sans serif records with deep regret the demise of Rustom Khurshedji Karanjia, aka Rusi or Russy Karanjia, the legendary editor of India’s first tabloid newsweekly Blitz, in Bombay this afternoon, February 1, 2008. He was 95 years old. He is survived by his brother, the well-known film journalist, B.K. Karanjia, and his daughter Rita Mehta.
Russy was a special correspondent at The Times of India, before leaving to start Blitz in 1941. A small, delicately architectured Parsi, quite a contrast to his towering reputation, Karanjia prided himself on his interviews with world leaders from Anwar Sadat to Nikita Krushchev to Marshal Tito in the Nehruvian non-alignment era.
His interactions with the Shah of Iran resulted in a book The Mind of a Monarch.
But it was as the helmsman of a no-holds-barred tabloid that unabashedly took sides that Karanjia gained his true and lasting reputation, the only competition coming from Current, launched by another Parsi, D.F. Karaka.
In the infamous Nanavati murder trial—a handsome naval officer called Kawas Nanavati had shot dead his wife’s playboy lover, and more than half the nation thought he had done the right and decent thing—Blitz ran a parallel trial that not only took Nanavati’s side but also celebrated the elegant commander, writes Indra Sinha.
A self-declared atheist and Marxist, Karanjia tore into crooks and charlatans, and among his favourite targets was the Sai Baba of Puttaparthi. When Sai Baba gave him rare access and interviews, Karanjia turned around, and admitted he was wrong, and proclaimed him as a living god, even becoming his follower.
Blitz played host to several luminaries. Its back page was written for decades by the film-maker K.A. Abbas. The former media advisor to Atal Behari Vajpayee and L.K. Advani, Sudheendra Kulkarni, was a deputy editor of the tabloid. And the Hindu‘s rural affairs editor, P. Sainath, too cut his teeth there.
Karanjia was also a key figure behind one of India’s all-time-great women journalists, Olga Tellis.
Buoyed by the success of the weekly Blitz, Karanjia started a morning tabloid in Bombay called The Daily (“a bulldog of a newspaper”), which was later sold to the industrialist-politician Kamal Morarka. The Blitz group—comprising the Urdu edition of Blitz, and the movie magazine Cine Blitz—was later sold to the industrialist-politician Vijay Mallya.
A natty dresser, Karanjia, for a one-time Marxist, ended up modelling for Vimal Suitings of the late Dhirubhai Ambani.
Karanjia was known to accept contributions from young journalists after sending them a stentorian telegram which read: “WILL USE IF EXCLUSIVE TO BLITZ AND BLITZ ONLY”. And he always paid, sometimes even inviting them for dinner at his Marine Drive residence in Bombay, with his Afghan hound for company.
“He was an aristocrat by birth but believed in Marxism… he was never an ivory tower editor—his room was always open for people,” V. Gangadhar, the satirist who wrote a column for Blitz for 15 years, told the Indian Express.