Scandal! Sex Bomb Exposed! Attempted Rape! Victims of Lust! The headlines scream with monotonous regularity from magazine covers, hoardings, newspaper advertisements.
Sometimes the “victims” are willing participants in the sensationalism, eager to extract publicity from every situation and stay on top in the cut-throat film business. At other times they hit back, as Hindi film actor Anupam Kher did last fortnight when Stardust accused him of “molesting” the sister of debutante star Mamta Kulkarni during location shooting in Bangalore.
But it was too late. In spite of a Bombay High Court injunction restraining the publishers from distributing the July issue of the film monthly, Stardust hit the stands and promised to detonate an explosion in tinsel town. Says Kher: “It’s an absurd story and I am going to sue Stardust for libel.”
While Stardust interviewed several well-known film personalities, including newly-elected Lok Sabha MP Rajesh Khanna, who criticised Kher for slapping a correspondent of the magazine, other stars rose to the aggrieved actor’s defence.
Says Sanjay Dutt, himself a victim of a story last year alleging he hated his father: “Anupam is a little docile, he only slapped the Stardust reporter. I would have sent him to hospital.”
The story so far: Stardust reporter Troy Ribeiro rings Kher to ask if he had indeed acted fresh with Mithila Kulkarni while in Bangalore for the shooting of Sajid Nadiadwala’s Waqt Hamara Hai in April.
Kher says it is below his dignity to even reply to such a question. Later, when he learns that Stardust has spoken to Mithila, he offers to meet editor Ashwin Varde with the girl and clear his name. But when he insists on bringing a lawyer along, Stardust refuses.
The next day, June 7, Kher sees Ribeiro during the shooting of Yash Chopra’s Parampara at a stud farm near Pune. He slaps the journalist. Ribeiro lodges an FIR. On June 13, Kher gets an order from the Bombay High Court restraining Stardust, but the July issue comes out two days later.
Says Stardust owner Nari Hira: “The July issue had already been despatched, so we couldn’t do much. But we will back Troy fully. Anupam can’t slap a journalist and get away with it.” The legal wrangle, however, is nothing new to Stardust.
Ever since it pioneered film gossip journalism two decades ago, the magazine has been reporting the real and imagined private lives of stars to an army of avid readers. But the stories have become frenzied and sensational.
Hira denies this has to do with falling sales, claiming that circulation has gone up this year. Clearly, so has the lewdness factor in film gossip journalism. Says Stardust’s first editor, Shobha De: “In my time we didn’t have four-letter words screaming from hoardings.”
Most of his friends believe the usually-docile Kher must have been provoked into slapping the journalist.
Among the more celebrated controversies involving Stardust in recent years was the allegation of sexual harassment against Rajesh Khanna by a starlet, the story about Shabana Azmi’s private life and the report about Rekha’s behaviour following her estranged husband’s suicide.
Both Shabana and Rekha went to court, and the cases are still pending in the long-drawn legal process. Says their advocate Anand Graver: “The basic remedy against libel is to get damages. But when a publication knows it takes over 10 years for a case to be decided, it doesn’t care. Very few people will persevere that long.”
Will Kher’s case be different? Certainly this time the whole industry appears to be involved. When the controversy exploded, several stars including Pooja Bhatt, Sanjay Dutt, Amjad Khan and Naseeruddin Shah went on record on Mahesh Bhatt’s video magazine, Bollywood Plus, strongly backing the actor.
Pooja even suggested that the film industry get together to ban Stardust. Another star, Jackie Shroff, who was also accused of an attempted rape by the magazine three years ago but features on the cover of the July issue, declared: “If Anupam reacted like that, it means he was really pushed hard.
We’ve got to stop this.” But with stars often pursuing gossip magazines as much as the other way around, it wasn’t too clear if scandal and cinema can ever be separated.Amjad Khan Anupam Kher Blast from the Past Mahesh Bhatt Mamta Kulkarni Naseeruddin Shah Pooja Bhatt Rajesh Khanna Rekha Retro Sanjay Dutt Shabana Azmi