Battlelines drawn: stars vs journos

Top Stories

Battlelines drawn: stars vs journos
Bollywood actor Salman Khan at a promotional event for 'Sultan', directed by Ali Abbas Zafar

Scribes have to toe the line so as not to upset an actor's applecart in an industry that's increasingly getting PR-driven

By Khalid Mohamed

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

Published: Fri 10 Jun 2016, 12:00 AM

Last updated: Sun 19 Jun 2016, 1:03 PM

If there's one Bollywood relationship which foxes me, it's that of the superstars and the rapidly-rising number of their media trackers. Since time immemorial, film celebrities and journalists have been so interdependent, that neither can exist without the other.
Which is true of any film production centre in the world, actually. Hollywood stars have been made - and, on occasion, unmade by such interactions. Take the demolishing machine, gossip empress Hedda Hopper, lately incarnated with visceral force by Helen Mirren in the biopic of the radical scriptwriter Dalton Trumbo. In Bollywood, too, the scandal-busting queen of tattle, Devyani Chaubal, was alluded to, albeit in a veiled manner, in The Dirty Picture.
So why am I bringing up the subject of professional equations between Bollywood A-listers and media professionals today? Clearly because the equation has never been as contentious and hostile as it is nowadays. With clockwork regularity, reports in the print medium as well as the Internet pop up to narrate how a journalist who was doing his or her job was either roughed up by a celebrity's bodyguards or insulted by a star at a press conference. 
Just three glaring cases in point: Salman Khan's bodyguards getting antsy with photographers; Ranbir Kapoor snatching a paparazzo's camera to delete the clicks; and Aishwarya Rai going up in flames on being quizzed about whether she would ever co-star in a film with Salman ever again.

Shah Rukh Khan is known to have driven to a journalist's home late at night to rant in a fit of rage. Aamir Khan chooses to interact with the media only to gain publicity for a new film, a fortnight or less before its release. Following acrimonious controversies, Hrithik Roshan has gone off the record completely. Kangana Ranaut speaks only to influence public opinion.

Amitabh Bachchan would rather tweet vis-a-vis the allegations levelled against him in the global Panama papers leak, rather than answer a journo's set of questions. Priyanka Chopra and Deepika Padukone stick to PR-generated interviews, making themselves out to be paragons of perfection. And even the congenial Parineeti Chopra will sanction her photographs to be published after she has shed her extra kilos at the gym. A do-as-I-say-or-buzz-off scenario indeed! 
At this point, you could well ask: but hasn't it always been like this? After all, didn't Amitabh Bachchan initiate a trend of sorts by banning the press for years in the mid-1970s after a magazine wrote an unpleasant story about him? True, absolutely. Piquantly, though, once Bachchan withdrew the ban, he turned the tables by claiming that it was the press which had blanked him out. Not quite credible that, because dozens of pen-pushers, including myself, had sought interviews with him, only to be answered with an iceberg-like silence.
To return to the here and now, any insightful conversation - even if it's to delve into the professional status of an actor - is akin to asking for the moon.
Stars do not want to explain the reasons for their growth as actors, or the lack thereof. At most, the trend is to dart out shallow sound bytes, and generally state, "All is well. Thank you very much." Any iota of inquiry or discussion is an oh-no. Praise me or perish, is the mantra.
In the event, can the media retain its integrity? Constant stress from employers to fill up space with so-called 'exclusive' star quotes is spawning a breed of journalists who, after five to six years, either become jaded or move on to other pastures. Hopefully, the
newer placements will be higher paying and creatively satisfying.
Down the decades, I've heard stars whispering among themselves, "Inse na, dushmani achchi na dosti" ("Better to be neither friends nor enemies with them"). Correct. 
The problem arises when media
persons are exploited by most film celebrities to extol their public image of demi-gods unconditionally. There are a few consistent exceptions, of course. Dilip Kumar, Dharmendra, Rishi Kapoor, Anil Kapoor, Naseeruddin Shah and Manoj Bajpayee have refrained from playing the Bollywood game of ego-boosting. Perhaps because they don't know how to.
Indeed, when bright, upcoming newcomers wish to be in the news, the tactic has changed dramatically. It's no longer essential to concoct a story involving his or her private life. The instantly effective way to hit the headlines is to spew venom on the intrusive ways of journalists. Or better still, just rough up one and maybe tender a half-hearted apology later. Quite easily done. 

More news from