STARFARE-FILMDUST: A Flashbackby Aparajita Krishna February 10 2022, 12:00 am Estimated Reading Time: 29 mins, 50 secs
Aparajita Krishna recalls the magical times of film magazines and the gossip about film stars they carried, through the voices of some of the best known film journalists of yore and model, actor Anju Mahendroo of course!
For someone born in Bihar’s Muzaffarpur to teacher parents-academics-CPI comrades, I was a very film-fixated child as a young girl. Back in the 1960s, 1970s I took my reading of film magazines more seriously than studies. And hello, bless my liberal parents for not stopping me from this ‘bad habit’. Filmfare, Mayapuri, Madhuri, Film World, Film Mirror, Super, Stardust, Movie, Screen and G, occupied space amidst a home library mounted with Marxist literature, Link, Shakespeare, Dostoevsky, Simone de Beauvoir, Premchand, Sharat Chandra and Tagore. I am told that to cajole me as a child to address my daily routines a spread of film magazines would be laid out.
My parent’s generation read Filmindia. It was reportedly the first English film periodical to be published from Bombay. Started in 1935, it covered film trade in all its aspects. A single copy cost 1 ½ annas. Baburao Patel was the editor. Filmfare arrived in 1952. Picture-post was in the shape of a pocket book and was launched from Madras in the early 1940s. This article carries a picture of actress Pramila who was one of the earliest model-actress-producers of Hindi cinema. She was also crowned as independent India’s first beauty pageant winner, Miss India 1947, at the age of 31. Her photo is from the year 1938 carried by The Times of India Centenary Supplement.
In an India of the 1960s, 1970s that still lived in different pockets, a moffasil child believed film stars to be Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, How I Wonder What You Are…! The breathtaking photographs of the stars in film magazines and the insider point of journalists enticed and awed readers. Sadhana was my favourite.
An issue of Film Mirror back in the 1970s had Rekha’s photograph give the impression of her being in the nude with her bare legs covering her bare upper body. The caption read, Rekha Exposed. Good old tabloid masala journalism of back then may today read like a solemn prayer. Neeta’s Natter of Stardust was a feline temptress in print and Devyani Chaubal in person. Her Frankly Speaking in Star & Style edited by Gulshan Ewing spared no one. She was fearless. Stardust in a way changed the whole pattern of film journalism in India. It was unapologetically gossip-oriented and nosey about the private lives of film stars.
Filmfare stood apart. It had serious film features. B.K Karanjia’s tenure of Filmfare during the 1960s-70s was serious business. As was Bikram Singh’s, and Khalid Mohammed, a young lad then, was not a film gossip journo, and instead carved a serious space in my mind as a film-critic and later editor whose very original take on language and bites fascinated me to also read the serious sub-text in his film reviews. Screen was a content-rich film paper. Even an Illustrated Weekly of India, Blitz (with the Krishna column), Debonaire, seriously carried a film-tit-bit feature. The 1980s had film publications aplenty. Gossip and scoop whispered louder now.
Film-feature photographers who became legends in their own right were the late Jitendra Arya, Dhiraj Chawda and Gautam Rajadhyaksha. The stars looked gorgeous on covers and inside the pages. There were no image-makers designing them. As compared to the present, the biggest of Hindi filmstars did not have even one-fourth of the entourage beautifying them.
Even before the digital onslaught and website tornado, just a few like Filmfare, Stardust, CineBlitz, Screen and G had survived in print. By 2019 there were just three major English language film magazines along with their internet editions exclusively on Bollywood left to buy/access: Filmfare, Stardust, CineBlitz. Screen’s online edition is there now as is its award show. Film awards, television shows including news, web-shows have hijacked print film-gossip.
In contemporary times the insider has become the journo. Koffee With Karan being a case in point. The film-citizenry’s perpetual appearances on TV shows have made them drawing-room and bedroom guests. Too much familiarity breeds if not contempt then certainly a taken-for-granted-ness. Gossip is now on the social media and WhatsApp. With Big Boss shenanigans playing on TV, our good old gossip journalism of yore appears akin to sedate Doordarshan and literature. My romance with films had stopped when I stopped buying film magazines more than a decade ago.
I herein get talking to noted journalists and a film citizen. Back in the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and 1990s they had a ringside and an insider’s view of the starfare-filmdust. The talk is focused more on the Hindi film industry. What it was like to be a film-journalist? What was gossip-journalism like back then? Was it possible to be friends with a star/stars/film person and be totally true to your calling? The best and worst experiences in recall? Did film journalists make and unmake film stars and films? How different was the film journalism scene back then to how it is now? The idea is also to put the journalists under the lens as well as to celebrate their past work. The inputs have shaped the narrative beyond just the fare and dust. The contributors are Anju Mahendroo, Shoma A. Chatterji, Bharathi S Pradhan, Nina Arora. This quartet who I personally know for years were persons I read of or whose writings I studied in my secret syllabus.
Anju Mahendroo (trend-setter model, actor of earlier decades and a continued presence on television communicated via a voice-link recorded in her very attractive, dusky-toned voice): There is a lot of difference between 1960s, 1970s, 1980s film journalism and now. Now I think social media is more active and journalists have nothing to do I guess. We had very nice, strong women journalists. There was Devyani Chaubal, Nina Arora, Pammi Somal, Pammi Bakshi, Bhawana Somaaya. Then there was Rauf Ahmed. I am very happy to say that we were in one group and I was friends with all of them. We all gelled together. Take someone like Devyani Chaubal. Devyani Chaubal would come and spend nights with me from the Khar days where I was staying till Juhu. Once she wrote a nasty piece on me and I said ‘Good lord! You are a friend of mine. Why do you write this? Don’t write about me, good bad indifferent. Don’t write’. She said, ‘You should be very proud. You are in my column. You are in my column because you are important.’
Devyani was a very funny woman. Even if she liked you she would write nasty pieces about you. I remember the time when Dharamji chased her. She came here to my house. Saying ‘Oh my God, oh my God, Dharamji is after me. I don’t know what to do?’ Obviously she had written something nasty about him. Then there was something to do with Rajendra Kumar also. But then those days journalism was different. You had 8-10 top ones. We used to meet every Sunday for dinner at my house. They all had friends. They never came out like now and spoke about it. Stars had their favourite journalists. If they wanted to spread some kind of a message they would do via via and then deny it. The journalists who were friendly with the stars got the best interviews out of them. They would be with the stars all the time; go to the shoots and hang around; have dinner with them.
As far as I am concerned I had lots of friends who were journalists, but wrote nothing about me. That was the one thing about me. But Devyani was the only one I guess (who would write). Of course the modus-operandi was different then. They had 2-2-3-3- actors in the group. If those actors wanted to write something nasty about other actors then these journalists would do it. Things have changed now. It’s just social media. There is nothing exclusive. Stars themselves now put it on social media. I am still very good friends with Nina Arora, Rauf Ahmed, Pammi Bakshi and Pammi Somal. So these were genuine friends.
Shoma A. Chatterji (veteran journalist and author gave very informative and telling inputs on Bengali and Hindi film journalism): I was in Mumbai and began my career there. In the mid-1960s I migrated to Kolkata and came down to Mumbai from Kolkata in the mid-1970s. Film journalism at that time was limited to print. Filmfare, Screen and Cine Advance were three leading film periodicals of the time, which were doing very well and had solid circulation. Not only were they quite popular among the lay readers interested in cinema from across the world, they enjoyed a certain amount of respect too.
Stardust and CineBlitz on the other hand brought in some gossip about celebrity stars and had their own categories of readership, but as they were very expensive, people mostly depended on circulating libraries to read them. The brand of gossip journalism introduced by Devyani Chaubal in Eve’s Weekly and Star & Style, and Neeta’s Natter in Star Dust, introduced a new brand of film journalism including a column like Court Martial. No one cared about the authenticity of these writings yet enjoyed them thoroughly.
Leading daily newspapers in English and regional languages had regular space for film reviews and other significant news such as reportage on Cannes, IFFI and so on, so that had good reviewers writing for them regularly.
In Bengali, the two leading magazines on cinema brought out in the shape and form of Readers’ Digest were Ultorath and Cinema Jagat, which were very good and included literary matters too, such as novels, comic strips. Ultorath was a family affair but when there was a dispute between the two brothers, one of them broke away to bring out another magazine, Prasad. They do not exist today but whoever has a collection, can create a significant archive that would spell out the history of film journalism in India.
Since yellow journalism was hardly present at the time, journalists did not need to remain under the lens and glare of critique by others. But, one must remember that in those years, journalists did not tag along with big stars, nor did they hold a candle or double up as a P.R.O. for a given actor. Those who wrote for the dailies or on special request for film journals were Iqbal Masud, a IFS officer who wrote often on films, Hameeduddin Mohammad, Radhamohan Bhattacharya (Kolkata, The Statesman) Udaya Tara Nair (Screen), Sanjit Narvekar (Screen), Chidananda Dasgupta (Kolkata), Bibekananda Ray, Aruna Vasudev, and many others.
I never worked as a regular staffer in any media house. It was very tough for me to get an entry to any publication as I was basically teaching Economics in college and everyone was either surprised or amused that I wanted to be a film journalist. I began by writing letters to the editor for Filmfare, Screen, Eve’s Weekly and Star & Style regularly and often got top prizes for my contributions. Then I took courage in my hands to write film reviews for different papers - also for the editor’s page till some editors noticed my by-line and began to accept my briefs for consideration.
I began work as a freelance art critic for the Financial Express for their Sunday Supplement. This led to writing on Indian cinema and filmmakers. Screen had B.K. Karanjia as editor. He gave me a regular assignment for his paper every week. I also began a weekly column on women in television serials for The Daily, edited by R.K. Karanjia. I began doing Op-Ed stories for The Daily on gender, human rights and medical corruption. My film assignments escalated from 1986 when I began to attend the IFFI and Filmotsav every year and spread my wings to write for other cinema journals. I have been prolific from the beginning of my career and I did all this while I was still holding a full-time job as a lecturer in Economics at a local college.
Film Stars were not really intimidating if they knew you were sincere and a thorough professional. I have interviewed stars ranging from Bachchan, Jackie Shroff, Dev Anand, Ashok Kumar, Madhuri Dixit, Deepti Naval, Naseeruddin Shah, Om Puri, Sunil Dutt, Manoj Bajpeyee and many more and they were all very good though they maintained a safe distance, not sure of how I will do up my story.
I do not believe in socialising with film celebrities, be they stars, technicians or directors and producers. I don’t have friends within the film fraternity and know only people like Govind Nihalani, Shyam Benegal, Ranjan Palit, who, at least, recognise me by name and face but that is about all. I feel socialising with the film fraternity brings about a psychological compromise with my ethical principles of independence and objectivity. The cinema fraternity knows this very well and they are not close to me either. This suits me fine.
As to which is the best experience in recall, well four, not one. The first was my interaction with Ashok Kumar in his final days when he did not step out of his home. He talked and talked and talked, all alone, his children dropping in only to find out whether he was still alive or dead and I could feel his loneliness seeping through me.
The second and more memorable interview was Dev Anand - with whom I spent more than two hours talking about old days. He held me by the hand and took me near the window of the Navketan office to show me the small bungalow in which he and Guru Dutt spent their struggling days and promised each other that the one who gets his first assignment will help the other get one. And they lived up to this promise.
The third was a very successful interview with Aishwarya Rai just before she won the Miss World title and was not in films yet. She came across as a very warm person who, I was convinced that day, would certainly bring home the title. She held my hand tightly and said, “Do not scare me, please,” but she did bring home the title.
The fourth was with Tapan Sinha, one of the most soft-spoken, forthright human beings I have ever met in my long life. One fine morning, he called me up and asked me whether the producers of Shatabdi Ke Kanya (Daughters of the Century) had paid me the sum they had promised me for doing some press material for them. Five years had passed since then so I had almost forgotten. He gave me a name and a telephone number telling me that I should take an appointment with the person and visit him to accept the money I did not get. I did the needful and Lo and Behold! I came back with Rs.5000 in my purse! Imagine a filmmaker of his stature taking so much pain to see that every single person involved in the film was fully paid. He did the same for Shabana Azmi, Jaya Bachchan and so on who had worked in his film but were not paid their dues.
As to the worst experience in recall, or, the perils of having been a film journo? Well, after I came to Kolkata, it took me ten long years to get back to the position I was in Mumbai when I left the city in 1974. I knew Rituparno Ghosh quite well and when he was shooting for Chokher Bali, I telephoned him and requested an interview with Aishwarya Rai who had come down to shoot. He said ‘yes’ and gave me the date and the time I should visit the sets. I went at the fixed time at Bharat Lakshmi Studios requesting a freelance photographer to come along who happily did. But when I arrived at the sets, I found a barricade between an open space and the shooting space. Ghosh simply did not allow me to enter though I reminded him that he had said ‘yes’ earlier. I felt very insulted and humiliated in front of everyone. By then I was already a two-time National Award-winning journalist so it came as a very big shock. In retrospect, I feel that being the egoist he was, my asking to interview Aiswharya Rai and not HIM must have punctured his ego badly. Once more, many years later, a few months before his tragic death, I called him up for a one-to-one interview on his documentary on Tagore’s childhood. I could recognise his voice but he said it was his ‘father’ speaking and that ‘Rituparno is unwell and cannot answer the phone.’
Another time, I was shocked when I went to attend a press conference in which Mithun Chakraborty was the main star. I had to wait in a long queue for my turn. I got very agitated with this and was about to leave when someone allowed me to go ahead. Mithun was okay, but he was very repetitive with his answers and not very original or innovative. Another time, Yami Gautam who had come for a press launch of her new Hindi film, hid in a room in a big hotel and again, we were asked to stand in a serpentine queue for a Q & A. I left.
But all this is a part of being in a profession for forty years that involves celebrities.I do not think film journalists made or unmade film stars or films. If anyone did, I think they were not journalists in the true sense of the term but were more PROs. I know of at least two leading film journalists in Kolkata who are in the regular pay-roll of famous stars in exchange for keeping their faces and news visible every single day in the media. The media treats these journalists like stars themselves, announcing their names across the mike when they arrive at a press conference.
Now digital journalism has made film journalism very fluid and temporary because it is the ‘here-today-gone-tomorrow’ principle. Print journalism is more durable and has a much longer shelf-life besides creating an archive of old news/clippings/interviews/reports without which no history of cinema journalism can ever be written. Our lives as journalists are as temporary and as fluid as journalism itself has become. We are living and working with an invisible ‘exit’ ticket in hand. But do we know it?
Television journalism is more paying, I have heard, but I feel sad about the young journalists racing to catch a byte from some celebrity at any press conference or premiere or film launch. They are not treated very well and the competition among channels is terrible. Today, we hardly have any journal or magazine exclusively dedicated to cinema and this is a real tragedy. This alone reflects the identity of film journalism in India today. There are many magazines on the digital platform but few know about them though some of them are very good and informative. These are free for everyone to read and as such, contributors may not really get paid.
Bharathi S Pradhan (columnist, critic and author, tells it in her signature fashion. She put in a disclaimer - Pl note: I belong to the old school where we don’t use ‘I’ in our writing. So using ‘I’ in all these answers is making me cringe): The word we used most often to draw attention was, ‘Scoop’. ‘Breaking News’ came in with television channels. The difference is that we had genuine scoops, stories that nobody else got. Today, headlines like ‘Exclusive’ and ‘Breaking News’ are unfortunately used for news and stories that everybody else has also got. Even a press conference is covered as ‘Breaking News’ and ‘Exclusive’!
I was a schoolgirl in Madras (now Chennai) who was unexposed to the film industry. I had no clue who Dilip Kumar, Manoj Kumar, Rajendra Kumar or Ashok Kumar were. I didn’t even know they were different people - to me it was just a sea of similar sounding names one occasionally heard. So when I had to stay in a hostel in Madras for the final year of school and started going to the movies with all the glamour-crazy girls around me, the absurdities of Hindi films would hit me. I started writing letters to Filmfare and Star & Style, the only two film magazines that were then in existence. Unaware that it was a schoolgirl writing to them, the editors would publish my letters regularly, even give me the best letter prize of Rs 50/-, a princely sum for a schoolgirl in 1969.
By the time I came to Bombay and joined Sydenham College to do my B Com, the magazines knew me by name. I come from a family of journalists and my older sister was working with Femina, which had Filmfare as its neighbour. When the Filmfare people met me, they gave me a column to do in ‘Youth Times’ and in ‘The Evening News of India’. Although I didn’t know even an exhibitor or distributor, the Filmfare people took me under their wing and took me on their studio rounds. Full of enthusiasm and brimming with energy at age 17, I made friends with all the stars of the day with great ease.
Although I’d joined Sydenham because I wanted to be the family rebel and become a Chartered Accountant, my genes caught up with me. Before I’d finished my Inter-Com in the early 1970s, I was making more than my pocket money as a columnist. Soon the Free Press group called me to work for their English publications especially Free Press Bulletin (also very popular then) and before I graduated I jumped to the Eve’s Weekly group as Senior Asst Editor of Star & Style. By this time, getting my college degree was only a formality as I already had a job.
Star & Style was one of the two magazines, which published my letters when I was in school. After a few years, I became the Editor of Star & Style. At various times, I have also edited Movie, Showtime, Lehren Cine Tab, Savvy (Consulting Editor) and The Film Street Journal, besides writing for Mid-day, Reader’s Digest and a variety of other publications. I am still a columnist with The Telegraph (Kolkata) and write reviews and stories for Lehren.com. Incidentally, long before any political or business journalist did it, I was the first journalist to ever face a camera and do a regular column. This was for Lehren, the 1st video magazine in the country.
Were the stars intimidating? Maybe, but because I didn’t come in as someone who was either glamour-struck or cinema-crazy or looking for a break in the film industry, I could be objective about everybody. I’m also someone who’s at ease speaking before a camera or on stage. So nothing intimidates me. I can go and interview anybody, anytime, in any field. Having said that, the stars too were indulgent about a 17 or 18-year-old running around the studios.
I grew up with Ashok Kumar, Dev Anand, Shammi Kapoor, Shashi Kapoor, Rajesh Khanna, Amitabh Bachchan, Vinod Khanna, Shatrughan Sinha, Vinod Mehra, Rakesh Roshan, Mahesh Bhatt, Yash Johar, Ranjeet and Zeenat Aman around me. People were so caring, they would give me interviews well in advance so that I could sit for my exams without worrying about my deadlines. Even Raaj Kumar who was supposed to be eccentric was someone I got along with fabulously. After my first interview with him at the US Club golf course in Colaba, he dropped me home, stayed in the jeep and asked me many questions like which floor I lived in, where I was studying and so on.
I made friends for a lifetime. From Sunil Dutt and Dharmendra (who I would address as Mr Dutt and Dharamji) to all the names I mentioned earlier, they have told me so many things off the record that those stories would make a best-seller. Integrity was at an all-time high and people trusted me. I must add, it was never misplaced trust, and I never let them down.
Too many highs to recall in a career spanning five decades. But, as a journalist, my scoop on the Hema-Dharam marriage in 1980 was a huge high because nobody had even a clue about it when I got the story and we pushed it into Star & Style as a four-pager in the centre, after the rest of the magazine had been printed.
There will always be unsavoury experiences. But I’d think the worst is when you do a review and friends get hurt. Like Doby (Jyotin) Goel, a wonderfully erudite and well-spoken filmmaker and a friend, was hurt when I was uncomplimentary about his son’s debut. As Doby put it to me quite frankly, it wasn’t about slamming the film but the fact that I hadn’t said nice things about his son that really hurt him. I can understand it when a person is hurt by what I write but that’s an unavoidable peril in our profession.
It’s a total myth that film journalists make and unmake film stars and films. No journalist in any field has the power to make or break anybody. I think Amitabh Bachchan’s superstardom is the best example to back my comment. After the Emergency of 1975 was lifted, the editors of five magazines had jointly decided to ban him because they held him responsible for the strict censoring that had happened under VC Shukla’s dictatorial regime. He was close to the Gandhis, so the editors drew their own conclusions.
During the Emergency, I was with Free Press Journal. I wasn’t working with any of these magazines at that time and when I went to Star & Style, I was embarrassed by the ban that was in force. I was friendly with Amitabh and I personally had no problems with him even during the ban. I also saw the same hoity-toity editors grovelling and go crawling back to him to attend their functions because he zoomed to superstardom in the period that they had banned him.
Back then we were hardly a handful of journalists who wrote about films or cinema, so everybody was happy to have us on their sets and to be featured in our magazines. Non-film magazines and newspapers used to look down upon film people and those who wrote about them. In my time, PROs chased us to feature their star clients. Today, while film magazines have disappeared and every non-film publication and newspaper has dedicated entertainment pages, the tables have turned. Countless websites and channels crave for film-oriented headlines 24/7. So today, the celebrities couldn’t care a damn for the media, which has anyway grown into a monster.
Also, with the emergence of a vibrant social media, celebrities don’t need a traditional media to communicate with the public. At one time, a Vinod Mehra or a Rajesh Khanna would give me an exclusive story. Today, a star goes on Twitter to announce a new film, a divorce or the birth of a baby. Honestly, journalism is dead.
Nina Arora (Journalist, National Award winning film story and screenplay writer notably of film Page 3 and of Balaji tele-serials. Nina Arora’s son Mikhael Kantroo is an actor who has taken to acting. He has studied acting at RADA and New York Film Academy): My writing career is rooted in journalism. I haven’t written an article in 15 years, so I guess I can’t be called a journalist except in the past tense. Have been a publisher and editor in the golden age when stars may have provided the action but film journalists called the shots!
As a teenager, I was lucky enough to get a bouquet. Screen imparted trade news, Devyani Chaubal, a gifted writer, exposed the underbelly of the film industry, Film World highlighted cinema, Stardust was a massy Hinglish tabloid while Star & Style and Filmfare were fanzines.
Filmfare’s writers upheld high standards. Their command over the English language surpassed that of many British journalists. I still recall SJ Banaji’s reviews and KS Subramaniam’s legendary, wry, crisp one liners. To quote an example from over 50 years ago, Nutan’s husband had grandiloquently declared that she would never play anything less than a heroine even when over the hill. To which KS Subramaniam quipped, ‘I guess some people never grow up; they merely grow old!’
As regards SJ Banaji, he wrote a glowing review of Yash Chopra’s magnum opus, Waqt, with a detailed analysis on all aspects as well as performances. At the time, Waqt had catapulted Raaj Kumar to instant stardom. Banaji too doffed his cap to the actor’s portrayal of a thug in a suit but when it came to Balraj Sahni, he simply wrote, ‘Balraj Sahni is… Lala Kedarnath.’
That’s it. It was the ultimate tribute to an actor. It taught me the power of simplicity.
Mr TM Ramachandran, a veteran journalist, was my neighbour and his daughter was also part of our girl gang! He came to know that I was a topper in journalism. He asked me if I’d like to interview Dev Anand. It was Devsaab who recommended me so highly that it led to a job offer.
I joined straightaway as associate editor of Film World in 1976 - the only film magazine to valiantly devote itself entirely to cinema. Mr TM Ramachandran had retired from The Hindu to pursue his passion. Unfortunately, his labour of love was applauded only by art filmmakers. He covered International film festivals, regional cinema and new talent. I’m ashamed to say, when offered the job I told him that nobody read his magazine except those who were in it and nobody would unless and until he packaged it with stars and a racy gossip column. With a heavy heart he conceded the bitter truth and magnanimously allowed me to revamp it. I was the first film journalist to attach my photograph with a 5 page gossip column titled, “What’s happening around?” I insisted on a star on the cover instead of filmmakers. Our deal was that I would do 4 star interviews and he could run serious articles on cinema in the rest of the issue. It worked. We doubled our circulation within 6 months and it kept on rising.
After 2 years, I got thoroughly bored of interviewing the same handful of stars over and over again. I went off to London and freelanced. A whole new world opened up for me. Investigative pieces. An article on racial discrimination for a British journal. An interview with a BBC filmmaker whose controversial documentary on the execution of a Saudi princess and her commoner lover rocked Margaret Thatcher’s government to the extent that she tendered an apology and banned the film. I loved every moment of my stint in London. I also met Nari Hira, publisher of Stardust in a peculiar twist of circumstances.
Vinod Pandey’s debut film Ek Baar Phir fell prey to piracy in Britain. He approached Scotland Yard, determined to ferret out the culprit. I excitedly tagged along to play sleuth. Turned out that Vinod had given his master copy to Nari Hira to view, and Mr Hira’s manager stole it and sold it to a sleazy ring. Mr Hira was horrified when I admitted that I was going to write about it and on my return to Bombay give it to a rival publisher, RK Karanjia of Blitz. And no amount of persuasion or outrage on his part stopped me from going ahead.
I thought Nari Hira would hate me till his dying day but a few years later, he offered me joint editorship of Stardust. By then, I’d freelanced for newspapers, directed two advertising films, as well as a stint as contributing editor of Movie, edited by Rauf Ahmed, a remarkable man who swam against the current of cheap gossip. More importantly, I brought out an avant-guard women’s magazine called, simply, ‘W’ in 1983 as publisher-Editor. My business sense didn’t quite match my bravado and it soon went kaput. The Stardust offer came like a bolt out of the blue. I was surprised Mr Hira should want me after my defiance; he was even more surprised that I wasn’t the slightest bit in awe of heading the No 1 film magazine. I refused to run a defamatory piece on Dimple’s brother’s extra-curricular activities. One of my ground rules was to not target families. Inevitably, I was fired. I don’t blame him. Already, I’d refused to testify in court that a starlet who’d sued Stardust for 1 crore (a lot of moolah 40 years ago!) was the daughter of a prostitute.
Nari Hira’s sharp business acumen was peppered with an ironic sense of humour. Within 24 hours of firing me from Stardust, Mr Hira offered me the position of Creative Director in Hiba Films, which innovated feature films on video. Three months later he handed me a story he’d written and told me to get started on the script. It led to several film scripts over the next four years. However, journalism remained my self-identity. I kept writing articles for the next 20 years.
As for whether stars were intimidating? Well, stars were the ones being intimidated by film journalists who didn’t know anything about films! Stardust overturned the earlier bonhomie between stars and journalists. Fear and fake friendliness became the order of the day. Dilip Kumar, Amitabh Bachchan, Hema Malini, Rajesh Khanna, Shatru and Sridevi remained aloof and arrogant but the rest pandered to the media.
As to who were my friends in the film world, well, Devsaab, Simi, Neetu, Rishi, Anju and Rajesh Khanna were genuine friends. Simi and Salim Khan are still my closest buddies. However, I maintain boundaries. Although I was a part of their lives, they weren’t part of mine.
The best experiences in recall are the hours and hours of conversation with Goldiesaab (Vijay Anand), Rajesh Khanna, Salim Khan and Simi. Also, interactions with Francois Truffaut, Spielberg, Antonioni and Dilip Kumar.
As for the worst experience in recall? Well, pretentious interviews by Amitabh! And a few moronic editors and shallow journalists whose self-importance arose purely from basking in the reflected glory of stars.
Did film journalists make and unmake film stars and films? NEVER!
From only 5 film mags to journos mushrooming as social media PROs is quite a leap! Today, there’s no film journalist whom anyone will remember even next year!
A Telling Note to end on!