New Delhi : “When all else fails we pull out Gandhi,” the baritone of ad man Suhel Seth rang out as he read from Shoba De’s latest offering “Superstar India: From Incredible To Unstoppable”.
Seth’s choice of a few sporadic sentences were enough to get the juices of a packed hall flowing and bring on the nodding of heads at a star-studded launch of De’s new book at the Taj Mahal Hotel here Saturday evening.
The book, in the author’s words, is a “a passionate love letter to the most beautiful country in the world”. For De, the book is the thread that binds her life to that of the country where she has spent six “crowded” decades.
“This is a story about India. My India. It is a very personal story,” she says.
It is a bird’s eye view of the country that captures many images and as the author points out, for every truism about India, the opposite is also true.
“Delhi itself has become a Medusa like creature,” writes Shoba De in her epic that runs more like a biographical testimony slurped in satire and somewhat disillusioned in the modern ‘mall age’ of India’s globalisation.
Editor and anchor Vir Sanghvi, who has known De for 30 years, picked up from where Seth left. “Why do you hate us?” he asked De.
“The Delhi I recall was kinder and gentler,” said De dressed in a steel grey and gold organza, looking two decades younger than her 60 years, as old as India itself.
“You need an armour to get out and go out in Delhi. Delhi has become a place that drips with the ‘C’ word and the ‘G’ word. Everyone is ‘ji’ and ‘Corruption’ is the definition of the culture in the city,” she remarked.
It’s not Delhi that I hate, there are aspects about the life here that I find disturbing. It is aggressive to women professionals and very feudalistic in mindset,
“Aren’t you just a Bombay person being snobbish about Delhites?” asked Vir in playful zest.
“It’s the sense of suspicion. In Delhi you have to have material wealth for someone to know you, in the South people will say what caste are you? In Kolkata, they will want to know who your grandfather was … But Delhi is about which minister you know! Delhi is so aggressive!” De quipped.
She added: “It’s not Delhi that I hate, there are aspects about the life here that I find disturbing. It is aggressive to women professionals and very feudalistic in mindset.”
De’s India is full of dichotomies, dilemmas and fears that characterise the just-arrived developing world, post globalisation.
“The book reflects my deep understanding of the past and my concern for the middle class. I look at the new heritage word that gets pulled out at all occasions and India’s efforts to come to globalization. I also applaud its ethos of competitiveness, but I feel that the whole scenario is taken over by the killer instinct of materialism. Money talks … and I feel its an assault on traditional values.”
A prolific writer, De has 15 books to her credit. A former model and erstwhile editor of Stardust, one of the country’s most popular movie magazines, she is an authority on the Indian film industry.
“Today’s films are more about paisa (money) than pyar (love),” she tells the audience in reply to a question by Sanghvi. “Bollywood is more corporatised, it is now a business model attracting investment”.
And who would she like to cast as the leading lady in her hit novel “Starry Nights” if it were to be made now? Pat comes the reply: “Kareena Kapoor … because she has changed the way physicality has been defined in Hindi movies. She has broken the sati-savitri (traditional woman) image.”
The book also touches upon politics, probably a fallout of De’s stint as a social commentator for the last three years. “It is time that we try to understand Mayawati’s (Uttar Pradesh chief minister) mindset than distance ourselves from this coarse lady…”
De ended by prophesying the entry of Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan into politics.