Pop culture’s rules of celebrity worship require three essential ingredients: a celebrity, an adoring public, and a messenger that translates the celebrity’s carefully crafted image for mass consumption. Chopping that idiom into bite-size morsels can be a heavy task. As improbable as it sounds, Page 3 does exactly that. Fanning out from the gossip columns of an otherwise respectable daily, Page 3 is an easy-digest chronicle of the lives of the news makers who make the pseudo-news and the news reporters that translate the charade for the rest of us.
Seen through the eyes of Madhavi (Sharma), a gossip columnist whose sensibilities play out through the widely-read titular page 3 of a Mumbai-based daily, here is a world that has for its fauna snobs of every persuasion. There are over-pampered wives of two-timing industrialists, newly-rich doyens who booze around the clock, and Indian-American expatriates who rent, literally, a media circus that can guarantee a coveted mention in Madhavi’s page 3—for a hefty charitable “fee.”
Page 3 is no different from all good fiction in that glimpses of real-life parallels pop up now and then. More than one characters resemble real-life personalities from contemporary Indian entertainment, art, and even law enforcement. Extending this intriguing smoke-and-mirrors analogy to any other setting, including political, would not be a huge stretch.
While all this is done in the name of a lighter shade of yellow journalism, Madhavi’s misadventures are not without an attendant darker side. Beneath the upper crust’s glitzy veneer, she unexpectedly stumbles on a web of sexual perversion, infidelities, and personal treacheries. The culprits, not surprisingly, are saintly daytime faces that at night transform into ghouls who prey on the most helpless.
The rich and the super-rich, it turns out, are no different than those with smaller bank balances. The well-coifed pine for intimacy and familiar approval, and beneath their paparazzi-baiting devil-may-care outward aloofness, are sometimes violently afraid of falling out of the limelight and losing their stripes as self-appointed captains of an imaginary new class struggle based not on income but on access to power and influence.
Bhandarkar’s mastery over social spin was proven by his brilliant Chandni Bar (2001). And even though Bhandarkar’s acute kaleidoscopic gaze dangerously flirts with gratuitous voyeurism—especially towards the end—Page 3 is rescued by Nina Arora’s unusual screenplay along with decent turns by Sharma, Kulkarni as Madhavi’s dark-horse would-be mentor, and Irani as Madhavi’s well-meaning but misguided editor.
A satisfying self-mockery of entertainment as a fixture of modern times, Page 3 is a thought-provoking, flinchingly disturbing, and at times even silly commentary that bites not with pearly whites but with designer fangs. Psst, don’t miss Page 3—now hush and pass it on!
Aniruddh Chawda writes from Wisconsin, on America’s north coast.