Move over Ekta Kapoor

A well-informed source tells me that over at the Balaji Telefilms headquarters, they are beginning to worry. Ekta Kapoor is understood to have called her producers and told them in no uncertain terms that they have to immediately come up with ideas to combat the emerging threat to their soap opera dominance from the IPL and the sundry noise-makers associated with it.

You can see her point — with all the drama around in the real world, who needs TV?

A day after welcoming the news that KKR has approached Abdur Razzaq with a view to securing his participation in IPL-3, reading those tea-leaves and finding among the dregs signs that there is a thaw in Indo-Pak relations, and suggesting that maybe the climate is now right for bilateral talks, Pakistan did an abrupt volte face and decided to cancel the NOCs to Pakistan players to take part in the IPL.

Let’s see, now — the PCB seems to be saying that India has no business insulting Pakistan players; any insulting that is required will be done by the PCB itself, thank you very much. [And that is not surprising either — after all, it was the PCB that pointed a match-fixing finger at its own team captain not so long ago].

Meanwhile, the Shiv Sena and its gracelessly aging leader decided to take up cudgels against a sea of troubles. That is to say, against Shah Rukh Khan, with the party’s Thane unit led by its MLA Eknath Shinde ordering a ban on all SRK films until further notice. You can’t blame Shinde, really — the Sena is a monkey-see, monkey-do party, and its loyal ‘leaders’ know nothing better than to blindly jump in whatever direction Mr B Thackeray points his finger.

Khan’s fault, apparently, is that he spoke up for Pakistan players. If the Sena means to say that anyone expressing a personal preference for seeing some of Pakistan’s T20 World Cup-winning stars in action in the IPL is to be banned, then I wonder what the Sena plans to do about Dr Manmohan Singh? Who, while remaining mum about a host of pressing issues ranging from price rise to the growing intel that India is apt to be the target of a major terrorist attack sometime soon, did manage to find time to “signal his displeasure” at the IPL and at Lalit Modi for shutting a “growing window of opportunity”.

Seriously, Dr Singh — what window of opportunity was that? Is it your contention, and that of your mouthpiece, that if the IPL had allowed a half dozen Pakistan players to feather their personal nests by turning out for sundry franchises, Indo-Pak relations would have improved to the point where Islamabad would have immediately handed over those it now acknowledges as having had a role in 26/11 to India for punishment, shut down all terrorist camps, thrown every member of the LeT into prison for life, and abjured the use of terrorism as state policy for ever?

Or maybe you were not so ambitious — you only wanted to create a conducive climate for talks? But then, isn’t it you, and your government, that has been consistently saying there can be no talks with Pakistan without Islamabad acting and being seen to act to end terrorism?

So again — could you throw your tame mouthpiece please explain what “window of opportunity” got shuttered by the IPL?

Back to the Shiv Sena: So now that the Federal Home Minister has, at the behest of the Prime Minister of this country, expressed a desire to see Pakistan players in action on Indian soil, what are you going to do?

Do you have the courage of your stated convictions, and the cojones, to threaten the Home Minister and the Prime Minister with “dire consequences” for their words? Do you have what it takes to publicly suggest that Mr P Chidambaram and Mr Manmohan Singh [not to forget the Federal Sports Minister, who also expressed similar sentiments] will not be allowed to set foot in Maharashtra? Or is your soap-operatic rage so small in scale that it can only be used against small, soft targets — a film star here, a movie theatre there?

Could it be that you are, as your friendly enemy Mr Sharad Pawar once told me in an interview, a coward after all?

PostScript: Irrelevant to the above, but interesting: Aakash Chopra talks of the futility of having premier games in the domestic circuit played out on dead tracks.

The recently concluded semi-final between North and West Zone vindicated my point of curtailing the maximum number of overs at a team’s disposal for the knock-out matches. It was, as usual, a batting paradise in Rajkot and both teams knew that the toss might just decide the fate of the match. And boy it did…that too with style.

West scored nearly 800 runs, perhaps the highest in the season, and batted North out of the game. Yes, North could have fought harder and got closer to the total but overhauling it was a forgone conclusion. But what followed after West got a mammoth 465-run lead devalues the importance of a first-class century. West opted for some batting practice instead of going for an outright win which was perhaps there for the taking. But since a first-innings lead was enough to see them through to the finals, they can’t be blamed for not forcing the issue.

See you Monday.

Thin-skinned in India

Some time today, the Mumbai High Court will hear a petition related to a book:

Use of the word ‘ghati’ in his book Breathless in Bombay has landed first-time author Murzban Shroff in trouble, with an activist claiming that it “lowers the reputation and image of Maharashtrians in the eyes of non-Maharashtrians”.

While 47-year-old Shroff, a Mumbai-born Parsi, maintains that the term is not aimed against any community, activist Vijay Mudras wants the government to seize all copies of the book, which he feels is a serious threat to communal harmony.

Here’s the WTF bit:

Mudras objected to certain dialogues that include the word ‘ghati’ in ‘This House of Mine’, one of the 14 stories in the book. The story revolves around occupants of a society who face an eviction notice from the housing board. One of the characters, named Olaf, repeatedly uses the word ‘ghatis’ to describe the Marathi-speaking people in the building.

In his complaint, Mudras alleged that the book could foment disharmony, feelings of hatred and ill will and demanded seizure of its copies. On the basis of his complaint, a metropolitan court had ordered a probe by NM Joshi Marg police, following which the case was registered against Shroff.

The book was published last year. And as author Murzban Shroff points out, more than 12 months have passed with no sign of any disharmony — hell, even those modern masters of faux outrage, the MNS, found nothing objectionable in the book [they have to find the book, first — though it was prominently displayed at the time of its launch, it has gradually drifted to the back shelves of city bookstores and, in some cases, vanished from those shelves altogether].

Why do courts, at a time when everyone from the PM on down is expressing concern over backlog of cases, waste their time with such nonsensical ‘issues’? Why does the legal machinery pander to every idiot concerned citizen who abrogates to himself the right to feel outrage, no matter how baseless, on behalf of the mass? And why are those who file such clearly baseless cases not punished for the colossal waste of our legal machinery? [The Metropolitan Court ordered the NM Marg police to probe? How exactly was the probe conducted, and what did it find that justified registering the case?]

And while on manufactured outrage, Shashi Tharoor has reportedly apologized for an innocent exercise of collegiate humor on his Twitter stream — hoping, thereby, to diffuse the snowballing ‘outrage’ within the Congress party over this:

@ShashiTharoor Tell us Minister, next time you travel to Kerala,
will it be cattle class?
11:27 AM Sep 14th from TweetDeck in reply to ShashiTharoor

@KanchanGupta absolutely, in cattle class out of solidarity with all
our holy cows!
11:47 AM Sep 14th from web in reply to KanchanGupta

Note that Shashi Tharoor didn’t volunteer the expression — he merely repeated the characterization Kanchan Gupta had given the economy class in our domestic airlines.

‘Will you travel in cattle class?’ ‘Yes I will travel in cattle class’.

Had the question been ‘Will you travel in economy class’, the answer would as likely have used the phrase ‘economy class’.

I didn’t see the journalists’ association getting upset over a senior member of the fraternity ‘denigrating’ the people who buy the newspapers that provide journalists with their livelihood, did you, and threatening to drum Gupta out of the profession?

The larger question, as Amit Varma points out, is: exactly who does the reference denigrate? Even prior to this exchange, Tharoor was spotted in cattle class economy class — so at the very least, he includes himself in the ‘cattle’ and denigrates himself along with the rest.

Semantics apart, Amit on his post [and in his appearance on Times Now last night] makes a point Tharoor has since made in his apology. Amit:

If it is derogatory to anyone, it is to the airlines that give their customers so little space, and not to the customers themselves. So whose sensitivity are we talking about here? Air India and Jet?


“It’s a silly expression but means no disrespect to economy class travellers, only to airlines for herding us in like cattle”.

None of this requires advanced degrees in linguistics to decipher, and that leads you to believe that Tharoor is getting this public rap on the knuckles not because of the use of the phrase “cattle class”, but because of the humorous twist at the end: “with the rest of the holy cows”.

The phrase was, or was interpreted in the notoriously humor-less echelons of the Congress Party to be, a reference to Pranab Mukherjee, who had earlier made a cake of himself by officiously ordering External Affairs Minister SM Krishna and Shashi Tharoor to vacate the five-star hotels they were staying in — and paying for out of their own pockets.

But more even than Pranab, Tharoor’s twit tweet stepped on the most sacrosanct toes of all: those of no less than Sonia Gandhi. Consider that Tharoor posted his little riff on the same day as this. Sonia travels economy, Tharoor talks of holy cows in economy, one plus one clicks in the ‘minds’, if you’ll permit the exaggeration, of the Jayanti Natrajans of this world — and lo, ‘outrage’ germinates in that fertile soil.

The impact of the holy cow Sonia Gandhi is best illustrated by this example. The MP had already paid for his business class ticket — what was the point in merely changing seats with some other passenger, just to show he was ‘flying economy’, too?

It reminds me of an incident from when, back in the day, AP chief minister NTR launched an austerity drive of his own. One day, local newspapers were full of pictures of a particular state minister arriving at the railway station, ostensibly getting into the train and settling down in his seat. Trouble was, next day the same newspapers carried the story of how, while the minister was traveling on official work from one city to the next, his car — and entourage — had traversed that same distance by road and was waiting for him at his destination. The minister’s innocent explanation: I needed my official car there to attend meetings and for other work, what is wrong with that?

I don’t blame the minister, do you? We have become a nation of gestures [consider this one, from the holy cow reigning high priestess of austerity], of tokenism — how was the poor fellow supposed to know? [Just like Bhiwandi MP Suresh Tawre, who thought all he had to do was switch seats to fulfill the ‘austerity’ requirement to the satisfaction of his holy cow boss.]

Question for Pranab, the party’s enforcer: How much of recent actions against colleagues in the External Affairs Ministry has to do with austerity and other shibboleths, and how much has it to do with the fact that when your boss, the Prime Minister, stumbled into deep doo-doo over the Sharm-e-Sharif statement relating to Pakistan, the External Affairs Minister didn’t save MMS by falling on the sword?

Update: The TimesNow debate on the Tharoor Tweet now up on India Uncut in video.