Obituary: Devyani Chaubal

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The Independent Online
Devyani Chaubal, journalist: born Maharashtra state 1942; died Bombay 13 July 1995.

The gossip columnist Devyani Chaubal embodied the essence of Bollywood, India's film industry based in Bombay.

For nearly 25 years her poison pen dented egos, driving cinema idols into a raging frenzy. Stung by her accuracy and bluntness, at least one star tried to beat her up at a party and scores of others attempted to sue her. But none could intimidate Chaubal, who strode majestically through film studios during the day and partied till dawn, collecting and corroborating stories.

Added to the woes of those who tried to humble her was the cannonade she let loose against them for weeks afterwards, for Chaubal had the memory of an elephant and was not afraid of being nasty and unpopular.

Chaubal's "Frankly Speaking" fortnightly column in Star and Style, India's popular film magazine of the Sixties and Seventies, and the equally well- circulated Eve's Weekly, generated fear in Bollywood heroes for her bluntness and insider information on who was doing what and to whom. She was embarrassingly politically correct in her reportage and created a new lexicon of film jargon which caught the imagination of her vast audience: she once referred to the new crop of actresses as "badans", or bodies, and to some of the newer Bollywood faces as "kachra", or garbage.

Chaubal was born in Maharashtra state, western India, into an opulent horse-racing family; her father was a rich barrister practising in Bombay. As a teenager she reportedly forced her way into the house of Meena Kumari, Bollywood's "tragedy queen" of the Fifties and Sixties, for an autograph.

While the beautiful actress signed Chaubal's autograph book, she also patronisingly told the shy teenager never to wear skirts as her legs were too long and stocky for her school uniform. That remark triggered off Chaubal's ambivalent relationship towards Bollywood's stars, lasting over four decades.

Chaubal's sources were credible and, though her writing was saucy and uproariously amusing, it was never malicious. She commanded respect amongst producers and is credited with launching the career of Rajesh Khanna, one of Bollywood's most successful actors in the Seventies and now an MP.

Chaubal's frenetic way of life, however, led to a paralytic stroke in 1985 which confined her first to a wheelchair and later to bed. But, barring a few weeks of indisposition, she continued to dictate her column, which lost none of its chutzpah.

Immaculately coiffured and always dressed in a white sari, Chaubal presided over Bollywood like a high priestess, puncturing idols, bringing them down to ground level with a bang.