Playboy’s India Connection: The Controversial Interview with Nehru

Hugh Hefner's Playboy magazine carried a feature on Jawaharlal Nehru in 1963.


As the death of Hugh Hefner, the founder of the incendiary Playboy magazine, last month was covered widely in the media, what also resurfaced was his little known association with India. Hefner died on Sept. 27 at the age of 91.

The magazine’s first feature about a head of the state was with India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, titled “A candid conversation with the architect of modern India”.

The extensive interview ran in the October 1963 issue, with Nehru talking about various topics, including nuclear weapons, the challenges of the democratic system, Cold War, religion, materialism and India’s burgeoning population, besides the roadmap for India’s development.

The interview caused a great deal of talk in the then staunchly socialist India and the magazine was smuggled into the country since it had been banned by then. It was often seized by the customs and used as evidence for law-breaking. Acclaimed author Khushwant Singh once lamented how even the copies that are mailed via post don’t come through. The October issue carrying Nehru’s interview was smuggled into India and was is to have sold at three times its original price. However, even without the brow-raising pictures, the exclusive interview with Nehru conducted in the “hibiscus scented gardens of Teen Murti” created enough controversy.

In the same issue of the magazine, the editorial carried a note on Page 3 saying: “After the rest of the magazine had gone to press, we received word from the Indian Embassy in Washington that our interview with PM Nehru was not, in fact, the result of an exclusive, personal conversation with the head of the Indian state, but simply a gathering together of public pronouncements made by the Prime Minister in various speeches, statements, etc., over the past several years.”

While the Indian Embassy discounted that an exclusive interview ever took place, the editorial, however, stood by the story. Their note said further: “The Nehru material was submitted to us by a well-regarded journalist-publisher who has previously conducted numerous similar interviews with famous personages all over the world; it was sold as an actual interview, recorded on tape, and the covering letters that so described the material also included photographs of the Prime Minister and journalist together. There was no reason to doubt its validity and we consequently published it in good faith as a personal interview.”

The note concluded saying: “An official refutation from the Indian Government must be respected, and since our attempts to reach the supposed interviewer for further clarification have proved unsuccessful, editorial integrity requires that we print this statement.”

The magazine, which was known for carrying lascivious nude pictures, was also known for well written feature pieces, interviews of interesting personalities and heads of state. So much so, it gave rise to the oft-repeated phrase, “I only read Playboy for the articles.”

Fifty years later, there has been no definite conclusion on whether the exclusive interview ever took place, Forbes reported. Also, Playboy apparently could not contact the journalist in question again.

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