After a long hiatus, Johar is back with season 3 of KWK, and despite being much awaited, it fails to satisfy. It is disappointing, just like his movies: dramatic without meat, one-sided and microcosmic. Where you look for incisive questions, probing analysis and incurable wit, you realize that the show now balances on Johar’s relationship with his guests – so he treads on eggshells, pleases them, praises them and it becomes a mutual back-scratching hour. The questions are boring, dull and jaded – do we really care how some actors rate other actors? Do we want to know about only 5 actors – the Khans and Akshay Kumar? With only the bitchiness or sharp wit, straight-faced untruths and simpering (respectively) of Kareena, Saif, Ranbir and Priyanka provide some entertainment or relief, the show falls completely flat for the same reasons his movies fail to excite: they remain relevant to an older time, they assume only 5 people of either sex exist in the industry or Karan’s world, the format hasn’t got updated with anything but blatant in-show marketing of advertisers and sponsors. Tsk, I’d rather watch KBC or Masterchef than my old favourite KWK. Koffee makes me yawn.
Top Hindi cinema actresses today: ranked according to their acting and power quotient
1. Aishwarya Rai Bachchan: Star Performer
She has immense star power. From an intensely wooden actress-cum-model to one of the most powerful actresses in Indian cinema today, she has come a long way. I believe Sanjay Leela Bhansali is responsible for turning her into a versatile performer. Post Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, she metamorphed into an actress with considerable histrionic power, only one which she needed to tune and control – she was prone to overacting at the time. After her Bengali cinema and Raincoat phase, she became a much more controlled performer – think Jodhaa Akbar. Besides being absolutely stunning to look at, she remains hugely iconic as a searing beauty and talented actress. She is very promising in the slew of movies lined up 2010: Robot, Action Replayy, Guzaarish…. She is both, star and actor. Which is why she still tops the list, despite being much older than most of the newer lot below.
2. Priyanka Chopra: All Rounder
She ranks in my list above Kareena Kapoor, despite the latter’s longevity in the industry, simply because Priyanka makes less mistakes and isn’t prone to overacting. Priyanka is a far more controlled performer, and a very balanced actress in terms of looks, charisma, versatility and acting. She is more an actor than a star, which in my books means a lot more than the other way around. She doesn’t have the raw talent of a Rekha, Madhuri or Vidya Balan, but she has a winning combination – versatility (proved with her movies ranging from Kaminey, Aitraaz, Dostana, Fashion to Anjaana Anjaani), a breadth of expressions and emotions, which prevents her from getting monotonous on screen, great vivacity – which makes her a hugely watchable actress – she suffuses the screen with her presence and a very earthy appeal. When styled well, she looks great too. Obviously she is a hard worker and a quick learner, becuase she is extending her range as she goes along, proving her mettle in the talent game. I believe we have great things to see from her, yet.
3. Kareena Kapoor: Drama Queen
Histrionics, over-acting, over-dramatization. These are, what according to me, hold Kareena back from being a fabulous actress. She has immense talent, and with the right director (think Imtiaz Ali for Jab We Met, Santosh Sivan for Asoka, Sudhir Misra for Chameli and Vishal Bharadwaj for Omkara) she turns into a powerhouse performer with controlled histrionics, without the annoying traces of Kareenaism. Kareenaism is fun to watch as long as it is in the limited avatar of Poo (Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham) or as the character of Geet (Jab We Met), but really not all the time. She brings a certain vivacity to the role, but more often than not, she remains more Kareena than the character (which is what Shah Rukh is also prone to do), making it wonderful for her fans, but not appealing to those who want to watch the movie and character unfold.
4. Deepika Padukone: Growing Stunner
Her smile (which reaches her eyes) and her dimples simply distract you through the film enough that you don’t really care that she isn’t doing much. That was Deepika Padukone in her first film, Om Shanti Om. Ever since then (despite making some terrible choices like Housefull and Chandni Chowk to China), she has worked to prove herself. She improves with every film she makes. There was not much difference in her roles in Bachna Ae Haseeno (where she delivered stilted dialogue) and Love Aaj Kal (where her dialogue delivery improved, but her character remained dull – due to the requirement of the script). In Karthik Calling Karthik, she began to open up with some of her old vivacity, and has really come into her own with Lafange Parindey. She is a fabulous clothes horse, great to look at, and an obviously hard worker and learner, but I do hope she doesn’t slide downhill with what appears to be limited expressions and a dose of overacting visible in the promos of Break Ke Baad, while Khelen Hum Jee Jan Se appears to be a promising role that would show off more of her newly-honed talent.
5. Vidya Balan: Talent Unlimited
What’s stopping this hugely talented – one of the most talented actresses we have today – actor from swinging it into the big league and top of the list is the lack of star power. She is an excellent actress and performer, but it looks like she will go the route of Tabu – critical acclaim, more art house than mainstream. She is wasted in candy-floss movies, and unfortunately candy floss is what builds mainstream appeal.
5. Katrina Kaif: Screen Diva
Katrina is hugely watchable – a great looker on screen, and that’s about it. But simply because she is so watchable, despite not being able to really act much (I only liked her in New York), she tries pretty hard and she’s won the audiences over in terms of screen presence.
Vidya Balan and Katrina Kaif share the #5 spot for diametrically opposite reasons.
6. Sonam Kapoor: Maturing Slowly
Sonam is pretty and lively. She fits the bill of an Aisha perfectly, she was great as Bittu in the horrendous Delhi 6 (possibly the only good thing about that film besides its songs) and she was watchable in I Hate Luv Storys, because Imran and she look so good together. However, she has limited expressions, which became very obvious in Aisha, because she faced so much screen time, and she needs to work on her breadth of expressions and quality of acting, otherwise she would remain typecast in the pretty-girl-next-door genre. And of course, a huge plus that she has unbelievable style. She can carry off a coarse jute bag and make it look stylish.
I had great expectations from Anjaana Anjaani – based on the phenomenal music and energy during the promos and videos. With the reviews sounding disappointing, I still went to watch it out of sheer curiosity and I came back wondering what it is that Indian film audiences want in a movie. Agreed, the premise of the movie was about suicide, but there are hardly any dark elements in the film, except for when PC actually tries to kill herself, and is nearly successful. The film technically is slick – good camera work, nice styling and locales, power-packed performance from Priyanka Chopra (PC) and a very credible performance from Ranbir Kapoor, who one has to admit, can definitely act. He lived the role, though possibly with less zest than PC simply because of the nature of their onscreen characters. The dialogues are good for most part, some even quite crisp, and the story at least has a different premise, which is more than what we can say for the other generic love stories being made lately. In fact, it’s grim premise has genuine resonance with a contemporary youth – they tend to go into depths over love or money, and finding meaning in their lives becomes a lost cause. And finding that meaning when living out what they believe are their last days, with the person they least expect to, is existential in it’s execution. Were this to have been a Hollywood film, the same multiplex audience would have probably accepted it as a different kind of chick-flick and watched it. In Indian cinema, it is rejected in concept. There were parts that were slow and dragged, but that can be expected from any film. Overall though, I thought it worked – more than many of the big-banner love stories of this year – and yet it fared under expectations. I’m truly at a loss to figure out what it is that people found lacking in the film, especially when people go to watch movies like Housefull and Golmaal etc. I believe the Indian audiences demand sheer drama in romance, or mindless humour. Actually, it still remains a mystery to see why certain films work and others don’t. I’m curious to see the fate of Jhootha Hi Sahi – Abbas Tyrewala’s next, after Jaane Tu…Ya Jaane Na, which I felt was a small big film. A simple premise, filled with so much promise and character. Easily a film watchable multiple times, particularly because of the freshness of the casting and the sharp editing. Does Abbas manage it again, without Aamir?
Published in: Verve Magazine, Musings, June 2010
The woman behind or rather in front of the powerful Somebody, is a true gatekeeper: she can smile and grant you permission to interface with Somebody, or unleash the claws as you scramble to find cheese for your daily bread and butter. In the Tom & Jerry-esque melee, Sitanshi Talati-Parikh circumspectly lets a few cats out of the bag
You’d think you would be up against brawny armed guards that patrol the corridors of their high-profile clients, but you’d be surprised to discover that it takes but a wee woman to muscle her way into the upper echelons of high profile relations and become what we fondly call the ‘gateway’ to the terribly famous. These women can vary in designation from PR, personal assistants, secretaries, girl Fridays, media managers, simply managers…you name it and you will find that they exist. What’s interesting is the relationship quotient that exists between these people (gatekeepers or GKs and the Famous Person or FP), with whom the latter spend a good amount of their time – liaisoning, tantrum-throwing, exhibiting their inner idiosyncrasies and unflappable spirit. One of the biggest GKs of the movie industry is possibly Farzana, Rekha’s personal assistant of many years, without whose approval no one can get remotely near the reclusive actress.
You would imagine that the main idea of having this sort of a liaison officer is to make the FP look good – to steer FP’s eccentricities and indiscretions away from the public eye, and to keep them ‘clean’ and ‘lusted after’ as particularly perfect role models. While some GKs manage to do so quite effectively, ensuring that through major string-pulling certain delicious facts are never unearthed and exposed, others in fact, choose to use their shield to create an aura of star presence.
A glittering mirage is not always the aim, though. Actress Priyanka Chopra doesn’t come across as a diva or a star, but rather (in part due to her own personality) as a friendly, hard-working girl-next-door. Natasha Pal, chief operating officer, Vitcom Consulting, is responsible for creating a well-rounded strong brand identity for Chopra which extends to the Internet as well.
But if we go back to those with star presence, what exactly are we talking about? Busy, tut-tut, of course they are. Calendars are never free, they are always either on shoot or constantly travelling or ‘busy’ with other alarmingly important activities. Benefit of doubt given, until you read a gossip rag talking about how they are vacationing and turning down offers because they are ‘waiting for the right opportunity’. This is the lot of the GK of an FP who may not be a public favourite at the moment, but must be made to appear to be!
Entourage? Check. I mean no self-respecting FP will travel without his/her motley crew of spot boy, bodyguard, bag holder, dog walker, coffee maker, hairdresser, make-up artist, mobile-holder, companion, GK/manager(s), chauffeur and ego-panderer. But often we discover that it may not be the FP who believes in crowd-sourcing as accruement of power but actually their GKs who encourage the general view that (a) It’s best to squeeze out the favours one can (b) By throwing one’s weight about one’s star presence increases even more, in fact it solidifies it (c) What’s the point of being an FP if you don’t act like it? The others all do!
At one time, FP’s mummy would say ‘baby ke liye lassi laao’, now the GK informs you ahead of time that FP will require such-and-such items, and that the young and hearty FP cannot under any circumstances climb a flight of stairs for a shoot, or walk ten seconds under the sun (despite the FP being a person known for her athletic prowess) – therefore the most expensive and convenient locations and rooms must be chosen or she will not turn up.
Not to forget that the staff – such as a chauffeur or spot boy – will often have their own letterheads with which they invoice the third party, because if an FP is expected to come to a shoot or interview, her staff must be paid for. So very often, the FP comes for about half an hour, and her staff is paid by the third party an approximate month’s salary. With an FP going regularly on shoots and interviews (supply and demand being such), it makes you wonder if the FP takes a cut from the staff’s earnings! Of course, the GKs, hairdressers and make-up artists when travelling with the FP will want to travel with the FP – i.e. business or first class. The tab, once again, is picked up by the third party. Pal feels that not all clients have insane demands. “This is actually more an archaic myth than a present-day reality. The evaluation of a client’s requirement is subjective really – what is a necessity could be seen as an undue demand.”
While the relationship between an FP and a GK is mutually beneficial, you can never be certain who the real diva is in the relationship. Is it the FP who believes in throwing his/her weight around, or is it the GK who insists on doing it this way? Maybe the FP – getting filtered information through the GK – is quite unaware of what the GK is up to and how he/she is being represented. And maybe, the GK is the innocent victim of the FPs demands, often feeling foolish having to represent these to the outside world as diplomatically as possible.
Archana Sadanand, proprietor of Imagesmiths, who ably handles high-profile clients like Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Akshay Kumar, Imran Khan and top production houses, admits that it is not always an easy road for a PR person: juggling the time constraints of an FP as well as the requirements of the media. “At times it can get sticky: a failed film or a bogie in an interview that needs firefighting. At other times a journo rubs a maker or a star up the wrong way. We have to find ways to mend the situation; some of these moments can be hilarious. It’s like being in cage with a tiger and hoping he won’t have you for dinner, but that’s the fun of it!”
GKs are often way busier than the FP – many who are affiliated to a professional organisation are not dedicated to one FP alone, often manage multiple FPs in one shot. Try calling a GK…actually rephrase that to try ever getting in touch with a GK. It is practically impossible, unless they believe you are someone worth talking to, or have something valuable to offer them in return. And at any point of time, if you have taken the effort to massage their ego, or made their FP happy, you may find yourself welcome with open arms (hyperbole). And lo and behold! If you ever make the mistake of having a personal equation with their FP – and manage to make inroads in the future without the GK as an intermediary, you will soon discover the strange truth in the wise words ‘…a woman scorned….’ You may never get through the GK again, you may find the GK publicly and unabashedly admonishing their FP for ever allowing a friendship to develop, and you may find that GK’s entire remaining client list banned from your access.
Don’t for a moment imagine that the FP controls the strings of this equation. There is no one stronger than the aide of a FP, as you will soon reluctantly come to realise. FPs who are afraid of being alone on travels, have begun to use their GK or their hair/make-up artist as the chaperone that Mummy once used to be, and you will find them even going to the extent of sharing a room with the person for companionship, as evidenced by a minor actress and her hair-dresser. Where at one point of time, you couldn’t get past a top businessman’s secretary until she wanted to let you through, or when the way into an FP’s heart was through that of her Mummy’s (Luck By Chance ably proved that), you find more and more that now you have to break through the tough shield of a GK.
Natasha Pal has often been considered Chopra’s girl Friday – she’s developed a strong personal equation with the actress. “In most situations, friendships do develop. But, there is always a line that we draw between the job that we have to do and the friendship that has developed. In order for us to be fully effective we also have to be brutally honest and in all professional situations the friendship is relegated to after working hours.”
Amitabh Bachchan’s long-time secretary, Rosie is the model of efficiency. Once a request has been received by her, you don’t need to go through the torturous chase of follow-ups. A legit query will always be handled and she will respond promptly.
However, there are those – Who Cannot Be Named – who have taken their role as a gatekeeper much too seriously. Possibly the power has gone to their head a bit, leading to the detriment of their own standing and that of their FP. Unfortunately for all, the demand for FPs far outweighs the supply, so we are forced to continue to play the cat-and-mouse game as long as divas are around and people remain interested in reading about them.
Verve Magazine, Social Chronicle, January 2010
In 2009 the most popular word in the English language was Twitter. This online space has seen marriage proposals, scandals and ‘status updates’ at the altar, but by far the most exciting thing to hit Tweeple-world was the advent of the celebrities. As movie stars, film-makers, opinion-makers and news people took their loves, lives and peeves online, there was an automatic creation of the ‘twitterazzi’. The web crawlers – cyber voyeurs – have made famous people their ‘friends’, innocent people infamous, nobodies into celebrities and the offline media into silent, hapless observers. Sitanshi Talati-Parikh tweet talks, to see what kind of bird brings the top movie stars and opinion-makers out to play
From exclusive scoops and candid camera to Twitter
Voyeurism is one of the world’s deep failings. We can’t help wanting to know what’s happening in someone else’s life. The desire to live vicariously keeps the tabloids, gossip columns and celebrity buzz alive – people have made a living (or killing) out of it. There was a time when celebrity journalists were at a premium – privy to the most private boudoirs and most exclusive soirées. With the advent of television, the paparazzi took an ugly, invasive turn, with visuals of celebs being sold for top dollar, candid cameras trailing them at every step – crawling into their homes, even into their bathing suits. There have been fistfights and media bashing – for simply not knowing where to draw the line.
Then, the Internet changed everything. Vicious MMSes, scandalous sex tapes and politically incorrect tweets aside, celebrities have found a way to access a world of fans (and potential fans) hailing from all nationalities, without having to actually meet them face-to-face. After all, one person’s voyeur is another person’s fan. The anonymity of the Web appeals to the celebrity that is willing to stay connected to the point of involving strangers in their lives: voicing their opinions, sharing titbits about their day, their frustrations and joys, and responding to (often inane) questions. While Rangita Nandy (creative director of Pritish Nandy Communications) may believe that, “It (Twitter.com) is a new fad and people are over-assessing it,” it is an undeniable fact that celebrities are ruling roost over cyber world and we have no choice but to ‘follow’ them.
Mysterious inaccessibility or real charm?
Deepika Padukone may cling onto the good old-fashioned sense of celebrity mystery and power couple Saif Ali Khan and Kareena Kapoor may think that anyone with a life would not be on Twitter, but others are quickly finding that accessibility is more important today than it ever was. Early last year, when I first met actor Imran Khan, he remained easily accessible only to those fans that populated his unofficial fan site. Recently, he decided to dive into the vast anonymity of Twitter. We know when he’s awake, if he’s shooting or just playing X-box. He admits candidly, “A huge part of my appeal is my accessibility. I’m the universal ‘bro’ – their college buddy who made it big. It’s different from a star.” He continues with a deeper thought, “My mom couldn’t bear the thought of anyone not liking me. She brought me up in a certain way to ensure that – and I go out of my way to be nice to people to ensure that people will like me. A lot of people feel that mystery increases star appeal – and in a certain sense it does. I try and find a balance.”
Shaima, Leha and Saan, the 20-something-year-old creators of Imran Khan’s unofficial fan site, voice a definitive opinion, “If it’s a nice person, it makes him more attractive, because then fans are not just attracted to a picture or a character but to the real person. In this day and age, if any public figure chooses to remain mysterious, it doesn’t give out a good vibe.” Abhishek Bachchan would easily agree. He believes that “more is better”: “I think that age is gone where mystery sells – today if you are a bit of an enigma you are almost forgotten. Your audience wants to know you, your thoughts, your feelings and they want an interactive relationship – more tactile and approachable – with their actors; not just one of watching them on the big screen.”
Film critic and CNN-IBN entertainment editor Rajeev Masand, who prefers his global film-loving community on Twitter to the “boring incestuousness” of Facebook, seconds the thought: “It is a competitive age – there is a strong need to be quick rather than accurate with the news. It is important for a celeb to stay connected, and to put out information, correct information.”
The rules of interaction have changed
Priyanka Chopra is the queen bee of social presence: she has the most powerful social outreach programme, born initially out of “curiosity and interest” and later powered by Team Priyanka (spearheaded by Natasha Pal, chief operating officer, Vitcom Consulting). Think an active fan base of over 1,30,000 fans which is growing by the day. She posts pictures of herself while chatting, of the view from her room and scenes from her travels. “These kind of platforms do increase accessibility, but you have to put it into the context of how technology and social media networking have redefined relationships, including that of a personality and his/her audience,” she says.
“My appeal lies in my accessibility.”
– Imran Khan
Private people, public lives
Most of these movie stars are not naturally the kind of people who would get attracted to social networking tools. Admits Chopra: “It’s actually quite strange! I am a very private person and to be honest I did find it a bit difficult initially to open up.” So one wonders, what makes these people take time out of their busy schedule and bare their lives – many times a day – to anonymous people online? Of course, at the most basic level lies a desire to directly reach out to global fans, whom they may not have been able to connect to otherwise. Says Chopra, “I now actually know the names and faces of so many people who have reached out to me on these platforms. Many of them are regularly in touch with their viewpoints, questions and sometimes just lovely words of encouragement.”
Or in another exchange, Pritish Nandy and daughter Rangita often discuss their personal lives on Twitter – with public tweets running back and forth: about feeding the dog, coming home, catching a flight, etc. Rangita doesn’t find it invasive: “We choose how much personal space we want to share online. It is about being yourself, not always having to put opinions out there. We are, after all, a society of Peeping Toms. Twitter is not for an asocial person. If you can barely converse with the person sitting opposite you, then you can’t say anything on Twitter. You have to be a milder version of an exhibitionist to be on Twitter.”
Pritish Nandy clarifies, “I am cautious about what I say on Twitter, more for reasons of security than privacy I guess. After all, when we go on a social networking site we know what to expect. There will be serious intrusions: the odd crackpot who comes at you with a slingshot, hysterical ideologues jumping out of the screen at you. There will be a whole bunch of humourless people taking offence to what you say. But that’s all pretty much compensated for by the warmth and friendship of thousands of genuine tweeters having a great time out there.”
Sonam Kapoor gamely accepts it as a professional hazard: “I understand that in my profession privacy is a rare commodity and I am comfortable with these new mediums of interactivity. If Mr. Bachchan, who is reclusive, can do this, then I guess anyone can!” It actually seems to be a case in point that Amitabh Bachchan was one of the first to generate a buzz with his online presence. Often eliciting doubts about whether he is actually the blogger, die-hard fans continue to believe that the Big B is blogging daily into the wee hours of the night, from whichever part of the world he may be in. He has an avid fan base called the ‘extended family’ – to whom he directs his thoughts, angst, stress and pleasure.
The anonymity of the online space creates a great deal of confusion about whether the online tweeter is the real star or not on Twitter. A flurry of tweets are sent back and forth, with an external party confirming that Abhishek Bachchan, for instance, has been merrily tweeting to the wrong Neil Nitin Mukesh, with the fake Neil Nitin Mukesh getting a kick out of pretending to be the actor. (It’s high time the celebs all got a ‘verified account’ from Twitter.
“If you are a bit of an enigma, you are almost forgotten.”
– Abhishek Bachchan
Greater online buzz around a movie: an agenda
As we begin to wonder about stars like Abhishek Bachchan and Shahid Kapoor taking time out to get online on Twitter suspiciously around the time of a big movie release (Paa, Chance Pe Dance respectively), Bachchan apparently felt the online tug from his director-friends Tarun Mansukhani and Rohan Sippy. He suggests that, “people do end up promoting a lot of their work over there and that’s fine – but that should not be the only reason you are on Twitter. It is nice to share your life with the audience, too!” While Sonam Kapoor insists that there is “no larger plan” to her online presence, we cannot miss the fact that during the good-natured online banter between Imran Khan and (Sonam) Kapoor they are unconsciously recreating the characters of their upcoming film I Hate Luv Storys, which they happen to be shooting for at the time. Inadvertently, a buzz is created surrounding their films – and what the directors and producers hope will lead to more eyeballs on the first weekend. Not surprisingly, a fan recently tweeted to Khan, ‘I’m excited to watch IHLS becoz you give us day to day updates…I feel somewhere I am also connected with it.’
Rajeev Masand may not be off the mark when he suggests that a larger weekend turnout for the movie Wake Up Sid was because of Karan Johar’s (and Konkana Sen Sharma’s) tweets. What would have happened had Ranbir Kapoor found the time or the inclination to twitter talk?
Khan, on the other hand, thinks it’s debatable, pointing out that Twitter can actually damage collections from the first day with the spiralling effect of a bad review.
I won’t promote myself online, someone else will
Twitter can easily become polluted as a space for blatant promotions and in-your-face marketing. Rangita Nandy battles with using the domain as an area to promote the films she is producing. “The noise on Twitter is revolting people. We need to clear the clutter. Marketing should be done intelligently.” Actors like Priyanka Chopra, Imran Khan and Abhishek Bachchan have kept the demarcation pretty clear, with a separate handle for their personal tweets (managed by themselves via their mobiles), and a promotional fan handle for their marketing tweets (managed by their staff or fans).
“I understand that in my profession privacy is a rare commodity.”
– Sonam Kapoor
Podium to direct public opinion
Speaking directly to this young global audience is also a perfect platform to generate public opinion or voice their own on important issues. Like voting, for instance. Chopra tweeted a picture of herself and her brother showing their voting mark, while Khan (who also lends his voice to being environment-friendly) and Sonam Kapoor urged the youth to get out and do so. Newscasters like Rajdeep Sardesai and Barkha Dutt, opinion-makers like Pritish Nandy and political leaders like Shashi Tharoor inform us about their opinions (some more strongly than the others) and thoughts on a daily basis. Gul Panag, considering herself “more of an opinion-maker than a celebrity”, believes her credibility and integrity comes from not mincing words – despite who may be ‘listening’.
Pritish Nandy believes that the dynamic online space is not just about interaction, but about sustained interaction, and prefers to watch to see whether these celeb tweeters will stick. “Film stars can get a huge and instant fan base on Twitter, true. But can they sustain an interesting dialogue Currently I see only Abhishek Bachchan, Priyanka Chopra, Gul Panag, Riteish Deshmukh, Mallika Sherawat and Imran Khan reaching out to their fans through Twitter. Some are succeeding. Some are already getting boring.”
The good, the bad, and the ugly…
An autograph is so 1950. A mobile photo is dependent on being at the right place at the right time. An online chat is a rarity. But being ‘followed’ by a star is the new mantra for young fans who throng Twitter-world. Lording it over their friends when they get a response, fans are incessantly demanding and movie stars are responding to their demands. It takes a lot of courage for celebrities – despite the fact that they are gathering brownie points and a huge online fan base – to engage an audience that can be as fickle as they are loyal.
Privy to some of the disturbing hate mail that Khan got after simply requesting people to avoid air and noise pollution via firecrackers during Diwali, leads me to see how people misuse the platform to lash out with personal angst and impolite criticism. “The downside of accessibility is that you’re also open to abuse and negativity. It takes a lot to not snap and react,” says the young actor, who chooses to concentrate on the landslide of positive responses. “I do feel overwhelmed, that’s why I go off Twitter for a few days. There are weird people out there; people who feel that you owe them something – ‘why aren’t you replying to me?’ or pleas of ‘please follow me!'” Creators of Khan’s fan site agree that even on a moderated forum, the space is deeply invasive. “The weirdest one was a guy, spamming our mailbox everyday to pass the message that Khan was in great danger and that only he could save him!”
Personally-intrusive negativism aside (Celina Jaitley and Mallika Sherawat have had to fight off online pursuers); through this medium, work criticism (and praise) also finds it way easily to the eyes of actors. But maybe, as Masand suggests, the bitter pill is better digested when coming from a fan rather than a critic “The celebs are happy to respond to the praise and the criticism – they take to criticism from fans better than from critics. After all, you are doing it for them, you have to lump it!”
The changing role of media
The big question is where does the media fit in? Chopra believes in its continued importance: “Platforms like this present the opportunity to connect one-on-one with the audience, with a two-way direct dialogue, with no one else in between. Currently and for some time in the future, I believe that both will continue to co-exist. The only difference is that, as with the Internet, information dissemination on these platforms is immediate, creating, in a sense, an alternative source of news and information, as many recent world events prove.”
Khan finds that there will always be a space for deeper interactions. “There are some people – I am one of those people – who want to know more about people they admire in some way. There are some things I won’t find out through Twitter or online chat. Besides, you don’t realise how many people are in places that don’t have the Internet – they wouldn’t know Twitter if it jumped up and bit them. It is arrogant to ignore the fact that newspapers and magazines, particularly in the Hindi language, are immense in scope.”
Panag has found that talking directly online means not waiting to be interviewed to share an opinion or a thought. Besides, it is an optimum place to make an announcement – replacing a press release – she finds herself quoted straight from Twitter on many occasions.
One form doesn’t need to be different from the other, though. The definition of media can be all-inclusive, as Abhishek Bachchan points out: “We are all part of the same medium which is media. A film at some level is also a form of media. Yes, I think artistes do have a new conduit to reach their voice, their opinion to the audience but I don’t think that means they should do without the media – it is a conscience of a nation and it should forever be there.” Pritish Nandy adds another dimension to the thought, “The media is a great intermediary. But intermediation does not always improve or enhance communication. Sometimes, in fact, it distorts it. For me, both media and social networking sites are crucial in today’s world. They support each other and correct each other’s failures.”
I can’t help but agree. Being fatalistic about the future of media is irrelevant. Factually, we have no choice but to embrace newer forms of interaction – whether we chose to be early adopters, or the grudging lot who will squeal, drag their feet and find themselves lost in a sea of information; go online we must. Maybe for the media, the fear stems from a loss of control, even a missing sense of ownership – at a point of time the intermediary remained of paramount importance, now it becomes a bystander in more transparent proceedings. For the others, it’s a whole new world out there – brave and demanding. Sharing your thoughts; and getting to know your ‘neighbourhood’ celeb can be deeply gratifying: find that voyeur in you, and you may surprise yourself by enjoying it.
“I am a very private person and I did find it a bit difficult initially to open up.”
– Priyanka Chopra
Desi Tweeters (Follow the Verve references online…)
Abhishek Bachchan Tweets vary from merely prolific (around the time of the movie release) to interesting and erudite, sometimes including the ‘mrs’ in his personal anecdotes. Twitter: @juniorbachchan Twitter followers: 22,263 Tweets: 1620.
Amitabh Bachchan On his blog, he truly connects with his ‘extended family’ and talks to them, even replies to them on a regular basis. It’s only when the media aggravates him that he starts a bit of a rant online. Blog: http://bigb.bigadda.com/
Gul Panag Ranking among the top tweeters of India, she was asked to be the official tweeter for Delhi Wills Lifestyle Fashion Week. Her views on everything sometimes get lost in the info about her personal life. Twitter: @gulpanang Twitter followers: 32,439 Tweets: 10,307; Website: www.gulpanag.net
Imran Khan It’s his deadpan replies to some of the quack questions he gets (on Twitter) that are really the icing. To really get who he is, read his weekly column in Hindustan Times. Twitter: @1mrankhan Twitter followers: 30,072 Tweets: 1764; Unofficial fan site www.imran-khan.org
Karan Johar His Koffee-time brilliance is missing. No great insights – rather one begins to feel it’s a task he’s keeping up, wishing tweeples good morning and good night, with info about missed flights and problems/ stress while shooting. Twitter: @kjohar25 Twitter followers: 46,992 Tweets: 418.
Neil Nitin Mukesh Engages with his activities and polite replies to his fans. Twitter: @NeilNMukesh Twitter followers: 3,782 Tweets: 287.
Pritish Nandy He has serious views on everything – and right after reading his seven daily papers, there will be a barrage of tweets online. He regularly links his weekly column to his tweets with a ‘try this’ – so you can’t miss it. Twitter: @PritishNandy Twitter followers: 12,459 Tweets: 11,658.
Priyanka Chopra Always her vivacious self, with a powerful branding machine behind her and an ever-growing fan base, it is unlikely that she will stop tweeting any time soon. Facebook; Orkut; YouTube; Official website: www.iampriyankachopra.com;
Twitter: @priyankachopra Twitter followers: 102,640 Tweets: 1182.
Rajdeep Sardesai Twitter: @sardesairajdeep Twitter followers: 19,323 Tweets: 1086; and Barkha Dutt Twitter @bdutt Twitter followers: 39,580 Tweets: 4165. Are as newsy as you’d expect. It’s easier than watching TV.
Rajeev Masand He has managed to engage an audience of film-lovers. Watch out for his never-easy quizzes, updates on his interviews and most importantly, film preview reviews. Twitter: @RajeevMasand Twitter followers: 13,729 Tweets: 4699.
Rangita Nandy Twitter’s her “online diary” and the space is “a world adda for gossip and fun”. Twitter: @RangitaNandy Twitter followers: 1767 Tweets: 2059.
Shahid Kapoor A new advent on Twitter, sneakily close to his film release (Chance Pe Dance). The news leak of Genelia being his first Twitter mate reeks of the true purpose behind getting online. Twitter: @shahidkapoor Twitter followers: 21,009 Tweets: 486.
Shashi Tharoor Claim to fame is the apparently incendiary tweet that sent cows racing. After which we only hear of his comings and goings. Twitter: @ShashiTharoor Twitter followers:525,298 Tweets: 2488.
Sonam Kapoor Can be soulful and fun. Never opinionated, more musings. Check out the bravely untouched pictures of her that she uploads – always managing to look ravishing. Facebook; Twitter: @sonamakapoor Twitter followers: 33,916 Tweets: 1014.
Sitanshi Talati-Parikh: @sitanshi; Verve Magazine: @vervemagazine
(Listing in alphabetical order. Data current at the time of printing.)
‘the thing to remember is, no one ever starts out thinking “this time, I’m going to make a REALLY bad movie. A real stinker!”‘
‘I take compliments where I can get them!’ (in response to: After all, you don’t look like a liar)
‘We actors are a weird lot. Out of the thousands of well wishers and compliments and good things said to us, it takes just one negative… To ruin it all. Why are we so myopic? Wish we could focus on the positives. Takes a very strong person to block out negativity and focus.’
‘i woke up feeling restless today…wondering if only my work defines me…do i really have a personal life?’
‘Saturdays and i have a strange relationship!! they always get me down for some reason! so..’
‘one of those nights… decisions???!! why do we even have to take them…’
‘We cant afford to have both dying on us together. The integrity of media n the integrity of our art n culture. Tweeple must be vigilant.’
‘Lol..we shd all be allowed our own opinions, don’t u think? If u hated it, why shd I be expected to feel the same way. How foolish.’
‘Feeling very lazy. Very comfy and relaxed. Sometimes being single is fun. Watching TV series and vegging out alone is really rejuvenating.’
Dialogue between @kjohar25 and @Imrankhan
kjohar25: ‘hey tweeple…at the office…feeling terrible for my best friend and CEO apoorva mehta…he is a huge pile of work everyday to tackle…’
Imrankhan: ‘I believe that’s called a Freudian slip.’
kjohar25: ‘sorry…i meant he HAS a huge pile of work to tackle’
kjohar25: ‘ha! ha! trust me it was a genuine language slip!!!’
Imrankhan: ‘I’ve met very few people with better grammar than you. I ain’t buying the story!’
Published: Verve Magazine, Cover Story, November 2008
Photograph by Atul Kasbekar
From Bareilly to Boston and Manhattan to Mumbai, the cover girl many times over, is leading a fairy-tale life. Firmly entrenched in Bollywood, Priyanka Chopra will have a record six releases this year. Dostana, where she plays an editor at Verve, releases this month and promises to be a rollicking watch. Sitanshi Talati-Parikh finds the vivacious actress full of soul, spirit and spunk
It is an ordinary Thursday. What makes it extraordinary is the glitter of star power that suffuses the morning with a powerful glow. The lithe, dusky beauty saunters into the make-up van, face barely visible under her enormous shades, dressed in “comfort clothes” – leggings and a long spandex top in her favourite colour, black – after a late shoot the previous night. We look up with trepidation, as she emerges a considerable while later, our allotted time ticking ominously away. Flashing dazzling smiles at everyone, Priyanka Chopra faces the camera, barely wincing in the painfully high Dior heels, which are at least a size too big for her – by her own confession, she was “born in heels”. Ace photographer, Atul Kasbekar, coaxes fluid motion from the svelte actress. She immediately picks up the beat of the music pulsating in the tiny studio and twirls, twists at her slender waist, gracefully cuts the air with the circular motion of her lean arms, flips her hair and throws herself into the scheme of things, with ferocious enthusiasm and buoyancy. It’s a perfect first shot. As the music suddenly stops, and her personal iPod is hastily summoned, with barely noticeable displeasure, she confides, “I can’t think or function without music. My van, my room, my car are always blasting music, so the five minutes I get, become my chill out zone. And besides my family, that’s the one thing I find time for.”
With the kind of schedule she keeps – 25 films in less than five years, not a single holiday or vacation since, working literally 20 hours a day – she is playing a serious juggling act with work and family. “I really don’t find time for my family – I take it for granted that they will come and hang out with me.” Being the first-born to parents who left a flourishing medical practice to ensure that her career took off, it is evident that Priyanka has done them proud. The senior Chopras unobtrusively watch their daughter’s shoot, the mother with a slight smile as she notes the near-perfect shots being reflected on the computer screen, and the father sits back quietly and takes in the confidence of his offspring with teary-eyed pride. Rarely present while his daughter is shooting, the Verve shoot takes Dr. Ashok Chopra back in time. He recalls his 12-year-old girl flouncing in front of a full-length mirror (her only demand from her parents) singing ‘Mere khwaabon mein jo aaye…’ from Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge – Priyanka’s absolute favourite film of all time. Even now, she recalls in the blink of an eye the same sparkle, head toss and look of romantic fervour.
“Today my dad is home, living his life to the fullest – I am so grateful for that.” She went through a rough patch – possibly the only glitch in an ostensibly dream-like life – when she watched her father go through a serious illness that took him two years to recover from. She was, at the time, shooting for one of the most important movies of her career, Krrish and wrapping up Bluffmaster. “Your father is always your invincible superhero, to whom nothing can ever happen, because he is the one who protects you – and then suddenly tables turn and you have to protect him. I felt so helpless and lost. I didn’t know how to deal with it.” But deal with it, she did. She would spend nights between shoots at the hospital, thankful that this happened at a time in her career when she could provide the best possible treatment that money could buy, without compromising on her work. A year earlier, it would not have been possible.
The July-born Cancerian’s amiable personality and warmth bubble to the surface as she reminisces about the people close to her heart. Her younger brother, Siddharth, is very proud of having a ‘hot’ older sister. She admits, “I am a self-confessed bully. I used to make him do all my work and I even used to dress him up as a girl! For seven years I was the only child and my parents’ most prized possession. And then he came – I used to pinch him and make him cry. My dad would come in and I would quickly pretend that I was holding and pacifying him!” She laughs unselfconsciously. “I love him – he is my greatest weakness. I spoil him, like he is my child.”
Friendships have their own familial bonds. Hailing from an army family, spending most of her childhood on the move, from Bareilly to Jamshedpur, and Iowa, New York and Boston, Priyanka has still managed to cultivate some lasting friendships – her childhood friend, Tamanna, for instance, who flies down from Delhi to meet her on her birthday. “I’m very close to my friends. If you have even two or three ‘4 a.m. friends’ who you can depend on for your life – and you know if you were kidnapped and someone asked you who would vouch for your life, it would be those people – then you’re very lucky. Though all your colleagues are your friends, there are only a few people whom you consider family.”
That’s what Dostana is about – three friends who consider each other family – and how a relationship between great friends is formed and broken. Priyanka, who loves the outdoors, admits that the movie had the best outdoor shoot she has ever experienced. Two months on location in Miami, she found herself gleefully entertaining her “khandaan” from America. Relatives were “crawling out of every room, closet and bathroom” in her three-bedroom apartment. Priyanka dressed for the shoot every morning with people passed out on the couch. Her family was on holiday and would come and hang out on the set. The euphoria was catchy. It is easy to visualise the massive on-location party, including malls and beaches (think fabulous South Beach), with a variety of restaurants and live music bars – all pulsating with energy that Priyanka feels will translate positively on screen.
In a film about friendships, what were the off-set relationships like? “I never thought I would bond with Tarun (Mansukhani) as much as I did. Initially, I didn’t know him very well and I didn’t think I would, either. He seemed like a really serious guy – we fought like cats and dogs, and made up instantly. I keep telling his wife, Karuna, that I play his on-set wife because we are constantly fighting like a married couple! But he has so much clarity as a director.” Karan Johar popped in for a bit and Hiroo Johar was officially the “big mother hen”. Abhishek Bachchan and John Abraham, her co-stars in the film, who pretend to be a gay couple to get an apartment to live in, spent all their off-screen time together, leading Priyanka to quip that they took their roles quite seriously!
John Abraham was the self-proclaimed fitness guru on the set, training everyone – the make-up maestro Mickey Contractor, included. Every day, after the shoot, everyone would land up at the gym. Priyanka studiously followed the regime – despite the fact that she generally doesn’t work out at all – to ensure that she looked prime for her swimsuit scene in the movie. Admiring her trim body – slimmer than she has ever been – It is hard to believe that she doesn’t work out or diet, after seeing how even the ramp-size Dior outfits at the Verve shoot are too large for her. She leans forward with a conspiratorial whisper, “being overworked and underpaid is the mantra for losing weight”.
Priyanka’s character in Dostana is an editor at Verve, and is dressed in accordance to the location. “In Miami, anything’s possible. I wore shorts, high heels and a shirt to work – and I was over-dressed!” Priyanka hopes the fashion critics will find it equally appealing. “If you try to please the critics, making films trying to keep in mind what the fashion industry is going to say, then you’ll never be able to experiment.”
The actress, who has had no mentor or any formal training in acting, has found herself experimenting through her film career. High on the popularity chart, Priyanka has had her share of missable films and reigned supreme in spite of them. The laugh lines smear away and she quickly retorts, “But that’s normal, right? Nobody can get a track record of 100 per cent. It is against the law of averages.” Have the decisions been based on script alone? “It is not just the script. At every point in my career, each film I did was for a certain reason. It may not have done well, but at that point doing that film or finding that film was very important.” Andaaz and Hero gave her small, but important parts; Kismat was her first solo heroine film; Plan with Sanjay Dutt, made by Sanjay Gupta and Asambhav with Rajiv Rai, were a step up in that ladder. “I never expect anything from any film. I feel when you have expectations, somewhere you are let down.” With a sudden flash of her 100-watt smile she confides, “But I can’t help expecting from these three – Drona, Dostana and Fashion. I’ve worked really hard on each one of them and they are very special to me, whatever the fate of the film may be.”
Suddenly retrospective and a tad philosophical, Priyanka appears wiser than her 26 years. Clichés appear truisms as she applies them to her life – she speaks without any affectation, if a shade reminiscent of her articulate Miss World persona. “It is never the end that matters. It is also the journey – we may think of it as a proverb, but that’s how I have led my life, and it works for me. At this point of time, what I do is very important. What happens in the future will be part of what destiny has in store. The decisions I take now must be with courage of conviction.”
Courage of conviction has definitely got her where she is – able to pick and choose, and have more work on her hands than she has time for. “I’ve always believed that I am destiny’s favourite child.” Not even in her wildest dreams did the naturally talented actress, who was considering a career in aeronautical engineering (“making planes and going to NASA”) ever think she would be a part of show biz. “It still feels so surreal.” Neither she nor her family have had the time to retrospect. A mere 17-year-old schoolgirl when she participated in the Miss India beauty pageant – on an entry sent in as a lark by her family – she had just finished school when she became Miss World. “I had to grow up in a month!” She had to reconcile herself from a teenager in sneakers riding a bicycle to a young woman in a sari gracefully balancing a tiara on her head. “They say that the head that wears the crown rules the world. It’s not easy and it wasn’t. I still don’t remember how I did it – I only followed instructions – I was almost robotic in what I did. I only remember being myself since the last few years – since I was 22 or 23. Before that I was always so withdrawn, wary of being in this industry, not knowing anyone, wanting to protect myself and my family. Everything just happened to me. I feel somebody up there is holding onto my little finger, guiding me through life, which is why I never question what’s happening. I know if something bad is happening, this too shall pass, because there is a reason why I am here.” And what about ideals of changing the world that beauty pageants inspire? “I never had aspirations to conquer or change the world. I’m just playing my little part in the bigger picture and am happy that I am able to contribute.”
The strong girl is also incredibly soft-hearted and considerate. Very fond of children, she swings into the shoot in her gold Dior dress with her spot-boy’s son on her arm, smiles and poses for multiple pictures with their family. Later, while giving bytes to a news channel, she notes with the corner of her eye a man bent double with heavy equipment standing behind waiting for her to finish, and she immediately stops and gives way. A self-confessed “mush-pot”, she has a major weakness for romantic comedies, though she can watch creepy horror films with equal fascination. She would often get inspired and write poetry on little paper napkins – being a fan of prose, shayaris and Urdu – though she hasn’t done that in a long time. With a sudden twinkle she reveals that she would love to be serenaded – but with originality and spontaneity. “Buying red roses and sending them is so thoughtless! I prefer thoughtful gifts. A hand-written note would mean so much more to me than diamonds. Actually, a hand-written note with diamonds would mean a lot more,” she rounds up with a chuckle.
The voracious reader (biographies, chick lit, travelogues) hasn’t even had time to read a script that has been lying with her since the last twenty days. Sleeping four-five hours a day, she only manages to unwind in her white Mercedes, which she calls home. “I have worked every single day in the past few years and there isn’t one day that I regret it. I know the day I wake up in the morning feeling that I am too tired to shoot today, I will retire. Very few people are fortunate enough to love what they do. I really, truly love what I do.” That obviously keeps her steamrolling on. As I step out of her car, I watch her walk to the next shoot with a bounce in her step – despite the fact that she missed lunch entirely while talking to me.