Asian drag queen livens up
of a lifetime
Renuka Ramnath, Managing Director and CEO ICICI Venture
Nirupama Dutt meets the spirited Rupinder Kaur Hayer, the Editor of Punjabi weekly Indo Canadian Times, published from Vancouver
When militants killed Sumit Singh, young editor of the Punjabi magazine Preetlari, in the February of 1984, his wife Poonam had come forward and said that the magazine would continue for the Preetlari family was not afraid of shedding more blood for their convictions. Another daughter of the soil in her home away from home showed similar courage and resilience. She is the strong and spirited Rupinder Kaur Hayer, who decided to take on the responsibility of the Punjabi weekly Indo Canadian Times published from Vancouver in Canada when her father Tara Singh Hayer was killed by fundamentalists in 1998.
Hayer, is now the editor of the weekly and she says, "I am perhaps the only Asian woman who is the editor of a community weekly and also a weekly that is continuously inviting the rage of a section of the community. We still have stones pelted at the office windows and eggs thrown at us but we carry on bravely for crusade is our creed." Her father Tara Singh came into controversy for his witness in the Kanishka bombing tragedy and the an attempt on his life in 1988 left him in the wheelchair. He turned moderate and in 1998 after the Langar controversy in Canada, should the community meal be served on the floor or tables, the fundamentalists lost the control of the gurdwaras. Hayer had supported the stand of the moderates and he was killed in the second attempt on his life.
Strong and spirited Rupinder, who was in Punjab recently, says: "They may have killed him but they were not able to kill the values that he stood for. The control of the gurdwaras, which meant control over billions of dollars, passed out of the hands of the fundamentalists. This was his major victory." Born at Paddi Jagir village near Goraya, Hayer, moved to Canada when she was just 11. After completing her studies, she joined her father’s newspaper as an accountant. This was one community paper that was not just distributed free at stores; Punjabis bought and read this paper. "The family was determined to keep the paper alive and I became the editor. In 2002, on the 25th anniversary of the Indo Canadian Times, we also started an English monthly called Apna Roots.
Crusade is indeed her creed too. Hayer, says, "We are not afraid from taking up issues. We have stood firm on the reporting of the Air India bombing tragedy. We have also taken up drugs, dowry and other social ills. Our effort is to highlight the problems of our community and bridge the gaps." This was a social visit to Punjab for Hayer, and her mother who had not been here since her father’s death. Hayer, also took it as an opportunity to revive the political and other contacts her father had her. The confident mother of two says, "My dad knew everybody and everybody knew him. But now it’s time that I knew everybody and everybody knew me."
Asian drag queen livens up marriages
Asian weddings are big business in Britain, much as they are in any country amongst the middle and upper classes. And no such wedding would be complete without entertainment of one kind or another. One particular act, which is becoming more and more popular, is dancing queen Kiran Rani, and what makes this particular dancing queen stand out, is that under the makeup and the glamorous frocks, is a 24-year-old British Asian man, born and raised partly in Leeds and partly in Lahore by a Pakistani Muslim father and a Christian mother.
Even as a child Rani felt different. As he/she explained in an interview with the Eastern Eye newspaper: "Ever since I was little, I’ve been into fashion and hair and when my family watched a film, I’d be in a corner copying the actions and dance moves of divas like Rekha and Meena Kumari. I was fascinated by them".
Rani took up dancing professionally some three years ago and specialises in a dance form called mujra, which was performed by courtesans in the Mughal era. It’s an act that is now in great demand, not only at weddings, but also at private parties.
But, as you may imagine, such a way of life cannot be easy, as Rani explained: "I don’t deny it’s been a big struggle, more so in Britain than it would have been in Pakistan where it’s common to see people like me walking around and dancing at weddings. The more educated or open- minded Asians accept who I am and what I do but it’s mainly the younger generation that will dish out negative comments or insults. For example, sometimes if I walk past a group of Asian men, they will call me names like khusra or hijra. But I have learned to shrug such things off and I know what kind of positive response I get when I walk through the centre of Leeds or when I perform, people are just hypnotised by me".
British Asian male dancers are a rare breed; British Asian male dancers who dress and perform as women rarer still. Kiran Rani has had a difficult life and has worked very hard to convince people that he/she is a serious artist determined to keep an old tradition alive. With a certain amount of understanding and tolerance within the British Asian community, this person who is physically a male but psychologically a female should be able to have a successful career and a happy life. (ANI)
The role of a
THE more you learn about Brooke Shields, the more you marvel that her life story has pointed precisely in that direction: the nightmare of a stage mother who dominated her early years, the precocious exposure to fame and fortune, the sudden collapse of her film career, her subsequent struggles with wrenching unhappiness, the odd taste in boyfriends (Michael Jackson, Prince Albert of Monaco, George Michael), the disastrous celebrity marriage to Andre Agassi and, most recently, a very public lapse into post-natal depression.
She’s written one confessional book about her life after another, the first of them published when she was just 12. All in all, it has been quite a rollercoaster ride for a woman who was once the world’s most glamorous teenager but has had to learn the hard way that everyone, even Vogue cover girls, has to grow up and face the chill of adult life.
On this side of the Atlantic, one could be forgiven for losing sight of her altogether. Those bushy eyebrows and finely chiselled cheekbones of hers carry with them the unmistakable aura of a bygone era, right alongside shoulder pads, big hair and Filofaxes. Who could say what Shields has been up to, aside from the occasional regal appearance at Agassi’s tennis matches, since she cavorted both chastely and nakedly (quite some combination) around a desert island in The Blue Lagoon 25 years ago? London audiences, though, are about to get a taste of a very different Shields from the one they might remember, as she prepares for a nine-week stint as Roxie Hart in the long-running West End production of Chicago. Ever since she stunned Broadway audiences with her gloriously against-type turn as bad girl Rizzo in Grease in 1994, it has become apparent on the other side of the Atlantic that this woman can both sing and act. Better still, she can be drop-dead funny when the mood takes her.
Since Grease, she’s done Cabaret to equal acclaim.
Ever since Shields has slapped on the greasepaint and trodden the boards, in fact, her professional life has taken a marked turn for the better. Suddenly Susan, in which she played a magazine reporter struggling to make sense of her life earned her a Golden Globe nomination.
Work is almost certainly what has protected her from the disasters of her personal life. Shields has told interviewers very frankly about how prone she is to depression, and how the best way to ward off her demons is to keep as busy and fulfilled in her work as possible. As she told one television programme a few years ago: "It’s the down time that I’m the most terrified of because that’s when everything seeps in." From an extraordinarily early age, Brooke Shields was exposed to the limelight of publicity. And from an equally early age, she seemed well-nigh destined to become one more child star turned showbiz screw-up.
She appeared in her first film role at the age of nine and then hit the big time, and an ocean of controversy, when Louis Malle cast her as a pre-teen prostitute in turn-of-the-century New Orleans in his film Pretty Baby (1978). The subject matter, and Shields’ moments of nudity, provoked a puritan hue and cry that marked yet another taboo-breaking moment in the 1970s and, more importantly from Shields’ point of view, turned her into a household name. Shields continued the seductress theme in her next two big movies, The Blue Lagoon (1980) and Franco Zeffirelli’s Endless Love (1981).
Artistically, however, both of these were walking disasters, completely lacking in the sexual passion supposedly driving their storylines of forbidden teenage love.
These films highlighted a curious paradox about Shields: that for all her beauty and physical perfection, she was always strangely unsexy.
In her autobiography On Your Own - her second, written at the age of 20 - she proudly proclaimed her virginity, even as she complained that her college classmates were too intimidated to come near her. She went to Princeton University, where she specialised in French and wrote her dissertation on the films of Louis Malle. She graduated with honours, giving the lie to all the sceptics who saw her only as a bulge of vital statistics. Her career, though, was badly stalled.
At the age of 26, she told one interviewer: "I get depressed and cry a lot. I worry about everything. And everything feels so heavy. In the past I used to throw myself into schoolwork or films, but I don’t have those any more. I guess I feel this way because I’m finally growing up.
As she entered her 30s and her stage career began to bloom, she fell in love with Andre Agassi and they married in 1997. It was never a comfortable match, though. He was constantly on the international tennis circuit. They hardly saw each other, and separated barely two years after the wedding.
When she married husband number two, television writer Chris Henchy, here, too, she suffered, when she was knocked sideways by post-natal depression after the birth of their son Rowan in 2003. Shields chose, as she had so often in the past, to make her anguish public. Her book about her experience, Down Came the Rain, was published last summer.
— The Independent
In a month from now, Mumbai-based ICICI Venture, under the stewardship of its Managing Director and CEO Renuka Ramnath, will become the country’s first home-grown private equity investor to touch the $1-billion mark. It was in 1999 that Renuka Ramnath, then head of corporate finance and equities at ICICI Securities, took a sabbatical for a three-month Advanced Management Programme at Harvard Business School. The course changed her worldview and she was fired by the zeal to do something different.
In September 2000, she moved up as CEO of ICICI Eco-Net. A year later, the company merged with ICICI Venture, with Renuka as the CEO. It was a tough mandate that required her to clean up the company’s portfolio, convince domestic investors to put in money in late-stage investments and motivate her team. Renuka also hit the road 15 to 18 days a month looking for companies to invest in.
It was the acquisition by the company of a 50.17 per cent stake in Tata Infomedia for Rs. 140 crore which signalled ICICI Venture’s emergence as a dominant player in the private equity business.
Between 1988 and 2003, ICICI-Venture raised $600 million across eight funds. In 2004, it launched the $240-million India advantage Fund. Its latest, India Advantage III, which will invest exclusively in real estate, has already raised $200 million from the domestic institutions and NRI investors. The fund expects to raise another $50 million within a month. This will take its total kitty to $1.09 billion. And at the top of this heap is Renuka Ramnath.
All because of the three months the engineer-MBA took of for the management course, which she says "was a mind-boggling experience. It brought about a great transformation in me."
That the new breed of husbands is totally supportive of the mega-success of their wives is evident from one more case. "Today’s men have to understand that both partners in a marriage are equals and have the same right to opportunity and recognition," says designer Neeta Lulla, who has also scored an impressive international win recently. She was commissioned to design all the costumes for Omar Sharif and Peter O’Toole in the Hollywood mega film One Night With The King. "Such top international stars are very professional," she says, "The film was completed in two months. The stars let me handle the costumes completely by myself and even waited for me to fix the pleats of a shawl when they came undone in a scene. They respect the creativity of every artist and that is wonderful. I researched costumes for this film for eight months. The film is Persian in spirit and my designs do justice to the story. I have designed the entire look of this film and I am satisfied with my work."
Neeta is now designing costumes for Gurinder Chadha-Paul Myeda’s Mistress of Spices with Aishwarya Rai once again in the lead. She is also working for Tanuja Chandra’s English film and one more untitled Hollywood film.
Neeta, who opened her flagship fashion store in Mumbai this year, has been Aishwarya Rai’s favourite designer for years and created all her ‘looks’ for hit films like Taal, Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam and Devdas. Neeta also designed all the ensembles worn by Ash during her recent, much-famed television appearances in the US (the famous 60 Minutes Show and the David Letterman Show) and the wardrobe for her visits to Cannes and other film festivals as a member of the jury.
"Bollywood stars earlier wore anything from ready-mades to designer-suggested ensembles," she says, "Today, beautiful stars like Ash are very fashion-savvy and know exactly what suits them. They know current international trends and choose ensembles that will suit them – in colour, cut and comfort. "But working with Hollywood biggies is a totally professional experience." Neeta has added a brand new success in her bouquet of achievements in 2005! — Vimla Patil