Bollywood’s art of distorting journalism

By Sarah Salvadore

A few day ago, I read a status message posted on the wall of one of my former colleagues.

It read:

“If Spotlight hadn’t been named Best Picture, nothing would have changed for us. But the fact it did well, it means we’ll walk a little taller for the day, maybe the week, and then get the hell back to the important work of journalism” – Brian McGory, The Boston Globe‘s current editor.
Under this quote, he wrote, “These are times when you feel silently proud for the profession you are in.”

A still from the film Spotlight

A still from the film Spotlight

Spotlight won the biggest award for the night at the Oscars, two weeks ago. I don’t know about anyone else, but all the journalists on my timeline rejoiced. Irrespective of country or news organization, they were elated.

I was too. And why shouldn’t I be? Finally, I got to see a modern-day movie that captured the essence of the newsroom in all it’s drab, non-dramatic glory. If you haven’t been to a newsroom, I’m sorry to burst your bubble, but that’s actually what it looks like. Journalists are usually buried in their work, small talk exists but only during chai breaks and no, they don’t walk around being all brash and mouthing smart-ass dialogues. Yes, real journalism is extremely unglamorous.

It made me wonder then – will Bollywood ever make a film that’s true to journalism? And please don’t give me the example of No One Killed Jessica or Page 3 or Madras Café. All that Bollywood has ever done is make caricatures of journalists. A reporter is the romantic interest of the hero, because the profession is the epitome of ‘honesty and truth’. In some cases, (Page 3, Rockstar) they just chase celebrities, mouth silly dialogues and make pretentious attempts at trying to uncover the truth (Pray, what’s the truth, sister?).

Rani Mukerji in a scene from No One Killed Jessica

Rani Mukerji in a scene from No One Killed Jessica

Bollywood has never taken a real-life journalistic investigation and given us a no-frills-just-truth-only narrative. The one film that tired to do that was No One Killed Jessica. But what really killed it was the loud, over-dramatic account of the real life Jessica Lall case. In all fairness, the director did mention that his movie was “part fact, part fiction”. But when you are dealing with a real life case, meticulously documented by the Indian media, you can’t get away by audaciously stereotyping one of your leading ladies or overdramatizing events. Where’s the subtlety?

Maybe writers in Bollywood lack ingenuity or their imagination is extremely fertile. But journalism has never been ably represented in Hindi cinema. (No one has done a bigger disservice to journalism than Aamir Khan’s Peepli Live). Fact is, there’s a treasure trove of investigative stories by Indian journalists, to take inspiration from.

In a country that’s all about conspiracy theories, legal absurdities, skullduggery and official venality – imagine the tension in the newsroom when reporters and editors debate the pros and cons of investigating a certain case – what would the repercussions be? How long before competing news media gets a whiff of the ‘exclusive’? All of this makes for a compelling narrative. Instead of looking towards South Indian cinema for inspiration, maybe writers should spend more time reading the newspaper.

I wouldn’t suggest watching news channels though. The latest JNU fiasco is in fact the Bollywoodization of journalism. There was no investigation – only shrill rhetoric parading as truth. But that discussion is for another day.

Preity Zinta's character in the film Lakshya was inspired by Barkha Dutt

Preity Zinta’s character in Lakshya was inspired by Barkha Dutt

India’s newspaper industry is well alive and kicking. There are journalists working day and night to ensure the job is done. The scribe I quoted earlier is one of those, who taught me the ropes of the business. Despite being the features editor of a newspaper, he still calls himself “Journalist”. There are many like him. They don’t aspire for glory. They don’t look for chances to click selfies with celebs. It is people like them who deserve a film that tells their story. They are worthy of a movie that seizes their professional respect and dignity back from those who label questioning scribes as “presstitute”, “sickular” and “libtard”.

Believe me, the price of uncovering truth is more than just hateful words and stereotypes.



2 replies »

  1. very nice write-up completely agree. very few Hindi films have any real understanding of journalism but I would say Page 3 was pretty close to reality though and there was no attempt to sensationalise the heroine/journalist.


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