[This article appeared in DNA, July 3rd, 2011]
Many years ago when in high school, I would make it a point to go to the barber shop during Sunday mornings, precisely when it would be chock-a-block with patrons. This was so that I could wait on the rickety bench for as long as possible and read the movie gossip magazines, banned as they were at home. To paraphrase Forrest Gump, they were like a box of chocolates; you never knew what you would find. Hey look there is Mamata Kulkarni doing an asset cover-up shoddier than Bofors and oooh my God, here is shirtless Marc Zuber (he was slated to be the next big thing at one point of time) on a satin sheet with a come-hither look. But pictures are after all pictures. They became boring after a while.
What did not however were the gossip titbits— who was going out with who and who did not know about it. This was valuable information, to be exchanged back in school, hiding in the back benches during Geography classes.
Why just star-struck schookids? Everyone, from the sleepy typists to the garrulous aunties, loved gossip magazines. What better way to get a conversation going than with a “Have you heard about….?” After all which human being would not be interested in that hunky star who got married twice or the heroine who slapped the top producer in a party? Hence so it came to pass that gossip glossies came to occupy a central position in our lives, even though many would deny reading them, nudging the glossies surreptitiously under the bed when guests arrive.
Gossip rags still exist but sadly their golden age, like those of the once ubiquitous VCRs, are long gone. For naughty…err…glamorous pictures there is Google Image search. Quick, painless and easily minimizable. For filmi gossip, people no longer rely on specialized magazines. Newspapers give it to them, mostly on the front page, in the place where once used to be news. There are cable channels which beam gossip programs round the clock, and if that is not enough, gossip-related websites are springing up every month. Then there is the twitter revolution, getting rid of the middleman between Gods and their devotees. Now followers, at the click of a button, may bathe in 140-character sized manna direct from the heavens, and maybe, once in a blue moon, in return for a fawning tweet get a response from a star (or most probably from the twenty-three year old public relations guy who runs his account).
Here though is the rub. What you get today in the mass of media is not really “gossip”, it is PR babble planted by those behind movie and product promotions. If you sit through a half-hour “chatpata” program, you will see about half its running length is devoted to showing so-and-so star inaugurating a jewelry store, announcing her own perfume line or attending a muhuraat and the other half wasted by the host rolling her eyes round and round as if all this is very scandalous. Even the link-ups that are talked about, usually between people who are single (i.e. not married to someone else), are purely for the purpose of pushing a “jodi” before a movie is being released. Equally orchestrated are the so-called leaked MMS-s and uncensored movie footage that surprisingly finds its way on Youtube. You know how you can detect a PR plant? Search for “love child”, “mistress”, “second wife/husband” (contact me for the other keywords) and if these do not occur at least once in something that purports to be gossip, it is not.
As to Twitter, it is just a non-stop stream of ho-hum: “Am so busy”, “I need a holiday”, “I am at Cannes ” , “Watch me in…” and “My son is having a baby”. Sure there is the odd snarky celeb comment or minor flare-up but they are quickly extinguished lest the boat be rocked.
Yes that is the thing. True gossip, of the kind that makes the stars turn red, rocks the boat. And for the financial behemoth that is Bollywood today, that is one thing that must not be allowed. Which is why gossip today is homogenized, pasteurized, defanged and fat-free and real gossip mags are left gasping for breath.
Ah well. We will always have the back issues.