| Courting fame: Vikas and Aparna Swarup
The man at the centre of the centre
To borrow Simon Beaufoys dialogue from Slumdog Millionaire, Vikas Swarup is really the man at the centre of the centre. Had he wished he could retire from his job as deputy Indian high commissioner in South Africa and, with the financial independence that the success of Q&A has given him, take up writing full time. However, Vikas is to be believed when he says he is dead serious about keeping my day job.
He is unaware his photo- graph, along with those of other Slumdog Indians, has appeared on the front page of the Los Angeles Times. I find Vikas in his hotel lobby with a faxed personal note from the boss which means more to me than anything else.
Pranab Mukherjee has sent Vikas his heartiest felicitations and wished him many more decades of creativity and an even more illustrious career ahead in the foreign service.
Only Vikas can put the eight-Oscar triumph into some sort of foreign policy context and argue this will make it easier for India to exercise its soft power, just as the Americans do with Hollywood movies that are seen all over the world.
He refers to the decisions taken by India at the India-Africa Summit in April 2008 and reckons this was a landmark deal.
The plan of action is really a blue print for Indias engagement with Africa into the 21st century and beyond and Manmohan Singh announced from the podium that we dont want to impose anything upon Africa; we want to do what Africa wants to do, emphasises Vikas. What Africans apparently want is Slumdog.
The films South African premiere was held on February 17 but Vikas discloses that the distributors held back its general release until March 7 because they were sure it would win the Oscar for Best Picture.
Diplomacy is very much about promoting soft power, explains Vikas. The fact that Indian books and films are doing so well are all aspects of our soft power.
Despite the historic relationship between India and South Africa and the presence of 1.2m people of Indian origin in the country, its a real tragedy that we dont have a single Indian correspondent posted in South Africa or a single South African correspondent posted in India, says Vikas. The historic relationship exists from the time of Mahatma Gandhis arrival in South Africa in 1893. South Africans are fond of saying, You gave us a barrister, we gave you the Mahatma.
In response Pranab Babu can offer the South Africans filmi dialogue: You wanted a diplomat, we sent you our most glamorous literary star.
Q & A with the Mrs
Vikas and Aparna Swarup, whose families knew each other in Allahabad, had an arranged marriage. After 20 years of being Mr and Mrs, they seem to be blissfully happy, a real recommendation for not going down the love marriage route. The couple have two sons, Aditya, who is nearly 17, and Varun, who is 13. Aparna is an artist in her own right but claims while she is only skilful he is creative.
| Unlucky by chance: Gulshan Grover with his friends
Spare a thought for poor Gulshan Grover, who glories in being called the bad boy of Bollywood. He tells me he had a precious ticket to the Oscars red carpet ceremony at the Kodak Theatre and also to the celebratory Slumdog after party.
But I decided not to go to either, he confides. I would have fainted. Fainted? Why so, wise one?
Gulshan claims the role of Prem Kumar, quiz master in Slumdog, was offered to him but he turned it down because I wanted something that was pure Hollywood, not an Indo-Brit mishmash.
Not that he is resentful that Anil Kapoor seized the chance to dance on the Oscar stage.
Hes my batchmate, says Gulshan with a wry smile. I am very happy for him.
Computer lock kiya jaye
The cheekiest post Oscar ad occupied a full page of The New York Times. The copy read as follows:
Best Picture of the Year
We are at 39,000 ft, air speed 570mph, on BA 0268 , between LA and London, somewhere over the Atlantic, poised between today and tomorrow. The children from Slumdog, exhausted after five days of red carpet hysteria, visits to the Universal Studios and Disney and carrying gifts of laptops and cameras, are fast asleep in the seats next to me.
Azharuddin Ismail, who played solidly on his video game for five hours after take off, is out for the count. When his mother cannot understand that the air stewardess wants his seat belt kept on, I have to lean across to strap in his sleeping form.
The children are like brothers and sisters. At one point in the departure lounge, Madhur Mittal tells Rubina Ali she must study hard at school. She nods obediently. But in another 10 years or so she will probably be more sought after by men than Frieda Pinto is today we must not be surprised if a Hollywood star sweeps Frieda off her Jimmy Choo-clad feet. As for the children, they are lovely. They have behaved impeccably in LA and are a real credit to India. I am due to get off at Heathrow but for the children lies another long flight on BA 199 to Mumbai. Nothing will ever be the same again in their lives but for the moment they are still children like millions across India. It is a pity that time cannot stand still and freeze this moment of innocence.