Bollywood stars either hated him or loved him but they simply couldn’t ignore him! Former Editor-In-Chief of Stardust and former Vice President of Pritish Nandy Communications Ram Kamal Mukherjee, who has worked with many leading publications including Mumbai Mirror and Mid Day, took to writing at a tender age of 24, when he penned down his first coffee table book ‘Hema Malini: Diva Malini.’ While his first book could be termed as his labour of love (it was an ode to his favourite star Hema Malini), he means business with his latest writing venture ‘Long Island Iced Tea,’ which is inspired by Bollywood dark secrets. In a conversation with Nation Next, Ram Kamal Mukherjee lets his guards down and speaks about his book ‘Long Island Iced Tea,’ ‘his way’ of journalism and why he’s in awe of one of the most controversial Indian columnist and novelist Shobha De. Excerpts:
Usually journalists narrate their real experiences in Bollywood in their books. But you chose ‘abstract fiction’ genre for your book ‘Long Island Iced Tea.’ Why?
I have never believed in doing ‘usual’ stuff. While most of my scribes preferred the conventional path, I preferred to walk the rocky terrain. As far as ‘Long Island Iced Tea’ is concerned, it’s not abstract. It’s a compilation of eight different stories. Each one is completely different from the other. I think we all love to tell stories. And the germ of this book was born out of that common passion we all have.
Your book carries stories ranging from sober to slut and dark love to wild lust. How and why did you choose a title like this?
This ‘sober to slut’ is a coinage that my publicist decided to add on. I don’t think that my book deals with sluts. In fact, one of the veteran book critics Saheli Mitra has recently stated that my book treats women as equal gender. They don’t succumb to situations or decisions made by patriarchal society. The title of the book happened by fluke. Actually, you need eight vital ingredients to make Long Island Iced Tea, which happens to be my favourite drink as far as cocktails are concerned. My book comprises eight different stories. And, life is nothing but getting high on emotions. So, I decided to name the book on my favourite drink.
You are tagged as hard-nosed journalist. You have been famous for writing scandalous articles on Bollywood superstars. Do we get to read some real stories garbed in fiction in the book?
You have to read to know that! Hard-nosed, notorious, mischievous and scandalous – these adjectives adorned me for years. I am proud that I am considered as a fearless journalist and even after that, I am lucky to have made friends with my fellow colleagues, stars and their publicists. Some of the stories will definitely give you a trench of Bollywood, but that would be just the surface. This book is all about relationships and exploitation of the same.
You had once said that few journalists had accused you of writing fictional interviews in tabloids…
Ha ha! Let bygone be bygone. I did my job. As a journalist with Mumbai Mirror, some of my colleagues tried to pull me down and would often complain about my aggressiveness. Thankfully, my editor Meenal Baghel always stood beside me and never let anyone harm me. She was protective of me because I would churn the maximum number of Bollywood stories seven days a week.
Your biography on Hema Malini titled ‘Hema Malini: Diva Unveiled’ was widely appreciated. If you were to write a biography of today’s stars, who would that be?
Yes, my coffee table book on Hema Malini remains one of my biggest landmarks. I was just 24 years when I wrote that book. I am eternally grateful to the then editor of Stardust Sonali K Jafar and the owner of Magna Publishing Nari Hira for entrusting me with the responsibility. And of course Hema Malini, who is a legend, yet she supported me in my endeavour. If given a chance, I would like to write a book on either Ranbir Kapoor or Varun Dhawan. They excite me as subjects.
Unlike few journalists, you seem to be in complete awe of Shobha De. Why do you think she heavily gets trolled online for her opinions?
I adore Shobha De. She was the first editor of Stardust and my last job as a journalist was heading Stardust as an editor. I have interacted with her a lot and she is extremely witty. Social media reacts to anything and everything. It’s like a parliament. They have opinion about everything. Shobha is known for her upright statement and that’s why she is the most loved and at the same time the most hated author in town. Only when you interact with her, you will know what she stands for. In fact, people talk about her because they gain free publicity out of trolling Shobha De.
Usually journalists prefer becoming a scriptwriter or handling a creative department. But you chose to work as a producer at Pritish Nandy Communicatons. Why?
As I mentioned in my very first sentence that I have always preferred to take the tough route. I am thankful to Pritish Nandy and her daughter Rangita for giving me this opportunity to explore different avenues of movie making. It’s not that I have not dabbled in writing a screenplay or being a creative head, but first I wanted to understand the core of cinema. Once you know the heart, then you can operate the body.
Pritish Nandy once said that he liked your cheekiness and lack of awe. Is that what made you a successful Bollywood journalist?
Oh yes! That was a classic interview. He rarely speaks about his colleagues. I was never in awe of any celebrity. I admire them for what they are, but that doesn’t mean that I will have to become their shadow or a replica. I always wanted to carve my niche as a journalist, author and a creative producer. I am a learner, a student of cinema… and I am sure I will be able to achieve my dream. In fact, Pritish Nandy is one of the rarest examples of what a poet can achieve in life. He came to Mumbai with Rs 15. And today, he runs an empire! Nothing happens overnight, it happens over several nights.