Film Journalism - Is this overstepping limits? by Bhagyalakshmi Seshachalam SignUp

Film Journalism - Is this overstepping limits?
Dr. Bhagyalakshmi Seshachalam Bookmark and Share

 Some days back there was a furor in the media about actress Kangana Ranaut’s barbs at a film journalist. This controversy begs the question -  Do film  journalists, buttressed by the power of the pen, go overboard at times? Here in this article I have expressed my opinion about the problems between film stars and media taking the example of one reputed film journalist Khalid Mohamed who apparently managed to rub a lot of people the wrong way…


In the last decade or so, many journalists left the Times of India and its allied publications. Perhaps it was a culture change that seasoned veterans could not adjust to. Khalid Mohammed joined the TOI in mid-70’s as a film critic. He worked as a film critic for 27 years and close to 9 years he was the editor of Filmfare.

Today, Khalid stands at the fringes of Bollywood. He has antagonised many people associated with the film industry. In 2014, Khalid declared that he wanted to attempt a detoxification of Bollywood on himself – but he couldn’t sustain that claim for long. As they say, once you are a writer, you are always a writer.

Khalid now regularly writes for Khaleej Times and as you would have guessed it, he writes about cinema and his experiences with those associated with Indian cinema – particularly Bollywood. He left TOI in 2008 having resigned as editor of Filmfare much earlier.

Then he joined Hindustan Times as a film editor but he continued his diatribe against Amitabh Bachchan in his gossip columns. Soon he got the marching orders from Hindustan Times. Later he joined Mid-Day for a short while. There were attempts to run a website devoted to cinema along with Vikram Bhatt. Both Bhatt and Mohammed joined hands to make a film on Mohammed’s step brother – but after intense deliberations the project fizzled out with Bhatt and Mohammed hurling accusations at one another. Till now, his script has no takers.

In 2009 during a special screening of the Saif Ali Khan – Kareena Kapoor starrer “Qurban” he was involved in an ugly fracas with a socialite Kajal Anand who is close to Gauri Khan, wife of Bollywood superstar Shahrukh Khan. As per reports, he asked Kajal to look at herself in the mirror and unable to take it any longer, Kajal requested him to leave the screening.

But Khalid Mohammed’s ugly spat with the Bachchans between 2008-2009 was what consumed reams and reams of newsprint in print media. There was adequate coverage in the social media as well. Allegations and counter allegations flew thick and fast. Amitabh stooped to the lowest level through his insinuations (he called Khalid – Khalida) and also told the whole world that Khalid Mohammed spread himself on the dining tables in his bungalows Pratiksha and Jalsa and relished the exclusive and expensive wine that was offered to him. Amitabh had hit below the belt.

What was the provocation?  Khalid Mohammed had reviewed Amitabh’s 2008 film Bhootnath and had blown it to smithereens with his caustic comments about Amitabh’s acting, script … everything. True – Bhootnath wasn’t a great film. I recall watching it when it was released. But what prompted Khalid to write a review that was more like a personal attack on Amitabh than a professional review of a movie continues to be a mystery. On his part, Khalid claimed that his roles as a biographer and as a film reviewer were completely different. In the same breath he also laments that film people always tell him, “You are family, yaar” but are prone to using and discarding film journalists once their job is over.

In 2002, Jaya Bachchan had asked Khalid Mohammed to pen a biography of Amitabh Bachchan to mark the 60th birthday celebrations of the superstar. Khalid had sought permission to make a film on Amitabh. The permission was granted. The film was shot. The coffee table book was released. Within no time, the relations between the Bachchans and Khalid soured. Khalid had cast Jaya Bachchan in a prominent role in his first directorial venture “Fiza” that also starred Asha Sachdev, Karisma Kapoor, Shabana Bajpai and Hrithik Roshan. Fiza tanked at the box office.

The film that Khalid shot never saw the light of the day. Khalid also claims that the Bachchans owe him money. Interestingly, in one of his interviews, the film journalist who considers himself a great wordsmith, also declared that he was one of the finest film makers in India. Bollywood could not digest this… A film journalist who directed three films (Fiza, Tehzeeb and Silsilay) – all of which bombed at the box office had the gall to make such a proclamation. Mohammed who had reviewed innumerable films during his stint at TOI couldn’t stand a single review of his films and claimed that all his reviews were biased.

To be frank, I too have read Khalid’s film reviews and they lacked substance. Using difficult English words in the review, he managed to camouflage the fact that he was overly critical of almost all the movies. A reviewer should not play around with words, use jazzy language that most readers can’t relate to and claim to be a reviewer of repute. Just because you have the power of the pen – you can’t cross your limits.

In a review of Rajput, an 80’s film that was directed by Vijay Anand, Khalid began the review with a personal letter to Mr Vijay Anand before tearing the film apart. That he continued as a reviewer for 27 years is itself a huge blessing for him. Today’s generation may not be able to connect with him at all with his verbiose language. Take Bollywood out of him and Khalid remains a persona-non-grata.

Here are a few questions to the seasoned journalist:

1.       Why did you fail to draw a line between your professional relations and personal equations with film stars? Why do you think they need to oblige you all the time?


2.      Why are you getting repetitive in column after column that you write? For example – in the biography of Asha Parekh, the “Hit Girl”, you have devoted substantial pages to trumpet your own glory. We have often read about your grandmother’s friendly overtures with almost all the actresses – isn’t this becoming repetitive?


3.      In 2014, you gave an interview lamenting your stint as a film journalist and recalling how Salman Khan threatened you during one of the Filmfare awards functions. Yet, barely two years later, Salman Khan writes the foreword for your book “The Hit Girl”. Do you change your stripes faster than a leopard?


4.      Why is it difficult for you to maintain arm’s length relationships with film stars? You call Rishi Kapoor and Anil Kapoor your close friends. How do you define this friendship?

When one reads his interviews, the impression one gets is – The Man has lost it.  He accuses almost everyone in the film industry and keeps on writing about his parentage. He talks about how people are ungrateful and lack gratitude – but fails to do a self-analysis of his own limitations and weaknesses. If you don’t have a family, why do you need to look for a family amidst film stars? There are so many ways you can fight isolation and loneliness – by becoming more socially responsible.

But if your only aim is to make more money by using your personal equations with film stars, it won’t work for along. There was no need to convert a friendly banter that you had with Amitabh Bachchan on his hospital bed into a magazine column. Having said that, it is puzzling why Amitabh is unable to sustain most of his relationships – Amitabh as the KBC anchor appears to be far removed from his real persona.

Amitabh had an issue with the Gandhis. Then he called Amar Singh his younger brother – today both have drifted apart. He had a blow-hot blow-cold relation with his peers – Rajesh Khanna, Vinod Khanna and Shatrughan Sinha. He had to distance himself from Subroto Roy of Sahara. Is Amitabh way too naïve?

This article is not a diatribe against any film journalist in particular. The point that I have tried to make is – journalists should know their limits – the lakshman rekha. Dealing with film stars is an arduous job like walking on a sharp knife. You can’t get too close to them. You can’t stay too distanced from them.

Let me round up this article with a story that appeared in a magazine long ago. An actress is returning home from a shoot. Her car breaks down on the way even before she can reach Madras. There is only one house close by where the actress takes refuge. She is treated very well by the hosts. She stays in their house overnight and in the morning she leaves for Chennai after the problem in her car is fixed. Before leaving her hosts, she invites them to her home in Chennai and leaves her visiting card. A few months later, the elderly couple visit Chennai to attend a social engagement. They decided to pay a visit to the actress. But they are in for a shock because the actress fails to recognize them. They are quickly sent away with the actress citing her busy schedule as the reason..


This story is ample proof of how most film stars behave pompously…So rather than lamenting about the high handed attitude of film stars, it is better to leave them alone. Thanks to their constant chatter on social media, films stars are actually exposing their incompetence more than ever.

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