Soumyadipta Banerjee

A website killed this interview. We don’t know why…

1) What prompted you to start Bollywood Journalist?
 
There came a time in my professional life when I was utterly bored. I thought I was vegetating and nothing excited me. It was a very strange situation because soon the boredom gave way to depression. There came a time when I started suffering from insomnia. Everyday I used to lie down on my bed and ask myself, ‘what have I done today?’ I never used to get an answer. That feeling didn’t let me sleep, didn’t let me start my day and soon everyday became a struggle. I realised I am in depression and I needed to do something about it. One night, I just started punching the keyboard. I wrote a blog. I felt happy. I started blogging frequently because it made me happy. Blogging kept me occupied. I had opened a blog on Blogspot earlier but it was private because I used to upload chapters of a book that I was writing. I started this blog on WordPress and it was public from day one. People started appreciating some of my blogs. Soon my depression was gone. I looked at blogging to vent out my frustration. It really helped.
 
2) Despite being so popular, why is there no original blogging on entertainment in India?
 
It is very difficult to be an entertainment blogger. Most of the stuff on Bollywood in the traditional media (which some refer to as ‘news’) is paid for. It’s tacit or blatant brand promotion. Most ‘news’ articles will either promote the actor as a brand, a movie (again a brand) or the brands that an actor endorses. It’s just advertising in some form or the other. Being an entertainment journalist is very depressing because you realise after a point that you are into advertising and not journalism. Now you will tell me that why are people going by these perverse standards? What is the difficulty?
The difficulty is: you don’t get access to the stars or a movie, if you don’t promote it. The understanding is: you promote the star or the movie and ‘they’ will drive visitors to your site by giving you access to the stars or give you exclusive news bytes about a film.
Most bloggers and entertainment websites have fallen in line. At the end of the day, none of the ‘beats’ like Business, Politics, Crime, City or Sports mean Business. These beats generate news. Entertainment is pure business because Bollywood is the be-all and end-all of the Entertainment beat.
 
3) What are the pros and cons of having an original blog only on Bollywood?
 
b2ap3_thumbnail_box-office-cartoon-1If you are an original entertainment blogger (who wouldn’t promote a star or a movie), you will be very popular and you will get many dedicated readers who will egg you on to do better work. On the flip side, you can forget access to the stars for interviews or junkets to award functions because the PRs won’t like you.
 
 
 4) With the steady rise of social media, is it still difficult to have a dedicated blog on entertainment?
 Blogging is also a part of social media in my opinion. It is not difficult at all. In fact, with so many social media outlets today, I feel that you get across to more readers that what you could, say, 10 years back.
 
5) What role do you think readers play with regard to choosing the type of content available to them on the Internet? (Are they mature enough yet?)
Most Indian are looking for porn on the internet. That is why ‘Sunny Leone’, ‘Hot Pics’ (add an actress name), ‘nude’, ‘naked’ and ‘scandal’ are the most frequent search terms on Google India. I feel that 80% Indians on the internet are just looking for porn. Among the rest, 10% just prefer to ‘watch’ videos and pictures. It is only 10% of the total users who actually use the internet to read blogs or write them. Basically, internet for Indians is for entertainment. People are not here for ‘heavy’ stuff. Most hate text and prefer pictures and videos instead.

 6) How often do you have to deal with controversies and hate mail? 

Often. There is an army out there. They are sometimes called trolls though I prefer to call them idiots. If you don’t write good things about a superstar or a superstar director, they attack you. They don’t write hate mails often. But they attack your mother and your sister on the social media, particularly on Twitter. If you are a woman, they threaten to rape you. In rare cases, some may also threaten to kill you. Most of them are super religious, while some of them are fundamentalists.

7) What have you learned about Bollywood after starting this blog? 

The stars can’t handle criticism. Their managers can’t stand critics. Their PRs are constantly devising ways to silence critics. There was a person in the PR team of a Bollwood Khan who used to man-mark me. His job was to ensure that I don’t attend any press conference or my office doesn’t depute me for any interview of the star. He made sure (through phone calls and mails) that I am not seen anywhere near the star (even in the audience of an event) because they felt that I write ‘negative’ reports about the star. To tell you the truth, I have never written anything ‘negative’ about that Khan. It was just a perception. But PRs in Bollywood will go to any extent to stonewall you if they don’t like you or perceive you as a threat. Life is difficult for a Bollywood journalist if you don’t have the PRs on your side.
8) Tell us briefly about the Ravindra Patil article and the subsequent apology to Salman Khan.

b2ap3_thumbnail_film-critics1

I am under strict instructions not to talk about that episode. I respect the country’s judicial process.
 
9) Please describe the state of your blog and yourself during that phase.
 
It was a very tough phase for me and my family as well. My blog was suspended briefly. I still don’t want to remember what I went through. It made me value my friends and family. Also, I realised that when you are in trouble, help and support pour in from unexpected quarters.

10) Do you feel readers want to know the truth about their favourite stars or do they expect you to feed their thinking of star behaviour?

 Readers don’t want to know the truth about a star. They refuse to believe that most of the stars are abnormal human beings with abnormal behavioural traits. They think the stars can do no wrong. Most refuse to accept that the stars lead a kind of life that you and me won’t choose to lead. They refuse to accept that Bollywood stars are actually brands and they have an army around them who ensure that the actual faces behind the stars never get exposed. Most stars are terribly unhappy human beings. I wouldn’t choose their lives. I am happier than most of the Bollywood stars I know personally.

11) What changes have you incorporated on BJ since you began?

I started it as a personal blog. I have stepped out of the blog as of now and have handed it over to a company to run it as a professional news agency that deals with Bollywood news. The blog that I started has now paved the way for a start-up. My father is a director in the company and there are other directors.  I plan to join my father in the business as soon as he can afford to have me on board.

12) There is a steady emphasis on writing more news content than the earlier blogs. Is BJ also giving up on pure entertainment journalism?

Bollywood Journalist is a boutique news agency on Bollywood that serves exclusive Bollywood news to others websites, magazines and even newspapers. The website is still a blogging platform where some of my old colleagues blog. I had stopped blogging there when it became a limited company as I was working with a media company full time. I will soon start blogging there again because I have recently resigned. I have joined an educational institute and I plan to revive my blogging career as soon as I settle down in my new job. I plan to start blogging with a few prominent sites as well.

13) What qualities do you think are needed to succeed as a entertainment blogger without giving up on any ideals and compromising on your personal safety? Or is that a myth?

 I don’t think people who attack you on Twitter or Facebook actually have the guts to attack you in reality. They are cowards, who just love to mess around with you behind a mask of anonymity. They are faceless, nameless dolts (as Suhel Seth would say).

14) Is the Indian culture wired to treat actors like demi-gods? Can honest reporting save us? 

 We are wired to worship film stars as demi-Gods and not understand that they are professionals or brands. I remember that my fellow blogger (author Amrita Mukherjee) had thrown an open challenge to entertainment journalists to answer the questions that she has posed at the end of her blog. You can find the blog HERE

15) Anything else that you wish to add

 Serious blogging in Bollywood is possible if only bloggers are willing to do it. The traditional media houses set the tone by pandering to stars and films because they are getting paid for it (in terms of advertisements or advertorials). Most bloggers are more than happy if they get a selfie with the stars after an interview. Most bloggers love to bask in the reflected glory of the Bollywood stars. We need some serious writers in Bollywood. Interestingly, serious bloggers are emerging from Bollywood itself. Did you know that Twinkle Khanna is such an amazing writer or for that matter, Sajid Khan?

Some bloggers are exposing Bollywood like never before. Did you know that Bollywood follows a brainless and impractical promotional policy? Read this one HERE by filmmaker Rohan Sippy.


Update on December 12, 2015: A website finally published the interview. Click HERE the see it.

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