If there is one journalist whose career graph is truly awe-inspiring, it is Rita Karl Mehta. Daughter of the late Russy Karanjia, editor-in-chief of Blitz, a weekly publication that broke new grounds in investigative journalism in India, Ms Mehta started off as an independent scribe working for the Late Khushwant Singh at The Illustrated Weekly of India. Having interacted with the likes of Jawaharlal Nehru, the Shah of Iran and Indira Gandhi, she went on to launch one of India's most read film magazines, Cine Blitz and was associated with it for nearly 30 years. Though Cine Blitz set a new paradigm for entertainment reporting in Indian media, Rita Mehta was only too keen to take up greater challenges. Alongwith her husband, Mr Karl Mehta, she founded what would be one of India's few tabloids news journals called The Daily. In 2002, she and her daughter Faarah Mehta started, Hi Blitz, a first-of-its-kind celebrity photo journal. Today, Rita Mehta owns Keynote Media Private Limited, a content providing service to the Middle East and the UK, which supplies deeply researched and analysed trends in Bollywood, fashion and lifestyle to top publishing houses. She has recently forayed into celebrity and event management with her company Key Global and Keynnote Media – an agency that supplies exclusive pictures, interviews and material to media houses world-over. Having been honoured with the Parsi Lady Journalist Award for Excellence in Journalism by the prestigious Parvez Katrak Foundation, Rita Mehta is one of the most trusted voices when it comes to the world of entertainment and lifestyle. We speak with the lady herself.
How does it feel being a part of the Masala! Awards as a judge this year?
It feels wonderful. All of us judges convene at meetings where we discuss, debate names of people who are making strides in various fields – business, charity and lifestyle. There is a lot of research that each of us conducts and it is an extremely enriching experience indeed.
What category are you most excited about?
I am particularly excited about the humanitarian categories. It is wonderful to learn about the work that so many enterprising people are doing in the region.
How do you think media and stars have changed over the years, since you were the Editor-in-Chief of Cine Blitz?
It has changed a lot. Being on the cover of a magazine was all there was to get them out there – it was much more of a deal then than it is now with no Facebook, Twitter or Instagram to replace print publicity. Also, stars were more human then. Nowadays they are managed by people who actually hinder us from actually knowing the star. We used to interact with real people who were human then…
Can you give us an example?
I still remember sitting in Shah Rukh’s tiny apartment in Bandra and him being so excited about a picture that he had taken of himself playing a lady in a movie. What struck me was how different the character looked from Shah Rukh! The make-up was done so well. I don’t know what came of that movie… Gauri was a lovely and simple girl. She was tending to the tea and was happy to remain quiet. They were truly a lovely couple who seemed to be in love.
You have also worked with royalty and politicians…
My very first interview was with the Shah of Iran when I was in my early 20s. Can you imagine how daunting that was (laughs)? It was published on the front page of Blitz. I remember that I prepared for it thoroughly, right from what I wore to how I formulated my questions as I was meeting one of the most formidable rulers of the world in his time. He was not a very tall man I remember but had a very intimidating aura about him. When I was interviewing him he was to-the-point and concise but the moment we stopped our interview and in all my future interactions with him, the Shah was relaxed and charming.
Rita Mehta, her father Russy Karanjia with the Shah of Iran
Did you meet his wife Farah Diba?
Yes, of course! My mother was very friendly with her. She was beautiful and I remember admiring the way she walked and carried herself. I could see what a strong woman she was and that she had influence over her husband the Shah of Iran.
You have also done an extensive amount of work with the Gandhis…
Yes, I have. After Rajiv Gandhi became the Prime Minister of India, I strategised a PR plan for him with my father. After all, he was following his mother Indira Gandhi’s footsteps who was one of the most and powerful and dynamic rulers in the history of India, if not the world. My father and I helped him project himself as a stronger brand in keeping with the Gandhi lineage. This involved working with him and his team very closely.
What was Rajiv Gandhi like?
He was handsome and a true gentleman – soft spoken with the most endearing and captivating smile. Rajiv was also a very emotional and kind man. I found it easy to work with him as he was receptive to new ideas and change.
What about Sonia Gandhi?
I didn’t spend too much time with her. I knew Sanjay Gandhi who was very interesting to talk to and exchange ideas with. I remember meeting Sonia in Delhi and she was a completely different lady than what you see today. Always dressed in elegant pantsuits with scarves thrown around her neck, Sonia was happy and carefree. She was also very gentle, much like her husband. I remember bumping into her often at Richeaux in London with Bunty (Amitabh Bachchan’s brother), his wife Ramola and their children – a Mayfair restaurant – where she was always sipping coffee.