Back in the late 2000s, when I started out as a reporter, I loved the idea of Page 3. I thought I’d get to meet rich, stylish people, talk about their intensely exciting lifestyles and be a fly-on-the-wall as pulsating gossip was created right in front of me.
But I was wrong. Page 3 had died at least half a decade before that. I realised this soon after countless encounters with Page 3 people: All of them wanted to land a role in a Bollywood movie. Middle-aged women with faux blonde hair insisted on squashing rolls of saggy shoulder fat into tight animal print dresses. Rich men with zero conversation skills clutched their whiskies and looked for girls. Everyone looked for the photographers.
The truth was that Page 3’s golden days had long been over. Those who had once lived and died to party didn’t want to be seen doing that any more. Now everything was Page 3 material: birthday parties, mundan ceremonies, dog funerals. The real Page 3 was gone.
Ghost of page 3 past
But it wasn’t always so. In fact, when it started in the late ’90s, the third page was the place to be seen. A photograph there meant you had arrived on the social scene. Vinod Nair, group fashion editor, Hindustan Times and one of the first journalists to work on the beat, says, “It was supposed to portray the sunny side of life and give readers something aspirational in the morning.”
So what if you couldn’t party like them, you could at least see what it looked like. ‘Them’ meant celebrities like “Priyanka and Rahul Gandhi with Robert Vadra in tow. May 7 was clearly marked as Gudda’s (Rohit Bal) birthday and was an annual feature for the page,” says Jaydeep Ghosh, journalist and founder of fashion scandal.com, part of Nair’s batch.
Page 3 emerged at the end of the ’90s, when the fruits of liberalisation were just getting ripe. Indians were coming out of their phase of austerity and subtly beginning to enjoy their wealth. That was the sentiment that city supplements captured, much like the film magazines that captured the lives of movie stars.
Or, as author and script-writer of Kahaani, Advaita Kala, points out, “It allowed us a glimpse into the glamourous lives of people who had famous day jobs. We wanted to see how they partied, what they wore, ate and drank. It was really the beginning of voyeurism.”
And of a new social order, where being seen on the circuit was a good thing. Often, this kind of visibility advanced careers. “All these fashion designers and industrialists who are big celebrities today are so because they were on Page 3 once,” adds Nair, referring to people who shun press cameras today.
Ghost of Page 3 present
As the private parties moved to clubs and then disappeared entirely from the media glare (unless there was something – a brand, a restaurant, a clothing line, a movie, a new store – to peddle), so did the party people.
They were replaced by a new crop of desperate, do-anything-for-a-photo-op wannabes who had realised what Page 3 was worth. “You open the page and see how many people you recognise. Everyone is a designer these days. Random people are featured, who don’t deserve any attention,” says a society journalist.
And if earlier, style was the divine guidance, now that too has been thrown out with the bath water. Runny, over-done makeup, tight-fitting clothes that are 10 years too old, Russian and Uzbek girls who don’t have second names are the cache of Page 3 today. According to former party girl and now jewellry designer Queenie Singh, people featured these days “have no sense of style and shouldn’t be looked at.”
Page 3 has, if you like, become ‘democratised.’ Like restaurateur Shiv Karan Singh says, “Whenever I host a party, I invite different types of people, including our high-spending clients. And who decides if someone deserves to be on Page 3 or not? Everyone likes their picture being taken.” That negates the ‘niche club’ idea that Page 3 was initially based on.
Money Talks, Loudly
Hard to believe now, but there were days when Page 3 dictated the readership of a newspaper. Till certain publications (not this one, we hasten to add!) introduced a policy where you could buy a few columns of space on Page 3 and so let the whole world see your wife’s birthday party, friend’s wedding anniversary, son’s graduation dinner... Just like your own Facebook page, only more expensive.
Once money entered the picture, everything turned rancid. Would the real A-listers want to be featured on that kind of page? No, says a socialite who didn’t wish to be named. “If you do accidentally get featured one day, then you become the laughing stock of all your peers. You don’t want to look like your life is so sad that you need to pay people to showcase it.”
But there are plenty of people out there who are still keen to become Page 3 celebrities. The best way to do so is to organise a Page 3 party of your own (look at box, right). It doesn’t matter if you don’t know anyone. “You can hire a PR agency, which will get someone who does ‘guest relations’ like Ramola Bachchan or Thenny Mejia on board as co-hosts. These people will charge you around `10,000-20,000 per guest to fill your party with regulars,” says a Page 3 photographer on condition of anonymity.
When we asked Ramola about her ‘guest relations’ work, she agreed that she “lends her expertise. It’s like any other professional service. You go to a lawyer to solve a case, you come to me to arrange a party,” she says. But when we asked about the charges for calling guests, she just repeated, “I don’t know anything about that,” several times on the phone.
Who killed page 3?
Like any trend that loses its charm once it goes mainstream, Page 3 too became infra dig once the exclusivity went. Puneet Nanda, managing director at apparel and fashion firm Genesis Colors Pvt Ltd, says, “Earlier there was an ego in being visible on Page 3, now there is an ego in not being visible. It’s like reverse snobbery.”
Once ‘socialite’ became a dirty word and it became necessary for everyone to find a day job that wasn’t partying, Page 3 started gathering negative connotations. And after director Madhur Bhandarkar’s clichéd representation of society in his movie, Page 3, things became worse. “Being on Page 3 is not seen in the right light these days, so most people just prefer staying at home,” says Gunjita Dhawan, former socialite and current owner of a PR firm.
With the arrival of many party-centric blogs like Miss Malini and HighHeelConfidential, and magazines like Hello, OK!, People and Hi!Blitz, Page 3 doesn’t have the same equity it did earlier and the fact that you can buy it (in some publications) doesn’t help either.
“The influence of Page 3 has decreased a lot over the past few years. It’s no longer the only place where you can mark your influence on the social scene. A bit like the Miss India pageant losing its title as being the only entry point in Bollywood for girls. Now it’s not so important since there are so many other ways to do that,” says author Ira Trivedi.
However, any mention of Page 3 parties of the past does come attached with the folklore of the glitzy, amazing booze-headedness of the bashes that made them so awesome and attendance worthy.
“There were fantastic parties like ones hosted by Manish Modi, that started at 10-11 pm at his Amrita Sher-Gil Marg residence and ended with breakfast in the morning. Or the costume parties that Gautam Punj threw, for which everyone wanted to secure an invite. Even the crazy ones thrown by designers Rohit Gandhi and Rahul Khanna were famous. Most of them don’t happen anymore, either because people have left town or simply grown up,” recalls Vinod Nair.
As Page 3 changed within a decade, so did the attitude of party hosts and partygoers to the press, which has gone from friendliness to suspicion. That’s also because back then, there were only a few magazines, newspapers and TV channels. Today there are literally hundreds, and they are far more aggressive.
Once upon a time, no one, be it an A-list designer or an industrialist from Delhi’s Prithviraj Road, would think twice about inviting the press, even for allegedly ‘private occasions’. But today, the really private A-list parties are out of bounds for the press. Only when the concerned people want publicity for a new project or any other specific reason do they invite the press.
“The atmosphere has changed a lot; now there is a general mistrust of the media,” says author Ira Trivedi. “All these raids on parties and misrepresented pictures only add to that. No one wants to get involved with the media and they treat the media with a lot of caution.”
Bollywood is especially cautious. Today, photographers covering private Bollywood parties are expected to stand on the road and take pictures of guests arriving. “In Hollywood there is a red carpet, but here we have a road carpet! Earlier, we would be like any other guest, not any longer,” rues Prodip Guha, a freelance photographer.
How To Write a Page 3 report in 30 seconds
________ is in the air (Winter/Summer/Spring/Autumn) again and that means the _______ites (Delhi/Mumbai/ Bangalore) are ready to party again. And so fun, frolic and pizzazz ruled at _________’s (host) ________ (birthday/anniversary/restaurant launch/club launch/mundan ceremony/marriage reception/fashion show) bash recently. While the guests chatted and bonded over lip-smacking/delicious/mouth-watering/ scrumptious/yummy food and drinks, the revelry/rendezvous/ soirée/get-together/shindig also saw ____________ (the Page 3 regulars) having a gala/whale of a/ball of a/ marvellous/splendid time.
Lady in Red/Blue/Black/Yellow/Indigo; Three Cheers; Centre of Attraction; All Smiles; Happy High; Glitterati Galore; Party Nation; Click Time
The age of celebrity
All the 25 people that I spoke to for the purpose of this story said one thing clearly. Everyone wants to be famous. Everyone wants to be photographed. And if countless albums on Facebook of people partying aren’t enough proof, then there are sites like p3p.com and mypurplemartini which are marketing the inherent need of ordinary people to be seen partying and becoming Page 3 stars.
Utkarsh Bansal of p3p.com, which began as an event management company, says, “On our site everyone can feel special, without having to pay like they have to in some newspapers. All they have to do is attend the parties we throw and they might get their pictures on our Facebook group, which has more than 4,000 members,” he says. And if the i-celebrities aren’t enough, then there are the semi celebrities, who also make up a large share of Page 3 parties.
“There are new celebrities being created every day, whether it is reality TV stars, radio stars, bloggers, there is always someone new getting famous,” Advaita Kala tells us.
It does seem like an old phenomenon is at work again: The new rich, who, just like the ones at the end of the last decade, want to show their wealth off to the world. They might have acquired the money but not the class that could put them on Page 3 without having to pay.
“Prosperity has changed and so have the people who make the most money. Earlier they were the south Delhi, south Bombay, Juhu people who were the established class. Now it has shifted to those living in west Delhi, who also want to celebrate their wealth, while the snooty south Bombay types wonder why every halwai’s daughter’s birthday party is featured in the pages. It’s because the halwai has more money than you,” says Hindustan Times advisory editorial director, Vir Sanghvi.
So, what now?
While Page 3 looks worse than roadkill, with parties splattered all over, this is as close to death as the page can get. Though some journalists feel that as long as there are celebrations, or as long as there are occasions when people will need publicity for their products or their work (till the end of time, that!), Page 3 will continue.
Others believe that the real Page 3 has degenerated. It has now become the home ground for those hungry for their 15 seconds of fame. But once they do get famous, will they too distance themselves from Page 3?
Simple steps to become a page 3 celebrity (that is, if you stll want to be one)
1. Carry a Birkin/YSL Muse in a different colour each time you gatecrash a party. Say “From Harrrods” in an exaggerated drawl every time someone asks. No one will think you bought them from Bangkok.
2. Go with a girl who does that.
3. Kiss everyone you know, or don’t. But turn their face away from the cameras, so only you’re seen in the picture.
4. Stand next to the group where all men are obviously gay. Cues: Freakishly blond hair, overly done eyes or a waxed, made-up face.
5. Be an expat.
6. Be a designer. Even if all you create is crafty gossip about that rich socialite who’s photographed all the time.
7. Just buy the damn thing.
From HT Brunch, July 15
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