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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

Topless Women and the Indian Government

The Times of India reports:

The government has banned Fashion TV for nine days after finding a program it aired offended good taste and decency by showing women partially nude.

The Information and Broadcasting Ministry statement said FTV channel would go off the air later Thursday until March 21. The statement cited an unnamed FTV program aired in September that showed women with nude upper bodies.

It’s immensely WTF that someone should think that topless women offend “good taste and decency.” Women have breasts. Straight men are attracted to them. These are just ho-hum facts of biology. Only massively repressed and resentful men and women would find partial nudity offensive—and one factor in their repression, certainly, would be this attitude against anything sexual. It’s a self-reinforcing feedback loop—the more you repress, the more repressed they get, the more you find reason to repress them further. In the 21st century, its all a bit bizarre.

What is even weirder is that the continuing spread of the internet threatens to make all this moot. Far wilder things than mere toplessness are a Google search away, and its practically impossible to filter all of that out. And why would you want to do that anyway? Sex is healthy, so let’s be open about it, and not whisper while talking about it or blush when the subject comes up. Or censor boobs.


Earlier posts on the subject:

‘A Trial Balloon’.
The Ministry of Wet Dreams.

Posted by Amit Varma on 12 March, 2010 in Arts and entertainment | Freedom | India | News | Politics | WTF

The Hollywood Formula

Forget Robert McKee and Syd Field: If you want to learn how to make a successful Hollywood film, watch this:

Someone should do this for Bollywood films as well. With, like, eight mini-song montages, an interval and a kiss where no mouths are opened. Exciting, eh?

(Link via JSV.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 12 March, 2010 in Arts and entertainment

The Detective and the Criminal Mind

I’m moderating a couple of interesting book discussions in the next few days, and India Uncut readers are invited to both of them. Details:

On Tuesday, March 2, at Landmark, Andheri, I’ll be discussing “The Detective and the Criminal Mind” with China Miéville, Mark Billingham, Denise Mina and Andy Diggle. China’s work spans genres, and his latest book, The City and the City, is a police procedural set in a city (and a city) like no other. It was recently nominated for the Nebulas, and I was blown away by it when I read it recently. Billingham is the creator of Tom Thorne, arguably the most memorable detective created in the last decade. Mina is also an exceptional crime writer, and she’s also written a few issues of Hellblazer. And Diggle is a big name for comics buffs, having written The Losers and a fair amount of Hellblazer.

I’m looking forward to the conversation—and there’ll be extended audience Q&A as well, so do join in. The details are here.

On Friday, March 5, I’ll be in conversation with Krishan Partap Singh at the launch of his book, Delhi Durbar. This event is at Crossword, Kemps Corner; the details are here.

And yeah, it’s a busy week—in a busy month. Watch this space.

Posted by Amit Varma on 28 February, 2010 in Arts and entertainment | Personal

‘A Solitary, Poverty-Inducing, Soul-Scorching Voyage’

In a superb essay on writing, Dani Shapiro writes:

I have taught in MFA programs for many years now, and I begin my first class of each semester by looking around the workshop table at my students’ eager faces and then telling them they are pursuing a degree that will entitle them to nothing. I don’t do this to be sadistic or because I want to be an unpopular professor; I tell them this because it’s the truth. They are embarking on a life in which apprenticeship doesn’t mean a cushy summer internship in an air-conditioned office but rather a solitary, poverty-inducing, soul-scorching voyage whose destination is unknown and unknowable.

If they were enrolled in medical school, in all likelihood they would wind up doctors. If in law school, better than even odds, they’d become lawyers. But writing school guarantees them little other than debt.

A couple of weeks ago, I was asked to take part in a Q&A with the participants of a writing workshop at the Kala Ghoda Lit Fest. I made pretty much the same point there: writing is not a profession. You can take up medicine or engineering or law or management, and you can be a mediocre doctor or engineer or lawyer or manager and earn a perfectly decent living. But if you’re a novelist in India, you have to be among the top five or ten in the country to be able to pay your rent from that. Literary prizes and foreign advances are like a lottery: writing a good book is a necessary condition to get them, but is far from sufficient. And if you don’t hit that lottery, you’d better have another source of income—which, of course, eats into your writing time, and makes it all the more difficult.

So if you want to be a writer, ask yourself what drives you. If it’s anything other than the love of writing—money, success, fame, lit groupies—don’t do it.


On that note, here’s Charles Bukowski.


The Kala Ghoda Lit Fest was a lot of fun, and I always enjoy listening to other writers talk about their work, and the craft of writing. Besides the session I was part of, I got pulled into moderating a couple of other sessions, and had much fun. I can’t understand why the turnouts are so low, though. Are there really so few enthusiastic readers in this city?

On that note, check out this piece by Nilanjana S Roy, “The Lure of the Local Litfest.”

(Shapiro link via Samit Basu‘s Facebook page.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 28 February, 2010 in Arts and entertainment

A Metric for Hotness

The WTF headline of the day comes from The Times of India:

Sherlyn gets hotter!

Note the exclamation mark. But no, it’s not the enthusiastic reporting of Sherlyn’s increased hotness that makes this headline WTF, but the metric used to measure it. She is hotter, it seems, because her “new management agency is pitching her as the face of the cover for the most read and most popular lifestyle, fashion and health magazines.” In other words, she is hotter because she has better PR.

I suppose given the state of our media, that makes some kind of perverse sense. Such it goes.

Posted by Amit Varma on 25 February, 2010 in Arts and entertainment | Journalism | Media | WTF

The Exploding Donkey

In his brilliant book, The Forever War, Dexter Filkins informs us that DBIED can stand for either Dog-Borne Improvised Explosive Device or Donkey-Borne Improvised Explosive Device. In a passage that I feel provides a perfect metaphor for the War on Terror, he writes:

In the fall of 2005 some marines discovered a donkey walking around Ramadi [in Iraq] with a suicide belt on. They didn’t want to kill it, of course, but every time they tried to get close enough to remove the suicide belt, the donkey scampered away. They they tried using a robot, one of those bomb-disposal things, which tried to waddle up to the donkey and defuse the payload, but the robot, too, kept scaring the donkey away. Finally the marines shot the donkey. It exploded.

And so it goes…

Posted by Amit Varma on 20 February, 2010 in Arts and entertainment | Excerpts | Small thoughts

Waving to Nobody

The wonderful excerpt below from “Trail Fever” by Michael Lewis illustrates beautifully the nature of politics and public life. In it, Lewis recounts his experience of travelling with then-vice president Dan Quayle during the election campaign of 1992:

It wasn’t so much what Quayle had said that hooked me. It was what he had done—what the conventions of the campaign trail required him to do. Every few hours of every day, to take a tiny example, the vice president’s campaign plane, Air Force Two, came to rest on the tarmac of a military base on the outskirts of some medium-sized city, and Quayle appeared in the open door. He waved. It was not a natural gesture of greeting but a painfully enthusiastic window-washing motion. Like everyone else in America I had watched politicians do this on the evening news a thousand times. But I had always assumed there must be someone down below to wave at. Not so! Every few hours our vice president stood there at the top of the steps of Air Force Two waving to… nobody; waving, in fact, to a field in the middle distance over the heads of the cameramen, so that the people back home in their living rooms remained comfortably assured that a crowd had turned up to celebrate his arrival.

It is my case that most politics consists of waving to nobody. Someday, as the waving is going on, I’d love to see the cameras turn around and show the empty field. But nah, that won’t happen.

Posted by Amit Varma on 11 February, 2010 in Arts and entertainment | Excerpts | Politics | Small thoughts

Welcome to the 19th Century

Ah, modern times. Check out these two amazing news headlines:

Community ostracises woman touched by outsider
Muslims on social networks are sinners

Such stories they contain. It’s bewildering to be a writer of fiction sometimes, when the real world is so very far out and strange.

Posted by Amit Varma on 05 February, 2010 in Arts and entertainment | India | News | WTF

Hachette on the Rise

Just back from the Galle Lit Fest, rested, and all set to resume blogging. Let me begin with the good news that my publisher, Hachette India, just a year old in this country, has already become the second-biggest publisher in India, ahead of Harper Collins and Random House, and behind Penguin. Here’s the full story: I’m most pleased that My Friend Sancho has been described as one of their flagship sellers here. Authors are supposed to have uneasy relationships with their publishers, but I get along really well with these guys, and their success is well deserved.

Also, in the UK, Hachette consolidates its No 1 position, which it has held for a while now. More power to them.


In other book related news, I’ll be part of a panel at the Kala Ghoda Festival discussing “City Stories”. Anjum Hasan will moderate, and my fellow panelists are Chandrahas Choudhury and Lata Jagtiani. It’s on Monday, at 8pm; the full Kala Ghoda schedule is here. There’s also a panel on food writing at 6.30 pm featuring my friends (and India’s best writers on food) Vikram Doctor and Nilanjana Roy, and I’m looking forward to being in the audience for that. Hop over if you have time.

Posted by Amit Varma on 05 February, 2010 in Arts and entertainment | My Friend Sancho | Personal

Off to Galle

In a few hours, I’m off to the Galle Literary Festival. Blogging will be light till I’m back in town, and I don’t expect to be online much. But who knows, I may tweet salacious (and made-up) literary gossip if the fancy strikes me. Watch out for that.

If you’re at the festival, both the events that I’m part of take place on Sunday, January 31. At 10am, I will be in conversation with Shehan Karunatilaka, a Sri Lankan novelist who will be talking about his forthcoming novel, Chinaman: The Legend of Pradeep Mathew. It’s a book set in the world of cricket, and we’ll talk about Sri Lankan literature, Sri Lankan cricket and Shehan’s own writing.

At 2.15pm, I will have a session to myself in which I will talk about My Friend Sancho, read out bits of it, and chat with the audience. If there is time, I may also read from an Abir Ganguly short story that I finished writing a few hours ago, and that will be part of an anthology of Indian writing that you’ll see on the stands later this year.

And ah, I promise at least one orgasm. So if you come, you’ll see me come. Promise.

Posted by Amit Varma on 27 January, 2010 in Arts and entertainment | My Friend Sancho | Personal

Five Monkeys

On a mailing list I’m part of, I came across this wonderful excerpt from a book called Thinkertoys:

Imagine a cage containing five monkeys. Inside the cage, hang a banana on a string and place a set of stairs under it. Before long, a monkey will go to the stairs and start to climb toward the banana. As soon as he touches the stair, spray all the monkeys with ice-cold water. After a while, another monkey makes an attempt with the same result - all the monkeys are sprayed with ice-cold water. Pretty soon, when another monkey tries to climb the stairs, the other monkeys will try to prevent it.

Now, turn off the cold water. Remove one monkey from the cage and replace it with a new one. The new monkey sees the banana and will want to climb the stairs. To his surprise, all of the other monkeys attack him. After another attempt and attack, he knows that if he tries to climb the stairs he will be assaulted.

Next, remove another of the original monkeys and replace it with a new one. The newcomer goes to the stairs and is attacked. The previous newcomer takes part in the punishment with enthusiasm.

Again, replace a third monkey with new one. The new one goes to the stairs and is attacked. Two of the four monkeys that beat him have no idea why they were not permitted to climb the stairs, or why they are participating in the beating of the newest monkey.

After replacing the fourth and fifth monkeys with new ones, all the monkeys that have been sprayed with ice-cold water have been replaced. Nevertheless, no monkey ever again approaches the stairs. Why not? Because as far as they know that’s the way it’s always been around here.

I have a feeling that this is the problem with Indian television programming and Indian newspapers. Hardly anyone thinks outside the box. And the box is old. There’s a great opportunity not being taken here because no one has courage and imagination. Pity.


On a related note, check out Michael Kinsley’s recent essay on what’s wrong with newspapers today. (Link via Peter Griffin.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 11 January, 2010 in Arts and entertainment | India | Journalism | Media | Small thoughts

Dear Shah Rukh Khan

Dear Shah Rukh Khan

A recent tweet of yours recycles Pascal’s Wager as a joke. I would urge you to read this response to it. And this one.

You might say in reply that hey, you pray, and consequently many good things have happened to you. But the causation is flawed. Your success is a combination of luck and hard work—as all success is. Other people also pray as much as you, and have achieved nowhere near your level of success. Indeed, poor people probably pray more than rich dudes. But if there is a god, she clearly doesn’t believe in bribery and ass-licking.


Amit Varma


Link via a tweet from @Twivani. More open letters here.

Posted by Amit Varma on 07 January, 2010 in Arts and entertainment | Letters

You Want Credit For That?

One of the first things I did on getting back to Bombay after a wonderful vacation in Goa was go to watch 3 Idiots. I’d been following the controversy on Twitter for a week: Chetan Bhagat’s aggrieved post about how he wuz robbed, Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s rejoinder, the contract between Bhagat and the film-makers which Chopra uploaded on his site, Vir Sanghvi’s spot-on comment on the fracas, and the opinions of Twitterverse. Damn, I thought, the film must be something special if there’s such a fight to take credit for it.

Well, well.

I enjoyed watching the film, but if there was one thing about it that truly sucked, it was the story. Even accounting for the necessary suspension of disbelief while watching a Bollywood film, the story was ludicrously bad. Everything else about the film was excellent: the screenplay was immaculately crafted, the dialogues were easy and natural, the acting was delightful. Even though Aamir Khan’s lecturebaazi about something everybody already knows got occasionally tiresome, I enjoyed the film. But think about it, what a silly story. And they’re fighting for credit.


Regardless of whether the story was good or bad, I think Bhagat is right to feel hard done by. While much of what made the film so entertaining was not in the book, that is the case with many adaptations—Slumdog Millionaire being a case in point. The genesis of the story was certainly the book, and by having a story credit at the start of the film that did not include Bhagat’s name, the film-makers were being intellectually dishonest. Hell, what would it have cost them to put Bhagat’s name there, along with Abhijat Joshi and Raju Hirani? It was silly on their part not to do that—though I’d say that the resultant publicity has done everyone involved a world of good. Bhagat’s books must be flying off the shelves, and I don’t imagine he will be pissed for long.


Also, the contract itself is ridiculous. Bhagat actually signed his film rights away in perpetuity. This is crazy. A standard clause in most adaptation rights in the West is that if the film isn’t on the floors within a particular period, the rights revert to the author. What if Chopra’s team lost interest in this film, moved on to other projects, and Danny Boyle came to Bhagat and said he wanted to make a film on his book? Bhagat would be helpless, because the rights would be with VVC, who could either be churlish and refuse to part with them, or could benefit from the resultant windfall without Bhagat seeing any share of it.

The clause about discretionary payment is also most WTF. It didn’t hurt Bhagat in the end, but still…

Admittedly, Bhagat was probably not in a strong bargaining position at the time the contract was signed. But this should serve as a cautionary tale to any other novelist today selling film rights to Bollywood.

Posted by Amit Varma on 05 January, 2010 in Arts and entertainment | News

The Blog Song

Wilbur Sargunaraj is a genius. Check out his masterful music video, “Blog Song”:

He should totally follow this up with “Twitter Anthem”. And Tom Vadakan should should do a rap in the middle of that which goes, “Tweet is a lonely man, yo, Tweet is a lonely man. But I won’t feel bitter, cuz I’m not a quitter, I’ll put on my glitter, and get my ass on Twitter, yo, cuz Tweet is a lonely man, yo, Tweet is a lonely man.”


(Link via email from Anand Krishnamoorthi.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 22 December, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | WTF

Shakti Kapoor Bites Anil Kapoor

I’m assuming this is a publicity stunt. But even then, there is the question, who think of such stunts?

And while on PR, remember the khakras?

(Link via Mudra Mehta.)

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

Silent Bestsellers and the Tech 100

It’s somehow appropriate for a lazy half-Bong to come up with a sleeper hit. Open Magazine‘s latest issue has a feature story titled “Silent Bestsellers”, and My Friend Sancho is one of the subjects of the piece.

There was actually a decent amount of buzz about the book both before and after it was published, so maybe it’s not so much of a sleeper. But it’s true, as the author of that story says, that “cocktail crowds don’t trip over each other trying to grab a photo op” with me. It is entirely their loss, I must say, for my company is more intoxicating than a Long Island Iced Tea spiked with Bhang.


In other personal news, the December issue of the Indian edition of the magazine T3 has compiled The T3 Tech 100, their list of 100 movers and shakers in the technology world. Anil Ambani comes in at No. 82, Jimmy Wales is No. 83, and Amit Varma is No. 84. (This Indian list doesn’t seem to be online, but here’s a screengrab, if I may call it that.) Shah Rukh Khan is No. 86, and I hope this settles once and for all the longstanding debate about which of us is a bigger stud.

No, but really, it’s an interesting list. Stephen Fry clocks in at No. 4, ahead of Steve Jobs (7), Steve Ballmer (10), Barack Obama (18), Bill Gates (27), Tim Berners-Lee (36), Mike Arrington (58) and Jeff Bezos (63). Go figure.

The last time I made such an august list was in April this year, when Business Week named me one of India’s 50 Most Powerful People. The local auto drivers haven’t got the memo, though, and keep refusing to go where I want. Like, dude, do you not know who I am? I’m the juggernaut, bitch.

Maybe I should act in a Shah Rukh Khan film instead of him.

Posted by Amit Varma on 17 December, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | My Friend Sancho | Personal | Science and Technology

Human Sperm and Bobilli Vijay Kumar

This is surely the sentence of the year:

My friends waved at me from the buffet counter not knowing what the human sperms did to me during those fifteen minutes.

This is Sherlyn Chopra writing about… well, I really can’t summarize on a family blog such as this what she is writing about. Read it for yourself.

Her post also contains the magnificent line, ‘A tall white hunk dressed in a black suit walked up to me.’ But just when you think this is like some nice, romantic Yashraj film, there’s a touch of Bunuel. Masterful.


That said, I have more respect for Sherlyn Chopra’s writing skills than Bobilli Vijay Kumar’s. This is the man who once wrote, as my friend Prem Panicker pointed out, that Raj Singh Dungarpur is the ‘uncrowned grandfather of Indian cricket’. Week after week, he writes columns that mangle metaphors, torture idioms, and in general try too hard to show his mastery of the language. But just when you thought you’d seen it all, he comes up with this gem:

Tiger Woods is finally realising that life is not always a bed of roses. He has slept in so many, anyway, that he would have known that a prickly one was just a birdie away.

However, even in his wildest dreams (and as we know now he does have wild dreams, even if you don’t count kinky sex or foursomes), he wouldn’t have expected that he would end paying such a heavy price. Will he really need to put away his club to save the marriage?

Tiger is, of course, not the first person to fish in muddied waters; nor will he be the last high-profile athlete to play the field so well. The only reason he has become the butt of all jokes is because, ironically, he is Tiger Woods.

Mind you, this is the sports editor of the Times of India writing. When his reporters write like this, he probably pats them on the back proudly instead of making them stand in a murga pose outside the ToI office for six hours, which is the only apt punishment.

Oh wait… (via Prem, again.)


And I must say here that I’ve known both Bobilli and Shriniwas during my years in cricket journalism, and they’re both nice guys. But they really need to stop messing with the language like this.

I must also say that I don’t know Sherlyn personally. But FSM bless her, because I read her post after reading Bobilli’s, and the laughter lessened the pain.

Posted by Amit Varma on 14 December, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | India | Journalism | Media | Sport | WTF

Twitter Chick

All hail the music video of the year:

Twitter Chick Funny Videos | Extreme Humor | Funny Animations

As for me, I’m a Twitter Dude.

Posted by Amit Varma on 08 December, 2009 in Arts and entertainment

Censors and Psychotics

Here’s David Cronenberg, in Cronenberg on Cronenberg, talking about censorship:

When I had to deal with the Toronto Censor Board over The Brood, the experience was so unexpectedly personal and intimate, it really shocked me; pain, anguish, the sense of humiliation, degradation, violation. Now I do have a conditioned reflex! I can only explain the feeling by analogy. You send your beautiful kid to school and he comes back with one hand missing. Just a bandaged stump. You phone the school and they say that they really thought, all things considered, the child would be more socially acceptable without that hand, which was a rather naughty hand. Everyone was better off with it removed. It was for everyone’s good. That’s exactly how it felt to me.

Censors tend to do what only psychotics do: they confuse reality with illusion. People worry about the effects on children of two thousand acts of murder on TV every half hour. You have to point out that they have seen a representation of murder. They have not seen murder. It’s the real stumbling-block.

Charles Manson found a message in a Beatles song that told him what he must do and why he must kill. Suppressing everything one might think of as potentially dangerous, explosive or provocative would not prevent a true psychotic from finding something that will trigger his own particular psychosis. For those of us who are normal, and who understand the difference between reality and fantasy, play, illusion—as most children most readily do—there is enough distance and balance. It’s innate.

Besides the consequentialist argument, there’s the small matter of censorship being morally wrong. But leave that aside. In times like these, when images of sex and violence are practically ubiquitous, censorship fails even in its own aims. Indeed, in another couple of decades, it will be as impotent as it is redundant. Censor boards will still continue to exist, of course, like the telegram-wallahs who ring the bell every Diwali to ask for bakshish. Such it goes.


And really, all actors or filmmakers or artists of any kind who have ever been part of a censor board should be ashamed of themselves. Check out the disgraceful Sharmila Tagore, head of India’s censor board, talking about how she believes that “censorship must go. But I firmly believe the time hasn’t come yet for India.” Such condescension.

Posted by Amit Varma on 07 December, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | Excerpts | Freedom | India

The Silver Peacock

The news para of the day comes from a Times of India report on the International Film Festival of India:

Korean director Ounie Lecomte walked away with the Silver Peacock for ‘A Brand New Life’, which translated her own experiences as a child into a collective film. She also received a cash prize of Rs 15.

There’s a part of me that wants that to be a typo, so that the prize is Rs 15 lakh. (That’s actually quite likely.) But there’s another part of me that wants the director to actually have received Rs 15, in three tattered five-rupee notes, the kind your auto driver tries to pass on to you when you’re in an absent-minded haze. I can imagine the baffled director hold up one of them and ask a festival volunteer, “How much is this in my currency?”

“I’m not sure, ma’am, I don’t know anything about your currency.”

“Ok then: How far can it go in India? I mean, what can you spend it on?”

“You can buy a wada pav.”

‘What’s that?”

“It’s a building in Worli.”

(Link via email from Luv.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 04 December, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | Dialogue | News

My Friend the Fanatic

I’ll be at Crossword bookstore at Kemps Corner this evening, in conversation with Sadanand Dhume at the launch of his book, My Friend the Fanatic. India Uncut readers are invited to attend. Here’s the Facebook event page. The details:

What: Launch of My Friend the Fanatic by Sadanand Dhume. The author will read from the book, followed by a conversation with Amit Varma, and then a session of audience Q&A.

Where: Crossword Bookstore, Kemps Corner, Mumbai.

When: 7pm, November 27, 2009.

Dhume is a former WSJ and FEER writer who left journalism a few years ago to write a nonfiction book tracing the rise of Islamism in Indonesia. I loved the book, and will write about it again later. The subjects I’ll chat with him about this evening will include the nature of belief, the rise of Islamism in Indonesia, what it has in common with radicalism elsewhere, the dilemmas and challenges a nonfiction writer confronts while writing a book of this sort, and the growing popularity of Savita Bhabhi in Java. Try and come if you’re in the area.

And do check the book out. It sounds very serious and all, and it is, but it’s also very funny and light in its own way. You’ll enjoy reading it.

Posted by Amit Varma on 27 November, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | Personal

Complicity—and a Bond

Yesterday, sitting in a doctor’s waiting room, I read a short story by Julian Barnes on my e71 in which I rather liked the following paragraph:

I used the word “complicity” a bit ago. I like the word. To me, it indicates an unspoken understanding between two people, a kind of pre-sense, if you like. The first hint that you may be suited, before the nervous trudgery of finding out whether you “share the same interests,” or have the same metabolism, or are sexually compatible, or both want children, or however it is that we argue consciously about our unconscious decisions. Later, looking back, we will fetishize and celebrate the first date, the first kiss, the first holiday together, but what really counts is what happened before this public story: that moment, more of pulse than of thought, which goes, Yes, perhaps her, and Yes, perhaps him.

As I read, an incoming SMS made my phone beep. I ignored it till I finished the story, and then I opened the SMS that I reproduce for you here:

From VM 53131

Will your Friendship turn into Love? To know the answer Sms BOND (Ur Friends Name) to 53131 e.g. BOND RANI. Rs.3/Sms

Isn’t it just horrible that more people read VM 53131 than Barnes?

Posted by Amit Varma on 21 November, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | India

Nothing Will Ever Be The Same Again


Where there is tragedy, art follows. 9/11 sparked off much post-9/11 art and literature, as it changed the way many artists viewed the world. 26/11 may not seem that big a deal for India, but it did affect many of us in Mumbai quite deeply. The partner, Jasmine Shah Varma, who is an art curator, decided last year to explore how different artists would react to it. She got in touch with 13 artists she admired and asked them to contribute to an exhibition she was putting together—the one line theme she gave them: “Nothing Will Ever Be The Same Again.”

The exhibition opened at the Hirjee Gallery (on the first floor of Jehangir Art Gallery) on Tuesday, and runs until November 16. The work on display is fascinating. Some of the artists have engaged directly with 26/11, while others have explored broader concerns sparked by the central theme of the show. You can check out some of the work here; and here are a couple of media reports about the show: 1, 2. And here’s the Facebook page.


The work is much more powerful than these photographs indicate, so I suggest that if you happen to be in South Bombay, drop in and check out the work. The image at the start of this post is a stunning 45” by 77” work called “LoveToLive” by Pradeep Mishra, while the painting above is “Mock Practice” by Prasanta Sahu, and the one below is “In Transit - 5” by Malvika Andrew. But there’s a lot else that’s worth seeing.


Posted by Amit Varma on 12 November, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | India

Caveat Emptor

It seems that Elesh Parujanwala, the ‘winner’ of Rakhi Ka Swayamwar, is “deeply hurt and angered” by the things his supposed fiance, Rakhi Sawant, has been saying about him. Among other things, he feels her comments about him not being rich enough were “stupid and unnecessary”. Quite.

In other news, we are told that nine female inmates of the Bhopal Central Jail have applied to take part in Rahul Dulhania Le Jaayega. Amazingly, 16746 other women are also keen to marry Rahul Mahajan. WTF indeed.

To all these ladies, I’d like to offer the advice Elesh should have gotten before he embarked on his adventure: Don’t. Crib. Later.

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

‘The Epics are For Everyone’

So says Amitava Kumar in his Rave Out of Nina Paley’s Sita Sings the Blues.

The wonderful thing about our epics is how open-source they are. Over the centuries, people have been free to remix them and interpret them as they like. Indeed, Hinduism itself has been open-source, to the extent that you can be an atheist and still be a Hindu. Pwnage, no?

Sadly, in recent times, pseudo-fundamentalist forces have tried to reshape Hinduism as a static, puritanical religion—the same kind of people who protest at Paley’s film, and who object to all kinds of things in the name of Hinduism. They have been strident and militant, and their claims to standing for Hinduism are taken more and more seriously because the counter-claims are too muted. Indeed, the finest counter to the likes of the BJP and the RSS is perhaps not from a standpoint of liberalism or secularism or anything like that, but from a standpoint of Hinduism itself. The intolerance of Hindutva is anti-Hindu—that is a potent case to make, because it strikes at their very raison d’etre.

Having said that, if recent election results are anything to go by, most people get that intuitively anyway.

In related reading, check out this superb interview of Wendy Doniger, on similar lines to the subject of this post. And also my friend Prem Panicker‘s Bhimsen (pdf link), a retelling of the Mahabharata from Bhim’s point of view.

Posted by Amit Varma on 27 October, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | Freedom | India | Small thoughts

Bad Vibrations

The WTF sentence of the day is a classic case of trying too damn hard. Mumbai Mirror, while reporting how Sanjay Leela Kempinski lost his temper of the sets of a film he’s shooting, tells us:

On seeing Bhansali’s fit of rage, the entire unit trembled with fright.

The entire unit trembled with fright? That must have been quite a sight. Really, now, is it asking too much to actually sit back and read one’s copy after it has been written?

And don’t get me started on that headline.

Posted by Amit Varma on 22 October, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | India | Journalism | Media | News | WTF

Jackwa aur Jillwa

I’ve been tweeting on and off about Bigg Boss 3, which I’m totally hooked to, and for those of you still immune to its charms, I present a clip that might persuade you to give it a shot. Check out Raju Srivastava’s magnificent Bhojpuri version of “Jack and Jill”—it starts at about 3:20 in the video below:

Raju is totally my favourite to win Bigg Boss this season. Did you see him with Sher Chops in the pool the other day?

Update: And ah, here’s how NDTV would report the whole Jack & Jill episode. Marvellous.

(Via @calamur.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 20 October, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | India

‘Like a Poppy-Head on the Shaft’

If you’re in the mood for action-packed, pulpy writing, I offer you the following extract from The Iliad by Homer:

But the Argives rose in grief to avenge that boast—skilled Peneleos most of all. He charged Acamas—Acamas could not stand the attack, he ran—and Peneleos stabbed at Ilioneus instead, a son of the Herdsman Phorbas rich in flocks, Hermes’ favourite Trojan: Hermes gave him wealth but Ilioneus’s mother gave him just one son… the one Peneleos lanced out beneath the brows, down to the eyes’ roots and scooped an eyeball out—the spear cut clean through the socket, out behind the nape and backward down he sat, both hands stretched wide as Peneleos, quickly drawing his whetted sword, hacked him square in the neck and lopped his head and down on the ground it tumbled, helmet and all. But the big spear’s point still stuck in the eye socket—hoisting the head high like a poppy-head on the shaft he flourished it in the eyes of all the Trojans…

This is from the Robert Fagles translation. Homer, I submit, was the Eli Roth of his time—just as William Shakespeare was the David Dhawan of his time. Classic-schmlassic, it’s just fun to read these guys!

Posted by Amit Varma on 20 October, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | Excerpts | Small thoughts


Another superb quote I just came across:

When people ask me if I went to film school I tell them, ‘no, I went to films.’

—Quentin Tarantino

It’s the same with books and writing, I’d say. You learn first by reading for pleasure—and then by writing. I’m not sure what you could learn in a classroom.

Posted by Amit Varma on 17 October, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | Small thoughts

‘The Most Unutterable Scoundrels’

I love this quote:

I am the most courteous man in the world. I pride myself on never once having been rude, in this land full of the most unutterable scoundrels, who will come and sit down next to you and tell you their woes and even declaim their poetry to you.

—Heinrich Heine, Reisebilder

For those lacking the patience for such courtesies, I have the following advice: Tell your tormentor to go start a blog. The internet is the finest refuge for unutterable scoundrels.

Is it not?

Posted by Amit Varma on 16 October, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | Excerpts | Small thoughts

The Englishman’s Cameo

All India Uncut readers are hereby invited to the Mumbai launch of The Englishman’s Cameo, Madhulika Liddle’s debut novel. I will be in conversation with the author. Details:

Event: Launch of The Englishman’s Cameo by Madhulika Liddle.
More: Liddle will read from her book and then be in conversation with Amit Varma, followed by audience Q&A.
And?: And high tea after that.
Ooh! Venue?: Oxford Bookstore, 3, Dinshaw Vachha Road, Mumbai.
When is this?: 6.30 to 7.30pm, Saturday, October 10.

The Facebook page for the event is here; and here’s the Facebook page for the book.

Regardless of whether you can make it for the event, I recommend you check out the book. It’s being slotted as “a Mughal murder mystery”, and is set in 1656, in Shahjahan’s Delhi.
It is wonderfully evocative, and makes you feel you’re actually in that time and place: during a break from reading the book, I found myself reaching for the paandaan, reminding myself not to stain my choga this time. More importantly, it’s a wonderful read, and hard to put down once you’ve started.

It stars Muzaffar Jang, a maverick minor nobleman of Shahjahan’s court who unwittingly begins to do detective work when one of his friends is accused of a murder he didn’t commit. One thing leads to another, more murders take place, and a minor character, bemused by Muzaffar’s passion for the strange bitter brew called coffee, hits upon the idea of diluting it with milk. It’s terrific fun, and I hope it’s just the first of a series.

Anyway, be there, meet the author, ask her questions, get the book signed by her, and have high tea. And just think, later you can act all snobbish and tell your friends that you went to a literary launch. Much pomposity is possible!

Posted by Amit Varma on 10 October, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | India | Personal

Preemptive Censorship

HT reports that the I&B ministry has just given the go-ahead to the producers of a film called The Indian Summer to shoot in India. However, after going through the script, it wants four scenes deleted from the film—these show “a kiss between Nehru and Edwina; a dancing scene; one where Nehru says ‘I Love You’; and a scene showing them in bed.”

Normally, when two people have an affair, there is kissing, there are confessions of love (or lust), and there is carnal action. I don’t see the point of pussyfooting around all this—an affair without these would not be an affair, so why should a film about an affair have to avoid these?

The government also insists that the film carry a disclaimer that it is a work of fiction. Why not keep those scenes then?

The ministry says it is doing this because it doesn’t want anyone to “show Nehru in a poor light.” That is bizarre: I don’t think his alleged affair with Edwina shows him in a poor light—the guy was human, after all. (Most Indian men would probably think more highly of him because he scored with a white chick, but leave that aside.)

And even if it did show Nehru in a poor light, so what?

Anyway, as revenge on the Indian government for this preemptive censorship, I suggest that the producers get Salman Khan to play Nehru, and have him sing a Himesh song as Edwina runs around a tree. That will show them.


And for what I think of the I&B ministry, see point 3 of this old wishlist of mine.

Posted by Amit Varma on 02 October, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | Freedom | India | News | Politics | WTF

Phul Singh vs State of Haryana (and the State of Indian English)

Oh boy, this Supreme Court judgment, excerpted on his blog by Imam Wapsoro, is masterful. Presenting Phul Singh vs State of Haryana, AIR 1980 SC 249:

A philanderer of 22, appellant Phul Singh, overpowered by sex stress in excess, hoisted himself into his cousin’s house next door, and in broad day-light, overpowered the temptingly lonely prosecutrix of twenty four, Pushpa, raped her in hurried heat and made an urgent exit having fulfilled his erotic sortie.


A hyper-sexed homo sapiens cannot be habilitated by humiliating or harsh treatment, but that is precisely the perversion of unreformed Jail Justice which some criminologists have described as the crime of punishment.

It may be marginally extenuatory to mention that modern Indian conditions are drifting into societal permissiveness on the carnal front promoting proneness to pornos in life, what with libidinous ‘brahmacharis’, womanising public men, lascivious dating and mating by unwed students, sex explosion in celluloid and book stalls and corrupt morals reaching a new ‘high’ in high places. The unconvicted deviants in society are demoralisingly large and the State has, as yet, no convincing national policy on female flesh and sex sanity. We hope, at this belated hour, the Central Government will defend Indian Womanhood by stamping out voluptuous meat markets by merciless criminal action.

The gentleman who wrote this is Justice Krishna Iyer. One can only assume that he proposed to his wife in some other language. Or maybe he spoke like this, and she went, Enough, enough, I’ll marry you, but please don’t go on and on in English. You libidinous brahmachari, you!


The larger issue here is why Justice Iyer waxed so purplacious. I blame colonialism. Even after the Brits left, English remained a marker of class in India. The better your English, the more highly you were regarded (even by yourself). This led to a tendency of showing off how fluent you were in the language, and from there, to this kind of overkill. For Justice Iyer, the language he used was as much a signal as a tool: It signalled his sophistication and his class. Or so the poor fellow thought.

I believe this is also partly responsible for why style overwhelms content in so much Indian writing in English. As kids, we’re too used to parents and teachers and peers telling us, Wow, this is so well-written, your English is so good. (As opposed to Wow, your narrative was compelling, I lost myself in the story, I couldn’t put it down.) So they end up giving more importance to the language they use rather than the narrative they’re building, while the former should really be slave to the latter. Pity.

And we also see this a lot in our local trains. Two random people will be arguing over something, and then one of them will break into bad English, as if to say, I"m superior to you, I know English. You lout! And then the other guy will say something to the effect of Hey, I know English too. Only you can speak or what? Bastard! And so on.

I’d like to see Justice Iyer get into one those local train fights, actually…

Posted by Amit Varma on 01 October, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | India | Old memes | Purplocity/Verniness | Small thoughts | WTF

What the Peon Dreams About

Rekha Nigam has some wonderful advice on advertising:

I don’t know about advice, but I would ask aspirants to join advertising only if they were truly interested in people. Because that is what it’s all about. I see too many people who are too self-centered, too wrapped up in their own world in advertising today. It’s not about a great felicity with words or magic with visuals at all. It’s about being interested in what the peon who brings your tea dreams about. Ask yourself, do you really care about the fantasies of a housewife who does not have a life so the others in her family can? Do you know what a rainbow tastes like to a little street child? Do you really understand what a cell-phone means to an illiterate woman in Balia whose husband works as a vegetable vendor in Mumbai? If you don’t give a damn, please stay away from advertising. Write a book, paint a masterpiece, make a movie that wins at every international festival, but DO NOT join advertising.

I’d modify that a bit and say that in my opinion, this advice holds true for literature and cinema as well. So if you don’t care what the peon dreams, don’t write a book or make a film either. You can go paint a masterpiece, though.

And really, speaking about writing, there are too many books written these days by writers who stick their heads up their own arseholes and describe what they see. That reflects in their sales as well—who besides friends and family can tolerate the view up there? A little less self-indulgence, and some looking around at the fascinating world around them, would help.

And no, duh, do you really expect me to take names here? I’m not getting into no lit controversy, ever!

(Link via @bhatnaturally, via @rjauhari.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 01 October, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | India | Media | Personal | Small thoughts

Roman Polanski and Mohamed

This comment, made by PatrickO on the Le Monde website and quoted by the Guardian, sums up my feelings on the Roman Polanski case exactly:

What would have happened if Mohamed, a factory worker from a working-class, immigrant-heavy suburb, had been accused of the same crime?

The argument that Polanski deserves some sort of special treatment because he is such a great filmmaker is absurd. Everyone’s got to be equal under the law. It’s irrelevant how long it’s been, or how they arrested him, or how many people sign petitions arguing for his release. He’s been accused of a crime, and the legal process should treat him the same as anyone else—including Mohamed.

If any argument can be made in his favour, it has to be based on the particulars of this case. That argument should be made in court. It is an argument for his acquittal, not for a pretrial release.

Given that he’s already pleaded guilty to having sex with a thirteen-year-old girl, I don’t see what that argument could be. But that’s for the courts to decide.

Posted by Amit Varma on 29 September, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | News

#Fail Parents

I’ve often made the point that parenthood is a massive responsibility, and way too many people become parents before they’re ready for it. Well, here are a few things that validate that belief:

Exhibit one: A Shiv Sainik named Kailash Patil had named his kids Uddhav and Raj after the now-warring Thackerays. Well, Patil is now pissed at the party because they denied a ticket to the candidate he supported. So is is renaming his son Uddhav to Anand. Who knows, if he later ends up in the Congress, he might change Anand’s name to Rahul. Imagine what all this does to the poor kid.

Exhibit two: An Australian baby of Indian origin gets eczema. Her dad, Thomas Sam, happens to be “a college lecturer in homoeopathy.” No doubt driven by hubris and dogma, he insists on treating her with homeopathy alone. Her condition becomes worse, and turns into a “severe skin disorder.” Her father refuses to change course. The girl dies. The parents are arrested—and I recommend that instead of getting a lawyer for themselves, they take Phos1M or Arsenic Iod. Anyway, what’s the point of my sarcasm now? The kid is dead.

Exhibit three: I’ve blogged about this before, but today was the first episode of Pati, Patni aur Woh, so I was reminded of it. What kind of parents would rent their babies out to a television channel? How can they live with themselves after doing that? What will their kids feel about it when they grow older? I’m baffled. Normally I’m a sucker for reality shows—but this one’s just a bit too bizarre.

And now I will reread Philip Larkin’s wonderful “This Be The Verse.”

Update: Whoops, sorry, I forgot to mention that the link to exhibit two was via email from Gaurav.

Posted by Amit Varma on 28 September, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | Miscellaneous | News | Politics | WTF

Sleeping With The Alien

One more priceless case in the annals of taking offence. BBC reports that Nigeria’s government “is asking cinemas to stop showing a science fiction film, District Nine, that it says denigrates the country’s image.” Apparently the Nigerian ganglord in the film has the same surname as a former Nigerian president—Obasanjo—among other sins. Their information minister, Dora Akunyili, has been quoted as saying:

We feel very bad about this because the film clearly denigrated Nigeria’s image by portraying us as if we are cannibals, we are criminals.

The name [of] our former president was clearly spelt out as the head of the criminal gang and our ladies shown like prostitutes sleeping with extra-terrestrial beings.

Imagine the misunderstandings that this could lead to. For example, a Nigerian lady could be walking home from the supermarket when an alien steps in front of her. ‘Excuse me,’ says the Nigerian lady, ‘please let me pass.’

‘No,’ says the alien. ‘I am horny. First we will copulate.’

The Nigerian lady gasps. ‘Oh, how dare you? I am not that kind of woman.’

‘Gimme a break,’ says the alien. ‘I’ve watched District Nine. I know the truth. All Nigerian women sleep with aliens.’

Yes, yes, I know that’s a bit far-fetched. But I didn’t start it!

(Link via @nilanjanaroy.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 20 September, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | Dialogue | Freedom | News | WTF

‘Other Top Stories’

A few moments ago, this is what a section of the ToI homepage looked like:


For a moment, I almost thought “Lenovo G550 Notebook” was a ToI headline—sure, it does say “ads by Google” below, but that’s small and you see it later. The font and the bullet point make it seem like it’s just another of the top stories on the site. Such it goes.


And in case you’re wondering what Ayesha Takia has lashed out at Baba Ramdev for, well, the dude apparently said that all actors were “characterless”. Some actors complain about that themselves when they’re not getting any roles, but that’s not what the good Baba meant. Ah, well, whaddya expect?

Posted by Amit Varma on 18 September, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | India | Journalism | Media | News | WTF

Sherlyn Chopra Means Business

I tweeted a couple of hours ago about the bizarrely headlined feature on Sherlyn Chopra (“Have Breasts, Will Talk”), but the most WTF thing about the article wasn’t any of the priceless quotes from Sherlyn, or the report’s inept attempts at eloquence, but the para at the end:

While it’s clear that the Internet is the way of the future, she has entered into an exclusive agreement with Times Internet Limited. Under this agreement exclusive mobile rights of all her mobile content lie with Times Internet Limited, specifically to be provisioned by Indiatimes 58888, on SMS, WAP, Voice and all operator platforms. “It’s a great honour! With most actresses shedding their inhibitions, there is a lot of competition on the internet. And I love it. It compels me to redefine excellence,” she says. You can follow more about Sherlyn. Get her mobile downloads, for example, send messages or listen to her thoughts, straight from her. Just call 58888799 or SMS SHERLYN to 58888. Call rates are Rs 7 per minute and SMS rates are up to Rs 3 per message.

This is ostensibly a feature article, mind you. So much for the wall between editorial and business.

Nevertheless, isn’t it delicious how they snuck that quote in the middle? Sherlyn has my best wishes for redefining excellence in the context she mentions.

Posted by Amit Varma on 10 September, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | Journalism | Media | WTF



The partner’s show the other day was organised as in the picture above—the postcards were on coloured panels specially made for the show. Well, a few hours before the show began, a dude walks into the gallery. At this point, only the coloured panels are there—no postcards, no art to look at. This dude spends ten minutes walking around the space. And then he walks up to J and says:

This is really a very interesting show. It reminds me of Rothko.

I’m not kidding. This is the kind of thing I’d normally make up—but this time, it really happened. That’s art for you, I guess.

Posted by Amit Varma on 10 September, 2009 in Arts and entertainment


As many of you would know, the partner makes her living curating art shows. Well, her latest show, Card-o-logy, opens today, and I’m enormously excited about it. It features 60 artists who have painted five picture postcards each, and many of the 300 resulting works of art are just stunning. The artists are a mix of well-known veterans, mid-career painters and young guns, and many of them have taken the chance to get out of their comfort zone and try new things.

When Jasmine had the idea last year, she had the following aims in mind:

1] Get all these well-known artists to work under the constraints of this new format that most of them had never tried out.

2] In recessionary times, come up with work that anyone could afford. Some of these artists sell in 7 figures, and art lovers have a chance to pick up their work here from Rs. 500 onwards. Most of the works are priced between Rs 3000 to 8000.

3] Compel art viewers to immerse themselves in the show, as they will have to in order to take in all the 300 works. They can’t simply stand back with a cocktail glass in one hand, take a sweeping look around the room, and satisfy themselves that they’ve viewed the exhibition. The very size of the works demands a more intimate viewing.

I can’t think of a comparable exhibition in India in which 60 top artists have showcased 300 works at such affordable prices, and you can see some of the works online here and here. However, the size of those images don’t do justice to the actual works, and if you’re in Mumbai, I suggest you hop over to Hacienda Art Gallery at Kala Ghoda between September 4 (today) and September 18.

Posted by Amit Varma on 04 September, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | Personal

My Friend Sancho Comes To Hyderabad

This notice is perhaps a bit late, and I apologize for that, but in a few hours, I’ll be reading from My Friend Sancho, and chatting with writer Sridala Swami about the book, in an event in Hyderabad. All India Uncut readers are invited. Details:

Event: Amit Varma reads from My Friend Sancho and chats with Sridala Swami.
Date: Saturday, August 29, 2009.
Time: 6pm.
Venue: Odyssey bookshop, Vikrampuri Kharkhana, Secunderabad.
Inducement: High tea.

Do drop in and say hello. As the book’s been out there a while, Sridala and I will talk about other stuff as well, such as writing in India and so on. The audience will be part of it, so do join the conversation.


On another note, my publisher informs me that My Friend Sancho is the biggest selling Indian novel released in 2009. I’ve seen unofficial sales figures for this year’s releases from all the major publishing houses, and MFS is ahead by a long way. I’ll share MFS‘s sales figures for the year as 2009 draws to a close.

It’s already been on all the bestseller lists: India Today for June and July, Landmark for those same months, Just Books for a few weeks in that period, and all the Crossword outlets that I checked. (Each outlet has its own bestseller list.) Even better, a friend just sent me a picture of a pirated copy of MFS on a Delhi pavement. I’m not sure how my publishers feel about that, but I’m naturally delighted.

Much of this is word-of-mouth success, so all of you who liked the book and told your friends, thanks for that.

Posted by Amit Varma on 29 August, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | My Friend Sancho | Personal

The Swine and Shah Rukh

Drama, drama, drama—that’s all our newspapers want. The Indian media’s been full of two overblown stories in the last few days, so much so that I feel I need to wear a mask before I pick up a damn newspaper. First up, there’s swine flu. Swaminathan Aiyar examines some numbers and finds:

[In India] 1.37 million people die annually of respiratory diseases and infections, 7,20,000 of diarrhea, and 5,40,000 of tuberculosis. These are staggering numbers. They imply that on an average day, 3,753 people die of respiratory diseases and infections, 1,973 of diarrhea, and 1,479 of tuberculosis.

Seen in this light, 20-odd swine flu deaths are almost laughably trivial.

If there is an epidemic in India, it’s the hysteria over swine flu, not swine flu itself. I’m not complaining, because for the last few days, the places where I usually hang out have been less crowded than usual. Things are getting back to normal though, but with narrative-hungry journalists all around, other infections will no doubt pop up.


Like Shah Rukh Khan. The outrage over Khan’s detention at a US airport is most silly. Our media, if you go to the heart of it, is not outraged because of the racial profiling in play—that’s old hat, at least eight-years-old in the context of the US, and I didn’t see Bombay Times cry a river when Rohinton Mistry had to cancel a US book tour because he was fed up of being questioned at airports, or when hazaar random Indians have been questioned over the years. Racial profiling story—not pushed before because there’s limited masala.

Shah Rukh spices it up. Our media’s on this story because of the celebrity angle. How dare they mess with Shah Rukh? Don’t we fawn over Brad Pitt when he comes to India? India has arrived, Slumdog won Oscars, Shah Rukh is loved by hundreds of millions, Madonna wears only a bindi to bed, blah blah blah. How could they not have recognised our hero? That’s what the outrage comes from, the celebrity angle with a pinch of nationalism thrown in—and it makes me want to barf.

If the cops threatened to slap section 377 on Shah Rukh and Karan Johar, you can bet there would be outrage about that as well, because the guys are celebs. But it’s been happening to ordinary people for decades, and the media hasn’t given a damn. It’s the celeb angle that makes stories here, ordinary people don’t count.


All this in a week when Bob Dylan was also detained for suspicious loitering. I don’t see him weeping and wailing about that.


There is a theory that all this is a publicity stunt for Shah Rukh’s forthcoming film, My Name is Khan, which is supposedly about racial profiling. I find it hard to believe that he can get US authorities to cooperate with him on a publicity stunt, so that’s a bit beyond the pale. But it is entirely possible that after the incident happened, he decided to milk it in the media. But that’s the game, and I wouldn’t blame him for that. I’d blame the media for making such a fuss about it.

Or maybe it’s our fault, because the media only gives us what we want? As it is, we are to blame for Shah Rukh being a star in the first place. A curse upon us.


How many of you think Shah Rukh should be locked up in Guantanamo for his bad acting alone? Hmm, I thought so.

Posted by Amit Varma on 18 August, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | India | Journalism | Media | News

Exploring Rakhi’s Cleavage (And Babies For Rent)

India can’t get enough of Rakhi Sawant. After the swayamwar where she found herself a fiancee, she is now going to simulate being a parent on a reality show. Along with her man, Elesh Parujanwala, who was named by a Canadian Bong after his favourite fish, she is taking part in a show in which five celeb couples will spend time bringing up borrowed children on television. Check out this snippet from the news item:

Rakhi and the audience may be used to her infamous low-cut blouses, but obviously, the bachchas aren’t. And, as a source present at the launch of the programme told us, one baby couldn’t help but explore the territory! Embarrassing? You bet!

If the kid becomes a techie when he grows up, he’ll at least have prior work experience in silicon valley. And think of the TRPs of the show now, as millions of Indians tune in to live vicariously through a baby’s exploration.


Ribald jokes apart, this is one reality show concept that I find appalling. Are the parents of these kids actually renting their babies out? Other reality shows feature adults being placed in situations of their own volition—but babies? How could someone do that?

Parenthood is a massive responsibility, and it’s irresponsible to become a parent if you can’t live up to that. I see too many parents around me who are simply not ready for that role, who have unfairly screwed with their kids by bringing them on the planet. This is a fine illustration of that.

(Link via Arnab’s Facebook status message.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 11 August, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | India | Media | News | Small thoughts | WTF

The Three Stages of a Writer’s Development

Here’s Peter Roebuck talking about the three stages of a cricketer’s development—but I believe it also applies to writers:

It begins with natural ability that takes a fellow as far as it can. Then comes a period of introspection in which the complications of the game are encountered and, to a greater or lesser degree, resolved. Finally the player reaches the final stage of a hazardous journey, beyond complexity, towards full understanding. This third stage is called simplicity, but it is profundity.

The thing is, with a cricketer, it is easy to tell which stage he is at, with little scope of self-delusion. Phil Hughes and Mitchell Johnson know, from their results on the cricket field, that they need to work out a few things. But writing is a subjective matter, and many writers may not know when there are problems with their game. As a result, they’ll never then do the necessary introspection and hard work needed to take them to the next level. That is why, the most important quality for a writer is surely humility—writers must be brutal critics of their own work, and must ruthlessly employ what Ernest Hemingway called “a built-in bullshit detector.”

On the flip side, that often erodes self-belief. It’s a thin line.

Posted by Amit Varma on 07 August, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | Personal | Small thoughts | Sport

Mr Saramago’s Elephant

Over at The New York Times, I find that Jose Saramago’s coming out with a new novel, based on “the real-life epic journey of an Indian elephant from Lisbon to Vienna in the 16th century.”

I’m a fan, so I can’t wait. And on that note, I read a fine piece by David Brooks today on a subject that seems rather Saramagoesque. It’s based on a question asked by a commenter over at Marginal Revolution: “What would happen if a freak solar event sterilized the people on the half of the earth that happened to be facing the sun?”


Saramago’s themes still seem fantastic to us, but other fiction writers have to confront the relative bizarreness of reality itself. As Philip Roth wrote in 1961:

The American writer in the middle of the twentieth century has his hands full in trying to understand, describe, and then make credible much of American reality. It stupefies, it sickens, it infuriates, and finally it is even a kind of embarrassment to one’s own meager imagination. The actuality is continually outdoing our talents, and the culture tosses up figures almost daily that are the envy of any novelist.

That’s true of India certainly—and it means that writers here really can’t complain. They’re surrounded by fascinating stories, and it’s up to them to catch them from the ether and turn them into print.

(Roth link and quote via email from Sanjeev.)

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

You Gotta Do Sach Ka Saamna

Here’s the WTF headline of the day:

Politicians want ban on Sach Ka Saamna

Sach Ka Saamna is the recently started Hindi version of The Moment of Truth, and is riveting once you start watching it—even if it does overlap with that other reality show, Is Jungle Se Mujhe Bachao. So what problem do our politicians have with it? Well, Kamal Akhtar, a Samajwadi Party MP, doesn’t like it that “obscene questions are asked by the anchor of the programme.”

“The host asked a woman in the presence of her husband if she would have physical contacts with another person to which she said no,” he said. “But her polygraph test said the answer was wrong. What kind of impression would it have created?” He sought a complete ban on the show.

I don’t get it—on whose behalf is Akhtar complaining? The participants of the show take part in full knowledge of the risks they incur, and that’s a choice for them to make. As for viewers, well, Akhtar is being hugely condescending when he assumes that we impressionable folks will be swayed by the show into infidelity, or suchlike. Listen, we already know what the world is like; we already know what human beings are like; we understand our urges, and know the consequences of giving in to them. Akhtar may want to foist a fantasy world upon us where nobody has anything to hide and everybody speaks only the truth—but that world does not exist, and is faker than the fakest Ekta Kapoor serial.

If anything, Sach Ka Saamna drives home the truth that most human relations contain some element of deception. In a viscerally direct way, it reveals the human condition. That can only help us become better human beings—to begin with, it might make us a little less sanctimonious.

That’s a matter of opinion, of course. Some people may hate the show, and are entitled to do so. But that is where the matter should end—not in calls for a ban. If Akhtar is so disturbed by Sach Ka Saamna, I have a suggestion for him—change the channel.

Or actually, no. He might then catch Is Jungle Se Mujhe Bachao and demand a ban on that because it reminds him of parliament.

(Link via email from Arshdeep.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 24 July, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | Freedom | India | News | Politics | Small thoughts | WTF

The Cheats

Today’s Mumbai Mirror carries this magnificent headline:

Man’s 6th marriage to woman who had 11 husbands foiled by 5th wife.

The absence of clarifying commas makes that headline slightly misleading, but it’s a hell of a story either way. Basically, this dude named Mohammed Sayeed wants to divorce his fifth wife, Subina, who gets pissed off and allegedly tips off the cops to some business hera-pheri he is doing. He’s arrested, just as he’s planning marriage to a woman whose bail he organised. And what a woman!

Sayeed’s love interest is Kausar Begum alias Umme Kausar, 26, who had married 11 men from various parts of the country and abroad. Each time she claimed that it was her first marriage.

“She would then foist dowry charges against her husband him and fleece him [sic]. Police said marriage was just a medium for Kausar and her sister to cheat rich men.”

It’s a fascinating story. I wonder, did Sayeed know about Kausar’s past and fall in love and want to marry her regardless? What kind of feelings did she actually have for the men she married? What would she have done if she fell in love with one of them? What if this realisation struck her after she’d duped him? What if one of the men she duped loved her even after being duped? Questions, questions: there’s much scope for something novelistic to come out of this—though this particular novelist has other things on his plate for now. Such stories there are around us!

(Link via email from Krishna Warrier.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 23 July, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | India | News

‘A Whole New World Of Khakras’

Chandni Parekh recently forwarded me a hilarious press release she received on behalf of the actor Purab Kohli. Given that press releases are intended for the public domain, I’m reproducing it in full here, typos, spellos and grocers’ apostrophes intact, for the charm of it:


Please find below a small snippet on Purab Kolhi. He is currently shooting in Ahmedabd

Fun time khakra time.

Do you know that Purab is a big fan of: khakra’s. He always has them on shoots. He’s even got his regular supplier in Bombay who he keeps getting refills from.

But now in the heart of Gujarat he is discovering a whole new world of khakra’s. He just can’t stop eating them on the sets of Hide and seek Apurva lakhia’s co production with Moser Baer. Purab has been shooting in a farm house where he is finishing the family’s stock for the year. “They have hidden secrets here, have you tried the muthiya khakra’s” says Purab over the phone.

Looks like he’s going to come back with excess baggage.

I wonder if poor Kohli knows what his PR man is up to? Really, is this what we’ve come down to when it comes to promoting films? Khakras? (Or even khakra’s?)


In more serious news, The Times of India asks: Will Sonam Kapoor wear a bikini?


Who knows, one day all this may come together in the headline, “Will Purab Kohli wear a bikini?” (Or “Will Sonam Kapoor wear a Khakra?”) Today’s parody is tomorrow’s headline, so don’t laugh, who knows?


Update (July 23): ToI carries the khakra story. Wow.

(Via Chandni, again.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 22 July, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | India | Journalism | Media | News | WTF

Sikhs In Hindi Cinema

Charan Singh Sapra, the president of the Punjabi Cultural and Heritage Board, is upset with “the continuing demeaning portrayal of the Sikh character in Hindi cinema.” ToI reports:

If a script demands a character to be a Sikh, then the community is more than willing to help filmmakers, Sapra adds. “We will guide them exactly how to portray a Sikh. Thus, they won’t end up hurting sentiments.”

Immense goofiness. All good storytelling is about flawed characters—so why should every Sikh in a film be a perfect Sikh? Mr Sapra doesn’t understand that films are about individuals, that a Sikh character in a film doesn’t represent all of Sikhdom, and is not meant to be representative. If Ranbir Kapoor plays a Sikh in a film, he is not implying that all Sikhs are like that character, any more than The Godfather implies that all Italians are gangsters or Borat implies that everyone from Kazakhstan wears a mankini to the beach.

And really, what is all this talk of ‘hurting sentiments’? I think most Sikhs are too sensible and mature to be hurt by something they see in a film, and sensitive Mr Sapra is probably not representative of his community. Maybe someone should guide him on ‘how to portray a Sikh’?


That said, Sapra is right when he says that Bollywood often stereotypes Sikhs. But mainstream Hindi cinema stereotypes almost everything, and Bollywood stereotypes of Sikhs, from what I can recall right now, seem to be largely positive, portraying them as robust, jovial and kind-hearted folk. What’s the problem with that?

Posted by Amit Varma on 22 July, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | India | News | WTF

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