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My Friend Sancho

My first novel, My Friend Sancho, is now on the stands across India. It is a contemporary love story set in Mumbai, and was longlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize 2008. To learn more about the book, click here.

To buy it online from the US, click here.

I am currently on a book tour to promote the book. Please check out our schedule of city launches. India Uncut readers are invited to all of them, no pass required, so do drop in and say hello.

If you're interested, do join the Facebook group for My Friend Sancho

Click here for more about my publisher, Hachette India.

And ah, my posts on India Uncut about My Friend Sancho can be found here.

Bastiat Prize 2007 Winner

Category Archives: Arts and entertainment

Boob Euphemisms and Nip Slips Without Nips

A few days ago, readers Anoop Bhat and Kaushal Desai separately emailed me to point me to this marvellous gallery by The Times of India:

Biggest assets in Hollywood.

It’s a gallery about big breasts in Hollywood, and the captions are quite hilarious. Note the many euphemisms for boobs that they use, clichés and variations on clichés, all of them: ‘steaming big naturals’; ‘twin assets’ (three times); ‘busty bosom’; ‘hot twin peaks’; ‘accentuating curves’; ‘enhanced fuller twins’; ‘real nice set of bombs’; and so on. I wonder if copy editors are trained in this kind of writing—I’d really like to see the manual.


And today, I came across a completely WTF gallery:

Celebs Peek-A-Boo Moments.

This is a gallery of ostensible nip slips—with ToI blurring out the nips when they slip. Given that this is an internet gallery, and that the uncovered nips are a search away, this is most bizarre. Why have a gallery of nip slips and cover the nips? What’s the point?

(Note that I noticed the gallery only due to my purely academic interest in WTFness. That’s not the kind of headline you expect to see on India’s No. 1 newspaper site. I have no interest in nips or twin assets. Really.)


ToI‘s galleries are rather interesting from a sociological perspective, actually. Here’s another one:

B’wood’s desirable bed partners.

The captions, the captions…

Posted by Amit Varma on 20 July, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | India | Journalism | Media | WTF

‘Copulate, Multiply Like Rats’

There’s an old saying that journalism is history’s first draft, so for all you journalists reading this, I offer these words by Milan Kundera:

... this is the most obvious thing in the world: man is separated from the past (even from the past only a few seconds old) by two forces that go instantly to work and cooperate: the force of forgetting (which erases) and the force of memory (which transforms).

It is the most obvious thing, but it is hard to accept, for when one thinks it all the way through, what becomes of all the testimonies that historiography relies on? What becomes of our certainties about the past, and what becomes of History itself, to which we refer every day in good faith, naively, spontaneously? Beyond the slender margin of the incontestable (there is no doubt that Napoleon lost the battle of Waterloo), stretches an infinite realm: the realm of the approximate, the invented, the deformed, the simplistic, the exaggerated, the misconstrued, an infinite realm of nontruths that copulate, multiply like rats, and become immortal.

Spot on—and this is why I think one of the most important qualities of a historian or a serious journalist is humility: know that the truth is always more complex than it seems, cast aside all preconceived notions, and then do the best you can.

The above excerpt, by the way, is from The Curtain.

Posted by Amit Varma on 18 July, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | Excerpts | Journalism | Media | Small thoughts

It’s Just The Motion

Check out this fine performance of one of my favourite songs, “Just The Motion”, by the great Richard Thompson:

I love Thompson’s guitaring in this, understated but expressive. You can also listen to Linda Thompson sing it here—the song is from their 1982 album, Shoot Out the Lights. Another version I like is by David Byrne in the tribute album Beat The Retreat.

Back to work now. It’s just the motion.

Posted by Amit Varma on 14 July, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | IU Faves

Chaudhry Saab, Haazir Ho

Having blogged about Dr K Chaudhry’s inspired tribute to MJ a few days ago, I forgot all about it until Gaurav drew my attention to a comment Mr Chaudhry left on the YouTube page of that song, presumably addressing the commenters there. I reproduce it as is:

I am deeply indebted to you and Amit Varma on such a multievent day for me :-
1. First meeting witth a music teacher just postponed due to rain.
2. Interview at Fever 104 FM after 5 PM today.
3. Contacted by AajTak/HeadlinesToday for possible coverage soon.
4. Telephone interview with Poh Si Teng for Agence France-Presse and the Wall Street Journal.

More power to Doctorsaab. I wish I could have just a fraction of his courage and self belief.

Posted by Amit Varma on 14 July, 2009 in Arts and entertainment

‘Some Say I Am Sweety’

This is stunning:

I will never again look at a woman in tights the same way.

(Link via email from Devangshu.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 12 July, 2009 in Arts and entertainment

‘Aggressive By Nature’

Via Dilip, I come across this astonishing statement made by Shiney Ahuja’s lawyer, Shrikant Shivde, about the girl he is alleged to have raped:

She belongs to a lower caste, which is aggressive by nature, and she wouldn’t have submitted herself so easily. They are known for being aggressive.

You know, I don’t care now whether Ahuja is guilty or he’s being framed. A side that makes an argument like this deserves to get its ass kicked. They should lock Ahuja up and throw away the key—and if he feels horny all alone in his cell, throw in Shivde.

Posted by Amit Varma on 10 July, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | India | News | WTF

‘We Keep Marrying Other Species’

The American TV show Fox and Friends is often funnier than Saturday Night Live—unintentionally. Check out Brian Kilmeade expounding on America’s marital habits:

And here’s another classic ramble from Kilmeade a few days ago on the Iran crisis. ‘This guy does not get along with that guy’ is the most coherent it gets—it’s spectacularly downhill after that.


And moving to Indian television, I’m hooked to that incredible trainwreck of a show, Rakhi Ka Swayamwar. So much WTFness abounds that I’m craving normalcy by the end of it. If you haven’t seen it yet, check it out on YouTube, most of the episodes so far seem to be available there

This is going to be one reality show where I’m going to feel sorry for the winner—even though he’ll at least be marrying into the same species.

Posted by Amit Varma on 09 July, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | WTF

‘Peeto, Peeto, Thok Ke Peeto’

The video below is surely the most inspired Michael Jackson tribute ever. Goodness me.

Mr Chaudhry has also performed an English version of “Beat It”, as well as many, many other songs. The first I heard of him was when a reader named Catfish forwarded me his rendition of Avril Lavigne’s “Skater Boy” a few months ago. The nonchalant matter-of-factness at the start is superb, isn’t it?


The reason I didn’t blog about his marvellous videos when I first discovered them was that it seemed cruel. Here’s a man, in perfect good faith, uploading videos of himself singing karaoke, something that most of us would never have the guts to do; and here we all are, watching and laughing. I’ve always found those early episodes of Indian Idol and American Idol rather cruel for how they make fun of those horrendously bad singers in the early auditions. Sure, we can joke about how it’s their choice to put themselves out there, and tut-tut their self-delusions. But I would contend that we’re all self-deluded in different ways—most of our delusions stay private, so lucky us.

I finally decided to embed this video because I find Mr Chaudhry immensely endearing, and I’m sure most of you would agree. And besides being a likable old man, he’s also putting himself out there, ineptly and awkwardly trying to make the best of what he’s got. Isn’t that true of most of us?

Posted by Amit Varma on 07 July, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | Small thoughts

‘My Mother’s Fault’

My friend Salil Tripathi was in Bombay this week to promote his marvellous new book, “Offence: The Hindu Case.” This is part of a series that examines the growing intolerance around us in the name of religion: Kamila Shamsie looks at the Muslim case, Brian Klug at Judaism and Irena Maryniak at Christianity. Regular readers of IU will know that this is a subject close to my heart: I’ve unleashed countless rants on how giving offence is treated as a crime in India, and of the consequences of that for free speech. Salil’s book lays out the case for free speech wonderfully well, and if the subject interests you, I recommend you buy it. (You can pre-order it here or here, and it will also be on the stands soon.)

But this post isn’t just a plug: one of my favourite parts of the book is a poem Salil wrote for his mother, Harsha Tripathi, dedicating the book to her. I was quite moved by it, and with Salil’s permission, I’m reproducing it here:

My Mother’s Fault
by Salil Tripathi

You marched with other seven-year-old girls,
Singing songs of freedom at dawn in rural Gujarat,
Believing that would shame the British and they would leave India.

Five years later, they did.

You smiled,
When you first saw Maqbool Fida Husain’s nude sketches of Hindu goddesses,
And laughed,
When I told you that some people wanted to burn his art.

‘Have those people seen any of our ancient sculptures? Those are far naughtier,’
You said.

Your voice broke,
On December 6, 1992,
As you called me at my office in Singapore,
When they destroyed the Babri Masjid.

‘We have just killed Gandhi again,’ you said.

We had.

Aavu te karaay koi divas (Can anyone do such a thing any time?)
You asked, aghast,
Staring at the television,
As Hindu mobs went, house-to-house,
Looking for Muslims to kill,
After a train compartment in Godhra burned,
Killing 58 Hindus in February 2002.

You were right, each time.

After reading what I’ve been writing over the years,
Some folks have complained that I just don’t get it.

I live abroad: what do I know of India?

But I knew you; that was enough.

And that’s why I turned out this way.

Posted by Amit Varma on 01 July, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | Excerpts | Freedom | India

Salinger Emerges


Any chance of spotting Thomas Pynchon at the next IPL, you think?

(Link via email from Kind Friend.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 27 June, 2009 in Arts and entertainment

Bollywood Crimes

The Hindustan Times reports:

Varun Gandhi’s infamous hate speech and journalist Soumya Vishwanathan’s murder will be made into a film titled Ganatantra, being directed by JP Dutta’s assistant Surender Suri.

Rajan Verma, who essayed the role of Kasab in Total Ten, a film on the 26/11 terror attacks, is now playing Varun Gandhi. He says, “The film shows Gandhi in positive light.. as an able man, not given the place he deserves in the political party. The film will also depict a love story between the characters played by Varun and Soumya.”

The only thing not WTF about the above excerpt is that the actor who played Kasab is now playing Varun Gandhi. The rest of it leaves me speechless. I especially wonder what poor Soumya’s friends and family feel about this. Who thinks up these storylines?


That isn’t the only WTFness in that article. A gentleman named Kanti Shah is quoted as saying:

Yes, I am making a film on the Shiney Ahuja rape case. Shooting will begin soon. It is titled Rape and newcomers Imran and Sapna will play the characters of Shiney and the maid. Although the film will be based on true events and there will be no fictitious details added, there will be song and dance sequences.

Go figure. ‘Tasteless’ doesn’t begin to describe these guys. I need a plastic bag.

Posted by Amit Varma on 27 June, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | India | Media | News | WTF

Denise Richards And Bollywood Kissers

IANS reports:

Former Bond girl Denise Richards has done some passionate scenes with Bollywood star Akshay Kumar in Kambakkht Ishq and says he is a good kisser.

Richards insists that no man in Bollywood can match his skills, reported

I’m guessing Richards must have done a rigorous survey of Bollywood kissers to come to such a conclusion. Like, she walks into a mall and catches a good-looking young man (GLYM) who looks like he might be in Bollywood (but isn’t really).

Richards: Hey, you there. Are you a Bollywood kisser?

GLYM: Er, well, ahem, yes, I could be.

Richards: Okay, then I need to kiss you. [She gives him the deepest kiss ever, her tongue almost coming out of the back of his head.] Mmmm. That was nice, but I’m afraid you’re not as good as Akshay Kumar.

GLYM: I see. Um, well, there is something I can do better than him, you know.

Richards: [Already getting ideas and feeling horny] And what may that be?

GLYM: Um, do you need any C++ programming?


Bonus link: Check out these slideshows about “Bollywood’s most kissable celebs”: From Rediff; and AOL. Any excuse to put together a slideshow with hot pictures.

Posted by Amit Varma on 25 June, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | News | WTF

Ocean’s Pig

The WTF headline of the day comes from PTI:

George Clooney hires psychic to connect with dead pig

The report says that Clooney has “hired a psychic to help him contact his favourite pet, a black pig named Max who died three years ago.”

I can just imagine how it all plays out. Clooney and his psychic are sitting at an ouija board in a dark room.

Psychic: George, I will tap on the board three times to say hello, and then you will hear three more taps on the board. After that, my body will be possessed by Max’s spirit, and you can talk to Max through me. Ok?

Clooney: Okay. But you know what, don’t mind and all, but I’m a skeptic about these things. So first I’ll ask you, I mean Max, a couple of questions to make sure it’s him.

Psychic: Sure. [He taps three times on the board. Three more taps are heard after that, and then the psychic throws his head back as his eyes start rolling in their sockets.]

Clooney: [Very excited] Max, Max, is that you?

Psychic: Squeal!

Clooney: Max, Max, I need to ask you a question. Are you listening?

Psychic: Grunt!

Clooney: Max, Max, when you saw me for the first time, what were your first words to me?

Psychic: Oink oink!

Clooney: Max! Max! It’s really you! [He hugs the psychic, who dirties his pants, thereby increasing Clooney’s ferocious nostalgia.]


Ok, fine, that’s a bit cruel. George, if you’re reading this and are offended, I apologize. But really, dude, a psychic to contact your dead pig—what were you thinking?

(Link via email from Mahendra.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 23 June, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | Dialogue | News | WTF

The Choices We Make

In the course of an email discussion, Udhay points me to this superb venn diagram by Bud Caddell on the subject of success and happiness:


In the last couple of years, I’ve moved from “Learn to Say ‘No’” (journalism) to “Learn to Monetize” (writing novels)—which is problematic, because you can’t really learn to monetize in this field. Being a novelist is not like any other profession, and even publishers will tell you that they don’t really know what makes a book tick. You could write kickass books year after year and not have anyone notice; or you could be in the right time, at the right place, and be an overnight success. Unlike other professions, there’s no road map to success.

I made the choice that I did knowing the tradeoffs involved—I wouldn’t make anywhere near the kind of moolah I’d make if I stayed in journalism or went back to television; but I’d wake up every morning looking forward to getting down to work. I think that’s worth it—until my savings run out and I can’t meet the rent. Thankfully, MFS has sold well enough to ensure that won’t happen anytime soon. (15,000 copies so far, my publisher tells me, which makes it a huge bestseller by Indian standards—the benchmark for being a bestseller in India is 5000 copies.) My earnings from this don’t cover opportunity cost, of course, but they keep me afloat while I write the next one, and that gives me more joy than all the journalism I ever did.


While on success, Udhay also points me to a lovely essay by Po Bronson on the subject. Here’s an excerpt that sums up my feelings on the subject quite exactly:

There are far too many smart, educated, talented people operating at quarter speed, unsure of their place in the world, contributing far too little to the productive engine of modern civilization. There are far too many people who look like they have their act together but have yet to make an impact. You know who you are. It comes down to a simple gut check: You either love what you do or you don’t. Period.

So do you love what you do?

Posted by Amit Varma on 19 June, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | My Friend Sancho | Personal

Ode To A Bengali Paunch

In response to a friend’s comment on Facebook that Bengali paunches are holy, I offer you this little rhyme:

Ode to a Bengali Paunch
by Amit Varma

A Bengali paunch may be roly-poly,
But I deny rumours that it’s holy.
It is the center of base desire,
The origin of a Bong’s carnal fire.
We get turned on by mastaard feesh,
By paabda, rohu and illeesh.
Porn for you is chingri for me,
It’s divine, but not holy, you see.
Would you like a Lobongolotika?


Also see: Farmers are Dying in Vidarbha.


Update: Subrata Majumdar has a rejoinder:

The New Erection
by Subrata Majumdar

Would you like a lobongolotika?
Or some other form of aphro-desi-ka?
The holy paunch faces serious threats
From Gold’s Gym and such bourgeois outlets
Preserve our bhuri, we Bengalis must
A symbol of our glory, about to bite the dust
Let the paunch be the new erection
To show young bongs the right direction
I propose a paunchy statue as public art
To grace the crossing at Gariahat.

Posted by Amit Varma on 17 June, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | India | Personal

‘Yours Is The Earth’

Behold Rudyard Kipling’s “If”, read by Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal:

(Link via email from Griff.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 08 June, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | Sport

Adiga’s Rickshaw Puller

The sentence of the day comes from a piece by Mridula Koshy on Malayalam literature:

Malayalam writers are in the enviable position of writing for Adiga’s rickshaw puller and not just about him.

‘Enviable’ is exactly the right word there. Indian writers in English don’t have access to that rickshaw puller as a reader—quite apart from the fact that most of us wouldn’t have the ability to make it worth his while even if he read in English. By virtue of the language we write in, our readerships in our own country are constrained. At the same time, of course, it is easier for us to reach out to a global audience—though I wish some of our writers didn’t pander only to them.

As long as India in all its mad and magnificent diversity is available to me as subject matter, I can live with the fact that my possible readership is just a small fraction of my countrymen. If she can’t be my lover, I’ll make her my muse.


While on Koshy, her debut collection of short stories, If It Is Sweet, is out in the market. I’ve only read one story so far from the collection, “The Good Mother”, and I was blown away by it. Right at that masterful first paragraph, you know this woman can write. I can’t wait to get at the rest of the book.

Posted by Amit Varma on 08 June, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | Small thoughts

Congratulations, Alice Munro

Readers of India Uncut will know how much I love Alice Munro’s work (1, 2, 3), and I’m delighted that she’s won the Man Booker International Prize. (This is different from the Man Booker Prize, in that it’s not given for a single novel, and is akin to the Nobel Prize.) Literature isn’t a horse race, but if I was forced at gunpoint to name who I consider the greatest writer alive, I’d pick Munro. Indeed, if she wrote nothing else but this story, I’d pick Munro. Much joy.

And if you haven’t read her, this is a good collection to begin with: Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage. Masterful writing.

Update: Check out what Joni Mitchell once said of Munro.

Posted by Amit Varma on 27 May, 2009 in Arts and entertainment

‘A Totally Negative Sense’

Nobody messes with the national anthem. Rediff reports that the Supreme Court has slammed Ram Gopal Varma for his “distortion of the national anthem in his forthcoming film Rann.” The “vacation bench” has been quoted as ruling:

We have read it. It gives a totally negative sense. It seems every line of national anthem has been proved wrong. Nobody has got a right to tinker with the national anthem.

So remember, not only do you not have the right to express your opinion on a song, but songs, especially anthems, have rights. Don’t tinker with them.

Also read: The Anthem and the Flag.

(Link via email from Gautam.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 27 May, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | Freedom | India | News | WTF

‘Is It Above Sea Level?’

In a Facebook conversation where I was moaning and agonizing over the brilliant Adam Lambert not winning American Idol, Salil Tripathi pointed me to this splendid commencement speech by Ellen DeGeneres:

I love the guy on the left of the screen. He’s having a good time.

Posted by Amit Varma on 21 May, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | Miscellaneous

My Friend Sancho Comes To Town

I’m pleased to inform you that My Friend Sancho, my first novel, has started hitting the stores. We’re having a phased nationwide release, and the book should be in stores in Mumbai today (or latest tomorrow) by Saturday, and in the rest of the country before May 12. I’ll also be having launch events in five cities. All five events are open to the public, and India Uncut readers are invited to all of them. The details are below—as are links to the Facebook event pages to confirm your attendance:

Mumbai, May 9: 6 to 9pm at Crossword, Dynamix Mall, Juhu. (Basically, the Juhu PVR building.) Sonia Faleiro will be in conversation with me, and that will be followed by coffee and snacks. Here’s the Facebook page.

New Delhi, May 13: 6.30 to 9.30pm at Agni, The Park. Nilanjana S Roy will be in conversation with me—and there will be cocktails and nude belly dancers from Arabia. (Ok, no belly dancers. Sorry.) Here’s the Facebook page.

Kolkata, May 15: 6.30 to 9.30pm, Oxford Bookstore, Park Street. Anjum Katyal will be in conversation with me. Beverages and snacks will also be there, mixing discreetly with the crowd. Here’s the Facebook page.

Bangalore, May 16: 6 to 8pm, Crossword, Residency Road. Anjum Hasan will be conversation with me. Here’s the Facebook page.

Chennai, May 18: 6.30 to 9pm, Landmark Bookstore, Nungambakkam. Sharanya Manivannan will be in conversation with me. Coffee and snacks will follow, like demented stalkers. Here’s the Facebook page.

Do drop in for any or all of these events and say hello.


Slightly disappointing news for overseas readers: Due to all kinds of complications, MFS won’t be available on Amazon etc for at least a couple of months. It’s a massive bummer for me, as many of you had written in asking when you could buy it in the US or UK. We’re hoping to fix that by July, and I’ll keep you updated.

Posted by Amit Varma on 07 May, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | My Friend Sancho | Personal

Mr Sreesanth’s Date Filter

The WTF comment of the day comes from S Sreesanth, who, while denying a link-up with an actress named Daisy Bopanna, says:

I don’t think that I would stoop so low that I have to date an unknown, struggling actor.

That shows his class, doesn’t it? He only dates people based on their social status. I can imagine Sreesanth, thinking he’s a stud and all that, hitting on a hot chica at a party.

Sree: Hey baby! I am India fast bowler, I want to daaance with you, rowmaaance with you, want to come on a date?

Chica: Sure!

Sree: Good. But first, tell me what you do?

Chica: I am an actor.

Sree: What kind of actor, have you done any big roles? Have you starred in a Yash-Raj film? Do you have an agent in Hollywood?

Chica: Er, no, I’ve just started out, and…

Sree: Oh, I see. You’re an unknown, struggling actor?

Chica: That’s right.

Sree: Okay then, date is cancelled. Bye bye. I don’t stoop so low.


Harbhajan Singh, if you’re reading this, please go to wherever Sreesanth is hanging out these days and slap him again. Do it for your country. India needs you.

Posted by Amit Varma on 07 May, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | India | News | Sport | WTF

Ms Duffy

Carol Ann Duffy has pulled off a three-in-one achievement by becoming Britain’s newest poet laureate: she is the first woman, the first Scot and the first openly gay person to hold that distinction. In the year that America elected a black president, this is most fitting. I’m rooting for the amazing Adam Lambert to win American Idol, which will make him the first gay winner of that show—and what a landmark year it’ll be.

Anyway, to celebrate all this, let me share with you a poem by Duffy that I rather like:

Mrs Darwin
by Carol Ann Duffy

7 April 1852

Went to the Zoo
I said to him — Something about that chimpanzee over there
reminds me of you


Speaking of simian beasts, did you know that Shamita Shetty’s room was ransacked by baboons in South Africa recently? Even baboons, it would seem, have evolved to the point that they’re besotted by celebrity.

(Shamita link via email from Nishit.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 05 May, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | News

‘Just For This Brief Moment, I feel Complete’

You’ve heard Susan Boyle, you’ve heard Paul Potts—now check out Jamie Pugh:

[I’d embedded the video here, but its embedding has now been disabled. Click here to watch it.]

After Boyle’s performance of “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Misérables, the sales of that soundtrack soared. And now Pugh. Good for the soundtrack, good for these singers. Les Misérables forever; les misérables no more.

Posted by Amit Varma on 03 May, 2009 in Arts and entertainment

Two First Times

You can’t accuse Sanjay Gupta of understatement. Speaking about Feroz Khan, he says:

There are two things one can never forget. The first time one has sex and the first time one meets Mr Feroz Khan. He was awesome.

If I elaborate on the image that came to my mind when I read that, you’ll stop reading this blog. The horror.

(Link via email from Dev.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 02 May, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | News | WTF

Who Will Watch The Watchman?

Salman Khan will. In the WTF piece of the day, Salman writes:

Sometimes, when I am restless or upset, I walk up to the corridor of my house and look at the watchman. I come back quietly to my room and thank God for He has given me so much. I sit and count my blessings and the love that people have been giving me at every step.

It’s good to reflect on how lucky we are, but this dude has to go look at the watchman for that?

I wonder how the watchman feels about it. There he is, sitting quietly, bored senseless, looking out at the random fans waiting outside the gate of the house, waiting for his shift to end so he can head back home and sleep, and Salman Khan comes out and stares at him. Then Salman smiles, flexes his muscles, and heads back in with a lilt in his step. I wonder if, at times like that, and others, the watchman reflects on how very lucky he is.

Posted by Amit Varma on 28 April, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | News | WTF

A World Of Fictions

Via Nilanjana S Roy’s obituary of JG Ballard, I come across this splendid quote by Ballard:

We live in a world ruled by fictions of every kind — mass-merchandizing, advertising, politics conducted as a branch of advertising, the instant translation of science and technology into popular imagery, the increasing blurring and intermingling of identities within the realm of consumer goods, the pre-empting of any original imaginative response to experience by the television screen. We live inside an enormous novel. For the writer in particular it is less and less necessary for him to invent the fictional content of his novel. The fiction is already there. The writer’s task is to invent the reality.

Actually, we lived in a world of fictions even before all the things Ballard mentions came about—for how we see the world and ourselves, and the narratives we construct to make sense of everything, are also fictions of a kind. But yes, many more subplots are formed and crystallized by the media around us—not that it helps us make better sense of things.

It’s all such a mess that if God existed and was a writer, and sent Her work to a publisher, She’d get a rejection straight away. Or Her publisher would send Her a note: “Manuscript accepted. Much editing needed. Editor on way.”

And then a man in a black hat and overcoat would step up and say, “Hey, we meet again. Remember me? Lucifer. We dated once. I’m your editor for this book. Let’s cut your work down to size, shall we? To begin with, we need to get rid of those 100 million blogs you’ve put in there. Major excess, Girl, pure self indulgence.”

Posted by Amit Varma on 27 April, 2009 in Arts and entertainment

Salman Goes Jogging

Early one morning, as the clock strikes five, Salman Khan steps out of his house. He’s wearing a tracksuit and sports shoes, and attached to his arm is a nifty iPod. He starts playing his Himesh Reshammiya playlist, and begins to jog.

Salman jogs. Himesh starts singing “Aashiq Banaya Aapne”. Tere bin sooni sooni hain baahein/ Teri bin pyaasi pyaasi nigaahein/ Tere bin bin asar meri aahein/ Tere bin.

Salman begins to run. Tere bin lamha lamha sataye/ Tere bin bekarari jalaaye/ Tere bin chain mujhko naa aaye/ Tere Bin.

Salman begins to sprint, sweat pouring down his bare chest inside his tracksuit. Aashiq banaya-aa-aa/ aashiq banaya-aa-aa/ aashiq banaya aapne!

And then, when he’s really engrossed in the song, Salman feels something beneath his feet. Damn, he thinks, Mumbai’s roads suck.

Just then, someone starts shouting at him. He switches off the iPod and turns around. It’s a pavement-dweller, a woman, standing there and screaming at him. Then Salman looks down at her feet and realises what he ran over: two other pavement dwellers. This woman’s family. No wonder she’s screaming.

“Hey, lady, I’m sorry,” he says, in that weird accent that passes for foreign in some of his films. “I didn’t mean to run over them. But you should chill, you know. I’m saving the planet. What’s a pavement dweller or two in that cause?”

“Saving the planet?” asks a blogger who happens to be there, leaning against a lamp post. “What do you mean, saving the planet?”

“I’m running to lose weight, man, I’m running to be more slim. So I’m saving the planet.”

“What do you mean?”

“Oh, I forgot the link man, here you go: I’m saving the planet.”


That night, Salman has a nightmare. He dreams that he is in a forest, and there is a chinkara in front of him. It holds a gun.

Posted by Amit Varma on 20 April, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | Dialogue | Miscellaneous

Jhappi + Pappi

The Hindu reports:

Actor and Samajwadi Party leader Sanjay Dutt was on Saturday booked on an obscenity charge for allegedly saying that given a chance he would give jaadu ki jhappi (magical hug), made famous by his Munnabhai flicks, to Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati.

“A case has been registered against Sanjay Dutt for making derogatory and undignified remarks against BSP supremo Mayawati during an election rally on the K.P. Hindu College ground in Pratapgarh on April 16,” a senior police officer told PTI.

Mr. Dutt allegedly said he “will give jaadu ki jhappi and pappi (magical hug and kiss) to the people of Pratapgarh and given a chance I will do the same with the Chief Minister and BSP supremo Mayawati.”

I find obscenity laws immensely silly, and it’s quite WTF that when politicians are going around spewing venom at the each other, this dude is getting booked for jokingly offering jhappi and pappi. Yes, Dutt has the brain of an infant, but unless he actually forces himself on Behenji and gives her a jhappi-cum-pappi, the law shouldn’t come into play. Are we such an immature nation that we can’t even talk of these things?


Anyway, imagine this: Mayawati hears of Sanjay’s comments, and expresses disgust. She finishes her work for the day and goes to bed. And then, lying alone in the darkness, turning with a heavy heart on a soft bed, thinking of all the sacrifices she has made for her people, she sighs softly. She remembers: Jhappi! Pappi!

Just then the doorbell rings. She waits, and the seconds seem like hours. Then the intercom buzzes.

Madam, her minion says on the other side of the line, A politician from the Samajwadi Party is here to see you. He’s a filmi kind of guy.

She pauses. Ask him to wait five minutes, I’ll just get ready.

She gets up, switches on the light, and in record time combs her hair, washes her face and brushes her teeth. She puts on her best silk salwar suit. And she applies a dab, just a dab, a subtle pappilicious dab of lipstick. Then she picks up the intercom and says, Send him in.

A few seconds go by.

And then Amar Singh walks in.

(Link via email from Archana.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 20 April, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | Freedom | India | News | Politics | WTF

“Never Been Married, Never Been Kissed”

If this doesn’t send a chill up your spine, stand on your head naked with an ice cube tied to your ass.

Have I mentioned before that I love television? Oh yes—I have.

(Link via separate emails from Peter Griffin and Kislay Thakur.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 15 April, 2009 in Arts and entertainment

Preparing For Takeoff

The launch dates for my first novel, My Friend Sancho, have been finalized, and I’m pleased to share them with you now. I had earlier mentioned that the book would be out by the middle of April, but we had to delay that just a bit, and it will now be in bookstores across India in the first week of May. The launch dates:

Mumbai: May 9, Crossword, Kemp’s Corner.
Delhi: May 13, Agni, The Park
Kolkata: May 14 or 15, Oxford Book Store
Bangalore: May 16, Crossword
Chennai: May 18, Landmark

I’ll confirm all these details closer to the dates. Barring Delhi, all the other events are open, and India Uncut readers are invited to come and throw tomatoes. I’ll be in conversation with Sonia Faleiro at the Mumbai event, and with Nilanjana S Roy in Delhi. We haven’t yet finalized the details of the other events, so watch this space.

Posted by Amit Varma on 14 April, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | My Friend Sancho | Personal

Move Over, Heer-Ranjha

To get a glimpse of the future of Indian television, consider these two news items:

1. Rakhi Sawant has announced a new reality show on NDTV Imagine in which she will begin “a nationwide search for her perfect husband along with the support of the audiences.” Fifteen dudes will be shortlisted, and at the end of the season, she will marry one of them. (If the marriage doesn’t last and the show is a success, she could do it again next year.)

2. A study has revealed that Varun Gandhi has “emerged as the new favourite of prime time TV news in the past two weeks.” After his controversial comments against Muslims, he “managed to achieve 22.57 hours of prime time coverage across six prominent channels,” about 9 hours more than the IPL, which was the second-most talked about topic.

You know where all this is going, don’t you? Yes, I hereby propose that Varun Gandhi be enticed to take part in the NDTV Imagine show, Rakhi Ka Swayamvar. He is eligible and from a noted family, she is voluptuous and hunting for a groom, and they both generate TRPs like cows generate milk. (Don’t ask why that image came to mind.) Also, it will keep the man out of politics, and the country needs that.

And will he win? Well, duh! I mean, imagine the Q&A round:

Rakhi: If someone attacks me, what will you do?

Varun: If someone raises his hand against you, I will cut his hand off.

Rakhi: If someone forcibly kisses me, what will you do?

Varun: If someone kisses you, I will cut his head off.

Now, in this context, she is totally going to find his comments romantic, not repulsive. And even if Varun doesn’t cut off Mika’s head, he could certainly take a leaf out of his father’s book and get forcible nasbandi done on Mika. Imagine the TRPs if that happens live.

Also imagine if, while walking to the mandap, Rakhi and Varun fall into a well and are trapped inside. Oh, the news, the viewers, the ratings, the media planners swirling in ecstasy! I have seen the future, and it is this, it is this, it is this…

(Rakhi link via email from Kind Friend. More Rakhi on IU: 1, 2, 3, 4, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 08 April, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | Dialogue | India | Media | News | Small thoughts | WTF

Churidars And Leggings

One of the things I hate about the Indian literary scene is the writers who set their stories in India but write for a foreign audience. So instead of ‘dal’ they write ‘lentil soup’, and instead of ‘silk kurta’ they write ‘loose-fitting silk shirt’, and so on. I call them ‘tourist-guide writers’, more concerned with catering to Western demand for exotica than to the authenticity that would be true to their subject matter. Whatever. At least there is some rationale to their approach.

But why would an Indian publication, catering to Indian readers who know what Indian words mean, adopt the same approach? My readers know how very fashionable I am when it comes to clothes—except those who have met me personally—and I’ve been following the local coverage of the fashion weeks pretty closely. And time and again, I see Indian clothes being referred to in Western terms. For example, churidars are constantly being described as ‘leggings’. This is understandable if someone is writing for the US edition of Vogue, but all the local newspapers, as well as Rediff, which caters to an Indian and NRI readership, have taken to this.

I find this inexplicable for two reasons: One, ‘churidar’ is a lovely, sonorous word, and all Indians know what it means. Two, leggings tend to be form-fitting all the way from the waist to the ankle, while churidars are generally looser at the thighs. Besides being unnecessary, the substitution is also wrong.

There is similar confusion over salwars. Consider the outfit Shah Rukh Khan wore at the Manish Malhotra show a couple of days ago, which has been described variously as ‘pathialas’ [sic], ‘an Afghani salwar’ and ‘black harem pants’. Now, folks over in Patiala and Afghanistan can argue over the first two, but how is that thing he’s wearing ‘harem pants’? Why do we need to make our writing Western-friendly even when writing for Indian audiences?

Is it because the correspondents in question are so enthralled by coverage of Western fashion in foreign magazines that they find it necessary to stick to their glossary of terms? Or that Indian words, somehow, have become infra dig?

Also, does this attitude reflect something broader around us?

Posted by Amit Varma on 02 April, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | India | Journalism | Media | Small thoughts | WTF

Walking Away

I love this video, and as blogging has been slow recently, let me share this with you:

The chica is hot, isn’t she? And the character David plays in this video, for some unfathomable reason, reminds me of Aurelio Zen. I’m sure absolutely no one else feels this way, but I’m a bit weird sometimes.

(Video link via Madhu.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 02 April, 2009 in Arts and entertainment

Munnabhai, MCP—Redux

In an earlier post featuring Sanjay Dutt’s neanderthal (or simply pre-modern) comments about women, I’d quipped that I wondered if he’s put a dog collar on Manyata. An interview of his in today’s Hindustan Times indicates that he has—and she’s tied to the kitchen. Check this out:

HT: Did your wife convince you to get into politics?

Dutt: Manyataji takes the decisions in the kitchen.. aaj biryani banegi ya phir kabab or chicken. That’s where she rules. In other matters I decide what’s to be done.

I guess Dutt thinks this kind of talk is very macho—‘See how I keep my woman in line, I’m a real man, asli mard, ha ha ha.’ And if he is elected as an MP, he will no doubt have the same attitude towards his constituents as he does towards his wife—he will rule them, not serve them. During elections, he’ll fold his hands and will show much concern towards their needs—like a man wooing his beloved. Once he’s elected, if he is, he’ll only see what he can get out of them, and not give a damn about what they need, or what he had promised on bended knee. ‘Biriyani jaldi lao, bhook lagi hai.’ That kind of shit.

Such irony it is that his father was so different in both regards. How far this seed has fallen from the tree…

Posted by Amit Varma on 29 March, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | India | News | Politics | WTF

Menstruation, Civilisation And Pseudo-Intellectual Blah

The London Telegraph has a story on Camilla Power and Chris Knight, two anthropology lecturers who are leading demonstrations against the G20 summit. It tells us:

Educated at the Skinners’ Grammar School for Boys and University College London, he is a founder of the Radical Anthropology Group (RAG), which explores the origins of society from a Marxist standpoint. The pair have developed theories on the central role of women’s menstruation cycles in the development of civilisation.

Instantly I Googled, and found this study. It features the magnificent sentence, “The coalition of non-cycling females needs to grab any female who is menstruating, preventing philanderer males from taking her away.” I so want to read the Amar Chitra Katha issue on this—and imagine the fun if Ekta Kapoor comes across this study.

Also, imagine how differently human civilisation would allegedly have evolved if sanitary pads had been invented a few centuries ago.

(Telegraph link via email from BD.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 23 March, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | WTF

Padma Shrimati

Aishwarya Rai, in an interview with CNN-IBN, says:

He [Abhishek Bachchan] is the real ‘Padma Shri’ and I’m his ‘Padma Shrimati’ (giggles).

Immensely cloying cuteness, but they’re a young couple, so fine, we can forgive them that. But if we are to take this line of thinking further, Amitabh is Padma Babuji, Jaya is Padma Mom, and Amar Singh is Padma Uncle. I think all government awards are a waste of taxpayer resources—true achievers hardly need government validation—and this is a perfect opportunity for the government to stop this Padma nonsense. “No more government awards,” the minister in charge should announce. “Our sentiments have been hurt.”

(HT: Nishit.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 11 March, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | India | Old memes | Taxes | WTF

Illegitimate All These Years

Immense celebration happened on the day the Oscars were announced, for I’m a huge fan of AR Rahman and was overjoyed to see him win. And immense WTFness happens today, for Rahman says:

This award legitimises our music and the aspirations of hundreds of other musicians.

Legitimizes our music? All these years, all 17 of them since Roja, millions of us have loved Rahman’s music—so it wasn’t legitimate all this time? The crores of records sold in India, the four national awards, the 11 Filmfare awards, hell, the love of all his fans—and it takes an Oscar to “legitimize” his music? Et tu, Rahman?

I know many Indians still have this pathetic colonial hangover that leads them to crave validation from the West. I’d assumed that Rahman, just by virtue of being so good, had more self-respect than that. Well, such it goes…

(HT: Mahendra Shikaripur.)

Update: A number of readers have written in to say that maybe Rahman just happened to use the wrong word, that English isn’t his first language, that maybe he simply meant to say that Indian music has now got its overdue recognition from the West. I guess that’s a fair enough explanation of what may have happened.

Posted by Amit Varma on 27 February, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | India | News | WTF

What Would You Do If I Superpoked You?

Much fun:

I love Facebook but hate the Superpoke application, for what it’s worth. In fact, I Superhate it. So there.

Posted by Amit Varma on 27 February, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | Science and Technology

Abhishek Bachchan’s Guinness Record Attempt

Immense national pride comes at sharing with you the astonishing news that Abhishek Bachchan is planning to make “at least six public appearances in as many cities in 12 hours” in his effort to enter the Guinness Book of World Record. I kid you not:

On Friday, Abhishek Bachchan may make and break a unique Guinness World Record. It’s that of a film star making the maximum number of public appearances in 12 hours. Beginning Friday morning, when Delhi-6 releases, Abhishek will travel to as many events in as many cities as possible within 12 hours.

Speaking from Dubai yesterday, where he was attending the film’s premiere, an excited Abhishek said, “I heard of some German actors who set a world record by making five public appearances in 12 hours. I want to beat their record. I will do at least six to seven appearances in 12 hours in six cities. It could even go up to seven cities.”

Needless to say, I’m right behind him—India needs this record. In fact, I propose that Bachchan tries to do 60 cities in 12 hours instead of just 6. How can this be done? Simple. He should hang upside down from a private helicopter, which then then flies across the country, swooping down low over every big city on the way. The helicopter can even hover at some town squares so he can drink some water and sign an autograph or two, so that Guinness can’t complain that hanging upside down from a helicopter isn’t really a “public appearance.” 60 cities, I’m thinking, is a cinch.

And what if he gets bored during all this because he has no company? No problem. Masakali, dude!

(HT: Deepak.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 19 February, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | India | News | WTF

Operation Flood

Here’s an SMS I’ve received a few times in the last couple of days:

Help Operation Flood! This Friday Oscar nominated gay film Milk is releasing (with NO cuts) in Mumbai & Pune. Only if it does OK here will it get national release. Please pack theatres with friends & family to help Milk send a strong signal for tolerance and gay rights. Please forward this to friends.

I was planning to watch the film anyway this weekend, and I hope it does get a national release. But I wonder why the author of the message chose to call Milk a “gay film.” I would have thought there should be no such thing as a “gay film”, just as there’s nothing called a “straight film” or a “left-hander’s film” (if a film stars left-handers). I loved Brokeback Mountain because it was such a beautifully told love story, and the fact that its protagonists were gay is just detail. Equally, I enjoyed My Brother Nikhil, which, to its credit, unlike most other Indian films, showed its gay characters and their relationships as something utterly normal, requiring no explanation. I don’t think either of these films deserved to be slotted into a “gay film” pigeonhole, as if they are about gay people alone, and there is something there that the rest of us don’t get. If Milk is a well-made film, which by all accounts it is, I’m sure I’ll feel enough empathy with Harvey Milk, and enjoy the movie—I don’t need to be gay for that.

Anyway, when I saw the first of these SMSs, I thought of starting another chain SMS that began with the words, “Help Operation Barber.” But I’m too old for such frivolity now, so there it goes…

Posted by Amit Varma on 19 February, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | Small thoughts

The Goody Show

IANS reports:

British reality TV star Jade Goody says she may allow her death to be filmed for a reality show.

“I’ve lived my whole adult life talking about my life. The only difference is that I’m talking about my death now. It’s OK,” she told the News Of The World in an interview published Sunday.

“I’ve lived in front of the cameras. And maybe I’ll die in front of them. And I know some people don’t like what I’m doing but at this point I really don’t care what other people think. Now, it’s about what I want,” said Goody, who has cancer and been given only months to live.

My fondness for reality shows is known to you—but I don’t quite think I’ll be watching this. It’s icky and disturbing.

That said, if art aims to reveal the human condition, then this is all reality shows had left to do. You’re only really taking on life after you come to terms with death. Mostly, we ignore it—and now it’ll be on reality TV. I predict millions will watch, fascinated, unable to switch the TV off, seeing themselves in the sad, pathetic figure of Jade Goody—as sad and pathetic as our species itself.

Posted by Amit Varma on 16 February, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | Media | Small thoughts

Five And Twenty Random Things

There is a Facebook meme going around in which people have to write 25 random things about themselves, and then tag various other people. Don’t worry, I’m not going to bore you with my list now. I can’t help but point you to Ol’ Bill Shakespeare’s list, though. (Yes, this meme’s been around!)

My favourites:

5 Sometimes I thinke plays are all Talke, Talke Talke, and wish for a cart-chase scene. I tried one in The Merry Wives, but it looked like Shitte, so I cut it. The men playing the horses were so Pissed at me.

14 On the topic of dating, my daughter Susanna loues to remind me: ~Jvliet was only thirteen! And I remind her that i) she was Italian, an impulsive race ii), she was actually played by a middle-aged Eunuch named Ned, and iii) she died. That always shvts her right vp.

23 Euery time we do the Taming of the Shrew, some pvnter wants his Money backe, because we don’t actually show a shrew getting tamed.

There’s potential here for a whole series. Let me offer you a sampler:

Nero: “I’m good with the lyre, but my fiddling needs practice.”

Aurangzeb: “I actually think these Brahmins walking around shirtless are quite… hot!”

Lalu Prasad Yadav: “I, um, like cows.”

Karan Johar: “I like girls.”

Pramod Muthalik: “I have a folder in my hard drive called ‘Paris Hilton’. It is 125 GB.”

And so on. You write the rest.

(HT: Boing Boing.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 09 February, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | Miscellaneous

The Barbers Strike Back

Once again real life imitates farce. The Economic Times reports:

After courting controversy days ahead of its release, Shah Rukh Khan’s latest film ‘Billu Barber’ will see the term ‘barber’ dropped from its hoardings and posters across the country following objections from an association of hairdressers, terming it “derogatory”.

The actor-producer, who spoke to representatives of the Salon and Beauty Parlors’ Association over the issue, on Sunday said his production house Red Chillies Entertainment will ensure that the term ‘barber’ is removed from all hoardings.

“The Salon and Beauty Parlors’ Association” sounds like it’s right out of satire, doesn’t it. If Raj Kapoor’s Shri 420 was released today, a Thieves and Dacoits Association of India might well have turned up to protest at the title—and the producers would then have to cut “420” from the title, leaving just “Shri.” All you Bollywood producers reading this, idiot-proof your titles right away.

(Link via email from Paras Berawala.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 09 February, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | India | News | WTF

Kareena, Cow, Buffalo

Here’s Shahid Kapur on Kareena Kapoor:

I would like to work with her again. I feel that as an actor if my producer wants me to romance with a cow or a buffalo also, I’ll do it because that’s my job.

Maybe there’s a film in there called Jab We Milked?

(HT: RK. Previous posts on cows: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31 , 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 65, 66, 67, 68, 69, 70, 71, 72, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 78, 79, 80, 81, 82, 83, 84, 85, 86, 87, 88, 89, 90, 91, 92, 93, 94, 95, 96, 97, 98, 99, 100, 101, 102, 103, 104, 105, 106, 107, 108, 109.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 08 February, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | India | News | WTF

“No Escape From Killer Trucks”

I love this headline.

Someone should make a totally pulpy Bollywood horror film out of this. Like Duel on steroids, with Ramsay Brothers production values, and maybe a song or two. It could begin with Delhi police inspector Khiladi Singh (Akshay Kumar) getting married to his childhood sweetheart Sallu (Katrina Kaif), with much song and dance. Then, just as he’s about to proceed on his honeymoon to China, a phone call comes. It’s the DSP (Paresh Rawal). Killer trucks are on the loose in Central Delhi, he says. Fifty people are already dead.

“How many trucks,” asks Akshay.

“At least six,” says the DSP.

“I’ll come right away. I’ll get those drivers, dead or alive”

“Wait—there’s something you need to know first.”


“The trucks have no drivers.”

So Akshay goes after the driverless killer trucks, asking Katrina to stay at home. She turns on the TV. She sees pictures of havoc and destruction, and a TV presenter (Esha Deol) is mowed down from behind by a killer truck while talking to the camera. So, presumably, is the cameraman. The screen shows static. And then a commercial comes on.

Katrina decides to go and join her man in his battle for civilization. And, as we find out in the end, it is just this decision that saves Delhi.

Coming soon to no theaters near you.

Posted by Amit Varma on 02 February, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | India | News

Jagjit Singh And The Green-Eyed Monster

There are few things as poignant as a great artist, in the autumn of his career, getting embittered by the success of younger artists. I am a fan of Jagjit Singh, and his petty outburst today against AR Rahman and Gulzar is pathetic. Particularly this bit of WTFness:

After lambasting Rahman’s work, saying it’s just an imitation of Western music, Singh has now challenged the Oscar-nominated composer to sing ghazals to prove his talent.

Rahman hasn’t got his Oscar nominations for Best Musical Performance in Ghazal Singing, so I don’t see the relevance of Singh’s challenge. Of course Rahman would be unable to do justice to “Tum Itna Jo Muskura Rahe Ho”—but he’d be no worse than Singh trying to sing “Tere Bina” from Guru or “Yeh Jo Des Hai Tera” from Swades. So fricking what? They’re both exceptional at what they do, and while Singh has a right to his opinion, this kind of public petulance lowers him in everybody’s eyes.

Singh, by the way, had asked the government a few years ago to “ban Pakistani singers from performing in India.” I wonder if that was motivated by misplaced nationalism, as I had then assumed, or something else.

Update: Bharat Dhurka emails me a link to a video clip of Singh talking about Rahman and Gulzar. In the clip, Singh asks Rahman to compose a ghazal, not to sing one—HT’s quotes might well be taken from something Singh said elsewhere, of course.

In any case, that demand is as absurd—like Paul McCartney challenging Eminem to write a ballad to prove himself as a songwriter. How silly would that be?

Posted by Amit Varma on 31 January, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | India | News | WTF

A Sonatina State Of Mind

I really should have blogged about this earlier, but it’s never too late. A superb show of oil-on-canvas paintings by Sonatina Mendes gets over tomorrow today in Mumbai, and if you have the time and are in the vicinity, I recommend you check it out. The partner has curated this show, and while I don’t understand modern art too much, I love Sonatina’s work. I find her paintings moving and powerful; they don’t scream out with anxiety like the work of so many painters of her generation, but draw you in gently. Examples:


House in Nowhere

(more below the fold)


Posted by Amit Varma on 30 January, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | Personal

Reaching Out, Gathering In, Relinquishing

From Due Considerations, here’s John Updike on my favourite game:

Poker is eminently human. Its strategy and parameters are based not merely on cards but on personalities, the tics and habits revealed over years of acquaintance. In my group, the Bad Loser growls and slams down his hand. The Bluffer blithely raises and, when called, fans out his cards in good-natured surrender, announcing, “I’ve got shit.” The Bottom Feeder taciturnly sticks around, hoping to sneak away with a piece of a cheap pot. Mr By-the-Book, glancing down into a winner, raises and telegraphs his hand and everybody folds, except for the Long Sufferer, who says, “Well, it’s only money,” and yields up another dollar with a sigh.

Always being in character is a bad ploy. Never making a mistake is a mistake. A failed bluff may pay off a few hands down the road, when you really have the goods, and everyone, remembering the failed bluff, stays against you. Poker, like statecraft, tends to steer by the last miscalculation, trying to avoid it this time. Which can also be a mistake. Our group has given up, by and large, on poker faces; we know each other too well—how we fold, why we stay. We’ve given up, too, on insisting that a player call his card correctly; we’re getting senile, and let the cards speak. It’s a comfortable group. Many the Wednesday evening, escaping from a domestic or professional crisis, I settled at the table as if my noisy buddies would protect me from life itself. In my one poker story, the hero has just been told he is fatally ill, and decides to go to poker anyway, and takes comfort by looking around and realizing that we are all dying—reaching out, gathering in, relinquishing. It was a story based on real life, though I didn’t die; I was simply scared that I would some day.

RIP, John Updike. Also, in an internet poker player’s parlance: gg.

Posted by Amit Varma on 30 January, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | Excerpts | Sport

Chetan Bhagat’s Achievement

Jai Arjun Singh has a superb post on Chetan Bhagat, in which he quotes Bhagat as saying:

See, reactions to any book take place on so many different levels. Literary critics think my books are so safe, and that they don’t challenge anyone at all, but the fact is that these books often shock the middle-class people who are their primary readers. Whether you like it or not, you have to take into account the responses and feelings of even naïve readers. In Five Point Someone, when I had the two lovers engage in pre-marital sex, I got so many responses from people who said they liked the book but felt that Neha should not have “given up” her virginity. There have even been readers who know so little about novels that they don’t realise this is fiction: I get letters reproaching me for ruining Neha’s life by telling this story. ‘Tumne Neha ki zindagi barbaad kar di, ab uss se shaadi kaun karegaa?’ (‘You’ve spoilt Neha’s chances of getting married.’) I don’t know how to explain to them that this is a made-up story.

This illustrates the enormity of what Bhagat has achieved: he has got lakhs of people who do not read books to try their hand at reading a novel in English. There is a family friend of mine who probably hasn’t read a book in the last five years—he went out and bought all of Bhagat’s three novels when the latest one was released. I once used to know a chap who boasted to me that he had only read 10 books in his life, and they were all “for studies”—I can totally imagine him buying a Bhagat book at some point. In a market where an English-language novel that sells 10,000 copies is considered a bestseller, Bhagat has sold lakhs, by writing books that people who do not read books have bought and enjoyed.

How has he done this? I have no clue. It is possible that he has captured the zeitgeist of middle-class India in a way that we elite readers of literary books simply can’t fathom. It is also possible that this is less a writing success than the success of a meme, and he happened to be in the right place at the right time. Perhaps he shall write many more successful books, and sell in crores; or maybe the fashion will wear off, and other writers will take the spotlight. Whatever the case may be, he has shown one thing: there are lakhs of people out there willing to pick up an English novel and give it a chance. That is a big deal, and well done Chetan Bhagat for that.

Do read the rest of Jai’s piece, by the way. On the subject of criticism, I’m on Jai’s side, but Bhagat’s thoughts on the subject obviously reflect how many people feel. He comes across as honest and unpretentious, and he has my respect for that.

As for what I feel about his writing, well, I’m not a fan. But as my friend Chandrahas once pointed out in conversation, most of the people who pile on to Bhagat are making a category error—he is not trying to produce great literature that reveals the human condition, but to tell interesting stories that lots of people want to read. The first demands a subjective assessment; the second has an objective measure: the sales of the books. Bhagat is succeeding at what he wishes to do, and more power to him for that.

Posted by Amit Varma on 29 January, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | India | Small thoughts

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