Anyone with even a fleeting connection to the film industry has, at some point or the other, been asked by a friend, a visiting relative, a colleague at work, or occasionally by someone you’ve only met a few minutes ago, if you can get them into a Bollywood filmi party. If you have the connections, you’ve probably succeeded in wrangling a few passes to a movie premiere or perhaps even an awards function and the after-party. But don’t fool yourself; those are hardly what you can call a “real” filmi bash.
So how do you tell if the party you’ve been invited to is the real thing? Simple: If they’ve printed invites, it’s not. The concept of the Bollywood party has changed considerably over the years. In the good ol’ days, nobody threw parties like Raj Kapoor did. At gatherings in his Chembur cottage, only the finest Scotch was served along with a never-ending supply of piping hot kebabs. At his annual Holi celebrations at the RK Studio, it was mandatory to be dunked into a pool of colored water after which you dried off even as Sitara Devi enthralled the bhang-high crowd with her naughty thumkas. Nobody missed RK’s parties. From top stars like Rajendra Kumar, Nargis and Vyjayanthimala to leading musicians like Mukesh and the like, the guest list at a party thrown by Raj Kapoor was usually a who’s-who of the film industry.
Producer-director Subhash Ghai took on RK’s mantle soon after, and his parties – to celebrate his birthday, his wife Rehana’s birthday, their wedding anniversary, the launch of a new film, the success of a recent hit – were the talk of the town not only for their starry turnout, but for how much time the stars spent at these things. Ghai’s always had warm relations with the press and it wasn’t unusual to find more than a handful of journos nursing a drink at his events, or nagging a star for an interview. In RK’s days, only two or three top presswalas were ever invited for his exclusive dos. These were usually editors of leading film monthlies or major critics who had found favour with the filmmaker.
RK was clear he wasn’t inviting them for coverage. It was a party for friends and they had to come without pen, paper or tape-recorder. At Ghai’s parties, stars were often found grumbling amongst themselves about the presence of too many hacks. It always made them uncomfortable to smoke or drink openly. Or size up the desperate starlet who’d been making eyes all evening. The stars resented Ghai’s closeness to the media, but no one dared complain. Akshaye Khanna, it is learnt, sulked all evening at one of Ghai’s parties in the Capital years ago, because he felt his privacy intruded by all the curious ‘outsiders.’
Ghai has always enjoyed wining and dining his friends from the press, and the coverage that invariably follows. The ‘Showman’ tag he’d been bestowed with was acquired after much effort on his own part.
But the days of filmi parties where stars and hacks mingled are a thing of the distant past. Of course you still have parties where the press is invited, but those are promotional events, meant specifically for coverage purposes. A music release function, a brand endorsement announcement, a film launch celebration, the list is endless. These are hosted with the very purpose of courting media coverage. The stars involved usually stay for not longer than 20 minutes, they give ‘junta bites’ to the hordes of television reporters, and they almost never touch a drink or a snack.
If your friend lands you an invite for one of these parties, remember, you’ve just been had.
The “real” Bollywood filmi party is a whole different animal. It’s usually thrown by a top star or filmmaker; invites go out in the form of personal phone calls (not text messages, mind you) from the star himself or his spouse; and the media is almost never invited. Bouncers outside the venue have a sixth sense when it comes to gatecrashers and it’s near impossible getting in unless you’re someone – star, almost famous, or a well-connected hanger-on.
Yet, gossip tidbits and pictures of guests entering in their SUVs invariably make it to the tabloids. How, you ask? Well, because inevitably the star’s PR person has tipped off one single photographer (only one, it’s enough to do the job), who in turn spreads the word. By the time the guests start arriving, a battery of paparazzi has gathered outside the venue and is happy to get so much as a smile or even a clear face-shot as the guests make their way into the premises.
You see, while nobody wants the prying eyes of journos and photographers inside, not even the biggest stars will risk their party going unmentioned on Page 3.
Inside a filmi party today, the room’s usually divided into clusters. Friends will stick together. The host, his wife and her best friend must flit from one group to another all night, making sure each is comfortable. They will almost always catch snatches of ugly gossip about an actor or filmmaker seated in another group across the room. At some point during the evening when a cake is being cut, or champagne is popped, everyone in the room will get to their feet and assemble in the centre, forcing rivals, ex-lovers or sworn enemies who have been trying to avoid each other for the last two hours to finally come face to face. These are the moments that give Bollywood filmi parties their reputation.
Rival stars will meet like long-lost buddies, thumping each other on the back and indulging in inane conversation that neither will remember ten minutes later. Ex-lovers will exchange a warm hug and fake fond smiles, fully aware that all eyes are on them. Hypocrisy is in full swing here, unless of course you’ve invited Salman Khan, enfant terrible, who after one drink too many will be itching for a fight.
At a top male star’s recent birthday party, held at the most “happening” nightclub in Mumbai, insiders say a young producer’s pregnant wife had to leave less than 20 minutes in. Apparently the smell from all the joints being rolled was too much to handle. At the same party, an annoying mid-level star arrived on his brand new Ducati motorbike, and insisted on dragging his friends out one by one for a quick spin.
Rumour goes, one of the country’s leading stars (whose wife enjoys throwing parties for her husband's friends) brings out a jar of ecstasy pills for guests to dip into when they party at his sprawling home. At most parties, E is passed around sparingly and only among thick friends. But if you’ve come to a party at Mr Big Shot’s house, everything must be available in excess.
Food is never the big draw at these bashes. The first to hit the spread are always the stars’ spouses. The stars themselves are almost never seen eating, but you’ll catch them nursing a drink literally until they get into their cars to leave. Most male actors eat out of the plates of their wives. The music played has to include the big hits of the host – which always ends up bringing everyone to the dance floor.
There have been unhappy accidents in the bathroom once the guests have had more than they can handle. Too drunk to even stand properly, the restrooms look like a mess, and at least on one occasion, ended up being the battlefield when a prominent filmmaker inadvertently peed on a major star’s expensive shoes while standing at the urinals. This graduated into a full-blown episode with the star punching the lights out of the director minutes later on the dance floor.
There are the usual stereotypes that you see flitting in and out of every filmi party. They are:
The B-level actor with political connections who gets along with every camp – the Khans, the Bachchans, the Kumars. He’s such a suck-up that he’ll always be invited. What's his USP? He sits benignly besides the talking head star, laughs at all his jokes and gives him extravagant gifts.
The stud: He’s supposed to be one half of a steady relationship, yet this guy’s best chances for a quickie are at filmi parties. No one cares, no one judges, there isn’t a camera to catch the dirty evidence. While the girlfriend is busy shooting her fitness video, the star is sure to get lucky with some of the foreign back-up dancers who are on the peripheral floating crowd outside the private rooms.
The starlet: She comes on the arm of a hot-shot producer she’s sleeping with, but she’s the ‘leak.’ The starlet is the one responsible for the juicy tidbits that make it to the papers the following day. Of course it’s a case of ‘you scratch my back, I scratch yours.’ The gossip is a barter deal – a few weeks later, you’ll see a biggish interview and a sizzling picture of the starlet in the same publication.
The party poopers are inevitably the cops who call it a night at wild filmi parties too, however much you may think otherwise. Whether it’s a birthday bash at a famous nightclub or a private party, the cops turn up to play down the blaring music. Those stars who live in apartments and throw parties are the first casualties – elderly neighbours make anonymous phone calls to the station to break up the shindig. Of course, when the cops come calling at Hrithik Roshan’s and Farhan Akhtar’s bash in Aurus, the party only shifts to Shah Rukh's house, where the guests whoop it up till 7 am.
Filmi parties are where a star lets his hair down, where his wild side rears its naughty head. But you’ll never see that avatar. You’re not invited.
Partying on page 3
How many mandatory gays should there be at a P3P?
Less than a dozen but definitely more than two, so that they don’t hit on the straight single men. There are very few single men – so they are a prized commodity. Currently single girls far exceed single guys.
How many blonde women?
Depends on whether they’re behind the bar or circulating bar-bar. The latter are flaunted as ‘business associates who are travelling’ (“Inki country mein hum business karte hain”) or as ‘models.’
Who is likely to get drunk first?
Usually it will be the women who later claim they were having an ‘emotional’ moment. The others are short, dark men who slink around in corners and usually end up insulting guests.
What do wannabe page 3 people do to attract attention to themselves?
Wannabes usually slink up to two of the most important people in the room and hover like a drink between them. The women drape themselves around men who are not usually seen with women, because that makes for a unique photo op.
Who wears the least clothes?
Usually women past their prime who want to keep their men away from bimbettes. Aunty-types wearing Rina Dhaka when they should be draped in Valaya Home. The actual bimbettes have found that the real action comes from hanging on to the bar as if they’re about to perform a pole dance.
The permanent fixtures at every party?
Political have-beens, people who live in Dubai but are in Delhi every weekend, ladies of indeterminate provenance, socialites who claim they’re doing social work but spend more money than the average wage on a facial, and the rich, young and restless.
Who arrives last?
The young and restless always arrive last, because usually they've just had a shower at ten at night. Delhi has many brokers and dealers and those on the edge of law. They live on Dubai time like real dons and are always two hours late for everything.
Are you a loser if you arrive punctually?
It’s totally improper conduct to arrive on time for a party.
What about restroom action?
The first activity that happens is when couples end up there in positions that are both nocturnal and oral. And the other activity is the sniffing of substances. Some party organisers provide guests with glass counters in the restrooms to facilitate the process of inhalation of substances that generate ecstasy.
What’s the mandatory guest mix?
Ten per cent power elite (politicians); ten per cent bureaucrats; twenty five per cent your business (whatever business you do) associates; ten per cent out-of-towners; ten per cent foreigners (this includes diplomats, expats and women from Ukraine, Latvia and other places you can’t place on a map); ten per cent for car dealers, your friendly neighbourhood property dealers, foreign exchange defaulters and others on the edge of the law to provide the right amount of frisson and edginess (“He came out of Tihar only last week”); ten per cent fashion designers and Bollywood hopefuls; five per cent your friends. It’s fashionable these days to have stockbrokers and bankers too.
The people to avoid totally?
The first are your bootlegger and caterer – they’re actually at the party as part of the help but they pretend to be part of the party. And the second is your mother’s best friend – auntyji.
The hottest gossip you're likely to hear?
“She’s had a boob job done!”
And snatches of conversation?
“Wassup dude?” “Whisky kaun si chal rahi hai?"
Rajeev Masand is entertainment editor and film critic at CNN-IBN.