Devyani Chaubal. Pic/Pradeep Chandra
We still remember her as if it were just yesterday. Standing tall in her crisp white organza saree, with her famous husky voice, kohl lined eyes and gajras in her hair. It was obvious to anyone who met her that the leading film columnist of the '70s, Devyani Chaubal aka the Queen of Mean, was the heroine of her own movie script and a legend in her own lunchtime.
As the author of two widely read weekly columns in Eve's Weekly and Star and Style, she was the one who afforded her star struck readers tantalising titbits from the inside track of Bollywood. The revolving bed and wardrobe of a famous film producer, the rampant alcoholism of a star wife, the white shoes and gold chains of a film financier and so on and so forth.
Legend had it that Chaubal was the daughter of a once wealthy clan that had squandered its fortunes on horse racing and high living. To be sure, her hauteur and arrogance, not to mention her bitter barbs were most likely a product of her struggles as one of the few single working women of that era. She had been a friend of our parents and a frequent guest at their parties, and it was not unfamiliar to see her regaling guests about the antics of the film world late into the night.
It had been Chaubal who'd described the newly launched Anil Kapoor as 'an actor with the face of a small-time pick pocket.' It was Chaubal who'd had to hitch up her saree and run for her life, when an inebriated and mad as hell Dharmendra had chased her across a field, at a film fundraiser over an item she'd written about his love life, and it was Chaubal who'd scandalised us teenagers, while narrating the latest chapter in her on going love affair with the era's leading man (Many said it was an imaginary affair or at best one sided). " I saw myself in my birthday suit for the first time, reflected from all sides in the magnificent floor to ceiling mirrors of his boudoir, and realised how beautiful I was," she said.
Many years later when we had visited her as she lay gravely ill from an unknown disease, supposedly brought on by her crash dieting ('For him') ,we recall how her eyes were still as bright as embers in the shabby nursing home at Linking Road. That and the basket of her favourite flowers that adorned her bedside table. "They're from HIM," she'd whispered in her famous husky voice. "He sends them to me every day."
She had died a few months later most likely unsung and alone. This portrait by our former colleague, ace photographer Pradeep Chandra, brought all this back to us as a flash. For her sake we hope that the star had indeed remembered to send her those daily bouquets in her dying days.
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