Writer Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi shares his notes from the party of the year: the annual Bachchan Diwali bash in Mumbai
The party not only knocked the ball out of the park, it established the difference between India’s billionaire arrivistes and its true stars
Was it the party of the year? Absolutely. One of the best this decade? It sure gets my vote. But that’s too simplistic—or plainly flattering—a verdict, so let’s unpack the evening to gauge what’s up for measure.
First, this was not a party. This was a family get-to-gather, a kind of a picnic-in-the-park where, in lieu of thermoses of nimbu sherbet and cheese-chutney sandwiches, ran streams of champagne that paired with all the “snacs" (FYI: these are all your childhood crushes slaying in bandhgalas and lehengas). In the garden, under a vaulted ceiling—a velvet canopy studded with strings of lights that might pass for the night sky—the Bachchans’ Diwali celebration not only knocked the ball out of the park, it established the difference between India’s billionaire arrivistes and its true stars: folks who are their own illumination.
I arrived early, a little toasted. The most stunning woman in the room was Navya Naveli Nanda, part runaway princess, part a magician’s understudy, radiating David Bowie magic. Virat Kohli and Anushka Sharma made you believe in hard work, veganism and love stories. Sara Ali Khan appeared as a freewheeling real-deal charmer. Resplendent in recent victories, Aaditya Thackeray was well-mannered, gracious, astute (it’s a sign of the times that I’m endorsing the Sena, if only for it to make an opposition for a government who I’m rooting to run itself to the ground). When Rekha Bhardwaj held my hand, I felt in her touch the galvanic, sonorous power of her voice; her husband Vishal stood regally in a corner, with the distance necessary for him to view this world. Aishwarya Rai Bachchan met with an embrace all the elderly people in the room, reaffirming their profound self-worth: they were why the younger lot was here to begin with.
I was here to hang with Jaya Bachchan, who held the entire room in the commanding repose of a queen who’d seen this far too many times before. All of it mattered but none more than it should. “To see takes time," wrote artist Georgia O’Keeffe, “like to have a friend takes time." We have seen much, Jaya and I; we are are allies. Like soldiers, we remember what has come to pass, losses, regrets, the joys still ahead in life. When I saw her, I realised why we are friends: I always learn something from her.
Because the evening had all the feels of a family get-to-gather, you never feel hustled; you are never a prop in someone’s show—a photo-op casualty. There’s no crass wall of Dadar market flowers in front of which celebrities huddle to pose like meerkats. There’s no wing of bodyguards circling an insecure tycoon (Vijay Mallaya often did this but no one had warned him that you can’t bring your bouncer to jail). Most ‘power’ evenings can leave you drained; I began to avoid them when I recognized this milieu is peopled by energy vampires.
But then this was not some shindig hosted by the Maharani of East Parle.
Recently, my friend Prince Jonathan Doria Pamphilj hosted the Giambattista Valli and H&M collection at his palace in Rome—Kendall Jenner and Chris Lee made front row. Jonathan did not post a single photo on social media (instead, there was one of him with his partner and kids on holiday). Likewise, the Bachchans recognize that every guest at Jalsa on Diwali evening has some kind of voltage, but the true lights belong to the season, to the new year. In a country where we’ve lost our moral compass—our politics certainly evidence to misdirection—it’s imperative to cheer anyone with perspective. You can’t keep it real in a circus of celebrities but you can certainly see it for what it is: aesthetic consumerism (Susan Sontag’s phrase, not mine).
As I was leaving, I bid farewell to Amitabh Bachchan. Glancing at my red turban he remarked: “Wow!" I clarified: “Bad hair day, Amit Uncle." He laughed but his comment later reminded me of the philosopher Simone Weil’s belief that ‘attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.’ When he asked me why I was leaving so early, I said: “Wait till you get to my age—you won’t make it past midnight." He laughed; the irony was not mislaid. Here was a man nearly twice my age who would receive each of his guests for who they were—his friend!—and then stand till dawn to survey this kingdom of lost souls and total legends. A silvering stallion of talent, an icon of energy, his genius was markedly different from others because it is not—as genius often is—self-destructive; in fact, it is a genius of reinvention and resilience, a coherent genius which like meter in a poem magically comes together, always, and especially on Diwali.
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