Yes, media is an industry. And some of these industrious gossip columnists remain etched in our memory. In the bohemian 70s of Bollywood, Stardust magazine and Neeta’s Natter exemplified chatpata film gossip. Neeta’s Natter, “honed by the raillery of Mohan Bawa but presented by a bejewelled black feline, was mostly about catfights and who was sleeping with who” mentions Roshni Nair in a recent article. Neeta and her gossippy natter was a creation of free-lancer Mohan Bawa and Stardust’s very own Nari Hira and Shobha De.
So, what is the nature of fandom and how have gossip columnists learned to give us what we clamor for? How is it that we actually care about these celebrities and their lives? In Sorry to Bother You (2018) we see how telemarketers literally land with a thud in our living rooms, interrupting the flow of our day. How did Irrfan Khan’s sad news land in my heart? Why did I care that Irrfan Khan has got cancer, the Emperor of All Maladies? It is a puzzle.
Which brings me to Puzzle (2018), the latest film with Irrfan Khan. Irrfan with an extra r. There is sheer intelligence behind Irrfan’s laconic delivery of the sardonic dialogue. In Piku (2015), he delighted with his barbs to the beautifully stressed out Deepika Padukone. But it was in Lunch Box (2014) that his curmudgeonly Saajan Fernandez tugged at our heartstrings.
Is Puzzle (2018) the Hollywood version of Bollywood’s The Lunchbox? Both are about desperate housewives trapped in unfulfilling domestic roles. Both could be seen as an “under-appreciated housewife’s private escapist dream.”
It seems that marital infidelity is on the menu again.
Direct journalistic descendants of Neeta’s Natter might discuss films on stepping out of the shaadi ka pavitra bandhan (holy matrimony) so:
“Meowww… Marital infidelity is like, so cool lately, yaar. Lunchbox (2014) won best film award at the Filmfare awards, though — get this — they never meet! But this wife is like, ready to run off with this old dude and go live in Bhutan or whatever. Like, they must get advance copies of the Kinsey report or something. There’s Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna (2006). And there’s this antebellum lust triangle in Twelve Years A Slave (2013), and the villainous white master dude has the hots for this black slavegirl, and his wife is just wearing her frilly dress and looking on and pursing her lips and totally hating on her enslaved rival, right? And she’s not in the most enviable position, right? So, she’s not much better than a slave, right? (Gathering steam) In a way, right? And she’s the white mistress and everything, but, like, she’s not that much better off, right? And in Puzzle (2018), Kelly MacDonald is like, “I’m not your servant” when her husband is looking for his warm dinner and she’s been AWOL. So it’s these institutions(!) slavery and marriage — so confining, yaar.
So marriage is like, such a hapless institution, like total umar-qaid, (life imprisonment) right? But if you find yourself crying while dying the easter eggs, as Kelly MacDonald does in Puzzle, a closer look at the state of your marriage seems merited. And in Shaadi ke Side Effects (2014), like, no one has an actual affair affair, but Farhan Akhtar is apparently having an affair with a younger, single version of himself. Which is obviously confusing and everything, but, whatever. And his wife, Vidya Balan, is like, you’re never around, and she’s digging on the neighbor, right? But nothing happens! Right? So everyone’s been true to their wedding pheras or whatever… from one cat to another, meeowww till next month”
Marriage therapist Esther Perel could tell us a thing or two about marital infidelity in her book Mating in Captivity: Reconciling the Erotic and the Domestic (2006). Wouldn’t it be just like Catty Neeta to suggest that very book as a wedding present to Priyanka Chopra and Nick Jonas, who are jumping into matrimony just as so many of the filmic characters are trying to jump out.
Catty Neeta and the gossip industry might find a jolt of recognition in Rita Skeeter of the Harry Potter franchise, or the Aunties who are speculating about the state of Swara Bhaskar’s marriage in Veere di Wedding (2018). The aunties collectively end the gossip session with a wholehearted Saanu ki! (None of our business!)
But gossip is, in fact, big business. What can we learn from the trade of gossip? In our interpersonal relationships, we learn about the importance of safeguarding confidences, of treating information that is handed to us with care. It is precisely the breaking of this trust, of trading in the embarrassing details of people’s lives which is the currency of the gossip columnist. Because they are disseminating information that belongs to someone else. And that brings us to today’s dilemma, of social media networks taking our information and peddling it carelessly, selling it to others without our knowledge, which accounts for our outrage at this betrayal. So perhaps Facebook is now the biggest gossip of all.
I wish Priyanka Chopra and Nick Jonas many happy years of togetherness (please nobody tell him about Saat Khoon Maaf (2011), where femme fatale Priyanka disposes off husband after husband, including an endearing Irrfan Khan). A small reminder that trust is a fragile thing. Puzzle was about marriage partners losing trust in each other. Facebook reminds me that there are other betrayals.
Geetika Pathania Jain is Culture and Media Editor at India Currents. She wrote a gossipy article about Priyanka Chopra in 2016 that got an award.