Earlier this week, I had a truly scary experience.
I found myself at a press conference (PC in journalist lingo) purely by accident. Now I can’t remember the last time I attended one (editors normally get the privilege of doing one-on-ones and most press meets are attended by the younger, beat reporters).
Since the PC was about Ram Gopal Varma’s Rann, a film on the “news battle” and one whose tag line is “312 channels in the country. How many are telling the truth?” I decided to stay on.
Varma, who doesn’t believe in censorship and loves to seek attention before the release of a film (for Agyaat he hung dummy corpses on billboards advertising the film across Mumbai), screened a short “unrelated” film before the question-and-answer session began.
Under fire: Varma at the press conference in Delhi. Manpreet Romana / AFP
For the film, Varma’s team asked a random sampling of people on the street what they thought about television news. Their responses were fairly standard. The television channels think the public is stupid. Show us something sensible. Most of the time they exaggerate. If there’s no news, they make it up. They don’t understand the definition of breaking news. Etc, etc.
I thought it was quite a smart way to kick-start the conversation about the film. But the young television journalists present in the room were enraged.
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I’m not sure if their anger stemmed from the fact that they had been waiting for at least 2 hours before the cast of the film arrived. Maybe it was because many reporters today don’t know the first thing about journalism—television reporters are often small-time models whose eventual goal is to be a news anchor. Or maybe it’s because their editors don’t believe in old-fashioned journalism. Maybe the editors’ brief to the reporters was to make sure they got Varma or lead actor Amitabh Bachchan on camera saying they hate the Indian media.
Their questions came fast and furious. Why can’t you say openly that your film is against the media? What do you think of the media? Why did you organize a press conference? Why don’t you go straight to the audience? What message are you trying to convey? How is it possible that a random sampling of people on the street said only negative things about us?
Why on earth should journalists be upset by a Bollywood film that spins a yarn about how the media can be misused/compromised in modern-day India? Politicians and celebrities are parodied all the time. Director Madhur Bhandarkar’s made a career out of satirizing different groups in his films such as Page 3, Fashion and Corporate.
Our profession’s flaws have been documented often enough. Currently we’re debating the way “paid news” is embedded in Indian journalism. Nobody will dispute the fact that politics and the media are firmly intertwined.
Breaking news was the biggest media phenomenon of the last decade. So why is it surprising that a story set in the crazy, blurry world of television got Varma’s creative juices flowing?
Even if the film is based on unconfirmed, gossipy stories about warring, politically-connected industrialists and the way they manipulate the media, why should a film-maker share the exact root of his inspiration with a roomful of idiotic journalists?
“This is a democracy and everybody has a right to express their opinion,” Varma said wearily. “Every film is fictional, though it obviously contains references to real life.”
Varma said that Bachchan’s character Vijay Harshwardhan Malik was inspired by NDTV’s Prannoy Roy. “When I first saw Prannoy Roy 30 years back, he looked like a symbol of purity,” he said.
I for one am glad that Ram Gopal Varma’s come out of the jungle and that his muse is Prannoy Roy and not Urmila, Antara or Jiah. And if the media can help Varma make a good film again, I say it’s all for a higher cause.
PS: Please don’t send me diatribes about the Indian media. Send them to Varma instead.
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