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10 things a Bollywood journalist should NEVER do

By Amrita Mukherjee

A video clip of Parineeti Chopra giving a piece of her mind to a journalist for asking an inane and sexist question has gone viral. Can’t blame Parineeti though for reacting the way she did, because such questions are more the norm than the exception, nowadays.

Let’s watch the video.

During my stint as an entertainment journalist, I have lost count how many times I have cringed on seeing this kind of behavior. Entertainment journalism is an area of work where one is always rubbing shoulders with stars but one must be aware that there is a thin line of propriety that always separates “us” from “them” and crossing that line is the dumbest thing that one can do.

Journalists, cameramen and fans flock to get autographs from Tom Cruise when he arrived in Mumbai at an event to promoter his film in 2011. We have deliberately used an old picture and hidden some of the faces. The scene is not much different in 2014.

 Journalists, cameramen and fans flock to get autographs from Tom Cruise when he arrived in Mumbai at an event to promoter his film in 2011. We have deliberately used an old picture and hidden some of the faces. The scene is not much different in 2014.

A look at some of the no-nos that one should keep in mind when reporting on films:

1. Pose for photographs

I remember my first interview was with a Bollywood singer. There was a veteran journalist who was interviewing her before me. The moment she walked in he asked her to pose for a picture with him. The singer obliged but even as a trainee journalist I felt like hiding under the sofa as I found this so embarrassing. He was actually getting his own pictures shot (to brag in front of relatives or put up on a social networking site) before doing his job. I am sure the singer found this ridiculous too, but she was just being polite.

Some journos behave like star-struck teenagers and try to capture every star interaction through their lens. This is the most unprofessional thing to do. We are meant to get the story, not our own pictures. Of course, we might get to meet a star, whom we have idolised all our lives, then getting a picture is still okay. Some journalists develop a personal relationship with some stars and that’s another thing. But if you are meeting every celeb and asking for a picture with him/her then you can be sure that they are laughing at you.

2. Ask for autographs

 Mira Nair interacting with the media while promoting her film. This how most star interviews are organised these days where one star speaks to a group of reporters, all at the same time for not more than 15 minutes.

A few years back, I was in London to cover an award function and every star from the Bollywood universe had descended on the arena there. While most of us were after them trying to get an interview or a quote for story , there was one guy from a newspaper thrusting his autograph book in front of the celeb at every opportunity. Looking at my disgusted expression he admitted sheepishly, “My niece wants their autographs.”

If my niece had wanted me to do the same I would have explained to her that I was in London on a job, and autograph hunting was definitely not a part of it.

3. Ask for personal phone numbers

“How can I contact you next time?” is a standard question we ask all celebs when we meet them the first time. They usually hand us their PR’s number, but I have had celebs give me their personal phone numbers in the first meeting. That is probably because I have never badgered them to give their personal numbers, something many journalists wrongly end up doing. The celeb radar goes on high alert the moment you tell them, “Can you give me a number where I can call or SMS you directly?”

4. Drop star names from earlier interactions

This is the worst thing to do when you are interacting with a celeb – dropping names. As an entertainment journalist it is a given that you meet celebs, have coffee with some, dinner with others and even party with a few others, but if you try to use these interactions to get close to the next celeb you meet, you are making a big mistake. Bollywood stars are intelligent people who are rarely impressed by your starry chatter.

5. Readily accept food and drink when offered by a celeb

A cup of coffee, a glass of water or juice is fine but hogging to your heart’s content when you are offered lunch or dinner by a celeb, is a situation best avoided. If you have a personal equation with the celeb then it’s a different thing, but if it’s a one-off interview you earn more respect by sticking to water or just tea/coffee. That way you don’t give the impression that you are dying to have a free meal in starry company.

 6. Dress shabbily

Let’s face it, the era of jhola journalism is over. Gone are those days when journalists could walk into celeb homes with a jhola slung on their shoulders, in a khadi kurta and muddy slippers. Of course, a journo is not expected to take professional help with hair and make-up or flaunt branded clothes at an interview, but it’s sensible to dress smartly. It’s also sensible to keep a quick make-up kit, a deo or an after-shave handy. Because a typical work day for an entertainment journalist means meeting a celeb anytime, it’s best to be prepared.

Priyanka Chopra and Kevin Spacey interacting with journalists sitting atop a stage. This is another popular way of dispensing interviews where all the journalists are made to sit with the "audience" and a mike is passed around for them to ask questions. Usually. no journalist subject is allowed to ask more than one question.

Priyanka Chopra and Kevin Spacey interacting with journalists sitting atop a stage. This is another popular way of dispensing interviews where all the journalists are made to sit with the “audience” and a mike is passed around for them to ask questions. Usually. no journalist subject is allowed to ask more than one question.

7. Not do research

Many yesteryear Bollywood stars have walked out of interviews after they felt that the interviewer had not done his research. Nowadays stars are more tactful and are much more publicity savvy so they don’t walk out but talking to a journalist, who has not done his research is a sure put-off. I remember we were a bunch of journalist interviewing a famous actor before the release of his film, when one young girl started faltering with her questions. The star took over from her and asked the questions himself and answered those accordingly. Then he said: “I am sure you now have enough to write about my film.”

Even if it’s a new actor, a new film, a rising singer or a director – the best thing is to do a background study before you go to meet the person. Ask Google, he will help you.

8. Not have a questionnaire ready

Fans and mediapeople congregate around Deepika Padukone when she arrives for a media interaction in this undated picture.

 Fans and mediapeople congregate around Deepika Padukone when she arrives for a media interaction in this undated picture.

Be it in your mind or on paper, have a questionnaire ready. Many new entrants in journalism feel that having a questionnaire means lack of confidence. On the contrary I feel it makes one more confident. Obviously you do come up with impromptu follow-up questions but having a structured questionnaire means you have done your research and you know what you want. Celebs loathe journalists who keep wasting time thinking of what they should ask next.

9. Start with a controversial question

We often presume it is our birthright to ask a star a question that is controversial, touchy or even demeaning. And this many of us do right in the beginning of an interview or a press conference. Most stars nowadays hit back saying, “it’s personal and I am not going to answer”, but this is such a mood spoiler that it often ruins the chances of a good interview or a fulfilling press conference. I have seen that stars are not always averse to answering controversial questions, and most often they do oblige, but the question is best asked at the end of the interview because every good interview needs a warm-up and also a certain level of mutual respect to take off.

10. Be aggressive

It is downright impolite and derogatory to ask a question like, “When girls are young, they enjoy it and when they get old, they start screaming and shouting and say men exploit them”, something that guy asked Parineeti at the press conference.

More often than not being polite and honest helps. An aggressive voice, coupled with an aggressive body language does more harm than good. Although nowadays the common perception is you have to be aggressive to get your story, but some tend to muddle up aggression with persistence. That’s when all the trouble starts.


Content Copyright: The responsibility and the sole ownership of the content is of the author who has contributed the content to this blog as a friendly gesture. Please don’t copy-paste matter from this blog. To contact the writer, please visit her blog page HERE. You can write to her at amrita@amritaspeaks.com

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5 replies »

  1. Taking pics after interviews is the norm now. Maybe not in ur time. But now it is! I have seen stars ask journalists to take pics with them. They expect it now. All other points are fine except name dropping – if its related to the film like a costar one can mention the names.

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    • Thank you for reading the post and leaving a comment here. First I would like to say that as a freelance journalist my time extends very much to now and from that position I have written this post. You are welcome to have your opinion and your experiences might be different from mine. But can you explain why a star would want a photograph with a journalist and why the star expects the snap to be taken? Journalists don’t need to do their ego pampering the fans are there to do that. As for names dropping, I am sure journos and celebs can make a difference between that and work related reference to an interaction to a co-star.

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