One of the many words us journalists are guilty of overusing is “freewheeling”, to describe an interaction in which interviewees are unrestrained in their replies. Such interviews are rare these days—and even rarer are in-depth conversations with celebrities, which have made way for minute-by-minute coverage of their lives and their high jinks.
One truly freewheeling interview from the past that comes to mind is that of John Lennon, which then Rolling Stone editor Jonathan Cott did, over nine hours, three days before he was murdered in 1980. Cott did not carry the interview, opting instead to write an obituary. It was only on Lennon’s 30th death anniversary that Rolling Stone ran the full interview, which it described as a “joyous, outrageously funny, inspiring, fearless and subversive conversation”. Here’s an ode he wrote to his then five-year-old son Sean, ‘Beautiful Boy’:
“So I write a song about the child, but it would have done better for me to spend the time I wrote the f****ing song actually playing ball with him.” And here’s what he had to say about himself as a father: “I’m not the greatest dad on Earth… I’m up and down, up and down, and he’s had to deal with that too—withdrawing from him and then giving…”
The New York Times, in a recent article titled ‘R.I.P., the Celebrity Profile’, explained what’s changed about celebrity journalism. “What’s replaced it isn’t satisfying: Either outright silence, or more often, unidirectional narratives offered through social media.”
It’s therefore with some trepidation that I look forward to the annual Forbes India Celebrity 100 issue, which ranks film, sports, television, music, comedy and literary stars on their earnings. For how we arrive at this ranking, put together by Salil Panchal and Neeraj Gangal in an over three-month exercise, click here.
While the ranking are a definitive barometer on earnings, the profiles could easily have degenerated into “unidirectional narratives”. Particularly when Team Forbes India has no illusions of being celebrity hacks.
Let me assure you that they are anything but an assortment of puff jobs. Our first cover—among six—is on Sachin Tendulkar’s second innings that involves, among other things, the challenge of connecting digitally with Gen Z. The second is on Akshay Kumar’s third innings in which he’s doing films steeped in realism. But there’s a lot more, too, on a new generation of celebrities—the unlikeliest of YouTube stars from the hinterland, a rapper from the Mumbai ghettos and an activist actor from Kerala taking on misogyny head-on in the testosterone-driven Malayalam film industry.
It’s an exciting time to be an actor because of the sheer opportunity to do content-driven cinema. Nikhil Sane, producer of a string of acclaimed Marathi films and business head at Viacom18, captures it well in a brilliantly analytical interview with Gangal. “Content matters first, then the star,” says Sane. If we have an in-depth interview, we also have a freewheeling one—with rapper Badshah, who isn’t averse to giving us a peek into his true self. Sample: “I’m very moody in real life, and that’s how Badshah is too. I can be cool at times, even rude, and that isn’t an act.” Lennon may have approved.