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The Designer and the Debutant

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Anand JonAfter the Kalpana Chawlas and the Gururaj Deshpandes, the Deepak Chopras and the Bobby Jindals, its now the turn of another arena of American life to open up to persons of Indian origin. Sanjaya Malakar has just been voted out of American Idol, the talent hunt show that makes waves on American television, after surviving bitter criticism and a hostile press for several weeks. The seventeen year old, whom none other than J Lo and Paula Abdul found charming and ‘smart’ is currently reflecting on what life should be like post-American Idol. He wants it to be the complete ‘business and entertainment’ story.

Although Sanjaya couldn’t acquire a hugely cheering following in India, due to the odd timings when ‘Idol’ was telecast, and the fact that the songs he was singing were not the old familiar offerings from Bollywood that everyone can identify with, the youngster’s spirit could be applauded by anyone who was following the savage criticism he was subjected to by the likes of Simon Cowell, a judge on ‘Idol’. Week after week, Sanjaya seemed to be retaining the popular vote with his irrepressible smile, his hairdos (including the now famous ‘ponyhawk’) and his choice of song – undoubtedly a factor in influencing J Lo.

For a seventeen year old, this was indeed a long way to have come. Sanjaya’s father is a Bengali who went to the United States as a pujari for Hare Krishna – the ISKCON people. His Italian American mother had to raise him and his sister almost single handed, after his parents divorced when the little boy was three. But the desire to perform is so strong in the teenager that he is bound to create some more waves in an America only now getting used to the idea of Indians as entertainers and performers – so far they have only seemed to be academics and doctors, spelling bee winners and motel owners. While Indians are known for their hard working high-achieving ways, they are still to make their presence felt in mainstream entertainment – not withstanding Manoj Night Shyamalan.

Whatever be Sanjaya’s fate on ‘Idol’, he’s on a far better wicket than fashion designer Anand Jon who became a moderate success in the fashion world at the tender age of twenty four, and now, when he’s 33, is facing thirty three counts of rape, sexual assault and related offences. Jon has dressed celebrities like Paris Hilton, Paula Abdul, Mary J. Blige and Michelle Rodriguez, all recognizable party names in the US. Newsweek magazine had picked him out as a person to watch this year, for his fashion talent. Look what he ended up being watched for, though.

The disturbing aspect of Anand Jon’s case is an apparent complete disregard for the feelings of women – the designer seemed to have got used to women as objects for his adornment. He moved around with bevies of young teenage women as his entourage, and apparently made contact with him through his website, where they applied to become models. If all the allegations being made against him are to be believed, the payment he demanded in return for launching them in the fashion industry was sex.

One website has ridiculed Anand Jon’s lawyer’s statement in court that his client was a ‘Gandhi’ type guy who could be physically resisted by any woman. Contrasting Mahatma Gandhi’s statements with Jon’s lawyer’s, they have painted a telling picture. Another website quotes Indian model Julie Ann Titus’ encounter with him when he was judging the reality show ‘America’s Next Top Model’ on television. “I respect him as a fashion designer. But he was very, very rude to some of the girls. He seemed so boring to me. I asked him what part of India he was from, and he asked me, what part of India are you from? So I said I’m from Kerala, and he looked at me kind of crazy. He’s Malayalee, too. He asked me if I knew any Malayalam, and I said I only knew the bad words. Then he says, ‘Shouldn’t you be serving us or something?’…And he smelled bad. The girls looked at me and were like, are all Indian guys like this? And I was like, nope, just this fool right here.”

With Sanjaya Malakar and Anand Jon, India’s getting known in other ways than books and rockets. And just like it is at home, not all that is coming out is worth keeping.

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