Illustration/ Ravi Jadhav
Of late, an alarming number of things has been happening to me. I am no longer able to guess who a blind item in the gossip columns is about. Some of you may be rolling your eyes, but well, I have grown up, like many English educated desi types, yaniki, those who listened to Hindi and English songs both, on a fattening diet of Neeta’s Natter, Stardust’s most glorious gossip column, which seemed to be populated with people who lived purely by the senses.
They wore daring clothes, had dangerous affairs, uttered unutterable things and set an example of the most devil-may-care kind. A gossip column is a soap opera with a lot more sound, fury and sequins and zero sanskar. The appeal is obvious. Neeta’s Natter was also the first place that I saw Hindi and English mixed on the page, as it was in life. It’s where I learned the term and the concept bindaas and aspired to it. Some people know what happened in every episode of Star Trek. Other people know who has been in love how many times. It’s the same sport.
Eventually, after many mornings spent frowning for a full five minutes, trying to figure out who “this good-looking superstar who pays his ex-wife to make appearances” or “this star of yesteryear who has been making frequent trips to Bali” were, I lamented my inabilities on social media. At this point a kind soul informed me that there is a website dedicated to addressing this predicament, which gave you the facts behind the blind item.
Excited, I immediately headed to this website. I assure you I won’t be returning, so banal and meaningless did it feel, served up raw. Gossip can be cruel – there is a violence involved in peering uninvited into other lives. Gossip is an escapist novel, but also, a very real and possible fantasy of transgression. It opens up outrageous doors in our minds, partly by focusing on the incident more than the people, when it is allusive. It roots the occurrence in larger ideas of life because allusion forces you to generalise, and can be affectionate, mischievous, catty or even, sometimes, sincere. The blind item is full of artifice. Participating in its archness implicates the reader and writer in the act and art of gossiping.
I suppose what has really changed is that once, gossip about movie stars appeared in movie magazines – when we picked them up we entered an intensely self-referential world. The same movie star might feature in a serious interview and in a naughty gossip item in the same issue. So, in its own way, there was a potentially multi-faceted view of the person, consumed over time, within that one mythic universe, where movie stars were symbolic, elusive, figures, larger than life. Today, movie stars appear in automated form for the purpose of selling a film, and dole out bits of curated information about themselves across media. This is aspirational, yaniki, synthetic, not transgressive and so, over time, it ceased to have the compelling quality of a story. The blind item is a vestigial thing – from a time when stars were figures of glamour and aura in a larger story. I am sad to lose the guilty pleasure of this guessing game, but as one who no longer visits that world, perhaps it’s only fair that I must forfeit that right.
Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at www.parodevipictures.com
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