The film industry was known for its party culture. The alcohol flowed freely catering to choice of all, from beer to vodka to rum or whiskey. This was usually followed by dinner and dessert.
While most of the parties were organised for and mainly had media invitees along with a concerned film's unit members, there were other occasions when parties were thrown on more lavish scale and the host used the party to showcase his goodwill in the film industry by inviting the who is who of the industry. Of course, goodwill also had a lot to do with how successful the host and his films were.
In most cases, the idea behind a party was to befriend or cultivate the media, mingle over booze and food and get to know them on one-to-one basis. The good thing about these parties was that the industry and the media were familiar with each other. Some stars made it a point to remember each journalist and photographer's name. That was the kind of PR that went miles. Now, sadly, journalists beg for selfies with stars and display these on social media as if they were bum chums! And, no more one-to-one chats with stars. The media is huddled into a hall and told what had to be told. No exclusivity, and everybody ends up with the same copy!
Alcohol, one presumes, is as old as civilisation, though often considered taboo by some. But, one can't deny it is a way of life with a lot many people. In the film industry, it was the evening time elixir.
Socialising among film people, say an actor with another actor or a filmmaker with another, is rare in the industry. One rarely heard of two producers or actors or directors meeting over drinks. Drinking was a personal thing.
Partying gave the filmmakers a chance to meet and mingle. Remember, there was no social media then! So a party was thrown on smallest of excuses like the launch of a new film, success of a released film, to celebrate a run of 100 days or silver jubilee or to celebrate the release of a soundtrack, or even to celebrate the success of the soundtrack!
But, there were also parties thrown to deceive the media or even the stars. For example, as a routine, a film released on Friday and, by Saturday morning, wall posters and banners claiming the film to be superhit and other such claims appeared all over town, especially Mumbai. This was followed by a 'success' party in a day or two.
The other was to avoid paying the stars of a film their final amounts due before release. Such payments were guaranteed through what was called lab letters, against a film's release in a specified circuit. In today's time, it would seem complicated. But, it was just that the film processing lab had to collect the due amount and honour the lab letter issued by it before delivering the film prints for the circuits it was issued against.
I have been witness to one such event where the actors were requested to not redeem their lab letters as the producer planned to make his next film also with them. This producer that I saw using the trick, threw a party for about 30 or so media people at a Juhu Hotel, duly announced his next film with the same stars. The stars had no cause to doubt the maker's indentations since he was a big bill maker having produced films with some big stars. The announcement of the next film in front of the media lent credibility. The film never got made as it was not meant to be, and the stars lost their dues from the earlier film! What did it cost him? Say about 30 to 40K on hotel bill as against lakhs he owed to the stars!
As is their wont, the party givers in the film industry also had a few who thought of planning a party away from the routine. There was this aspiring filmmaker, Sam Sugnu Jethwani, who hailed from a shipping family of Hong Kong. One evening, he decided to throw a party on his family-owned ship that was harboured in Mumbai port. It was the Emergency period and his special invitees involved two politician brothers, one was I&B Minister in the Central Government and the other the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh. Media had a field day with these two on the issue of the Emergency. I am sure, Jethwani did not score any points with them.
The other such party was thrown by the film distribution and exhibition trade members of Mumbai. This trade was a closed knit circle. They organised a party aboard a yacht.
Rajshris were the one banner that did not believe in this kind of party culture and serving alcohol. Their parties were press conferences in the real sense, organised over tea and snacks. Gulshan Kumar, who was a habitual party giver, did not mind serving alcohol in his parties, though he was a teetotaller and never served non-veg food.
Showmanship was the mantra in film business and every producer wanted to live by it. So, though the filmmaking industry had shifted to Mumbai suburbs, the showmen preferred one of the two South Mumbai hotels to host a party, either the Taj or the Oberoi (now known as the Trident).
Gradually, film events as in party venues shifted to suburbs, between Bandra and Juhu. More practical.
With the expansion of the entertainment media, and TV and websites devoted to films, the party culture was over. Earlier, filmmakers needed the media, now it is the other way round. The media needs film content. So, the media is made to run around at the whims and fancies of stars (stars being the major film producers, too, now).
Now, there are no parties. We have Press Conferences (PC) or Events. They start from 10 am and end by 4 p.m. Forget alcohol, often the reporters doing 'stories' are not even served a cup of tea!
So just when one thought that the party culture was a thing of past in the film industry, one now learns that the parties still happen, but they have moved to the private precincts of some influential filmmakers and their stooges. No alcohol here, you won't even see a glass of booze in sight. No, the party makers have not turned teetotallers. The parties seem to have turned to drugs parties, held mostly in the drawing rooms of the host! It was a closed circuit and, if there was one section not needed here it was the media.
Unwittingly, though, the whiff of such drug parties did reach the media, and see what is happening now! It has become an epic saga on the television news channels with more and more names making the headlines.
I was often asked, "Since you deal with film people, you must be attending parties and drinking alcohol!" In those days, alcohol was the worst one can do!
What would they be asking me now? "That you deal with film people, you also must be into drugs?"
(Vinod Mirani is a veteran film writer and box office analyst. The views expressed are personal)