Dubai: Meet The Blogger Speaking Truth To Bollywood

How UAE resident Varsha Phulwani became the voice of reason for Bollywood news


Anamika Chatterjee

  • Follow us on
  • google-news
  • whatsapp
  • telegram

Top Stories

Published: Wed 26 Jun 2024, 6:36 PM

For Indian children growing up outside India, Bollywood has a different appeal. It offers a sneak peek into the traditions and rituals that are central to the Indian way of life, but, above all, it shows them there could be an element of glamour to them. As a kid growing up in the 90s, Varsha Phulwani grew up on a heady dose of Bollywood. “Some of my core childhood memories are centred on our weekly movie outings at Plaza Cinema and Strand Cinema. I would also spend hours and hours watching interviews of Bollywood celebrities. I have watched every interview of Aishwarya Rai, Karan Johar and Shah Rukh Khan because I wanted to speak as articulately as they did,” says Varsha, who manages social media for a brand in Dubai. “As a child, I even created my own magazine where I wrote articles, reviews, and features about Bollywood movies. I would print these out on my computer, cut and stick the pages together, and staple them into a makeshift magazine. It seems silly now, and my sister and I were the only readers, but it made me happy.”

Focus on her own brand

It was her day job that got Varsha thinking that if she could manage social media for a brand, she could do so for herself too. This realisation, combined with a “lot of persuasion” from her friends, led Varsha to start creating her own content focused on Bollywood. On Instagram, her handle @varzilla boasts some catchy and sharp takes on Bollywood news that have already got millions of views. “My favourite part about watching a movie is having a two-hour discussion on it once it ends. Initially, I shared my thoughts on my stories for two-three years, but it was my friends who encouraged me to start posting reels that have a far greater reach than stories. They believed (more than I ever did) that my content would work.”

Sample this: when former Miss World and actress Aishwarya Rai Bachchan walked the red carpet at Cannes, social media was not only quick to criticise her choice of outfits but also went a step further to contend that the actress, who continues to deliver hits and is one of India’s most successful celebrities of all time, was past her prime because she’s aged. Varsha’s take was different: she pointed out the fault in the aesthetics of the Falguni and Shane Peacock dress and that it had nothing to do with Aishwarya’s age, praising the hair and makeup of the “Queen of Cannes”.

This is what makes Varsha’s content stand out — the incisiveness and authenticity. She is unafraid to call a spade a spade. “For me, being authentic comes naturally. I have a few ground rules in place to ensure that I maintain respect while being unfiltered. I only talk about public utterances, public outfits or public appearances by public personalities,” she says.

“Many stars maintain a carefully curated public image, making it difficult to get a genuine sense of their personalities. Therefore, I focus on what is publicly available about them. Maintaining respect for the individuals is very important to me, as is providing [an] unfiltered opinion. The two are not mutually exclusive.”

The only time Varsha has not followed this rule is when she spoke about plastic surgery and cosmetic procedures that are rampant in Bollywood. “It’s essential to address this because Bollywood often creates a bubble where stars appear flawless, which can make regular people feel bad about the way they look,” says Varsha. “Like I said in my video, with the right resources and money, anyone can look like a Bollywood celebrity. ‘You are not ugly, you are just poor’ was the tagline of the video and it was my first video ever to go viral.”

Personal attacks

A still from Heeramandi
A still from Heeramandi

Respect, however, is not always granted to content creators when they choose to be critical. Fans of stars Varsha has sharp takes on often tend to attack her when they don’t agree with her opinions. “These attacks can be quite personal and intense. For example, I was asked to comment on Shraddha Kapoor’s performance in Tu Jhooti Main Makkaar and I said I found it weak and that she hasn’t made her mark in Bollywood as strongly as she could have after over a decade in the industry,” Varsha recalls. “Her fan clubs, which are among the strongest in Bollywood on social media, started attacking me with hate messages, questioning how I could criticise Shraddha’s performance. Engaging with such fan club heads has always led to regret. I tackle these situations by reminding myself that behind every negative comment is a person who might be having a bad day or is just very passionate about their favourite star.”

Though social media thrives on opinionated content, it is not always kind to the person offering those opinions. Varsha says she has faced comments about her appearance, weight and accent. “People can get very personal and take Bollywood very seriously. However, the beauty of cinema and art is that they are subjective; everyone has their own interpretation. What I might rate five out of 10, someone else might rate it as a 10 out of 10. When you give a lower rating to a movie someone loves, they can take it personally and start attacking you.”

Varsha’s coping mechanism has been to focus on the positive aspects of her social media presence. “Like the time when one of my favourite directors, Karan Johar, commented on my reel. That was quite a thrill and a reminder of the reach and impact that content can have.”

She strongly believes that authenticity is key to her content resonating en masse. “I genuinely say what I feel. This is not common on social media, where people tend to be very curated about what they say,” she says. “I am not trying to be an Anupama Chopra or a Rajeev Masand and neither do I have that kind of knowledge of cinema. I don’t watch every movie that comes out. Instead, I watch films like any other viewer and then share my opinions, much like a friend recommending or not recommending something.” She adds that the key to higher engagement is talking on a subject that is globally topical. “Whether it’s Alia Bhatt at the Met Gala or Aishwarya Rai Bachchan at Cannes Film Festival, such content tends to generate higher engagement. This type of content usually garners more attention because it is current and relevant. In contrast, a movie review might not receive as much engagement as these highly topical events. However, I always try to mix up my content because variety is essential.”

Over the years, the face and voice of Bollywood has changed. The idea of stardom itself has changed. Varsha admits that it might be next to impossible to see another Shah Rukh Khan or Salman Khan for a very long time. “That kind of stardom, where stars were almost mythical figures, is a thing of the past. Now, with social media, we see celebrities in their daily lives — having coffee, going to the gym, and posing for the paparazzi. This constant accessibility has changed the dynamics of stardom,” she says. “In the current generation, I believe the biggest star is Ranbir Kapoor, and a huge part of that, apart from his talent, is because he is not on social media. I think stardom will continue to evolve, and while stars will still exist, their time in the limelight will be much shorter. Achieving the level of stardom that lasts decades is going to be much more challenging in today’s environment with attention spans being extremely short.”

Ranbir Kapoor in 'Animal'.
Ranbir Kapoor in 'Animal'.

Despite the change in the notion of stardom and what constitutes a good or a bad film, Varsha says Bollywood continues to speak to a young woman like her. “It speaks to me as a magical escape from everyday life. When I was younger, I thought Bollywood taught me about love — that I’d meet the Raj of my life on a train in Europe. But life gives you a reality check when you board that train and end up sitting next to a crying baby. However, I still can’t help but be completely enamoured by the beautiful world of Bollywood movies and celebrities to which I can escape to in my mind without taking a flight,” she says. “I wish the movies being made were better as the content quality in Bollywood has deteriorated to disappointing levels, but that is a topic for another time.” Certainly!


More news from Entertainment