Monday, January 14, 2008

Running into celebrities

I have been living in Chennai for almost 12 years (with gaps). When I was in Madurai I frequently heard that Chennai people get to see MGR or Jayalalitha or Karunanidhi just walking around in local markets. So you could be shopping for a clothes and boom! you could run into Rajinikanth. (It was a simpler time then).
I also heard that the people of Chennai were so used to celebrities that even if they ran into Rajinikanth looking for leather pants, they do not react like "country fruits" - that is, they will not rush towards him and bother him. They will act as if they shop with Rajini all the time.
So, that was the myth about Chennai - it was hot, sweaty and rude - but then you could run into superstars anytime.
This appealed to me a lot. When we were moving to Chennai, I expected that I would be running into Mani Ratnam or SPB pretty soon. I even imagined how "cool" I would behave when I saw them. I used to debate whether I should smile at them or give them a frosty look.
It was all a matter of time.

I moved to Chennai in 1989 - and from then to just an year back, I did not see a SINGLE celebrity. I hung around all the cool places in Mylapore and Adyar and Nungambakkam. Yet, I saw no one - and I never got to practice my slow "acknowledgment" smile.

My woes continued in the United States - I visited New York City pretty often. No celebrities there either.

After I came back to India, around an year back, my luck changed. I went to the Subway restaurant to get some food. And I saw Krishnamachari Srikanth sitting and munching a sandwich with his family.
Remember this was my first time - so I abandoned all caution and stared at Srikanth so hard that his family seemed to be alarmed. They all started pointing at me and whispering and I left the restaurant very embarassed.
But I was excited - surely my luck was turning. I could figure out why I was missing all the celebrities: celebrities are like the tigers in Discovery Channel shows. You catch them at the watering hole - they still needed to eat! The reason I had not seen ANY of them all these years was because I was stone broke in college and initially at work. I ate in local tea shops. The celebrities will not be caught dead in those shops.
Now that I could afford Subway, a new world opened up before me. I visited that subway a couple of more times to see if anyone else would turn up.

Then I realized there was someone else blocking my access to celebrities - my wife. Let me explain:
By the East Coast Road in Chennai, there are sevaral resorts. One of the more famous ones is Fisherman's Cove. Me, my wife and my brother-in-law went to the Cove one day for lunch.
We were sitting in the restaurant - and I was keeping an alert eye on the other guests to see if anyone turned up. I was concentrating so much inside that I did not immediately notice that my brother-in-law and my wife went silent.
When I noticed, they were staring intently out the open french window.
I asked them what happened.
My wife initially shook her head, then relented and said, "Vikram walked by".
From the nonchalant way in which she said that, it seemed like one of her friends or something. Then I turned and saw a well built man walking further off, walking away from us and everyone in the balcony of the restaurant were waving to him. Some even had their cameras out.
I said quietly, "So you mean actor Vikram just walked by?"
"You, of course, mean the guy who won the national award for
acting, who kicked so much ass in Dhool, Dhil, Saamy and all those movies?"
I was apalled. They apparently saw him walking in our direction, and wanted to appear SO cool that they did not even tell me that this world-famous (ok, among Tamils) actor just strolled past us.
All that I got to see was his behind.

This level of ultra-coolness hurt me again, once in the beach. We were sitting and chatting in the Besant Nagar beach. My wife said singer Chinmayi walked past. Again I was too late; Chinmayi is the singer of Kannathil Muthamittaal and Ennuyir Thozhiye.

All these celebrities sneak around my back and I am utterly clueless about how to spot them.

Then a couple of days back I hit jackpot.
I was going to work, at peak traffic time. We were waiting for the signal at one of the busiest intersections in Chennai. Suddenly police stopped all traffic. A bunch of guys walked to the center of the intersection and started exploding firecrackers. I was late for work and along with my colleagues I was cursing the person causing the delay.
A bunch of white SUVs went flashing by. And then there was a slow moving van with a open sunroof. Actor Sarath Kumar was waving to everyone in the intersection.
He did not seem to understand that we were not gathered there to watch him pass by. We all had to get to work - and in the heat and the smoke, here was Sarath kumar, mighty pleased with himself, waving at us.
Nobody waved back.
So, here was the first movie celebrity I ever saw - after so many years in Chennai - and I was already praying for him to be gone so we could move on.
Such is life.

Oh, by the way, I saw one of the guys who acted in "Chennai - 600028" in Cofffee Day yesterday. I am going to hang out more there. I am sure Kamal Hasan will come along any day.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Women's Hostels and Police Attitudes

I have seen lots of postings in online forums about how women are so free now and how they get preferential treatment everywhere and how men are suffering. The assumption is that social problems with respect to treatment of women in society, in public and private spaces is solved.

One of my friends stays in a women's hostel. I narrate here a list of problems they go through.

1. Near that hostel the women have been hit 3 or 4 times by guys in bikes. In a couple of cases the victim had to be treated for injuries.

2. When the hostelites complained to the Police, they were "advised" by the Police to behave. The policeman in charge told them the victims were to blame because he had seen some of the women talking over the mobile phone while walking. So he told them if they stopped talking over mobiles, the guys will stop hitting them.
(Remember that the policeman had no idea if the people who were actually hit were talking or not. He was "improvising" - he had seen too many Vijay movies with "advising").

3. The police apparently want to be sure that the women are not prostitutes. So they have asked for 3 photographs of each tenant to be given to the police station and their parents' phone numbers.

4. One of the women was dropped off by a male colleague because it was late at night. The hostel owner saw this and has asked to talk to the woman's parents to "warn" them.

Everytime someone is a victim our brave police steps in and blames the victim. They have no ability to stop wrong doing.

Secondly, can we even imagine ANY of this happening to a guy in a men's dorm or mansion (equivalent to a hostel)? When women stay alone our society gets all kinds of ideas and loves to harass the hell out of them for daring, simply daring to work. They always will be threatened by "reporting" to their parents.

I was talking to an inspector in a police station some time back. He said he found a couple of girls in the beach at 10 PM and decided they were not dressed appropriately. He called their dad and explained to him that the girls were "out of line".
The dad said he did not think they were out of line and police should not regulate how women should behave (as long as there was no violation of the law). The inspector told me that he yelled at the dad. He told the dad not to come to the police if "anything" happened to his daughters.

The inspector sounded very self-righteous. Apparently he thought he was within rights to warn women; he will not dare any such warning to the screaming, threatening bunch of thugs roaming the beach side.

Our society has pretty much accepted that women HAVE to be "controlled" or else all hell will break lose. That whatever is wrong with us today is mostly because of the way women dress. That women do not have the same rights as men.
In the above hostel incidents, the women are not even "bold" or "forward" or anything. They are just living their normal lives - while trying to escape being hit by bikes, while trying to stay in the good books of their hostel owner and while trying to stay in the good books of the police.

In the recent movie "Vel", in a completely disconnected scene, Surya sermonizes to Asin about the way women dress, and says "a woman should not expose the body meant for her husband" or some such bull. Leave alone the fact that his own former girl friend and current wife went dancing half naked in her movies. That this guy who dances for money actually "educates" our females about how to behave is the height of hypocrisy. It is not "acting" - that scene had nothing to do with the movie really.

I hope everyone who laments about how good the women have now shut the hell up after reading this.