I Am A Remote Addict: Amitabh Bachchan #Bollywood #Throwback

Towards the end of the 1990s, Amitabh Bachchan’s fortunes were at its lowest ebb. His venture, Amitabh Bachchan Corp Ltd, stared bankruptcy in the face. Worse, his films were flopping. India’s greatest superstar’s days appeared numbered. The public, who had worshipped him for over a quarter century, seemed to be tiring of him. And then Kaun Banega Crorepati happened. Both television and Amitabh’s fortunes changed irrevocably with the quiz show. A decade later now, he returns to the living room of India as the host of the reality show Bigg Boss. His pay cheque for the laity series is rumoured to be Rs 1.5 crore per episode. Aside from being on the tube on a daily basis, by way of peddling designer threads to cars to hair oils, to the infinite reruns of his 70s smash hits to the controversies that make him national news today, Bachchan actually likes watching television. Back in Mumbai after spending time in Singapore with friend Amar Singh who was recuperating from a kidney ailment, Bachchan talked to Rubina A Khan about the small screen, friendships, relationships and his blog which terrifies journalists.

KBC changed TV dynamics forever. You are now back as pop philosopher on Bigg Boss. What do you expect from the show? 
I expect nothing more than being able to do the job assigned to me in as efficient a manner as possible. ‘Changing dynamics’ are for the producers of the show to assess. I am not aware what they mean. It will make me happy if the show does well. When the fruits of your labour taste good, it is a fulfilling experience. 

If you had a choice, whom would you put inside the house from the film industry? 
No one!

KBC prompted many film stars to follow suit. There was Govinda, Shah Rukh Khan and now, Salman Khan and Akshay Kumar. Whose hosting style do you like the most? 
Stars from film hosting shows on the small screen gave the viewing audience an opportunity to see and hear their favourites as they were in real life. They were not playing an assigned role written for them by someone else. People liked what they saw and applauded them. So for the viewing audience, each host was appealing, because they were able to see a facet of the actor hitherto unknown. Govinda, Shah Rukh, Salman, Akshay are known to me. I know what they are in real life away from the sets and camera, and they are all very appealing to me. Asking whose style of conducting a show I like, would be asking me to categorise their appeal to me. That would be wrong and unfair. They have all worked with me and have always shown me immense respect. Tell me, how does one give marks to respect?

You are an ardent follower of the international series, The West Wing. What do you like about it? Which character would you have liked to play in the show, if you were asked? 
I have liked the very concept of the format. Who would have imagined that the office of the President of the United States of America would be material for a TV serial! The whole excitement of being able to position yourself inside those hallowed portals is enough to keep one glued to the proceedings. Then as the events unfold, the speed with which incidents occur and are addressed, is an education in screenplay writing and performance acumen. Each situation, each performer is so perfectly crafted that it is impossible to find even a minuscule flaw. It’s absolutely brilliant! Just observe the camera movements on shots. It is incredible how they have operated them with such finesse and élan. The timings of the artists, the entries and exits, the lighting and the steady cam movements are done to perfection… And what of the artists! They are all simply brilliant. Each chosen and performing to such perfection that it is ompossible to imagine any other in their place. I would have been happy to play an ‘extra’, or ‘junior artist’ as we address them respectfully here in India, in the background, making my ‘passing shot’ on the odd cue, just so I would get an opportunity to watch and observe how magnificently each episode was recorded.

How many hours of television do you watch in a day? 
Depends what kind of show I am watching. A sporting event would occupy me for the entire duration of the game, a serial perhaps for the duration of the episode or not even, news and debates till the topic is over and horror shows not even a few seconds!

Which Indian show is your favourite? 
I like the debates and panel discussions and sports activities. On occasion, the History Channel and National Geographic are of great interest to me.

Do you stick out a whole show or are you a channel surfer and a remote addict?  
I am a remote addict. Though if you were to disturb a sporting event that I was watching, you’d be in serious trouble.

What’s your favorite TV dinner / snack? 
Popcorn, wafers, chura, chikki, cranberry juice, khakra..

The media dreads your blog in case they are next on your flog list. What do you make of that? 
 This is a most exaggerated assumption. The media dreads no one, and most certainly not someone of my insignificance. The media is the conscience of the nation. It would be a sad day for any nation if their conscience lived in fear. My blog is not a flog destination. It is a medium that allows me to talk to myself, with a few listening on. If I have found inaccuracy in the reported media, I correct it. If I have found merit in their writing, I have applauded it. The media has always been the one that asks the questions, and in doing so has the ability to put the one that gives the answers on the defensive. Observe Prabhu Chawla, Barkha Dutt, Rajdeep Sardesai, Prannoy Roy, Arnab Goswami, Deepak Chaurasia and a host of other most efficient interviewers on television. Their entire body language and demeanour is one of great authoritative superiority. Pan the camera now at their ‘meal for the day’ sitting opposite, and you shall find all of us quivering there like rats soaked in water, ready to be devoured. My blog gives me an opportunity to ask the questions and for the media to answer them. This is a reversal they have not faced and are therefore wary of it. But why should they? In a free and liberal society, I have equal right to question. And I now have a medium where I can be heard without the intrusion or the tacit permission of the Fourth Estate. If you are not afraid to question, be not afraid to answer too. For far too long, the celebrity on interview has almost pleaded with the interviewer ‘I hope you are going to write something good about me’. I will not hesitate to admit that there is a sense of poetic justice now, when I hear from some rather prominent journalists who come to interview when they say, ‘I hope you are not going to write about us in your blog, we’re very scared of what you will say!’ Let the media be the watchdog of society. We must welcome that. But who’s watching the dog? Or does the watchdog not deserve to be watched?

Bollywood’s a place of fickle friendships and pseudo relationships. But you have been with your friend Amar Singh for months while he was being treated in Singapore. For an extremely busy person, how do you juggle it all so well and make it seem so effortless? 
I do not know the meaning of ‘fickle friendships’ nor do I have any knowledge of what ‘pseudo relationships’ mean. Someone is either a friend or not a friend. What are fickle and pseudo doing there? There is no room for them. I also do not like the word ‘juggle’ that you have used. It conveys a manual physical act, deployed to manoeuvre a condition, which in my reckoning requires nothing more than heart. I do not see any reason for me to justify my desire to be with Amar Singhji. To me, he is not a friend, he is a member of my family. I was aware of his medical condition and was aware of the amount of time it would require for him to heal. I therefore finished all my work by end June and came to Singapore to be with him for as long it would take for him to get back. I have not taken on any work and I have no films on hand. Only recently, on seeing his progress and his possible discharge, have I taken on a TV programme that requires my involvement from October. I have been by his side for almost three months now and not moved out for a single day. You say I have made it ‘seem so effortless’. Dear lady, the day I shall have to make an effort in friendship, it will be the end of the relationship!

Abhishek and Aishwarya shot for the Oprah Winfrey show recently. Will we see you and Jaya on her show sometime soon? 
How’d I know? Ask Oprah!

This feature first appeared in OPEN on September 26, 2009 and is a part of my #Bollywood #Throwback series 

©Rubina A Khan 2018

If They Tell Me To Kiss, I Ask How Long: Akshay Kumar #Bollywood #Throwback

Rajiv Hari Om Bhatia once lived in a small house with 18 relatives in Delhi’s Chandni Chowk. He was just one of the many handsome young men then leading an unremarkable life. Until he suddenly became Akshay Kumar in what was then called Bombay. In an industry where stardom is usually a favour of the genes, Akshay Kumar somehow managed to find spectacular success. There have been murmurs that he is the highest paid star in the country. It is tempting to publish his astronomical fees, but then most Bollywood figures are unworthy of print. What is true, though, is that he is right there at the very top.

In conversation with Rubina A Khan for Open, he describes the world according to him, and why he doesn’t think highly of critics who have panned his latest film Kambakkht Ishq. Excerpts:

Critics say that Kambakkht Ishq is a vulgar and cheap film. It’s making money at the box office, though. How do you see this situation? Let me put this as politely as possible: people who can be paid to say bad things will [say whatever they are paid to say], but at the end of the day, the audience proves us all right or wrong. Film lovers number in millions versus a handful of negative critics. In my life, never have I let someone else make my decisions for me. If a random person tells me something is bad, I’m not going to listen to him or agree with him. I’m my own person, we all have different tastes. I like tea without sugar, but my sister likes it with sugar, no problem. If we all didn’t have our own tastes, all the men in the world would be married to the same woman, wouldn’t they? Reviews have never changed my decision to want to see any movie, Indian or international. I have my own opinion and that’s enough for me and it should be for you too.

Was Kambakkht Ishq supposed to be your ticket to Hollywood? Sylvester Stallone, Brandon Routh and Denise Richards are in the film. 
It is nowhere near a ticket to Hollywood but by the sound of it, they [Hollywood stars] wouldn’t mind a ticket to Bollywood. We are all in love with our own industries. I’ve no agenda when I star in a film. I can’t exactly plead with my producers to spend huge amounts of money to sign great international stars just so that I can satisfy my whim to go to Hollywood. Hell, no. We just want to show that we are as big and as capable as anyone in the world in the business of cinema, and have fun in the process.

Akshay Kumar

You’ve kissed Denise Richards and Kareena Kapoor a lot in the film. Did the script demand it or were you inspired on your own? Denise even went on to say that she was left in no doubt that you were Bollywood’s hottest man and a great kisser. 
AI had to kiss these wonderful ladies not only because my character demanded it, but also because a red-blooded, hotheaded stuntman can’t exactly be frigid now, can he? But more importantly, I’m an actor and I do what my director asks me to do. If he says ‘jump’, I ask ‘how high’, if he says ‘kiss’, I just ask him ‘for how long’. Simple. We are human beings and we have been kissing since birth. It’s strange that people are so amazed at its existence in our country. In the film, they weren’t rude kisses or anything like that. They were kisses in character and were in sync with the story line.

Before every film release of yours, a slew of malicious and scandalous rumours make the rounds like the one involving your trainer Jennifer or one of your co-stars like Katrina Kaif, or about your box office collections being poor. How does that happen? 
A lot of people out there don’t like me getting a fair chance in life or my fair share in the big Bollywood pie. They get scared and possessive of their territory and react in the only human way they know—create a war to make themselves feel better. All I can say is I’m sorry you guys have to read and hear this kind of negative and false stuff. Just think of it as light entertainment. I’m glad everyone has noticed the pattern finally, the fact that there are only bad things said when I have a movie releasing. This has been happening to me for a while now. But I still stand tall and say never mind and go on with my business. Who said show business was easy anyway?

Which Hollywood actor or personality would you like to be associated with in a future film? 
Meryl Streep. She is an actress who sweeps clean the floor with any actor she works with. On second thoughts, maybe I’d be too scared to share a scene with her since she is so very talented and fabulous. Also, I would love to work with Quentin Tarantino as his movies are so outrageous, so radically different.

How has the slowdown of the economy in India affected you?
AMy asking fees in the recession is half of what it was when our country’s economy was booming. We are all only what our country can give. If we run low on rice, I will have rice only once a day, if we run low on money, I can only charge what the country can afford. I have no work if there is no money in the banks. I’m not a money grabbing thief as I am painted out to be. I do have morals you know.

You are becoming quite a style icon, aren’t you? Your films too are creating a lot of fashion trends. 
Well, thank you very much Rubina, but I don’t think you have ever seen what I look like off screen. I deliberately make an effort to look like I don’t own a wardrobe so I can walk around looking like a tramp in the hope that no one recognises me. But on screen, I try and make a huge effort to look presentable for my fans and audiences. Otherwise, my wife Tina would kill me.

Khatron Ke Khiladi has lured you into hosting the second season too. When does it hit the television screens? 
AAh ha. It is coming out sometime in September-October. Even I can’t wait to see what all these girls went through, again. I am still feeling sorry for them—it was that khatarnak (dangerous). If you thought the first season was crazy and had you on edge, this one has to be seen to be believed.

This feature first appeared in OPEN on July 25, 2009 and is a part of my #Bollywood #Throwback series 

©Rubina A Khan 2018

RUBINA’S REVIEW: PADMAAVAT IS THE NEW PADMAVATI

Padmaavat, with Deepika Padukone playing the valorous Queen Padmavati of Chittor, finally releases on Friday with a gender swap in its title from the original Padmavati to Padmaavat. From a film on periods (Padman) being pushed to a February release by its lead actor, Akshay Kumar, to give the period drama that is Padmaavat more theatre play due to the fiscally debilitating off-screen histrionics around it, the ongoing PMS (Padmavati Movie Stress) hasn’t abated just as yet.

I saw the film on Tuesday evening at journalist and author, Shobhaa De’s screening in Mumbai. 120 minutes into the film, I simply couldn’t fathom why the director, Sanjay Leela Bhansali would even call his film Padmavati in the first place; he very well could have called it Khilji as it’s a glorified, and almost one-directional ode to Alauddin Khilji’s insatiable lust for immortality, battle and sex. And, his relentless desire to possess Queen Padmavati of course. The film highlights the Rajput and Kshatriya codes of honour and living in a manner most celebratory, Bhansali’s chandeliers, diyas and picturesque frames notwithstanding. In no way does it demean Indian culture and its customs, and no Indian will be affronted with the film. Though Bhansali does seem to unnecessarily lionise Khilji beyond his omnipresent pillaging fame.
imagesAs the antagonist Khilji, Ranveer Singh looks menacing and monstrous physically, but his wavering accent that switches from Arabian to contemporary Hindi to Afghan, along with an inept enunciation of the language of his Sultanate, makes it difficult to believe he’s a 14th century imperial Sultan. Singh’s performance is flamboyant, loud and open to interpretation sexually, but he is not convincing as an erstwhile ruler or wannabe Alexander the Great in the making in the least. And, as for the costumery, when Singh ascends the throne of his slain uncle, Jalaluddin Khilji (Raza Murad) he wears heeled boots with the royal regalia on his person! Sure, high-heeled boots for men were in use as early as the 10th century for equestrian sports, but it seems highly unlikely that Khilji would have had access to those during his time in India.

Shahid Kapoor as Maharawal Ratan Singh of Mewar is ineffectual in the film. But in his regal dhoti/lungi, he makes for an exquisite kohl-eyed, eight pack ab-fab model that Calvin Klein needs to add to its brand new Kardashian-Jenner spread immediately! As Queen Padmavati’s paramour and subsequent husband, he is rather rigid and impassive, which is very unlike Kapoor’s able celluloid skills. Padukone is flawlessly beautiful (more so in 3D) serene and poised in every single frame, looking as cinematically desirable as she possibly can, but Kapoor meets her stellar, restrained performance with a face bereft of any emotion, romantic or otherwise. There are no subtle layers or nuances to his performance as a royal in command and especially so in the intimate scenes with Padukone. And no one does the neck quite like Shah Rukh Khan, in Khan’s own words. The only time Kapoor shines in the film is during his duel in the desert with the lust-lorn Sultan. His quiet resolve and aggressive battle moves speak volumes here.

Padmaavat plays on Khilji’s self-serving megalomania and his obsession with Padmavati’s beauty. Padmavati is his unattainable dream in the film till Padukone takes on her role as queen in the last hour of the film’s screen time. In effect, the film is a take on Khilji and his obsession with her luminous beauty that is a mere catalyst to his narcissistic lust. The battle scenes are reminiscent of Troy (2004) as is the story line pertaining to the quest and conquest of a beautiful woman. The dialogues are rife with varying language styles – in some scenes, Kapoor says waqt in a Rajasthani accent when the word samay would have worked just as well for his character. The Ghoomar song is basic, nothing extra really. It is just another well-choreographed Bollywood number and incomparable to the greats Bhansali has orchestrated in the past in films like Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (1999) and Devdas (2002). But then, who knows what the uncut version of the song looked like! The film is based on the legend of Khilji and Padmavati, assuming everyone is aware of this historical obsession, and that does not suffice for 180 odd minutes on film. The screenplay does not offer any backstory to Khilji’s temperament or his dynasty’s reign, or take cinematic licence with Maharawal’s and Padmavati’s romantic interludes or add more authenticity to the time period the film is set in, besides heavily embroidered clothes and Bhansali-esque sets. Language, both verbal and body, is terribly askew in the film.

Padukone is the only actor who stays in character, in language and poise, and costume throughout Padmavati-turned-Padmaavat’s over three hour runtime. It is her aura and acting prowess that Padmaavat will be remembered for, not to mention also taking home the highest fee for any Indian actress to date for the film. And just for that, I am glad the film was named after her central character, with or without an “I”.

Did I like the film? Well, let’s just say I was forced into a massive historical throwback and it’s not even Thursday yet!

Disclaimer: Any part of the content on the rubinaakhan.com website cannot be reproduced without prior permission and crediting the website and the author.

©Rubina A Khan 2018

Twinkle Khanna Launches Her Second Book, The Legend Of Lakshmi Prasad

Rubina A Khan interviews the multifaceted author Twinkle Khanna for Gulf News:

Twinkle Khanna’s first book, Mrs Funnybones went into reprint over 25 times, and her second book, The Legend of Lakshmi Prasad, published by Juggernaut Books has already gone into its second print run of another 50,000 copies in the first month of its launch! The book was released on Tuesday evening at the JW Marriott Juhu in Mumbai and had Shabana Azmi, Ranbir Kapoor and Alia Bhatt reading excerpts from the same, with Karan Johar in conversation with the author. Khanna has evidently got the business of funny right, not just in her bones, but also in the literary world, with her distinct voice being read and heard, and most importantly, loved. The Legend of Lakshmi Prasad, currently at the number two spot on the Amazon India bestseller list, is a collection of stories that stem from inspired experiences in her life.

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Twinkle Khanna at the launch of her second book, The Legend of Lakshmi Prasad

“I was doing some research for a column when I chanced upon Arunachalam Muruganantham’s life, and his incredible work of making low-cost sanitary napkins for women. His story gripped me and that’s when I sat down, wrote the first few pages and sent them off to my editor to take a look. Then I began chasing Muruga and after innumerable, lengthy interviews, he agreed to let me fictionalize his story and that is how this book came into being. The other stories then followed, as they were all topics I had briefly touched upon through my columns and now, I could weave substantial tales around them,” says Khanna of the book’s existence.

The elemental difference in the narrative style between Mrs Funnybones and Lakshmi Prasad is that Khanna wrote the former in first person, in a “laugh-a-minute sort of narrative” and the latter in third person, “touching upon social issues in a light-hearted manner.” Khanna expands on her choice of publisher for Lakshmi Prasad, with a whimsy that is quintessentially her. “Chiki Sarkar was my editor and publisher at Penguin when I wrote Mrs Funnybones and so when she left to establish her own publishing house, Juggernaut Books, I just followed her like Mary’s little lamb.” She plays down her irreverent sense of wit, with a real, grounded sense of self. “My family is filled with oddballs and we all indulge in playful banter and pull each other’s legs. It’s not as much as them enjoying my company, as much it is for all us to just be together, making each other laugh. It has been a gratifying couple of years now since I wrote my first book. I bump into readers everywhere I go and I think the greatest compliment is that people have stopped asking me about anything else except my writing and I love that.”

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Karan Johar in conversation with Twinkle Khanna at the launch

A strong black coffee in the morning, followed by endless cups of green and peppermint tea throughout the day fuel the mother, wife, daughter, interior designer and writer in her. But it’s the coffee she had recently with Karan Johar on his show, Koffee With Karan Season 5, alongside her husband Akshay Kumar that’s got everyone talking. From her husband’s size (shoe-size!) to Johar’s preference of keeping his mike in a part of his anatomy that’s best left unseen and unwritten, gave viewers an almost uncensored version of her unabashedly humorous and mocking self. If there was any doubt in anyone’s mind that she was not the brain behind her writings, KWK dispelled it all with one clean and hilarious swipe on the show that left even Johar and the viewers stumped for words. “I don’t think a brain has been established inside my head; everyone has a brain and I just looked after mine pretty well by feeding it lots of books. I am really not concerned with how people, men as well as women, perceive me, whether I am sexier now that I seem to have a brain or otherwise.”

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Akshay Kumar and Ranbir Kapoor

Now that she’s a bestselling author, her words are platinum, especially to an aspiring writer. “I would tell anyone who wants to get published to read everything they can get their hands on and that they establish a routine of writing every single day. Literary agents look for something they call a ‘voice’ that’s distinctive, remarkable and defining and the best writers have one, and you can hear it echoing in your head when you read their work. A writer needs to have a distinctive style as well in order to make it easier for them to find a publisher for their works.”

When she’s not busy observing the world and writing on it, Khanna loves reading to her four-year-old daughter Nitara. “I read every single day to her. Nitara shares my love for reading and also has a curious mind like mine. She is fascinated by Julia Donaldson’s books at the moment,” says the glamorous mother of two.

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Ranbir Kapoor read an excerpt from the book

This feature first appeared in Gulf News on November 17, 2016

©Rubina A Khan 2016