Bollywood hypocrisy

The reportedly rising number of readers of this page are surely well aware that your editor is no Bollywood buff, and certainly not a fan of its over-hyped ham actors, whose movies are an assault on the senses and an insult to people with even minimal intelligence and logic.

However a surprise endorsement of my sustained constructive criticism of the braindead badshahs of Bollywood and their overpaid and over-the-top actors, came from an unexpected quarter as a new year gift. Writing in the mainstream Sunday Times of India (December 30) about rising crimes against women in the context of the brutal rape and murder of the 23-year-old physiotherapy intern in Delhi, egg-head economist Swaminathan Aiyar indicted Bollywood cinema and its matinee idols for popularising sexual harassment of women. “What’s truly terrible is the manner in which film heroes have for decades pestered, stalked and forced their unwanted attentions on heroines in a thousand films, yet ended up getting the girl,” writes Aiyar, accusing matinee idols Dev Anand, Raj Kapoor, Dharmendra and even the mighty Amitabh Bachchan and contemporary Bollywood superstar Ranbir Kapoor of being sexual harassment experts.

In November writing on this page, your editor expressed depressing lack of enthusiasm for the 70th birthday celebrations of Bollywood icon Amitabh Bachchan, a nationwide event choreographed by fawning television anchors. A contributory cause was the airing of a song-n-dance number from his mega-hit film Hum (1991) in which  several dozen leering men led by the superstar, surround the heroine and douse her with water while demanding a kiss. My interpretation of the message in the song was that if she didn’t choose AB as her mate, the whole lot would pile on to her. And Bachchan read a televised elegy to the paramedic who was violently gangraped to death in Delhi.

The deadly sin of hypocrisy is not the monopoly of the country’s sleazy politicians.

Hyde side

The relinquishing of office as chairman of Tata Sons Ltd, India’s largest private sector business conglomerate (annual sales revenue: Rs.475,721 crore) by Ratan Tata on December 28, marked the end of a golden era in Indian industry and prompted much lamentation in the boardrooms of India Inc and the media. By any yardstick, RT had an astonishingly successful 21-year run after being anointed his successor by the legendary JRD Tata in 1991.

As the first editor of the country’s pioneer business magazines (Business India and Businessworld) which stridently advocated the end of the licence-permit-quota raj, your editor had a good rapport with Bombay House, and particularly with the late JRD Tata (1904-1993).In the 1980s when BI and BW were both well established, Ratan Tata was dismissed by the media and captains of India Inc as a rank outsider in the race to succeed JRD in Bombay House. At the time, Ratan was chairman of the limping National Electronics Co which had unsuccessfully ventured into manufacturing colour television sets. However, simultaneously he had authored a plan for the consolidation of the Tata Group into a handful of core businesses and exit from others. In Businessworld, we discerned some logic and wisdom in the plan and gave it wide publicity, resulting in Ratan’s elevation to Bombay House. And subsequently after he was appointed chairman of Tata Sons and Russi Mody publicly unfurled the banner of revolt against him, your editor interviewed Ratan and convinced that he was the best man for the job, strongly endorsed his appointment as chairman of the Tata Group.

But when EducationWorld was hesitantly launched at the turn of the century and was struggling to survive in the face of indifferent and often hostile public opinion, appeals to Ratan for help with modest advertising support, were continuously rejected on the plea of debilitating poverty and adverse business conditions. Quite obviously the Mr. Hyde side of Ratan Tata is that he can persuade people to hold the ladder while he scrambles to the top, but kicks it away behind him. Nevertheless, he has undoubtedly served the national interest more than adequately, and one wishes him a peaceful retirement, though should our paths cross he’ll get the cold shoulder. That should give him sleepless nights!

Bitter fruit

From time to time, news reports tucked away in the corners of the pink dailies announce recapitalisation of public sector banks (PSBs). On January 10, another such innocuous report appeared in The Economic Times and several other dailies. The ET report said the Union cabinet had approved a proposal to “inject Rs.12,517 crore in public sector banks to help them enhance the (sic) lending activity and meet the capital adequacy norms”. Deciphered, it means the banks have huge NPAs (non-performing assets, aka irrecoverable debts) on their balance sheets and require additional capital to remain in business. It’s an open secret that most PSBs casually write off huge amounts as defaulted payments (NPAs) every year and run cap in hand to the government for recapitalisation. And though the bank unions and activists have been clamouring for posting the names of major defaulters who reportedly include a large number of heavyweights of India Inc and the political firmament, PSB managements have consistently declined to name and shame defaulters, citing violation of banker-client privacy.

Readers with long memories may recall that way back in 1969, 14 major private sector banks (later expanded to 28) were nationalised by then prime minister Indira Gandhi to make bank credit — hogged by blood-sucking capitalists — available to small and medium-scale entrepreneurs, farmers and the common man. Of course no such thing happened. Instead, savings deposited by millions of citizens across the country into PSBs have been canalised into shady businesses of relatives and cronies of the country’s mightily prosperous political class. Four decades after nationalisation, a mere 23 percent of the population has access to bank credit, with the poor and common majority shut out of the banking system.

With PSBs turning their backs on small-time businessmen and the public, the aam admi has been thrown into the clutches of usurious money lenders who routinely (in cahoots with the police and local politicians) use strong-arm methods to recover their dues. Hence the large — and rising — number of farmer suicides countrywide.

That’s the bitter fruit of bank nationalisation.