Star Machine

The rise, fall and stubborn survival of Filmfare

01 August, 2013

ON ANY GIVEN DAY, about two dozen journalists are hard at work on the fourth floor of the sprawling 19th century headquarters of the Times of India on DN Road, Mumbai. Concern about Sonam Kapoor’s newest hair style forms the basis of one meticulous story; a deep dive into the history of the 1993 death of young star Divya Bharti, in the wake of starlet Jiah Khan’s suicide, is the beginning of another. At least one person at a time is dedicated to discovering what older movie stars, some of them former cover girls and boys, are up to. The editors pace the floor, debating which of their clutch of exclusives will make the cover of next month’s edition of their magazine, the celebrated monthly publication Filmfare.

Energy levels in here almost match those of the neighbouring newsroom, which belongs to Mumbai Mirror, the city’s most widely read English-language tabloid. The Mirror journalists, with their punishing daily schedules and requirements for entertainment section fillers about the lives and careers of the stars, have a somewhat attenuated relationship with their beat. “Can we please manage to talk with Mandira Bedi about Indian Idol Junior?” I overheard one of them plead on the phone, as I walked past.

At Filmfare, meanwhile, the journalists put their feet up when chatting with their subjects. On the phone, Ranbir Kapoor became ‘Ganglu,’ (“The name is known only to family and folks he is close to,” as the Times of India reported gravely some years ago), and Abhishek Bachchan the informal ‘Abhi’. For six decades now, Filmfare, a publication begun by the Times Group to cash in on Indian audiences’ insatiable thirst for news about the Hindi film industry, has ruled the roost of Hindi movie journalism in English, and its influence is not taken lightly.

In a culture where public expectations of movie stars begin long before the studio lights are switched on and continue well after the credits have rolled, everything seemingly personal, including clothes, behaviour, family values and romantic attachments, is carefully tracked. They are just as carefully manipulated by stars and their management, calibrated for maximum effect as details are leaked in blogs, tweets, accelerating news cycles and the front pages of celebrity supplements. With its unfettered glamour and zealously feigned intimacy, the film magazine spread is the ultimate in movie promotion. A star can have no more sumptuous vehicle for his or her image—and given both its closeness to the industry and its willingness to tailor its coverage for subjects’ benefit, Filmfare is the most desirable PR vehicle of all.

On a Wednesday afternoon this May in his office at Nariman Point, I met the former journalist, writer and film producer Pritish Nandy, who had edited Filmfare for a short but significant time between 1984 and 1986. “It used to make or mar a film’s fortunes with its reviews,” he remembered. “It might still continue to do it, but it is difficult to assess in this complex world of the internet.”

What was for certain, he said, was that Filmfare magazine’s cover remains a Hindi film star’s “dream destination.” For years, Filmfare gave its readers exactly what the film industry always wanted—well-packaged publicity, sprinkled here and there with “acceptable” gossip. Stars didn’t mind serving up a small appetiser of scandal alongside a banquet of stories that lavished attention on their moods and their interests—in exactly the way they wished for them to be presented. Filmfare is the only magazine that has always served up that combination in the way the industry preferred.

“Social media and comments on Bollywood sites can be fairly misleading,” said Ram Mirchandani, who co-produced the 2012 hit Vicky Donor. “We know which star is trending and which one is not, when we see Filmfare.”


In 2004, Filmfare moved out from under the umbrella of Bennett Coleman and Company Limited (BCCL), the media company which publishes the Times of India, and came under the aegis of World Wide Media, which brings out lifestyle and “special interest” magazines. The WWM website announced: “The media landscape witnessed the inception of a strategic alliance, when India’s largest media and entertainment conglomerate, The Times Of India Group, and BBC Worldwide, which is a household name the world over, came together to form Worldwide Media”. In October 2011, BBC exited the partnership and Worldwide Media became a wholly owned subsidiary of BCCL.

The Times Group makes no secret of the fact that Filmfare promotes paid content. “If the magazine publishes the photo of a star holding a Louis Vuitton bag, for instance, the company gets paid by the star, Louis Vuitton, and sometimes even the designer whose dress the star wears,” said a senior staff member of the Times Group, who asked not to be named. Although everyone I met at Filmfare talked about this arrangement openly, no one wanted to go on the record with the admission.

This model allows Filmfare to thrive to a degree belied by its solid but unremarkable numbers—average issue readership in the last quarter of 2012 was 200,000. “A star would pay to be featured in Filmfare even while there are several other print and online spaces to be featured on for free, because of Filmfare’s legacy,” said Suparna Sharma, who is writing a book about Indian gossip journalism. “Through its history, Filmfare has portrayed itself as being the star machine. If you were in Filmfare, you were a star. If not, you had not arrived.”

FILMFARE, which proclaimed itself the “first serious effort of film journalism in India,” was launched as a bimonthly magazine on 7 March 1952 in Bombay. It was to be a landmark year in history for Indian movie audiences. The first International Film Festival of India, featuring films from the US and the UK, was held that year in Bombay, Calcutta, Delhi and Madras, widening their privileged audiences’ understanding of what cinema could be and do.

In the same year, Bombay Talkies, the historic film studio founded in 1934, ceased production for good. The studio system which had governed Bombay cinema through the early decades of its life was expiring, and new power structures were forming in its wake. “In hindsight, it doesn’t seem like a coincidence that Filmfare was launched the same year that Bombay Talkies ceased production,” said film and city historian Rafique Baghdadi, whose father was once employed with the studio. “Filmfare was a ‘star magazine’, and the downfall of the studio system strengthened the star system.”

Throughout the 1930s, movie studios in Bombay and elsewhere, much like their counterparts in Hollywood, were companies for whom actors were salaried employees. Names like Devika Rani and Ashok Kumar—both Bombay Talkies idols—were good reasons for a film to sell, but Bombay Talkies itself was the more considerable inducement.

The great male movie stars of the late 1940s and 1950s, Raj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar and Dev Anand, were graduates of the studio system. Kapoor had early employment with Bombay Talkies before establishing his own RK Films in 1948; Kumar and Anand were discovered by Bombay Talkies and Prabhat Films respectively. The actors’ growing popularity helped them establish a gradual control over the box office. Even as these behemoths began to struggle in independent India’s new economy, audiences began to associate films more strongly with the stars appearing in them. Eventually, a star became a movie’s most bankable feature, and as the studio system disintegrated, actors found themselves free to pick and choose the producers and directors they wished to work with.

As fortunes began to rise and fall with the fates of movie stars, film journalism was pulled into their orbit as well. Before Filmfare came into the picture, English language film journalism was more or less limited to Trade Journal, a professional magazine that provided industry coverage, and an extraordinary journal called FilmIndia. Baburao Patel, its acerbic editor and a man widely considered to be the doyen of Indian film journalism, once declared, “Film journalism began in 1935—when I started FilmIndia. Not before that.”


“It was fashionable for college-going kids of St Stephens or Elphinstone to own FilmIndia,” Baghdadi told me. “They would proudly carry it in public. Later, FilmIndia got replaced by Filmfare.”

Filmfare saw a rise in its circulation and impact as FilmIndia declined, not helped along by Patel’s penchant for rousingly provocative criticism. (“It will be well for the girl not to risk singing in the future,” he once wrote of a young Noor Jehan.) “Baburao Patel had the dubious distinction of being whipped by irate actresses for spreading malicious rumours,” says film scholar Debashree Mukherjee. As large media houses like the Express Group (which publishes Screen) and the Times Group began to corner the film journalism market, Patel’s FilmIndia began a slow decline into irrelevance and eventual closure.

With Filmfare, the modern star magazine covering the Hindi film industry had been born. The target audience for film magazines shifted; they were no longer just trade professionals or film critics, but mass film audiences. The first editors of Filmfare were clear about its place in the larger culture of the Hindi film industry. Its first editorial, in slightly orotund fashion, spelt out its policy:

It is from the dual standpoint of the industry and its patrons, whom [sic] comprise the vast audience of film fans, that Filmfare is primarily designed. This magazine represents the first serious effort in Film journalism in India. It is a movie magazine with a difference. The difference lies in our realisation that the film as a composite art medium calls for a serious study and constructive criticism and appreciation from the industry as also from the public.

True to its early promise to focus on the movie-going audience, Filmfare, in 1955, began a section called ‘Question Box’ where audiences were encouraged to ask questions to the editors. Boundaries were clearly defined: “Only questions of informative, factual nature, soliciting information about the film industry and its principal figures would be encouraged.”

Printed on rough paper in large black-and-white print, Filmfare in the 1950s looked plain. Its content was anything but. In its early years, the magazine had approached movie stars to write long features, and they had responded generously. A memorable piece by Raj Kapoor in a January 1957 issue, flatly titled ‘Audience Reaction’, began with Kapoor posing the question “What does the public want?” and went on to discuss how, in Kapoor’s view, that question should be the basis for filmmaking. Next to his essay, the actor-filmmaker appeared in a seemingly candid photo, sitting amidst the audience of one of his movies, studying their reaction.

“Knowingly or unknowingly,” Baghdadi says, “Filmfare made great efforts to make Raj a star.”

Among the more impactful consequences of Filmfare’s arrival was an increased respectability for female actors. In an industry which was now heavily male-dominated, the first issue in March 1952 had Kamini Kaushal, the actress of Ziddi and Shaheed, on its cover. “By lending the actresses some credibility,” Mukherjee pointed out, “Filmfare played a great role in making Hindi films a respected form of entertainment, which could attract middle and upper-class viewership.” As the Italian neo-realism of the late 1940s and 1950s began to influence Hindi cinema, the work of Leftist writers and filmmakers like KA Abbas, Chetan Anand and Bimal Roy, focused on the working classes and toiling poor of the new India, grew in significance. Filmfare was an early champion of this cinema, editorially inclined to support its politics and ambitions, and doing its bit for the nation-building project.

Filmfare saw itself not just as an ally of the Hindi film industry, but as an integral part of it, writing about film and understanding film audiences. Perhaps as a consequence of this, the writings of senior editors were taken very seriously by filmmakers, and stories would be discussed at great length in the studios.

Over 60 years, Filmfare has seen more than a dozen editors. As then-editor of the Times of India, the legendary Frank Moraes initially took charge of the magazine. Arguably its most significant editor, though, was his successor, Burjor K Karanjia. In 18 years as Filmfare editor in the 1960s and the 1970s, “BK”, as he was almost universally known, doubled the magazine’s circulation. Karanjia was said to maintain a healthy distance from the stars—Dev Anand once recalled that BK refused to turn up at a party Anand had thrown in his honour, because he had to work the next day—but loved to forge friendships with them.

BK took Filmfare’s fan-centric manifesto seriously. He introduced regular columns like the long-running “Readers Don’t Digest”, where readers could point out errors and inconsistencies in new releases. A sample entry, from 1969, reads: “In Neelkamal, no tail lamp on the last bogie of the train, the guard enters the compartment carrying a red flag instead of a lamp... though the entire scene takes place at night!” This was to remain a hugely popular column for decades to come, and fans often seemed to enter into the spirit of gentle raillery which characterised the enterprise. (“We’re told divorce is not big deal these days but this is taking things too far,” a reader wrote about the film No Entry in 2005, “when the girls in the film decide to divorce their spouses, they are shown walking towards the Court of Small Causes and not the Family Court!”)

Another BK column was called “The Stars Advise You” where “stars” ostensibly replied to readers’ general queries on life. A typical exchange went:

Dear Sir,

My father wants me to be engaged to a girl who is fat—I have seen!—because she comes from a well-known family and has good qualities. My mother, brothers and other relatives also insist on it. What should I do?

- P.D.G. Jabalpur

Dear P.D.G,

Obviously you do not like fat girls, and I won’t blame you! Well, let me make a suggestion. Tell your parents you will get engaged to the girl on one condition: that she slims! Obesity is largely due to over eating, sluggish habits or laziness. Slimming is a difficult task, for it needs discipline and will power. If the girl succeeds, it will also mean she likes you enough to fulfil your condition—in which case, get engaged!

- Dev

Some of these sounded less like readers’ enquiries and more like questions the journalists would have liked to ask the film stars. Here’s one such to Raj Kapoor, after the Nargis affair became fairly well known:

Dear Sir,

I am the unhappiest woman on earth. My only desire cannot be satisfied. I am in love with a married man. I am ready to do anything for him, make any sacrifice. What can I do?


Dear S.S.,

As in everything else in life, in love too you must be practical. You cannot marry your married man. Therefore, the only course open for you is to try and forget him. This may be difficult—but who knows perhaps in time you may succeed in loosening the chains of the past to let you marry another man and make him happy.

FILMFARE’S MONOPOLISTIC run of Hindi movie journalism continued until the 1960s, when it was broken by two newer, glossier magazines in which two journalists separately launched assaults that would take film journalism in hitherto unthinkable directions. The journalist Devyani Chaubal, memorably nicknamed ‘Poison Pen’ in the film industry, began writing a gossip column in 1969 for a new magazine called Star and Style, which was published by JC Jain in Mumbai. The other, Shobhaa De, then Kilachand, was a glamorous, sharp-tongued former model who became editor of the rabble-rousing Stardust at age 23.

Stardust, launched in October 1971 by the Mumbai-based Magna Publishing Co. Ltd., was businessman Nari Hira’s attempt to make a magazine along the lines of American gossip magazine Photoplay, promising to take readers behind the screen, and show them the real Bollywood, as Bombay’s film industry was coming to be called.

Stardust, foremost in a slew of new English-language glossy magazines, introduced a new language to film journalism. The film scholar Rachel Dwyer says that when these magazines first appeared on the scene, they looked trivial to their competitors—“Not about film at all, but consisting instead of stories of exciting and scandalous lifestyles of the stars of the film world, presented in a manner guaranteed to titillate middle-class metropolitan housewives.”

Shortly after, in February 1975, the magazine CineBlitz was launched by Rifa Publications, owned by BK Karanjia’s even more flamboyant elder brother, the journalist and editor Russy Karanjia. CineBlitz (whose name was allied to the title of Russy Karanjia’s most famous publication, the investigative tabloid Blitz) took forward the new Stardust model of film reporting. Two magazine taglines from the 1970s reflect competing worldviews. While CineBlitz’s cover splashed the words “Always unearthing scandals and scoops”, Filmfare stuck to “Another name for credibility”.

However, the circulation figures said it all. Within the first four months of its launch, Stardust became the market leader, selling more than a hundred thousand copies in this time. This was despite the fact that Stardust was priced at Rs 2, 0.75 paise more than Filmfare. The ‘film lovers’ that Filmfare claimed to write for had cast their votes in favour of Stardust.

It didn’t matter to the average reader that most stories in Filmfare included properly sourced quotes from film stars, while Stardust and others like it essentially published gossip. A regular column in Stardust, titled “Neeta’s Natter” and written anonymously by “The Cat”, was full of dubious, if entertaining, information. Written in what Amitav Ghosh once called “wonderfully innovative” language, pioneering the “khichdi of Bombaiyah Hindi and English”, Neeta’s Natter was informal, chatty and sassy. As Dwyer pointed out to me, its tone was established by its endearments—the section typically began with salutations like “Pets,” and “Dahlings,”—and nicknames for the stars which established Stardust’s insider status. (In a precursor to the familial warmth with which today’s magazines call Ranbir Kapoor ‘Ganglu’, in Neeta’s Natter, Raj Kapoor’s actor sons, Randhir, Rishi and Rajiv were addressed like they were at home, as ‘Dabboo’, ‘Chintu’ and ‘Chimpoo’ respectively.)

“Nothing was sacrosanct,” De wrote in an email conversation recalling her time at the magazine. “Stardust broke established rules and rewrote them.” The animated description in the February 1973 issue, of an alleged romance between Rishi Kapoor and Dimple Kapadia, the young lead actors of Raj Kapoor’s Bobby, illustrates this glittering new penchant for drama: “It was on the cool sea beach that Dimple stood distraught with the gold ring that Chintu had placed on her finger....” (The story concludes, of course, with the movie-like twist of Kapadia marrying Rajesh Khanna).

The Stardust brand of journalism reached its zenith—or nadir, depending on the viewpoint—with a prolonged media stand-off in the mid-1970s, which involved no less a personality than Amitabh Bachchan. There are several versions of the story, but in later years, both Nari Hira and Bachchan separately confirmed, in an interview and blog post respectively, that the tussle began in 1974. Stardust had organised a charity show at which several top stars had agreed to appear. Later, reportedly at the behest of Dilip Kumar, many of these stars decided that it would be unwise to endorse Stardust by associating with it, and decided both to boycott the event, as well as revoke access to all ‘gossip’ magazines. Most went on to work out their differences with the glossies sooner or later, but Bachchan refused to yield. At a time when Bollywood news was anathema to newspapers, and the electronic media negligible in its influence, magazines were a star’s primary link to their fan base. Perhaps Bachchan, in leading the boycott, may have decided that this was insufficient reason to appease Stardust.

When I met Rauf Ahmed, editor of Filmfare between 1986 and 1994, he alleged that there was another side to the story. “I think what is usually not referred to is the controversy created by Stardust by doing a cover story alleging a romance between Amitabh and Zeenat [Aman],” Ahmed said. “This irked Amitabh.”

An archival photograph from Filmfare has Neetu Singh, Rishi Kapoor and Naseem on the sets of Kabhie Kabhie (1976). COURTESY FIMFARE

As a consequence of the boycott, Stardust, Star and Style and many other film magazines formed an informal association in 1977 and banned Bachchan indefinitely, a move that lasted 15 years in the case of some titles. “Banning Bachchan was unthinkable, as he was the biggest star of that era,” said Bhawana Somaaya, film critic and writer, who was a journalist with another filmmagazine at the time. “However, it was something my editors had decided to do, so all of us journalists complied.”

Even though Filmfare did not oppose the ban explicitly, it helped the magazine in a bizarre way. Following the kerfuffle, Bachchan remained a media recluse until the end of the 1980s. But in 1986, two years after he had won the parliamentary elections from Allahabad, Filmfare published a four-page feature called ‘Back To The Future’, in which they flew the highly successful actor-turned-politician to his hometown, which led to a scoop by Rauf Ahmed that included an intimate photo essay of Bachchan revisiting his school, his classroom, meeting with his former principal, and driving his first car.

Through these upheavals in movie journalism, Filmfare, apparently, had refused to compromise its original objective. In its pages, unlike those of its glossy counterparts, it was possible to find serious news about topics such as Emergency-era conflict between the ruling Congress party and the Censor Board—an editorial that year lambasted the Central Board for Film Certification (CBFC) for its high-handedness. In the immediate period before the Emergency, the government had begun to openly interfere with the CBFC decisions.

By 1979, BK Karanjia had retired, and in his place, after prolonged deliberation from Times Group management, came, in 1981, critic Bikram Singh, who had previously worked under BK as an assistant editor. Singh’s interests aligned with yet another expansion in popular Hindi cinema, with middle-of-the-road, ‘parallel’ cinema making space for a new idiom. Shyam Benegal’s 1974 film Ankur, in many ways a pioneering feature for the parallel cinema movement, got a rave review in Filmfare—something that its racier competitors were never to do.

Filmmakers like Basu Chatterjee and Hrishikesh Mukherjee, with their small, entertaining films centred around everyday locations, middle-class concerns and actors who looked and dressed like ordinary people on screen, were standard-bearers for this new consciousness. Singh’s sympathies appeared to be readily aligned with theirs. His unforgiving reviews of commercial cinema had been alienating to commercial stars and big-budget producers even before he became Filmfare’s editor, and the differences of opinion continued through his tenure as editor.

“Bikram Singh swore by quality cinema,” Rauf Ahmed recalled to me. “He was the only knowledgeable person who did some homework before he wrote. He was my inspiration.”

In his 2005 memoir Counting My Blessings, BK, who eventually moved from Filmfare to Screen, wrote that he had recommended Singh to succeed him, but in a later interview with The Hindu, he had an oddly wistful confession to make. “I would have liked Shobhaa [De] to have succeeded me in editing Filmfare,” he told his interviewer. “But somehow it did not work out.”

BESET BY FIERCE COMPETITION and an editorial sensibility which was beginning to seem distinctly conservative, Filmfare’s circulation took a hit, and revenues fell. When it bounced back in the late 1980s, it did so thanks to the miraculous revival of something which had itself become superannuated over the years: the Filmfare Awards.

Instituted by the Times Group in 1954, two years after the launch of the magazine and coinciding with the institution of the National Film Awards, the Filmfare Awards, originally called the Clares after Clare Mendonca, movies editor of the Times of India, were conceived of by JC Jain, general manager of the group at that time. Keenly interested in movies and the people behind them, Jain had meant the awards, which were renamed with the magazine’s title in 1956, to be a vehicle for proximity to film stars and influence over the movie business. The Filmfare Awards, unlike the National Awards which were judged by a panel of the government’s representatives, were given on the basis of audience votes, and those of film critics.

The awards had kicked off promisingly. Twenty thousand readers of Filmfare wrote in with votes from across India, and industry majors such as Bimal Roy, Dilip Kumar and Meena Kumari participated in the ceremony and took home the top awards. Over time, though, the awards seemed to lose steam; through the 1980s, with Bikram Singh’s distaste for popular spectacle shaping the magazine’s relationships with the industry, they became increasingly perfunctory.

As attendance from the film industry’s ranks declined, negating the awards’ primary motive, Ashok Jain, then chairman of the Times Group, decided to scrap them. The move was also driven by the fact that the cost of organising the ceremony far exceeded its contribution to the magazine’s position or profits. The awards were discontinued in 1985.

Pritish Nandy, who concurrently edited Filmfare and the Illustrated Weekly of India, the Times weekend magazine, until Rauf Ahmed took over the former in 1986, remembers that Filmfare itself was no longer bringing in any significant revenue to its publishing company. But Ashok Jain could never countenance shutting it down. “For him,” Nandy told me, “all his magazines were a matter of pride and legacy.”

Then, in a move borne of necessity, the Filmfare Awards were rescued from oblivion. When Ashok Jain’s famously driven son, Samir, began to run the company, belts were tightened. Samir’s philosophy, notably different from Ashok Jain’s, prioritised the bottomline over almost every other concern, and budget anxiety had led him to consider axing the more unprofitable elements of the family publishing empire. These happened to be Nandy’s Illustrated Weekly, the women’s monthly Femina, and Filmfare.

Rauf Ahmed, who had edited Movie magazine before taking charge of Filmfare, was summoned to Samir Jain’s office one afternoon in early 1988. “Get ready to move to the Times of India’s newspaper section,” Jain told Ahmed.

“Samir Jain was not the kind of man who would be happy with 10 percent profits,” Ahmed recalled to me. He and Nandy both sought six months to revive their respective magazines. “What can you do in six months?” Samir Jain reportedly asked Ahmed. But he gave him his lease, and while it took longer than half a year, Ahmed turned the magazine’s fortunes around.

Convinced that it was the only way to raise funds for the magazine, he pushed for the relaunch of the Filmfare Awards, and in 1990, around five years after the awards show had seemingly trudged to the end of its lifespan, it was reinstated. Two award functions were held that year to compensate for their absence in previous years. The awards for 1988 were announced on 23 January and those for 1989 the next day. Their pomp was unlike anything seen before. “I remember Aamir [Khan] danced to Papa Kehte Hain and that drew in a lot of crowds in 1990,” said Ahmed.

For the first time in its history, the awards were held entirely in order to generate revenue via sponsorships, and the experiment was successful. Filmfare gained considerable funds, as well as a radically improved relationship with a wary film industry.

The awards, judged by a dual voting system involving audience and a jury put together by Filmfare’s editors, had never been considered particularly fair. In the most notorious controversy in its history, composers Shankar-Jaikishan won the 1973 trophy for best film music for their soundtrack to Be-Imaan. Public opinion, however, had been so strongly in favour of Ghulam Mohammed’s songs for Pakeezah, that there was an immediate outcry; among the protestors was renowned character actor Pran, who turned down his own award for Best Supporting Actor in Be-Imaan.

Having reinstated the awards in a new decade, those in charge of the magazine thought it might be the right time to fix its image. One Monday morning in 1991, Ahmed walked into his office to find his small desk colonised by three gunny bags overflowing with paper. He recognised them as ballots for the upcoming edition of the Filmfare Awards, and  sifted through the pile to discover that they were all votes for the Best Actor category in support of Amitabh Bachchan for Agneepath. A watchman, when questioned, told Ahmed that the bags had been left outside the Times of India building early that morning by members of an Amitabh Bachchan fan club in Bombay, who had filled up hundreds of forms to artificially saturate the popular votes for the category.

Ordering his assistants to throw the bags out, Ahmed proceeded to make a call to his “best friend Amit”. The superstar, who claimed to know nothing about his fans’ conspiracy, stood by Ahmed’s decision not to allow those ballots to be counted. “That was the year,” Ahmed added, “that Sunny Deol got the maximum votes and won the best actor award for Ghayal.”

Nonetheless, the Filmfare Awards have never quite completely established their credibility. Allegations of fixing and favouritism haunted the show through the 1990s—Aamir Khan refused to attend the ceremony for years citing these grounds, failing to turn up even when he won a Best Actor award for Raja Hindustani in 1996—but having made an attempt to prove its impartiality through the Bachchan episode, the magazine also began more seriously to engage with its new patrons in a changing movie business.

One of the ways in which the magazine reached out to film stars was by giving them editorial space to vent against the gossip press, which was still dogging the footsteps of the famous.

“We shared a great rapport, until a section of the press interfered and messed things up for us,” Raveena Tandon complained in the January 1998 issue, which put the actress on the cover; she was referring to rumours in “a section of a press” of an affair with Sunny Deol. “You journalists do like to exaggerate, don’t you? I just have to sneeze and the gossip mongers catch a cold.”

In August 1992, Filmfare published on its cover mug shots of all the big actors of the era, including Bachchan, Sanjay Dutt and Sridevi, accompanied by the lines—“Whose Private Life Is It Anyway? Stars Up In Arms Against Yellow Journalism.”

POPULAR ONCE AGAIN WITH FILM STARS, and by extension with their fans, Filmfare regained some of its historical weight. With exclusive access to a growing number of film celebrities and their apparently unmediated feelings, the magazine was reaching for a new kind of influence—no longer just making stars, but consolidating the stardom of those who had already made it.

Two leading stars of the 1980s, Anil Kapoor and Jackie Shroff—both young, handsome and a rage with women all over the country—knew that the best way to distinguish oneself above the fray was to receive an offer to pose for the cover of Filmfare. “The Anil Kapoor gang wooed certain editors of Filmfare, while the Jackie Shroff fan club persuaded another set to write about him and invite him for photoshoots,” a former editor of Filmfare told me. Both eventually made it to a joint cover in 1993 that was titled ‘Truce’.

The 1990s reaped the benefits of the good work Filmfare had put in during its relatively quiet years; Nandy, like several other colleagues from the time, believes that the 1980s were the most notable decade for the magazine in terms of the sheer quality of its journalism. “I am not sure if I predicted Sridevi’s stardom or if I contributed in her becoming a big star,” Nandy said to me about the famous 1985 magazine cover of a young Sridevi, which anointed her, simply, ‘The Empress’.

“There were no barricades of PR machineries and star secretaries,” Bhawana Somaaya said. “The difficult thing was getting across the watchman at the studios. I learnt that you have to throw your bag across your back, look like you are very busy, and just go inside. Once inside, you found out on which set who is shooting what and even if nobody talked to you, you sat there for 20 minutes, observed things, and came back with stuff to write,” she added.

THINGS HAVE CHANGED. Jitesh Pillaai, the current editor of Filmfare, describes the new landscape of celebrity like this: “Today, a health magazine wants to interview film stars, a travel magazine wants to interview film stars, hundreds of websites and newspaper supplements all want a taste of the star.”

Ironically, the era of breathless, ambush coverage of movie news was introduced by the Times Group itself, at a time when Filmfare seemed to be at the top of its game. In 1994, the Times of India launched a free city supplement called Bombay Times, which eventually changed the nature and terms of entertainment journalism in India forever. “What they [the Times Group] didn’t do for all these years with Filmfare, they did with Bombay Times and Delhi Times—promoted voyeurism and sleaze,” said Suparna Sharma.

Driven by the idea of unrestrained, and unapologetic, lifestyle and entertainment coverage, Bombay Times came to represent a radically new way of covering personalities and events. Fame didn’t depend on talent or success anymore, nor did trends need to have any basis in actual popularity. Bombay Times’s wild success legitimised the idea of entertainment journalism as high-stakes business, involving paid-content deals and public relations manoeuvres, which now extend across media, from tabloid to television to, recently—and crucially—the internet.

Unsurprisingly, the Times Group leads the market with numerous other supplements, an exclusive channel (Zoom TV), and a large-scale website ( “Perhaps the Times Group wanted Filmfare to remain loyal to the stars to retain the favourable relationship with the film industry,” said Ahmed. “There is no reason for the group not to have made Filmfare another gossip magazine.”

Filmfare hasn’t been able to resist arrangements such as commercial bargains for editorial space with stars and luxury brands. “We were made to wear Sheetal sarees for a Filmfare photoshoot, but we never paid Filmfare and nor did Sheetal,” said an actress who was a 1970s phenomenon. “Today, some actors pay their way into Filmfare, and the magazine also manages to get money from the Vuittons, Versaces and Ralph Laurens of the world for the products they use in photo shoots.”

Others say the pressures of competition have undermined the editorial quality and journalistic integrity at the magazine, aspects that set it apart from its rivals through most of its history. “A film journalist at Filmfare worries a lot about coordinating time between an actor, the actor’s hair stylist and designer, the photographer, the location,” said Sharma, “and his writing suffers. There is no film journalism coming out of Filmfare anymore.”

“I couldn’t care less that there is paid content on Filmfare,” said an actor who made his debut in 2012. “The fact is that when my film was released, my producer and my PR representative pushed me to speak to Filmfare as many times as possible.”

“I was told by a filmmaker that there are 50,000 actors who come to Mumbai every day to become actors, and that I have to not only have a portfolio, but also some media coverage,” said Raj Mehta, a struggling actor who came to Mumbai from Delhi in 2011. “Under such circumstances, I try to get my interviews published in any and every publication I find—Mumbai Mirror, Bombay Times et cetera. Filmfare would be daawat ka khana [a banquet] that you get on rare, lucky occasions.”

The new dynamics of access also means that real proximity to film stars is not half as important as exclusive access to their public relations managers. The first story Rachit Gupta was assigned when he joined Filmfare in 2007 as features editor was about film celebrities who were taking to blogging. The people he was asked to interview included Karan Johar, Amitabh Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan, Aamir Khan and Salman Khan. “I went to Jitesh, he gave me the numbers of the PR managers, I sent them a text each. Within five minutes, I had replies from Karan Johar, Shah Rukh and Amitabh.”

Over 60 years after its first edition rolled off the press, Filmfare’s practice is still in harmony with its founding principles. It maintains a slavish faithfulness to stars’ self-conceptions, and uses its position to make available to readers a constant flow of new—or at least cleverly recycled—information about their icons. It has survived, and thrived, in the changing currents of celebrity culture. Questions may arise about its long-term relevance in a world where it seems more possible than ever to pay your way to fame. “If you write something about being a star today, the star will turn around and say, ‘Wait until I get a contradicting story published in your magazine by paying for it,’” a former editor claimed about the once-venerated publication.

But, as long as the movie business runs on the idea of its heroes and heroines being larger than life, there will be grist for its mill. When I first met Gupta at the Filmfare office in May, he was having a busy day. As we walked to his desk, overlooked by a flashy indigo-tinted poster of Shah Rukh Khan, he told me that he was excited about transcribing a frank interview he had just finished with actor Kay Kay Menon.

Earlier in the day, Gupta had texted Menon to ask for a meeting to discuss his upcoming films. Menon replied within minutes, and Gupta threw his bag over his shoulder and headed to Andheri, where the actor was shooting for a new film. Soon, Gupta was escorted by the actor himself to his vanity van, parked a kilometre away from the sets. “Achcha suno yaar...” Menon, an award-winning performer who has seen several ups and downs in Bollywood, began. He proceeded to launch into a passionate monologue about his issues with the industry. (Like most of his peers, the actor reserves casual behaviour and straight talk for only a few journalists.)

Menon complained that the new crop of stars were creations of the media, and lacked talent. “Why is he a star?” he asked Gupta about a newcomer, and answered the question himself. “Because you made him one.”

Gupta had his story for the next issue.

Corrections: 1) The critic Bhawana Somaaya was not with the magazine Stardust during Amitabh Bachchan's press ban, as previously stated in this article.

2) The magazine Star and Style wasn't published by Mathrubhumi Printing and Publishing, but by JC Jain and the Somani group.