There’s Something About Money

There’s an escapism that’s common to those occupying news space these days - the Mallyas, F1 and Yash Chopra.


It’s sometimes embarrassing to discover the things money can buy. One of the moments that money buys you is that you are a Sir or Ma’am in a restaurant, and you are attended to with a voice modulation too sugary to be real, and servile courtesies too professional to be true. For people who jostle for standing space in public transport and who do not expect anything “sweet” in the public exchange of words, these moments of money-bought right to importance could either be embarrassing or an escapist ego-massage. These moments may have a pink bubble gum effect that has nothing to do to with how the world functions outside the window panes of these places, how these people perceive themselves and how the world perceives them.

That’s an escapism common to three unrelated themes occupying news space these days – suspension of the flying license of Kingfisher Airlines (KFA) by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), countdown to the three-day F1 Grand Prix event (October 26-28) at the Formula-1 racing tracks in Greater Noida, and Yash Chopra’s Switzerland in the backyard – beautiful people – flower petal showering helicopter brand of romantic cinema.

Kingfisher Airlines has been “grounded” by DGCA ruling – ironic for the high-flying flamboyance of Mallyas who one imagines are anything but grounded. But, hold on – you can count on the Mallyas to beat the ironic twist of being grounded. They can be on the ground and can be equally flamboyant! On the dusty lands of Greater Noida, there is a First World escape route from the banalities of the Third World, and it’s not dusty – it’s the F1 racing track. Vijay Mallya (promoter of KFA) owns a team that will compete in the Noida F1 GP, and from the team he expects something needed for all escapes – speed. The employees of KFA are not impressed.

Newspapers have reported that a crucial meeting between the management and striking employees of KFA on 22nd October remained inconclusive, as the workers refused to accept a proposal of staggered payment of three months’ salary by November 15. But, what threatens to be the F1 party spoiler for Vijay Mallya is another report. Employees of KFA have decided to take on Vijay Mallya at the racing track itself, by declaring their intentions of staging a dharna at the  F1 venue. The protests at the venue could be a reality check on the escape velocity, and one of those eyesores that the escape velocity of money has to negotiate with.

A brief look at Mallya’s KFA and his F1 team Force India (now called Sahara Force India Formula One) reveals the following facts :

KFA: Employees are demanding seven months’ pending salary. Vijay Mallya needs to raise $600 million (Rs. 3,300 crore) to make KFA operational again.

Force India: Mallya and Dutch businessman Michiel Mol bought the Spyker F1 team for 90 million euros (Rs 630 crores) in 2007 and renamed it Force India Formula One. In 2011, Sahara India bought a 42.5% stake, equal to Mallya’s. That’s why team is now named Sahara Force India Formula One.

The team spends at least a $120m a year for its 250 employees. (Source: The Hindustan Times)

For air travellers who could afford KFA, the airlines offered the “good times” money could buy. Even if you were embarrassed about the attention you got for paying, you could see the money shouting (talking would be an understatement). But, good times can end as soon as money does. Its employees realised and suffered it, and are fuming because the Mallyas can still find ways to have good times. That’s money again, screaming.

Two years back, not very far from the F1 venue in Greater Noida, I used to work in a publication house in Noida. While commuting to work by Metro, one of my colleagues made an interesting observation while pointing towards the steel hold-ons which passengers clung to in the commotion of rush hour. He remarked how all working people going to offices and clinging to these hold-ons looked like monkeys who are going to their masters, (twisting their anatomies in all possible forms in Metro), before finally being twisted to perform rope tricks in the office. He still works there and his simian imagination is alive. He watched last year’s F1 race, and said “paise kharch karne par bandaro ko bhi seat milta hai” (if they pay, even monkeys get their seats). Similarily there was someone who blended the possibilities of money with something else.

The possibilities of romance and money got heady in Yash Chopra’s brand of romance. He painted the romantic canvas of mainstream Hindi cinema with a brush of affluence in the Eighties – Silsila and Chandni, and Nineties – Lamhe, Darr,  Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge (his son Aditya’s directorial debut under his mentoring and production house), Dil to Paagal Hai, and at the turn of century, flicks from his stable such as Mohabattein (again his son’s direction carrying his stamp). Chopra’s love stories started and ended with rich beautiful people for whom Switzerland was their backyard, and who could go airborne for courtship, showering the beloved with flower petals.

All was rosy in this world except for some hearts to be fixed and romance to be taken to marital destinations. For the aspirational urban middle class, it was an escapist narrative woven by characters in his later movies, who fit neatly into the post-liberalisation capitalist upsurge of consumerism. He also sought to blend it with a need felt by the urban rich – the need to sound and look exotic, something which his NRI characters were always yearning for. That was a cinematic template of affluent romance that had the escapist appeal as it assumed its audience to be aspirational in the consumerist sense of the term. The emotions money can buy. Embarrassing, but such are the possibilities of money.

I remember in one of those very Naipaulsque moments on his visit to India, the great man once said that any piece of grand architecture represents human possibility amid misery, but sticking to it is misery enough. One of the overlooked things about money is that it dehumanises, more in its essence of exchange and less in its uses. And consumerist fetishes are part of this script. But, the world being what it is, you have to live with those embarrassing moments when you get a response just because you paid for it, including love (in Chopra’s world) and that “paid” importance of being called Sir and Ma’am.


Image By- Sumit Kumar

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