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Last Updated: Friday, 30 July, 2004, 15:43 GMT 16:43 UK
Bollywood director eyes 'tabloid' culture

By Zubair Ahmed
BBC correspondent in Bombay

Life seems to be imitating art for Bollywood director Madhur Bhandarkar these days.

Madhur Bhandarkar
Madhur Bhandarkar denies rape charges

His new film is a look at India's hard partying high society that feeds what is locally called a 'Page 3 culture'.

In India, Page 3 refers to colourful daily newspaper supplements that chronicle cocktail parties and gossip of the glitterati - the country's equivalent of tabloid journalism.

But as Bhandarkar puts the finishing touches to his eponymous film, he finds himself at the centre of a story that could have been made for Page 3.

This after an aspiring actress and model recently accused the filmmaker of rape after promising her roles in his films.

Bhandarkar has denied the charge, and has been granted interim bail.

High flying lifestyle

The newspapers are now full of specualation on Page 3 about Bhandarkar's "links" with the model and actress.

The director's long-awaited film is a glimpse into the lives of India's celebrities and the noveau riche, and their high-flying lifestyles.

There are a lot of people who only read the Page 3 sheets and discard the main newspaper, especially the young
Anil Dharker, Page 3 regular
They range from fashion designers to models and remix music divas, and of course glamorous rich men and women.

"My film is a peep into the Page 3 circuit through the eyes of a journalist, who covers their parties," Bhandarkar told BBC News Online, before the present controversy involving him and the model.

Page 3 in India is hardly as bare-all as the original in Britain's best-selling tabloids.

"It's an old wine in a new bottle," says columnist Anil Dharker.

But it was considered bold enough when it was first introduced by The Times of India newspaper some years ago.

Full of risqué revelations about the rich and famous, it acquired cult following in the high-octane world of Indian celebrity. India's other national newspapers rapidly followed suit.

Today the flashy supplements are a mix of celebrity news, party pictures, movie gossip and stories on such subjects as the sexual habits and preferences of Indians.

'Froth is important'

Bhandarkar's forthcoming film has also triggered off a debate about India's high life culture in its entertainment and commercial capital, Bombay (also known as Mumbai).

Socialite Bandana Tewari, who features regularly on Page 3 sheets, says the froth is important.

Konkona Sen, female lead in the film Page 3
Konkona Sen - the lead woman in the film

There is enough "angst in every other page of a newspaper", she says.

"There's enough of war, blood and crime and what have you. I think it's human nature to laugh at other people's follies, to read who goofed up, who threw up."

Many believe it's the need to know who among the beautiful people goofed up and threw up that's driving the runaway growth of Page 3.

The Times of India claims its Page 3 is a phenomenon. People love to love it or love to hate it, but cannot ignore it.

Says Anil Dharker, who often appears on Page 3: "There are a lot of people who only read the Page 3 sheets and discard the main newspaper, especially the young."

Many young people, aspiring models and actors cannot do without a Page 3 fix.

Munira Shaikh, a young advertising executive and film-buff, admits to a prurient curiosity that forces her to read Page 3 every day.

Several young boys and girls say they buy the morning papers only to read Page 3.

'Need for tittle-tattle'

Observers say India's runaway Page 3 culture reflects two distinct levels of an aspirational society.

One is the need for tittle-tattle. The second is the desire to be seen to be famous by featuring on Page 3.

One Page 3 sheet claimed in a recent self-congratulatory article that everyone wanted to be in it but nobody wanted to admit it.

Bandana Tewari says Page 3 merely reflects the inter-dependence of media and celebrity.

You can't punish them for wanting to look at their best and have a good time and wink at the camera
Socialite Bandana Tewari
"One feeds on the other. Both rely on each other. One needs the content, the other coverage."

But not everyone is cheering about the rise of Page 3.

Shoals of disgruntled newspaper readers complain it is a waste of space to feature airhead celebrities on Page 3.

Dharker agrees and admits India's gossip sheets seem to have struck little balance between glamour and achievement.

The Booker Prize-winning author, Arundhati Roy, is both an achiever and glamorous. She and people like her should feature in Page 3, he says.

Bandana Tewari, a staunch supporter of Page 3, disagrees.

"On the one hand they [celebrities] are the ones who provide you with amazing coverage and give you all the juice for all the tabloids.

"On the other hand you can't punish them for wanting to look at their best and have a good time and wink at the camera."

It is a debate that shows no sign of running out of steam just yet.

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