I am gutted. Alia Bhatt and Ranbir Kapoor tied the nuptial knot in Mumbai a few days ago. Our television news channels, who have an uncanny sense of what the public wants to see and hear, went ape over the affair. Zelensky and Putin can continue to go hammer and tongs at each other, communal clashes in various parts of India can rage, Boris Johnson tries to save Rishi Sunak’s blushes, Covid appears to have been a closed chapter in India, at least for now and the reverberating IPL has become a bit of a yawn. However, the power couple #RanLia’s (preceded by the compulsory hashtag) power wedding gets top billing. Incidentally, coupled, hash-tagged acronyms (#RanLia) are all but de rigueur.
That’s all very well, two young and charismatic stars of our silver screen, hearts aflame, go riding off into the sunset for their honeymoon, while the end credits roll to the schmaltz of A.R. Rahman’s music. The pertinent question is, why am I gutted? What is it to me if a high-profile Bollywood couple decides to walk down the aisle, in a manner of speaking? Or, as some of my Bengali friends in Calcutta might have inimitably put it, ‘What goes my father?’ I’ll tell you what goes my father. The simple fact that I was not invited.
You, dear reader, can very well ask why I should consider myself eligible to feature on the wedding invitation list of Bollywood stars. Virat and Anoushka (#AnoRat) ignored me as did Ranvir and Deepika (#RanIka) and several others before them, so why all this mooning about feeling sorry for myself? That is a valid question and my answer may not satisfy your slavering curiosity. Be that as it may, this is how I view the entire scenario. The image managers of the Kapoor and Bhatt clans decide that they must have the entire country drooling over the various stages of this big-time affair. Pre-publicity commenced well over a month ago. Plenty of social media chit-chat, and a spot of nudge-nudge, wink-wink, then the hyperventilating newspaper reports, the colour supplements and glossies full of specially orchestrated photoshoots – all carefully planned and executed to whip up the idolatrous fans’ insatiable appetite for more of the same. At which point, the ground is well laid out for the television channels to take over.
Once the audio-visual medium gets into the act, with its ability to go the whole hog with son et lumiere, all hell breaks loose. Each channel tries to go one over the other, and they all go over the top. I sit and watch all this incredulously, while my heart aches and a drowsy numbness pains my sense. I was feeling the kind of melancholy that Keats must have experienced, not because he was not invited for a big-ticket wedding but for other reasons not relevant to this discussion. One of the news channels devoted well over half-an-hour chattering about what happened at the wedding with stills and moving pictures, often repeating themselves. Even informal dance rehearsals for the reception jamboree were not left out. Here’s Ranbir lifting Alia clean off the ground, there’s Alia and Ranbir in a tight embrace and yet again (wait for this), the sexy couple kissing each other. Not just any dainty peck on the cheek, oh no, but a full-on, mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Bollywood morphs into Hollywood. Not sure which of the two needed the resuscitation after that, but there you go. The blushing Bollywood bride, side-by-side with her uxorious Bollywood husband. This is the New India. At least, the way Bollywood sees it in real life and on celluloid. As for the smooching, I am no prude. If Bollywood feels it’s time India went for the Full Monty, so be it.
Pressing on, I was quite tickled by how some of the television girls (it was mostly girls who were assigned this task), standing outside the imposing gates of the Kapoor residence, kept describing all manner of irrelevant and self-evident minutiae as events unfolded. ‘We now see Ranbir stepping out of the car, oh sorry, that was Saif Ali Khan and out the other door comes Kareena. Wow, they look gorgeous. Saif is wearing a special outfit designed by Manish Malhotra, wow he’s so hot, while…’ She was about to say something about Kareena’s sari, but just then she had to rush in another direction as a swank vehicle drew up. Off screen, you hear voices screaming things like, ‘Kareena, where is Karishma?’ and other similar inanities. The girl with the microphone could not have been more than 17 years old and her camera person ran after her puffing and panting. ‘Look, look. I think that’s Alia just arriving. Look at that unbelievably brilliant sari she is wearing. Your channel has learned that it was designed by Sabyasachi. No other channel knew, we are the first to bring this breaking news to our viewers. We will try and get Sabyasachi later for an interview, if he is here.’ If he is here and been invited, the excitable girl might have added.
At this point, we cut back to the studio anchor, who is breathlessly conducting affairs from HQ. She takes the viewer through an audio-visual slide montage of the burgeoning romance between Alia and Ranbir, who their mutual friends are, how Ranbir’s mother, yesteryear star Neetu Singh simply dotes on Alia while providing a choked tribute to her late husband and Ranbir’s dad, Rishi, how Ranbir went down on his knees, filmy style (what else?) to propose to his sweetheart and then literally swept her off her feet. The storyline goes into an endless repetitive loop during this televisual feast, and the only thought that goes through my mind is, ‘Perhaps it is just as well that I did not receive that gilt-edged invite.’ In all probability, I would have scanned the bottom of the card for the RSVP mail id, sent out a polite regret letter (‘Down with the flu, could be Covid, better not take a chance, blessings etc’), and sent them a cheque for Rs.21/-. The additional rupee is down to superstition, to ensure continued prosperity. And if you think Rs.21/- is a pathetic sum to gift, I assure you, for Ranbir and Alia even Rs.2 lakhs would have been pathetic. Erring on the side of caution was a wiser option.
It would be appropriate to add at this juncture that pretty much all the news channels had locked on to this glam wedding story. Irrespective of which channel you were hooked on to, the logos on rival microphones jostling for space were all too visible. Anyhow, while I was surfing, one of them had managed to get a famous fashion designer to talk to them and the brief interview went something like this. I cannot mention the name of the designer because I could not recognize him and the channel felt it was superfluous to display his name, given that he was a national celebrity. That tells you how much I know about fashionistas.
‘We are thrilled to speak with one of India’s foremost fashion designers. He is a very busy man, but he has condescended to spare a few minutes exclusively for our channel,’ crooned the anchor.
‘Actually, I can spare just three minutes because 12 other channels are also waiting to interview me exclusively. So, less with the introduction and on with your question.’
‘Right. Tell us, how did it come about that you were selected to design Alia’s trousseau for the wedding.’
I switched the television set off. I had had enough of this. On and on they’ll go about the mehendi, the wedding, the reception, the challenges of choosing the right material and colour to match the skin tone, blah, blah. blah. I am surprised they didn’t interview the celebrity chef and run through the entire wedding menu for us to salivate over. Or perhaps they did and I missed it altogether. Boy, am I glad I did not get that invitation, and don’t say ‘sour grapes.’ I turned the TV on again and switched to CNN. Putin was mumbling something unintelligible in Russian. His skin tone was not looking awfully bright. The dark suit only accentuated his desiccated pallor. I think he should have retained a fashion consultant. Or stylist. Or something.