Why so many former pinups in the Indian parliament?

Jason Overdorf writes in his column On India in the globalpost:

Doordarshan, kept showing Jaya Bachchan’s face during the induction of fellow former Bollywood starlet Rekha. Rekha was always rumored to have a thing going with Jaya’s husband Amitabh back when they were all stars.

India has the world’s worst famous people. They want all the adulation (and perks like unmerited posts in the government), but none of the “baseless” rumors, malicious gossip and catty remarks. But this has been a particularly good spring for schadenfreude.  

First, there was a long-running bit of journalistic comedy (yes!) after the Indian Express devoted the entire front page to a non-existent coup.  (I know, I know: “We never used the C word!”… tell it to your lawyer).  

Then everybody piled on to attack a rather clever, 60-year-old political cartoon in a stunning show of solidarity with India’s otherwise-mostly-still-despised erstwhile untouchables, the Dalits. (It shows B.R. Ambedkar, the Dalit politician who wrote India’s constitution, riding on a snail labeled “Constitution” while then-Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru urges the beast onward with a whip.  The trouble is now it’s in the school textbooks, and people have decided it looks like Nehru is whipping Ambedkar, even though the Dalit leader is also holding a whip).

And, finally, today Bollywood queen bee and member of parliament Jaya Bachchan (wife of Amitabh Bachchan, mother of Abhishek Bachchan, mother-in-law of Aishwarya Rai, and an actress in her own right) reportedly blew a gasket because the state-run television channel, Doordarshan, kept showing her face during the induction of fellow former Bollywood starlet Rekha into the Rajya Sabha as well.  (The honorable members of India’s version of the House of Lords later denied that Jaya made a fuss).

….The subtext here was that Rekha was always rumored to have a thing going with Jaya’s husband back when they were all stars. In all likelihood there was nothing to it, since Bollywood’s idea of PR is to leak rumors of such “link-ups” between the stars of upcoming releases.  

Tell it to Shekhar Gupta, the once respected editor-in-chief of the Indian Express, who also seems determined to trash his own reputation. … For awhile some folks tried valiantly ….. But in the end it all turned into a big joke, which long-time Outlook magazine editor Vinod Mehta described as “the mother of all mistakes”…

Are Indians oversensitive? Was Nehru really that skinny? Why are there so many former pinups in the Indian parliament? Why are Bollywood rumors always “baseless”? ..And, of course, should newspaper editors really be fighting against free speech?

Read the full column in globalpost: Oversensitive Indians: From Jaya Bachchan to Shekhar Gupta, everybody is aggrieved

Aishwarya Rai – Mummy # 1, Karishma # 2

Aishwarya Rai - Mummy # 1

Aishwarya Rai – Mummy # 1

This news will cheer up some diehard fans of Bollywood mother Aishwarya Rai Bachchan. Aishwarya tops the list of the ideal celebrity mothers in Bollywood.

According to an online survey Ash shares this status with her Hollywood counterpart Angelina Jolie.

After facing lot of flak for her ever increasing post pregnancy bulge, this online voting will come as good news for Aishwarya.

The survey was conducted by matrimonial portal Shaadi.com to find out the Bollywood diva who has the qualities of being an ideal mother and if Indians see her fit the role well.

It seems the voters have been impressed by Ash’s motherhood. Aishwarya gave birth to Aaradhya in November last year and since then she has dedicated all her time and energy towards the new born. So much so that she has compromised her own fitness and gained unimaginable amount of weight.

But this did not stop her fans to vote for the beautiful lady.

Altogether 54 per cent of the respondents voted for the former Miss World, Karisma Kapoor followed by 27 per cent votes as the ideal mother.

Malaika Arora Khan and Lara Dutta were the other contenders as the ideal celebrity mom in the survey.

Actress Angelina Jolie was voted the top mother from Hollywood with 67 per cent respondents.

The survey further revealed that Indians feel that National Award winning actress Priyanka Chopra would make an ideal mother once she attains motherhood as she got 30 per cent of the votes followed by Kareena Kapoor.

Yesteryear actress Hema Mailini and her daughter Esha Deol were voted the ‘Most popular celebrity mother-daughter duo’ who make a great pairing and share a bond.

Bollywood, not Aishwarya Rai has ‘pregorexia’!!

Lacy Jaye Hansen a graduate of Wichita State University and a two-time Boston Marathon finisher writes in her column Aishwarya Rai Pressured by Bollywood Fans to be Skinny after Baby in http://www.dietsinreview.com

As other Ash supporters have stated, she is on a professional break, and her looks shouldn’t have any bearing on her celebrity. This excuse didn’t fly with most commentators in Bollywood as they are only giving her one year to get back to perfection.

“One year down the line, if you want to have a debate whether she looks the way she used to, then that’s fine.”

This obsession with unnaturally skinny pregnant women is bad enough in the US. It has officially been given a name as of late,pregorexia. Eating disorder specialists are warning that many women are under the pressure to not gain too much weight during their pregnancy and what little they do gain they need to lose quickly after. This issue is clearly even worse for those in the limelight of Bollywood.

True supporters of Aishwarya are urging the media to back off as “She’s enjoying her life and her new baby, and doesn’t give a damn about what the rest of us think of her or her body. And that’s good reason for all women – pregnant or not – to celebrate.”

(Read the full column: Aishwarya Rai Pressured by Bollywood Fans to be Skinny after BabyWhen not training for her next run Lacy Jaye Hansen is a busy wife and mom.)

Aishwarya Rai Attacked Over “Double Chin” Photo

Aishwarya Rai Bachchan recently attending the Ambani party.

Another day, another catty article in the Indian media about Aishwarya Rai’s weight. Aishwarya was snapped in an unflattering position in the backseat of a car (no, not that kind of unflattering position!) and the press took the opportunity to completely trash her for it. Her crime? Having a double chin! And not even a real double chin, just the kind you get when you pull your head back a bit. courtesy: Renee Shah & CELEBS

ish was on her way to the big bash thrown by Mukesh Ambani for U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon when the photo was taken. That photo–probably the most unflattering one of her in existence–has since made the front pages of not just entertainment websites but of major Indian (and overseas) newspapers.

Bollywood Life, in its usual “let’s fake concern to hide our inexcusable rudeness” attitude, ran the photo with the ridiculous headline “Aishwarya Rai Bachchan’s got a double chin!” and pretended to be worried that something was wrong with her for not being thin yet like “other” new mothers. (Makes you wonder what the article’s author looks like, doesn’t it? The weight-obsessed members of the gossip media don’t often have room to talk when it comes to the issue.)

Apparently, being a former beauty queen means one is never ever allowed to put on so much as a kilo–and if you do dare to gain weight at some point in your life you’ve implicitly given the media permission to be over the top rude about it.

So Aishwarya hasn’t lost all of her baby weight yet. Who cares? She obviously doesn’t. This song and dance about Aishwarya’s weight by the Indian media is getting old.


Bejewelled, beautiful courtesans, a la Madhubala or Aishwarya Rai, are just an indulgence in Mughal nostalgia. Hira Mandi, once a place of culture and tradition, has now been transformed into Lahore’s brand new Food Street.

The painter Iqbal Husain converted his mother’s home in Hira Mandi to a restaurant, Cooco’s Den. Facelift of the street has been at the cost of culture.

Nirupama Dutt

WHEN Urdu writer Ghulam Abbas wrote a classic Urdu short story called Anandi way back in 1939, and inspired a memorable film by Shyam Benegal called Mandi in 1983, was he playing the role of a clairvoyant? Well, if one looks at the fate and fortune of Lahore’s Hira Mandi one would certainly believe so. Well prophecy does accompany major literary endeavour but it was more a case of understanding human nature and power games. The story is a satire on politics and prostitution, both professions having many common principles, in which a brothel occupied by sex workers in the heart of the city is chosen by some politicians for its prime locality.

A lifetime later, Hira Mandi of Lahore seems to have become the target of the politicians’ imagination and the area known better for its sex and sleaze in present times is now the place for the rich and famous to dine on the choicest delicacies of Pakistani cuisine and pay a pretty packet for the fare.The new Food Street is the realisation of Pakistani Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif’s dream to replace the Food Street created by his predecessor Pervez Elahi’s at Gwalmandi in president Pervez Musharraf’s times. The V-shaped offshoot of the road connecting the Mandi to the Fort opened as Fort Road Food Street, with 27 buildings acquired for the project, opened business a couple of months ago. The old buildings have been renovated, painted and decorated to supposedly resemble the Mughal architecture of yore and Pakistani newspapers report that concentrated here are the business interests of multinational companies, business tycoons and others close to the ruling party.

Maryam Rabi, an architect at the Agha Khan Cultural Service, Pakistan, working on the walled city of Lahore, criticises the makeover in a blog for The Dawn: “On visiting the Fort Road Food Street, one would expect to be introduced to the true culture and experience of the walled city – the project, however, rarely brings forth that opportunity and instead presents a ‘Disneyfied’ version of itself to the public. The words, conservation, restoration and protection are widely misunderstood in most of Pakistan. What has been implemented on the Fort Road is merely a superficial facelift and a complete disregard for its historic context and cultural value.” French journalist Claudine Le Tourneur d’lson, who recently released her novel called Hira Mandi in India and Pakistan, disparages the appropriation of the buildings, and says her 1988 visit there showed how the red-light area of Lahore was different from those of Mumbai or Cairo: “There can be no comparison. In Mumbai or Cairo all you see is flesh trade. Nothing more, nothing less. In Hira Mandi you saw colour, you saw dance, you heard music. There was a culture to it. Sadly, it is no longer there. The girls have mostly gone to the UAE, where they make more money and where there is no moral police. The ones who have stayed behind practise their profession in posh localities of Lahore or are at the beck and call of hotel guests.”

Hira Mandi, which came up as the bazaar of the courtesans during the Mughal period and was reduced to the red-light area in modern times, is certainly in the royal neighbourhood just behind the grand Badshahi Mosque built by Emperor Aurangzeb. While some of its sanctity was lost in colonial times, it yet retained its grandeur, giving some great singing stars to the radio and films. Pran Nevile, the chronicler of Lahore, describes it thus: “It would be a mistake to take Hira Mandi for a prostitute’s street, which certainly it was not, even though some of its inmates carried on the world’s oldest profession for a living. The courtesan’s home was essentially a place of culture when some of the singing and dancing girls found their place into the royal court.”

The settlement came to be known by this name after a General of Maharaja Ranjit Singh called Hira Singh Dogra who lived in the vicinity. Many an exceptional musical talent was nurtured in the kothas here, including Noor Jahan of theAwaaz de kahaan hai-fame who rose to get the title of Malika-e-Tarannum in Pakistan. She is remembered well for her sonorous rendition of the poetry of Faiz Ahmad Faiz. Sardar Bai is still remembered. There were others who made it to Hindi films like Mumtaz Shanti, Shamshad Begum and Khurshid and others who were a hit on the radio, including inlcuding Umra Zia who became a radio star of the 1930s, singing Mera salam le ja, taqdeer ke jahan tak. Nevile has fond memories of Gulzar Begum,daughter of the accomplished tawaif Sardar Begum, popularly known as Tamancha Jaan, radio star of the 1940s, whom he went to meet in Lahore when he took a pilgrimage to the past in 1997. “Most of my patrons were Hindus and Sikhs and they left Lahore with the Partition. Soon I shut down my salon and stopped singing and educated my children.” Munni Bai, who supported by singing on kothas the music career of Ustad Amir Khan, one of the greatest exponents of Hindustani Classical music and founder of the Indore Gharana, was originally from Hira Mandi.

Courtesy: The Sunday Tribune

Classical arts lost out to popular folk and film numbers and the era of ‘keeps’ or ‘mistresses’ ended and vulnerable sex workers grew out of the Mandi, with little protection and no patronage. And now their habitation is valuable real estate and up for grabs. Perhaps even the writer Ghulam Abbas could not envisage way back in the 1930s that the Mandi would come to such a pass.

Penning their lives

SELLING love and saving dreams in the Pakistan’s ancient pleasure district was the poignant sub-title of British sociologist Louise Brown’s book The Dancing Girls of Lahore,published in 2005. The past decade has seen several women writers from Pakistan and abroad picking up the pen and telling the dismal stories of their sisters in Hira Mandi. Brown, a lecturer of sociology in the University of Birmingham, spent four years in Hira Mandi studying the wretched the lives of the descendants of the women of culture and grace before picking up the pen to tell their stories.

The latest addition to the tales from these lanes and alleys is a novel called Hira Mandi by French journalist Claudine Le Tourneur d’lson and it is inspired by the life of the area’s well-known artist Iqbal Hussain, who was the son of a sex worker who studied art and became a teacher at the National College of Art, Lahore and realised his dream of freeing his sister and aunt from the bondage of selling their bodies night after night. He was also the first to convert his mother’s abode to a restaurant called Cooco’s Den. The story begins at the time of Partition and spans the next five decades during which Hira Mandi deteriorated from being a refined part of town where elegant courtesans and dancing girls held court to a crumbling red-light district.

Faryal Gauhar’s novel The Scent of Wet Earth in August came out in 2002 and it was based on her film Tibbi Gali. Teaching film-making at the National College of Art she told a poignant tale of a mute girl who yearns for a better life as she is caught in the dark world of her drug-addict mother and aunts who once sold their bodies. In telling this story she brings out many moving stories from the neighbourhood.

Social activist Fouzia Saeed’s book Taboo that also came out in 2002 takes an ethnnographic look at the sex workers of the Mandi. The book is a journey of discovery into the infamous red light district of Lahore tracing the phenomenon of prostitution coupled with music and dance traditions of in South Asia.

Palangtod Dhulai: ‘(media) arrogance is all very well, but stupidity is just that’!

Palangtod Dhulai <> Ranjona Banerji

Justice Katju tells it like it is. Again

Press Council of Indian chairman Markandey Katju has been one of the most vocal holders of this post, losing no opportunity to stand up for the media when required and to castigate it at other times. The trivialization of news remains a key issue with him and he has questioned once again whether our obsession with Sachin Tendulkar’s 100th century was justified. Interestingly, Tendulkar himself questioned it, pointing out that in the four matches when he got his 99th 100, no one mentioned it at all!

Katju, speaking at the convocation ceremony of the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan in New Delhi (“over the weekend” says The Hindu in Monday’s paper) however saved his best for last, taking on Anna Hazare and his methods. While making it clear that corruption is a mega issue and that is why Hazare’s movement gained so much support, he questioned Hazare’s methods. “What is the rationale of the thinking of Anna Hazare? With due respect, I could not find any scientific ideas. These shoutings will not do anything.”

Katju is a man who calls a spade a spade. Much as he rubbed most of the media the wrong way, there is perhaps some merit in taking some of his criticisms seriously. Is Aishwarya Rai’s pregnancy really front page news? Did the world end with Rahul Dravid’s retirement from cricket? There’s no point getting defensive here and saying, “The media has every right to choose its own stories”. Quite right it does. But does that mean that the media never makes mistakes? Or indeed, can one deny the dumbing down of the media in terms of choice of stories and understanding of news?


Talking about getting defensive, the editor in chief of MXM India. Com Pradyuman Maheshwari faced some defensive posturing on the media’s role in the Norway-Bhattacharya child custody case on NDTV “over the weekend”. The anchor Sunetra Chaudhury, journalist Rashmi Saxena and former diplomat MK Bhadhrakumar staunchly held that the media had done no wrong. It was only when Maheshwari pointed out that no fact-checking had been done by the media and that the other side of the story was not presented – “a basic trait in journalism” – that the bluster of the others died down a bit and it was accepted that the media could have done more.

Arrogance is all very well, but stupidity is just that.


This lack of perspective in the television media, especially when it comes to the armed forces, is equally appalling. It has the narrow-focused ability to only see every problem from the side of the armed forces. Yet surely we have seen, more so in recent times, highly ranked officers involved in the most reprehensible acts of corruption. In the current allegations made by chief of army staff VK Singh that he was offered a bribe by a former Lt-general, surely it would be better to get a few more facts on the case before having hissy fits in favour of every soldier ever accused of anything at prime time? At the very least it would be interesting to see if TV can seriously question what seems to be an obsession with attention as far as VK Singh is concerned. Also, at the risk of facing a firing squad at dawn, I would suggest that the media would be better served if it stopped treating the armed forces like a collection of overly-principled martyrs eschewing payment for their cause and just treat them with customary scepticism.


In an aside, how about TV channels hire some people with better spelling skills for their written portions? All morning on Monday I read about a “defemation vase” filed by Arun Jaitley against somebody. Of course, there are no bigger teasers than those little ticker tape thingies that run across the screen which promise so much and deliver so little.

Twitter: @ranjona

(courtesy: ranjona banerji & mxmindia.com)