Left, write and fest

Where was the new FTII chairman just before his appointment was announced? In Chandigarh, where wife Kirron Kher was fasting on karwa chauth.

By CELEBRITY CIRCUS - Bharathi S. Pradhan
  • Published 15.10.17
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Where was the new FTII chairman just before his appointment was announced? In Chandigarh, where wife Kirron Kher was fasting on karwa chauth.

Anupam was also in Kasauli, a 90-minute drive from his wife's constituency.

Where were Arun Shourie and Shatrughan Sinha having dinner together two nights in a row? In Kasauli.

Where were Shobhaa De, Divya Dutta, Nidhi Razdan, Rajdeep Sardesai and Sagarika Ghose on the karwa chauth weekend? In Kasauli.

Where was Vikram Seth, battling a severe writer's block to get going with his new title, The Suitable Girl ? In Kasauli.

The Jaipur Literature Festival, which calls itself "the greatest literary show on Earth", has a serious contender in the hills of Himachal. Its very name - Khushwant Singh Literary Festival or KSLF - comes with a stamp of reverence and ensures attendance from weighty names of the publishing world.

There was reluctant lit fest guest Vikram Seth - who likes his red wine, poetry and classical music - attending every session. Twenty-four years after publishing his runaway success The Suitable Boy , The Suitable Girl continues to be a novel-in-progress. With his original publisher out of the picture after Seth returned his advance, his new backers are also tapping their feet impatiently but have given him a one-year extension. Meanwhile, the whisper is he's got the equivalent of Rs 25 crore for the rights to turn The Suitable Boy into a TV series where the script will have to get his nod. Notch one up for Seth for one of his conditions was that the cast must be Indian. Therefore, none of Hollywood's infamous "whitewashing" in this British production - if it materialises, as The Suitable Boy has seen many producers pick it up and then not proceed with it.

But whether it's Jaipur or Kasauli, there is one discernible change in the air today. For which, the new FTII boss is largely responsible.

Traditionally, much of the academia-n-literary space has been the exclusive fiefdom of the Left. And so it was at KSLF too which created quite a flutter last year when JNU's Kanhaiya Kumar was a special invitee. This year also, it was flagged off with Modi-voter-turned-Modi-hater Arun Shourie speaking impressively on how to size up your leaders. Call them distinguished or disgruntled, but when Shourie and Shatrughan are at a lit fest today, you may be sure that their present agenda isn't going to be quite Right. And the audience (which included Mani Shankar Aiyar at every session) obviously loved it. Sample: when the erudite Shourie talked of Donald Trump's missteps and said that any resemblance to somebody here in India is... there was applause and no need to complete the sentence. Similarly, when Shatrughan, who too has expectedly backed Yashwant Sinha's notes of alarm over the economy, was asked (by yours truly) since when he'd gone from actor to politician to economist, he replied, "Why not? If a lawyer can become the FM and a chaiwala can..." Once more, much clapping for an incomplete sentence.

The tone continued the next morning with Rajdeep (who spoke on cricket) and Sagarika, Nidhi on their respective books, with special guest Omar Abdullah in the audience.

But the finale came last Sunday from Anupam Kher. A natural raconteur, his stardom, his comfort on stage, his spontaneity and his sense of humour make his sessions lively and satisfying.

With his self-help book The Best Thing About You Is You a huge success, and an assortment of 500 films, theatre work, teaching and motivational speeches giving him gravitas, he's a major draw at every lit fest.

And with Anupam around, the balance can't ever tilt completely to the Left.

Bharathi S. Pradhan is a senior journalist and author