Celebrities are of course not above small-time gimmicks in the name of marketing – be it a product they are endorsing or a promotional stunt for their latest film.
But few are so blasé about it like Bollywood starlets Rani Mukherjee and Vidya Balan who indulged in what they now claim was a ‘mock kiss’ while on the campaign trail for their latest film, 'No One Killed Jessica'.
The leading ladies, who were in Dubai yesterday to promote this hard-hitting drama that releases on January 6 in the UAE, said the kiss was just a tongue-in-cheek response to the media hounding the duo had received of late about the alleged rivalry brewing between them.
“We have been on the road promoting the film for so long now that we try and come up with novel ways to answer the same questions,” was the laughing response from Mukherjee. “The mock kiss was our humourous take on the so-called animosity between Vidya and me. Guys have done it before as a fun stunt, so we decided to spice things up.”
Balan, who appeared embarrassed by the question, giggled in response, saying: “Some times you don’t think or over analyse these things. You just go with the flow to de stress after a long and rigourous schedule.”
The duo, whose trip to London in a promotional blitzkrieg for “No One Killed Jessica” was called off due to the freezing temperatures and the volatile flights situation, were quite vocal about their endorsement of their latest film, which is based on the murder of small-time Delhi model, Jessica Lall, who was shot dead by Manu Sharma, son of a politician in 1999 for refusing to serve him a drink at a party.
After Jessica’s killer walked off, even with witnesses to the murder, a media and public outcry had the case reopened and the perpetrator brought to justice. In the film, Balan plays Jessica’s sister, Sabrina Lall, who fought tirelessly over the years to get justice, while Mukherjee plays a journalist who picks up the fight for the cause when the system failed Jessica.
“I remember waking up the morning after and my sister telling me that I should read the newspaper that day just for this story,” recalled Balan. “Seeing Jessica’s picture in the paper had me completely shocked by what I was reading. Over the years, we continued to follow the story in the newspapers and on TV.”
Mukherjee was of same thought, adding that she recalls the haunting visual of Jessica’s pictures and the headline, which almost screamed out: No One Killed Jessica.
“However, it is sad to say that in India, everyday you pick up a newspaper, you will find 10 such stories that have the ability to shock you.
“In Jessica’s case though, the story stayed on in people’s minds and at the core of this was the media that played an integral part in preserving the story and revealing the facts that would present a crystal clear image for the people.”
Balan added that it was the first time she realised how potent the media can be, saying: “Today more than ever, it plays an integral part in mobilising public opinion, which is not uni-dimensional and doesn’t portray disseminated facts.”
Yet, even as the actresses spoke highly about the media, neither one of them have been immune to the fourth estate’s brunt, be it because of their alleged affairs (Balan with John Abraham and Shahid Kapur, while Mukherjee with the married director-producer Aditya Chopra) or their choice of lacklustre film projects and designer clothes.
Quiz them on the subject and Mukherjee was the first to respond, saying: “Media is a relatively strong medium, be it if you are crime reporting or writing Bollywood gossip. It has played an important role in my career spanning nearly 15 years and I have a lot to be grateful for in that respect.
“However, with the pen comes a social responsibility because people will read whatever is out there. As a journalist, it is your job to present the facts, not speculate. It’s a fine balancing act and it is sad to see there is a section of the media that does not take their role seriously.”
Balan was firm that she simply refuses to read the crap that is written about her. “For the sake of my sanity, I simply avoid what’s out there most of the time.”
But Mukherjee, who probably has born the bulk of the media brunt between the two, said: “There was a time when I took great pain in clarifying my marriage rumours; then about three years ago I decided maintaining a dignified silence was the best option. I’m still trying to decide if that has worked in my favour or backfired.”
However, she wisely added: “There are two sides to every coin. And if they are writing about us, then at least we still make the news. Tomorrow if they stop, for an actor, this simply means you are finished.”