This is inspired largely by the first two episodes of this season of Koffee with Karan, both of which put together two stars (Deepika and Alia and Ranveer and Akshay) who never co-starred together and aren’t known as best friends, and yet had surprising connections.
Usual Disclaimer: I am not a member of the Hindi film industry, I have no special knowledge, this is just how things look to me based on publicly available sources.
It’s easy to think of celebrities as all good friends, because that’s how we (the public) think of them. The ones in fancy clothes at the award’s shows, the ones on the talk shows, they are selling us this fantasy of being all friendly and nice together. We put them in the same place in our minds, listing out our favorite actors or favorite politicians or favorite TV journalists blathering small talk during breaks, and so we think of them as in the same place in the real world too, Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise must be best buddies because they are both super famous movie stars.
But in reality, in every field, behind the “face” person are dozens of unknown workers who are much closer to their individual “face” person than that person is to any fellow “face”. The researchers for the TV news show, the assistants for the politicians, the make-up and hair and acting coaches for the movie stars. When you get actors and other “face” people to really open up, the stories they tell of their jobs are about the cameraman and the crew and all the others who make the magic that makes them look good. That’s the reality, you may hate your on camera co-star but your best friend on set is the craft services lady.
(Shahrukh with his behind the scenes team)
There is a normal human urge to picture all celebrities like citizens of a small town, constantly gossiping and falling in love and feuding and all the rest. Because that’s how we use them, the gossip sites and all the rest of the places sell us on that sense of community, of a shared global community replacing the small town communities where we used to live. We gossip about them because we can no longer gossip about our neighbors, and we build a community out of that shared knowledge.
But then if you become slightly more sophisticated, you know that the back and forth at award shows is faked, so are the stories of onset hijinks and the jokes on the late night talk shows. It’s not learning that people hate each other which is so dispiriting, it’s learning that they don’t think about each other at all. Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt are not best friends, they only time they are ever together is at once a year award shows where they are both spending more time with their respective less-famous/non-famous group of friends than with each other. That’s part of growing up as a fan, if you spend any time at all studying these industries you come to accept that these friendships and relationships are faked. For us, for the sake of the fans who want to believe in that “small town” feel.
And yet, in Hindi film, it doesn’t seem to be faked. You don’t go to someone’s funeral and deliver the eulogy (as Amitabh did for Yashji) for the sake of fan service and feeding a fake idea of community, that’s real. And I can accept that, because it’s a different kind of work structure, one where meetings take place in homes and the line between personal and professional is extremely small. And it makes sense that all the “above the line” talent would have these connections, actors and actresses, directors, producers, scriptwriters, composers, they are all work together closely. And the below the line talent is (traditional) a very small pool and from a distinctly different class. A star’s personal make-up artist would be a close family friend. But there wouldn’t be a professional make-up team working on set, it would just be one person to whom one star is close, a closed circuit. It is the above the line group that mixes and matches, works for decades, interacts constantly, and so on and so forth. And so I have learned to accept that Aditya Chopra and Karan Johar aren’t faking their closeness (Karan being the only non-immediate family member invited to his wedding was a pretty good sign), and neither were Waheeda Rahman, Helen, Shammi, and Asha Parakh, the little gang of 60s starlets who remained friends their entire lives. And neither were Raj Kapoor and Dilip Kumar, or Salman and Shahrukh now, or anyone else.
(I love this little gang)
But what confuses me is how it happens now? Until the past 10 years, films were made at such a rapid rate that you would meet and become friends with people through film sets at the rate of dozens per year. And then those friendships would be solidified on other film sets and you would end up with a tight network of close friends within just a few years of the start of your career.
But now? When Karan is bringing people on Koffee who have never co-starred, who are not related and did not grow up in the same circles and declaring they are close friends? How does that happen?
And I guess now is as good a time as any for a personal anecdote! Years ago I worked at a movie theater (as I have mentioned before). It was the only time I have had a job with multiple co-workers, otherwise it’s all been small offices or tiny stores that only need one person working at a time. And it was the perfect mixture of downtime for chatting, and very very busy difficult time when we worked as a team. Plus it was shift work so you would do 6 hours with 2 people one day, and 6 hours with a different 3 people another day. I knew absolutely everything about each of my co-workers very quickly, we had private jokes and nicknames for each other, I even knew deep personal stories (an abusive marriage, death of a parent, that kind of stuff). One of them gave me a TV casually, I gave away furniture to someone else. Some of them became my best friends, others I haven’t seen or spoken to in years since we worked together, some of them I would have been friends with and met otherwise, others I never would have known without that job. I am beginning to think of the Hindi film industry at a certain level as like that job. And limited only to “face” celebrities.
It’s weddings and awards shows that made the difference. That is what I am noticing more and more on the stories told on Koffee this year. Before, you would be on a film set with a crew around you and different schedules and only overlapping a little. You would still make friends (especially on a location shoot) and get to know each other and so on, but it would be a little more diffuse. There were other folks around, other considerations.
Awards shows and weddings are different. The only people from the film industry hired for them are the celebrities. Maybe a few back-up dancers, but the chances of you knowing one of the dances versus knowing one of your fellow headlines is very small. And based on the few shows I have seen, you wouldn’t even necessarily be interacting with the dancers, you would be coming out and doing patter and a few moves, and then the dancers fill time. The ones you are interacting with are your fellow celebrities, waiting for your turn to go on, practicing your joint routine, and helping each other out during the many disasters that can happen while you are on stage.
(remember when Ranbir and Shahrukh did a comedy skit together at FilmFare? I’m not saying that alone made them best friends, but it is part of the whole fabric of connections leading to Ranbir being invited to Shahrukh’s very exclusive birthday party)
Weddings, awards shows, there’s all kinds of times when you have that mixture of downtime when there is nothing else to do but talk and hectic crazy work when you rapidly build up a trust and a sense of teamwork. And it’s specific to the celebrities, because they are the ones at the weddings and the awards shows. And so you end up with Dips and Alia bonding not because they worked together in a high profile movie, or socialized together with their boyfriends, but because they were both stuck in line for the women’s bathroom at a never-ending award show they had to be at for work. Or Akshay and Ranveer bonding not through mutual friends/relatives or a shared movie, but through seeing each other at the many many weddings they both book on the weekends. It’s a strange self-fulfilling prophecy, because they are paid to put on that show of community so often (gathered together at weddings and other events and shows), the community ends up springing up after all, in spite of itself.
Of course, that’s not the only connection. There’s also simple geography. It came up in Akshay’s episode of Koffee this year that Sajid Nadiawala and Hrithik Roshan both live in his building. Last year, it came up that Aamir calls Jackie Shroff at 2am when he can’t sleep because Jackie lives downstairs. Everyone lives within a certain area that is convenient for the studios. And they live in nice buildings, expensive ones that other film industry workers couldn’t afford. But not as nice as the true millionaires and power brokers of the city, I don’t think the Ambanis live in the same buildings as the Khans. Although they do go to the same schools, the few schools that would also fit within that geographic area and are the nice and expensive ones. The few clothing stores, the few restaurants, and so on and so forth. Bombay is a massive city with a massive population, but the little circle that the celebrity film people move within is very small.
(This is Salman’s building, he decorated the the whole thing for his sister Arpita’s wedding, but the family only lives in a few floors. Funny thing, Bombay thing, almost everyone lives in highrise luxury apartments instead of owning their own homes, and it brings in an added layer of connection)
That doesn’t mean everyone is equally good friends. Which is the other way it reminds me of that job, out of the 20-some workers, we were all close and talking and so on at the job. But outside of work we naturally broke down into different but overlapping social groups. I had weekly movie nights that were girls only, everyone was invited but it eventually broke down to a core group that really enjoyed them. There were occasional late night bar hopping and club events, to which I was invited but never went and some of my movie core group joined along with other non-movie night folks. And everyone also had their non-work friends still, who you would sometimes meet and hear and know about but weren’t part of the same group. And again, it sounds like this. Ranveer and Akshay like each other from awards shows and weddings and get along fine, but it doesn’t sound like they ever really socialize together. Karan (as we know) is Twinkle’s friend since childhood and knows Akshay through work and her. Ranveer and Karan are a little closer, but still not in the center group of friends for either one. And like that. The industry isn’t a closed clique, it’s an intersecting series of connections and it is made on film sets but also award shows and weddings and apartment building lobbies. In his episode of Koffee, Ranveer remembered Akshay’s advice that skipping an event when you could be paid to show up is “money getting wasted”. But it’s also opportunities to quickly and easily make a bond being wasted.
And so I look forward to and enjoy these little reveals of surprising connections, Jackie and Aamir having late night conversations, Akshay and Karan hanging out at weddings where he performs and Karan hosts, Alia and Dips sneaking into the men’s room together at an award show, Karan giving Ranveer his hand-me-down clothes, Amitabh and Shahrukh playing board games together while in Morocco to get awards, and of course the late night get together in lounge-y clothes with a bunch of people you wouldn’t even expect to necessarily know each other.