Hindi Film 101: Media and Stars, From Dilip Kumar to Sonam Kapoor

Welcome back!  The last post focused on an overview of celebrity media from the big picture perspective, how the fans and media found each other and grew.  Now, let’s shift to looking at what this is like for the Stars and bringing it through to today where media and Stars have come together and turned into one entity

Disclaimer: I have no particular knowledge, this is all based on publicly available information and my own conclusions.  You can feel free to disagree!

 

 

In my last post I talked about the evolution of the media which took film stars from totally unknown in their personal lives, to having a crafted perfect media image, to being torn down by the gossip media looking for crazy scandals, to the new era in which media is never ending, the internet demands constant celebrity content.

But, what does this mean for the people being covered by the media?  Let’s talk about it based on a sampling of weddings, one of the biggest events in Indian society and for celebrities too.

Starting with Raj Kapoor.  Raj was married after his first movie had come out, and he was the son of Prithviraj Kapoor, and marrying the sister of Prem Nath who was already a famous actor and married to a famous actress Bina Rai.  Today, this wedding would merit constant coverage with updates every few minutes.  In 1946, it merited one tiny paragraph in the proto-film magazine, FilmIndia (which was put together and published by one dedicated author, and included Hollywood and Indian content).

Raj Kapoor, the talented and versatile son of Prithviraj Kapoor ended his career of wild oats by marrying Miss Krishna Khanna in the second week of may in Rewa and like millions of others in his country, will now settle down to a quiet domestic life, contributing substantially to the population of his nation.  We hope the new Kapoors arrive in twins.

It’s pleasant, it’s cheeky, it’s personal.  Filmindia was based in Bombay and its single editor and writer was a well known local figure.  The circulation at it’s highest was 32,000, which is respectable, but not really comparable to FilmFare‘s estimated 170,000, or CineBlitz‘s 184,000.  This was the era when the film news was really for the insiders, the stars and the reporters (well, reporter, just the one) were all friends, and the tiny audience for this news felt like they were friends of them as well.

Raj Kapoor got married and the community who cared about him, that little club of insiders, heard about it.  But no photos, no intimate coverage, just a calm announcement of what happened.  The same sort of announcement you might find in a hometown paper.

Image result for raj kapoor wedding

(Can’t find a photo of the wedding, but here they are a few years later.  Isn’t Krishna pretty?)

What I find really interesting is that the announcement is also strangely impersonal.  Raj is described as “ending his career of wild oats”.  He was only 21, it was hardly a career.  And Krishna was only described as “Miss Krishna Khanna”, no mention that she was the sister of Prem Nath, or had a distant family relationship to Raj before marriage.  It’s just bad reporting, the names are put in and some general comments, but nothing really specific.

 

And now let’s look at Dilip Kumar and Saira Banu.  Dilip was Raj Kapoor’s best friend, married 20 years later, and when he was a much much bigger star.  The media were very much part of this event.  In fact, they helped inspire it.  Dilip and Saira were in love and engaged, and all of India was in love with them.  Reporters followed them everywhere they went, looking for photos.  It wasn’t anything they were used to before, usually they could go about their lives with only minimal notice from the press.  And so, to end the madness, Dilip and Saira decided to move up the wedding and just get married as soon as possible.

Image result for dilip kumar wedding

The reporters were there at the wedding yes, but so was everyone else in the industry.  It was a big wonderful joyous event, every major figure was there.  Raj Kapoor arrived on his knees, following up on a promise he had made to crawl to Dilip’s wedding if he ever got married, but a promise made in a media interview, not to Dilip.  Didn’t matter, saying it to the newspapers was the same as saying it to a friend.  Nasir Hussain, a director and another guest, took his unit to the wedding to stand on top a van and photograph the events for posterity, essentially volunteering to be media for the day.  And outside, thousands of fans and reporters gathered and eventually friends of the groom arranged for food from nearby restaurants, so all of them could be fed.  Rather than trying to keep them out, to make a difference between media, fans, and guests, they were all brought in to become the same, all guests on this wonderful day.

In this era you didn’t “handle” the media, or worry about them, because there was no “them” and “us”.  Dilip’s younger sister worked for FilmFare, popular director KA Abbas got his start as a film reviewer, everyone mixed in together.  Dilip’s complaint about the media was simply that they were overly excited about his engagement, not that they had any malice towards him.

 

And now let us leap forward all the way to the 90s.  I could pick any wedding from this era, but I will randomly pick Kajol’s.  We have a few photos of her wedding circulating, but not news photos.  These are clearly personal images from inside the event.  It was a small wedding, took place on the terrace of Ajay Devgan’s family home.  There was no mob outside the building, no news photographers waiting, no nothing.  Because now the press were very much not invited guests, but they were also very much expected gatecrashers.  If you wanted a private happy wedding, you made it truly private, you did it at home without many famous guests and you flew under the radar.

Image result for Kajol wedding

 

Picking another one at random, let’s look at Karisma Kapoor a few years later in 2003.  It was not a quiet private family affair.  It was a Kapoor wedding, it was an event, everyone even vaguely connected to the industry attended.  But at the time, the only part of the affair open to the public was when the family went outside to wave to the media and be photographed.  It wasn’t an unfriendly interaction, but it wasn’t intimate.  The media were outsiders to be placated with a few photos but not allowed into the inner sanctum.

Image result for karisma kapoor wedding

 

And then, finally, the biggie, Aishwarya and Abhishek.  Which was a complete disaster.  They somehow wanted both big and small, private and public, at the same time.  The invites were out, the press knew it was happening (unlike various other last minute weddings which went almost unnoticed).  And this was a very big wedding, famous model Aishwarya Rai with a scandalous personal life marrying Amitabh Bachchan’s son.

The media was hardly an element for Raj Kapoor’s wedding, it was an invited guest for Dilip Kumar, and had become an awkward friend to avoid by keeping your wedding secret for Kajol, and for Karishma it was a distant acquaintance that could be placated by a friendly greeting.  But for Aish and Abhi, the media was The Enemy, something standing in the way of their Dream Wedding.

Ajay Devgan went to his wedding by stepping out onto the terrace of his apartment, got married, and went back inside.  Abhishek rode a horse down the street.  They invited everyone from Anil Ambani to Sanjay Dutt, but didn’t plan on how to control the crowds outside the venue.  In the end, the police had to do a lathi charge at the crowds.  Very different from Dilip Kumar providing food for them.

Image result for abhishek bachchan horse wedding

(You can’t do this, and then get angry when people pay attention to you.)

Abhishek and Aish’s wedding was a symbol of the lowest point of media/star relationship in India.  The Internet had brought in a constant need for content, and helped with access.  News traveled at the speed of light, and so did the reporters and fans who followed it.  You could run, you could try to hide, and it would just make it worse.  The media was everywhere, and more importantly, it was everyone.

In a way it was a return to the early years of film, when the media was immersed in the Bombay film community and the Bombay film community was immersed in the greater Bombay community.  Only now reversed, instead of the film media being tiny (just the one guy), now it was the film stars buried in a sea of media, and instead of the film stars being integrated into the larger society (college kids who read Filmindia were also going to college with the children of stars), now it was the media which was intertwined with a larger sea of the greater population.

The internet media lead to a building of a community even before the growth of Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and other “social” medias.  Comments sections, chat rooms, listserves, just the ability of email to rapidly spread news, it all lead to a new bond between content creators and readers.  You would read a story, then comment on that story and become part of it, or write it up yourself and repeat it to your other online communities, or just email a link around to everyone you knew.  Suddenly you had ownership of this story, you had a commitment to it.  And when you saw Abhishek riding a white horse, or celebrities arriving at Aishwarya’s house, you related to the people being held back by the police because you were anxiously waiting for them to post their stories or pictures, so you could repeat them and send them around to all your friends.

When Ranbir Kapoor stole a photographer’s phone, or stars threatened to run down the paparazzi outside crowded parties, the public more and more took the side of the media rather than the star.  Famous people were remote, privileged, out of touch.  While the media was our friend, the clever person who made us laugh and responded to our comments, who we had helped make famous by publicizing them, we liked them and wanted them to succeed.  We don’t like the famous people any more.

Related image

(He and Ayan were going to dinner, reporter/photographer was following them, Ranbir called him over and asked to see his phone and then drove off with it)

Slowly slowly, social media started a shift.  Amitabh Bachchan, who had spent years boycotting the press, fell hard for Facebook and Twitter, it allowed him to communicate directly with his followers, helped him create what he calls his “EF” (extended family).  The other stars joined in, posting their lives online for all to see, slowly wooing us back to them and away from our other crowd of Pinkvilla and Redditt and so on.

But there was a problem.  How do you let people into your life without really really letting them in?  That perfectly constructed star identity that controlled every story, can you let go of it by just being “real”?  Social media just became a new place to create a star identity.  There was still a line, and people could tell.  Ranveer Singh could post videos of himself dancing in traffic, Priyanka could post selfies from her film sets, Varun could post messages to fans, but what were they like in real life?  When the cameras were completely off?

 

This came up on an episode of Koffee with Karan last year, a discussion between Karan and his guests (all top celebrities) of how parties aren’t parties any more, they are opportunities to take and post selfies and then leave.  Stars have become their own publicists.  They can’t just live life any more, they have to document it.

And that is what was exciting about Sonam’s wedding.  The cameras were never turned off, but no one was thinking about them.  People were at a party, enjoying themselves, and they didn’t have anything to hide from the world.  There was no “us” and “them”, there was no fear, or embarrassment, or calculation, it was just joyful and easy.

Hopefully this is the future.  A strange sort of return to Dilip Kumar’s wedding when the fans and media were given food and made part of the celebration.  Now, we are offered photos and videos, invited in again, to feel that these celebrities see us as friends instead of enemies.

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26 thoughts on “Hindi Film 101: Media and Stars, From Dilip Kumar to Sonam Kapoor

  1. `

    I’m still confused about Ranveer Singh dancing in traffic. Was there some film reference or personal trait or was he winning a bet ????

    No one cares when I dance in traffic!

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    • What channel plays this???? The celebrity wedding channel? It would just be so boring! I’ve watched Karisma’s wedding video on youtube, and that’s edited down to just a couple hours and it is still boring.

      On Fri, May 18, 2018 at 2:02 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • No, it was one of the regular broadcast channels. I exaggerate, it might have been just one really looooong day. I remember checking in from time to time during the day to see what stage they were at. It almost made the time difference disappear. 🙂

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        • My whole family watched Jr NTR’r marriage and Naga Chaitanya & Samantha’s reception live. It is one of our guilty pleasures!! I some times watch their reruns too!!

          There it is… Something I would never admit to in my real life.

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          • This is amazing! The only thing I can think of similar is the royal weddings, and even there we didn’t watch the receptions, just the arrivals at church and the actual ceremony.

            On Fri, May 18, 2018 at 11:10 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • Indian weddings ARE boring! 1-2 and a half hours of the main ceremony plus a few hours of ceremonies before and after and up to 5 hours of sitting on a stage and have people come up and take pictures with you isn’t exactly the thrill of your life! Or particularly joyous. Or fun to watch.

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  2. Fascinating. I do not know what to think about the Bachchan family. I don’t want to like Amitabh (as a person, not an actor) because of the rumors of harrassment and the way he played Rekha and Joya (which is an oversimplification, I know). But he is so seemingly open on his various social media outlets, he does the Sunday go wave at fans if he’s home, and I hadn’t heard the thing about “EF”. That’s really sweet. But then as a group they seem so awkward together in public, so oddly stiff and formal with each other. Hmm.

    So, where does Anushka and Virat’s wedding fit in this pattern? They had a smaller private wedding, then a big public reception, but media access and personal social posting was pretty limited, right?

    If Shah Rukh ever publishes his book, I hope he includes an honest and reflective section on how his relationship with Twitter changed over time and why. I know he’s talked about it in bits and pieces, but it was such a radical shift, and he doesn’t seem to be moving out of his current program–a bit more access for promotions, then close it down except for friendly business related posts.

    And, as an aside, I viciously hate the idea that all of us are now our own “brands” which we need to carefully curate on social media. “Brands” which can affect whether we get hired or not, for example. What a great way to de-humanize ourselves! Humans are complex, contradictory, and changeable, and all of those things rarely affect our ability to carry on relationships and do jobs well. Sheesh!

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    • Amitabh also seems to take that “EF” idea very seriously. He really responds to people on twitter and Facebook, and reposts things, and seems sincerely delighted with the interactions. But then I also have the same feeling as you, he can come off so stiff and strange in interviews, so unapproachable. I guess he is the rare celebrity who comes off better through social media than anything else.

      The other thing that I didn’t get into is that Amitabh had a strange press ban for 5-15 years (it varies depending on sources). During The Emergency, newspapers in Bombay were suspended and it was rumored that was because Amitabh asked Indira Gandhi to do it. In response, the media banned mentions of Amitabh through out the peak of his career, the 70s and 80s. Which also I guess means that Amitabh had surprisingly little interview and press practice for a celebrity of his stature? Maybe he just comes off odd in public appearances because he doesn’t know how to do them but social media is easier for him?

      Anushka and Virat, to me, feel like they used social media for the Italian wedding in the way that regular media would be used for a Bombay wedding. That is, they gave us a few photos to make us feel politely included, but we weren’t really part of it, those few photos were clearly planned and staged and professional. The equivalent of going out front and waving to the crowds and being photographed at your Bombay hotel reception. But it’s still better than Rani’s Italian wedding a few years back, where there were no images made available at all. And then for their receptions, they seemed to follow the usual policy of having a formal red carpet out front, and then minimal social media posting allowed from inside.

      I also find Shahrukh’s twitter relationship fascinating! Another thing I didn’t get into here is looking at how Shahrukh seems to have blown out on social media, people get sick of him, used it to troll him, and so on. And now he is taking a step back and is only present one step removed. I am seeing universally good coverage of his appearances at Sonam’s wedding, no one saying “he’s too old” or “he’s so fake”, but I suspect that if he had posted his own photos or done more, there would have been that blowback. He has to wait for someone else to do it for him.

      Sonam is another interesting one, kind of like Amitabh, not good at interviews and so on, but very good at the social media interaction, at building a fanbase there and just generally putting up things that make people like her. That’s something else I was thinking of with her wedding, no wonder she let people post from inside, she probably knew it would come out better than if she had done a dozen interviews about herself.

      And blech with the personal brands! Luckily I never bothered to build one online, so now I have this strange double-identity of “real life” Margaret, and online Margaret who is really just DCIB and nothing else. But even that is a problem now (I have heard), employers and others don’t trust you if you have no online trail, they would wonder what was wrong with me if they went to my Facebook page and saw my complete lack of activity.

      Tying this back to celebrity, the problem seems to be that people think celebrities are “lying” when they find things that don’t fit into their set “brand” in the many many data points now available, instead of just accepting they are varied people. And again, Sonam’s wedding gives me hope, because no one seemed to be acting in a “brand” way, even very branded Varun showed up with his off-brand girlfriend, and it helped the public see them as just people again.

      On Fri, May 18, 2018 at 11:44 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  3. NTR family is almost royalty for Telugu people. NTR jr is the illegitimate kid who became the face of the family!! So his weeding is as close to a royal wedding we can get 🙂

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    • Plus it was the big reconciliation and recognition scene between him and his family. I personally felt like puking every time I saw Hari Krishna on the dais.

      For Margaret — there were some fans who were actually at the wedding, too, as invited guests. Plus, when Chiranjeevi’s daughter got married, he held a separate reception for his fans. He rented a cricket stadium in Hyderabad that holds, I think, 50,000 people.

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      • I know nothing at all about Jr NTR and now I feel like I should wiki all of this and find out what happened between him and his family.

        On Fri, May 18, 2018 at 4:04 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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        • It’s very simple. NTR jr. was the product of an extramarital affair of NTR’s second oldest (I think) son. He abandoned the mistress just before or just after NTR jr.’s birth. He grew up without any acknowledgement or support (financial or otherwise) from his father’s family. When he entered films, Balakrishna (one of NTR’s sons) was still a leading star, and actively tried to sabotage his career, so as not to “disgrace” the family. This is why practically every one of Tarak’s early films had an obligatory reference to his grandfather and how he’s a worthy heir to carry on the line. Eventually the uncle’s sabotage efforts failed, and Tarak became a big star himself, to the point that it was now advantageous for his father to claim the relationship.

          The other thing you need to know is that NTR started his own political party (TDP) and was elected to be the CM of Andhra Pradesh twice and was very popular. However, he eventually lost a later election.Then his son-in-law, Chandrababu Naidu, started a separate faction of the party, and was elected to be CM himself, where he did many important things for AP’s development. He was also hugely popular, as well as making various political enemies. In the 2009 state elections, the TDP was a bit of an underdog, because Chiranjeevi had started his own party and was running. TDP didn’t have many film stars to campaign for them (Balakrishna was pretty much on the wane by then), so they reached out to Tarak, and he became a sensation on the campaign trail, having great stage presence and excellent oratory skills. Then he had a fairly major car accident, but continued to campaign from his hospital bed. Though the TDP didn’t “win” the election (Congress did), they made a respectable enough showing, and Tarak was widely credited for the success. Then his family made the really huge step to take him into its fold, and arranged his marriage with a cousin from the extended family. So this wedding was a huge deal, not only for his mother being publicly acknowledged by his father, but also because Tarak was also being taken in by the political wing of the family.

          I tried to look up exactly how Tarak’s wife is his cousin (i.e., who her parents are), but instead I found this, which tells you the state of things then:

          http://election.rediff.com/report/2009/mar/19/loksabhapoll-ntr-juniors-family-history-rocks-ap-politics.htm

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          • Interesting, so the marriage links Tarak to the political heir of the family, more than anything else. And it sounds like from the other article, the family is split along political lines, so he can’t simply join the family, he has to pick a side in it.

            I’m also thinking of Janatha Garage, one of the few Jr NTR movies I have seen, where a big deal was made over family seperation and reunion. I am tempted to say it is a comment on his real life situation, but then most of Indian movies are about family separation and reunion, so it might just be a coincidence.

            On Fri, May 18, 2018 at 4:46 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          • The “family” isn’t really split along political lines. It’s true that Chandrababu Naidu had political differences with NTR, and maneuvered to get him out of power, but before NTR could do anything about that (like start a new party), he died. Then his second wife tried to start a new party in NTR’s name, but since she really had no political following nor talent, and was basically an opportunist, she didn’t get far. She’s still on the fringes of AP politics, and tried to get some publicity now and then. Actually I believe the real “split” in the family was about her.

            Fun fact: I actually met her once, before she married NTR. So when the news of the marriage came, and I eventually remembered that I did meet her once, I was quite flabbergasted.

            Another fun fact: I “met” Tarak on his first dance tour of the US, when he was 13. I still brag about this. 🙂

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  4. I think you were one of the few outlets that gave an in-depth coverage of Sonam’s wedding with actual commentary. I had the news on in the background (I do that when I need to pull off looooooong work days because I suppose it’s comforting to know the entire country is as miserable as I) during that period and it really wasn’t much of a coverage. As you know, friends with phones posting videos online is the same as handing footage to an actual news crew because they play that shit on a loop if they want to make it a news item. That’s what happened with Virat and Anushka wedding. In a way, that single clip became instantly iconic because everyone saw just that and it went viral. The receptions that had better actual media coverage were very blah because media reported it on their own and there were way too many photos that no one has the patience to go through many many times. Media outlets lost clicks because most people had already seen the videos and pictures through whatsapp shares.

    Sonam’s wedding, unless you were particularly interested in the event, was just the same as any other celebrity wedding. Only with your social media streams full of videos from it. And how many times can you watch the same dance floor video for the wedding of this actress who nobody particularly cares about and who’s marrying someone nobody has heard of. The instant access to the wedding meant there was no time for media outlets to add their commentary. The commentary is the best part of such coverage. I’ve watched every televised royal wedding from the UK just because the commentary is impeccable. How do you think we make it through 5-day test matches and 7 hour long ODI games? LOL

    Now contrast that with the weddings of Karishma and Abhishek. Both were interesting events because of their scandalous broken engagement. That piqued people’s interest in them. That’s it.
    Now if you really want to see how media coverage works for celebrities, you have to watch it when stars get in trouble. Sanju’s trips to and from the jail were televised. I think the first time he came out (from the recent stint, not the 90s one), news covered it live for hours. Salman’s court cases were on the news with in depth coverage all day, Sri Devi’s death and funeral was covered more or less live and it was considered super invasive and disrespectful but it THE news for at least five days.

    I suppose the problem with celebrity weddings is that stars don’t do the whole big engagement announcement and interview and PDAs on red carpet (they don’t even do the red carpet thing for their films too well) and then wedding plus post wedding couple interviews. Nor are there major entertainment journalists that you’d go to for such interviews. The rest of the media carries the news like they cover all other news- footage/pictures that get us TRPs or we don’t give a fuck. And usually, there’s very little TRPs for whatever pictures/videos they have.

    About celebrities and their relationship with fans over social media, it never really took off in the truest sense because again, you can’t say anything honestly in this country in public without people asking you why you never spoke about the other thing. You couldn’t even post a tweet condemning a rape without people asking you why you never tweeted about the other rape case.

    I remember SRK’s AMA on twitter got really popular because they were so witty and people felt like they were connecting with the real SRK. But a lot of people also felt that it was someone managing his social media who got paid to do that.

    Rishi Kapoor gets in trouble regularly and actually damages his brand very often by taking very strong stands on his twitter. Then there’s the troll army that offends someone’s open letter and it sparks a debate. And none of them have an Oprah or a Jimmy or an Ellen to go do the soul baring interview with.

    It all boils down to the acceptability of celebrities talking about their private lives. That they don’t do that often enough to make it profitable for a celebrity talk show host to build a career around just that. And that is everything you need to know about media and its relationship with our film stars. And that’s why DCIB is a valuable resource because literally noone else is doing what you’re doing!

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    • Interesting point about the Virat-Anushka wedding, there’s that fine balance of giving very little which makes people even more obsessed, but still enough for them to be interested. Which they seem to have hit the perfect sweet spot for.

      I was thinking a different thing watching the Royal Wedding, how everyone was going to get excited and be talking about the couple merely holding hands. And it is because there is so little emotion revealed, versus Hollywood celebraties with the whole personal interviews, and tons of PDA and videos inside their houses and all of that. And that’s what happens with some of those popular Indian movie star couples too. Like Virat and Anushka, one blown kiss from the field and it goes viral. Or Pranushka, everyone is obsessing over, like, eye contact.

      But that goes back to what you are saying, the personal lives are still so cut off, so just the smallest window in feels momentous.

      On Sat, May 19, 2018 at 1:13 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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