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 ? Frankly...it 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...