Friday, June 01, 2007

Chasing Bollywood stars in Amsterdam

Gauri Khan looks askance at me. She is dressed in white and clutches a shopping bag in either hand. As I move towards her on a busy street in Amsterdam, she takes a step back and frowns. I don't take the hint. As I start to mumble something, the wife of Bollywood superstar Shahrukh Khan hurries past me and disappears into an alley.

No, I wasn't trying to assault her.

The IIFA Awards were being held in Amsterdam in 2005 and I was a cub reporter let loose in the city of canals. Celebrities from the Indian film industry had been spotted in The Netherlands and I had been pacing the sunny sidewalks hoping to catch a glimpse.

I had better luck a few minutes later. Chunky Pandey was rummaging through a stack of colourful T-shirts at a shop around the corner. We exchanged pleasantries but I didn't harass him further, sensing that he wanted to be left alone.

Bollywood stars - hounded by fans at home and abroad. I could understand their predicament. Their need to feel free. The need to walk unmolested through crowds who didn't care who they were. And why stars viewed reporters with suspicion.

I walk past alfresco cafes and Gothic churches, stopping only for a glass of hot chocolate (they call it Chocomel here). As I pause to admire miniature windmills for sale at a roadside stall, cricketer Mohammad Azharuddin walks past with wife Sangeeta Bijlani. I leave them at peace and walk back to the hotel where the stars are cloistered.

There I find Boman Irani at his entertaining best, waving to a clutch of NRI girls waiting outside. Aftab Shivdasani is in the lobby too, looking dapper in a black suit. Ayesha Takia is wearing a brown ensemble, which seems to add inches to her waist. Bad designer or Amsterdam chocolates?

In contrast, Amitabh Bachchan is looking haggard and unshaven. The Big B has received news that his mother is unwell back home. He assures us things will be better on the morrow.

Actors - legends and one-film wonders - troop in for dozens of press conferences held over three days. Salman Khan is late (as usual?) and keeps co-stars and reporters waiting at the No Entry presser. The stars reel off their lines with practised ease, flash their botoxed smiles and leave as swiftly as they came.

At the Marigold presser (the film is yet to be released), starlet Ali Larter lingers a tad longer for one-on-one interviews. She drapes an arm over my shoulder and giggles when she's flummoxed by a question. Good strategy.

The IIFA schedule is chock-a-block. Aishwarya Rai waltzes in to have a tulip named after her. Saif Ali Khan and Vidya Balan brighten up the centuries-old Pathe Tuschinski theatre at the premiere of Pradeep Sarkar's Parineeta. Hrithik's team beats Shahrukh's bunch hollow when it comes to celebrity cricket.

And at the grand finale, Papa Bachchan, Abhishek and now Bachchan bahu Aishwarya enthral the crowds with 'Kajra Re' redux.

[Why am I being nostalgic about the 2005 awards now? Well, IIFA goes to Yorkshire in a few days and unfortunately, I am not going. A friend is covering the event and I can't help going green with envy. Grrrr!]

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