Saturday, November 7, 2009

Celebs for sale....

Celebrity Journalism – Desi style

I plead guilty. Thirty odd years ago, I was encouraged by my then bossman, Nari Hira to conceptualise another popular magazine, after having launched and run the path- breaking ‘Stardust’ for a decade. This is how ‘Society’ was born. It was perhaps India’s first honest –to- goodness celeb mag that chronicled all that was good, bad and ugly about the belle monde of that era. Like ‘Stardust’, the new arrival was an instant hit in urban India … and is still around in its original avatar. Having tasted success with these two ‘products’, I foolishly imagined I could launch one of my own. That’s how I started ‘Celebrity’ which struggled to survive for three years before shutting down. I lost money. I felt terrible. It was a terrific magazine. But I was a lousy businesswoman.
Today, the scenario has changed so dramatically when it comes to celeb journalism, I am constantly awestruck by the brazenness of it all. Anybody who has ever made it to Page 3 ( even paid big bucks to get there) is deemed an ‘official’ celebrity. Once that tag is attached to an individual, a free market situation does the rest. There is a biz opportunity in every celeb sneeze and squeeze. Media -made celebs have realized the potential and swiftly moved to monetize what they see as their ‘worth’. Let’s take two or three recent examples, starting with a starlet called Sameera Reddy. Lovely girl, by the way. The original ‘Sexy Sam’. According to reports in tabloids, she threw a royal fit at Mumbai airport recently when she was denied entry into the VIP lounge, which is reserved for – yup – VIPs!! Obviously, the officer in charge of the lounge did not put this Bollywood starlet into the same category as say, a P. Chidambaram. Or more realistically speaking, a Shah Rukh Khan. In their case, there would definitely be security issues to deal with in case of a delayed flight. But that is not the case with a Sameera. How many people even know who she is?? Yet, in her own eyes, she equates herself with bonafide VIPs. How did this end? She was politely and firmly escorted to a business class lounge, which is what her business class ticket entitled her to. The mobs she said she feared, left her alone, except for a few pesky kids who were brushed off by Sulking Sam. Clearly A case of delusional behaviour. But at least it was a cashless transaction – the Lord be praised.
Take a look at the upside. Our lissome and smart Shilpa Shetty is soon to marry. The entire world has been given the minutest details of her romance with a certain Raj Kunder – Jab they Met – and what followed. Shilpa is a charming and an extremely well- liked individual. But her standing in Bollywood is still where it was before she shot to fame as the late- Jade Goody’s bete noire in Britain’s much- watched reality show , ‘Big Brother’. After that win, Shilpa positioned herself as a brand worth investing in. And she found a besotted investor-suitor in the much- married Raj.Realising the commercial potential of their new-found togetherness, both of them decided to hire a publicist to feed choice tidbits of the growing pyaar-vyaar to a hungry tabloid press. No problem. That’s how celeb journalism works in the West ( think Posh Beckham, Madonna et al). Today, on the threshold of becoming man and wife, the blissed out couple is going for the kill ( think Catherine Zeta- Jones and Michael Douglas). Their wedding is up for grabs. Going, going, gone to the highest bidder. To kick off the bidding process, Mr. Kunder has offered a bouquet of photo-ops as ‘exclusives’ to a high end publication. In an email to editors ,he provided precise details about the engagement ring ( 2.5 million pounds, if I remember right), and offered access to the magical moment itself – the proposal!! All this, for a big fat fee , of course.
Wake up, India. We have arrived!!
There is money to be made in dem celebs. Gone is the coy era of demanding privacy. Now is the time to demand money. Nobody is blinking. Scoops, scandals, affairs, weddings, funerals, births…. everything is for sale. Just like in the West. What’s more, everyone is cool with it – readers, viewers, consumers of assorted media platforms.It works great for all the players. It needed a Raj Kunder to show amateurs how to play the celeb game professionally. If his strategy works, it would mean that technically, the wedding comes for free, so does the ring and everything else. A few eyebrows will be raised. Well… bugger them. Kunder is not holding a gun to anybody’s head. If a media house is ready to pay serious money to cover the wedding (honeymoon , too?? Or is that a separate deal?), it’s perfectly kosher. If the couple pulls off the coup, trust me, all the rest will follow. Nothing is sacred in these times of ferocious media wars. Look at Michael Jackson’s father blandly stating that his son is worth much more dead than alive! And demanding free rooms in posh hotels by boasting his presence there would generate great publicity for the property! Bollywood is still taking baby steps. Cash and carry is here to stay. Deal with it, guys.


A day filled with love and longing. Or it could be plain boredom. The sun sets a bit too early and the sky looks ominous, not pretty. Mumbai is gearing up for the anniversary of the macabre 26\11 attacks. A hotel in Pune announced a really , really tacky 'hospitality' gesture that has shocked the trade and everybody else. The management of 'Pride' is offering special deals to tourists who dare visit the city on 26\11. The deal itself is crazy beyond belief - hard cash! Other hoteliers have expressed their horror at this abominable plan and condemned it roundly. Meanwhile Qasab's trial drags on. And newspapers are filled with chilling testimonies of those who were directly affected. The strangest media story comes from a young woman who has finally gone to the press since the cops refused to entertain her all this while. She has given a pretty vivid and convincing account of actually seeing some of the terrorists loitering in the locality (Colaba) two days prior to the attacks. She was shot in the stomach by one of them while eating dinner at Leopold's. When she, bleeding and badly wounded, crawled across the street to the police station, they shooed her away. Isn't that bizarre? Well, now that her story is in print, she has been summoned by the cops finally to record her statement. Am following her account closely. Personally, I am in a bit of a fix. Several organisations have been hounding me to come and speak at various functions being planned to mark the day. But I feel worried and concerned that these do-gooders are using this ghastly occasion as a peg for publicity and that what may happen will be another meaningless farce featuring the usual suspects. Creating an anthem for Mumbai etc ? all sounds phoney to me. And yet, I feel terrible saying, " Sorry. I know you guys mean well. But count me out." Let's see how it goes...


Vaudeville of Exhilaration said...

Great post!!!I get to know a lot of wild stuffs from reading ur posts. True to say it's all a show biz- absurd game of money of this moribund city life.

Sameer said...

ok, so now we know who you were talking about in couple of days' back post. I agree, not just bollywood, everything is up for sale nowadays - just like in the west. As a NRI I see the changes as the image of India that we have is the image of the time when we left India. But when I visit India, I realize how things have changed. People's perspective, their values - everything. I see my parent's generation (in their 60's) is having hard time adjusting to this new India. But as you said, like it or not this trend is here to stay. There are pros and cons of every change and we have to take everything in totality.
Jab We Meet :)

By the way Shobhaa, have you thought abt. meeting your blogdosts in person? I know lot of us feel so connected with you and your writing that we would love to meet you in person. Think about this idea and how you feel about it. Me and my partner will be in India this December and would love to meet "aamachi sakhi" for a cup of coffee (or for that matter a bowl of kande pohe :)

Sameer (

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Vishal Pore said...

very informative your posts are and insightful too...Your knowledge on various subjects is laudable...Mrs De, you are a genious at writing...


Unknown said...

Well in the world of Media wars celebrities are emerging to be winners. The news channels are constantly bombarded with foolish stuff. Aai didn't know any movie stars apart from the conventional Khans. Now she knows about 'Rakhi ka swayamwar' wihtout even watching the show, Of course because the news channel keeps on playing the footage all the time. The point is people who dont want to "see" anything are made to see things. Which is sad. I wont be surprised if Aai knows every details of Shilpa-Raj wedding in next few days. I feel sorry for the junta.
The 26/11 heartache, Its going to be a long long time before we those wounds are healed. :'(

rehaan said...

a great post...
maam' i was expecting you to write a post on the delhi marathon but nothing came up..

The Panorama said...

I was sickened to my stomach reading about this celeb business. They should take away the tag of "journalism" from these magazines, since this is all about profit and business.
What' s worse is this is what people want.
Sensation, glitzy weddings of stars...nobody disgusts me more than Posh and Beckham...

चंद्रमौलेश्वर प्रसाद said...

I read this article in today's DC and was thinking how much difference is there in journalism and salesmanship. A good mag can go to dogs just coz. of lack of good salesmanship in these days when crores are spent on promoting a 5/- item and be successful. Bad luck to CELEB.

maglomaniac said...

Celebs earning for everything they do and quiet soon it would even be their honeymoon,well it would be nice 2 watch:P
Anyways can't help it.
Remember,they get paid cause there are people like us who are very much happy when KRK throws his tantrums on BigBoss3 or when Rakhi and his who d hell husband get cozy.
We see and hence we pay.It runs nd wud keep on running.
But Shobhaa,please very carefully choose where you go to speak on the anniversary coz this means a lot to the nation.And a powerful personality like u actually needs to analyse what cause she supports,there is a lot riding on ur back.
And hey meeting ur blogdosts idea is really nice.Its just that u ppl like you hardly connect wid us*sigh*
Anyways tym 4 dat too wud cum:)


Unrestricted_Gate said...

Hey Shobha, the importance of the celeb culture is self-evident. The no. of lines (in the print media) dedicated to the celeb culture is many times more than the no. of lines dedicated to news about terrorist attacks like 26/11. This is so because the people want it that way. We can't just blame the celebrities. The blame should also fall on the people that love to read stuff about the celebrities. Hopefully, things will change and real issues like poverty, lack of security, poor infra-structure etc will matter more than the daily actions of celebrities.

Another Kiran In NYC said...

I am not sure that celeb journalism has changed since the nascent days of Society/Celebrity. Just an example, the obviously sponsored parties thrown by Chunky Pandey. He used to be a big fish then and the very same magazines devoted pages and many newspaper inches to the goings on at those parties. Quite a few people and brands got thier public recognition going based on that. Some of them are still going strong after that start.

Now celebrities are just "playing and paying" for more money. Same difference.

I am just surprised by the whole Raj Kundra PR fiasco. Hmmmmmm obviously money doesnt bring finesse and the knowledge that sometimes the public pimping is better left to the professionals (PR firms that is).

Dont attend the rememberance events if you feel disconnected from the event. You dont have to be the figure head for remembrance. The Aam Janta will appreciate a honest Shobhaa... who chose to honor the memory of those who suffered that tragedy, in her own honest way, however that is.

Another Kiran In NYC said...

Ummmm scratch that "very same magazines".

In the interest of clarity.. I should have said, magazines/newspapers of that era devoted pages and inches to the goings on at those parties. Cause I cant remember exactly if Society/Celebrity devoted inches etc etc etc.

Specific memory is the first to go. *sigh*

Deep said...

Hello Mam! Great post. Just one correction - the name is Raj Kundra not Kunder. Shilpa Shetty may not like the misspelling.

Unknown said...

Every day creates a new celebrity or celebrities.

Celebrity is a loose term.

Magazines need new celebrities and so they create them.

If SRK can create a scene in US, Sameera has every right to create it here at Chatrapati.

SRK is no celebrity for the questioning officer at US and Sameera is no celebrity for the security man who shooed her away.

See it is all relative.

DJ said...

Change over time is inevitable in any and all industries, be it journalism, showbiz, business or any other industry. How people jump in to take advantage of these changes is quite amusing, to say the least. I personally favor those who make a ton of money through quality work and effort; those who focus on developing and improving their craft rather than riding a temporary wave of media exposure.

Anil Kumar said...

If you keep exposing these cash and carry individuals then I am sure that these sadak-chhap tamashewaale and their pimps will be little uncomfortable to come in front of the camera as godfather and will not be worshipped by the young generations.

Even a donkey can MAKE money if he has good luck but it's a different matter to EARN money.

Unknown said...

I don't understand why it's called journalism at all, when it's hardly ever anything more than plain gossip.

BTW, the man's name is Kundra and not Kunder, unless he's changed it like a certain Mr. Vadhera has chosen to call himself Vadra.

peternalicia said...

Raj Kundra and his bollywoof wife is being the cunning, shrewd distasteful businessman that he has proved to be from the time he arrived on the public scene. Thing is you are wrong to say noone cares and everyone laps it up- point is people in your world lap it up and that accounts for less than 1% of the population interested. However that 1% is then one churning out the big bucks adn the people to blame are the magazines. if they dont popularise these guys peoples memories are short so they too will forget these so called celebs.!

Unknown said...

Another interesting post..Kudos Shobhaji (your fan)

People can go to any extent to make money and now cashing on the ghastly and inhumane 26/11 tragedy....incredible. If only India had honest law system perhaps this tragedy could even have been unearthed earlier and so many lives would have been saved :(

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Pooja Rathore said...

YOU predicted about celeb journalism long back i remember on the show coffee with karan you did hint that its on the way now it is in reality.
When in fix go by your intuition/ heart whatever the stake!

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