Journalism’s real wet dream

Journalism’s real wet dream
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First Published: Fri, Jan 21 2011. 09 27 PM IST

On the go: Rani Mukerji’s fearless act is far from reality.
On the go: Rani Mukerji’s fearless act is far from reality.
Updated: Fri, Jan 21 2011. 09 27 PM IST
Director Raj Kumar Gupta confessed in an interview that Meera, the television anchor protagonist of No One Killed Jessica, was his ideal of a passionate investigative journalist. The fact that he made her the single, aggressive, bitchy, driven-by-a-good-story star anchor of NDTV in the film, of course, made us believe that Gupta’s journalism wet dream was Barkha Dutt.
On the go: Rani Mukerji’s fearless act is far from reality.
Gupta has maintained that Jessica is his fictionalized take on the horrific 1999 murder. But Jessica’s few deviations from reality are more irritating inaccuracies or exasperating simplifications than any indication of directorial genius.
Gupta took the easy way out when faced with the issue of how he would represent the media, which was crucial to the way this story turned out. He distilled all of us into one adrenalin-charged trooper and linked her to an existing television channel—NDTV.
In real life, the sting operation that was key to reopening the Jessica murder case (this takes up most of the second half of the film), was conducted by weekly news magazine Tehelka, and not NDTV. I wish Gupta had done his research and met Harinder Baweja, then Tehelka’s investigations editor, who masterminded that sting.
What a guy, I thought when I read Baweja’s riveting post-Babri Masjid expose in India Today magazine in 1993.
The Bharatiya Janata Party was then claiming the demolition of the mosque was nothing compared to the 40 temples that had been razed in Kashmir. Ask them for a list, editor Aroon Purie told Baweja, and go see if the temples have actually been destroyed. It was January and snowing in a turbulent Kashmir as Baweja and a photographer trudged from one temple to another—and found all of them intact. They were nearly kidnapped by AK-47 wielding men; at another temple they had to face a mob and firing.
When I met Baweja a few years later, he turned out to be a she. A 5ft, 1-inch she who prefers to be called Shammy and always wears saris with sexy, sleeveless blouses in summer and winter. When the Taliban captured Kabul, Shammy almost travelled there with her sleeveless blouses. Shammy is also the perfect host and believes her parties are a hit only if dinner is served after midnight.
In the 25 years that she’s been a journalist, Shammy has covered almost every conflict in modern India from Punjab in the 1980s to the war in Kargil and the aftermath of the Gujarat riots. She thinks of Kashmir as her second home; after all she has travelled there more than a hundred times. She was once blacklisted and deported from Pakistan; two years ago she visited the headquarters of the Lashkar-e-Taiba…the stories are endless.
She was thrown into her first conflict zone in the 1980s when her editor at Probe magazine sent her to cover the death of Sikh leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, because she was the only Sikh on the staff. “I had no consciousness of being a Sikh. Religion has never meant anything,” says Baweja for whom the real rush of reporting comes from understanding the psychology and sociology of conflicts.
A few years later, because of her Punjab experience, an editor at India Today decided she would be the right person to cover the kidnapping of Rubaiya Sayeed, the daughter of the then Union home minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, in Kashmir. After that, there’s been no looking back.
I don’t understand why a film-maker who spent so many years making a film on the Jessica murder case didn’t google Harinder Baweja. I hope Hindi film directors who are similarly inspired by real life do just a little more homework.
Of course even The Social Network, which swept the Golden Globes earlier this month, tweaked the story of Facebook and its founder Mark Zuckerberg. As Time magazine said recently about the lead in the film: “This character bears almost no resemblance to the actual Mark Zuckerberg. The reality is much more complicated.”
Reality is always more complicated…and more interesting.
Write to lounge@livemint.com
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First Published: Fri, Jan 21 2011. 09 27 PM IST
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