Entertainment journalist Ram Kamal Mukherjee tells The Goodwill Project about his upcoming book Long Island Iced Tea, by Leadstart Publishing, said to be inspired by Bollywood’s dark secrets.
Interestingly, there is no theme, and that is the theme. And you can expect the unexpected. You are right that my book touches upon subjects like an ageing diva, unfinished letters, untold love stories, incomplete journey of love and cheating partners. But mind you, these are all fictional facts!
Why did you decide upon this title?
It happened over a drink. I was wondering what could be the name of the book. It’s a compilation of eight short stories, written at various stages of my life, since my early days in journalism. Actually, I had written 13 short stories, of which I had misplaced five. I couldn’t even remember the stories. Initially, I thought of naming it “Collage”, but one day, while having my favourite cocktail, I realized that Long Island Iced Tea requires eight main ingredients—Tequila, Vodka, White Rum, Triple Sec, Gin, Lemon Juice, Gomme syrup and dash of Cola! And Bingo. I am happy that my publisher Leadstart also liked the title.
Are the eight stories linked or separate short stories?
Not linked. I don’t like to link people or stories. They are slice of life incidents. You might get the feel of a trespasser or maybe a fly on the wall of these interesting characters. My characters are as naked as they could be, in terms of emotion.
Will there be a lot of “guess who it is” involved? Was it tough to cover up names? How much is fiction and how much ‘inspired’?
I don’t like to cover up names or characters. In my book, all characters are real. Yes, I am inspired from various incidents in my life, but they are just the trigger point. In fact, some of my friends asked me if I have included “their” stories in my book or not? I tell them, read and realize.
Emotions are universal, no one can own it.
How would you react to comparisons with books by Shobha De?
I would be flattered. She was the first editor of Stardust and my last job in journalism was that of Stardust Editor. Apart from that, I know her personally and I like her skill of communication. She often gets into trouble for calling a spade a spade, but never chickens out from situations. She stands by her words and that’s what makes her Shobha De.
You’ve earlier written a biography of Hema Malini. If you had to do a biography of a current actress, who would it be?
It would be Deepika Padukone, for sure. Her journey is intriguing.
Bollywood is evolved today, with Ranbir and Ranveer sharing the couch on Karan Johar’s show. Is this unprecedented?
Rivals have often shared screen space and couches. That’s nothing new in Bollywood. Over the years, I have realized, and this is certainly not prophecy, that actors love themselves the most. They will do anything to make sure that they are loved by their fans. I would give credit to Karan Johar for making a brand out of a chat show, which is definitely more prestigious and entertaining than any other chat show. I feel that Koffee With Karan is the ‘baap’ of all chat shows till date. As far as Ranbir and Ranveer are concerned, they had a few common and uncommon things to share. And needless to say, they agreed to be a part of KJo’s show because they know him personally. I am sure they won’t agree to come for Arnab Goswami or Prabhu Chawla show! You know what I mean.
How do you see the interest in star kids and Instagram stars? Is this inspired by the West? Is it a healthy trend?
Instagram is like a photo album. Unless you are visually creative, that platform is as dead as a burial ground. I like to scroll through the site, just to see some nice photographs of celebs and pseudo celebs. I have noticed that meaningful images go unnoticed, and those who have the power to boost their post have thousands of likes. It’s a kind of ‘paid’ attention. Is it a healthy trend? My answer would be, “healthy” things cannot be trendy. Either they are forever or never.
Do you agree that Bollywood is led by PR-agents. Do journalists have access like the old days?
I would like to disagree that PR are agents. Agents are the ones who facilitate work for actors. Public Relation managers or strategists guard their public image and secure brand value. I had always shared cordial relationships with the PRs and managers of all Bollywood actors.
I guess my generation of journalists was among the last scribes who had direct access to actors.
Things have changed. Today, the PR and brand managers take the final call. And ‘paid media coverage’ almost killed the power of entertainment journalism.
Are people as interested in entertainment gossip as they used to be, and why (or why not)?
Film industry is about entertainment. Just like cricket. So, you will find gossip in both industries. And it’s human nature to indulge in gossip. In fact, the concept of gossip was initiated in Greece. The emperor would indulge in ‘addas’ with his ministers and their queens would form a similar group to observe them and gossip. It’s an ancient culture, and there is nothing wrong in it.
Any one thing that is positive about today’s generation of stars?
Everything. They are a bunch of enthusiast souls. I love this generation, because they are friendly, focused, clued in and know how to balance life. I guess Ranveer Singh’s latest film ‘Befikre’ sums up what the young generation stands for. Unlike super stars of yesteryears, who had unchallenging auras, but zilch foresightedness. Amitabh Bachchan is an exception, and thus he is a legend.
You worked with PNC. Did it allow you to see a different side of Bollywood?
Oh yes! Thanks to Pritish Nandy and Rangita Nandy, who gave me a freehand to work on any and everything that PNC did in those years. From making movies, to understanding the legalities of contracts, from building relationships with newsmakers to negotiating with actors on their remuneration, I did it all. It was a learning experience, which came handy for me when I decided to cross the fence.
Which is the next big breaking gossip? Give us a hint!
Ssshh… “They” are breaking up, again.