Interview with Harshita Kohli – A Journalistic View from the Heart of Bollywood

Bollywood, for me, has always been what dreams are made of. The glitz, glamour and gumption of the world’s largest film industry never ceases to amaze me. It is perhaps not too difficult being sucked in by the larger-than-life characters, actors, movies and more that make the industry and all surrounding it so appealing and so difficult to ignore. Given this, I’m sure you can understand my excitement when someone who is right in the middle of the razzmatazz agreed to talk to me about just that. From myself, a part-time writer in London, to Harshita Kohli, a full-time Bollywood journalist extraordinaire based in Mumbai, India. Read on to get a taste of Harshita’s colourful work-life; a perspective that interests me no end…

Did you always want to be a part of the media/press industry since childhood?
Not at all! I had no clue what I wanted to do as a kid. My family often believed I may not reach college because I couldn’t be asked to study! I was just lazy and easily distracted. But I loved English – that was the only thing I loved in school. The rest I did and got the grades to keep the family off my back but I only put in any effort in English. So I always knew I would do something relating to the language and then I met some people along the way who made me take an interest in writing and then the next thing I knew I was freelancing while in college. I loved seeing my name in print and the soon enough I was heading to London to study journalism.
What does your average day consist of?
Ha! That’s a tough one because as an Entertainment – or actually as any journalist – you don’t have an average day. There are at least 2 events a day plus some story that you are chasing or a feature you are working on. Since I freelance, at one time I working on at least 4 -5 different story ideas.
What is the one memory you will most cherish (a personal one rather than a shared one)?
There are too many and most I wouldn’t want to put out there .. they are mine to cherish. I’ve had some great moments while interviewing people in my line of work. A couple stand out – I was covering Kaun Banega Crorepati when SRK took over. I was in charge of everything on the official website and that meant shadowing SRK for almost 4 months. At the end of our schedule, SRK gave me this book autographed by him with a very personal note. Everyone who worked with him got books at the end of it with notes in them. Don’t ask me what he wrote – but it did make me cry!

Another time I was interviewing Salim Khan and Salman dropped in and we had been talking about Salman’s painting all over Salim saab’s home …and for the first time in my life I saw Salman Khan blush as he heard his father praise his work.

Would you say this is your dream career? If you weren’t a Bollywood journalist then what career path would you have chosen instead?
I don’t even know if what I do right now is my dream career. I have many plans for the future and hopefully I will have many ‘dream careers.’ I think if not for an Entertainment journalist, I would have been a chef. I love cooking for my friends and family – the day I am most stressed or upset, all my friends show up! Not because they want to cheer me up but to check out what I have cooked. Baking is the biggest stress buster for me and the day I am all wound up, you will find freshly baked bread, muffins, cakes galore at home!!!

Have you found your thoughts or impressions about Bollywood have changed whilst working within the industry?
Lots has changed! I have been working here for almost six years now and the whole place has gone through a sea change. Even in terms of the reporting and the media. First because we were so few, you would spend days on a set.. there was a lot more leg work. Today I see its all about events and chasing quotes on the phone or sms or PR generated stories. The basic idea of journalism and film reporting isn’t what it used to be. And even in terms of film making you will see its not a private boys’ club anymore. If you have the talent, determination and passion you WILL make it.
How has Bollywood’s reach and audiences changed, in your opinion, in comparison to say, a decade ago?
I think you can’t fool audiences any more. With the internet and audiences all over the world you need to be a lot more smarter in your film making. Sure they still love Karan Johar and Yash Chopra’s snow clad mountains but you won’t get a hit with just that. You can’t give me the old story in a new bottle anymore. Today even if you are a debutant with a small cast, if your story is good then you are still in with a chance. Take Udaan for example. The film was lapped up at film festivals as well as with the masses. A decade ago you wouldn’t find even relatively unknown actors saying yes to such a script.
Is the glitz and glamour of the industry real?
It is! The industry is like an addiction. And I often feel sorry for the people in it because they hardly have time to enjoy it. Every hour is defined and counted for. Going out for a meal is a task. So yes the glitz and the glamour is very real but its also not all that it is made out to be. I am not sure after having seen it so up close if I would want it. 

What is next for you?
I do have a lot of plans that I am working on and when they all fall into place, I promise to let you know! But till then my lips are sealed.
What forthcoming project/event really excites you?
I am keen to see Buddhha Hoga Tera Baap by AB Corp … also Life of Pi which I know isn’t Bollywood but I want to see it for Tabu. Also a couple more which I know are in the pipeline but I can’t talk about them yet!

What advice would you give to those who aspire to become Bollywood journalists?
Become a film journalist because you enjoy the art of film making and not because you want to have tea and take a photograph with your favourite stars. And please get out, do some leg work, find the stories. I know it’s the world of smses and emails but when you visit a set you come back with a  dozen stories and not just that 5 word quote you want on your phone. Build relationships with stars because when a big story breaks in your life who do you want to share it with? The friend who calls and checks in on you even when nothing is happening or the one who only drops by when he or she knows you are going to pick up the tab!

What a great note with which to end. In an industry where everyone appears to be solely out for themselves, it’s nice to come across an individual who is confident in who they are and what they can do and at the same time remaining true to those around them. I thank Harshita for sharing her experiences and insight with me. Any career or path in life is made up of moments. Harshita has taught me that no matter how accustomed one may become to the high-profile and internationally recognised figures one works with, one should also learn to cherish the moments spent with them because it is these very moments which become the memories that we will carry with us our whole lifetime.

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