| FLIGHT PLIGHT: Sam Bhadha
Bollywood buzz in the Big Apple
While I am chatting to Sam Bhadha, picking up New York gossip, Ajit Gulabchand breezes in, complaining that Sam could, at least, have fixed the sweltering New York weather for him.
Sam smiles genially and introduces Gulabchand, chairman and managing director of Hindustan Construction, as “ a dear friend” who is “more well read than most industrialists and politicians”.
Gulabchand is in New York for a meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative, the world’s “most influential NGO” and speaks warmly about the former president: “He loves India and India loves him”.
Sam looks after plenty of industrialists and politicians in the four hotels of which he is the executive vice president. It’s a good job that the DoubleTree Metropolitan, the Paramount and the Park Central are all within walking distance of his office at the Radisson Lexington (where Marilyn Monroe’s portrait will always have pride of place). But Sam has a soft corner for the Bollywood producers who come with crews of more than 50 and stay for three months.
“It creates a lot of buzz in the hotel, the staff get involved and it is fun,” he says. “It is good for business. Right now Shabana Azmi is staying here, Karan Johar is here.”
Sam is well up on Karan’s movies: “He has made two before in the US — Kal Ho Naa Ho and Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna. And he is doing a couple more — one in Miami and New York and the other in San Francisco.”
Incidentally, Sam is delighted with the direct flights from India which are bringing him ever more celebs. But he wishes the flights would land at JFK at 3 pm and not at 7 am.
“They are here by 8 am demanding rooms — and check-in is at 3 pm,” he wails.
| MAN ABOUT MANHATTAN: Gautam Patwa with an Incredible India poster
The New York Times isn’t a tabloid but it isn’t quite a broadsheet either. It has an unusual longish shape which still happily accommodates longish stories of the kind newspapers in Britain once carried but no longer do.
I picked up an issue with contrasting 1,000-word features on Manorama Begum, one of 30,000 people who collect rubbish by hand in Delhi and on CII president Sunil Mittal, who was lauded as “the executive who welcomed Wal-Mart to India”.
When Mittal addressed the New York corporate world as part of the India@60 celebrations, he impressed Gautam Patwa, a financial adviser with his finger on the pulse of the US-India economic scene: “He made a phenomenal speech about where India is and where they expect it to go in terms of the growth in telecom and other sectors.”
Gautam, who took time off from attending an India Investment Forum to have a quick cappuccino with me, reckons the Confederation of Indian Industry and the Department of Tourism have done an excellent job in raising awareness of India.
Even four years ago, he pointed out, most Americans had not heard of Infosys, Wipro, Tata or Reliance. Now, more American businessmen were travelling to India and more Indian companies were making acquisitions in the US, Japan and South America. In recent days, American captains of industry had been involved in closed-door meetings with their Indian counterparts. The name, Karat, was not even mentioned.
The Wall Street Journal, I had noticed, had a 2,000-word story on mobile phones, “In India, Rural Poor Are Key to Cellular Firm’s Expansion)”, starting on page one and spilling onto page 17.
“There is a huge positive outlook to India’s future,” enthused Gautam. “The belief here is that India has arrived.”
Given that I am happy to be able to afford a Rs 6 rickshaw ride from home in Belgachia Villa to Belgachia Metro in Calcutta, how did I manage to sneak into the Waverley Inn in West Village, said by some to be the most exclusive restaurant in New York'
Let’s say I have connections on the inside who are well in with the chef, John De Lucie, the former executive chef of the Soho Grand, the Tribeca Grand and the Maritime Hotel. His starter, salmon belly with asparagus, made me momentarily forget the rui maachh at Oh! Calcutta in Mumbai and Calcutta, and the organic chicken, too, was worth the economy class travel from London. All recipes are ultimately a matter of individual taste but perhaps I could have done with slightly fewer nuts in the pudding.
Penelope Cruz, Julia Roberts, Mariah Carey, Martha Stewart, Harvey Weinstein and Ron Perelman have all dined here, as has Paul Wolfowitz who was spotted leaving with his girlfriend Shaha Riza on the night I was there, apparently much the worse for having lost his job as World Bank president.
The place, which has an old world, softly lit English atmosphere, is owned by a group of partners headed by Graydon Carter, who succeeded Tina Brown as editor of Vanity Fair.
Though “walk-ins” by some locals is occasionally permitted, it is not the kind of restaurant where diners can ring up and book. “You have to be invited to dine there,” I was told, thereby demonstrating the best form of marketing is to make buyers feel a real sense of achievement when they manage to get something which others cannot.
America’s egalitarian quality was underlined by a dinner table comment: “In America, it’s not who you are but what you are.”
|BOOK TALK: Vogue in New York
New York in vogue
So that I can have something intelligent to say when next I meet my friend Alex Kuruvilla, who has the responsibility as managing editor of Vogue India of evolving a distinct identity, I invested in a copy of American Vogue (cheaper than Vogue in the UK).
Since Charlize Theron, the South African-born fashion model-turned-Oscar-winning Hollywood actress, is on the cover (photographed by Mario Testino), it will be harder arguing for a ban on Bollywood stars (as Manish Arora did recently).
Looking inside, I was curious about the genesis of the “Brahmin” leather handbag by Dillard’s (are they aimed at our priests') The ads are all about brands — Dior, Louis Vuitton, Dolce & Gabbana, YvesSaintLaurent, Bally, Gucci, Prada, Burberry, Hilfiger, Rolex, Banana Republic, Hugo Boss, Valentino, Giorgio Armani, DKNY, Diesel, Ralph Lauren, Chanel, Escada, Coach, Chloe, Calvin Klein, Fendi, Givenchy, Swarovski, Dockers and Khadi Bhavan — sorry, I made that last bit up.
What baffled me is that I could buy Calvin Klein and Pierre Cardin designer shirts in New York cheaper than I can get Indian shirts at Pantaloons in Mumbai or Calcutta. Are Indians in India being ripped off'
|SPOTTED: Shobhaa De
Say what you like about Shobha De (or Shobhaa, as I still haven’t learnt to spell) but she is certainly ubiquitous. There she was adorning the cover of an old photographic magazine on a pavement bookstall near Fifth Avenue with a College Street feel and with the vendor even willing to knock down the price from $8 to $5 when I boasted, “She’s a friend.”
Later I felt mean I hadn’t bought it but I have promised myself I will buy it for her next time.