Sunday, November 30, 2008

Taj - The hotel that was...

The nightmare is finally over, but it has left behind in its wake a long series of sleepless nights for thousands of us.
Eight years can be a long time, but I still remember the day very clearly. Uday and myself were conducting a series of workshops for Taj employees. The workshops inevitably threw up references of workplace and often both of us would be found wanting in our understanding. Finally after about seven workshops, we were invited to visit Taj and were promised that we will be shown that part of the hotel which guests never see. We got to spend the whole day in Taj, going through its countless service passages, labyrinthine corridors and spiral staircases.
At every corner, some enthusiastic staffer who had been on the workshops would come running to greet us. At every kitchen the chef would want us to wait and taste his fare. Their hospitality was overwhelming, and had we agreed to the chefs' requests, we wouldn't have gotten past more than three kitchens in the whole day. So we kept declining politely and moved on. The stores, the laundry (which finally solved my childhood mystery - how do hotels never run out of washed and ironed bedsheets?), the back offices, everything.
On one of the workshops, I casually asked a young executive - so what is so special about the hotel, how is it different from so many other five-stars? Pat came the reply - "why, it is older than even the Gateway of India! It is not just a hotel, its an icon. For me, its my second home." I don't remember his name, and today I don't even know where he is....
The same holds true for the Oberoi-Trident. I have walked through the doors there countless times to attend meetings to discuss the workshops that we did for them. During any of my visits after the workshops, the story was same like my Taj visit eight years ago.
Stories are trickling through the press as to how the hotel staff time and again took care of the guests even when they themselves faced imminent danger to their lives. Some of these stories will never be told - of unsung heroes who lived and died doing what they always loved doing - looking after the guests they treated as their own personal guests. They lived the old sanskrit saying - अतिथि देवो भव - guest is God.
Some day, I am sure, I will go back to The Taj as well the The Oberoi. It wont be the same ever again. The memories of last week will remain etched in every wall of the two hotels. And yet, I am sure, some things will be exactly as they have always been - the amazing attitude of the staff. Right now, I can only bow to all of them in respect.
I stand corrected - the title of this post should be 'The hotel that was, and will be.'

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Mumbai bleeds

Will last night's terrorist attack on Mumbai finally serve as a wake-up call for the government? How much more blood of innocent citizens needs to be shed on the streets of India? Phrases that have become standard lingo for politicians after such an incident - 'we condemn this dastardly attack', 'perpetrators of violence will not be spared', 'people should maintain communal harmony' - all these have started sounding increasingly meaningless. Hypocritical, in fact.
Terrorists can travel in trains, on roads and now even boats to land on our streets and cause irreparable damage. What is the government waiting for? For the next batch of terrorists to come in helicopters and land on the Rajpath, or on the pitch of a cricket stadium?
As for the terrorists who have been arrested, what of them? Going by the past history, I am sure they will spend the next 15 or so years in our jail while our judiciary (which is further shackled by narrow-minded politicians) decides how to deal with them. Court cases will drag on, and these criminals will travel in police security, all the while consuming taxpayers' money.
Such an attack could not have been carried out without weeks, even months, of planning. Which means that while they were planning how to disrupt India, our country was busy dealing with silly matters like the number of Biharis in Maharashtra, blaming Aussies for being poor losers, fashion shows and Mamata Banerjee's tantrums.
Hotels and buildings will be reconstructed over time; what about the dreams, aspirations and hopes of people?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Abandon hope, all ye who enter here...

That's a phrase from Dante's Divine Comedy, and my day seems to echo this fully.
I woke up with a splitting headache and cold - thanks to traveling from a sultry sweaty Pune to the chilly Himalayan foothills and and back in a matter of three days, lack of sleep and a terrible movie last night (Dostana).
My sense of gloom got heightened as I opened the newspaper, hoping to read something that would cheer me up. The headlines on the first page go something like this -
1. Alandi's promised facelift has been forgotten by the Govt., and as per the headline, "neglect is state's shame".
2. US incumbent govt promises to save Citibank (but the financial paper headline says this is unlikely to succeed!)
3. 11/7 accused were thrashed in police custody. (What else did we expect?)
4. Then there is this amazing bit about two guys who violated traffic rules. As the traffic constable tried to stop them, they actually assaulted the police! One rickshaw actually knocked down the cop. Both traffic constables are in the hospital, one with a fractured hand, another with an injured eye.
5. In Delhi, two MBA students kidnapped a teenager to recover their losses incurred in the stock market.
6. An Indian man drove all the way across USA to shoot his estranged wife in full public view outside a church.
7. Fresh engineering graduates have to accept salaries about 5 times lower than what they were promised when the companies selected them from campuses. Some of them have to be content with only Rs.5000/-
8. Pune municipal corp objects to changes in developmental plan - so lots of scope for gaining political mileage and adding to the delays in developmental work, no doubt.

So the only news that remains on the first page and which is not depressing (but it is inconsequential to me right now anyway) is - Obama names his economic team.

What a way to begin a day. I hope the rest of it gets better. So far it hasn't....

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Fashion - Through Madhur Bhandarkar's Tinted Glasses

Swati keeps telling me that 'half truth is as bad as a lie'. (No prizes for guessing WHY she keeps reminding me of this!) Its a very sound thought, but Madhur Bhandarkar seems to be completely unaware of this. His latest flick - Fashion - is such a half truth about the fashion industry. Worse, its actually not even about fashion industry, its only about the world of modelling and fashion shows, which I think is only a small part of the fashion world. One review (I forget which) was absolutely right in saying that this movie should have been named 'Model' or maybe 'Supermodel' but it makes no sense naming it 'Fashion'.
Watching the movie is quite a pain, honestly. It feels like you are switching channels watching FTV and some silly tear-jerker soap. The inconsistencies are quite a thing, I must say. First of all, Madhur Bhandarkar would do well to go visit Chandigarh and interact with the girls out there. Not that I am an authority on Chandigarh girls, but I know enough about that city to know that the girls there can't be so dumb. Now, the leading lady Meghna Mathur (played by Priyanka Chopra - what a waste. I always thought she was talented!) is supposed to have won a beauty pageant already. How then is she so completely ignorant of some basic rules of a modelling contract ??? Come on Madhur, she is from Chandigarh, a happening city of India, not from Jhumri Talaiya !!
Some sequences don't make any sense at all. What was the need of that little cameo appearance of Konkona Sen and Ranvir, playing themselves? It didn't serve any purpose. Swati commented that Madhur probably wanted to show how dress designers bully their way into movies and impose their own opinions on even film stars. Really? Are we expected to believe THAT?
I have a dress designer friend who once jokingly said, "Yeah, all male fashion designers are gay. What a waste". She was joking. Mr. Bhandarkar - SHE WAS ONLY JOKING, DO YOU UNDERSTAND?
The movie is so full of stereotypes that it becomes all too predictable. The only thing that is not predictable is - when the interval is going to happen! Throughout the first half, you keep praying for the interval (because then you know that half of the movie is thankfully over!) The first half drags so much that you start wishing that the movie should simply end without the second half altogether. Thankfully, there is a break where you can go and get fortified popcorn and coffee and brace yourself for the torture that awaits you in the latter half.
I remarked to Vallarie - when is the wardrobe malfunction going to happen? When will Kangana Ranaut land up as a drug-addicted beggar on the streets, cutting a sorry figure? One could predict EVERYTHING. Why? I think I know why.
Madhur Bhandrakar seems to have perfected the art of picking up the current hot social topic and then make a movie out of it, claiming to show the 'real' picture to the audience whom he thinks are all stupid and gullible. So first Chandni Bar happened, then Page 3, then Corporate, and now Fashion. Unfortunately for us viewers, he is getting worse with every movie. What to expect from him next? Terrorism? Naxal movement? SEZs? Inflation? Global economic crisis? KSaas-Kbahu Kserials?
Madhur is like one of the five blind men trying to figure out what the elephant is like only by touching its tail, or trunk, or whatever. In this case, he seems to have only touched a picture of the elephant, of course blindfolded. His claims of having researched the topic thoroughly are hollow - that's the only thing that this movie proves.
The movie has no entertainment value either. Is there a message then, at least? Is Madhur trying to tell all parents not to let their precious daughters ever enter the world of modelling? Or is he warning the parents of all male fashion designers that their sons WILL become gay and turn effeminate too?
Lastly, his experience of making films for so many years starts becoming questionable. The gimmick of using his own film's reference in the movie is pathetic and amateurish, to say the least. (one model says to the other, 'isn't that Madhur? What's he doing here?' The other one replies - oh, he is researching the fashion field, must be making a movie.) What kind of self-fulfilling prophecy is this?
The saving grace of the movie is Kitu Gidwani, surely. Her portrayal of an impassionate, attached yet detached, professional Anisha Roy is praiseworthy. So is Kangna Ranaut's Shonali Gujral. I wish Kangna is chosen by some Director (not Ashutosh Gowariker or RGV!!! PLEEEEEEZZZZ) for some more substantial roles than what she has been getting like in Gangster, Life in a Metro....
All in all, a completely avoidable film. If you have 3 hours to kill and lots of money to spend - then spend it on anything else - it will be worthwhile.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Obama - Historic win

So after a hysteric campaign running for a record 21 months, a historic win by Barack Obama is being hailed all over the world. Dark memories of centuries of racial discrimination have been replaced with hope for 'Change'.
Only time will tell whether Obama can really bring in the change that he has promised throughout his campaign or whether four years later it will prove to be mere political rhetoric, but one thing is for sure. Books on American History will have to be rewritten now...
For now, all the Democrats can celebrate and enjoy a well-earned peaceful sleep tonight!
To the Haines family in Contoocook, New Hampshire, we will raise a toast from here.