March 22, 2001


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When Laloo charmed the stars
When Laloo charmed the stars

It could have been a scene out of a Hindi film. Only here the star was neither the bride nor the groom, nor even the star guests... The man in the limelight was Laloo Prasad Yadav, former Bihar chief minister, who was leading the baraat of state Energy Minister Shyam Rajat.

Rajat married Alka Verma, sister of Vikas Verma, the owner of Property Guards, a security company, in Bombay on Wednesday.

Shekar Suman, Laloo Prasad and Chaggan Bhujhbal caught in conversation The quiet in the Regent's lobby at Bandra was shattered by raucous Bihari MLAs and MPs awaiting Laloo Yadav. Discussing politics, vote banks and the impact of the scandal, they waited for the king to arrive.

When we quizzed a few of his men about the importance of this wedding, they said, "Nahin, nahin... Hum dotcom se baat nahin karenge. Ab dotcoms se dar lagta hai. [We won't talk to dotcoms. We fear dotcoms now.]"

One member of the marriage procession, a close friend of the groom, divulged details of the shaadi.

Shatrughan Sinha and Sunil Dutt wish Shyam Rajat and Alka Verma "It is a love marriage, an inter-caste marriage at that. The groom is from the dhobi [washerman] community. The bride is a lalaji, a higher community in Bihar. They met in Patna five years ago and ever since they have liked each other. Despite being a very powerful person (pun intended, since he is power minister) Sanjay is very nice, humble and down-to-earth.

Suddenly there is a flurry in the lobby. Laloo arrived, clad in his customary white kurta and dhoti. For those who have never seen the former chief minister in person, it is a novel experience.

He parks himself on the couch in the lobby for a few minutes as people crowd around, touching his feet and seeking his blessings. As women, children and men eager to be photographed with the Rashtriya Janata Dal chief jostle to get closer to him, RJD worker Ram Kripal Yadav enlightens us, "Lalooji went to Haji Ali and Siddhivinayak temple. And he gave the poor people and beggars lined there lots of money, shook hands with them and clicked snaps with them. In fact, all our pockets are empty. He must have given away some Rs 20,000 in a matter of a few hours."

Laloo Prasad Yadav turns his back on Shahrukh Khan? Or is it the other way round? The Bihari babus are nothing if not media-savvy as they egg us on to speak to "Lalooji" despite the crush. Ask him about Rabri Devi and his daughters and he fields the question with a smile, "Rabriji nahin aayi hain. Unhe assembly ka bhi toh dhyan rakhna hai. Misa apne sasural mein hai. Doosri law ki padhayi Pune mein kar rahi hain. Tisri apne fourth year mein..." And trails off mumbling something about the rest of his brood.

And is he looking forward to meeting all the Bollywood superstars who will be present at the wedding? " Hum to film bilkul nahin dekhte. Shah Rukh ho ya kya nam hai uska jo aajkal sab par chhaya hua hai..." He looks to his assistant who supplies the name. " Ha wohi... Hrithik Roshan!"

Sunil Dutt, actor and Congress MP, has sent flowers. Laloo is also informed about the progress of the wedding procession intermittently. "The baraat is 20 minutes away," one party worker says. Another MLA informs him that [former prime minister] "Chandrashekharji" has settled in his room and will be joining them in 15 minutes.

Ask him about the wedding and Laloo continues in Hindi, "Shyam Rajat is like my brother. I am very happy that he is getting married. I wanted to lead his marriage procession and be a part of the entire procession."

The procession finally arrives amidst fireworks and dancing, with the groom astride a horse, at the entrance of the Regent, which is when Lalooji joins it. He doesn't dance to the music as some newspapers had expected him to, but looks happy to see the fireworks and hugs the groom as photographers surround them. The horse, not used to flashbulbs popping and the noise and melee, neighs loudly.

Security personnel of Property Guards, used to controlling star-struck fans, seem to be at a loss how to control the melee, as Laloo strides into the wedding hall with the crowd following, without a thought to the metal detectors at the doors. Clearly, the security personnel are scared to offend anybody who could be a part of the marriage party.

The first guest to walk in even as the bride and bridegroom make it onto the stage is Shah Rukh Khan. Dressed in black, the Khan heads straight to meet Laloo. The baraatis from Bihar, suited and booted with distinct red turbans, excited at seeing the star scream, " Shah Rukh bhaiya, Shah Rukh bhaiya!" There is a lot of climbing on chairs and stools as Laloo and Khan hug each other.

And Laloo lets his funny vein show as he says, " Aap hamare sath khade the toh itni photo khich li. Koi heroine khadi hoti toh pata nahin kya hota?"(You are standing next to me and so many photographers are clicking our photographs. If there was an actress standing next to me, I don't know what would have happened?)

After Shah Rukh is whisked away, the former chief minister turned to his coterie and said, " Bahut accha ladka hai. Hamara ashirwaad unke saath hai." Mentor and former prime minister Chandrashekhar, surrounded by men in safari suits, also wished his protégé and the bride and left quickly.

Another one who displayed what star power is all about was Poonam Dhillion. Svelte and stunning in a peach ensemble, she found herself surrounded by a lot of the baraatis wanting to click their snaps with her. And the lady obliged with a smile most times.

Amongst the other invitees was Shatrughan Sinha, who was greeted by a big cheer and an impatient mob onstage. Everybody wanted to photographed with Shotgun. When asked to comment on the wedding by who were web casting the marriage live, he laughed and said, " Dot com. Arre, aap logon ke karan toh itna tehelka macha hua hai." But continued saying, "It feels good to be here to attend the marriage. Shyam is like a brother to me. I have just come back from a trip abroad and I am coming straight from the airport. No, I haven't met Lalooji as yet, but I will meet him. I am very fond of him personally."

Another interesting sight was of Shekhar Suman meeting Laloo. He touched Laloo's feet and hugged him. Sitting cozily next to Laloo, Shekhar was all smiles as he said, "We are both married to the mob. We are both in the same profession of entertaining people. We both play to the gallery. Though for me, it is the first time that I have met him and I think he is a very nice person."

The filmi connections of Vikas Verma, who provides security to the top stars, meant there was a fair sprinkling of Bollywood. Among those present were Jackie Shroff, Sunil Dutt accompanied by daughter Priya, Aditya Pancholi, Rahul Dev, Bhagyashree with her husband Himalaya, and many more.

Laloo seemed to be enjoying himself thoroughly. A RJD leader said, "People on the streets who were out for a Shiv Sena rally started screaming, Lalooji ki jai when they saw him pass by? Is there anybody like Lalooji?" and then proceeded to touch his feet and get some more snaps clicked!

Photographs: Jewella C Miranda. Design: Dominic Xavier.

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