He walked into the party with the girl, walked out with his heart broken. In Dev Anand’s 2007 autobiography Romancing With Life, the star remembers a private bash in the late 70s he attended with his svelte discovery, Zeenat Aman. The heartthrob had plans for dinner after the two popped in and out of the celebration; he would whisk Zeenat to Mumbai’s Taj Rendezvous and make his grand confession that he was in love with her. It didn’t pan out that way.
‘A drunken Raj Kapoor… threw his arms around her exuberantly. This suddenly struck me as a little too familiar,’ writes Anand in his memoir. ‘And the way she reciprocated his embrace seemed much more than just polite and courteous.’
The Guide actor slunk out of the glittering film party, his heart ‘bleeding’.
Some things never change. Decades later, a film party is still the stage where all the drama—all the behind-the-scenes Bollywood action—unfolds.
Just a couple of months ago, erstwhile actor Sanjay Kapoor threw a private party that ended with a new star couple being anointed—his nephew Arjun Kapoor and hot new kid on the block Alia Bhatt. “The two were inseparable,” says a friend of the hosts, “Stuck together in one corner and cooing nonstop. Even as guests left Sanjay’s home, the news had spread like wildfire. And there was not one journalist present.”
Even wilder rumours are making the rounds now about an A-list actress who had a bash to mark the resounding box office smash of her film. “Her publicists went into overdrive the next day, but the real story is that she was all over her ex, hoping to turn back time even though he’s moved on,” reveals one hotshot director. At times, shenanigans at private film bashes make national news. There’s the now infamous war of words between Salman Khan and Shah Rukh Khan at Katrina Kaif’s birthday party, which led to a five-year cold war, or the nasty run-in between Shah Rukh and director Shirish Kunder at Agneepath’s 2012 success celebration.
Stars know they can let their hair and guard down at a true blue movie bash. It’s where you’ll see Farhan Akhtar and Hrithik Roshan having a dance-off, watch Ranbir Kapoor and Arjun Kapoor playfully rib Ranveer Singh, or have a conversation with Aamir and Imran Khan about the lawns of their family bungalow.
The closed-doors, exclusive filmi party is still an enigma to the outside world. It changes colour with its host, makes news with its guest list (look who came—and who didn’t) and is more often than not held within the sprawling homes of the rich and famous.
On 10 August, Shah Rukh threw an extravagant Eid bash at his ocean-front mansion Mannat to celebrate the juggernaut success of his film Chennai Express and the birth of his third child AbRam in May. “It took us 15 minutes to just drive past the crowd of onlookers and paparazzi at his gate,” says one guest. Shah Rukh and Gauri stood at the marble archway of Mannat’s old bungalow entrance, warmly hugging (he) or air-kissing (she) invitees.
The turnout was both impressive and varied, from Dilip Kumar and Amitabh Bachchan, to Mukesh Ambani, Sachin Tendulkar and Parmeshwar Godrej; from close friends Karan Johar, Farah Khan and Kajal Anand, to ex-colleagues like Abbas-Mustan and Ashutosh Gowariker; plus members of the brat pack, Alia Bhatt, Varun Dhawan and Aditya Roy Kapur. Absentees stood out like sore thumbs, notably Aamir Khan, Ranbir Kapoor and Salman Khan.
From Mannat’s opulent living room, guests spilled into the entertainment area in the massive basement. Bookended by two living rooms—furnished in rich colours, with sink-in-deep sofas, large paintings and funky knick-knacks like an overlong red telephone and juke box—was a heavy dining table and, above it, a chandelier with a twist, lit by rows of faux wax candles instead of sparkling glass. The chatter of hundreds of invitees overpowered the house music playing in the background. Drinks and hors d’oeuvres flowed incessantly. There was no ‘incident’ to speak of, yet in the tradition of a good filmi party, things wound down very late and the last guests left Mannat at dawn.
Movie premiere nights, private screenings and music launches are often mistaken for film parties, but those are PR events, where hundreds of cameras go berserk. A real filmi bash is one where everyone is personally invited over the phone by the star or his wife, and where Bollywood heavyweights are sequestered from the prying eyes of journalists.
Other big shots make it in too and stick out amid filmfolk, at the risk of being ignored. At a landmark birthday party held at a luxury hotel a few years ago, a business tycoon aimlessly hung around alone, while a chief minister twiddled his thumbs in a corner. During an more recent overblown birthday bash, the country’s biggest star burnt up the dance floor with a TV news celebrity.
A film reporter with a national daily says, “A producer’s wife at a Bollywood party held at a nightclub told me that so many actresses were sidling up to this young political scion, acting embarrassingly coy. Obviously, they [each] wanted to be the one this hot bachelor took home, but he only politely smiled.”
Sometimes, maybe three handpicked magazine editors or movie critics will be allowed into film parties. They are well aware of the privilege extended to them, of the unwritten Bollywood bash code: if they sneak out their cellphone cameras at the do, or put pen to paper the next day, they’ll be struck off the guest list forever. Yet, just five minutes after a punch-up, a cat fight, a heated exchange of words, a patch-up, a hook-up, an awkward face-to-face with an ex, a walkout, a cop bust, or a drunk-as-a-skunk star making a fool of himself, cellphones do start buzzing.
“I was at Karan Johar’s Four Seasons hotel birthday bash in 2011, and saw Katrina Kaif and Deepika Padukone talking even while Ranbir Kapoor casually stood around,” says the editor of a daily entertainment newspaper supplement. “I knew the story would be in the tabloids the next day, but I couldn’t be the one breaking it.” It’s often Bollywood insiders themselves who let slip the news. BlackBerry status pictures and Facebook photos are leaked onto Twitter and make it to the morning papers and evening news entertainment shows.
The filmi party was traditionally hosted by the first family of Hindi cinema, the Kapoors. “The original showman Raj Kapoor threw the biggest parties,” remembers former Filmfare editor Rauf Ahmed. “He once nicely requested if he could bring his own brand of Scotch to a party I hosted because he was partial to it. All the guests, and mostly actresses, would gravitate to his corner. Actors who had big hits, who had ‘arrived’, always wore transparent shirts and white shoes.”
While BR Chopra and his brother Yash were known for their fun-filled outdoor schedules, with parties every night for the unit and even presswalas, Dilip Kumar had elegant Eid soirees with tables groaning under a lavish spread of kebabs, biryanis and kofta curries.
But nothing matched RK’s Holi bash: guests were dunked into tanks or doused with buckets of coloured water and served a steady supply of bhang. The entire industry flocked to RK Studios in Chembur for Holi, and was treated to long music sessions with the showman, even as kathak dancer Sitara Devi did her thumkas. “The stars made the best of hugging each other during the Holi revelry and did naughty things on the side,” chuckles Ahmed.
Even back then, film parties had a reputation— stars would let their fists fly once they were many drinks down. The usual suspects were Raj Kumar, Dharmendra, and brothers Feroz and Sanjay Khan. Says one old-timer: “There was a famous Juhu party where Raj Kumar and Feroz Khan got into a fist fight and I heard that Sanjay pulled off Raj’s toupee. Once Yash Chopra had a party after Kabhi Kabhie at the Taj where this dashing young male star wore a red waistcoat like the waiters and everyone kept ordering him to bring their drinks. He took off the coat, but the story stuck to him the next day.”
The showman mantle was taken over by Subhash Ghai, who hosted parties on his wedding anniversary, to launch a new film, or to celebrate a 100-day jubilee, often at his Madh Island farmhouse, which later earned a notorious reputation. RK’s Holi bashes too had their successors, from Amitabh Bachchan to Shah Rukh Khan.
Bachchan’s Holi parties were held at the huge lawn of his Juhu bungalow Pratiksha—unlike his Diwali bash, where guests are entertained in rooms with ornate carved doorways, silverware and photographs adorning entire walls. “One Holi party at Pratiksha ten years ago was the most fun,” recalls one actress, “There were vodka golas, chaat and a brass band playing a hit song associated with each guest as they entered. At some point, I lost my shoes. I just danced nonstop under this giant tree, my feet in the mud.”
Shah Rukh’s Mannat Holi parties are also legendary. Art connoisseur Kekoo Gandhy, who lived in Kekee Manzil at Bandra Bandstand, once revealed that he walked into Mannat only to be picked up by the mischievous host himself and dunked into a makeshift tank of coloured water.
Even though this parties have sumptuous buffet spreads—Salman’s Eid lunch, hosted by his parents Salim and Salma, tops this list—actors mostly pick at their food. Yet hunger does strike, usually by 4 am.
At Deepika Padukone’s party at her elegantly furnished duplex apartment in Prabhadevi, a compelling conversation between Aamir, Ayan Mukerji, Ranbir and Ranveer was punctuated by a round of mini quiches and chocolate bombs from one of Bombay’s top restaurants. When Salman threw an IIFA awards after- party in a banquet room at his hotel in Amsterdam a few years ago, his bodyguard Shera scoured the streets for chicken rolls for his guests at 3 am. An actress who was part of the group says, “At 5.30 am, the hotel staff wanted us to leave so they could clear up, but Salman kept very politely telling them, ‘No, please, please let us stay; I’ll clean up.’ It was a bizarre night.”
The brawny superstar is a generous host, often throwing parties over days at his Panvel farmhouse, where three bungalows are spread over acres of land. Legend has it that he once gifted Hollywood actor Will Smith an obscenely expensive watch when he invited him over to his simple, marble-floored sea-facing apartment in Bandra.
A producer’s wife reveals, “You can gauge how drunk stars are by the number of times they call each other ‘bro’. I’ve heard of Sanjay Dutt and Salman exchanging ridiculously pricey watches—they get really sweet and sentimental.”
Farah Khan’s home parties are chilled out, the entire industry will turn up when Karan Johar is the host, and TV czarina Ekta Kapoor’s Diwali bashes are known to be fun. One regular guest says, “Her parties are dimly-lit and super relaxed.
You’ll see directors, producers, stars walk in with briefcases [full of] cash for the card parties. Ekta drags guests to the bar and forces deadly cocktails down their throats. It’s the kind of party where you can see a Karan Johar shake a leg with a Sunny Leone or a top actress get all giggly after a wine binge.”
While booze flows like water at film bashes, you only hear of party drugs being passed around at the most private house parties or hotel rooms. At a recent party thrown by a top director at a nightclub, local cops played spoilsport, shutting down the music. “The A-listers at the party panicked that they could get tested by some over enthusiastic cop,” says a tabloid editor, “so they whipped out their phones and called their contacts. In five minutes, everything was back to normal.”
It may be the era of Twitter and Facebook, but some things that happen at a private film party still manage to stay within the party.