What did the President and me speak about? Well, I said hello and complimented him on his speech in Parliament. He smiled. I then complimented him on his warmth and he smiled some more. By then the name of the next guest was announced, so I shook hands with him and the First Lady and moved on,” says Shyam Benegal, flashing back to his dinner with Barack and Michelle Obama at the Rashtrapati Bhavan in Delhi last Sunday.
The guest list included almost a 100 VVIPs including heads of state, cabinet ministers and Rajya Sabha members. “It was a night for star-gazing,” chuckles the National Award-winning filmmaker who was the only Bollywood celebrity in a select crowd at the Mughal Gardens that wore a festive Diwali look. He says, “There were diyas (lamps) lined up and a shamiyana (tent) had been erected. Perfect weather for a party outdoors.”
The Obamas were at the main table with the President, Pratibha Patil and her husband Devisingh Ransingh Shekhawat, Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh and his wife, Gursharan Kaur, Congress President Sonia Gandhi and former Prime Minister Deve Gowda. “I have no idea what was discussed at that table,” says Benegal, who was seated with business tycoons Ratan Tata and Venugopal Dhoot, MPs Vijay Darda and Supriya Sule and two Americans, among others.
It was a carefully planned meal that started with a clear soup, followed by snacks like kebabs, a fish tikka and a chaat. The main course that included mutton korma, a platter of different rotis, sabzis and a delicious chicken in white gravy stuffed with pista. Dessert was two kinds of sweets and puranpoli from Patil’s home state. Finally, there was a choice of herbal tea or coffee.
While guests were eating, they were entertained by troupes from different states, ending with the Shillong Choir. “All in all, it was a very pleasant evening and a warm visit from the US President who said everything we wanted to hear without compromising himself or insulting us,” points out Benegal.
He says, “He’s a good speaker and a charming gentleman with an equally charming wife whose smiles were as spontaneous as his.”