Controversies And Misunderstandings Go Hand In Hand

CONTROVERSIES AND misunderstandings go hand in hand. Actors get blamed for things they may have little to do with, says Anu Aggarwal, the model-actress-turned-monk, while commenting on the recent Padmavat controversy that had bogged down Bollywood for a while.

“In this case, Deepika [Padukone] was targeted and not the script writer who wrote the story,” she says.

“Freedom to express oneself and viewpoints openly, without a prejudice, comes from an open mind. But let’s not undermine the fact that an open mindset, allowing free thinking of the individual, is required for this to begin with,” she tells Qatar Tribune.

Talking about southern superstars Kamal Hassan and Rajnikaanth’s recent foray into politics, Anu says this has been a trend since Jayalalitha, but it remains to be seen how well Kamal and Rajni fare in the long term as ‘heroes-turned-politicians’.

“Down in South India, the fan behaviour is inclined to reverence what with the stars being worshipped and temples being named after them where people bathe them in milk each morning,” says Anu, who also has also acted in a south Indian film, Tiruda Tiruda, directed by ace director Mani Ratnam, with music by AR Rahman.

“Perhaps, Bollywood needs to have a little more desh bhakti (love for the nation),” she quips on being asked why more Bollywood actors are not taking a plunge into politics.

Coming back to Anu’s life story, it has been nothing short of dramatic. There have been more twists and turns in her real life than she saw in reel life. The girl-next-door who had an entire generation swooning on her following her dazzling debut in Aashiqui (1990), today lives the life of a philanthropist, sanyasini-yogi, holistic healer, Buddhist monk.

She is also a bestselling author, a TEDx speaker and a diver.

Which one of these is the real Anu, we ask.

“Each one, and all of these combined,” replies Anu.


As the interview proceeds, Anu is told about a fan of hers, a professor in his 50s.

“Please tell her I do not start my day without watching her Aashiqui song!” the professor had exclaimed upon learning this writer was going to interview her.

To which, Anu says, “My life has taken such an unprecedented turn that it’s easy to forget a large fan base still exists.

“However, let me admit, it’s always a welcome reminder of the lives I have influenced positively. It does come as a surprise that people’s admiration has stayed on despite my monkhood and spirituality. That in spite of my unexplained disappearance while still on top as an actor (for a spiritual exile), I have been pardoned.”

Anu is the survivor of a horrific car crash, one that changed her life forever and put the brakes on the roller-coaster ride that her life was until then. But it also kicked off, what she terms, ‘Life2’, which ultimately led her to establishing the Anu Aggarwal Foundation (AAF), which works for children living in the slums.

She is involved in various other social works as well.

“I am living out my core values now. There is a sense of completion and fulfillment. This is unmatched what with so many people coming forward to support the foundation,” she stresses.

“My confessional memoir, Anusual: Memoir of a Girl Who Came Back from the Dead, describes all of this, about a girl who defies the social and moralistic codes, and then defies death. It’s about resurrection, metamorphosis, a new Anu.”

While she has been completely engrossed in social work for several years, she inadvertently hogged Bollywood headlines when Aashiqui 2 released on April 25, 2013, with the then newcomer Shraddha Kapoor essaying Anu’s role.

Anu’s take on the movie: “Let me clarify what Mahesh Bhatt (the director of the original Aashiqui) had to say when Aashiqui 2 was about to release. ‘Anu, Aashiqui 2 has nothing to do with your Aashiqui.’

“But I kept wondering why use the name then? However, it became clear once I saw the film. They are both love stories.”

How much has Bollywood changed since her hey days?

“Well, Aashiqui revolutionised Bollywood in 1990. It’s a bit ironic it was made by Mahesh Bhatt, who’s not geared to please the structured box-office sensibilities of a commercial movie.

“The film got mixed reviews initially, but went on to become a sensational blockbuster, breaking all commercial records in Bollywood.

“It was a time when a typical lead actress, the heroine, used to be a rich father’s spoilt daughter, with hardly any brains to harness the dream of an independent life, which was exactly the role I essayed in Aashiqui.

“The movie’s soothing, romantic music, which was something new then, went on to kick-start a romantic genre that continues to be popular until this day.

“At the time I signed this movie, I was an international fashion model living in Paris. I brought in a kind of fashion that was new to the Bollywood movie industry then [in the late 80’s early 90’s].

“I even had Bhanu Athaiya (one of my fashion dress designers for an advertisement, who had won an Oscar for Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi) design my girl-next-door look in Aashiqui. It worked wonders.

“Change is the only reality and Bollywood, like all else, and thankfully so, is also evolving. There is a clear change in the plot, the story…the kinds of movies being made today.

“Technology has played an important role in this as well. For instance, when I played a psycho killer in Khalnaika (1993), a take on The Hand That Rocks The Cradle, eyebrows were raised and I was labelled a ‘bold’ actress.

“But the film was received well, more so in the international market. An award nomination also came my way in the third year of my short-lived Bollywood career. I was setting a trend then. It was truly an exception.

“Today, when Ranvir plays a negative character in Padmaavat, he is still considered a sexy hero and the audience is ready to accept that. So the audience has been through an evolutionary change as well,” she explains.

The topic then veers to Rahul Roy, Anu’s co-star of Aashiqui, who is often seen on TV channels now debating key issues of the day. Is she in touch with him?

“There is little similarity to how our lives proceeded after Aashqui. My life took the utmost extraordinary turn and I turned to spirituality and ended up becoming a yoga guru, a monk, etc, while Rahul stayed on in the glamorous world of films.

“I was pleasantly surprised to have Rahul appear at the launch of my book ‘Anusual…’, where along with Mahesh Bhatt and Deepak Tijori, he too showed up.”

Does she believe stars have a somewhat special social responsibility towards the society?

“I think anybody who enjoys the advantage of public appreciation, owes it to themselves to serve the causes of the collective consciousness. Stars certainly have a huge responsibility to their fans, to the public, to the man on the road. It is due to them a star becomes a star.

“Without the fans the concept of stardom does not exist. Stars have a huge social responsibility to the people who make them stars,” she replies.

“I was always aware of this, maybe the awareness had been created when I was a social worker making a programme for Afghan refugees with UNHCR for one. So I entered stardom with an agenda I had learned before I became a model.

“Owing to this I endorsed a condom when a star, to curb the population explosion in India, while also saving oneself from HIV/AIDS.

“There were negative reactions to this. But it was not my star status I was protecting. It was an inner urge to create awareness in my country and beyond that mattered.”

Finally, the topic of censorship: Are the various crafts of art more prone to censorship today compared to yesteryear?

“Yes,” she admits.

“And you know why? Many more people have a point of view today. Social media has made a huge change. Also, the people of India are finding their voice and they are more vocal on issues than ever before.

“On the other hand, let’s not undermine the fact that stars get a way, an opportunity, to express themselves too. For instance, there were umpteen times in the 90’s when I was misquoted or misunderstood by the media, in interviews.

“But there was no Twitter handle where I could shout out that I was misrepresented. People got to read only what the media had to say and I, the star, had to settle with that, and the backlash that it created in the public, or the way it affected my boyfriend or family,” she points out.

“So there are always two sides to the coin and with social media both sides can be viewed.

“The censor board is known to shift with the changes in the social milieu. So the magnifying lens of the censor board keeps changing with time too,” she concludes.
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‘Newness In Stories, Poetry Missing From Bollywood Now’

IN THOSE split seconds that were to separate life from death, small, terrified eyes gaze deep into a potential saviour. Unexpectedly, the steady-intent-cowering stare ends up softening the hard edges around the gangster’s heart. It’s a child on the flat’s balcony, hiding from a gang out to take his life. And it’s one of their very own telling his comrades to go look elsewhere for the prey he says ‘isn’t seen around’.

The child gets a lifeline. He lives to see another day, though brooding all the time why his cop father had left him at the mercy of his kidnappers, while not budging an inch from his so-called principles.

The savior in that frame was actor Kulbhushan Kharbanda. Child star Ravi Valecha was playing a young Amitabh Bachchan as the die is cast in the 1982 classic Shakti. The intensity with which Ravi Valecha pulled off that scene remains etched in the memory of many a cinema buff, including Yours Truly.Old pic

By the time Shakti hit the theatre screens, Valecha, who was known as ‘Master Ravi’ back then, was already a big name in Bollywood, having made his debut with Shashi Kapoor-starrer Fakira (1976) at age four, followed by Amar Akbar Anthony (1977), Desh Premi (1982), Coolie (1982), where he had so convincingly played Amitabh’s childhood characters. His role in Amar Akbar Anthony stood out as a stellar performance.Picture-4

And then Master Ravi did the vanishing act. “I left the film industry at the pinnacle of my stardom. The industry used to call me a ‘child star’ and not a ‘child artist’. Apparently, I was the highest paid child actor of my time. I was paying income tax when I was 10 years old!” recalls Valecha, as he opened up to Qatar Tribune.

From a child star in Bollywood, he graduated to a career in the hospitality industry. “Mr Manmohan Desai (the legendary filmmaker-director of Amar Akbar Anthony fame), who was a mentor to me, suggested that I quit films for sometime saying he would re-introduce me once I grew up,” he explains.

Citing the irony of the situation, he says, “When I was young I never got to study. So, in order to upgrade my skills later, I did lots of courses. I also did my MBA in 2010.

“And now, I am mulling over taking up acting once again.”Picture 2

But what made him choose the hospitality career in the first place? “I was always very passionate about cooking. When I came to learn about a course on cooking that could also get one into the glamorous world of hotel and hospitality, I got attracted to it. I applied for the common entrance test for a hotel management course, and, fortunately, I cleared the entrance test, group discussion, interview etc. from among some 700,000 applicants vying for just about 1,200-odd seats.

“You’ll be surprised to know when I joined IHMCTAN (Institute of Hotel Management, Catering Technology and Applied Nutrition) Mumbai, I wouldn’t even eat a cake because it had eggs and I was a pure veggie. My food production professor advised me to give up my seat because as a chef, I would have to prepare and taste non-vegetarian dishes, and if I did not, I wouldn’t pass out of the institute.

“So I took it up as a challenge. Three years later, I was named the best student in cookery in western India, by the institute.”

Valecha has worked at Taj Mumbai as a chef. He has also worked in mass catering, company catering, fine dining, event management, facilities management and then worked at HDFC bank as Head of Hospitality and Facility, and finally at Vedanta India, as the head of administration. “Currently, I am on a sabbatical. I am working towards getting back into the film industry,” he declares.

Picture-1Valecha had recently bumped into Shashi Kapoor. How was the feeling? “I met him at Prithvi Theatre. Unfortunately, he could not recognise me. He couldn’t speak very clearly. Mr Kapoor was the one who had introduced me to the film industry in Fakira when I was just four. He was basically my godfather in the film industry. He was always a mentor and a guide, wherever and whenever I worked with him.”

Sharing anecdotes from Shakti, the classic he worked in as a child actor with some of the most towering figures of Bollywood, he says, “Shakti was one of the biggest films of its time. Mr Dilip Kumar, Mr Amitabh Bachchan, Ms Rakhee Gulzar, Mr Amrish Puri, Mr Kulbhushan Kharbanda, and above all, the director, Mr Ramesh Sippy. They were all stalwarts of the film industry. It was really exciting for me to do that film at such a young age. I remember the love and affection showered upon me by Dilip Kumar and Rakhi whom I call ‘Rakhi Didi’.

“I have fond memories of Rakhi Didi cooking on the sets and making wonderful dishes. Mr Dilip Kumar used to treat me like his own son and would often get sandwiches for me from his house. We both used to eat sandwiches in the evening and take a stroll around the studio.

“As far as the acting performance is concerned, I would give the entire credit to the director, Mr Sippy. The way he handled me, a 10-year-old boy at that time, was truly fantastic. He used to explain each and every shot and clearly spell out what he wanted the character to feel and do on the screen.”

Is he still in touch with Bollywood people from his acting days? “Frankly, no,” he replies, adding: “The work that I was doing was very demanding and hence I couldn’t keep in touch with a lot of people in the film industry. However, we have recently formed a group of the yesteryear child actors and we are all in touch and meet regularly.”

Bollywood, he says, has changed a lot. “Earlier it was a director’s industry. The director was the captain of the ship and everybody had to follow his lead.

“Secondly, films were made based on story and poetry and every scene had some relevance. Each and every actor was an artist who performed to their best capacity as per the director’s and the character’s requirements. Today, I feel, with due respect to the current lot working in the industry, that there are many artists but very few actors. There are many more films now but fewer new stories. And the poetry has been missing.”

Any regrets about missing out on a full-fledged Bollywood career? “No regrets,” says Valecha, whose current favourite actor is Aamir Khan.

“But as I said earlier, I am trying to get back into the industry. There is a saying here that once you enter the industry, it’s very difficult to get it out of you. So now that I have done whatever I had wanted to do in my professional life, I am willing to take the plunge. And I hope and pray that I succeed.”

(This article first appeared in Qatar Tribune on June 05, 2017. Below are the web link of the article and the PDF of the page)
Ravi Valecha Interview 5 Jun 2017

Rebel With A Cause

THERE COMES a point in life — and he says he reached this point a few years ago — where one feels that structuring happy endings on the screen is not enough, says Mahesh Bhatt, as we settle down for a freewheeling chat in Dubai Mall, where he was assisting daughter Pooja in the shooting of her latest film.

“You need to contribute in the real world. And if you cannot do anything concrete, you can at least try to mitigate some suffering, scale it down… help avoid conflict,” he points out.

Known for his outspoken views, the veteran Bollywood filmmaker — best remembered for ‘meaningful’ films such as Arth, Saaransh, Janam, Naam — has also had a string of controversies dotting his 30-year-plus career. But he has moved on undeterred. It’s not easy — or even politically correct — in these times of mistrust and Islamophobia, for anyone to speak out so brazenly, and so openly, as Bhatt does.

Neeyat (intention) is the most important thing,” he asserts.

“None of us will be able to make it without the other,” he says, as the topic shifts to the relations between the two nuclear-armed neighbours of South Asia — India and Pakistan.

As he delves deeper into India-Pakistan relations, he says his friends in the media often rap him for his unease with any anti-Pakistan rhetoric. Yes, he maintains, he does indeed have a problem with jingoism of any kind. “I am not going to be moved by this fashionable word that you keep using — ‘national interest’. It’s very easy to love humanity, but why is it so difficult to love a Pakistani, or an Indian?”

On a visit to Pakistan, Bhatt had said to the Pakistan leader Nawaz Sharif: “I love you for loving Dilip Kumar.”

Now, here’s the background: Dilip Kumar had confided to Bhatt that no politician had ever bestowed him with as much respect and affection as Sharif had done when he visited Pakistan during his premiership.

Bhatt cites another example. His driver on this trip to Dubai, a Pakistani from Swat, keeps on thanking him for visiting the ailing ghazal king, Mehdi Hassan in Pakistan.

Bhatt is peeved at the media’s “insensitive approach”. “Hatred sells,” he rues. “Immediately after 26/11, Pakistani human rights lawyer Ansar Burney went to donate blood for the terror victims in a Mumbai hospital — but nobody covered the event.

“What was selling (then) was the Pakistani killer, and not the Pakistani man eager to donate blood.”

Hasn’t 26/11 severely undermined the efforts of peaceniks like him? “We’ll have to dismantle the mental cages we have created,” he points out.

“Pakistan too has to root out such mindsets within its own establishment — kind of hostile towards the Indian interests. India must also do the same.”

What about the Indian Muslim — where does he stand today? “Unfortunately, at the same place where he was in 1947,” replies Bhatt, as he refers to the Sachar Committee Report, according to which, the minorities have not got a fair deal. Bhatt also points to Prime Minister Mammohan Singh’s statement where he said that the minorities were the first claimants to the resources of the country.

“Post-9/11 has not been a very good time for minorities in my country also. Islamophobia blew from the West and reached my country at a time it was being ruled by the right wing.”

With Barack Obama at the helm, does he see an end to Islamophobia? “Obama seems to at least unashamedly accept the fact that Islam is a part of the American story. I wish we had an Indian prime minister earlier saying the same thing. We Indians too need to realise that Islam is a part of the Indian story. I think Obama will be able to take the edge out of what has been unleashed on the Muslims.”

The talk then veers to the Liberhans Commission Report on the Babri Mosque demolition — which has recently been presented to the government of India. “I am happy the report is out now; whether it’ll invite punitive action or not, I think they (communal forces) are ashamed enough.”

Bhatt’s last directorial venture, Zakhm, was returned to the Censor Board because of alleged pressure from right wing groups as the film dealt with the 1992 riots in Mumbai. “Zakhm was a very bold film, made at a time when the NDA was in power. People said I had demonized the right wing. I told them I had not demonized the right wing, I had projected them the way they are. The joke is that they gave me a National Award for the film.”

He believes the worst thing to have happened to India is Hindu fundamentalism. “I am certain that what will destroy India is not Islamic fundamentalism, or any outside force, it’s the cancer within — the Hindu fundamentalism,” he iterates.

Finally, we shift to Bhatt, the filmmaker. “I don’t think I am going to dabble in cinema myself. I’ll now play the role of a guide to my daughter. The page has turned.”

(This article first appeared in the Khaleej Times newspaper on July 10, 2009. Below please find the web link of the article)

Mahesh Bhatt

Why We Relish Both Rajesh Khanna And Naseeruddin Shah

BEING BORN towards the fag end of 1960’s, there was no way one could have experienced first hand what the Rajesh Khanna hysteria was like. For us, while in school, by the time we were grown up enough to be awed by “star power”, it was ‘A’ for Amitabh and ‘B’ for Bachchan.

So, my rendezvous with the Khanna movies began at the Tasweer Mahal theatre in Aligarh considered by many as a symbol of the Aligarh Muslim University’s (AMU) cultural history, and now set to be demolished to pave the way for another structure. This old and dilapidated theatre, that has reminded generations of students of their association with the AMU campus, would run Rajesh Khanna movies almost one after the other, as if the cinema owner himself was a diehard fan of India’s first superstar.

So we got to watch Aaradhna, Kati Patang, Aan Milo Sajna, Dushman, Daag, Anand et al, as we relished the new-found freedom to watch movies at will. This was the early 80’s and ‘The Phenomenon’ was already considered a spent force. Somehow, as one watched those potboilers, one by one, realisation dawned on us as to what kind of impact he must have had during those heady four-five years when he was at the top, and reportedly, even prayed that at least one of his movies comes a cropper.

There was something majestic about the star, dubbed ‘The Phenomenon’ at the zenith of his cine power. The histrionics that came from his stable were unique, oozing every bit of charm. As for his acting skills, few could back him to be on the list of the tallest. Before him was the triumvirate of Dilip Kumar-Raj Kapoor-Dev Anand all of them were exceptionally gifted actors that had ruled the roost. But the Khanna craze swept aside all and sundry.

Now, when Naseeruddin Shah says Rajesh Khanna was “a poor actor”, who pushed mediocrity into the Indian cinema, one is bound to be left amused. To quote Shah, “It was the 70’s when mediocrity came in Hindi films. That’s when the actor called Rajesh Khanna joined the industry. For all his success, I think Mr Khanna was a very limited actor. In fact, he was a poor actor. Intellectually, he wasn’t the most alert person I have ever met. His taste ruled the industry.”

Going further, he said, “The quality of script, acting, music and lyrics deteriorated. Colour came in. You could make a heroine wear a purple dress and hero a red shirt, go to Kashmir and make a movie. You didn’t need a story. This trend continued and I certainly think Mr Khanna had something to do with it because he was God in those days.”

No wonder the comments have left many aghast, and not all those grudging his comments are Khanna aficionados.

While Shah may have apologized to the late actor’s daughter, Twinkle Khanna, the point here is not about apology. Naseer is surely entitled to his opinion. Of course he is. And so are the others who are castigating him for his “vituperation”. But there is clearly more to this debate. Ask the typical Khanna fan, who even more than four decades since his superstardom was down and dusted, still hums ye kya hua… and quite relishes doing that. Which brings us to the core issue of the debate: What is an actor supposed to do for an audience? Entertain? Keep them engaged? Make them laugh, cry, agonise, empathise? Wow them with acting skills? Essay an immortal role? Make them feel high? Take them up an emotional journey? What?

One would guess, any of this, or all of this. Or a combination? Or more. Perhaps, much more. One day we may have enjoyed watching a Baazar, an Ardh Satya, an Arth. Another day we may equally relish a Tridev where, lo, Naseeruddin himself was seen crooning oye oye with a belle half his age. That’s par for the course. We audiences relish watching movies of all hues and shades. Some of us and many of them these days rip me apart for still nursing a taste for the current crop of films only go and watch one from the genre of Pathar Panchali, Shatranj Ke Khiladi and the like. Fair enough.

Cut to Rajesh Khanna. I guess it won’t be fair to categorise as “mediocre” films like Anand, Safar and Namak Haram.

And by the way, didn’t Khanna experiment too, going beyond his lover boy genre (Avishkar, Bawarchi)? True, he also acted in such a large number of eminently forgettable and rank mediocre films, and that he continued doing so for a fairly long time as his career slipped from one depth to another. Few can dispute that. But think also of the innumerable moments of sheer joy he treated his fans to moments that still are an inalienable part of the Indian cine-goers’ collective conscience.

To put it in a slightly perplexing way, Rajesh Khanna was ‘The Rajesh Khanna’ at the peak of his career, because quite simply, he was a Rajesh Khanna! Those forlorn and deep eyes conveying a volcano of emotions, without actually mincing a word (Safar). The cheerful embrace of fait accompli (Anand). The happy-go-lucky man fretting and freezing on coming to terms with the hard facets of class divide (Namak Haram). You find him standing tall, very tall, in these scenes, as an actor.

Rajesh Khanna has given the Hindi filmgoer some of his, or her (more so in Khanna’s case), most cherished screen moments. After all, not for nothing was his then abode, Ashirwad, for years together, a prominent tourist spot in the then Bombay (now Mumbai). It was a mass adulation the intensity of which, arguably, has never been seen before, or after. Delivering hits after super hits in a row, the length and breadth of which is yet to be surpassed by anyone else, required some mettle: Acting mettle, of course! His stardom was no fluke. It required an understanding of the times and the psyche of the masses, as did Salim Jawed later, when they discovered the angry young man in Amitabh Bachchan.

Khanna was intelligent enough, as an actor, to create a range of mannerisms all very own and very well nuanced. They clicked in those times. And how massively! The masses simply swooned over the antics the slight tilting of the head, the wanton smile et al. Khanna belonged to that era. As the era belonged to him. His mannerisms were tailor-made for those times: The late 60’s and the early 70’s.

Times changed and Rajesh Khanna went into the wilderness. And the angry young man took over. But to consign Khanna and his legacy into the dustbin of history, would be grossly unfair to the man.

Naseer says Rajesh Khanna heralded the trend of “mediocre” or “bad” movies, but the era that followed him had had its more-than-fair share of no-brainers, with pedestrian acting, as well as many a gem that featured, among others, the likes of Naseer, the powerhouse actor, who, of course, is one of the best India has ever seen. He continues to mesmerize with his acting skills to this day. His latest short film, where he’s essayed the role of an old man meeting his old flame at his cafe, is a case in point. Compared with the acting prowess of Naseer, most would lag behind including Khanna.

But the beauty of Bollywood is that it gives us both: Naseer and Khanna. And we relish both.

(This article first appeared in Qatar Tribune on July 28, 2016. Below is the web link of the article)

Rajesh page-2