Hi everyone! On January 20th, 2021, I started a new series of live conversations called RUBINA’S RADAR – UNEDITED – on Instagram and Youtube with couturier Rohit Bal, a legend on India’s fashion landscape. It’s been two months since, and twelve interviews thus far, with some of the most legendary international icons and visionaries from the worlds of fashion, film, sports, luxury travel, business and then some…
One of the world’s most desirable real estate markets, Mumbai, is open for business in the new world. But, is anyone really interested in buying anything aside from essentials, groceries, masks and maybe some peace of mind under clear blue skies and warm, aureate sunshine right now? Yes, they are – and they’re buying real estate, not Chanel! Well, Chanel masks to be honest, not couture.
Mumbai’s realty buys are on a momentous high, never mind all the financial despondency that’s engulfing the world. Who are these cash-on-deck people with the flux of money that are buying in such an indeterminable financial climate? Not whimsical buyers for sure, as the realty business is no place for fiscal braggadocio or investment buys right now. People who have been on the market for a buy are closing deals swiftly, as are the indecisive fencers. And why ever would they not, given apartments in Worli in South Mumbai are selling at INR 6.2 CR today versus the initial asking price of INR 9.5 CR, and a 10 CR apartment is available for a negotiable INR 8.5 CR and new developments are being offered, and purchased, at INR 9.5 CR from the original price of INR 15CR in midtown Mumbai? Incredulous, but true.
“Buy land, they’re not making it anymore,” said author and humourist Mark Twain and that holds true for Mumbai’s realty buyers of high-rises built on land, and reclaimed land. During Covid19, buyers are seeking balconies and private terraces that are the new amenities today, instead of gyms and swimming pools, and if a luxe apartment has either, it’s a singing deal straight to the bank. Photographs, virtual tours and a final show-around – when everything is almost set in stone between the realtor and the buyer – but not without seriously vetting of the buyer prior – is the new order of the realty business in Mumbai.
One of the primary reasons for the astounding spike in buys is the sharp reduction in the stamp duty levied on the sales of apartments from 5% to 2% from September 1 to December 31, 2020 and 3% from January 1 to March 31, 2021 by the Maharashtra state government, as a relief measure for the real estate, commercial transport, agriculture and fisheries sector, that have been hard-hit by the lockdown over the past six months, and counting. Otherwise, the stamp duty in the state is 5% and 4% in urban and rural areas respectively, apart from the 1% surcharge in urban areas and 1% zila parishad cess in rural areas. Investors offloading their inventories in developments that they had bought high in, is also adding to the dramatic depreciation in prices across Mumbai as they’re being compelled to sell low, strengthening the buyer’s position furthermore. Mumbai’s realty business is no longer a simple or a compound process, but a variable, with only one constant that it is a buyer’s market, and has been for a while now.
Luxury rentals too, both residential and commercial, have seen a stark downswing of 20-30% reductions in the city. Residential properties going for INR 2,50,000 per month pre-Covid19 are available for INR 1,60,000 per month and a 2000 square feet commercial space on Marine Drive that commanded INR 6,50,000 per month will in all likelihood find it difficult to get even INR 4,00,000 today given the negligible human footfall in the largely residential sea-facing block.
The Kala Ghoda area in downtown Mumbai commanded fashionably high commercial rents pre Covid19 for the last decade ever since fashion designer Sabyasachi opened his flagship store in 2010. Up until then, Kala Ghoda was an arts and museum nucleus, but Sabyasachi’s arrival inadvertently turned it into Mumbai’s fashion precinct with every fashion label in India opening shop here. Despite the high rents, some adjusted, some not, designers are still holding on to their stores because of the business of Indian weddings and in a bid to stay relevant on the fashion marquee, all the while keeping the rental business in the area brisk and sharp. A 1500 square feet store here, at the end of Rampart Row towards Lion Gate, was upwards of INR 3,50,000 and is now available for INR 2,00,000 and a INR 10,00,000 per month commercial space can be rented for INR 7,00,000. Rental deposits that were upwards of six months or more are now at a flexible three months odd and the lock-in period too has gone from a standard three years to a variable one or two.
Realtors in Mumbai have struck gold during the last six months of the lockdown as compared to the past financial year because of the collapsing prices and the reduced stamp duty that is acting as an incentive, enabling and accelerating the buys. The demand for ready homes versus under-development / under-construction properties is predominant. The recent demolition of actress Kangana Ranaut’s property in Mumbai on the grounds of illegal construction within 24 hours of giving her notice of the same (the case is in the Bombay High Court) has further deterred under-construction sales. No one is willing to risk the bulldozers of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation for any irregularities in their homes and prefer MahaRERA and BMC compliant properties with all the legalities in place.
With the grand realty depreciations, temptation to buy low and rent lower is rife in the city where there’s more sea than land. To quote Shakespeare, “I would give a thousand furlongs of sea for an acre of barren ground.”
This feature first appeared in Gulf News on October 2nd, 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic has irreversibly changed the world order as we know it, and the economy, forever. We thought we lived in an adamantine world controlled by humans, until a contagion microbe – that’s killing harder and faster than any missile – showed us we obviously don’t. Every human and business is hurting, held hostage in quarantine in the absence of a vaccine or cure, at least not yet. Real estate too, is an altered reality.
Indian realty witnessed an unequivocal shift in perspective, long before the virus struck. The enforcement of the Citizen Amendment Act beleaguered India, leaving a trail of bloodbaths and mayhem in New Delhi in its wake, with non-violent protests across the country since December 2019 being the norm. Unsure of the future of their inherent national identities and citizenship, the unrest and uncertainty propelled some Indians and NRI’s to re-evaluate their assets in the country, in particular real estate. Sale listings went up in Mumbai, in many cases because the of very concerns related to the CAA enforcement. These listings didn’t strictly adhere to the market’s competitive and demanding numbers, but veered more towards liquidating the assets at flexible, albeit profitable prices.
Gateway of India Mumbai | Photo: Rubina A Khan
Whenever there’s financial uncertainty, buyers across the world turn to real estate as a safe harbour, but they are definitely not going to be in any rush to buy in the time of COVID-19. There has been a sharp decline in the Mumbai’s real estate market since the last quarter of 2019. Luxury apartments in mid-town Mumbai, originally purchased at Rs140 million (Dh6.6 million) in 2015 have had no takers even at Rs90 million. And this was before COVID-19. Sellers still need to sell, and buyers need to buy. But in a world that’s been shaken to its core, with no definitive answers in sight, the existing parameters of real estate will change in the days to come.
Virtual tours, an unheard of thing in Mumbai, have slowly started via FaceTime and WhatsApp, but it’s hard to say if that will become the norm. Virtual show-arounds will suffice for a preliminary showing, but to make a final decision, a physical tour is a must, particularly as the amenities are a big part of the tours. The innumerable fake listings for Mumbai properties that lure in susceptible renters and buyers, will cease to exist soon enough as the health clearance of a broker will become as vital as that of a prospective ROB (renter-owner-buyer).
Bandra-Worli Sea Link Mumbai | Photo: Rubina A Khan / Getty Images
Brokers will by default have to become photographers and videographers, health screeners and learn how to disinfect their listed properties themselves. It will become standard practice for them to call a prospective buyer or a renter before a showing to make sure that he or she is feeling fine and has no cough or sore throat, and has not been out of the country recently – even after COVID-19 is contained. A short-term effect is that buyers will be less inclined to purchase or rent if they have no idea when they will actually get to visit the properties. The long-term effects are yet to unfold, but the virus will cripple sales despite lowered prices. There is no guarantee of buyers if self-isolation, travel bans and border closures continue indefinitely or intermittently.
I don’t see a likely upswing for the next two years at least. The economic uncertainty has sparked off a growing sense of unease and doomsday panic, and is likely to cost the global economy $1 trillion in 2020, according to the UN’s Trade and Development Agency (UNCTAD).
This feature first appeared in Gulf News on March 27, 2020
The cardinal constituent in realty is location and it has been dictating the price index and value of developments, with unmatched absoluteness. But that seems to be going up in the air now, quite literally, in India. The hazardous concentrations of particulate pollution that engulfed Mumbai in November this year, measured a PM 2.5 of 320. But Delhi witnessed a PM 2.5 of above 900, that was way beyond the maximum of 500 and went into “extreme mode” terrain, compelling the government to declare a public health emergency in the capital.
Red Fort in New Delhi | Photo by Rubina A. Khan/Getty Images
When inhaled, PM 2.5 affects the human body’s natural defence, going deep into the lungs and even the bloodstream, causing serious health disorders like asthma and increasing the risk of heart attacks and strokes. Clean air and water is a constitutional human right, but that right seems to have been drowned out by the drilling drone of the innumerable developments and their construction dust, vehicle exhaust and industrial emissions that make up the toxicity in the air. State governments ignoring the Supreme Court’s orders to limit agricultural burning isn’t helping either, endangering human lives even further.
Air quality is the new “prime location” and health is the new “amenity” that people are starting to look at when it comes to real estate today, not just an exclusive address or city. It is their lives at stake after all. ‘What good is buying a home in an elite neighbourhood in a metropolis that will leave you breathless’ is the common refrain in India since. The address people choose to buy in, or rent in, needs to be healthy and fit for human living, and conducive to their mental health and overall well-being, not herald a life ahead with disease and hospital bills. Sustainable is the word of 2019 – forget the fashion industry being the biggest pollutant globally – it has come down to sustaining human life in India in 2020 with fresh air and water and taking measures to rein it in. Instead of developers selling spaces highlighting the ‘heart’ of a city, it’s time they advertised the ‘lungs’ of a city to get people to buy.
Peddar Road in Mumbai | Photo by Rubina A. Khan/ Getty Images
Newer realty developments are definitely hit with the unprecedented pollution levels in Delhi, and it will be a detriment going forward in 2020 for buys in the capital. Mumbai is not far behind either. Unless of course, the deals are lucratively priced to lure people in, with the promise of fresh air and improved Air Quality Index by the government. Non-Resident-Indians have a choice to wait it out and not invest in India till the air clears up, especially the ones living in the United States, that has some of the cleanest air in the world, but do resident Indians have a choice? Not really, barring buying homes in Goa and Rishikesh and that is quite indicative of the buying trend in 2020 for resident Indians.
Indian realty is obviously unprepared for the AQI factor that will very soon be a dominant determiner for property buys and sells in the country. After all the regulatory laws that shook up the business since 2016, this is another deterrent for the sector, especially with the large unsold inventories in the country. A war on pollution needs to commence in India now to accord its taxpaying citizens a basic human right to breathe clean air and stay healthy.
Lonavla | Photo by Rubina A. Khan/ Getty Images
2019 saw the introduction of the Model Tenancy Act 2019 as part of the first budget of the second term of the Narendra Modi government. Like its earlier reformist counterpart, RERA, introduced in 2016, the Model Tenancy Act 2019 too reads great on paper, but has yet to step up on accelerating the implementation of the same. I see an Air Quality Act being passed in 2020 but then again, it’s the implementation of it that looks hazy, just like the Mumbai and Delhi skies right now.
This feature first appeared in Gulf News on December 13, 2019
Thank you AD Kilachand and Bina Ramani for your time and thoughts.
India’s rental housing market, trammelled by archaic laws and ambiguity, is adapting to the pragmatic ameliorations outlined by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in her inaugural Union Budget 2019 speech. Sitharaman’s proposed regulations in the Indian realty market have since made way for the Model Tenancy Act 2019, drafted by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, that addresses the relationship between the lessor and lessee realistically and fairly.
The new tenancy law limits the security deposit to two months’ rent and lists heavy penalties for tenants overstaying and not adhering to the contractual terms of their rental agreements. An overstay will cost a tenant twice the rent for the first two months, that quadruples in the subsequent months. However, during such a period, the landlords are not allowed to cut off essential utilities like water and electricity. The Act also talks about creating special courts to deal with disputes between tenants and landlords and puts the obligation of carrying out repairs, maintenance and upkeep of the property like painting on the owner. While the landlord can’t increase the rent during the middle of the tenancy contract, the tenant can’t sublet the premises without prior consent of the owner. The Act aims to increase accountability in alignment with the government’s equitable development plans in the housing sector. The Centre has left it to the states to implement the Act or to amend it in accordance with their existing rental laws.
Bandra-Worli Sea Link | Photo: Rubina A Khan
The Maharashtra government has decided to enact it for new constructions and introduce an amendment that protects properties governed by the Maharashtra Rent Control Act 1999. Landlords have domineered the rental business in India, and how, for far too long, especially in Mumbai, the only Indian city to feature in a top 20 list of expensive prime residential markets in the world recorded in Knight Frank’s Wealth Report 2019. In Mumbai, a real estate agent’s opening and closing has always been about what the owner wants, demands rather, barely skimming the surface of what a tenant wants, barring the monthly rent and astronomical security deposits. The broker is almost always submissive to an owner’s preferences, despite the tenant being as much a paying customer as the landlord. This parti pris dynamic needs to change along with the Act towards a balanced equation between tenants and landlords. Tenants need to rent and owners need their money – it’s a simple business deal and it’s about time it’s conducted like one.
The realty business in India is inescapably going to change with the Act, giving impetus to luxury rentals at the expense of buys. The biggest incentive in the rental sector is the security deposit being restricted to two months’ rent, allowing a tenant to utilise and invest the money for herself/himself, rather than blocking it with a landlord that earns interest off it. The Mumbai rental market stands to gain the most from the new Act.
Luxury rentals are far more fiscally appealing and viable with the new Act coming into play than ever before. The Act increases the confidence and security for both, landlords and tenants, getting into rental agreements aligned with the new norms, leaving minimum room for legal discord. Landlords will have to desist from imposing delusional demands on a tenant like sky-high security deposits and maintenance of the property and tenants will be legally bound to pay the weighty fines for overstay and misuse of a rented property.
This feature first appeared in Gulf News on August 3, 2019
The triumphant win of Narendra Modi as Prime Minister of the Indian subcontinent for a second term, in the world’s largest election, has lent maximal credence to the country’s realty business in a manner most exceptional. The ruling government’s first term, contentiously driven by infrastructural development and financial realignments like Demonetization, RERA (Real Estate Regulation and Development Act) and GST (Goods & Service Tax) hit the cash-rich realty business particularly hard. Predictably, it was met with uproarious dissent. But, luxury realty seems to have taken a real turn since the legalized reorientations in the business, with antagonism giving way to smarts.
The luxe life is an addiction like no other. As long as there is human desire to live like royalty and be an in-your-face show-off, luxury real estate in India is headed forward. It stands at a profitable vantage point today, espousing all three acts, advantageous to both, builders and buyers. Indian realty expects investments to double to $10 billion in 2019. The paper trail and financial transparency accorded to the business is dominant, making it a streamlined, and somewhat trustworthy experience today. But there’s no denying that the business is devoid of the robustness and speed it once basked in, languishing ever so often in protracted sales.
RERA seems to have had the most impact so far, not so much on newer developers as it has on the bigger players with large, unsold inventories, given it is now mandatory for 70 percent of the money to be deposited in bank accounts through cheques, restricting unaccounted money being flushed into the realty business. Aside from its financial transparency, a RERA requisite that’s very conducive to prospective buyers, is that builders are obliged to quote prices based on carpet area (inclusive of usable spaces like the kitchen and bathrooms) and not super built-up area. Having said that, RERA needs to hasten the pace, and frequency, in providing aggrieved buyers who need long overdue compensations from unscrupulous developers across India. The clean-up in the business has only just begun. It is anything but cleaned up, as far as realty racketeers are concerned, despite the new regulations and progressive revamps of archaic Indian property laws like Insolvency & Bankruptcy Code and the Benami Transactions (Prohibition) Act being in place. For the business to regain the implicit trust of consumers and hit immediate sale highs, compensating buyers for their losses is vital, and it should become a regular occurrence as compared to the rarity it is today.
Luxury residences and serviced luxury residences make for accelerated buys and sells in India, and rightly so, as time is a luxury the wealthy can’t afford to indulge in. Newer developers in Mumbai like Aditya Kilachand, Partner at Innovation Estates LLP, seem to be on the right beach of luxury realty, building villas by the sea in Alibag, a mere three-hour drive from Mumbai. Tapping into Alibag’s infrastructure, the improved connectivity and proximity to Mumbai, its existing community and fairly undervalued land prices is just realty forethought and judiciousness. Seven luxury serviced villas called L’Hermitage, custom-designed by Sussanne Khan of The Charcoal Project, will be ready for some serious selling upwards of 10CR by Sotheby’s International Realty India, come July 2019.
With all the luxury constructions and developments, there is a new shift in the market of late, that of “aspirational luxury” residences that aren’t remotely luxurious, barring their price points. Priced at 7CR upwards for a 3BHK in the business suburb of the Bandra Kurla Complex in Mumbai, these residences allude to a luxurious lifestyle with cleverly scripted and assertive marketing hype. The insides of these residential towers are at most basic, with a garden path, a swimming pool and some semblance of a gym thrown in, with views of the city’s under-construction skyline off a balcony, masquerading as luxury amenities. Needless to add, it’s a “white elephant” investment for owners as resale inventory is at its lowest and unrealistic rentals dictated by the builder’s team, with few takers, stand testimony to the “mimic luxe” gimmick it’s established on. These kind of constructions need to be reined in, as these will lead to a catastrophically high, over-priced, unsold inventory in the country that will affect consumers far more than the builders.
This feature first appeared in Gulf News on June 9, 2019
India’s couturier extraordinaire, Sabyasachi’s nonpareil fashion métier makes him an exalted being in the world of fashion. Today, the enviable designer ceases to be just about khaki, silks, embroidery, jewellery and his L’Oréal Paris x Sabyasachi Calcutta (a non-negotiable term when it came to his historic collaboration) makeup line. Sabyasachi Mukherjee, of the eponymous label Sabyasachi, is a vibe, and a very desired one at that.
From Bollywood actor Anushka Sharma and cricketer Virat Kohli’s wedding in Tuscany in 2017 to Deepika Padukone and Ranveer Singh’s ceremonies in Lake Como in 2018 to Priyanka Chopra and Nick Jonas’ coupling in Jodhpur in 2018 to the Ambani twins – Isha Ambani and Anand Piramal in Udaipur in 2018 to Akash Ambani and Shloka Mehta in Mumbai in 2019, the fashion artistry at all these extravagant weddings was designed and orchestrated by Sabyasachi. In a country where bridal wear, our equivalent of the West’s haute couture, is of supreme importance when it comes to the big spend, all these celebrated brides and grooms from diverse worlds of film, sport, music and business wanted Sabyasachi to “do” their clothes and jewellery on their big day. And that’s saying a lot because there certainly is no dearth of designers doing bridal collections in India. For someone who is on a no-sugar health plan, he sure is taking the biggest bite from giant wedding laddoos, India’s sweetest business!
Sabyasachi celebrates 20 years of his fashion story this year, with Kashgaar Bazaar – a runway presentation, in collaboration with the world’s most famous red-soled cobbler, Christian Louboutin on April 6th in Mumbai. The fashion extravaganza has international guests flying down especially for it and it’s already blowing up everyone’s minds with expectations of Sabyasachi’s grandiloquent style. Mumbai’s temperatures are soaring, but the anticipation of what Sabyasachi’s bringing to the city in April is taking it to another level of fashion heat!
Pharrell Williams makes the world a very happy place with his music, but he wants to make it happier with his fashion and design aesthete with a colourful collection for Parisian fashion house, Chanel. Williams is the first ever guest designer for the fashion house, having collaborated on it with the late Karl Lagerfeld, Chanel’s creative director for 36 years. It was Lagerfeld who named the collection Chanel Pharrell.
To coincide with the launch at Chanel’s flagship in Seoul, Korea on Friday, March 29, the Grammy winning artiste released a behind-the-scenes video of the collection. In it, the multihyphenate talks about gender-fluidity, meeting Karl Lagerfeld and the importance and influence of the number 5 in the collection as well as Akira and motorcycle gangs.
Yellow bathrobes, brightly-colored hoodies and embroidered graffiti sweatshirts, terry-cloth bucket hats, sunglasses, T-shirts, opulent diamond jewellery and the double C bags make up the Chanel Pharrell collection, dedicated to both men and women. And, sneakers with hand-drawn text and doodles, but of course, and loafers and sliders. After the Seoul launch, the complete Chanel Pharrell collection releases worldwide on April 4.
A very fashionably yours April indeed!
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Back in 1991 when a tall, dark, and not really conventionally handsome man stand-riding two bikes (a foot on each) made an entry on screen with Phool Aur Kaante, India sat up and took notice. And we’ve been noticing ever since as Ajay Devgn morphed effortlessly from mean action hero to the intense, brooding loverboy to the comic caper king. In an industry dominated by camps, he’s managed to hold his own against the Khans and Bachchans and Kapoors and Roshans. On the eve of his big Diwali release, the much-married Mr Kajol Devgn tells Rubina A Khan how much he dislikes the ‘I-me-myself brigade’, making omelettes with daughter Nysa and the intriguing spelling change in his surname.
All The Best releases this week, your first film in almost a year. Why did you choose to produce this film? I loved the script of All The Best and felt it was a sure bet at the box office, which is why I decided to produce it. It’s releasing now as planned, but due to the theatre strikes and the congestion of films ready for release, I have London Dreams with Salman Khan also coming out on 30 October, though it was scheduled to release much earlier. Not an ideal scenario, though, but it’s all good. Salman and I worked in London Dreams after Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam in 1999, a decade ago.
You changed your name from Vishal to Ajay when you debuted in Phool Aur Kaante in 1991. Recently, you changed your surname from Devgan to Devgn. Why? Back then, when I was being launched, there were three other Vishals debuting at the same time and I had no choice but to change my name to Ajay so I wasn’t lost in the crowd. My old friends still call me VD (yeah, I know it sounds weird) and I changed the spelling of my surname at the behest of my mother, Veena, who has asked me to do it for many years. It makes her happy.
Despite Golmaal Returns being a top grosser last year and you being one of the highest-paid actors in the business, you keep a very low profile and prefer to not club yourself in the Top 5 or Top 10 categories like your contemporaries… I’ve been accused many a time of not promoting myself enough, but it’s not my style to scream and shout about my achievements. Even though I want to change from my reticent nature and be more ‘out there’, I find it cumbersome. The media knows my worth and what business which film of mine did, but even then, they choose to ignore that and write what they want. I am doing my job as an actor and I expect them to do theirs in all fairness. I don’t want to learn how to play these games and schemes just to get noticed, or be bestowed with some fancy title. It’s too late, anyway. I have no desire or inclination to waste my time over self-proclamations of greatness. I look down upon those who do and I feel far superior to most actors. I am very satisfied and extremely proud of the work that I do and the success that I’ve achieved subsequently. I live by own code of conduct that deters me from singing my own hosannas and I would hate myself if I did and I’d much rather not get into that space.
Your cold war with Shah Rukh Khan—fact or fiction? It is not fact at all. But just because Shah Rukh and I are not the best of friends doesn’t mean we are enemies either. Both of us are fed up of answering this question time and again. My wife, Kajol, is friends with him and Karan Johar for a very long time, and I respect them as her friends as she does mine. I am not a very social person and stick to home and work largely.
Do you and Kajol influence each other’s film choices? We always talk about our projects and seek each other’s advice, but we do what we individually want in the end. There is absolute freedom for both of us. We don’t take each other for granted and understand each other completely.
You are very traditional and conservative when it comes to family… My sense of family is very strong and if that means I’m traditional, then I am. We all live in one house, and despite it being a four-storey bungalow, which we moved into about two years ago, my parents, Kajol, Nysa and I live on one floor. All our bedrooms and family rooms are on this floor and it stems from the fact that I feel everyone should try and keep the family together, if they can.
You have been married for a decade now and have a daughter, six-and-a half-year-old Nysa. Are you planning another child? I have balanced my life between work and family perfectly, but I still feel I am losing time since Nysa is growing up so fast. I want to spend as much time with her before she gets too busy with her friends to hang out with her father. Kajol wants another child, but I am still thinking about it.
You are a closet chef of sorts too… How did you hear about that? I only cook for my family and Nysa loves everything I make. I like to experiment with world cuisine. My daughter actually makes the best omelettes in the world, albeit under supervision, for her parents. And the best part is Kajol can barely boil water. So, Nysa takes after me in this regard.
Your looks don’t exactly constitute a stereotypical ‘sex god’ tag for you, but your reputation as a great lover, has been resoundingly endorsed by women over the years… What do you have to say about the latter? What can I say except the obvious, that it is every man’s dream to have such a ‘sexy’ reputation among women. I’m flattered.
There haven’t been any romantic link-ups with your heroines of late… And boy, am I glad. And that’s because I am not having any affairs. Earlier, when such reports would do the rounds, Kajol never reacted to them because she trusts me implicitly. My life is work, office and home, no detours on the way.
This feature first appeared in OPENon October 17, 2009 and is a part of my #Bollywood #Throwback series
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 OPENon September 26, 2009 and is a part of my #Bollywood #Throwback series
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.
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