He was the Dilip Kumar of Film Journalism and she was the Poison Pen Journalist.
Ali Peter John's thoughts about her.
I had a very strange fascination for film magazines, but couldn't afford to buy any of them, even though the best of them crossed anything between twenty-five naya paisa and seventy-five paisa. I formed my own way of finding my feed. It was the saloon where I had a senior friend-barber Shakur who allowed me entry into the Taj Hair Cutting Saloon which if you would like to know was very close to where Madhuri Dixit and her family lived in those early days in a place called JB Nagar. I made time to go to the saloon only to go through all the magazines like“Screen",“Filmfare"and“Star and Style". In“Screen", I was only interested in seeing the full page ads of new films to be made with big stars. In“Filmfare", I was only interested in the column written by the most learned comedian and actor, I.S Johar. And in“Star and Style", I read the entire column written by a certain women who called herself Devi. She was a shocker and I wondered how the stars, directors and others who she wrote about and tore their reputation week after week let her get away with whatever she wrote and whatever the damage she caused to their images.
As time passed and the times for me kept changing, I found myself in the same profession as the lady was in, but my guru, K.A Abbas had told me to keep away from what was then called the initial stages of yellow journalism and that is one of the dominant reasons why I joined“Screen"which was far away from all gossip, all negative writing and against the personal lives of the stars and others in the industry. I stood by the principles of the K.A Abbas school of journalism and I still do.....
I had to attend all kinds of functions and parties as a part of my job. And it was during one of these parties that one of my senior pointed out to a woman in a white saree and said,“that is Devi, the woman who keeps everyone in the industry in their toes with her poisonous pen and even in the way she talked during any kind of conversations".
It made me more inquisitive to read Devi's column which was called“frankly speaking". She did indeed speak frankly in her column which was created by many but even loved by some.
She never spared any of the stars, male or female and attacked then for reason real or imaginary. She believed that her word was final and no one had the courage to take up cudgels against her or they would have to pay a very heavy price in the column and columns to come.....
Devyani Chaubal came from a highly respected police family with most of the men being either police commissioner or deputy police commissioner. But Devyani had fallen in love with Dilip Kumar even before she had finished school. She wanted to find some way of getting close to the shahenshah and finally found her solutions, she joined“Screen"as a junior reporter, but was thrown out of the job within three days because the people in“Screen"wouldn't tolerate her tantrums, whims and fancies. She behaved like a star and that was what went against her and she had to lose her job.
But, she did not give up. There was a new magazine called“Star and Style"that was coming up and it needed women journalist who could spit venom on paper and Devyani suited their requirements and very soon she had her own column which was titled“Frankly Speaking"with her name going as Devi. It was the beginning of a long career during which she made many cry, curse and even try to drag her to court. But nothing could stop her from her pen tearing people to pieces.
Her first target was Dilip Kumar who she even dreamt of getting married to, but the legend not only rejected her, but also carried out a campaign against her and asked his colleagues and new actors who to keep away from her. She found major flaws in all his performances and called him an overrated actor. She once called him“Khuswant Singh"the journalist when he played a major role in Manoj Kumar'“Kranti".
She however found the chance of a lifetime to attack Dilip Kumar when she came to know about his first and only affair with a woman called Asma. She kept writing about the affair till Dilip Kumar had to do what he hated to do, he made some of his friends threatened her and she never wrote about Dilip Kumar again.
Her favourite was Rajesh Khanna who is said to have openly declared that Devi had a very vital role to play in making him the superstar. Devi used to create stories about Rajesh Khanna to keep him in the news. She once did a cover story in which she said Khanna was quiting films when actually he read at the peak of his career as the superstar. She wrote another cover story which said that the superstar was dying of cancer. It was like some kind of a prediction because years later her favourite actually died of cancer. Khanna's wife, Dimple like many others hated her for all that she wrote against her because of wanting to please Khanna. I once came to know that baby had fallen sick in that same afternoon I happened to meet Dimple and told her about Devi's falling sick and she immediately shot back,“Mari kyon nahi, yeh toh bahut dukhi khabar hai isko toh bimar nahi hona chahiye, usko toh hamare jaise logo ke shraapo se sadhkar mar jaana chahiye". Devi was perhaps the only female journalist who openly wrote that Rajesh Khanna was the only man she slept with.
She had her own wicked ways of working. At parties, she sat in a permanent corner from where celebrities would enter and leave. Those who greated her or shook her hands or salaam her were safe, but those who didn't were massacred in her coming column.
Her days were not going to be the same always. The worst times for her started when she started writing about the affair of Dharmendra and Hema Malini. It continued for a number of weeks till the industry had a rally in the streets of Bombay to collect funds for the victims of the Koyna earthquake and other drought related crisis. Dharmendra had told me that he had two victims that they and he would deal with them before the rally came to an end. Dharmendra was drinking all through the day and the only names he kept mentioning and abusing were Krishna, another yellow journalist and Devi. The rally ended at five pm and suddenly there was an uproar. Dharmendra had smashed the skull of Krishna and he had chased Devi all the way to the turf club and Devi went into the ladies washroom and locked herself from inside and did not come out for two hours. Many still wonder what would have happen if Dharmendra had pounced on her. But she was lucky and both Krishna and Devi never wrote about the Dharam-Hema affair again....
I had my own encounters with the Devi of yellow journalism. She used to hate me for my popularity with all sections of the industry. She realised how strong my popularity was especially when it came to dealing with the producers from the South who were making films in Hindi. The late D. Rama Naidu had her as a friend and had even promised to all her to write a script for him. He was sitting in his suite at the Holiday Inn and he had Devi for company. I happened to knock at Naidu's door and he personally came out and when he saw me, he requested Devi to leave the suite. She told him she had never been insulted like this by any other producer and asked Naidu who this“do paise ka aadmi was". Naidu and me continued our conversation without referring to the incidence.....
The next evening, there was a party hosted by producer A.Poorna Chandra Rao at the Sea Rock Hotel. I had two other meetings and Rao refused to start the party. Devi screamed out and asked Rao about the delay. Rao said,“I will not start till Mr Ali comes". This made Devi fume and fret and she hated me all the more, but I couldn't do anything to stop her from hating me....
Till one morning, she met me at a function and asked,“I never knew you before, Ali. Why can't we be friends"? We spent the whole day walking around from studio to studio like long lost friends. I couldn't believe it.....
But destiny had its own ways. The next day, Devi had a heart attack and things were not the same again. She used her political connections to get a flat in the Lokhandwala area of Andheri. There were very few who came to see her. Sunil Dutt and Dharmendra were the only two who not only visited her but also offered her financial help which she accepted. She still used to write her column with the help of two of her juniors, Nalini Uchil and A.T Jayanthi. She just talked and they took notes. She wrote the most nasty things about both Dharam and Dutt Sahaab and they were so shocked that they never visited her again.
A few days later, she had died in her sleep after suffering a massive heart attack. There were hardly ten people to attend her funeral which included me and as her body went up in flames, I was full of troubling questions and the most important was, did the queen and mother of yellow journalism have to face this kind of a painful and?
It would not be wrong to say that she was the original writer of yellow gossip which later lead to a wave of magazines dealing with yellow journalism and thousands of young men and women making it a way of life and a means to make money to keep their kitchen fires burning, but it will not be wrong if I say that there was only one Devi and there can and there will never be another.
Now You Know!