“Bipasha called and cursed the hell of me for writing about her split with John; they patched up later” – Ram Kamal Mukherjee
It is because of prominent film journalists like Ram Kamal Mukherjee that I knew that journalism was the way to go. Much like myself, Ram too decided to follow his dreams and took the plunge into the world of writing for films and celebrities. Very quickly, he walked the path of success and became one the most well-known film writers in India. A few years later, he penned a coffee book dedicated to his favorite actress, Hema Malini; Hema Malini: Diva Unveiled adding the title of author to his credentials. Besides becoming immensely popular, the publication also went on to become a part of the syllabus at the University of Calcutta. And more importantly, it won him the Best Author Award and the Best Film Journalist Award too. Alright, I’m done with gushing over his long list of accomplishments; Roshni Magazine presents one of the best film journalists in India, Ram Kamal Mukherjee.
Ram, you are one of my biggest inspirations in terms of entertainment writing. Who are your inspirations? Let’s start at the beginning. How did you get into entertainment journalism? How did you get involved with Screen Magazine and later Stardust?
Well, inspiration is a relative term. You get inspired with various aspects and then finally you accumulate them all and try to focus on one. I mean when I was in third standard I wanted to be a school teacher, because I thought that that’s the coolest job. In high school when I was doing a dance drama for my school’s annual function, I thought of pursuing my career as a stage artist. I even wanted to be a classical dancer when I was in school. Later when I started watching films I somehow started growing liking towards actress Hema Malini. Soon, that liking grew into a sort of obsession and I became a self proclaimed fan of Hema Malini. Obviously, my parents were not too happy with my attitude towards life. Coming from a conservative family in North Kolkata, it was not a cakewalk for me. I was a mediocre student and never topped in my school. I mean, while most of my cousins were interested in science, literature, management courses and NIIT; I was very happy watching Razia Sultan and Seeta Aur Geeta on Doordarshan.
I guess later when my parents realized that I am not interested in ‘regular academic course’ they didn’t force me. But I completed my high school, scored highest in History and completed History Honors from University of Calcutta. I had never let my parents down, because they have been my strength. In fact, my dad would buy me the video cassettes of Hema’s film wherever he would travel in India. Even my mom would take me to theatres and we would watch her films. I used to read the articles and interviews written on Hema and would feel that I can probably write better than these journalists. When my dad realized that I have interest in writing, asked me to write a ‘letter to the editor’ on my favorite topic – Hema Malini. I wrote a letter, which read like a lousy fan mail. It lacked the flavor and even the standard of the letter was way below average. It was my dad, who scrapped the letter and he wrote a fresh one for me. He told, “This is how one should write a letter.” I happily posted it, and forgot about it. To my surprise, the letter was published in Screen. The first time I saw my name printed in a newspaper, it was a different high. I showed the letter to my friends and teachers. Then I wrote my second letter, following the guidelines of my dad. Incidentally that letter was also published. Thereafter, Screen published four letters and also honored me with the Best Letter Award. All my letters were on Hema Malini. Finally, senior journalist named Ali Peter John from Screen wrote a full page article on me as Hema’s fan. He wrote the letter which I had sent to Udaya Tara Nayaar. That’s when Hema noticed my name and she apparently enquired about me to Ali Peter John.
Thereafter I wanted to meet Hema, and finally I got an opportunity to meet her in Kolkata. It was a brief meeting and after a year I flew down to Mumbai to meet her again at her Juhu residence. I showed her my collection and she was extremely pleased. She asked me about my future plans. I didn’t have an answer, but it seems that she had something already in her mind. She told me that, “You have written such lovely letters and articles, I think you should become a film journalist. We need good film journalist in our industry.” Back home, my dad was impressed with the idea and soon I was studying Media and Journalism in Calcutta University. I topped in the University that year. During my course, I started writing film reviews in Bengali fortnightly and weeklies. Later, I got in touch with entertainment editor Drimi Choudhuri of Asian Age Kolkata and he played a pivotal role in giving me the required exposure. I worked as a freelancer for many years in various organizations. During this time, my professors Sutapa Saha, Partha Raha, Dr. Tapati Basu and my father Jaydeb Mukherjee played extremely important role in shaping up my career as a journalist. I even took part in Kolkata International Film Festival, wrote for their official brochure and that gave me a wide exposure to world cinema. Slowly, I started understanding the ‘language’ of cinema, and world beyond Hema Malini. Soon, I became the Sub-Editor in Asian Age, and my articles would get published in Movie Age As a normal progressive attitude, I wanted to grow in life and do lots more than what I was doing in Kolkata. Meanwhile, I had my own talk show and I was the first and only journalist who managed to get thirteen celebrities from Bollywood for my talk show – Talk Bangla for ATN Channel. From Madhur Bhandarkar to Priyanka Chopra everyone featured in my talk show. During this time, media magnet Mr. Nari Hira from Magna Publication spotted me and I joined his publication Stardust Magazine. Since then, there has been no looking back. I shifted my base from Kolkata to Mumbai.
I must admit that the Stardust team became my extended family. Editor Sonali K Jaffar, Ashwin Varde, Suguna Sundaram, Shashank Samant, Aarchana Aithal, Hiren Kotwani and Dhaval Roy – we were like a team and they have encouraged me in every step. Organizing Stardust Award was a great experience. The entire team worked hard on the award and we would actually look forward to the award night each year. While Mr Hira was planning to publish a book on Hema Malini, it was Sonali who actually suggested my name to Mr Hira. Frankly speaking I was not at all sure about the fact that I will be able to write a book on Hema Malini. But yes, it was definitely my dream to write a book on someone who has been so influential in my life. The entire team of Stardust helped me in seeing my dream come true.
You then won the Best Film Journalist Award! How was that experience and what did that award do for your career?
I won Best Journalist Award in Kolkata from Kalakar Awards and also in Mumbai from Lions Club for my contribution to entertainment news in Bollywood. I have also won award for my book on Hema Malini titled Diva Unveiled. Winning awards has always been motivational. But yes, at the same time you have people who are jealous of your success. The people, who would be congratulating me on my award, would talk something else behind my back. But then, such is life. I have never taken their compliments seriously, so when they would talk non-flattery things about me I would take it with a pinch of salt.
Tell us about your biographical book on Hema Malini. Why did you choose her and what exactly did the book focus on?
That’s a long story. To begin with, I didn’t choose her. It was probably predestined. It was a coffee table book, first ever on any Indian actress. I have been very honest with my subject and the book was launched my Hema and Tabu in Mumbai. It got huge response and it was a total sell out. Now the same book is available for auction at ten times of the original price. In Delhi, producer and director Arindam Chaudhuri did a mammoth launch, in Kolkata the book was launched by National Award winning actress Rituparna Sengupta. I traveled with Hema in various metros and the feedback was really outstanding. BBC did a short documentary on me stating as the youngest biographer. I was 26 when I wrote a book on Hema. In fact, when I told Hema that I want to write a book on you, she snapped me back saying, “Aarey… how can you write a book on me? Bhawana Somaya has been trying to write a book on me too. It would clash the interest.” But it seems that Bhawana was busy with other projects and she couldn’t finish the book. My book was not just Hema’s life story. I had interviewed almost 30 important people involved in Hema’s life, so my book had both sides of the coin. It was a detailed research, with lots of exclusive photographs and data which even Hema was surprised when she saw the final draft of the book. By the way, Bhawna’s book was released two years after my book was released.
You freelance quite a lot and then finally were offered the position as Vice President, Special Projects for Pritish Nandy Communications. Great company and fabulous people! What was your reaction when you were offered the position? You initially went in for a different interview right?
Oh yes! I thought that Rangita Nandy was kidding. In fact, I was working as an Assistant Editor in Mumbai Mirror and met her for some regular interview. After the interview she suggested that I could join them as the Vice President and would be able to work in various aspects of filmmaking. I was not too sure, but I was definitely bored with tabloid journalism. Whoever I asked, they all had discouraged me saying, “You must be a fool to quit journalism and join some production house.” But, I am grateful to Rangita and Pritish Nandy that they have never stopped me from writing. I guess Pritish being a journalist himself, understands that how important it is to keep the flow of ink active. So, soon I was writing for Midday, Buzz18 and ABP publications and simultaneously working for PNC.
Do you think the Indian media is headed to the paparazzi direction? Whatever happened to responsible journalism?
Responsible journalism still exists. I think paparazzi style of journalism will take at least a decade more to be fully functional in India. I can talk about entertainment journalism, which has definitely suffered a lot in last two years. When I was working with Mumbai Mirror, we would bring a regular thirteen page entertainment section, but in last two years now it has reduced to two pages. Most of the time they are doing stories which doesn’t make any sense to people involved in the entertainment industry or with people who are not linked with the industry. I think when it comes to tabloid journalism Mid-Day is the best, and Screen has been one of the finest newspapers in terms of entertainment journalism. Filmfare has been one of the most well read film magazine, but Stardust is still the ‘baap’ of all gossips and scoops. Now even television lives on gossips and scoops. I guess, what Nari Hira started 30 years ago in the form of Stardust, has become the most popular style of entertainment reporting. There is nothing called yellow journalism, there is nothing ethical in entertainment reporting. But, I think this trend will slow down, superfluous articles will vanquish and we will get quality reporting.
How would describe your experience working in film journalism so far?
It’s been really interesting. There has been too much politics and too many people want to run you down. I guess, this happens in any industry and more so when you are a part of the glamour industry. Everyone is running for one second fame. I mean, I have no qualms in admitting that everyday I felt like a king when I used to see my byline in the newsprint. It’s a pride to be recognized for what you do. You also share the limelight with the stars when they hug you or recognize you at a public gathering. I am glad that since my day one in journalism, I have worked with editors who have been extremely cooperative and they have always stood by me. Stars have never been because they keep shifting loyalty depending on which publication I work. The stars, who would not even consider me worth giving an interview, would call me and even remember my birthday when I was working with Mumbai Mirror. None of them remember my and neither they are in touch with me. But the day, they will come to know that I am working as Vice President with PNC, I am sure the same set of people will again get in touch with me. So, journalists who feel that stars are friends, they are fooling themselves.
Well, even journalists are not far away. I have also ditched couple of my star friends, because for me, my priority was my work. But then we all forget and forgive. Till date Aishwarya Rai feels that I got carried away by Vivek Oberoi and couple of other people and wrote negative articles on her. Bipasha called and cursed the hell of me for writing about her split with John, they patched up later. Sanjay Gupta called and abused me for a story which was not done by me, he thought that all nasty articles are written by me. Unlike some ‘spineless’ journalist, I have always stood by my stories, dared to put my byline and never bothered about anyone. There were many senior journalists who were threatened by my existence. Other tabloids would run a segment rebutting my stories, and later when I confronted them, they admitted that they were attacking me. I remember my Mumbai Mirror Editor Meenal Baghel’s words of wisdom, “Ram, the day they stop talking about you, you need to seriously think about your vocation. People talk shit when they know that you can be dangerous.” I must thank Meenal, I never got a chance to thank her enough.
As a journalist I actually enjoyed the longish interviews I did for Stardust, Mumbai Mirror, Sunday Midday and ABP. I also enjoyed all my scoops, nasty stories, negative articles and feature stories. It’s basically a matter of pride and responsibility. Journalism has given me everything, I owe big time to journalism.
What advice would you have for any budding film journalists?
Don’t get carried away. Just focus on your work and trust me, publication doesn’t matter. A good work is always a good work, and it will get noticed. Party hard, but only when you know that you have worked hard. Be aware of certain friends and fellow colleagues who can be very dangerous.
What do you spend your free time doing?
When I am not writing, I am busy reading scripts for PNC. But when I am free—which happens once in a blue moon, I love to cook, watch good films at home and indulge myself with a noon siesta. I love traveling, so if I get a chance, I love to go on long drive with Sarbani, my wife.
And lastly, where would we catch you on a Saturday night?
Well, if I am not too tired after series of meetings on Saturdays, then I am buying DVDs at Crossroad, or maybe watching a film at Fame or maybe dinning with my friends. I used to party a lot when I was a kid. I am bored of pubs!
~ Roshni M.