Films: Going undercover

Published on Sep 10, 2022 01:17 AM IST

A former magazine editor gets nostalgic as he reveals anecdotes from cover shoots with some of Bollywood’s biggest stars

Anna Singh painting Pooja Bhatt’s body (above) for the cover of Movie magazine (right)
Anna Singh painting Pooja Bhatt’s body (above) for the cover of Movie magazine (right)
ByDinesh Raheja

I have never met Ramakrishnan P, the editor of a popular Hong Kong-based magazine, but corresponding with him on social media has proved gratifying. Recently, he said, “I have preserved almost every edition of Movie magazine that you edited in the 1990s because you pioneered so many positive changes in film journalism. And a Movie cover was prime real estate; I cherish some stunning covers as collectors’ items.”

That set me reminiscing about the years between 1988 to 1999 when I edited Movie magazine. Creating a stand-out cover every month was a mammoth task. They say it takes a village to raise a child (sometimes I am made aware of that with my grandchildren), and it was practically the same with a magazine cover. 

Here are the stories of the creation of eight of the best covers and how photographers Gautam Rajadhyaksha, Jagdish Mali and Rakesh Shreshta captured the images with flair, designers Anna Singh, Manish Malhotra and Neeta Lulla styled the stars to look their best, and make-up wizards Mickey Contractor and Bharat-Dorris chiselled their visages. Not to forget, the young team of reporters and art directors who helped conceive the covers in my cabin during brainstorming sessions that were noisier than a stormy Arabian Sea.


The boy next door and the diva, shoulder to shoulder

Newly-minted star Aamir Khan with established star, Sridevi; Juhi Chawla had an image makeover in a leotard
Newly-minted star Aamir Khan with established star, Sridevi; Juhi Chawla had an image makeover in a leotard

Excited to be appointed the editor of Movie in October 1988, I wanted to begin with a splash. So, I approached the overnight sensation, Aamir Khan, and the reigning diva Sridevi to pose jointly... and to my surprise, they agreed!

I was ecstatic about the results of the photo shoot. But my publishers had appointed a hotshot art designer duo, and they took one look at the negatives in the dark room and airily declared: “We have decided to go with a solo Sridevi picture.”

I politely underlined that this was my call to make, and saved a much-talked-about cover from the jaws of anonymity.

Analysing the hot reception to the cover, its photographer Rakesh Shreshta says, “The boy next door standing with the diva was like the ultimate fantasy of the common man coming true.”

Pooja Bhatt

A cover for posterity

Pooja Bhatt on the cover of Movie magazine
Pooja Bhatt on the cover of Movie magazine

Body painting is an intriguing art form. Inspired by Demi Moore on the cover of Vanity Fair, I approached Pooja Bhatt to do a similar photo shoot. Always adventurous, she readily agreed.

Starting at 10 pm at Jagdish Mali’s studio, Anna Singh painstakingly painted a patient Pooja for the next six hours. She made sure the paint was non-allergic. For the record, Pooja was wearing her undergarments below the painted suit—neither she nor we would have it any other way. The issue was slated to coincide with the star’s 21st birthday. When the issue hit the stands, the response spiralled out of control. There was much controversy but some people, including Shobhaa De and Anil Dharkar, supported and lauded the effort. All this fuelled the fire and the issue flew off the stands and went underground—a 10 copy was sold in black for 50!

One conversation still rings in my ears. When I was prodded about why we thought of this cover, I said it was an experiment... only to be asked, “Where is your laboratory?” Anna reminisces, “We nailed it. The cover was way ahead of its time. I did it gratis because of the warm camaraderie I shared with the editor of the magazine. He gave me credit for the shoot and, like the cover, that proved to be a trendsetter too.”

Amitabh Bachchan-Rajesh Khanna

Two titans together

Amitabh Bachchan and Rajesh Khanna on a cover together after 17 years
Amitabh Bachchan and Rajesh Khanna on a cover together after 17 years

While others were planning covers of Rajesh Khanna and his estranged wife Dimple together, orchestrated by Khanna to promote his film Jai Shiv Shankar, we pondered: “What if we bring arch rivals Rajesh Khanna and Amitabh Bachchan together?”

It seemed like a daunting task. The last time the two titans were seen together had been 17 years earlier in Namak Haram (1973). I approached Rajesh Khanna with the words, “Since you are the senior star, we are approaching you first.” He said yes, crinkling his eyes. I instantly drove to where Amitabh was shooting. He immediately gave his assent too.

On D-Day, I was nervous since Amitabh is a stickler for punctuality and Khanna was famous for coming late. But when the clock struck 9 pm, the two stars entered the 5-star hotel room at the same time as if they had synchronised their watches. When Amitabh asked rather stiffly, “Why are we sharing a room? Where will I change?” Rajesh Khanna smiled, “I will use the bathroom.” But we quickly arranged a suite.

Gautam Rajadhyaksha shot pictures for the next hour before we settled down to do the interview. The interview began with a series of monosyllabic answers, till I ordered white wine, which proved to be the ice-breaker. A few days after the magazine released, I happened to be in the same hotel’s lobby. Suddenly, I heard someone shouting my name. It was Mahesh Bhatt in the distance; and in his characteristic style, he hollered, “Rajesh-Amitabh together. You have created history!”

Juhi Chawla

A d(ar)ramatic makeover

Juhi Chawla had an image makeover in a leotard
Juhi Chawla had an image makeover in a leotard

Famously strait-laced, Juhi Chawla was to play the object of Shah Rukh Khan’s obsession in Yash Chopra’s Darr and the director wanted to overhaul Juhi’s image. So, he enlisted Rakesh Shreshta and designer Neeta Lulla for help. Juhi was presented with black unitards, but she was hesitant at first. Neeta recalls, “I wore the unitards myself to give her an idea how they would look, and then she was game.”

 Photographer Rakesh Shreshta, a friend of many years, dropped by my office to show me the results of Juhi’s photo shoot. I spontaneously said, “This is my next cover.”


The golden girl

Sridevi had to be convinced to wear the drape on her head
Sridevi had to be convinced to wear the drape on her head

This imaginative cover photograph proves that necessity is indeed the mother of invention. Sridevi could hardly believe it when she realised that instead of a range of outfits, her regular designer Neeta Lulla had brought a potli of drapes to Rakesh’s photo studio.

Neeta recalls, “Sri was most disappointed and instructed her hairstylist to remove the rollers in her hair.” But Neeta stopped her in her tracks, fished out an ivory gold drape and wrapped it around Sridevi’s hair. She lent Sridevi her ear clips and the end result was luminous.

Shah Rukh Khan

From dark to light

Shah Rukh Khan poses with a bunch of children
Shah Rukh Khan poses with a bunch of children

Baazigar and Darr had turned Shah Rukh Khan into a star, albeit with a grey-shaded hue. I wanted to turn his image on its head and present him in a soft version where he would be swamped by an avalanche of cute kids. To give the cover a distinctive flavour, we asked all the children to wear dungarees and asked Shah Rukh Khan to join the club.

Photographer Rakesh Shrestha’s son Rohan was car-dashed from Tiger Shroff’s birthday party to join the shoot. Oblivious of SRK’s star status, the children played and posed happily. When the magazine hit the stands,  the cover sold like hot cakes.  

Sunny Deol-Sanjay Dutt-Chunky Pandey

The big boys’ club

Sunny Deol, Sanjay Dutt and last-minute addition Chunky Pandey
Sunny Deol, Sanjay Dutt and last-minute addition Chunky Pandey

When Aamir inexplicably backed out from a Sunny Deol-Sanjay Dutt-Aamir Khan cover I had planned, I was in a fix. I could either call off the shoot or organise another star at the nth hour. Chunky Pandey not only bailed me out, he also brought his own singlet after checking with me the colour of the singlets Sunny and Sanju would wear.

The shoot took place at Sunny’s bungalow, after everyone had consumed tall glasses of lassi offered by Deol.

Chunky chuckles, “The Movie cover put me in the big boys’ league. It’s my career’s best cover, an iconic photograph with tremendous recall value. This cover is repeatedly posted on my Insta account.”

Divya Bharti

Death of a dream

Divya Bharti’s cover, released after her untimely death
Divya Bharti’s cover, released after her untimely death

It was with a heavy heart that we carried this cover of Divya Bharti immediately after her untimely demise at the young age of 19.

The photograph was unplanned and had been shot just a month earlier with total spontaneity... which was just like the person Divya was. We had been in the midst of a photo session with Neelam when Divya (most unstarrily) dropped in to meet photographer Jagdish Mali as she happened to have the day off. We persuaded her to don make-up and do a photo shoot.

How in the world were we to know that just a month later, we would use this solo shot as a posthumous tribute to her?

Dinesh Raheja is a reputed film historian, columnist and TV scriptwriter who has been writing on cinema for over three decades

From HT Brunch, September 10, 2022

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