that their hard work has paid off. Finally! They believe that maybe — just maybe — they have raised and nurtured the next Jack Welch, Meg Whitman, or Patricia Russo. Don’t disappoint them. Don’t disappoint your companies. And don’t disappoint yourselves. As you begin your business careers, and as you travel throughout the world to assure America’s continued global economic leadership, remember your hand. And remember to do your part to influence perception. Remember that the middle finger — the United States — always stands out.

If you’re smart, if you exhibit emotional intelligence as well as academic intelligence, if you ascribe positive intent to all your actions on the international business stage, this can be a great advantag But if you aren’t careful — if you stomp around in a tone-deaf fog like the ignoramus in Beijing — it will also get you in trouble. And when it does, you will have only yourself to blame.

Graduates, as you aggressively compete on the international business stage, understand that the five major continents and their peoples — the five fingers of your hand — each have their own strengths and their own contributions to make. Just as each of your fingers must coexist to create a critically important tool, each of the five major continents must also coexist to create a world in balance. You, as an American businessperson, will either contribute to or take away from, this balance. So remember, when you extend your arm to colleagues and peoples from other countries, make sure that you’re giving a hand, not the finger.

You will help your country, your company, and yourself, more than you will ever know. Thank you very much.

The Beatles

So I finally finished reading the hefty 1000 page biography of The Beatles by Bob Spitz. It took a long time but I had such a fun time reading it. I am a big Beatles fan. My first English album was Rubber Soul which I bought at the Asiatic Departmental store while visiting Bombay for the first time in eight grade. For a small town guy like me, it was a big leap of faith. I just picked that one from rows and rows of cassettes in the store and popped it into the audio player of the cab while going back from Churchgate to Budhwar Park where I was staying with some relatives of my uncle. Needless to say, my uncle and aunty sitting in the backseat of the cab were horrified (they had been brought up on Vividh Bharti and Binaca Geetmala) and I was hooked.

I’ve always had most of their albums but surprisingly, I’ve not read too much about them. So this book which is both comprehensive and enjoyable was particularly rewarding. I loaded up my entire Beatles collection on my iPod and listened to their songs while reading about how many of those very songs came to life. The book covers childhood and adolescent of each of the Beatles in great details (John gets the most pages), talks in details about how the group came together and the long and arduous journey from the dingy bars of Liverpool to Beatlemania. Bob does not mince words while describing the negative sides of each of the Beatles (John has many while Ringo and George, as widely perceived come across as the nicest). Some of the details that particularly grabbed my attention:

  • Beatles wanted Gandhi and Hitler, amongst many others to be part of the cover picture on Sgt. Pepper’s Band. EMI put paid to both suggestions. Hitler of course was out of the question and they took Gandhi out to avoid any backlash in international market, specially India
  • Lots of pages are devoted to Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and Beatles stay in Rishikesh. It seems like that the popular wisdom that insists that George and John were disillusioned with the Maharishi because they saw him having sex with one of the American nurses is probably wrong. It might have been fueled by one of their cronies who was afraid that the Maharishi was holding too much sway on them
  • John Lennon while in Rishikesh used to meditate without break for eight hours a day

Phew! What a story and what a journey and what songs!

Mr. Bachchan, Tirupati and Indian Charity

Is anyone else disgusted by the recent news item mentioning that Mr. Amitabh Bachchan will be donating jewelry worth Rs. 1 Crore to the Tirupati Temple thanking the lord for his quick recovery?

Now what Mr. Bachchan does with his money is his own business – but I am entitled to my opinion because it is an indicator of the rot that has set in the moral and religious values of India. In a country like India, where tens of millions are still below the poverty line, it is an abomination that temples like Tirupati keep getting richer. In fact, I did a quick back of the envelope calculation and came up with this:

Money it takes to feed a person/day

Rs. 50

Number of days in a year

365

Cost of food/year

Rs. 18,250

Money donated by Bachchan

1,00,00,000

Number of people who could have been fed for an entire year for that much money

550

Five hundred and fifty people getting food in their stomachs for an entire year? And he chose to get yet another piece of jewelry for a statue that already is decked up to its gills? Look at this picture and tell me if there is any need for any more jewels? I know that the Tirupati Balaji organization runs some charitable organizations. If at all he had to donate money, could he have not donated it to those organizations? Does he think that God will be happier getting a diamond wristband compared to feeding poor people?

India is woefully inadequate when it comes to philanthropy and it is made worse by such donations to temples because it makes people think that donating to temples and donating to charitable organizations is the same.

From my personal experience, temples in India are rarely involved in their communities and rarely take up any kind of social work in their vicinity. There are honorable exceptions to that statement which includes some of the larger temple trusts, though what percentage of the funds that they receive is actually used for social work is anybody’s guess.

But by and large, in towns big and small across the country, how many pundits have you seen who go around teaching the lessons of Gita to disadvantaged people in their communities? Most of the times, they are either busy decking up the statues in their temples or busy doing special Pujas for the privileged to petition God on their behalf to write off their bad deeds. So the money given to temples, more often than not, goes to creating bigger statues or bigger temples or bigger bellies of the pundits.

As for Mr. Bachchan, it just reinforces my belief that he is as bad a human being as good as he is an actor. The entire country was praying for him when he was in the hospital and this is how he repays? By having a tete-a-tete with possibly the most corrupt and rich (don’t they always go hand in hand) temple organization in the country?