I've been reading the Bombay English-language fan magazines for
eight years. There are 5 principal monthlies, another that used to
come out twice a month (haven't seen it lately) and a trade paper
called "Screen" which doesn't print gossip but does cover
marriages, deaths, etc. in the whole Bombay film world (spilling
over into South and Bengali regional industries when appropriate).
Indian film censorship is still very strict, but there have been some
changes in what is allowed--after all, Star TV is there now, and
plenty of sexy English-language films in theaters and on video. So
a little nudity, some rough (clothed) sex, a bit of adultery not
immediately punished--this is allowed in Hindi films today. But an
example of the treatment of sex in cinema is the remake of
FATAL ATTRACTION, HAAR JEET, which also incorporated
SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME. In the end the Glenn Close
character gives her life to save the hero, the cop who is protecting
her. In essence nothing has changed.
The fan press is something else. "Stardust," "Cine Blitz," "Star and
Style," and even sedate "Filmfare" are packed with fashion ads and
the kind of stories "Confidential" marketed in its prime. Since
Bombay cinema is almost totally star-driven, and has been for at
least 50 years, the stars' lives have become parallel text to the
films. Recent studies on the lives of Amitabh Bachchan and others
have brought this phenomenon into academia. All my Indian
friends who are movie fans follow the stars' lives to some degree,
whether or not they ever read this "yellow" press--more sanitized
versions of the same stories pop up in the mainstream Indian press
regularly, and a recent crossover event has been the press war
between stars who feel the gossips have gone too far and the
gossips themselves who claim privilege. These battles have the
function of keeping the mutual benefits in high profile, and
legitimizing the actions of the gossip press (which usually has the
upper hand--who wants to read denials?). A few years ago,
Morley Safer on "60 Minutes" said he believed most of the stories
were true. Certainly a lot of money changes hands in obtaining the
stories from servants, spies, friends, starlets (male and female) etc.
So with their images untarnished by film roles, the stars become
actors in their life stories--with the same attributes as their super
hero/ines. Dharmendra and the Khan brothers drink and get into
fights. Rekha survives the death of her first husband and the
suicide of her latest in one year. Amitabh grows old--overnight.
This is pure cinema, and has been depicted in Indian films by other
The second tier of stories, however, is the "forbidden" material.
Here are some stories that ran once, or over months and years, in
the gossip glossies, with no chance of being turned into films _a
clef_. (1) Heroine of art films moves in with married co-star,
attends a friend's cremation (which the gossip press says is
forbidden to women), marches in a political protest, and dies
following childbirth. (2) After 20 years in films, this "virginal"
actress has reached her thirties still popular, has affair with married
co-star, breaks up. Fan mag produces "evidence" of a secret
marriage and a secret divorce (stars can be bigamous even though
it's illegal for the common folk). Later her marriage proposal is
rejected by an important non-resident Indian millionaire. None of
this dampens her popularity. (3) Ex-mistress of star-politician
plays "Pretty Woman" in life. She falls in love with
multimillionaire, whose family rejects her as trash. So she gives
up films, goes to Australia (I think), opens a business. Some time
later his family relents, and there is a big wedding. (4) Elderly
star of the 50s who nursed his wife through a serious illness shrugs
off stories that he had homosexual affair in his youth-so what?
This is the kind of parallel text that has emerged from years of
bland "My Favorite Food" kind of fan magazine journalism. I
don't do fan studies, and I don't know who reads these glossies.
But the stories of the stars' lives are important to their careers in a
way that doesn't seem to apply here. (I'm thinking of several
posthumous biographies of "our" stars which spill all kinds of
nasty information which seems irrelevant to anything they did on
screen.) In India, bland people don't get into print. If the young
actors and actresses don't have some scandal to bring with them, or
quickly find one, they will be treated like tapioca pudding. Cute
pictures--and you'll probably never hear of them again until they
marry (by arrangement) and retire. So, "I am not a homosexual!"
says Male Model and "Did xxx really make that porno film in the
U.S.?" ("Yes but it's not porno!" she retorts.)
Meanwhile on screen, these people bow at the feet of their elders,
annihilate crooked politicians, destroy rapists.
Oh yes, one actor has been accused of rape and another of murder
in the glossies...