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.