While the rest of the world might idolise Mother Teresa for her acts of selfless sacrifice or Stephen Hawking for his contributions to the realm of science, in Pakistan and India, we do things slightly differently. Our heroes are the ones with Filmfare Awards, not Nobel laureates. Celebrity worship goes hand in hand with being desi.
Having been an entertainment reporter for more than two decades now, my fascination with superstardom should have long worn off, but – in true desi fashion – I still have moments of being stupendously star-struck that sock me in the stomach. Like the time I bumped into Imran Khan (the Pakistani ex-cricketer and now politician, not the Indian ones!). I froze on the spot – and when he smiled at me, I ran in the opposite direction. I was 16; you would think a few years would have taken that naïveté away, but I reenacted the exact scenario about a decade later with Amitabh Bachchan. I really can’t be held responsible for that – Big B is imposing enough to stop anyone in their tracks.
Compounding these incidents of shock and awe in the face of celebrity is the fact that run-ins with them are so commonplace in Dubai because so many of the rich and famous come for work and pleasure.
In the past few years, I have bumped into Ayesha Jhulka (a semi-famous Bollywood actress from the late 1980s) browsing the discounted clothes at Carrefour, Jaaved Jaffrey (Indian actor, dancer, impressionist) shopping for mobile phones, Sanjay Kapoor (a not-very-successful actor from the mid-1990s whose brother is the extremely successful Anil Kapoor), whose phone I borrowed to make a call before I realised who he was, Shabana Azmi (one of India’s most respected thespians) crossing the street in front of Lamcy Plaza and even the late Benazir Bhutto, dining a few tables away at my favourite Thai restaurant.
No matter how hard you try to keep your composure and act natural in the face of a sudden encounter with someone so famous – so famous that you would have to line up for a long time to meet them otherwise – you can’t keep that look of wide-eyed fascination at bay for long. Or that camera.
And that’s why it is so refreshing when you meet and spend time with someone famous, completely oblivious to the fact that they are anything except a perfectly ordinary person like you.
I spent the past week in Italy on a high-octane holiday involving various motoring activities, from enacting car stunts to riding in Formula One cars. Our group was shepherded around by some very hospitable Italians, one of them being a particularly charming dark-eyed Italian with gorgeous hair.
The magnificent mane become a conversation starter and we ended up having several pleasant conversations over the course of the next few days. Everyone kept referring to him with his last name so I didn’t actually even find out his first name until the absolutely last day when I asked him what it was.
Back home, in one of my usual Google-sleuthing moods, I typed his familiar last name and his never-used first name into the search box and was a little taken aback at the results that kept pouring in. And by results I mean several thousand website entries, a few hundred news pieces and a Wikipedia page. Apparently, I had just spent the last few days enjoying the company – and luscious locks – of a very famous Italian racing driver!
The writer is an honest-to-goodness desi living in Dubai