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February 16, 2001
Thank you, Raveena
Exactly ten years ago, next week, my wife and I walked out of Raveena Tandon's debut movie Patthar ke Phool shortly after the interval.
It was the evening of our marriage.
We had gone to the "movie-hall," which was actually a touring talkies -- a "tent," as we call it in these parts -- bang next to the homes of a former Karnataka chief minister and a Telugu actress.
We were seriously broke.
We had pawned a much-pawned Citizen watch for Rs 125 to underwrite our dinner, and when my bike ran out of petrol, we had to push it along a fair few kilometres to reach home, so that it wouldn't screw up the rest of the evening.
Anyway, to cut a short story long, we bought a bottle of communion wine from the St Mark's Church to "celebrate" and went to see Flowers of Stone, as Raveena's film would have been called had it been entered for the Oscar race, which it hadn't.
It was pathetic. Salman Khan was a letdown. Ditto Raveena. So, after we ran out of the wine, Nagu and I walked of the tent.
Much has changed since. Our scrawny hero is now a brawny one. Raveena has long since joined my list of dream girls whose names start with R: Radha, Rekha, Raavali, Roja, Rambha, Rani -- and Ramya, Ramya, Ramya, Ramya, Ramya...
But, who would have suspected that Raveena would pop up on the eve of the tenth anniversary of our wedding? (greetings welcome)
Apropos nothing, the wife -- the same one as ten years ago -- suddenly said she read Ms Tandon -- the same one as ten years ago -- saying somewhere that "If it weren't for condoms, half the Indian film industry would have AIDS."
That set me thinking. From her inane interactions with Cyrus Broacha and Nikhil Chinnappa on MTV, Raveenaji doesn't quite strike you as a possible Mastermind finalist, as her Kodambakkam compatriot Kasturi was last year.
As far as I know, she hasn't been designated as an AIDS spokesperson by anybody; so she couldn't have been mouthing something for the occasion. What's more, but for her fling with Akshayji, Ms Tandon hasn't been particularly prolific by Bollywood standards.
But, as far as I am concerned, Raveena's "If it weren't for condoms, half the Indian film industry would have AIDS" pearl is a landmark quote. On the face of it, it confirms what all of take for granted: that the bedrock of showbiz is sex.
And that the casting couch is actually part of the furniture.
But the reason I like what Raveena says is because she at least she admits that promiscuity bordering on the dangerous is the norm in the industry. And, because she hints that our dumb bimbos and bimboys are not so dumb after all: at least they have the sense to slip it on.
Dhanyavaad, Raveenaji, but I say: Are our politicians as careful in their little moments of adventure and indiscretion?
I ask this only because it is difficult not to be moved by the number of politicians who have been dying of diseases in which their immune systems have collapsed beyond redemption.
Short of uttering the dreaded A-word, doctors and journalists are saying everything to explain the deaths.
If there is one more such death, it could be a "trends" story in our weeklies.
Nice, well-meaning people would like to believe that the immune systems of our politicians are collapsing because the syringes which were used to draw out blood for donation during the freedom struggle/Emergency/and other worthy causes were probably unsterilised.
But the simple fact is that some of our most powerful politicians -- and businessmen and celebrities and movers and shakers -- sleep around like crazy. And some of them are paying the price for their indiscretions.
As Mahesh Dattani, the Bangalore playwright, said in an interview: 'We have accepted models of male behaviour, and one sign of masculinity is that successful men should have affairs outside marriage.'
But my point is why is there no Raveena Tandon on Raisina Hill to stand up and say: "If it weren't for condoms, half (or quarter or a tenth) of Indian politicians would have AIDS?"
Why doesn't any celebrity want to bell the AIDS cat in this country?
Why hasn't a single neta afflicted with the disease had the courage to admit so? "Yes, I made a few mistakes when I was young, and I am paying the price for it." Why hasn't a single family of the bereaved stood up and said, "We hope his/her death won't be in vain?"
In death, as in life, at least two Indian politicians have cheated their countrymen.
This can be turned around, of course, only if we can come to accept that our neta-log sleep around like crazy. By not doing so, we are only feeding the myth that AIDS is a poor man's disease, and that it doesn't affect the rich and the mighty.
This is a fallacy, as anyone will affirm, and a country whose AIDS figures are so alarmingly poised deserves better.
If our fight against the disease has to really take off, it requires something more concrete than television anchors wearing badges on AIDS Day in a fit of political correctness. It needs mascots to stand up and say, "Yes, I've got it and I'll fight it."
Thank you, Raveena.
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