Origins of Love

Origins of Love
my new novel

Saturday, April 17, 2010

latest article in Asian Age

London Diary
UK Plays Who Wants To Be Prime Minister?

It was meant to be bigger than Britain’s Got Talent, Strictly Come Dancing and the X Factor all rolled into one. Only it should have been called Who Wants To Be the Prime Minister?

This was the great leadership debate held last week, vigorously hyped up by newspapers and TV channels, which hoped that more than 20 million viewers would tune in. Because we live in a world of instant decisions, we were told that in the short course of ninety minutes, we could decide on the next Prime Minister of the country . All we had to do was remain on our sofas and stare carefully at the TV screen on which the meticulously choreographed event was being presented. There was no need to think too deeply about policies or manifestoes---if we liked the bloke on the screen , he could be crowned Prime Minister. As simple as that.

Each leader got a chance to make an opening statement, in front of a pre-selected live audience, after which questions were placed before them and none of them got more than a few minutes to present an answer. It was the perfect platform during which a good sound byte could change the course of an election. And, much to the surprise of most, it actually did. The debate turned out to be a real game changer. The leader who had been lagging behind in the polls till yesterday – has now suddenly raced ahead. Much to our surprise, the first debate seems to have been won by a dark horse whose dreams for the keys of number 10 no longer seem to be a joke. There are still two more debates left to go through….but now situation has become even more volatile.

Therefore, the event has become historic already, especially since it was the first time that such a debate, on live television, was being held, American style. The three leaders: Gordon Brown for Labour, David Cameron for the Conservatives, and Nick Clegg for the Liberal Democrats had been preparing for the big moment for a long time. They had their own advisors –which included those who had groomed Obama. Many feel that the TV debate is now an essential especially since the opinion poll lead between the Conservatives and the Labour party has narrowed in recent months. Though it may be a frivolous way to push the argument, the prevailing wisdom is that it is these leadership debates will ultimately help voters to make up their minds.

So over the past few weeks, we had been fed information about what the leaders were expected to say on air and what their body language and their gestures would mean; we had also been told to look out for their weak links. The outgoing Prime Minister Gordon Brown had been told to keep a leash on his temper , while David Cameron had been told to communicate gravitas. However, Nick Clegg, the leader of the Labour Democrats from whom no one expected anything, had no such restrictions placed upon him. And this turned out to work to his advantage. It was the first time that the leader of the Liberal Democrats had been given such a terrific platform---on par with the Conservatives and the Labour party. And Clegg ,the unknown quantity, used it to his advantage. He was able to trash the older parties and lay all the problems the country is facing at their doorstep. Quite correctly he was able to point out that he , and not the Conservatives, was offering the real change –because the Lib Dems have recently not held power at the centre.

It was an infallible argument –and Clegg ( about whom till now the only interesting thing we had learnt was that he had slept with more than 30 women ) is now leading the pack. And this is where we have to respect the wonderful bookies of UK. Even before the debate began they had indicated that Nick Clegg would win it, And they were right. So now suddenly –all bets are off again –and the election will now definitely go down to the wire. But is this game-show format, with instant polls proclaiming a winner at the end of the debate, the best way to choose a Prime Minister? I don’t think any one wants to answer that question right now.

Meanwhile, another surprise this week was Gurinder Chaddha’s latest film, It’s a Wonderful Afterlife which had a red carpet premiere at London’s Leicester Square this week. A little wilder than her earlier films, and definitely meant for those with a strong stomach, it is , as someone said rather kindly ‘ a bit of mindless fun.’ Looking back at the extraordinary simplicity and effectiveness of Bend it Like Beckham, one is perplexed with the needlessly chaotic plot of It’s A Wonderful Afterlife. It is as though she took a bit from Monsoon Wedding, a bit from Shaun of the Dead, some bits from Carrie , shook them all up—shoved in a gurudwara, Bollywood bhangra, some murders, a few ghosts and then sat back to hope for the best. It is meant be a comedy but there are very few moments that one can actually laugh. In fact the so-called ‘funny’ portions in the film are actually completely gross: a sort of high school humour which perhaps appeals to a certain age group. However, my biggest problem with the film was the tackiness of the presentation . Right from the opening sequence, to the grey paint on the ghosts, to the visuals of Southall –the presentation was awkward. At a time when it is difficult to make films in the UK , when the country and industry is just coming out of recession, perhaps we need to really examine the kind of cinema which is being made and not waste any opportunity.

Shabana Azmi missed the premiere because she had broken her foot— and quite honestly, she, along with Sally Hawkins were perhaps the only two reasons why you should even attempt to see the film. However, I do think that even a great actress like Shabana was definitely underutilised. Well, we are hoping that Gurinder will recover soon from this foray and come back to Bend it Like Beckham standards quite soon.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

latest article published in Asian Age on 9th April

London Diary

This week’s highlight was the London Philharmonic Orchestra playing the music of A.R.Rahman at the prestigious Royal Festival Hall at Southbank. Needless to say, the event was sold-out: made distinctive not only by the South Asians of every hue and age crowding the venue, but also the huge number of non-Asian fans. He is now so well known to the foreign audience that they just automatically mumble ‘Jai Ho!’ the moment they hear his name! Alas, for many fans, ‘Jai Ho!’ was one number not played —though all of the chosen pieces were taken from film sound tracks composed by Rahman.

Rahman’s personal journey deserves a film by itself : catapulted from an innocuous background to Hollywood and worldwide acclaim at a comparatively young age is a very distant dream for most Indian musicians/composers. While he ( with great humility) credits his own spirituality for his amazing success---the rest of us are convinced that he has been born with a prodigious talent. The latter, of course, is something Rahman does not mention : he remains almost inarticulate in his responses to any form of interview or cross examination. Obviously, razzmatazz is not something Rahman has picked up along the way despite sharing platforms with other celebrities—and one felt almost sorry for the interviewer ( DJ Nihal, from BBC Radio 1) who struggled , and failed spectacularly, to get any information out of Rahman, at the end of the concert.

It was a wasted opportunity for the 2000 strong crowd who had waited till the end for the maestro to speak, but it is not an unusual experience. I often think that this is because interviewers in the UK , are just not used to celebrities ( especially from India) who are not overwhelmed by their own success. In the West, people usually push their own brands so much that DJs and interviewers have a very easy ride. But with so many really talented Indians now being showcased abroad, the interviewers here have to cope with a huge cultural gap – made worse by an inability to understand the almost Zen like indifference to success or failure that Rahman embodies, and which DJ Nihal was totally unprepared for. After the wonderful music, beautifully interpreted by the London Philharmonic Orchestra—the q and a was a complete disaster—because the DJ could not fathom either the world Rahman comes from or even the music that he composes.

The bottomline is that sharing the same skin colour , or even the same genetic background, does not make us belong to one global community or even automatically understand each other…unless the language is universal, ie, music.

Therefore, the music conducted by the very versatile Matt Dunkley , and played (and sung) by a 100 piece orchestra was a truly unique experience of Rahman’s genius. As he himself pointed out in his brief introduction--most of us would be surprised by his repertoire. And we were surprised-- both by the range of the music and the fact that he has been speaking an international language of music that works wonderfully right across from America to China. There were familiar themes from Roja, Slumdog Millionaire, and Lagaan, but also from Couples Retreat and Lord of the Rings. So even though the q and a did not help, we all understood Rahman very well at the end of the concert!

Meanwhile –the interest in the Scarlett Keeling case refuses to die out in the UK, especially since the trial of the case has now begun in India, nearly two years after the body of the beautiful teenager was found on Anjuna beach. A further twist has been added by the fact that the mother, Fiona MacKeown has pleaded guilty for falsely claiming £19,000 in benefits in the UK and is gearing up for a jail sentence here. This may not endanger her fight for justice for her daughter –but it will definitely make it difficult for her to freely attend the trials in India. It will be a strange moment in the fight for justice for Scarlett when both her mother and her alleged tormentors simultaneously face the prospect of incarceration. Even if the mother’s supposedly dodgy behaviour is used by the defence to deflect accusations of guilt—for the sake of Goa’s reputation as a safe haven for tourists, it is essential that the case is resolved soon. The media here have already reported that the case may last the rest of the year! This is an international scandal and to drag it on and on creates an impression of neglectful, and possibly corrupt, governance. As someone who has a vested interest in Goa’s reputation I find it quite depressing.

However, there is nothing like a piece of artistic conceit to cheer one up. The recently unveiled plan to construct a peculiarly twisted monument called the ArcelorMittal Orbit as the ‘artistic centrepiece of the 2012 Olympic park’ has left many completely gob smacked. Of course, given the fact that Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, persuaded the chief sponsor Laxmi Mittal to part with £ 19.1 million over a 40-second discussion in a cloakroom during the World Economic Forum at Davos, makes me wonder how desperate was Mittal to actually go to the loo? Had Boris Johnson blocked all the avenues of escape and said ‘Give me the money or else?’ These are tough times in the UK ( as the out-going Prime Minister Gordon Brown never tires of telling us) and anything is possible. Given the size and scale of the impending disaster to be designed by artist Anish Kapoor ( whose previous work I have sincerely admired) and structural engineer Cecil Balmond , the 115 metre tall red tower will definitely consume a lot of steel—1400 tonnes, which say some politer critics, could be better used. Johnson himself admits to some puzzlement over what it truly represents: a giant treble clef? a helter skelter ?or even a hookah…? There are many willing to explain to him what it actually does represent ( according to them) but then, this is a family newspaper, so I cannot tell you.

But the ArlecorMittal Orbit will definitely represent a cementing, oops!—steeling of the relationship between the erstwhile colony and the erstwhile ruler. I only hope Sheela Dikshit does not run into Mittal in a cloakroom before the Commonwealth games. Luckily there are very few chances of that happening—but don’t say I didn’t warn you!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

London diary--article in Asian Age ( last saturday)
The New Four Letter Word—Cuts
With elections around the corner , allegations and counter allegations between different political parties are flying fast and furious.Conservatives scored a hit when business houses attacked a new tax increase announced in the Budget. Riled by the attack, Labour has trashed the business leaders as ignorant of basic accounting. Yet these same business leaders sat on Gordon Brown’s Business Advisory Council. They were good then but bad now. But all this is humdrum stuff. Essentially everyone is saying the same thing—worrying about rebalancing the economy, reducing the deficit and looking around desperately for the magic formula of ‘efficiency savings’ or ‘what to cut’ in simple English.. The first-ever, US-style, pre-election TV debate between the three aspiring chancellors, Alistair Darling ( Labour), Vince Cable ( Liberal Democrats) and George Osborne ( Conservatives)was excruciatingly dull, because there was very little difference between what they said. Ultimately all they could do was taunt each other that they were being dishonest about their ‘cuts’.

There is so much focus on cuts, that the Liberal Democrat Leader has taken it very personally and has had a (rather bad) hair cut. Now with Easter upon us, there is little time for touchy-feely campaigning, raising the alarming prospect that the TV debate between the three main party leaders will be the real vote clincher.

So the truth is that more serious discussions now occur over ‘cuts’ –but of clothes, who wore what and how the various ‘wives’ square up against each other . These are, after all, the real issues/cuts which are going make a difference to the consumer, er…, voter, as the packaging will reflect the kind of government a particular party may provide. Now choosing a political party is less about ideology and more and more as though one is in a super market. Any fashion gaffe at this stage—especially as we head towards a hung parliament –may just be the reason why a voter may turn from Labour to Conservative. And it is here that the wives are also coming under severe scrutiny.

Whilst I completely agree that if husbands and wives must share certain core values in order to stick together—I am not very certain that this applies to their wardrobe… In fact the Prime Ministerial hopeful, David Cameron, recently confessed that essentially he is locked into a room and his wife ( the extremely elegant Samantha Cameron) shoves the clothes he has to wear under the door. Like all law abiding husbands he does not question her choice. But recently many pages of newsprint were spent discussing his ‘Terminator’ type leather jacket casual attire when he addressed an election meet. It was lambasted by most newspapers as a real voter turnoff. What a colossal blunder SamCam had committed!—this was not what was expected from David Cameron! The kindest explanation was that those shoes/trousers/jackets/shirts shoved under the door must have been done so in an extreme moment of morning sickness. Yes, we have also recently learnt that SamCam is going to have a BabyCam –as many newspapers put it.

Whatever we may feel about Michelle Obama –she has completely changed the role that
‘first wives’ can play for hopeful ‘first husbands’. So now confessions about how their husbands throw smelly socks about and are terrible ‘channel flippers’ are also obvious vote getters. These things apparently ‘humanise’ their husbands ( who are actually aliens, as no red-blooded real human would want to inherit a sinking economy) and makes them more electable. Or delectable.

Not only are wardrobes being discussed, there are also helpful press notes sent out from party offices of who is wearing what from the high street, and how much it cost.. Meanwhile, the jury is still out on whether wives should be used as secret weapons by their husbands brought out to annihilate the opposition. But it has been agreed that if she is a pregnant ‘secret weapon’ –it is alright. We all love babies at Downing Street! Gordon Brown has still to announce the elections but almost all important topics from wives to clothes to babies have been already exhausted …..and so we are waiting for the media response to manifesto pledges on high heels or hair. I simply cannot think of anything more important than that….

Going to the Oxford Literary Festival to read from my book, Witness the Night, which has just been published here –was a wonderful, if rainsoaked experience. But why must the elements conspire against literary festivals? At Jaipur I had to battle my way through dense fog—and here it was a very, very wet morning. But bravely clutching a coffee and a croissant I settled down on a train which was squeaky clean and ran like clockwork between Paddington and Oxford. The 8:51 a.m. actually left precisely on time.

Christ Church where the reading was held is wonderfully atmospheric with large drafty rooms —and the thought that somewhere close by were other attending authors, which this year have included John le Carre, Jung Chang, Martin Amis, Ian McEwan, A S Byatt…. was a thrilling moment . Now perhaps I can claim ‘I have read at Oxford’.

Despite the icy blizzards and election winds blowing though the UK, it continues to be season of theatre and cinema. Personally I am looking forward to seeing Behud –written by the intrepid Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti –whose last play, Behzti (2004) was shut down by an irate Sikh community. It is still an incident which most liberals in the UK regard as a blow against freedom of speech. In Bezhti, Bhatti had portrayed a rape which takes place inside a Gurudwara, and raised some troubling issues about the Sikh community. This led to near riots as the community wanted her to remove the reference to the Gurudwara altogether. Bhatti refused and ultimately, amidst a volatile situation, the play was pulled off.

But she hasn’t given up . Now she has—with great chutzpah--written a theatrical production about that entire incident. She has placed herself on stage as Tarlochan, a playwright pushed to the limits, as she recreates on stage, the writing of her play and the circumstances under which it was shut down. Initially, ( in her version) all the actors/characters in the play are supportive of her efforts—but slowly questions arise and Tarlochan/Bhatti is finally forced to reassess her own situation, as erstwhile supporters desert her. So far the play has been well-received –with some reservations. However, the real accolades for Bhatti have arisen from the fact that she has been able to return to the stage , even after a frightening and unnerving situation which would not have won her many friends among the Sikh community. Bravo!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

good to be back

have been away --busy with my book being published. now that i am back, i can see that there are so many things to blog about! we're all constantly getting worked up over the elections in the UK--so i'm glad a touch of humour is now being provided with the poster war between the main two from tomorrow i have to start working on my screenplay and my book. no more procrastinating. i've just been reading about the new technique to get your brain around working is to give yourself immediate deadlines. ie, work for 25 minutes, take a 5 minute break, then work for 25 mins again seems you can fool your brain and stop pushing things away till tomorrow....and for a writer its always tough isnt it??