One surprising consequence of moving to Mumbai has been the closer contact I seem to have developed with Bollywood. No, I don’t get invited to Page 3 parties. Infact, the only celebrities I have seen so far are so minor, I am embarrassed to flaunt the ‘sightings’. It’s just that I get this feeling that suddenly there is too much information on Bollywood and related stuff around me.
The main culprit behind this is the city’s leading newspaper Times of India. TOI takes its role as the chronicler of Bollywood stories very seriously. I get updated stories on what the Bachchan clan is upto almost every other day. On the occasion of the Junior Bachchan’s first wedding anniversary, the media went into raptures trying to capture the topics discussed on the teleconference that Bachchan family had. Apparently the Juniors were vacationing in Miami whereas the Senior Bachchans were in Mumbai. The technologically savvy family (Sr Bachchan even has a blog!) decided to hold a teleconference in an intimate gathering of just fifty newspersons so there could be a very intercontinental (and very public) transfer of love and affection. TOI, I am sure, must have been at the head table. It is bad enough that an entire family is daft enough to do this. But it is worse to see it covered in such loving detail.
Last month, I finally decided that just because I was not going to get The Hindu in the mornings, there was no reason to torture myself with TOI. I changed my paper to Hindustan Times in a bid to read about politics, the nation, inflation, U.S. elections, local Mumbai rains and so on and so forth. While the quality of news is better, I am still up-to-date on the whole ‘Is Ash pregnant’ debate (At last count, she wasn’t). You just can’t escape Bollywood in Bombay papers.
The cumulative effect of all this is that Bollywood has permeated into other aspects of life too. The conscientious CEOs, bankers, ad men and sundry denizens of the city get their morning dose of Bollywood and before you know it, authorize ad campaigns with Amitabh advertising chocolates and Shah Rukh advertising powder. When the companies can’t afford the A list actors, they make do with the C list ones. I watched with amusement as primetime TV and the local newspaper covered a split between Arbaaz Khan and Malaika Arora (a third rate actor and his wife, an actress popular for her item numbers). It turned out to be a ‘hoax’ and a ‘well-done’ advertisement for some beauty product. The next day, the newspaper carried indulgent write-ups by various columnists on how it was a great gag. Seriously, do these people believe that anyone outside of Mumbai know who Arbaaz and Malaika are? Or even care whether they are splitting up?
With the IPL wave riding high, there has only been more of it. The game shows all seem to be populated with them. The quizmasters and judges are actors. The participants are often actors too. The FM channels hold Bollywood quizzes. The bill boards throw their faces at you.
I like Hindi movies. Infact, I am capable of watching even the terrible ones from the 90s where Karishma Kapoor had caterpillar eyebrows or Akshay Kumar used to wear baggy pants. Yet with an increasing awareness of and exposure to Bollywood, the good old romance of watching near-strangers play make-believe characters in make-believe movies fades rapidly. I hate having to watch out for the on-screen chemistry of Saif Ali Khan and Kareena Kapoor or wonder if Preity Zinta’s role was edited in order to give Rani Mukherji greater screen space. Shah Rukh’s cute prattle has turned into an annoying background noise now that it is heard in large doses. If only all of them would disappear and just fill the screen for three solid hours where it would be easy for me to pretend they are the girl next-door or the maniac murderer or the doting father-of-two or the evil scheming mother-in-law. After all, that was the purpose for which they were originally given an identity.