RUBINA’S RADAR | NAME AND FAME SHAMING IN INDIA

RUBINA’S RADAR

India’s Minister of State for External Affairs MJ Akbar, a former political journalist and editor of The Asian Age, is currently in Nigeria, Africa on a business strip, I mean trip. Akbar’s editorial chamber of sexual secrets has flooded the news belts, which ironically, he once controlled. That he tormented women beyond human comprehension, an unabated abuse of his power and gender, in and out of his newsroom for decades, has been brought to light and recounted by journalists Priya Ramani and Ghazala Wahab and many others who are coming forward with their sexual predation stories at work. It hasn’t shocked the men (because they always know) as much as it has the women reading these bone-chilling accounts of sexual perversions and life-altering acts. The Indian government hasn’t yet issued an official statement on Akbar or on the very pertinent and pressing issue of women (and men) being sexually harassed in the work place since the stories broke.

MJ_AKbar1_630_630

MJ Akbar | Credit Unknown

A deafening silence is rather typical in our country wherein conditioned, controlled and cautious responses to things that really matter are the norm. Akbar’s grave transgressions as an editor were definitely not a secret when he was appointed minister, but yet he was given governmental charge. Akbar’s editorial harem stories are restricted to making headlines for now but I sincerely hope they don’t get relegated to just that. Corrective, legal action must be taken by the Indian government. An exposé of Akbar’s encounters of the sordid kind is not going to be enough – what happens after by means of unbiased investigations is what will set the tone for all Indians in the future. This is what’s wrong with our Indian sensibilities – we get all amped up about an issue and join conversations online and offline, but then, the momentum peters out. Why? Sexually harassing and tormenting women, or men or anyone, of any gender, race, caste, colour and religion at work or play is NOT OK and this has to stop now.

It is equally disturbing to think that we live in an India that allows a famous figure, a Bollywood one at that, with a well-entrenched public imagery based on celluloid histrionics, far removed from reality, to vilify a man’s believability in a trice. On October 10, 2018, the Bombay High Court quashed the charges levelled against industrialist Ness Wadia by Bollywood actor Preity Zinta with an in-chamber hearing before a division bench of Justice Ranjit More and Justice Bharati Dangre in Mumbai.

NW

Ness Wadia | Photo: Rubina A Khan

The case involved an altercation the former lovers had at Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium whilst their co-owned IPL team, Kings XI Punjab was at play on May 30, 2014. Visits to the Marine Drive police station by Zinta to lodge an FIR against Wadia, a letter to the then police commissioner of Mumbai, Rakesh Maria, stating: “I (Zinta) just want him (Wadia) to be kept away from me so I can live in peace, otherwise one unfortunate day, in a fit of rage, he will kill me and that really scares me,” Facebook posts by her made for sensational headlines, believed all too easy by the country’s populace that vicariously feeds off Bollywood stars’ lives. After such a strongly worded statement to the Mumbai police, one would think Zinta would seek the fastest exit from such a “scary” situation with a court verdict on the case, but it dragged on for four years, and not because of the oft-criticised speed of the Indian judicial system most definitely. Since 2014, it was a case-in-progress, during which Wadia was judged in public for alleged charges that never got off the media carousel, till he was cleared by the Bombay High Court on Wednesday. Can the public defamation, mockery and well-documented humiliation endured during this period ever be quantified in the same measure? I would think not as the internet lives on forever. Not to undermine anyone’s truth here, but does a more visible celebrity’s truth make it the absolute truth?

The current climate in the world is all about speaking your truth, but I fear that’s turning into a dangerous social media sport, an extreme one at that – a name and fame shaming game. The face and voice of India’s Me Too movement, Bollywood actor Tanushree Dutta’s claims of sexual harassment by a senior actor, Nana Patekar in 2008 are being questioned just because she’s vociferously speaking up about it a decade later. Not that she hadn’t reported it to the authorities in 2008 to no avail. As is writer and director Vinta Nanda’s horrific account of being brutalised by actor Alok Nath on Facebook being mocked for her intentions, which is shocking to say the least. Patekar is more famous than Dutta as is Nath versus Nanda and that is where lies the real perpetrator – the fame scale. The blinding imagery of the bigger celebrity in such situations dominates the conversation, even to the extent of determining its outcome, undermining the reality of the lesser famous person in the fray, which is what is happening to Dutta, Nanda and everyone who is outing their perpetrators. It is their choice to speak when, how and about what they want; it’s a fundamental human right. There’s nothing extra about that.

IMG_4783

Tanushree Dutta | Instagram

Why is Dutta’s authenticity of being sexually harassed by men at her work place – a film set – the very means to her livelihood and chosen career path, questionable but Zinta’s stadium fracas with Wadia and her subsequent allegations against him in 2014 are not? Could it be because Dutta’s celebrity is less than Zinta’s, not that Zinta holds any ranking in Bollywood’s top order today? Or that Dutta speaks firmly and consistently, without intimidating media persons? Or because Zinta’s verbosity was more entertaining than Wadia’s passive quietude? Not that Dutta’s case is anywhere similar to Zinta’s, but it does make the visible fame game very questionable, albeit not the issues raised. Dutta lost her career because of Patekar’s gender power play at work and had to reluctantly move to the United States. As author and columnist Shobhaa De rightly said, “I believe Tanushree. She’s not a commodity that comes with an expiry date. There is no expiry date to speak your mind. It is her individual right to speak up, as it is everyone’s else’s too. And I truly think everyone, be it a famous person who has a platform or not, can and should condemn assault.”

How does a version of what happens, or happened to a person, become the holy truth, or not, that defies all legalese and the laws of the land against the other? Elementally, anyone can “post a truth” at any time and take anyone down in this digitally-powered world today and that is not comforting at all. And, if you’re in the million-plus followers club, paid or unpaid, it is a digital assassination of the person that is being mentioned in the post, the repercussions of which are irrevocably damaging and fatal. Worse still, if the person mentioned is not on social media, then they’re damned before they even have a chance to grasp the situation and speak in their defence. And that’s wretchedly unfair. They should be heard, and not vilified instantaneously by one-dimensional versions on social feeds. But that’s tragically lost in the cacophonous web of “whoever is the loudest and more visible face wins”.

To relay and report voices in the media is as important as the material those very voices choose to put out on social platforms, without any investigations on anyone’s part, including the authorities, save the lone voice letting it all out. By the time investigations come about, it’s already too late to do any kind of damage control for the other person, given everyone loves a story more than the truth today. Access to social media should not turn it into an armed weapon of human destruction by the user or make it an accomplice in their digital crimes and vendettas. That is so very wrong for victims who have but that voice to help them speak up, which is what is happening today. It’s not just about the Me Too movement worldwide, but all aspects of a tell-all in today’s digital era spiralling out of control, leaving an irreversible trail of hashtag insta-deaths. In a world that’s still struggling to drink responsibly, is it too much to tell our truths honourably?

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

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

Dilip De’s Smartphone School Of Art Exhibit, Celebration Of The Unexpected, In Mumbai

Dilip De is an adventitious artist, but with no less an ardour and depth in his paintings than any creative being in the world, with his Picasso-esque digital imagery on smartphones revolutionising the art world globally. Transcending his love for art from collecting art to creating art today has been the most serendipitous turn De’s life could have taken. And all it took was an innate desire to paint an orchid on his smartphone for the love of his wife, author and columnist extraordinaire, Shobhaa De. His first solo show as a digital artist, Celebration Of Love, was held at the Jehangir Art Gallery in Mumbai in 2016 and his second show, Celebration Of The Unexpected, opens on January 26, 2018 at the same gallery.

Rubina A Khan in conversation with Indian shipping magnate and digital art trailblazer, Dilip De:

How did you chance upon an alternative creative stream of a smartphone artist, not to mention being recognised as the first person in the world to ever do so?
It is indeed wonderful to be accorded the honour of being the first smartphone artist in the world. In 2015, as I was standing in my orchid gardens in Alibag, I felt the urge to draw the beautiful flowers on my smartphone for my wife, Shobhaa. It took me a while to learn how to use a phone stylus as a ‘brush’ and ‘dip’ it in the colour box, my purported palette, which is an integral part of the smartphone. Soon, much to my delight, I started drawing the outlines of an orchid flower on the tiny screen – 5.2 x 4 inches which came to be my ‘canvas’! Regrettably, in my initial enthusiasm, a few of my paintings disappeared from the screen forever as I had unknowingly put extra pressure on the screen whilst drawing on it. Gradually, I mastered the required skill and surprised Shobhaa with a painting of a Japanese sakura! I discovered, through my accidental foray into digital artistry, that art is omnipresent; an artistic expression can be realised at any place and at any time. Art is no longer just confined to a studio, but is truly the product of spontaneity and creativity achieved at one’s leisure.

What kind of smartphone did you use for your first art creation and what do you use today?
My initiation into digital art was with a Samsung Galaxy Note 2 and then I graduated to the Note 5 and I am using the Samsung Note 8 nowadays.

What do you enjoy most about this medium?
I have been an art connoisseur and collector for a while but I was humbled when I realised I’d inadvertently pioneered a new school of art, aptly called the Smartphone School Of Painting, with the orchid flower painting I’d created on my smartphone for Shobhaa. This is a painstaking process and requires extreme concentration and control over the stylus, which I seem to have mastered and enjoy tremendously. The largest global platform launched by Intel and VICE Media, www.creatorsproject.com to celebrate creativity featured my paintings. I have secured Copyright registrations of my paintings in this “new school of art” from the Union Commerce and Industry Ministry of India. My point was, and remains simple today – an artist cannot produce art on an empty stomach. My new dream is to make every budding artist in our country realize how easy it can be to follow a dream and turn a hobby into a joyous reality. Smartphone art is yet another frontier in technology that has made things more accessible and affordable to those who love art. I want my fellow Indians to start loving and collecting artworks easily in their lives. This will also teach them to respect and cherish beauty.

What do you do with the money generated from this “new job” of yours as a smartphone artist?
As you know, I gave away the proceeds from my first exhibition, Celebration Of Love, which was held in Mumbai on August 16, 2016 to the Cancer Patients Aid Association (CPAA). I respect the devotion of YK and Rekha Sapru and their dedicated CPAA team. My wife Shobhaa is also associated with them. This time around, I have decided to contribute the proceeds to the Jehangir Art Gallery – the iconic art establishment in Mumbai – for the promotion of art and the modernisation of their galleries.

Your second exhibit, Celebration Of The Unexpected, alongwith a charity auction of your work, opens on 26th January 2018, at Jehangir Art Gallery, with Amitabh Bachchan as your chief guest in attendance again. Why him?
Amitabh and I met in the 60s in Kolkata as young mercantile executives engaged in the business of international shipping. I suppose we have an old “Calcutta” connection and bond that formed many years ago. At that time, I found him to be an immensely gifted stage actor who went on to scale dizzying heights in his career, and continues to create new frontiers in his field. We also share a warm Bong vibe as his wife, Jaya, is a Bengali. I’ve known him for 51 years now. For me, and the multitude of his fans across the world, Amitabh is undoubtedly the ‘Ultimate Superstar of Bollywood’! His achievements make me proud. There’s a surprise pertaining to Amitabh in this exhibit of mine which he has, in his own words, described as “outstanding”.

631896532

Amitabh Bachchan

Your wife is of the written word and you seem to be visually inclined…
Shobhaa creates and tells stories through the magic of her words and I express my emotions and inspirations through my images. We express ourselves in different disciplines, but we are both storytellers nevertheless. One day, I must attempt to reproduce the essence of one of her stories in the form of images. That’s a colossal ambition, but I will definitely give it a try.

Celebration Of The Unexpected is on view from January 27 to February 3, 2018 at
Jehangir Art Gallery, 161 Kala Ghoda, Mumbai 400001 from 11AM to 7PM.

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

 

RUBINA’S RADAR | SHOBHAA DE’S BOOK LAUNCH IN MUMBAI & A CELEBRATORY FASHION MILESTONE IN LUTYENS DELHI

RUBINA’S RADAR

The magnificently restored Royal Opera House a historic address in Mumbai since its inauguration by King George V in 1911 and India’s only surviving opera house relegated to redundancy in the 90s, is now open to the culturati. It is no longer just a geographical landmark on the Uber app, but a live destination that’s marking up newer glories contrasting from its original, sepia-toned ones today. This vintage Baroque edifice was where author and columnist, not to mention “ready-to-be-lynched-for-anything” Shobhaa De launched her latest book, Seventy And To Hell With It on a fine December evening last Wednesday. At the garden gathering amidst family and friends, De was on fire, as a discerning hostess in a cobalt blue, custom couture blouse by Abu Jani-Sandeep Khosla and a real zari Jaipur Kota Doria sari greeting her guests, with her luminosity lighting up the de riguer photo-ops and selfies. She then went on to breathe fire in her role as a celebrated author on stage, in conversation with journalist Barkha Dutt and Bollywood actor Kangana Ranaut.

The conversation revolved around sex, the celebration of age and beauty in every stage of a woman’s life, the empowerment of women and the power of speaking up, changing the patriarchal guard and living your life wholly on your terms to a full (Opera) House. De’s quintessential ability to turn anything on its head without so much of an arch of her eyebrows or her “De resting face” with a diverse point of view that could swing from radical to pure nonchalance is what makes her one of the most read and heard “Made in Mumbai” voices in India. Had I been in conversation with her about the book on stage, my opening question would have been “How is sex at seventy, Shobhaa?” because her immediate response would have been far more entertaining and memorable than the latest Bollywood film!

In Delhi, designer Ashish N Soni celebrated a milestone in the fashion business, with a Lutyens lawn gig at The Lodhi. The mannequins looked exquisite in Soni’s all-black Spring Summer 2018 line in a contemporary hard-metal open-air installation tent, alongside a white garment installation which was as enchanting as it was dreamy, exhibiting his structured and minimalistic design ethos beautifully.

894905398

Ashish N Soni SS ’18

894905276

Yuvraj Singh and Ashish N Soni

There was Artificial Intelligence to talk to Soni nd Saif Ali Khan (Taimur’s father!) about all things fashion which was interesting, but the Glam-Cam was a monster fail. A garden gig on a Saturday night in the freezing cold temperatures of Delhi surprisingly brought out the warmth in all its glamorous guests, well, almost all. To attend an alfresco cocktail event like this is a Game of Thrones gamble – you either winter wing it in Uggs and cashmere or you whinge all night about the cold, over endless drinks, which is rather unfashionable.

©Rubina A Khan 2017