‘I am who I am. Bold or not, is for others to decide’

Ambika Shaligram
Monday, 24 September 2018

Ahead of her session at PILF, journalist-author Shobhaa De shares her candid views on politics, journalism and our identity

Her name evokes immediate interest and guarantees eyeballs. But author Shobhaa De, who is often in the headlines, sometimes for right and sometimes for wrong reasons, doesn’t really give a damn about what people talk about her. 

De, who is attending the sixth edition of Pune International Literary Festival (PILF), starting from Friday, in her trademark no-nonsense style rips apart the labels that have come to define her, emphatically saying, “My views are honest and forthright — be it politics, movies, columns or books. I am beyond labels.” 
Here’s more from the author...

Would you call yourself courageous? Your presence on digital mediums like Twitter invites a lot of scorn, and yet you make your point, as often as you like. How do you deal with the trolls and the hate mail, which you get everyday?
- I don’t call myself ‘courageous’.  I don’t stick labels on myself. I am a citizen of a vibrant democracy. I am entitled to speak my mind. I pay zero attention to trolls and hate mail. For all the ‘scorn’ you refer to, I receive tremendous love and admiration. I speak on behalf of the common man/woman. I am entirely neutral and non-aligned. My readers respect me for this. That’s all that matters.

The older generation of film stars, who are still working, talk about you and Stardust. How do you look at your work with Bollywood stars now? How has reporting for films, actors and stars changed?
- That was 40 years ago! Stardust has acquired an iconic status since the time it was launched with me as the editor. There have been many other excellent editors during the past four decades. Today’s Bollywood is far more professionalised and efficient. Stars are ‘managed’ by their PR companies. There is very little genuine interaction left. What you get is largely promotional ‘journalism’ with a price tag attached. 
Does field journalism still excite you? And, do you think print journalism would be relevant in the years to come?
- Field journalism is the only journalism worth following. All the rest is armchair reportage of no real value. Reporters play a key role in shaping content. They are not given their due, unfortunately. Today’s media model has changed drastically — it is based solely on revenues generated through fair means and foul. I believe a good writer has to be a good reporter first. 

Can you tell us about your equation with politicians? Is the Modi era as bad and difficult as the Indira Gandhi era was, especially during Emergency? You had to deal with the draconian laws when you were heading film magazines.
- Politicians are cut from the same cloth, whether here in India or elsewhere in the world. There is just one common ideology — the pursuit of power. Power needs money. Politicians focus on making money in order to hang on to power. Narendra Modi or Indira Gandhi — there is hardly any difference between autocrats. The names of political parties may keep changing but the characteristics of dictators remain the same.

You have got tags like ‘Jackie Collins of India’, of being a ‘bold’ writer — tags which you detest. In this context, what does being bold mean to you?
- I am indifferent to silly labels given by ignorant American reporters — ‘Jackie Collins of India’ etc appeared in the prestigious Time magazine. I am who I am. Bold or not, is for others to decide. We are living in the 21st century. What can possibly shock anybody? My views are honest and forthright — be it politics, movies, columns or books. I am beyond labels.

You gave us the TV serial Swabhimaan, which was a clutter-breaker in those days. And, then you also wrote Kittie Party. Would you consider writing something again for the TV? Or for the web?
- I enjoyed writing Swabhimaan. I still receive so much feedback from a far younger generation of readers! I am in talks for three or four projects. Yes, I find web series very exciting! I enjoy breaking the rules — the web offers countless challenges and possibilities.

You have written a couple of books celebrating personal milestones — 50th year and then 70th year. Which decade resonates with you the most?
- At 70, I am soaring! Flying free! It is exhilarating, liberating and fulfilling on all levels. There are countless women of my generation who are feeling the same way. They come up to me and we share our joy at finally finding our true selves, without caring who thinks what about us. 

Your writing has captured the social changes taking place in India; our family unit, for instance. In the near future, do you think we would drop the Eastern way of thinking, living completely?
- I fervently hope and pray we never ever lose sight of who we are. We are strong because of our identity. Our diverse culture. Our combined legacies. We need to remind ourselves of our traditions and heritage, before we too get lost — like the new rich of China who imitate the worst aspects of Western lifestyles. Our billionaires, who have made money in just one generation, need to look back and learn from our own history, before they drown themselves in designer clothes and fancy cars. The vulgarity on display is most unattractive and distressing.

As a corollary to the previous question, would you attribute your success and strength in beliefs to your family, especially your parents?
- My middle class Maharashtrian upbringing remains my saviour and strength. The sound values my parents focused on when I was growing up, have seen me through life, kept me grounded, and I owe them a huge debt. 

Similarly, the contribution of my husband and his family has been my source of strength. Like me, Dilip De is a proud self-made man, who lives by his values without compromise. We both continue to work hard as senior citizens, and I hope we will pass on this strong work-ethic to the next generation. God has indeed been very kind to me. I am filled with gratitude every day of my life.

Catch Nadi Palshikar in conversation with Shobhaa De at PILF session titled ‘Being Shobhaa De’ at YASHADA, Aundh on September 30, from 2.40 - 3.40 pm

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