Half a phone call and a meet-up with Soumyadipta Banerjee — yup the smiley who runs this boutique blog — gave me the feeling that film journalism is still alive, albeit struggling for air.
Our Smiley’s pitch appears to be celebrity news coverage, yes. So there is the same ole like the cussedly bland report on Aditya Chopra and Rani Mukherjee’s marriage in Italy. There’s enough of that on other sites, blogs, portals, not to speak of the mainstream media.
To be honest, I did have a bit of a problem with Soumya’s Adi-Rani coverage, since it came without any comment or perspective. That surely isn’t this blog’s strongest suit. A while ago, though, I had read a first-of-its-kind story on Kamal Sadanah and his protracted battle with a severe tragedy in his life.
Way back in 1990, the actor’s father, Brij, one-time prolific producer, in a fit of rage had shot his wife and daughter dead. Kamal, who was all of 20 years old that fateful night, had escaped narrowly. Can a son live with the memory of such a night? It’s a story worth probing, but only if Kamal Sadanah is willing to share it.
On this blog, the traumatised actor did open up a bit. The more popular platforms don’t seem to be interested in him, because neither is he in the limelight anymore, nor is it the kind of follow-up which generates ad revenue.
Back to Soumyadipta, who doesn’t quite fit into a category. He looks alternately cool and harassed, unshaven though his pix show him freshly razored and cologned, he talks non-stop, and clams up abruptly. He’s married, with a recently-born son, and goes angelic while talking about them. He accepts a cup of tea but forgets to drink it.
The obsessive refrain from him is that he hopes to fan this blog out, make it into an important forum, which retains its integrity, come what may. Not an easy dream to realise, of course, what with the cluttered competition, escalating expenses, PR games and the financial pressures of living in Mumbai.
Also Salman Khan’s legal team had once sent him a legal notice following one of his reports, which went viral. Quiz him about that, and Soumya still looks shaken by the experience. Paradoxically, then he offers a stoic que sera-shrug. Hota hai types.
Which brings me to the central point: can journalists, without the required means, cope with the legal rejoinders?
Speaking in general, any letter of contradiction from a celebrity or show-cause notice has always frazzled editors of newspapers and magazines over the years. And I don’t know to what extent the Press Council weighs the issue on hand, and in fact, supports the reporter.
I can only reminisce, gratefully, that the Press Council had stood by me firmly when Kishore Kumar had printed a double-page ad in Screen, saying something to the effect, “Who does this so-called Khalid think he is!” and added a testimonial from Satyajit Ray, no less, thumbing up his film – not the mellow Door Gagan ki Chhaon or the utterly zany Badhti ka Naam Dadhi – but a film noir set amidst snowscape, featuring Kishore Kumar with Yogita Bali. That before this review he had called up, and chatted expansively whenever I had praised his film or song, didn’t count. One negative review, and the legendary Kishore Kumar was incensed. Not surprising this actually, it’s a trait among all film personalities without exception.
The Press Council reasoned that since I didn’t have the financial capacity to respond to Kishore Kumar’s ad, the Screen editor-then B K Karanjia, had done wrong by carrying it.That was reassuring.
So was my Times of India editor’s bemused trek to the Small Causes Court with me, when a film producer sent a legal notice for one of my reviews . I don’t bring up his name or film now, because the producer eventually became convivial. The editor had been included in the producer’s plaint. And so there we were, the nattily turned out Mr Dileep Padgaonkar in a grey suit and ruby-red silk cravat, sitting among other ‘culprits’.
Among them, was a group of sex workers, dressed in clothes which left little or nothing to the imagination. My editor inquired, with a smile, “Where have you brought me? This is a learning experience, ha ha!” The case continued for over a year, till Dharmendra called up the producer, known to him, and instructed him to withdraw the case.
Dramatically, Dharmendra had said, “Don’t you know he is like family to me?” Presto, case closed and so there I was at a peace-making dinner at the producer’s home the next evening. I truly wonder if a reviewer or a reporter today, would have been accompanied by his editor to a court, and that too with a smile. Or any actor would have bothered to make such a call.
Needless to emphasise, the instances I cite belonged to the last millennium. Media in all its form – print and electronic – has altered majorly. And it would be only foolish to go all nostalgic about the state of journalism as it was yesterday. Change is endemic. The print medium has to survive the electronic onslaught, and so far it has, the daily newspapers still being an everyday habit and relied upon for packaged news.
And if there is are pages and pages of paid write-ups, gee-whizzing that the hammiest of actors ad God’s gift to cinema, so be it. We can’t wish it away. Still, one does wish that Soumya and his selfless team, and some in the multitudes of sites and blogs, continue to do their number, frankly and fearlessly.
At this very moment, I’m taking a sabbatical from film watching and reviewing. No Revolver Rani or Kaanchi for me. The break has been essential as a personal quest. Does racing to a new movie every Friday morning and conveying one’s take on it asap, thrill me any more?
I think it does and will, as long as there are Soumyas around to inspire me that it’s possible to stay rooted in the Bollywood jungle. Never mind the snakes and swamps.