Poland’s Agnieszka Radwanska plays in front of empty seats during the first round of the women’s singles at Wimbledon, the Olympic tennis venue, on Sunday. (Rebecca Naden/PA Wire)
London, July 29: Karan Johar, who declared he very much admired Danny Boyle’s sense of humour in the Olympic opening ceremony, admitted that while Indians are only too willing to laugh at others, they are not able — unlike the Brits — to “send themselves up”.
In other words, Indians don’t do self-deprecation, according to Karan, who has come to London as a brand ambassador for Visit Britain, the organisation which wants even more Indian tourists to undertake trips to the UK.
The Bollywood filmmaker gave a well-attended press conference yesterday in the Penthouse suite of a Leicester Square hotel, with Sandie Dawe, chief executive of Visit Britain, seated next to him.
Indians don’t laugh “when the joke is on us,” said Karan. “I personally don’t think anyone in the film industry of India has a sense of humour. I don’t think politically, socially, all the celebrities put together — everyone likes to have a good laugh at someone else’s expense — we do not have a sense of humour.”
“The movie industry is over-sensitive,” he continued. “I don’t want to mention names because I might get into trouble even if I give you an example about anyone jumping off the helicopter. But I don’t think it would be taken very kindly if we threw a minister off a helicopter and had Don sitting watching it happen and not do anything. It would not go down very well.”
This was a reference to the Queen, accompanied by James Bond, apparently jumping off a helicopter by way of arriving dramatically at the stadium (the jump was done by a stuntman wearing the same clothes as the Queen).
“I think it’s really unfortunate, it’s extremely sad but no one — and before I say politically — even the film fraternity back home does not have a sense of humour. No, none of them do. Everyone is very sensitive about their own feelings which amounts to selfishness, I would say.”
The day The Telegraph remarked on the odd choice of Shami Chakrabarti to carry the Olympic flag at the opening ceremony, the Sunday Times in London has also followed the story in a report, “Liberty chief surprise a surprise flag bearer”.
A London 2012 spokesman told the paper: “The Olympic bearer was invited by Danny Boyle.”
One theory is that Boyle, the artistic director of the opening ceremony, has a soft spot for Shami with her big Bengali soulful eyes. Another is that the Indian contribution to life in Britain was so ignored during the rest of the ceremony — there was not even a joking reference to Chicken Tikka Masala, the UK’s most popular food item — that Shami was tossed in by way of compensation.
Even Shami is graceful enough to admit that at the rehearsals: “I felt like a bit of an interloper, a bit of a fraud. It was a surprise.”
Akram Khan isn’t just a dancer. As reported on Sunday, the winner of the prestigious Olivier Award for the arts is regarded as probably the most talented of Britain’s contemporary dancers.
When Akram, who is of Bangladeshi origin, performed Desh, his latest work, at the London Coliseum earlier this year, the huge venue was sold out for every show. Much the same happens when Akram, who is due to come to India in September, travels the world.
This is why it has come as a shock to many to learn that when NBC relayed the opening ceremony in US prime time, it edited out the dance sequence which Akram had done in response to a request from Danny Boyle. In its place, NBC inserted an interview with swimmer Michael Phelps.
When Akram gave a press conference, he was unaware he had been dropped in America.
“I am disappointed,” he responded, when what had happened was explained to him. “I am really sad that I couldn’t show the work in America, and that really upsets me, because I don’t think it’s any more or less than the other pieces (I have done). It brings to mind the question ... that maybe it’s too truthful.”
Akram’s dance director, Farooq Chaudhry, condemned the decision to censor Akram as “disgraceful”.
The brief Boyle had given to Akram was to reflect “mortality” but it seems that the Americans mistakenly assumed the dancing was a tribute to victims of terrorism, possibly in the suicide bombings in London on July 7, 2005. This has encouraged sour commentary that only 9/11 produced victims of terrorism.
Suresh Kalmadi will feel increasingly vindicated. Like Delhi during the Commonwealth Games 2010, London was plagued with rows and rows of empty seats at popular events, such as swimming and tennis, on the first day. Apparently these seats are freebies given to corporates who have not found enough takers among their clients, business contacts and relatives.
A confused Sebastian Coe, chairman of Locog, the organising committee, initially threatened to “name and shame” those who waste their seats but has since backtracked, saying “naming and shaming is not what we are into”.