Faridoon Shahryar's Blog

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

"We've seen the way Aamir, Salman, SRK have been attacked": Kabir Khan

"We've seen the way Aamir, Salman and SRK have been attacked": Kabir Khan
By Faridoon Shahryar

"When Shah Rukh was talking about the issue, he didn't utter the word Pakistan. No reference to Pakistan. First thing is, Pakistan chale jao. Oh he's the same as Hafiz Saeed. What is that man talking about," said a visibly agitated Kabir Khan in a Bollywood Hungama video interview with Content Head Head Broadband Faridoon Shahryar. "A lot of talk has happened about this intolerance issue in the last two-three months with historians, filmmakers protesting, lot of people are saying there is no intolerance, but the fact is that there is intolerance," Kabir said. "Any form of dissent is being looked at as being Anti National. If you follow this line then you're being patriotic and nationalistic, otherwise you're not. It is stupid. There is a big difference between being patriotic and being jingoistic," Kabir said matter of factly. 

FS: You have said recently that you chose to take the subject of Bajrangi Bhaijaan to Salman Khan because of his secular leanings.

KK: What I was talking about is that post Ek Tha Tiger, I spent a lot of time with Salman. I realized he had strong views, opinion about certain issues, one of them being the secular fabric of India. Over the past few years, the social fabric is being stretched, tattered at places. I thought that he feels so strongly about this issue but it hasn't been articulated properly in any medium. When a superstar like Salman throws his weight behind a certain subject then the reach is very wide. You can make a small film about such issues but unfortunately it becomes preaching to the converted. You don't really reach the audience that you need to. When I took the subject of Bajrangi Bhaijaan to Salman, and he reacted so positively to it, I knew that this will be a significant film. Taking the context of what is happening in our country right now, to have Salman, a film that talks about tolerance, love across communities, bringing down artificial boundaries (not only in terms of India-Pakistan, but the borders within). What was more important for me was the border within, first half of Bajrangi deals with that, the preconceived notions (about communities), the intolerance that we are going through, that is why I was so happy that Salman was so excited that he put his weight behind it. He decided to produce it.

FS: You are talking about secularism but a few instances that we've seen in the film industry when Aamir was targeted post the release of PK just because he belongs to a particular religion. Almost immediately post the release of Bajrangi Bhaijaan, Salman was targeted when he tweeted on Yakub Memon hanging and there were ugly protests outside his house. Shah Rukh Khan recently spoke about the secular fabric of India and he was torn apart by certain groups in the most unsavory manner.  No one at the top really condemned it. Does it bother you?

KK: Absolutely! A lot of talk has happened about this intolerance issue in the last two-three months with historians, filmmakers protesting, lot of people are saying there is no intolerance, but the fact is that there is intolerance. As a normal common man of India even I'm perceiving it. I know the sort of hate mail I get, the sort of tweets I get, I know the sort of people who target me because of my Muslim identity or target my wife because she married me. To say that intolerance is not there is rubbish. It is definitely there. We've seen it in the case the way Aamir, Salman and Shah Rukh have been attacked. And not just them, across the board we are definitely seeing a certain section that is ready to pick certain issues and become pretty ugly and nasty about it. There is no attempt to control these elements. It is time that people who have certain weight in civil society they must speak up about it. I am glad people are talking about it.

FS: People like Kundan Shah and Dibakar Banerji have ben targeted for returning their national awards. A bizarre argument is being given for their action is that, "aap tab kahan the jab…".

KK: That is ridiculous which means that if you haven't spoken up then you don't speak up for the rest of your life. You speak up when you feel the need to speak up. Sometimes what happens is that a lot of things lead up to your patience being tested and then you speak up. A lot of fuss is being made about the form of protest. It is not about the person giving back the award. Let us not discuss that. Let us discuss what are they talking about! The core issue is what are they talking about? They may do it by returning awards, walking on the street, by doing interviews. The important point is what is the issue at hand? You go on a tangent when you talk about the form of protest.

FS: The Ghulam Ali concert being forcefully cancelled, Pakistani actors being asked that they can't shoot or promote their films In India. Don't you feel hatred will only breed hatred?

KK: It is completely unnecessarily. It is rhetoric. We really need to keep culture, art, and any people to people exchange away from politics. Play politics at a certain level. But the moment it starts getting into the way people exchange ideas, culture, musicians coming here, we going there, it really needs to be kept apart. Ultimately we will move forward when there will be more people to people exchange. When it comes to politics, unfortunately we will keep going at it for years and years. I think what will bring the two countries closer is that there is a lot of people to people exchange. Like in Bajrangi Bhaijaan, my whole point was that when a common man from the street of Chandni Chowk goes up to meet Chaand Navaab on the street of Pakistan, there is bound to be friendship and warmth. That is very important. Unfortunately people to people exchange between India and Pakistan becomes victim of politics between the two countries. The moment there is a terrorist attack, the entire atmosphere gets so vitiated, that nobody dares to extend the hand of friendship. It is important to make the distinction between who are the people who are carrying out acts of terror and the general public. That distinction is important. Even media at times makes it Us and Them. We can't look at a country as an amorphous mass. We are suffering here, they are suffering there. There needs to be a sense of balance.

FS: In most of your movies there is a strong sense of nationalism especially Phantom in recent times. Do you feel that today the definition of Patriotism is being distorted? If you are not adapting a certain line you are labeled as Anti National. Do you find it disturbing?

Kk: It is disturbing. Any form of dissent is being looked at as being Anti National. If you follow this line then you're being patriotic and nationalistic, otherwise you're not. It is stupid. There is a big difference between being patriotic and being jingoistic. We definitely need to be level headed, look at perspectives with an open mind. You can't be following one strict line that anyone going off this line is being anti national. We are in a Democracy. Democracy is all about debate, dissent and being able to argue our point out. The moment you argue against the government policy you can't be called an anti national. God forbid if you are having a Muslim name, then you become anti national and Pakistani. Where does Pakistan come into it! When Shah Rukh was talking about the issue, he didn't utter the word Pakistan. No reference to Pakistan. First thing is, Pakistan chale jao. Oh he's the same as Hafiz Saeed. What is that man talking about, either he's not hearing what Shah Rukh is talking about, or he doesn't know what Hafiz Saeed talks about. To make such absurd statements, and these are elected representatives of the ruling party. Two days later you can't say that they are making their own statement. 

My interview with Kabir Khan has been published on Bollywood Hungama. Here is the link:


Monday, November 16, 2015

Zubin Mehta's 'The Score Of My Life': 200 Pages of Preciousness

Book Review:

Zubin Mehta's 'The Score Of My Life': 200 Pages of Preciousness
By Faridoon Shahryar

"I think people should try to talk to each other instead of shooting at each other," says world renowned Western Music Conductor #ZubinMehta in his auto biography #TheScoreOfMyLife. Mehta had told his life story to Renate Grafin Matuschka and it has been translated from German to English by Anu Pande (Roli Books). What I found most interesting about this book is Mehta's many encounters with extreme political situations all around the world and how he tried his best to bring peace in whatever way possible.

As an eighteen year old music lover Zubin landed in Vienna. Cold war had gripped  Europe as it was trying to recover from the catastrophic aftermath of the second world war. The bond of loyalty that Mr Mehta developed due to his various associations is something that he held very close to his heart. After becoming a Conductor of eminence, Mehta got associated with Israel Philaharmonic Orchestra.  During the Arab-Israel 6 day war in 1967, he flew into Israel against all opposition and under very intense circumstances. He organised concerts free of cost to lessen the stress of people. He repeated the gesture during the Gulf War as Saddam Husain's Scud missiles were plundering the Israeli soil. Mehta comes across as someone who has always been very neutral and has never supported anyone because of the religion they belonged to. He was born a Parsi and has a lot of pride in his roots. But that doesn't stop him from criticising the conservative nature of Parsi religion that bars an individual if he/she marries a non Parsi. Mehta laments that due to this lack of liberalism, Parsi religion may get extinct in 100 years.

Zubin candidly talks about his personal life. He was married to Carmin Lasky. They got divorced and Lasky married Mehta's brother Zarin. At no point he's critical of Lasky or the fact that she married his brother. The second marriage was with Nancy Kovack, to whom he's still happily married. Zubin admits to a child out of a casual relationship between the two marriages. He also admits to another child which was born a couple of decades ago out of a brief affair with an Israeli woman. He profusely apologised to Nancy for his 'misadventure'. The book also delves in detail about Zubin's immense regard for his father Mehli Mehta, who was a self taught Violinist and who inspired the son to develop a keen interest in music. What is most notable is that at no point of time does Mehta deride any of his close relatives. Many a times celebrities use auto biography as a perfect platform to hit back at people who let them down in anyways. Mehta is too big a Man for such cheapness.

Mehta laments that today the Art of Western Music is primarily having patrons amongst the older generation. He hopes that some serious steps will be taken to create an interest for Western Music amongst the younger generation. In fact, almost half the book is dedicated to the many Concerts that the maestro was part of, the various organisations that he got associated with, the various Orchestras he headed, their problems, how he learnt from the criticism, why he didn't take the reviews of his Concerts too seriously and how it is tough for the older generation of musicians as they hit a certain age. Somehow this part of Zubin's life story will be best appreciated by those who understand Western Music to some extent or have a keen interest in this Art form. Regular readers may not make much sense of these portions.

Zubin Mehta's #TheScoreOfMyLife makes for a wonderful read if you are inspired by Western Music. If you're not, still, this man has lived one hell of an interestingly inspiring life. Do catch hold of a copy. It is 200 pages of preciousness.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

India Has Won...Long Live..The 'Idea Of India'

Today, India has Won. Long live...the 'Idea of India'
By Faridoon Shahryar

It was an uneasy morning. As the results of Bihar assembly elections started coming in, the excitement soared. It was a clear lead for NDA. Firecrackers started bursting outside BJP office in Patna with slogans of 'Jai Sri Ram' being chanted in full bloom. Kailash Vijayvargia, the BJP leader who burst into national scene recently with his unwarranted and unsubstantiated attack on Shah Rukh Khan, congratulated Amit Shah and Narendra Modi.

Generally when the early trends give a clear lead, it means the game is over. But this Bihar election has been filled with suspense. The pre poll surveys and then the exit polls, there were no clear favourites. Suddenly the game changed and news started trickling in that Maha Gathbandhan of Nitish Kumar, Lalu Yadav and Sonia Gandhi has made a dramatic come back. A friend had earlier told me that the once the counting in rural Bihar starts, it will benefit JDU+. The news channels showed contrasting leads. Some gave a clear lead to NDA, while others gave a lead to JDU+. By 10:30 it became clear that there's only one winner and that's the Grand Alliance of JDU, RJD and Congress. It is proving to be a huge defeat for NDA with Grand Alliance cobbling in around 177 while NDA has been decimated. Nitish Kumar called it a verdict against 'Intolerance in India' and a victory for Democracy in the country. RJD is having the maximum seats in the assembly but Lalu Yadav has said that Nitish is his younger brother and that he (Lalu) won't play the super boss. Congress has made solid gains. Rahul Gandhi clearly stated that the divisive politics of BJP has been rejected by the people of Bihar.

I am thrilled with the results in Bihar elections. The vitiated and vulgar atmosphere created by the politics of religion that has been played by BJP and its parent group RSS is extremely dangerous for the secular federal structure of India. Sardar Patel had banned RSS from contesting elections after it was revealed that they were behind the murder of Mahatma Gandhi. Why is the present government giving a report card to RSS? Why is the RSS involved in assigning ministries in the center as well as the state (case in point is Culture Minister Mahesh Sharma who has made the most uncultured noises. Haryana chief minister Khattar was an unknown commodity till he became CM of Haryana only because he's a part of RSS for the last 4 decades. He statement that "If Muslims want to stay in India they will have to give up Beef" is most uncalled for and certainly not befitting chief minister of a state). The fringe-element-leaders like Yogi Adityanath (most controversial and inane statements have been made by this apology of a sadhu. Why is he not arrested for many of his acts and statements yet is a question mark), Sadhvi Prachi (looks menacing and is one of the accused in Muzaffarnagar riots. She should be behind bars not giving bytes on TV channels), Giriraj Singh (the BJP leader who's proficient at being the minister for Pakistan tourism) are a BIG question mark on Indian Democracy. Such people have shoved India into backwardness and they are constantly giving India a bad name. PM Modi conveniently stays silent (even though he's extremely talkative on social media).

The movement against Intolerance will get a big boost from this very decisive victory of secular forces in Bihar. The text books are being blatantly saffronised, wrong facts are being published, Urdu writers were removed from Rajasthan text books recently, more such cultural intolerance will follow soon. All this needs to be stopped before its too late. The progressive and liberal forces must come together and save India from being polarised. Reason must prevail. Amity must be strengthened. Equality must be celebrated. Mutual respect amongst communities has to be an organic process and for that a positive atmosphere is a must.

Today, India has won. Long live....the 'Idea of India'. Saare jahan se achcha, Hindustan hamaara!

Monday, November 2, 2015

Happy Birthday To SRK Who Deals In Unadulterated Love

Happy Birthday To SRK Who Deals In Unadulterated Love
By Faridoon Shahryar

So a long day is finally coming to an end. It was a day dedicated to #ShahRukhKhan as it is his 50th birthday. I happened to see the latest teaser of #Fan very early in the morning. My daughter Insha goes to school early morning and I check my mobile rather early in the morning. Loved the uniqueness and the mystery and the aura that's being built in Manish Sharma's film that releases in April next year.

One of the biggest fan clubs of Shah Rukh Khan, 'SRK Universe' had brought together lots of SRK fans from all across India and countries as diverse as Austria, USA, Canada, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Russia, Sudan, Belgium etc. Around 100 such fans converged at Sahara Star hotel in Mumbai today morning. I went for some time, had fun watching the proceedings as fans dressed in various characters epitomised by SRK on screen enacting their own version of it, mouthing dialogues, dancing to his songs and finally a huge cake was cut by the fans. I spoke to quite a few of them on video. It was a really interesting interaction. And a unique one too.

Shah Rukh Khan as always interacted with media this year as well on the occasion of his 50th birthday. This time around his palatial bungalow 'Mannat' was not the venue. Instead we were invited to 'Taj Lands End' hotel in Bandra. The food was excellent and there was a lot of variety. Mr Khan and his team always ensures that media is genuinely taken well care of. Most of the journalists don't want anything except being treated nicely. SRK and his team scores very highly on that front. Mr Khan chatted with journalists for a long time. He answered any and every query. He was funny, thoughtful and shared his aspirations for the future. He shall be spending the later part of the evening by spending time with his fans. Very few stars give such genuine time and appreciation to their fans. Shah Rukh Khan ranks right on top on that front. As I headed back home and my car crossed SRK's bungalow Mannat, a sea of fans was still gathered outside with placards in hands and a wish to see their favourite star one more time.

If so many people all across the world love Shah Rukh Khan, there must be something really unique in the man. He deals in Love. Genuine, unadulterated and selfless love. One can't put a price on that. It can touch your heart deep down. That's what makes him truly one of the unanimous and best ambassadors of the Idea of India. Happy Birthday Mr Khan. More power to you!!

Best Regards.

Sunday, November 1, 2015


By Faridoon Shahryar

1) The first session that I attended today at the #TataLiteratureFestival2015 was: Uncovering the truth in an ocean of headlines. The panel comprised of noted journalists Rajdeep Sardesai, Avirook Sen, author-journalist Lorraine Adams and it was chaired by another noted journalist Sreenivasan Jain of NDTV. It was such a brilliant session that one hour was way too short. To add to it, the session was organised at the magnificent Prithvi Theatre. The lights dimmed amongst the audience and the spotlight was on the august panel. Wow!

The discussion was on the state of journalism in India today. It was observed that as per Outlook, amongst the top 10 upcoming journalists in India most of them belonged to the print medium. So is there a saturation in the growth of the television medium? Jain said that by 6 in the evening, the reporters are done for the day and then the 'Opinion' takes over on news channels. Noisy debates take place raising the collective decibel level of the country. Sardesai observed that the rhetoric and war mongering in the news rooms become so much at times that it can actually escalate into a war. The lust for TRPs is pushing the country to war, which is bizarre. As Mr Sardesai spoke and spoke a bit more, the ex Washington Post journalist Lorraine observed that, "This guy is the most entertaining amongst all of us." Lorraine on her part brought in some funny moments when she expressed her unequivocal disdain for Republican contender in the forthcoming US elections Donald Trump.

Rajdeep Sardesai laid emphasis on how the future belongs to the digital world, how the online news will rule the roost. Sreenivasan Jain gave an example of how #Guardian went digital before their competitors and how they ended up earning humongous money without compromising on the basic principles of journalism.

2) The second session that I attended today was: Rising inequalities and prejudices in New India. Panelists were Social Worker and Writer Harsh Mander, Political Scientist Prerna Singh and it was chaired by senior Journalist with #TheHindu Kalpana Sharma

I had read Mr Mandar's columns on secular thought and I have always found it very intriguing. That was the reason for me to attend this session. It was an enriching experience. Mr Mandar gave instances of homeless little girls being raped, the callous disregard for riot victims and the rooted inequalities in #India and the world in general. He espoused Empathy as an important tool that can make the world more tolerant. Prerna Singh made some pertinent points when she spoke about the egalitarian society of #Kerala and how various communities naturally coexisted. It was a wonderful session.

I purchased Mr Mandar's latest book #LookingAway ...which is on 'Inequality, Prejudice and Indifference in New India' and got it autographed. For a few minutes that I spent with him, I could feel an immense warmth and compassion. Can't wait to read the book. A Sunday well spent!

Thursday, October 29, 2015

CHARCHA On Secularism, Nehru, Books...With Nayantara Sahgal, Vikram Seth, Germaine Greer, Vir Sanghvi

CHARCHA On Secularism, Nehru, Books... With Nayantara Sahgal, Vikram Seth, Germaine Greer, Vir Sanghvi
By Faridoon Shahryar

The experimental theatre at #NCPA in #NarimanPoint #Mumbai was buzzing with a very different sort of excitement. The 6th #TataLiteratureFestival opened without any shoshebaazi. A compact auditorium packed with eager book lovers, journalists and even a few representatives from some embassies. The first session was on the subject #CanBooksChangeTheWorld where noted authors #VikramSeth from #India and Australian writer #GermaineGreer battled it out. Seth is famous for #GoldenGate #TheSuitableBoy his poetry and for championing gay rights in #India. Greer on the other side belongs to second wave of feminist movement who came on the fore front right from her first novel #TheFemaleEunuch. Greer was full of witty one liners and she was clearly one up on Vikram Seth who was chivalrous enough to let the bright lady hog the limelight and the applause. Ms Greer made a notable statement when she said, famous Indian English author R K Narayan deserved a Nobel Prize. "There were lobbies that worked against him but if Graham Greene considers him worthy of a Nobel then he surely deserved it," Greer said. Anil Dharker, the celebrated journalist, thinker and the brain behind #TataLitFest said that one book that he felt changed the world is #MahatmaGandhi's #MyExperimentsWithTruth.

The second session and the session that was most keenly awaited was the one on #ChaachaPeCharcha to discuss the relevance of #JawaharLalNehru in today's times. Ms Nayantara Sahgal, the extremely graceful niece of Nehru ji and an author of eminence was the main speaker. Ms Sahgal recently started a movement of sorts when she returned her #SahityaAkademi award to protest against the growing intolerance in #India. Since her protest, many writers, musicians, filmmakers, scientists and now historians have lodged a strong protest against growing intolerance in the country. Noted journalist #VirSanghvi columnist #AnilDharker and #ArunMaira, former member of #PlanningCommision were the other speakers. Several aspects of Nehru were discussed, his achievements as well as where he went wrong. Vir Sanghvi made a pertinent point when he said that after partition in 1947 #Pakistan opted to become an Islamic country that heavily depended upon #USA. America used its soil for making bases, the rich became richer while the poor became poorer. Nehru pushed for #India to become a democratic republic, started the non aligned movement, helped in creating identity of the newly independent African and Asian countries, invested in mixed economy and worked towards communities learning to co exist in India. Sanghvi said that in today's day and age, if India is much better placed than Pakistan then it was the base created by Nehru which was responsible for that. "Mobile phone intellectuals will never understand this. For them, we should have taken the US help right from the beginning but then we would have been dependent," Sanghvi said.

Nayantara Sahgal shared some interesting insights and also spoke about the secular ethos that Nehru believed in. Both Sahgal as well as Anil Dharker said that it may be because Nehru was an agnostic that he could have a balanced view point on the religious aspect that infests India in a very deep and complicated manner. "He took inputs from artistes, intellectuals, thinkers. He insisted that there should be a strong opposition in the Parliament. He was a democrat to the core. Indira Gandhi was not," Sahgal said.

It is notable to note that while the session was going on and going on very well, a few people walked out of the theatre. The discussion on secularism and inclusiveness has its supporters but there are others who think otherwise. One can't blame them. Everyone has the right to have an opinion and exercise it. That's democracy. Something that Jawaharlal Nehru would have approved of.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Jo abr yahan se utthega, vo saare jahan par barsega...Happy Sir Syed Day!

Jo abr yahan se utthega, vo saare jahan par barsega...

Today is Sir Syed Day. The Aligs who are following me would know how big a day it is for everyone at AMU. And those who are not familiar, let me share a few thoughts that are clouding my mind this morning. It is the birthday of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan today. He was the founder of Mohammedan Anglo Oriental College in 1875 which later went on to become Aligarh Muslim University in 1920. He did whatever he could do, to further the cause of education in India. He collected donations, small or big but relentlessly went ahead with his mission to impart modern education based on science and reasoning. He faced stiff opposition but he remained unfazed. Once he was garlanded with shoes. He didn't react, simply went ahead and sold the shoes to add to the donation for the construction of the MAO college.

My parents taught at AMU. For most part, we lived in the Medical Colony in the AMU campus. I had a great time. Too many friends, too much fun, great growing up years. We never really distinguished our friends by their religion or name. The thought never even came to mind. Sir Syed had famously said, "Hindus and Muslims are two eyes of a beautiful bride that is Hindustan." I never ever distinguished between a Rahul Chauhan, Shaishiv, a Shavez Imam, a Navneet Kedar (A Christian by religion and the man solely responsible for developing whatever musical taste that I have) or Satnam Singh. It never occurred. Honestly. This for me is the legacy of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan. At least this is how I look at it and that's how I imbibed in my life.

Happy Sir Syed Day! May Sir Syed's noble message of education travel far and wide.

Best Regards