| BETWEEN THE LINES: Vikram Chandra
Patten’s page by page progress
One senior academic I bumped into at the Bafta awards last Sunday was Lord (Chris) Patten, Chancellor of Oxford University, who had come to fly the flag for his absent daughter, Alice, star of Rang De Basanti.
“I am off to India again,” announced Lord Patten, who wants a closer relationship between India and Oxford (perhaps he should found a chair in Bollywood Studies').
“Why are Indian novels so long'” asked Lord Patten, who told me he had written this week’s New Statesman diary.
Instead of official briefs, he says in the diary which I later looked up, “I’m also reading more novels and am accompanied on flights this week by a great Indian novel — Sacred Games by Vikram Chandra. When I’d finished all 900 pages, I felt bereft. From the first, savagely funny paragraph (it requires a health warning for dog lovers) it’s a crackerjack, even if you’re not familiar with Indian obscenities. Buy it, and look forward to the day when the books out of China are as good as those coming from India.”
My explanation is that readers who stick with a long novel probably develop the literary equivalent of the “Stockholm syndrome” — the expression used by psychiatrists to describe the close bonding that can develop between kidnapper and kidnapped.
Making the cut
Asian film makers did not entirely miss out at the Baftas. The “short film” category was won by Do Not Erase, written, produced and directed by a young Sri Lankan, Asitha Ameresekere.
The 29-minute fictional film tells of a mother, Annie, who sends video diaries to her son, Darren, 19, who is stationed in Iraq with the British forces and goes missing in action.
Ameresekere was born in Britain of parents from Sri Lanka and educated at Harrow, Bristol University and the California Institute of the Arts. I would be surprised if we did not hear more from him.
I trust he allowed himself a glass or two of Taittinger, which was served to guests. The French champagne house, a Bafta sponsor, very nearly fell into Vijay Mallya’s hands last year.
| FATHER OF THE BRIDE: Lakshmi Mittal
Lakshmi Mittal’s name keeps cropping up in the most unexpected places, even in the affairs of the Church of England.
It happened when Rev. Andrew Body, a vicar in the beautiful Surrey village of Chobham, suggested that young couples starting out in life should not cripple themselves financially by spending the £17,000 that it costs, on average, to have a wedding ceremony.
Suggestions include asking guests to bring their own bottle of wine, buying a cake from a normal confectionery and adding the icing at home and getting a minicab to church instead of booking a limousine. Body, who has conducted 500 marriage ceremonies in 35 years, believes that instead of buying a £800 wedding dress, the bride could get a second hand outfit from a charity shop.
These days second-hand goods are called “pre-owned”. The church has had to unbend and allow pre-owned husbands and wives to get married in an effort to halt declining attendance and make the place seemed friendlier.
Asians couples who have recently got married or are about to do so believe that the economies suggested by the vicar are entirely sensible — for other communities.
They cannot aspire to Mittal’s dizzy heights but find the £30 million he allegedly spent on his daughter’s wedding in Versailles entirely understandable.
As Mittal explained at the time, he was like any other Indian father trying to do the best for his daughter.
| BLAST FROM THE PAST: David Cameron
David Cameron’s chances of winning the next general election are unlikely to be affected one way or the other by the claim in a new biography that the Tory leader, now 40, experimented with cannabis as a 15-year-old at Eton.
“So what'” is the popular response.
However, Cameron may have mixed feelings about the support he has received from the former disgraced Labour Home Secretary, David Blunkett, who commented recently: “The truth is, if you want politicians who are saints, have always been saints and have lived lives so unblemished that they display none of the characteristics of everyone else, then you really will be living on a different planet.”
Blunkett had to step down from high office because of a messy affair with Kimberly Quinn (nee Fortier), the very married American publisher of the Spectator. One of her two children is believed to be Blunkett’s but a DNA test on the younger one, conducted at his insistence, proved he wasn’t the father.
Blunkett is not the first man to become besotted with a married woman. Such is human frailty. He thought she loved him but she wouldn’t leave her husband.
Blunkett belongs to the small club of politicians who have had to resign, not once, but twice from the cabinet.
Asians would, no doubt, have felt slightly more sympathy for him had he not lectured them on how to be more British.
Well known Bollywood actor Anupam Kher has been cast as crime writer Lalmohan Ganguly in the BBC world service radio’s very enjoyable adaptation of Satyajit Ray’s The Golden Fortress.
The lead role of Feluda, the detective partly inspired by Sherlock Holmes, is well played by Rahul Bose in Ray Grewal’s adaptation of Ray’s thriller set among the forts and deserts of Rajasthan.
According to the BBC, producer Anne Edyvean made the decision to record the drama in Mumbai, the heart of Bollywood. “Who better to capture Feluda, his friends and his foes than actors who have grown up reading his adventures and enjoying his escapades'” she said.
To Brits, all Indian technicolour life is Bollywood, so perhaps one should let pass that Feluda wasn’t actually Maharashtrian. Really, we shouldn’t be peeved when some of the subtleties of a Bengali tale are blurred in a pan-Indian production. After all, none of this would make too much difference to a world service audience.
I have taped the play so I will listen to it again. The BBC should certainly do more of the Feluda stories but, please, can they have a word with me about the casting'
| ON RECORD: Shilpa Shetty
When Shilpa Shetty heard one evening that her father, Surendra, had a temperature, she suddenly felt home sick and was desperate to fly back home, even if it was for a three or four-day break in Mumbai.
She caught a Virgin Atlantic flight, the papers reported.
Well, actually, she didn’t.
UB boss Vijay Mallya, who happened to be leaving London that evening on his private jet, gallantly offered Shilpa a lift.
“She was packed and gone in two hours,” said what in the journalistic trade is called an “insider”.
Meanwhile, just when we thought it was safe to enter a newsagent, we have been hit by the latest cover of OK! magazine: “Shilpa finally tells all. Exclusive. Shocking Interview & New Pictures.”
I have preserved the Shilpa clippings over the past six weeks and may bequeath them to a library in India. Just in my bundle, I have counted her photograph made the front page on 35 occasions. For an Indian, that record is unlikely to be eclipsed in our life time.