Posts Tagged ‘Bollywood’

Alaka (1)

Alaka Sahani won the National Award for the Best Film Critic for the year 2013

Alaka Sahani received the National Award for the Best Film Critic for the year 2013. She received the award for her phenomenal writings on Indian theatre and new facets of documentary film making, for writings that took Indian entertainment beyond the staple of glamour. No wonder when entertainment journalists in India are obsessed about chasing glamorous stars for their pictures, quotes and interviews, Alaka chooses to stand apart and says she finds Tun Tun, fascinating. In a no-holds-barred interview Alaka Sahani talks about current state of entertainment journalism in India and why she rarely takes selfies with the stars.

Do you feel that there is an obsession with glamour?

Definitely, yes. As a movie-crazy nation we all are interested in gossip, glamour and stars’ private lives. Most leading newspapers and tabloids cater to this. They have special sections and supplements that feature such pieces along with glamorous photos of stars. An array of websites too feed on Bollywood gossip as well as photographs of stars making an appearance at events, walking the red carpet or sneaking into their lover’s pad. Even an insipid photo of an actor having dinner or coming out of an airport can create a buzz.

However, my understanding is that such obsession is more acute in urban centres. In the Tier-II and Tier-III towns of India, people are more interested in politics, developmental issues and sports.

What kind of articles you feel work with readers but are rarely written or researched?

We hardly come across a piece, unless it’s a blog, which goes beyond an A-lister’s stock replies and brings out his or her quirks, concerns and insecurities (A case in point is this piece I had read long ago http://www.theguardian.com/film/2008/may/16/ewanmcgregor). Also, it is rare to find a star who does not stick to politically-correct answers. That’s the reason Kangana Ranaut’s straight-speak on Anupama Chopra’s show The Front Row was so refreshing and went viral in 2013.

Do you feel the internet has changed journalism to a great extent?

Yes, it has. It gives previously unimaginable reach to all kind of film-related writings – be it a news break on Twitter, Facebook post or blogs. The online department of leading publications too religiously upload Bollywood-related tidbits with attention-grabbing headlines. YouTube has been yet another major gamechanger.

Are stars and PR people manipulating the media?

Absolutely, yes. And this is not a startling fact anymore. In fact, both the parties — stars and their PRs as well as media — feed off each other. Today, money can buy the stars, or for that matter anyone, space and visibility in media.

Gone are the days when journalists and stars shared a very informal rapport. Even though some prominent journalists might have access to top stars, the latter mostly speak to the media only when they want to. For example, when the release date of their movies is nearing or they are keen to clear their stand in a controversial matter or they want to push their pet cause/project.

An article/interview that you would want to write but haven’t managed to write yet.

Someday, I would like to write about popular and talented supporting actors of India such as Tun Tun, Mukri, Kanhaiyalal, Leela Mishra, Om Prakash and Iftekhar. I have grown up on a heavy dose of black-and-white classics as well as movies of the 60s and 70s thanks to my parents. So those worlds continue to fascinate me. I find these actors with their mannerisms and character traits so endearing even though they were typecast.

Tun Tun was called the first woman comedian of India

Tun Tun was called the first woman comedienne of India

How has winning the national Award made a difference to your life and work?

It has not made any major difference in my life so far. But, thanks to this, today I am connected to a lot more people from various fields — the film industry, writers and, most importantly, people from Odisha, my home state. After the award was announced, I received immense warmth and love from all around — my office, family, friends, lost friends and cinema lovers. Recently, my father, a former deputy commissioner of Income Tax, received a thunderous applause at the annual meet of his department’s pensioner’s association which celebrated my award. This was priceless.

In an age when journalists are doing everything to show how happening their lives are you are very low profile despite being a National Award winner. Why?

I am a bit inhibited when it comes to showing off every little achievement. I would like to change that about myself to some extent. To begin with, I will post my bylines on Twitter and Facebook more often.

Alaka Sahani receiving the National Award from the president of India

Alaka Sahani receiving the National Award from Pranab Mukherjee, the President of India

Most journalists publish selfies with stars on FB I have never seen you doing that. Why?

I believe selfies should be for fun, not to show off that I just met this actor. Since most journalists are fans of stars as well as movie-buffs, I understand there is natural urge to take selfies. Later on, they post it on social media partly due to the pure joy of meeting a film star but mostly to have more followers or grab attention on social media. Stars too understand this and rarely decline a request for selfies.

Having said that, I am not immune to such temptations. I do take photographs with the stars I love as well as with whom I end up having a memorable conversation. In the past, I have put up a photo with Naseeruddin Shah (it’s my favourite. The camera that was focussed on him had caught a hazy reflection of mine on a mirror behind him) and Wong Kai Wai whom I met at IFFI, Goa. I will admit to you that I have selfies with Hrithik Roshan, Varun Dhawan and Dimple Kapadia on my phone. Someday, I should be able to post it on social media. Someday.

What is your opinion on the current state of film journalism?

It is an exciting time for film journalism, given the multiple platforms and wide reach that it enjoys today. While magazines and newspapers continue to carry regular stories related to cinema such as interviews with film personalities, trend stories and gossips, some of the websites and blogs have been putting up in-depth and well-researched pieces. What makes some of them a nice read is the quality of writing.

 

About Alaka Sahani: 

For the year 2013, Alaka Sahani received the National Films Award for the Best Film Critic. She was presented the award for her writings that highlighted facets of cinema beyond glamour and gossip. Currently, she is working as a Senior Assistant Editor with The Indian Express, Mumbai, and heads its Features section.

During her eight-year stint at The Indian Express, she has written extensively on cinema and theatre, apart from covering the Mumbai Film Festival and IFFI, Goa. She have also worked for some of India’s leading newspapers including Hindustan Times (Kolkata and Mumbai) and The Times of India, Kolkata, during her journalistic career spanning over 15 years.

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Salman Khan (photograph from the internet)

Salman Khan (photograph from the internet)

Controversy’s favourite child Salman Khan has done it again. This time he has rubbed the media the wrong way. At the promotion of his film Kick, his bouncers roughed up a few photographers while Salman added insult to injury saying that those who wanted to stay back, could do so and the rest could carry on (read details http://www.ibtimes.co.in/after-shraddha-kapoor-photographers-boycott-salman-khan-kick-actor-says-he-respect-their-604409)

While the photographers have come together and put a ban on clicking this Khan till July 25, the date of release of his film, many Khan friends and associates are putting the blame on them for being too aggressive and high-handed.

While reading this report my interaction with Salman Khan in 2009 came to my mind. He had come to Dubai to promote his film London Dreams. He was supposed to make a late night entry and the PR who was coordinating with us accordingly, even told us that we might have to hop in to his hotel as late as 11pm or even midnight. Salman never arrived and the PR stopped taking calls.

A couple of days later another PR informed us that he would meet the press at Grand Hyatt at a more reasonable time, 12noon, and he was willing to give one-on-one interviews. When I arrived, we were told that he was running late so all journalists were asked to gather together as an informal press conference.

I was particularly keen to meet Salman because most of my journo friends said that he was a delight to interview. One even went on to say that in the explosive quotes department, Salman might just take second place to Rakhi Sawant if he was in the right mood.

I was disappointed that there would be no one-on-one interaction, but I was more than happy to see that I had been given a chair just next to Salman’s empty one.

I always thought among the Khans, Salman was the only one who had really shaped up like good wine – he had become more handsome with age, more entertaining, a better dancer and a better person, considering that when he broke up with Aishwarya he went and broke down her apartment door and then when he broke up with Katrina he let her have a life with Ranbir…or whoever…minus the threats and the persecution from him.

I had really started liking his Being Human endeavours and wanted to ask him a host of questions on that.

Salman entered the room, looking as handsome as ever, his long hair tied back with a hair band – a fashion statement not many people could carry off. He came and sat next to me. Then my troubles started.

Salman lit a cigarette. I was three months pregnant then but wasn’t showing or hadn’t broken the news to my other journo friends present there. And I felt odd breaking the news like that in order to stop Salman Khan from smoking. So I started thinking quickly.

I told him, “I am acutely allergic to cigarette smoke. Can you please not smoke?”

Salman did not say a word but kept looking at me unapologetically as he took another drag from the cigarette.

My mind was racing. I thought that just for sitting next to Salman Khan I could not expose my unborn to cigarette smoke. I quickly got up and told him that I needed to sit far away from him. He just shrugged.

I found a place at the farthest corner of the room. I shouted my questions from there and he shouted back his answers. I even managed to snap him out of his disinterested mood by asking questions on Being Human, the only thing he was ready to talk about apart from London Dreams of course.

Later on I thought would Salman have stopped smoking if I had told him that I was pregnant? I have my doubts. Because allergy to cigarette smoke is a grave enough reason to make anyone stop smoking. In fact, it’s basic human courtesy to stop smoking if anyone says he/she finds it uncomfortable to inhale cigarette smoke for health reasons. I feel this basic courtesy applies to film stars also. And I have met many stars who are actually courteous enough to ask, “Can I smoke?” before they light up.

But Salman treated me with the same attitude he extended towards the photographers at the Mumbai event – stay if you want to, go if you want to. I came back with a very bitter taste in my mouth but I was happy I could take my stand, not expose my baby to the smoke toxins and get my job done, get the interview that is.

PS: It’s another matter that my 4-year-old son is now a big Salman Khan fan.

 

Writer Sushmita Bandopadhyay and (right) Manisha Koirala playing her in reel-life in the Hindi film Escape from Taliban

Writer Sushmita Bandopadhyay and (right) Manisha Koirala playing her in reel-life in the Hindi film Escape from Taliban

The year was 2004 and the time was past midnight. I had just returned to the Times of India office in Kolkata, India, after a glitzy awards function where Manisha Koirala was given the best actress award for her role in the film Escape from Taliban. I just wanted to write the copy for the event I had covered so that I didn’t have to do it from home next day, which was my off day.

I was at my workstation when I got a call from security downstairs saying that a lady named Sushmita Bandopadhyay wanted to meet someone from my department. Puzzled, I looked at my watch. It was 1 am. Since I was the only one in my department at that time, I invited her upstairs.

Sushmita Bandopadhyay was a writer who gave Bengal a glimpse of the life of women in Afghanistan during Taliban’s dominance through her book Kabuliwalar Bangali Bou (Kabuliwala’s Bengali Wife) in 1997, a decade before Khaled Hosseini took on the world with his best-seller A Thousand Splendid Suns that delved into the same issue.

I had read about her daring escape from Taliban-dominated Afghanistan and at that moment I could feel the adrenaline rushing through my veins at the thought of meeting her. It took her some time to find her breath after her climb up the stairs.

After a glass of water, she gave vent to her anger – the reason that had brought her to my office at such an odd hour. She was livid with the organizers of the award ceremony (that I had just covered) for not inviting her to the function, considering the Bollywood film Escape from Taliban was based on her book. She also felt that if Manisha Koirala was given the Best Actress Award, then she too deserved some kind of mention or invitation at the ceremony.

“I am amazed that I am the writer of the book, sitting right here in Kolkata and they didn’t bother to invite me!” Sushmita said angrily.

That was Sushmita Bandopadhyay. She did what she wanted to do, even if that meant marrying and running away with a Kabuliwala to Afghanistan, escaping the country by digging a hole in the wall of her husband’s house, or even visiting a newspaper office at 1am.

At that point I felt her anger was probably justified. But as an entertainment journalist I knew for a fact that being the bestselling author of the book that had sold 700,000 copies was not enough. She would have probably found herself sitting next to Manisha Koirala had she been slimmer and prettier and had worn a designer salwar kurta instead of a how-dare-you attitude.

She was clearly upset, but the fact that I gave her a patient hearing and noted down her words calmed her down considerably. After that night I spoke to her often on the phone asking her for quotes for my stories.

In my interactions with her I realized that even if she had escaped Afghanistan, that country defined her. It was because of her experiences there she found fame as a writer and as the years passed by and she receded in public memory Sushmita wanted to reclaim her status as the Kabuliwalar bangali bou, who had taken Kolkata by storm with her story.

What I read from the reports yesterday was that Sushmita went back to Afghanistan to write another book and film a series on the life of women there. People who knew her say she was foolish to have gone back there and can’t seem to understand why she went.

I think I know why. She once again wanted to be the woman, who could dare the worst and write the truth. She probably wanted to see her name flashed across TV screens and in the pages of newspapers all over again.

In the last two days, she is not only everywhere in the Indian media, she has also made it to New York Times, CNN and BBC.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/06/world/asia/woman-who-wrote-about-life-under-the-taliban-is-killed.html?_r=0

I am sure she would have been happy if the headlines had been about her next book and not about her bullet-ridden body.

May her soul rest in peace.

Bengali actress Koneenica Banerjee

Bengali actress Koneenica Banerjee

When I was working as an entertainment journalist in Kolkata I was always fascinated by Bengali actress Koneenica Banerjee’s in-your-face honesty when she talked about the perils women face in filmdom. Koneenica never had any qualms about admitting that she got “casting couch” propositions every other day and because she turned them down she often didn’t get roles.

The girl – who shot to fame with the role of Pakhi in the superhit Bengali serial Ek Akasher Niche went on to do memorable roles in a number of Bengali films and serials – also decided to try her luck in Mumbai. With an impressive CV she was brimming with confidence that her work would speak for her. On the contrary while standing at the endless queues at the auditions everyday she realized Mumbai was a different ballgame altogether.

Bollywood actress Jiah Khan committed suicide on June 3, 2013 by hanging herself

Bollywood actress Jiah Khan committed suicide on June 3, 2013 by hanging herself

When I asked her about what she thought of the suicide of Jiah Khan, Koneenica told me over phone from Kolkata, “I know what she felt because I have gone through the exact situation. I am no one to judge why she did this but if media reports are to be believed Jiah Khan was depressed about lack of roles and at the same time a letter written by her talks about the pain she felt for the demise of her relationship with her boyfriend. I have faced rejection day in and day out and I plunged into depression after my break-up. When I finally came back to Kolkata from Mumbai I couldn’t go out or speak to people for months.”

Here is what Koneenica told me: 

“In Bollywood if you sleep with 10,000 men it does not ensure you a role”

If you are an aspiring actress every man in the industry – from the spot boy to the top producer – wants to sleep with you with the promise of a role. But even after that there is no guarantee that the role will come. Most often it doesn’t.

I am an actress and not a prostitute”

It is true that nobody rapes you in the film industry and it is your choice if you want to warm up anyone’s bed. But now more than a choice it has become something like a norm. But what I find ridiculous is if women are with men they are quickly branded as “bad women” and talked about while men get away with the light tag of “industry playboy”.

I have chosen not to bow down to this norm and have suffered immensely. But I have ensured a peaceful night’s sleep that way although I have been called a “jobless actress” many times.

 “One influential man with connections in the film industry asked me if I was a virgin”

One powerful man even asked me that why am I behaving like a virgin in a place like the film industry. I told him on his face that I just didn’t like him so I refused to be with him. I was laughing to myself in my heart because I knew about his waning influence in the film industry although he tried hard to convince me that he had the real passport to my fame in Mumbai. I know there are plenty of women who still believe him.

Koneenica at a recent photoshoot. (Photograph taken from her Facebook page)

Koneenica at a recent photoshoot. (Photograph taken from her Facebook page)

If Hrithik comes up with a proposition I will definitely consider it”

I don’t want to project myself as a Sati Savitri (pure chaste woman). But the thought of being with ugly, pot bellied men, with no knack for a conversation is truly repulsive. It is repulsive to think that I will be with these men to get a role, and as I said earlier, a role that does not come with a “guarantee card”. But if someone like Hrithik Roshan or Brad Pitt tells me the same in return for a role it is definitely worth considering.

“During my almost 4 years stay in Mumbai I went for more than 800 auditions”

While in Mumbai I did one telefilm, one reality show called Sarkaar Ki Duniya and a few ad films but I must say every audition was a harrowing experience. I had to stand in long queues all through the day and then people handling the auditions often had no respect for us and misbehaved. As the days passed by I realized that when they were looking for a new face acting prowess was the last thing on their mind. But after an audition sometimes it happened that they pulled a chair for me and offered me water and spoke respectfully. I think that was my moment of truth and I would cherish those moments. Of course, the role always went to someone with good connections. Chances were no one standing in that long queue got the role.

“Being alone in Mumbai is the toughest thing”

After a day like this where you are pushed and shoved at every audition when I came back to an empty home I felt the walls came to gobble me up. Then money was a major issue. I had to count every penny and spend carefully. Something I was not used to doing in my fairly cushy home in Bhowanipore in Kolkata. Also it is very hard to find real friends in Mumbai who would care for you without a motive.

When I used to have differences with my ex-boyfriend he would often tell me I had gone mad but I never told him anything of that sort in return. I knew he lived alone and it was extremely upsetting to go back to an empty home and keep questioning your own sanity and credibility.

“Sometimes I have been mentally tortured”

This has happened in Kolkata even when directors have misbehaved with me on the sets and told me I am not good enough. They have compared me with other actresses and told me they were better.

But thankfully I have had directors who have told me that they are my fan. I choose to cherish those words and ignore the rest.

“My family saved me from the brink”

By God’s grace I have a family who were always with me even when I was alone in Mumbai. I could pick up the phone and talk anytime to my mother, sister, uncle or father. I think this connection helped me immensely. I always knew that whatever happened I could go back to Kolkata, to my home, and I would not be judged by my family.

With time your perspective of life changes. When I was going through these phases I started questioning myself if I am the one who is running against the tide? I read up books, I did meditation and reiki and realized that at the end of the day I have to be at peace with myself. Now that I am back in Kolkata I am also thankful to have some true friends.

I have never contemplated suicide”

After being constantly rejected in the film industry and having a break-up with my boyfriend my confidence reached the nadir. But I always believe in re-incarnation and my soul is the only connection with God and I have no right to harm this soul. Now that I am in a better place mentally I know I have to stay mentally and physically fit for my own good.

“If my life is a book I want to read till the end”

Every experience, be it bad or good, teaches you something and enriches you. I think my experiences make me the person I am. I don’t believe in giving up and I have to read the book till the end to know how it all ended. I want to know what the future finally has in store for me.

(Koneenica has recently worked in two Bengali films Kapurush O Mahapurush and Ganesh Talkies.)

Aishwarya Rai in a Sabyasachi creation

Aishwarya Rai in a Sabyasachi creation

This post is actually a follow up of my earlier post written a year ago titled 5 reasons why FAT ASH is having the last laugh

https://amritaspeaks.wordpress.com/2012/07/02/5-reasons-why-fat-ash-is-having-the-last-laugh/

After seeing Aishwarya Rai dazzle at the Cannes red carpet this year, while her co-stars struggled with their designer attires and went horribly wrong with their accessories and hairdos, I come up with five more reasons why the 39-year-old star will always be a class apart in Bollywood and in our hearts.

Reason 1: She got the best out of star designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee

The names Vidya Balan and Sabyasachi Mukherjee are nowadays inseparable. While the latter re-invented her sense of style, Vidya, as she has gone up the ladder of success, has given the designer more free advertising than he could ever have hoped for. But Vidya’s Sabyasachi clothes were more criticized than lauded at Cannes this year. On the other hand with a gold and black saree designed by Sabyasachi, Aishwarya turned all heads at the same festival. In fact, I will be not surprised if the designer kept away (in a secret cupboard lest Vidya sees it) his best creation for her. After all it’s an honour to dress up Aishwarya Rai.

Reason 2: She’s shifted all her baby weight

After last year’s Cannes appearance there was more talk about Aishwarya’s still-sticking mummy fat than anything else. But Ash was rightly more concerned about her own health than wagging tongues. In a year’s time she has silenced her critics by losing all her post-childbirth weight and looking as gorgeous as ever. Now from being a role model to aspiring actresses and models she has become one to aspiring mothers too. Her simple message: Be yourself!

Aishwarya with daughter Aradhya at her hotel balcony in Cannes

Aishwarya with daughter Aradhya at her hotel balcony in Cannes

Reason 3: She has re-written the working mom role

Whenever Aishwarya is travelling she always has her daughter Aradhya with her. She has proved that you can have your child around and still be working and balancing both. She has been apparently checking on Aradhya at her hotel room in between photoshoots and interviews at Cannes. By being both full-time mom and a working mom she’s shown that it is possible to work your schedule around your priorities.

Reason 4: 39 is no big deal

In an industry where actresses are written off when they are hitting 30 Aishwarya Rai has proved to be an exception. She has not only delivered hits post-30 and post-marriage, she has proved that a woman can be pushing 40 and still be the centre of all attention. No wonder all the younger stars (read: Sonam Kapoor, Mallika Sherawat and even Vidya Balan, did anyone say Freida Pinto?) were pushed aside when Aishwarya took centre stage. Then there was only talk of her black saree, her lacy gown her mermaid skirt….

Reason 5: Cannes will be incomplete without Ash Rai

Let’s face it. Every year fresh new faces from Bollywood walk the Cannes red carpet but Aishwarya Rai is our pièce de résistance. The media and the public alike wait (with bated breath should I say?) for the appearance of Aishwarya Rai on the red carpet. Wonder who could take her place from Bollywood if one fine day she misses her appearance at Cannes. In my opinion, NO ONE!

A full view of the saree created by Sabyasachi

A full view of the saree created by Sabyasachi