India Insight

Vijender Singh enters the Bollywood ring with ‘Fugly’

Vijender Singh, the pin-up boy of Indian boxing, made his Bollywood debut on Friday, starring in a thriller about four youngsters who get into trouble with the police.

Singh, whose middleweight bronze at the 2008 Beijing Olympics helped raise the sport’s profile in India, is training for next month’s Glasgow Commonwealth Games at a boxing camp in Patiala and was yet to watch “Fugly”, a film produced by Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar, when we interviewed him.

Singh, a strapping 28-year-old with boyish looks, told India Insight in a phone interview that he was up for new challenges and making a movie was just one of them. Excerpts from the interview:

Q. Which do you enjoy better – boxing or acting?
A. Both. I know boxing, have been doing it for 15-16 years. I am almost a year old in Bollywood. Both are interesting and require a lot of hard work. Right now I am in a camp, I was training in the morning and will train again in the evening. It was work for me. Now I am back to my normal routine, training for boxing.

Q. You haven’t seen your movie in the theater yet?
A. I will go to watch it. There were so many phone calls and messages since morning. I came back from training, got busy, slept a bit and now I will go. The reviews are awesome. My friends are saying it doesn’t look like this is your first movie, it’s like you are a pro (laughs). I am happy, I did a movie finally.

India’s Games shame as countries ask for $70 million in outstanding fees

The athletes are long gone, but like the faded posters that are still scattered across New Delhi, the embarrassing legacy of India’s Commonwealth Games rumbles on in a widespread corruption investigation and charges of financial mismanagement by foreign contractors who are reportedly still owed $70 million.

Eight countries, representing 18 private firms, wrote to India’s Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Sports Minister Ajay Maken claiming to be owed $70 million still outstanding from the organising committee, Times Now reported on Saturday.
President of the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) and Commonwealth Organising Committee Chairman Suresh Kalmadi is pictured inside the Commonwealth Games athletes village in New Delhi September 25, 2010. REUTERS/B Mathur

President of the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) and Commonwealth Organising Committee Chairman Suresh Kalmadi is pictured inside the Commonwealth Games athletes village in New Delhi September 25, 2010. REUTERS/B Mathur
The committee, and its chairman Suresh Kalmadi, a powerful ruling Congress party politician, was roundly criticised in the lead-up to the October 2010 Games for shoddy construction work, missed deadlines and a huge overspend, and has seen members investigated and arrested by the country’s Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).

Where did it go wrong between the Delhi Games and the media?

Fireworks explode over the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium during the Commonwealth Games closing ceremony in New Delhi October 14, 2010. REUTERS/B Mathur
Delhi closed the 19th Commonwealth Games in spectacular style on Thursday — a Bollywood finale during which not only the crowd but athletes on the field, TV crews and young helpers swung and shook to the best-of-Bollywood medley.

Best of all, some journalists who perhaps had spent weeks cataloguing corruption allegations, filthy athletes’ flats and half-empty stadiums that hobbled the Games, clapped along and jigged their shoulders in between typing their story for the night on laptops. Others, though not all, smiled and clapped and the mood felt good.

The media’s relationship with the Games and its organisers, especially its pantomime villain and chief local organiser Suresh Kalmadi, has see-sawed. Violent swings in how the Games were portrayed tested Indian authorities’ patience.

Going global in India’s chaotic way

Labourers walk on a flyover in front of the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in New Delhi September 25, 2010. REUTERS/Krishnendu Halder

India is globalising, but not the way much of the world wants.

That rather contradictory thought nagged at me one morning during the chaotic Commonwealth Games here in New Delhi.

On the road to the media venue’s gate, I trudged past a squatter’s family living in a tarpaulin. The mother was helping her son pee on my left. Rubbish, the smelly, sickly kind, lay to my right. My shoes sunk in mud from an unfinished pavement.

Hardly the stuff of a showcase international event meant to rival China. But after four years in India, the scene appeared normal. So was news during the Games that stocks had hit a near three-year high and that the Economist had predicted India’s economy would soon outpace China.

Privatise the Commonwealth Games?

A labourer stands in front of boards advertising the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi September 23, 2010. REUTERS/Mansi ThapliyalThere are two reports today that say everything about the fiasco of the Commonwealth Games. On the one hand, while Delhi government cleaners are apparently refusing to clean the toilets at the Games village because they were so “nauseating”, the Games organisers are calling in the help of some luxury private hotels, including the Taj and Oberoi, to help with hygiene.

There you have it. After nearly four years in India, most of the positive headlines I have read have come from the can-do attitude of Indian business or the energy of non-government grassroots organisations. The negative has mostly come from rafts of stories of the Indian state – the skimming of billions of dollars, the failure of basic health and education services.

For all the criticism that is being levelled at India, the most unfair somehow is that this country cannot organise events to the standard of the globalised 21st century. False. Just look at how one businessman, Lalit Modi, set up the Indian Premier League (IPL), which revolutionised cricket with its 20-over format and imported cheerleaders. After security concerns in
2008, organisers moved the IPL — in many ways more complex than the Games because it takes place over nearly two months in different cities — to South Africa within weeks, a huge feat of logistics.

Commonwealth Games besieged – now diseased?

Plagued by endless corruption accusations, vast overspending claims and huge construction delays, you would be forgiven for thinking none of Delhi’s inhabitants were overjoyed about the city’s upcoming Commonwealth Games.

But you’d be mistaken, at least according to India’s health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad.

On Sunday, he said that the construction sites for the Games, which kick off in just over 40 days, were providing perfect conditions for the city’s mosquitoes, and laying the blame for the city’s record-breaking dengue outbreak squarely with the organising committee.

No criticism please, we’re Indian

Suddenly, it is not cool to be against the scandal-plagued Commonwealth Games.

A commuter walks past the Commonwealth Games 2010 mascot in New Delhi October 3, 2009. REUTERS/Parth SanyalThe CWG was meant to be Delhi’s big coming-out party, India’s assertion that it is a global powerhouse capable of doing what China did with the Beijing Summer Olympics two years ago.

Instead, the Games, scheduled for October, are turning out to be a costly embarrassment, with daily revelations of corruption, fraud and political wrongdoing that has triggered big headlines and much hand wringing by outraged citizens, sportsmen and even politicians.

But suddenly, being against the CWG is almost unpatriotic.

In an “emotional appeal” with a visual of the Indian tricolour published in all leading newspapers on the weekend, industrialist Subrata Roy flayed the “recent continuous and negative media coverage” that has left organisers and volunteers feeling “totally demoralised and dejected”.

Urbanisation: threat to Indian economy?

India’s current approach to urban development is insufficient for the task and needs an immediate revamp, according to global consultancy McKinsey & Co. INDIA

In its report “India’s Urban Awakening – Building cities, sustaining economic growth”, McKinsey states that a good city should be able to offer fine public infrastructure, reliable social services, recreational and community infrastructure and sustainable environment. 

As Delhiites complain of increasing road traffic, pollution and population many experts suggest that the development of the capital for the Commonwealth Games will lead to an increase in urban migration. Do you think Delhi is ready for this? 

Mind your pees & queues for the Delhi Games

With just six months to go before India hosts the Commonwealth Games, some are already wondering whether New Delhi is loo-ready for the sporting extravaganza.

File photo of an Oxford Circus lavatory cubicle in London.The capital is preparing to host more than 100,000 foreign visitors for the October Games, seen as an opportunity to show off the city as a major global destination.

Authorities have started worrying about the thousands of tourists — especially when it comes to answering the call of nature.

Delhi Half-Marathon: Well Done Delhi

The organisers of the Delhi half-marathon could not have picked a better time for the run.

The 7:30 am start on a late-autumn Sunday was perfect weather to run. Besides the chill, the air had its fair share of enthusiasm.

The runners represented a cross section of society in the Indian capital, which also has a vibrant expat population. And yes, this is Delhi so the “pushers” (the same kind who never let people alight from a Metro train before they get in) were also present. But once the runners were spread out, there was some camaraderie on the roads.