Bharathi S. Pradhan is one of the senior most film journalists in the country. She has been editor of Star & Style and Showtime, author of fiction and non-fiction books and also is a columnist with The Telegraph. Here is a freewheeling interview with the prolific personality.
IndiaOpines: You come from a family of journalists but wanted to break the pattern and therefore selected Commerce, right? How did you wander back into the “family business”, so to say?
Bharathi: Sheer fate. I was left in the hostel to complete my last year of school (at Holy Angels’ Convent, Chennai) when my hostel-mates introduced me to Hindi films. I found them so absurd that I began to dash off funny letters to Filmfare and Star & Style which were the only two prominent film magazines in existence then. Most times I’d get Rs 25 or Rs 50 for the best letter which was great for a school kid in 1969. When I came to Mumbai and went to meet the editors of both magazines, they were surprised that N. Bharathi was a school girl. The Filmfare staff indulged this kid, asked her to do the film pages of Youth Times (a Times of India publication that was started in the early 70s) and gave her a column in The Evening News (an extremely popular daily tabloid). I was only in what’s equivalent to Junior College today and all these offers spelt super pocket money for me. But what started off as a lark turned into an unplanned career as, long before I graduated, I had become a popular journalist. I guess the call of the genes was strong and destiny did the rest.
IndiaOpines: You have had a long innings in film journalism. You have witnessed the change from film actors being stars to being mega-stars and practically businesses all unto themselves. How difficult is it to connect with the make-believe world today?
Bharathi: I think the question to ask is how difficult is it to be a journalist in a world that’s run on PR power? Because it is all about PR, there is no journalism left, especially in film journalism. It’s the PR agents who call the shots and celebrity clients come out with hugs and smiles only when there’s a film on release. So, is it difficult to be forthright? You bet. And that’s why a straight-talking old world journalist like me has completely given up magazine journalism.
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IndiaOpines: Who has been the closest friend you have made in the industry so far? Also who has been the hardest nut to crack?
Bharathi: To a large extent I think I have been closest to Shatrughan Sinha although we’re not great confidantes. In the sense I don’t think I have ever sat and confided in him about my life; nor he to me about his life, except for the book. So in that sense I don’t have any ‘closest friend’ because much of it is so professional. Nobody is tough to crack because one-on-one everybody is nice and since I talk so much, they start opening up too, quite easily. But someone like Amitabh Bachchan, although he gives good copy, is so seasoned that these days he has his guard up and he’s obstinate about letting it down. He used to be a lot more fun to interview in the good old days.
IndiaOpines: Is that why you selected Shatrughan Sinha as the film personality to write a biography on? It must have been cakewalk considering the fact that you’ve known him for over 40 years.
Bharathi: The book on Shatrughan Sinha is still work-in-progress and will be released in 2014 after the General Elections. The first draft is ready but will require a few more months for the final manuscript to be ready. Yes, it helped a great deal to have known the man for close to 40 years. I have known not just Shatrughan but his wife, his kids and many of his family members. His mom had once made a typical Bihari meal for me. So I already knew a lot that had transpired in his life. But many things that he told me were still a revelation. What I can promise is that apart from being riveting reading, Shatrughan Sinha’s biography will easily be India’s most honestly told biography showing his victories and his warts.
IndiaOpines: You have been an editor, a columnist and an author. Which of these roles do you enjoy the most?
Bharathi: Currently, it’s the author on top because I stopped enjoying editorship a long time ago. I rather like being a columnist where my vast experience and seniority puts me in a privileged perch from where I can comment on and analyze any event or person with objectivity and honesty. But being an author wins hands down. Books are for forever and here’s where you can make a substantial difference. For instance, when I wrote my book, Colas, Cars & Communal Harmony, Salman Khan was everybody’s favorite whipping horse and all write-ups spotlighted only his drunken accident or the black buck case or his run-ins with Aishwarya Rai. But after my book, everybody suddenly discovered the secular side of Salman Khan. In the last ten years, ever since that book came out, the media can’t have enough of the Khan family’s Ganpati celebrations. Salim Khan always had secular views, there’s a big Ganesh statue at the entrance to his house. So how come the world found this secular family only after my book came out? It changed the way everybody looked at Salman. A new dimension to him was discovered, one that could be applauded for a change.
IndiaOpines: Colas, Cars and Communal Harmony was a far cry from filmi scandals and gossip that one would expect from a filmi journalist. Comment.
Bharathi: Strangely, I have always edited magazines that were not high on the scandal quotient. For e.g. I have never worked for or edited Stardust or Cine Blitz. Since I came from a family of hardcore journalists and didn’t work here because I was a glamour struck teenager, a good authentic story always mattered more than meeting a celebrity or playing up a scandal. For instance, I broke the Dharam-Hema marriage story in 1980. But that was a factual story with very assiduously checked details and was not a scandalous scoop.
I’ve had umpteen offers to do one of those tell-all books based on my experiences with the film industry. But I can’t ever imagine writing such an awful cliché. Nor do I want to train the spotlight on myself. I rather enjoy bringing out a story that’s never been told before, something that’s inspirational but is immensely readable. Like bringing out the secular colors of the film industry in Colas, Cars & Communal Harmony by taking the reader into Salim Khan’s house to meet Salman, Arbaaz, Sohail and Malaika, by talking to Shah Rukh and Hrithik and a dozen other well-known names on how two religions can co-exist peacefully underneath one roof. Even if none of the stars gave me credit for it, it has been satisfying to know that I could use their stories to give such a positive message to the world. No other writer had ever done that before. Nobody has, to this day.
IndiaOpines: You’ve written fiction as well as non-fiction. Which do you prefer?
Bharathi: Hmm, non-fiction is certainly tougher because you have to quote people accurately, do justice to them if it is a biography and present much of their lives from their perspective even if you don’t agree with all of it. So a book like Colas, Car… or a biography well done or well received like Heartfelt is a great satisfaction because of the amount of work put into it. Also, my non-fiction always has a substantial message which is wrapped up within an interesting real life story. So here it’s the satisfaction of a job well done. But I also have a very soft corner for fiction (I have two new ones on the anvil) because creating a whole world that doesn’t really exist and making up characters and incidents that come purely out of your imagination gives you a different kick altogether. I’d therefore say fiction gives me the creative satisfaction that non-fiction cannot ever give a writer.
IndiaOpines: Your latest book is a biography of Medha Anup Jalota. Tell us more.
Bharathi: The book is called Heartfelt and I wrote it because I knew that we had our own living version of The Secret in our midst and that story had to be told. It was never intended to be Medha’s biography. Heartfelt was always about how powerful the human mind is, powerful enough to heal the body. It’s a true story of someone who was given up as a lost case by medical science, by the best of doctors here and in the US. But she defied their dire predictions and is alive to this day because of her strong, positive mind. It’s a fascinating story. Again, a story that many knew but nobody bothered to pick up and write it.
IndiaOpines: What can we expect next from you?
Bharathi: It’s Shatrughan Sinha’s bio that’ll come up next and then on to my two fiction books. In between there is a book on a very unique businessman, once again an inspirational true life subject. But since he’s not a celebrity, I guess it won’t interest anybody till the book is out.
By Sujata Garimella
Image Source: Rediff Bollywood Photos