Where film magazines and tabloids once reported on celebrities sniping at each other, today’s star wars are being played out on the social networking site Twitter. Its instant 140-character format has made it the unlikely battleground for name-calling spats of all kinds – with some A-listers behaving very badly indeed.
Over the last month alone, several major – and one minor – spat have broken out among Bollywood’s bold and beautiful. While directors Ram Gopal Varma and Karan Johar have been at each other’s throats, the site is also being used to attack journalists such as Shobhaa Dé, who, as might be expected, aren’t shying away from strong ripostes.
Varma has shared “a love and hate relationship” with Johar since he signed on to the site and recently took a swipe at the younger director’s recent films, My Name Is Khan and Kurbaan.
Reacting to the recent fiasco that was Mani Ratnam’s Raavan, Varma said: “I want to remake Raavan and I want to request Mani to remake (Ram Gopal Varma Ki) Aag.” Having set himself up, he went on: “I got a better idea… I will make My name is Raavan and Mani should make Raavan Ki Kurbaan.”
Johar struck back at once: “You have an amazing sense of humour Ramu! Never shows up in your films though,” he said on his Twitter page.
Varma’s came right back at him: “Karan, because of the constant bashing I receive, I developed my sense of humour as a defence mechanism. And talking of my films not having humour, check out the great comedy I made called RGV Ki Aag.”
Days later, Varma mocked Johar’s newest production, I Hate Luv Storys, saying: “I hate I Hate Luv Storys for being a big hit and I love I Hate Luv Storys because its K. Jos’s film, who I love to hate and hate to love and that’s our love-hate story.”
This time, though, it seems Johar had decided to take things in his stride, tweeting: “Superb tweet Ramu!!! You couldn’t have worded our ’story’ better!!”
Sonam vs Shobhaa
I Hate Luv Storys also sparked a war of words between headstrong actress Sonam Kapoor and straight-speaking author and columnist Shobhaa Dé.
The actress has crossed swords with the author in the past, and this time round, she reposted director Punit Malhotra’s Twitter response to Dé’s scathing review of the film. He wrote: “Shobhaa Dé is a fossil going through menopause… Going by her logic, should I be spanking Shobhaa if I don’t like what she writes?”
Dé said she thought the movie was dumb and wrote that Punit ought to be “spanked in public” for making such a film.
She slated the actors, too, saying Sonam “lacks oomph” and Imran Khan “should keep his shirt on… if he doesn’t want the audience to lose theirs.”
But for once, Kapoor, who has called Dé a porn writer in the past, saw sense and deleted the post, apologising instead: “Mrs de I owe you an apology for getting personal. I’m ashamed for my momentary lapse in judgement. And apologetic. Every writer and journalist and audience are entitled to their opinion and I respect that,” she said, also on Twitter.
This was after Dé used her Times of India column to question the ‘breeding and upbringing’ of today’s young stars, comparing them to the Bachchans and their response to the Raavan debacle.
“Surprisingly, even some of the newbie hot shot actresses resort to slanging matches when critics don’t automatically fall at their feet and go gaga over their looks\performance,” she said in her column, defending the job of the film critic: “There’s no axe to grind. The filmmaker has done his\her job by making a movie, and the critic, his\hers by writing about it in an unprejudiced way. That’s where the equation begins and ends. Or should.”
Critics vs stars
That brings us to another Battle of Twits, between a top Indian film critic and a Bollywood superstar.
When Akshay Kumar visited ailing cartoonist RK Laxman in hospital just days ahead of the release of his new film, this weekend’s Khatta Meetha, Rajeev Masand, a journalist with the CNN/IBN news put his thought bluntly: “Need innovative ideas 2 promote films in competitive times. But Akshay Kumar grinning like a jackass at RKLaxman's hospital bed is a new low,” he said on his Twitter page.
And who should come to Kumar’s defence but Amitabh Bachchan, who said: “Dear All, I was just turning in for the day when I went to check my account on Twitter and came across a remark by Rajeev Masand, a journalist and prominent anchor for CNN/IBN and one who reviews films every week end. Rajeev Masand calls Akshay Kumar a 'jackass', and then they hound and criticize me for writing against the media on my blog?"
Masand responded at once, pointing out that while it was the top actor’s right to stand by his colleague, Bachchan’s criticism of the term ‘jackass’ was ill placed.
“A strong word, perhaps, but appropriate I think, to express horror at the complete lack of sensitivity involved in a film promotion of that nature. However controversial my choice of words, it is me taking a ‘stand’, Sir.
Expressing my ‘opinion’. Two words your fraternity seems largely unfamiliar with.
Regarding your outrage/disappointment at my choice of words: Apologies, Sir. If expressing my opinion lowers your impression of me, then that is a cross I shall have to bear,” Masand wrote. “But finally, by your own logic, Sir: will your fraternity pull up Akshay for this tasteless gimmick? Or do you think it is innovative too?”
Kumar, of course, immediately thanked Bachchan, saying: “Anyone who see's my smile by his bedside in any other way other than love has a cold judge mental heart and i can only pity them.”
Song and dance
Far more serious was the battle between Bollywood producer Mahesh Bhatt and lyricist Javed Akhtar and his filmstar wife Shabana Azmi, who sparred over the rights of music directors and lyric writers to royalties from songs used in movies.
All have outspoken, forthright views on everything from communal tension to Mumbai’s floods, but with the question of revenue-sharing not covered by the Indian Copyright Act 1957, the issue has long been a bone of contention between the stars.
“A wrong perception has been built up giving an impression that composers do not make money from a hit song. The fact is that composers/singers make millions by performing hit songs by way of live shows,” Bhatt said on his Twitter page recently.
“How can you ask for an equal share in profits when u don’t share the loss,” he asked.
Azmi, who has worked on Bhatt’s movies in the past, responded: “A share in profits is not a demand, but a royalty ... for when song is used as mobile ringtones or on radio or on TV. Producers make lyricists sign contracts that irrevocably waive all rights that might in future come to lyricists under the copyright act. UNJUST.”
Akhtar added his voice to the debate, tweeting: “No one is asking for a penny from the film’s profits. We are asking for our rights and dignity.
From all over the world, royalties are collected in the name of authors, composers and often don’t reach them. We are thankful that soon a law will save the authors, composers from contracts that are like bonded labour.”
Bhatt was forced to wind his neck in. “The feudal mindset of producers has to change. But this idea of the starving artist is also exaggerated. But we can’t get far by merely demonising our producer brothers,” he said, adding: “If what you allege about me is true, it should not hurt me. And if it is not true, even then it should not hurt me.”
He then took it forward rather pettily, criticising Azmi and Akhtar indirectly: “Freethinkers are those who are willing to use their minds and understand things that clash with their own beliefs.”
Sharp as a tack, Akhtar shot back: “What a noble thought! If you want to continue, I am willing... If you want to let it pass, I am willing. Your choice.”
It was left for Azmi to come out an quiet the hubbub last night: “That's crazy. Mahesh Bhatt is a good friend of mine and there is nothing contentious in my tweets to him,” she posted on her Twitter page.
That wasn’t the most recent celebrity spat on the social networking site and there will undoubtedly be many more.
And while the public may lap up these battles, like Dé pointed out, some of us are also losing our respect for these Twitter-happy terrorists. As their brands take a beating, will these stars’ box-office appeal be hit?