Today I am missing an intrepid film journalist of Mumbai who was considered as the most feared film scribe in her profession.

That was Devyani Chaubal. Pan chewing, a well spread midriff, and a laugh that sent shivers to her enemies, Devyani could  sniff out a scandal where none would be able to find.  Her single column in the Star and Style Weekly (‘Frankly Speaking’) was enough to keep the film world of Mumbai  agog with what would now follow.

Devyani claimed she was Rajesh Khanna’s friend. Some said she was his mistress. You  were left to your choice to brand her as you wished but make it sound scandalous, and she was not complaining. If she was alive, she would have dug deep her fangs into the happenings going on involving Nana Patekar and  Tanushree Datta on sexual harassment on the movie set. Devyani kept a retinue of informers consisting of spot boys, fifth assistants to film directors, and disgruntled female starlets to feed her with accounts of what was going on in the many homes of films stars, and film studios. She in  all probability was the first woman writer in having started  in what we may say  as “bitchy journalism”!

Professionally Devyani Chaubal was a worthy successor to another fighter for the dirty truth in the film industry, namely Baburao Patel, editor of a magazine called ‘Film India’. He was also a good Homeo doctor.

Patel’s forte was his strong off the cuff writings which sold well  at bookstalls. He too kept  some news assistants to track studios one by one and pick up news on the peccadilloes of films stars. Often, he fell foul of the film starts who sued him for damages in courts. But Shanta Apte was of sterner stuff. She had walked into Patel’s office and  assaulted him with her slipper in full view of the scribe’s staff. That made news in other newspapers!

If  a reader were to collect the writing of these named writers, one will get an idea that what is happening today as reported as slander matches between one actor and other actor, is not new. The story is as old as the performing arts itself. You can name an Indian actor, and I will recall his or her slanderous conduct.

Any person associated with film production if he was rich finally because   of this work, normally developed a sense of power over the workers he employed. Female artists were normally the victim of such exploitations. There is a telling scene in film ‘Teesri Kasam’, where the character played by Waheeda Rehman refuses a marriage proposal, because she must obey the manager of the travelling drama company  who uses her to get  drama bookings in the zamindar’s havelis, by getting her to  share the bed of the village patron. In film ‘Guide’ something similar is referred to, by Rosie (Waheeda Rehman) in a dialogue with Raju the guide.

When women illiterate and  wanting to develop for themselves a career in theatre, uses their feminine gender to some advantage. India’s first film heroine, Kusum Kumari, fleeced her lover film director-producer Hiralal Sen, of all his wealth and then disappeared. Some preferred to get themselves married into good fortune like Gauhar Bai. Soluchana Senior also kept a flock of male lovers and held court despite what the newspaper may report and so was Shanta Apte in the 1940s.

Sometimes a romance that started in the studio would enter severe rough weather.  When Dilip Kumar was smitten of Madhubala and she shunned his advances, he bribed an assistant film director in K Asif’s unit of Mughal-e- Azam ,not to approve a slap scene until he slapped her 40 times in retakes. Around the same time Nimmi was able to slap Dilip Kumar very hard for his attempt to play mischief during the shooting of film Tarana. In both the instance, the actress did not go to the press and report the incidents. The matter stayed under wrap all the time. In 95 percent cases the hero in the Indian film industry remained a wolf in sheep skin in his personal life. Therefore it was a wild world for any female artist to work in film studios ‘untouched’.

The trend in the film industry began to change when women from  prosperous families also stepped into the profession of dramatic arts  and began to set some rules for themselves. The Kapoor Klan women were strictly off paws, but some male members of the same Klan found women fair play if they themselves offered to play around.  The stories around Gemini Ganesan in south Indian cinema and Uttam Kumar in Calcutta  were many but they did not appear in press reporting.

What  has changed  now is the new wave to become bold and not take the male attention lying down when not wanted.

The first was Preeti Jain, a starlet who some six years ago accused a prominent film director of rape and breach of trust and dragged him to court. This man still managed to save his skin, but not his public reputation.

If I were to advise Tanushree Datta, I would  say, that in her accusations she should also now drag the studio owners and management in such cases . Every studio in the country is a company and a business which employs  more than ten hands. All such companies and businesses are required by Labour laws to have  committee in office which can look into reported cases of sexual harassment of employees.  Not one such business has a notified  committee on its floor and all of them can be separately prosecuted by the State Labour Commissioner for violating the government order.

Miss Datta could have complained then and there when she felt threatened  from Patekar. Again Miss Datta faltered in staying silent when she found workers of Shiv Sena stalking her after the incident of Patekar getting the snub from her. In this case a criminal case under section 507,508 IPC should have been registered and Miss Datta should have sought police protection.

I would state the incident presently cannot be put under the carpet and a State intervention is necessary. A PIL in the Bombay High Court for rampant violation of labour laws by film studios must be filed and pushed to a verdict.

Presently after the closure of the newspaper “Screen” some years ago, serious film journalism has evaporated in the country. What we have now are periodicals which feature the write ups on film artists paid by their PROs. Nana Patekar’s PROs are presently a harassed lot. They do not deserve our sympathies, and nor do their employer acting on the  studio floors.

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