Mumbai had received its first official rains of the season last Sunday and, while traffic jams turned life turtle, the city’s rich and famous were awaiting entry to Bandra’s Taj Lands End. From the entrance of the five-star closest to film star Shah Rukh Khan’s bungalow, Mannat, to beyond the lobby area, a line of fancy cars waited bumper to bumper for their turn to drop off their
well-heeled passengers till the red carpet.
Once the VIPs spent their time on the red carpet, giving their due time to the media, actors Katrina Kaif and Salman Khan were escorted by Baba and his son Zeeshan to their seats at the 80-feet-long table. For those who couldn’t get close enough, an LED screen was installed at another end
As the press photographers, cornered to a zone behind a metal barricade, clicked furiously, journalists asked, “What are you wearing tonight?” Former Bandra MLA Baba Siddique and son Zeeshan allowed sufficient press time, before whisking their guests away from the red carpet. Press, a public relations team, rumoured mobile jammers to ensure that photographs and videos weren’t leaked during the event, multi-layered security and an equal number of men and women in khaki outside the Taj gates stood ready for a possible rescue op.
The SRK-Salman embrace at the 2013 iftar, after an argument at Katrina Kaif’s birthday party in 2008 soured things, had propelled the annual do to the social event to watch out for. The next year, too, their hug made headlines. This year, however, Shah Rukh Khan came to the party late. Much after both Salman and Katrina had left
It wasn’t an awards night or a wedding reception. It was Baba Siddique’s annual iftar party which has, in the last few years, gained enough social prominence for the who-will-attend-it-with-whom speculations to kick off before the invites reach the guests.
This year, 1,500 people were invited to the Siddique iftar party. The event was hosted in a tent on the Taj Lands End grounds
Siddique’s iftar parties are as old as his association with Bandra, and the Congress Party. The Bandra Boy, as he calls himself, won’t reveal his age. One can presume that he is in his 50s, like his friend, actor Salman Khan, who he refers to as buddy. He does say that he studied at St Anne’s School (while Khan went to St Stanislaus) and graduated from MMK College. He started as a Congress karyakarta and was close to the then MP from the area, actor Sunil Dutt. He was voted to the Mumbai legislative council, becoming a corporator in 1992 and 1997, and became an MLA in 1999. He was later voted again to the seat in 2004 and 2009.
Born Ziauddin, Baba, one can say, is just following in the footsteps of his mentor, Dutt, who was also known for his iftar parties, seen as a Congress strategy to maintain ties with its Muslim voter base.
But, even away from the flashbulbs, Siddique admits to a love of entertaining people. The iftar is just a public extension of that passion. Even so, it’s not a recent phenomenon. “I have been holding Eid-milans since the 1980s,” he says, referring to the breaking of the final fast before Eid. “Phir woh bandh ho gaya. The iftar parties have been held for a while now.” Son Zeeshan, who joined the Youth Congress even as he pursued a degree in global management at London’s Regent’s University, says the iftar shifted to its current venue six years ago. Before that, it used to be held at Mehboob Studios and then at Sheesha Sky Lounge on Linking Road.
Yet, till 2013, although it got regular attendance from the Khans of Bollywood, the Siddique iftar was just another event hosted by a politician.
What changed is the momentous embrace between actors Shah Rukh Khan and Salman Khan, who until then had been nursing a feud after a spat at the latter’s former girlfriend, Katrina Kaif’s birthday party. As they say, history was made on July 21, 2013. In his salmon-coloured tee, Salman tapped the pony-tailed SRK who turned from his plate and gave his once-friend a hug. The picture spoke for a thousand headlines and allowed for many bytes over the few weeks. What it also did, was also propel the annual Siddique affair into a must-watch event on the city’s social calendar.
The hug repeated itself the next year as well.
Though the two stars couldn’t come together in 2015, it still created its share of headlines in the glossies — there was the picture shot of Siddique Sr handing over an invite personally to SRK, and a list of who came and sat next to whom.
It was also the first time that women were invited.
“Last year, we threw the event open to women and families after Reshma Shetty (Salman Khan’s manager), Salman and baby (Salman’s sister, Alvira) said we should do so,” Baba adds.
The slow increase in the number of guests means that the venue is bursting at its seams. Zeeshan, who will turn 24 this year, says that for the last two years the iftar moved from the ballroom at the Taj to the grounds where a German-made tent, specially bought since it is water- fire- and wind-resistant, was pitched over the last three weeks. While the press and photographers were allowed entry in the seating area, now cameras were restricted to the red-carpet zone.
He laughs when we ask if the number of guests who attended were 250 or more. “More like 1,500. It’s 300 more than last year.”
This year, to ensure that there were no gatecrashers, invitees were sent a swipe card along with the invite which they had to
drop in at the entrance. Not that this applied to the better-known guests.
Typically, says Zeeshan, preparations for the big bash begin two months before the event. While formal invites are sent only two weeks prior to the slated Sunday evening, there’s a team that will send text invites and confirm attendance earlier on. While Baba supervises most of the details, a core team of around 12 including family, friends and Zeeshan helps execute the plan.
Siddique can rattle off the menu without consulting anyone. He says he personally sat with the Taj chefs to thrash it out. There were seven starters that helped those who had arrived on time wait it out — kebabs, mutton samosas, paneer tikkas and roti pe boti — diced mutton chunks on small pizza bread. It was the best dish on the starters menu. The main course with another eight dishes wasn’t limited either. The desserts literally “took the cake”. The shahi tukda was the best we have tried, coated in sweet milk. Then came the rabdi and malpuas.
While the Siddiques insist that there is no seating plan, the divide is a bit obvious to an observer. Inside the hall, draped in gold and white, with the qirat playing in the background, some guests took seats at the round tables, each able to seat five guests, and scattered across the hall.
The VIP guests, like Salman, who entered after 8 pm, were escorted to the large 80-foot long table, guarded on by bouncers, to keep those-who-mattered at a safe distance from the crowd.
An LED screen at the hall bridged the divide though. Even if you couldn’t get up close, you could figure what was happening.
At 8.30 pm when actor and Salman’s former girlfriend Katrina Kaif entered, dressed in red, she was greeted by Baba and Zeeshan and escorted to her seat — strategically close to Salman’s. There seemed to be a collective inward take of breath in anticipation of what was to come. Katrina suddenly finding herself surrounded by the Khan family, exchanged pleasantries.
“Joh parde pe nahi dikha hai itne saal mein who abhi dikh raha hai,” a person from the crowd who was standing on tiptoe was heard saying, as Katrina leaned lazily against the back of a chair, while Salman remained a few feet away, socializing, holding sister Arpita’s infant in his arms.
As they say, paisa vasool.