News & Current Affairs

July 12, 2009

Shah Rukh honoured to be Dr Khan

Shah Rukh honoured to be Dr Khan

Shah Rukh Khan at the degree ceremony in London, 10 July 2009

Maybe I can keep the robes… ‘I’ve sweated in them’

Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan can now call himself “doctor” after being honoured in the United Kingdom for his contribution to arts and culture.

Bedfordshire University conferred the doctorate upon him at a ceremony in London on Friday night.

Khan said he aimed to use the award to help educate underprivileged children.

The actor, who has starred in dozens of films, already has his own waxwork at Madame Tussaud’s and has previously been honoured in France and Malaysia.

‘Top’ award

Khan was able to joke about becoming a doctor after frequent surgery in the past few years, most recently on his shoulder five months ago.

“Interestingly my kids don’t understand this doctorate and believe I will be awarded a stethoscope,” he joked at the degree ceremony.

The star was awarded the doctorate at a top London hotel instead of on university premises north of London because of the summer break.

The university received his nomination from Routes 2 Roots, an NGO that works towards people-to-people contact across the subcontinent, especially India and Pakistan.

Accepting the honour, Khan said he had received numerous awards as an actor but being given an honorary doctorate was the top achievement.

The actor left one of Delhi’s top schools with the best student award – but never finished a masters degree.

So how did he feel about receiving the honour?

“I get the feeling that I should further the cause of those underprivileged children who don’t get the opportunity to educate themselves,” he said, quickly adding that he should perhaps begin with his own children who are “highly uneducated as of now”.

The 43-year-old also added he was most scared of mathematics as a child, and intended to make sure his children were good at the subject.

Khan also joked that he might get to keep his university robes: “I have sweated in them – [they] can’t be returned unless I dry clean them.”

The ceremony was also attended by the famously barefoot Indian painter MF Hussain and British film maker Gurinder Chadha.

Other Indian stars to have been given honorary doctorates in the UK include Amitabh Bachchan, Shilpa Shetty, Akshay Kumar and AR Rahman.

September 14, 2008

Slumdog wins film festival prize

Slumdog wins film festival prize

Danny Boyle

Boyle made his feature film directorial debut with Shallow Grave in 1995

British director Danny Boyle has won the Toronto Film Festival’s main prize for Slumdog Millionaire.

The People’s Choice Award, voted for by film fans, is regarded as an early indicator of success at the Oscars.

The film, starring Dev Patel, charts the life of a poor boy’s rise to fortune living in the Indian slums.

Boyle, 51, received critical acclaim for previous gritty works such as Shallow Grave, Trainspotting and the zombie-horror film 28 Days Later.

Cash prize

Previous winners of the Canadian award include the London gangster film Eastern Promises by acclaimed director David Cronenberg.

It’s a great underdog story
Danny Boyle, on Slumdog Millionaire

Patel plays orphan Jamal, who appears on the Indian version of the hit TV game show Who Wants to be a Millionaire.

Originally, Boyle said he had hoped for an all Bollywood cast.

However, that was not possible as local Indian actors “didn’t look enough like losers” for the main role of poor Jamal.

“It’s a great underdog story,” he said.

“In Bollywood if you want to be a young actor breaking into the system, you have to go to the gym for six hours a day to bulk up. I needed a very average-looking guy.”

Bollywood star Anil Kapoor also stars in the movie, along with newcomer Freida Pinto.

Winners of the award are also presented with $15,000 (about £8,400).

September 9, 2008

Indian painter cleared by court

Indian painter cleared by court

MF Husain

This is not the first time Mr Husain’s work has caused controversy

India’s Supreme Court has refused to launch criminal proceedings against one of the country’s best-known and controversial artists.

MF Husain has been accused of obscenity in several cases filed against him in a number of Indian states.

He is alleged to have offended Hindus with a painting in which he represented India as a nude goddess.

The court said Mr Husain’s paintings were not obscene and nudity was common in Indian iconography and history.

The Supreme Court also upheld a lower court ruling in May that dropped legal proceedings in three cases against the painter and cleared him of obscenity charges.

Under Indian laws, obscenity is a criminal offense.

In its ruling, the court said that the nudity portrayed by Mr Husain had a long history.

“There are many such pictures, paintings and sculptures and some of them are in temples also,” it said.


Mr Husain has been living in the Middle East. He welcomed the court’s decision and said he was looking forward to returning home

“At last they have understood the dignity of Indian contemporary art,” he was quoted as saying by the Times of India newspaper.

“This is not a victory for me only, but one for the Indian contemporary art movement.”

Last year, art auction house Christie’s rejected demands by a group of expatriate Indians to withdraw the work of Mr Husain.

The group had threatened to hold demonstrations unless the auction was dropped.

In 2006, Mr Husain had publicly apologized for the painting.

He promised to withdraw the controversial painting from a charity auction, after Hindu nationalist groups accused him of hurting their religious sentiments.

Mr Husain, 92, is one of India’s leading painters.

His paintings are much sought after and are auctioned for millions of dollars.

He has also made two Bollywood films, although both failed at the box office.

August 19, 2008

Jade enters the Indian BB house

Jade enters the Indian BB house

Reality TV star Jade Goody has spent her first night on the Indian version of Celebrity Big Brother.

It comes 18 months after the 27-year-old was accused of racism towards Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty in the UK show.

Goody told Indian audiences before she went in to the house the incident with Shetty was “in the past” and that she was “not proud of it”.

Shetty takes Davina McCall’s role on the Indian show, known as Bigg Boss.

“I know I have behaved wrongly but that was my yesterday,” Goody said.

“Today, I have changed for the better and I am here to prove it. I am determined to be myself and win everyone’s heart.”


Jade Goody

Goody arrived in Mumbai on Friday

So far on the show, Goody has learnt Hindi phrases and Bollywood-style dancing.

As the only non-Indian contestant and first international celebrity on the show, Goody is immune from nominations this week as a mark of hospitality.

Last year’s British show attracted 45,000 complaints to media regulator Ofcom over the alleged bullying of Shetty by Jade Goody and fellow contestants, model Danielle Lloyd and singer Jo O’Meara.

It also led to a protest in the eastern Indian city of Patna which saw the burning of an effigy.

A month after leaving the house, Goody visited India and told the Indian community: “I am sorry for the hurt and pain that my actions caused.”

August 15, 2008

Goody ‘will appear in Indian BB’

Goody ‘will appear in Indian BB’

Jade Goody on visit to India

Goody visited Delhi after the row to apologize to the Indian community

Jade Goody is to appear in the Indian version of Celebrity Big Brother, according to reports.

It comes 18 months after the 27-year-old reality TV star was accused of racism towards Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty in the UK show.

Goody is expected to join the Indian house this weekend. Shetty is the host of the program, known as Bigg Boss.

A spokeswoman for makers Endemol said the identity of contestants was never confirmed or denied at this stage.

Because I’ve been there, done that, I’ll be able to relate to the housemates in a more empathetic way because I can imagine what they’re going through at that point in time
Shilpa Shetty

Bollywood reporter Harshita Kholi told that “a source from the production house has said that they’re under confidentiality”.

“But what they do so say is, yes, there is a buzz, there is a possibility of her being on the show,” she added.

Last week, speaking in an interview ahead of the show, Shetty said her advice to housemates was “just be yourself”.

“Because I’ve been there, done that, I’ll be able to relate to the housemates in a more empathetic way because I can imagine what they’re going through at that point in time,” she said.

Last year’s British show attracted 45,000 complaints to media regulator Ofcom over the alleged bullying of Shetty by Jade Goody and fellow contestants, model Danielle Lloyd and singer Jo O’Meara.

Cooking comment

In a report on the series, Ofcom ruled that, on three occasions, broadcaster Channel 4 had had failed to appropriately handle material.

It said one was where Goody referred to Shetty as “Shilpa Poppadom”.

Shilpa Shetty

Shilpa Shetty became a household name in the UK because of the show

Another was when Lloyd told Shetty, using foul language, that she should return to India.

The third was when Lloyd and O’Meara were seen making offensive comments about Indian cooking.

Gordon Brown – then Chancellor of the Exchequer – became involved in the row while on a visit to India during the show’s run.

Mr Brown said the issue had been raised repeatedly during his trip, adding that Britain should be “seen as a country of fairness and tolerance”.

It also led to a protest in the eastern Indian city of Patna which saw the burning of an effigy.

I am sorry for the hurt and pain that my actions caused
Goody’s apology to Indian community

But after Shetty eventually won the show, she insisted that Goody “didn’t mean to be racist”.

Endemol, meanwhile said it “sincerely regretted the level of offense caused by events in this series”.

When she left the house, Goody said her behaviour had been “nasty” and added: “I’m not racist but i can see why it has had the impact it’s had.”

A month after leaving the house, she visited India and told Indians: “I am sorry for the hurt and pain that my actions caused.”

Shilpa, meanwhile, became a household name in the UK after the series.

August 14, 2008

Mumbai’s slum solution?

Mumbai’s slum solution?

Courtesy BBC

By Mukul Devichand
BBC Radio 4’s Crossing Continents


Dharavi is a bustling hive of activity and commerce

Mukesh Mehta wears a crisp shirt and tie as he picks his way past makeshift shacks and stinking open gutters in Dharavi, Asia’s largest slum.

Dharavi is a dense labyrinth of dirt roads in the centre of India’s biggest and most economically important city, Mumbai (Bombay).

Estimates of its population size vary but it is likely that up to a million people live in these crowded lanes.

But now the slum faces complete demolition under an audacious plan designed by Mr Mehta.

As a wealthy architect turned property tycoon, Mr Mehta makes an unlikely development visionary. A decade ago he became a government consultant after returning to Mumbai from his career designing bespoke mansions for rich clients in Long Island, New York.

His scheme is unique because it uses India’s surging private sector to develop slums, instead of relying on government funds or international aid. It is being closely watched as a potential blueprint for a slum-free future across the developing world.

But will it offer a fair deal to the urban poor?

Win-win solution

Mukesh Mehta

Mukesh Mehta says he hopes others make money from his plans

“I’m not ashamed or embarrassed that I’m going to make money out of it,” Mr Mehta told me late last year. “In fact I hope that others do too.”

I first met him in his own sea-view mansion flat, in a salubrious part of Mumbai worlds away from the tower blocks being built for Dharavi residents.

He explained that the urge to turn a profit is what drives the scheme forward.

Private developers are being asked to demolish the low-rise slum and re-house the residents in tower blocks on the same site, rather than moving them out of the city.

But Dharavi is right next to a prime office district, and is surrounded by three important railway lines. The companies can use the plum real estate left over after they’ve built tower blocks, to build lucrative shopping malls and office blocks for the middle classes.

The poor get a home in a block in a prime location, the companies make money and Mumbai’s residents get a posh new city quarter.

Theoretically at least, everyone wins.

‘Bombay Dreams’

But Mr Mehta is facing an avalanche of opposition from slum locals.

His visits to Dharavi are an exercise in diplomacy. I watch him press flesh and bat away questions as crowds of industrial workers confront him.

Although Mumbai’s transformation is being closely modelled on Shanghai, China’s glitzy commercial capital, India’s democratic system means the demands of the slum’s myriad opposition groups cannot be ignored.

Annapa Konchikor is an affable, portly Dharavi shopkeeper who wanted to show me why he opposes the plan. So he invited me to sleep over in his home in the heart of the slum.

Dharavi pottery

The entrepreneurial spirit of Dharavi can been seen everywhere

Late at night we strolled around his local lane, alive with a sea of human bodies and the whirr of industry.

In parts of Dharavi almost every shack doubles up as a small scale industrial unit, where the residents stitch garments, recycle rubbish, make pots or handicrafts, melt scrap metal, or do just about anything else to make money.

They are taking advantage of what Mumbai is famous for in India.

Bollywood films celebrate Mumbai as a city where even the poorest migrant can “make it” in the informal slum economy if they work hard enough.

Annapa told me that he fears this aspect of slum life will be lost after redevelopment.

Self-made man

“If the government were developing Dharavi for the people who have been living here, it would be OK,” Annapa told me.

Instead he suspects the planners real aim is to serve what he call’s Mumbai’s “hi-fi” groups – in other words the burgeoning middle class of white collar workers – in pushing the poor out of the city centre.

Annapa Konchickor

Annapa Konchikor worries about the prospects for the people of Dharavi

His own family were once snake charmers who migrated from south India.

Annapa was born in Dharavi and worked as a taxi driver and security guard before saving enough to open a shop in his slum shack.

Now he is a self-made man with four concrete rooms, an air conditioner and a grandchild he sends to boarding school.

His fear is that although each slum family will get a free flat of 269 square feet, the poorest locals will find it difficult to run small scale industries high up in concrete blocks.

Winners and losers

The next morning, he took me to a block where redevelopment had already happened.

The block had problems with running water and there was a pungent smell in the stairways. But despite the dire conditions, I found middle class families had snapped up almost all of the tiny apartments.

Highrise tower blocks being built for the residents of Dharavi

Block like this are being built to house the people of Dharavi

“We bought it from some lady in a slum area, she was given it by the government,” I was told by a girl in American-flavoured English in one of the flats.

Her father, the main bread winner, was not home – he lives and works in Switzerland.

It will be illegal at first for slum-dwellers to sell their free flats. But the supporters of the demolition plans point out that eventually if they do sell, the poor stand to make a sizeable profit, despite having illegally squatted on slum land for free.

Poor country

So far the political campaigns and litigation by the slum activists have kept the bulldozers away.

The lobbying has seen Mukesh Mehta’s plan altered in several ways that benefit the poor – allotting more square feet for the free flats, and allowing more families to apply for them.

These changes have gone some way towards pacifying the scheme’s opponents. The demolition is set to start soon.

But even if many of Dharavi’s current residents profit from the plan, it remains unclear whether the floods of migrants who still pour in from India’s countryside will find a place to live in the redeveloped Mumbai.

Despite its economic growth, India is still a country where hundreds of millions of people live below the bread line and for many families, moving to the big cities is the only option.

City planners seem to have accepted that building a world-class financial capital is more important than catering to this influx – although few are bold enough to say this openly.

“We firmly believe that this is likely to be the way not just for Dharavi, but for the rest of India’s slums and the world’s slums,” says Mukesh Mehta.

After all, he says, decades of aid and socialist planning have done little to remove slums. “Give me a better solution,” he demands. “Until then you might want to accept this one.”

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