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

RUBINA’S RADAR | THE FIRST WEEK OF 2018

RUBINA’S RADAR 

2017 ended with a thunderous affirmation of Salman “Tiger” Khan being more than just alive with ₹300 crore and counting at the box office with Tiger Zinda Hai. 2018 opened with a worldwide reverberation of Oprah Winfrey’s acceptance speech, in Atelier Versace in Time’s Up black at the 75th Annual Golden Globe Awards in Los Angeles. Add a celebrated Sri Lankan/Japanese masterchef to that and the first week of 2018’s been all about film, fashion, food and fiercely female.

Sri Lankan chef, Dharshan Munidasa of the famed Ministry Of Crab in Colombo, Sri Lanka, is finally bringing his restaurant to Mumbai in May 2018. Munidasa, of both Sri Lankan and Japanese descent, owns Ministry Of Crab, one of the World’s Top 50 Restaurants 2017, alongside business partners and cricketing legends, Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakarra in his home country. The masterchef was in the city for a day with Jayawardene to announce the opening of the restaurant, in collaboration with Gourmet Investments Pvt Ltd at the newly opened, The Runway Project, in Phoenix Mills. The signing of the partnership amidst flashbulbs was rather unfashionably Trump-esque, but aside from that, it was a mirthful evening. There’s always a story behind everything and everyone famous today, including Munidasa. India’s best known wine connoisseur, Sanjay Menon, chanced upon Munidasa’s culinary skills at his standalone Japanese restaurant, Nihonbashi in Colombo, about a decade ago, when Ministry Of Crab did not even exist. Menon is a friend Munidasa values highly as his word of mouth, and a private pop-up dinner at the ITC Parel that he organised with Munidasa in the kitchen some moons ago, created the Munidasa magic that subsequently led to the opening of the first Ministry Of Crab. Mumbai will be the second outpost of the restaurant, the location of which still being a classified secret, and the third is slated to open in Bangkok, Thailand later this year. Mumbai is ready for some “crab excellence” Munidasa style, this summer.

A new resto-bar, Mashhad is opening this January at a first-of-its-kind location in Mumbai. Mashhad is situated right inside the entrance corridor of the Taj Santacruz hotel at the city’s domestic airport in Santacruz. Comprising of Persian-Lebanese-Indian cuisine, it is an unusual spot to open a fine-dining, only by reservation, restaurant and lounge. Mashhad was scheduled to open on Salman Khan’s birthday on December 27th, with him as the guest of honour, but it had to be postponed to January due to unforeseeable circumstances. Khan will be at Mashhad on opening night, supposedly on the 10th of this month, alongside a smattering of celebrities and wannashines who’d like to reaffirm their own existence in the presence of the elusive Tiger.

And the United States created fiercely female history that stands testament to the fact that America is a land where dreams and aspirations come true. Oprah Winfrey received the Cecil B. DeMille Award Lifetime Achievement Award at the 75th Annual Golden Globes in LA with an acceptance speech that will reverberate for years to come, not to mention the long standing ovation she received from everyone in the room at the Beverly Hilton. Winfrey is the first African-American woman to receive this award, bestowed by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association for “outstanding contributions to the world of entertainment”. “In 1964, I was a little girl sitting on the linoleum floor of my mother’s house in Milwaukee watching Anne Bancroft present the Oscar for Best Actor at the 36th Academy Awards. She opened the envelope, and said five words that literally made history: ‘The winner is Sidney Poitier.’ Up to the stage came the most elegant man I had ever seen. I remember his tie was white and, of course, his skin was black. And I’d never seen a black man being celebrated like that. But all I can do is quote and say that the explanation in Sidney’s performance in Lilies of the Field, ‘Amen, amen. Amen, amen’. In 1982, Sidney received the Cecil B. DeMille Award right here at the Golden Globes, and it is not lost on me that at this moment, there are some little girls watching as I become the first black woman to be given this same award. I’d like to thank the Hollywood Foreign Press Association because we all know that the press is under siege these days, but we also know that it is the insatiable dedication to uncovering the absolute truth that keeps us from turning a blind eye to corruption and to injustice, to tyrants and victims and secrets and lies. I want to say that I value the press more than ever before as we try to navigate these complicated times, which brings me to this: what I know for sure is that speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have. And I’m especially proud and inspired by all the women who have felt strong enough and empowered enough to speak up and share their personal stories,” said Winfrey on stage.

If the rumblings of Winfrey running for the US Presidency 2020 are true, and she does run, I will be the happiest girl in the world. I too, was once a little girl, watching The Oprah Winfrey Show every chance I got, being mesmerised by her work, her kindness, her humour and laughter and her unflailing faith in the fabric of humanity. I learnt a lot from her talk show – right from serious issues plaguing the world, exposes on the macabre practices of mankind, every fun fashion and makeup item on her favourites list, what books to read, Maya Angelou poems, her philanthropic work across the world and every celebrity I should know of, and wanted to meet, through her show. She made me believe I could do anything I wanted to, and in the greater tomorrows to come.

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

Living Life Sultan-size At The Opulent Ciragan Palace Kempinski, Istanbul!

There’s a certain je ne sais quoi about Istanbul, or erstwhile Byzantium and Constantinople, in the Republic of Turkey, that’s as enchanting as it is enigmatic, given its artistic and regal antiquity. Right by the shore of the Bosphorous Strait on the European side, overlooking Asia across the blue ribbon, stands the majestic Çırağan Palace Kempinski hotel, the last residence of the Turkish Sultans from the glorious Ottoman era.

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Ciragan Palace Kempinski Bosphorous view | Photo: Rubina A Khan

The architectural magnificence and royal grandeur of the Çırağan (meaning “spreading light”) Palace is captivating – glittering chandeliers, Ottoman and Baroque style interiors, high ceilings, plush Turkish carpets, luxuriant gardens lined with palm trees along the waterfront – all befitting of a sovereign, serenading his harem of alluring women amorously on these very grounds, so much so, that you start walking around with an arched stance, like a Sultan yourself, surveying your transient kingdom!

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Heritage Palace Wing of the Caravan Palace Kempinski that houses the Imperial Sultan Suite | Photo: Rubina A Khan

And if anything exemplifies opulence, it is the Sultan Suite in the heritage palace wing of the hotel. It is one of the most expensive suites in the world (€ 30,000 a night) and the largest in Europe, with a handmade marble Hamam (Turkish Bath) attached to its master bedroom, replete with gold plated and crystal faucets, a private steam room and rain shower and your own Hamam attendants! Italian operatic tenor, Luciano Pavarotti was the first guest of this luxurious suite once the palace was restored and opened to the public as a Kempinski hotel in 1992, followed by U2’s Bono, Madonna and Oprah Winfrey, amongst many other global luminaries as its guests in residence.

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Sultan Suite | Photo: Rubina A Khan

The Turkish Hamam is a culturally significant bathing ritual that harks back hundreds of years to the Ottoman empire when the custom began in Anatolia and it was not just for the privileged or the imperial classes. The Turks built communal bathhouses where men and women, belonging to any rank or strata of society, could enjoy a Hamam, albeit at separate times, given the Islamic way of life. The Hamam was an extremely important inclusion in people’s lives, from the beginning of life to the very end. The word Hamam simply means a Turkish bath, but nothing about it is simple; it’s a self-indulgent and leisurely bathing ceremony. Back then; Hamams were used not just for cleansing and relaxing the body, but also for celebratory events with song and dance, food and drink, akin to a party, but in a bathhouse! The Sultans, along with their wives and harems of beautiful girls, indulged in Hamams in their palaces that went on for hours. Interestingly, the emperor as well as his wife or wives, were both addressed as Sultan.

 

The hotel’s Sanitas Spa recreates the magical ambience, reminiscent of the Ottoman Hamam times in the palace, with the 40-minute Pasha / Sultan treatment (€130) being the most popular. In the serene environs of the spa, a glass of refreshing apple water is brought to you, as your Hamam attendant gently washes your feet. She then helps you disrobe and wraps a hand-woven, thin, but highly absorbent, cotton wash cloth (Peştemal) around your waist and takes you into the exotically aromatic and heated Hamam. It’s almost minimalistic in its white marble design, with a massive marble slab in the middle of the bathhouse, but for the ornate wall carvings and designs like the original palace Hamam.

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Sanitas Spa Hamam

As you lie down on the warm marble slab, called “göbek taşı” in Turkish, the heat begins to envelop your body and soul, and as you relax and give in to the soothing sounds of the Turkish music, the outside world ceases to exist. The attendant then scrubs your body with a specially textured mitten that exfoliates and cleanses the skin, improving blood circulation, making your skin exceptionally soft to the touch, like silk. She then covers your person in a fragrant soap foam, making you float away on a dreamy white cloud, as she massages your head and body with aromatic oils, revitalizing your muscles, with special attention to your hands and feet. Then she shampoos the oil off your hair with an exceptional amalgamation of a head massage and rinse. Big metal cauldrons of water, first hot and then cold, are then poured over you to rinse off the soap and just like that, the most sensual bath experience of your life comes to an end with a cup of tea or the very sweet Turkish sherbet.

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Pestemal

At no point during the ritual do you want to open your eyes and especially when the Hamam is over. You’d think getting bathed by another human being in a manner so intimate would be odd and somewhat embarrassing, but it surprisingly isn’t; it feels absolutely natural to renew your body and soul, in a bath session as indulgent and spiritual as this. The oriental Haman ritual eclipses any kind of spa experience you’ve ever had and spoils you for life. The Sehrazat (55 minutes / € 165) and VIP Hamams (80 minutes / € 500) on the menu are amped up, more indulgent versions of the Pasha / Sultan Hamam to spoil your body and nourish your soul. The Çırağan spa has male Hamam attendants for men and female ones for women, like in the Ottoman era, but in today’s times, if a man requests for a female attendant or vice versa, the spa complies. Who knew water, soap suds and magical hands could come together in such exotic harmony?

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Turkish cuisine at Tugra from the kitchens of the Sultans of the Ottoman Empire | Photo: Rubina A Khan

From eating authentic Ottoman cuisine at Tuğra, their signature restaurant, with recipes straight from the kitchens of the Sultans like the incredibly delicious Testi (Turkish for clay pot) Lamb Casserole to bathing like the Sultans in the Hamam, to savoring a cup of Turkish coffee in the gazebo, watching the ships go by, living life Sultan-size in the Çırağan Palace is undeniably a hedonistic affair, with the Hamam ritual being the most momentuous, and unforgettable aspect of it all.

©Rubina A Khan 2015