by Lakshmi Chaudhry
Back in 2009, some wiseass uploaded a home-made, quasi-racist YouTube video titled Paris Hilton BFF India. Executed with photos and voice-overs, it spoofs Hilton's imaginary trip to India in hopes of adopting an Indian child. The video features Paris, of course, and – for unknown reasons – singer SP Balasubramanyam as 'Habib', a stereotypical mild and obsequious Indian with the inevitable Peter Sellers accent.
He fawns, eager for her approval of all things Indian. She is polite, condescending and stupid. None of it amusing except in retrospect, when seen through the lens of her real visit to India. At the end of Paris Hilton's three-day tour de big bore, it seems clear: the joke is no longer on us.
Poor Paris! She swept into Mumbai in her blue jumpsuit, eager and ready to play star diva. A barely B-list gori star expecting A-list treatment in Third World environs; a status upgrade long assumed to be part and parcel of white privilege since colonial times past. What she got instead is a belated wake-up call about the new realities of a global India.
The first blow was delivered by Karan Johar who canceled her appearance on his show because she refused to answer "personal" questions, including her drug use, jail term or sex tapes. As one source inelegantly put it, "Their decision to lay down too many terms even after knowing what the show format entailed and how 'big' KJo was, is ridiculous.''
It was ridiculous indeed to think she could treat Johar as a poor relative of Jay Leno or David Letterman, imposing conditions that no leading US talk show host would accept. Ridiculous to assume that he needed her – a reality TV star with barely any traction beyond the Indian urban elite – than she needed him, a mega-celeb with an A-plus guest list. And most of all, it's ridiculous to assume that she can play glamourous diva to a clueless Indian audience.
Umm, Paris, you are the one trying to sell something here, as in your lame-ass handbags. And your only selling point is your well-earned reputation as a grade-one skank, be it in New York or Mumbai. Blame it on the internet or on satellite TV, we all know just who you are, and that's exactly who we want – if at all. Better to have played it like Pamela Anderson who cheerfully flaunted her most-famous assets on Bigg Boss, shook her booty to Bollywood numbers, took her money and ran. And we all loved her for it – so much so that the government cracked down on reality TV shows right after. Now, that's hot!
So while Pammy received Salman Khan's doting attention, Paris now finds herself cold-shouldered by the Bollywood elite. Shahrukh Khan gleefully issued quotes denying any plans to throw her a party, saying he was much "too busy" for her. Even Simi refused to save her Botoxed face by issuing a last-minute invite to her show. All Paris got for her trouble was a party hosted by a Mumbai socialite Queenie Singh and attended by the likes of Sushmita Sen, Kangna Ranaut, and Sophie Chaudhury.
In the end, it was Paris who was left fawning on Twitter: "The women in India are so exotic and gorgeous!"; “India rocks! So thrilled to be here. Love everyone in India so much." All that gushing to such little effect. Most newspapers relegated her publicity pics to the inner pages. And come Monday, most of us seem to have forgotten that she's even in the country.
Yet, for all her PR travails, Paris may indeed have prevailed – though not quite as she had intended.
"It was definitely bordering on underwhelming and disappointing to see the ladies of Mumbai under-dress, get dangerously close to a coochie show for photographers, wear improper unmentionables with their dresses and basically just bore us to blahness," despaired a fashion blog of the Hilton party. Whether fending questions in a demure sari-like gown from an interviewer wearing a micro-mini dress, or looking relatively elegant on the red carpet next to Queenie's barely concealed breasts, she was out-Paris-ed by her hosts at every turn.
Radar writer Max Faber once wrote of Hilton, "Journalists reach for her name first when seeking an easy phrase signifying unearned fame, inherited wealth, propensity for sexual indiscretion or a penchant for cheap publicity." Except for the inherited wealth, we're all Paris Hiltons now. Card-carrying members of the global "skank posse," eager to dare and bare our way into the spotlight.
Guess the joke is still on us after all.