Sunday, 24 May 2009

Bollywood's blog bubble

Sneha May Francis takes a journey through Bollywood’s virtual world

Wouldn’t you love to become part of Amitabh Bachchan’s extended family? Barring a few genetic glitches, establishing a familial bond with the legendary actor is just a click away. Enter the virtual world of blogging, an area that opens up a whole new dimension of communication, threading thoughts and opinions on a personal level.
The image of having a conversation with an actor of such legendary stature will definitely see millions nod in the affirmative. But do bear in mind that chances of actually meeting the actor in flesh and blood or even being invited to his family parties may be remote, or non-existent. However, the mere thought of communicating with him one-on-one is nothing less than extraordinary.
This virtual reality eliminates scouting around for gossip magazines or watching entertainment shows on the telly. Now, all you need for your daily dose of Bollywood gossip is to log on to the blogs and read about it all, first hand!

The Bollywood dream
There’s this inexplicable charm that the world of glitz and glamour entices millions, leaving them with a desire for a large chunk of Bollywood. And it’s this craze that prompts the stars to setup these connections. Hollywood’s been there, done that; but virtual communication is still a fairly new concept in Bollywood.
The reasons for the need to establish such a deep link can be many. Some might look at it as the Indian gliteratti’s most befitting gift to their fans – an extension of themselves, in their own words, floating on the web for their followers to soak in. Or the desire to express their views could be an indication of the poor media projections actors are often subjected to. The postings, mostly personal with huge undertones of narcissism, work on many levels as the actors’ propaganda to shut off the media and communicate straight with the public. Also, it makes for cheap and good marketing stratergy. Actors can play their PR personnel and promote their films and themselves through the mere click of a button.

Meet the bloggers
One of Bollywood’s first to hit the blogging radar wasn’t an actor. Filmmaker Anurag Kashyap wrote about his initial struggles and how he finally succeeded in finding his spot in Bollywood with interesting tales like Black Friday, No Smoking and Gulaal. His blogs take a dig at film critics who’ve applauded or ridiculed his films, producing apt response for each comment. He’s a talented filmmaker, no doubt, and his writings speak of his incredible understanding of cinema.
Another filmmaker who’s creating quite a stir on the web is Ram Gopal Varma. A man buried in pointless controversies, his blogs too reflect his confused state of mind. And when there’s no topic of relevance, he pops up pointless reactions to vague questions. His blogs, most often, are engaging, but not of any consequence.
Sudhir Mishra is another one from the creative fraternity who takes a potshot at his critics. A filmmaker who has effortlessly blurred the line between commercial and meaningful cinema, Sudhir refrains from writing about his personal outings and restricts his views only to his films.
For a man of ‘many talents’, what with his ability to juggle effortlessly between TV talk shows and films, Karan Johar finds the word game a tad too demanding. Looks like the man has way too many obligations to invest time in his own blog. His last update dates back to an outburst after the Mumbai terror attacks on November 26, 2008.
There are numerous other filmmakers who are regulars on the blogging circuit, namely Santosh Sivan, Onir, Revathy and Kunal Kohli. Even the acting brigade isn’t far behind.
Leading the gang is Amitabh Bachchan. He’s impressionably regular with his writings. Barring a few pompous notes about his family, he opens up to his readers, whom he affectionately refers to as his ‘extended family’. There are personal photographs, tales about his pet dog, links to his recent interviews, etc. He also uses his virtual power to spit venom at the media, stressing the ‘inefficiency’ of the Fourth Estate.
Aamir Khan’s infamous blog about naming his dog after his contemporary Shah Rukh Khan, made for hot news a long time ago, even triggering a war of sorts between the two. But looks like all the bad publicity has forced the man to slow down on his thoughts. His posts are few, and sometimes consist of no more than four lines. His most recent blog, however, is a detailed description of a day out with his kids.
The beefy Salman Khan has been on a mission to try out different professions. After an attempt at painting, the actor takes on blogging, albeit for his TV game show. The only hiccup being the blog hit a limbo after the show went off-air.
Little known actor Rahul Khanna too had a shot at the written word. He started a blog in 2005, added a few thoughts till 2007, only to give it up completely. His namesake, Rahul (Bose), who might prefer to be known as an intelligent actor, has made little effort towards maintaining his blog. There’s one post for the year 2008 and none for this year. He also began writing in 2005, but his posts dried up soon after.
We even got an itsy-bitsy glimpse of DevD-starrer Abhay Deol on the web. His writings proved as entertaining and unconventional as the actor himself. But the portal’s poor design made navigation difficult and reading tiresome.
The word game extends to the female fraternity as well, even though the numbers don’t run into double digits. Shilpa Shetty, who was resurrected to fame post a British reality show, tries a tad too hard to fit in. Her writings are amateurish, with smiley faces pasted all over. And for those who’ve missed out on her IPL drama, she’ll even word it out for you.

The followers
While Amitabh Bachchan rules the roost with a massive fan following, the others aren’t far behind. Aamir follows close behind, with the number of comments running into thousands. Just like the Big B, he too responds to a select few comments. Ours, however, went unnoticed! Shilpa is still to gain online admirers, her comments mainly run into single digits.
And we have also been told that Amitabh Bahchan has been paid a hefty amount to keep his blog alive, but since there’s no evidence, we will remain tight-lipped.
For the love of cinema
There are numerous other actors who dedicate websites to promote their films. They throw in a few interesting personal tit-bits to lure in the crowd, but once the film is released and the promotion done, the site is forgotten. Case in point being, Anil Kapoor and Ajay Devgan who’ve used the web for their films – Gandhi, My Father and U, Me Aur Hum, respectively.
Blogging might still be in its nascent stage, but web portals have aways been a rage in Bollywood. These are either put up by fans, who’ve dedicated the space to their favourite stars, or it’s the actors themselves who manage it. Celina Jaitley, Mallika Sherawat, Ajay Devgan, Dino Morea and Lara Dutta are among the many who use the web to give their fans a sneak peek into their lives away from the spotlight. These sites are rarely updated and often offer nothing more than what’s already available in the media.

Other networks
Apart from the conventional portals, there are social networking sites like Facebook, Orkut and Twitter that are proving quite popular for the actors to project themselves and bond with their fans.
Looks like today there’s a considerable change in the way stars perceive their admirers. No more waiting, hours on end, for an autograph or even a snapshot. Now, the stars are willing to invite their fans into their lives for an indepth conversation. And judging by the tremendous response, we are sure the fans want more!

get linked
Aamir Khan:
Abhay Deol:
Amitabh Bachchan:
Anurag Kashyap:
Karan Johar:
Ram Gopal Varma:
Rahul Bose:
Rahul Khanna:
Salman Khan:
Shilpa Shetty:
Sudhir Mishra:

Published in e+, gulf news (May 28. 2009)

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

A taste for Thai

Give your tastebuds a wake-up call with the Thai Kitchen food, writes Sneha May Francis

Every cuisine has its signature dish, which is promptly placed on a pedestal, pushing the other lesser-known dishes into oblivion. It’s the Tandoori Chicken for Indian cuisine or Chopsuey for Chinese, making one wonder if there’s anything more on offer from that region. Thai cuisine has also suffered similar generalisations, with the fiery coconut red/green curry being declared the most obvious choice. But we were in for a revelation at the aesthetically decorated Park Hyatt Dubai’s The Thai Kitchen. With each dish, we discovered a culinary world beyond the typical Thai curry and rice.
The bustling contemporary interiors, complete with four open kitchens, each with its neat pile of pots and pans and ingredients, painted a colourful gastronomic image. Mesmerised by the chef’s juggling act, we found it tough to decide where to sit. The cool exteriors, which boasted panoramic views of the Dubai Creek, didn’t take much convincing though.
The uncomplicated menu was neatly divided into wok, salads, noodles, clay pots, fried, grilled, steamed and sweets. We were spoilt for choice but our lack of Thai culinary knowledge prompted us to opt for the set menu, which offers a little of everything.
Our two-hour long dinner saw an assortment of tiny flavoured dishes, making their way to our candle-lit table. The unpretentious tiny helpings made for perfect sharing, enabling us to try out a variety of flavours without compromising on tummy space.
Chef Supattra’s authentic spread had us floored. Blackened, crispy beef strips and a tangy sauce set the mood. Armed with our drinks – a reddish juice and plain orange juice – we were ready to tackle the fiery dishes. Our tastebuds were in for a rush of flavours, some timid, others flaming hot. Considering the helpings were teeny, tasting and choosing our favourites was a game we enjoyed immensely.
The Shrimp Toast with Seasame bowled us over with its tough crispy exterior and soft textured interiors. The accompanying sauce wasn’t overpowering: just enough to give it the much-desired twist. The Green Papaya Salad and Spicy Pomelo Salad looked pretty on the outside but was packed with a powerful spicy punch on the inside. For the faint-hearted, we suggest a spice check before placing your order. It was the Roast Duck Curry that floored us. The subtle dark, sweetened soy sauce perfectly dressed the thin slices of roast duck.
We had started off by saying that we’d give the coconut curries a miss, but the Green Beef Curry paired with a neat pile of chilled white noodles proved an interesting twist to the regular coconut fare. The Red Vegetable Curry was spot on, only proving why this concoction is such a rage across the globe.
Our lack of Thailand’s sweet inclinations could’ve made us skip the desserts, but a bite into the sweet dishes left us amazed at how simple mixes of tropical fruits and crushed ice turned into something so awe-inspiring. We relished the Sago with Pomelo, an enchanting milky coconut blend.
After savouring our huge spread in the most romantic setting, we decided we’d have to give this trendy spot a revisit.

What Thai cuisine where Park Hyatt Dubai, Dubai Creek; 04 602 1234Why For a spicy trip to the Asian coastCost Bill for two Dh530

Published in e+, Dubai (May 14th issue)

Making his mark

Legendary actor Amitabh Bachchan’s blue-eyed boy, Abhishek, believes there’s more to acting than just a glorified bloodline, writes Sneha May Francis

Here’s a man blessed with an envious star lineage, smart looks, and a gorgeous green-eyed actress for a wife. One would think his world couldn’t get any more perfect. But despite all these glorious frills, there’s something that’s eluded Abhishek Bachchan so far – recognition. The man is popular, no doubt, but very rarely for his acting escapades. Bachchan junior has had to work extremely hard to create a slot for himself in Bollywood without depending on his illustrious bloodline. It took him 17 films to prove he’s got the stuff that actors are made of, but he’s still a long way from matching up with his legendary parents – Amitabh and Jaya Bachchan. His happy act in Dostana might’ve helped garner some critical acclaim, but it wasn’t enough to wipe away the bad after-effect of his clumsy performance in Drona.
We caught up with Abhishek when he visited Dubai to showcase Delhi-6, a film he promised would be a revelation, but which we later found out to be a tad disappointing.
We rewind to our ‘10-minute’ interview slot.
The rush of sunlight at the hotel café set the perfect mood for our rendezvous, only this time we had other journos for company. The hustle and bustle is a given, considering Dubai rarely gets treated to Bollywood visitors.
In any case, the man arrives, bang on time, dressed in a quirky white shirt, blotched on one side with a large blue eagle. It’s hard to ignore the bizarre shirt, but we try. It’s his well-toned body and cropped hair-do that’s caught our attention next. We speculate it’s for Mani Ratnam’s next flick Ravaan, but Abhi shoots that down with "that’s not the title of the film" before conceding, a tad reluctantly, that we are spot-on in our theory that it’s for the film. We ignore the curt response and quiz him about his association with filmmaker Mani, who gave his career the much-needed push with the rebellious Lallan in Yuva and the ambitious tycoon Gurukant Desai in Guru. "He’s (Mani) a dear friend and a mentor to me. I’d do anything for him. He doesn’t need to show me the script, he just needs to tell me when he wants to shoot. That’s the kind of love and respect I have for him," claims the Bachchan boy.
Since we’ve read enough about his "brilliant" sense of humour, we thought we’d put it to test it by asking him to pick one thing he doesn’t like about his Delhi-6 co-star Sonam Kapoor. But Abhishek stalls, looks uneasy and shouts out to Sonam, who’s seated around the corner, for an answer. When we protest, he blurts out a lame: "She’s always wearing flats. I don’t like that. She’s tall and should wear heels". We could comprehend what was really funny about that line, so we let the humour angle pass and allow Abhishek to hide behind his shades and mumble away in his husky voice.
We note his interesting association with Delhi-6 director Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, who was supposed to launch Abhishek in Bollywood with Samjhauta Express. Fate, however, played spoilsport, leaving it to JP Dutta to do the introduction with Refugee. We prompt him to reexamine his career and ask how it would’ve shaped up had he waited for Mehra’s golden touch. But Abhishek doesn’t believe in looking back. "I only hope it’s the start of a wonderful collaborative relationship between Rakeysh and me, and that we go on to make some wonderful films," he adds.
It’s Zoya Akhtar’s Luck By Chance that we take on next. A film that narrates the smooth ride most star kids enjoy, contradictory to Abhishek’s tough real-life story. He accepts there are perks, but not enough to see you through. "Let’s be very honest. It’s definitely easy to get your foot in the door. There are millions of other actors who are hundred times better than us but don’t get an opportunity to make a film. But I do everyday. I’m blessed, I’m lucky and I’m thankful for it," he adds. But he disapproves of the negativity surrounding the inheritance of such a glorified status. "It shouldn’t be held against us. It’s not our fault. It’s a bonus that our parents have been in this industry. I don’t think anyone blames the son of a business tycoon when he takes on his dad’s business. So why are we being alienated?"
Abhishek claims he was warned about the harsh realities of the film world by celebrated filmmaker Yash Chopra. "He told him that people won’t spend their hard-earned money on you only because your dad is a superstar. Your father will only bring the public to your first show, after that you have to prove who you are." Abhishek went on to do just that. After 17 films, he’s finally getting a stronghold in Bollywood. And this star kid isn’t bitter about it: "Most actors don’t get more than one film to prove themselves, but I got 17! And I owe it all to my parents."
Considering he’s had a rollercoaster outing in Bollywood, we ask if there’s anything special he does to soothe his nerves before his film releases. "I have a disorder: I speak a lot. I meet as many journalists as possible. No, I’m kidding," he adds, hinting he’s got a funny streak after all. He quickly reverts to the serious tone and informs us that he watches all his films at the theatre. "Apart from Dostana, I’ve watched all my films in the theatres. Maybe not the first show, but definitely on the first day," he informs.
While on Dostana, we congratulate him for his brilliant act and confess our love for the character Sammer. "So did John!" he quips. Abhishek adds he’s won a nomination for the Filmfare Best Actor Award for the film as well.
We move onto his latest Bollywood outing – Delhi-6, a film touted as filmmaker Mehra’s semi-autobiographical film. Abhishek corrects us: it’s not semi-autobiographical but has "certain visuals which he [Mehra] had experienced before." We wonder if that’s not what "semi-autobiographical" means, but we don’t argue and allow him to continue.
He adds that Delhi-6 is a film that hopes to revive two things. "It makes you question yourself, which I believe is important. Secondly, it portrays today’s youth in a different light. A section that’s always been accused, wrongly so, of being very complacent and impatient. This film is a wonderful answer to all those accusations."
No interview would be complete without allowing the man to gush about his lovely wife. So we give in. He details how it’s great to work with his wife Aishwarya Rai Bachchan (who also stars in Mani’s Ravaan). "It’s wonderful. We are very professional but the great thing [about working together] is that the minute you wrap, you get to spend time with your wife," he adds.
Our 10-minute slot draws to a close, with just enough time for Abhishek to fill us in on his future projects. "After Mani’s film, I start work on Balki’s Pa, with my dad and Vidya Balan. And then a film with new director Abhinay Deol," he adds.
Looks like it’s about time Abhishek got his fair share of the big Bollywood bite. Considering he’s got another chance in Bollywood, we only hope he doesn’t take his second innings for granted.

Published as cover story in e+, May 14th issue