journalism

Glamourising the grind

If only it was so easy to do journalism: reveal people’s hypocrisies with ease and get away with it unscathed

JUL 17 -One of the good things about being a journalist is that your character often makes it to the movies. A nosy reporter treading a minefield of egos in the newsroom and upsetting or threatening the protagonists outside are everywhere to be found. The pen and the camera, it seems, is still mightier than the sword in the imagination of moviemakers. Journalists, of course, know better.

The latest addition to the list of movies that have a journalist among its main characters comes from Bollywood. In Dil Dhadakne Do—a dull peek into the unrelatable lives of extremely rich Indians—Farhan Akhtar plays a journalist stationed in Egypt. Sunny, his character in the movie, reads books in his cabin while on a luxurious cruise while the rest waste their time gossiping. And as if that was not enough to set him apart from the usual male Bollywood protagonist, he is a feminist.

“What gives men the right to think that they have the power to give ‘permission’ to women to do anything?” he asks. For a film industry habituated to selling the most regressive of roles for women, such dialogue definitely breaks new ground. But lest you forget, he is only doing what a journalist is supposed to do: ask difficult questions and inflict the comfortable.

If only it was so easy to do journalism: reveal people’s hypocrisies with ease and get away with it unscathed.

To expect Bollywood, which thrives on the notion that the audience come to the theatres to ‘escape’ reality, to do any better, however, would be stupidity. In any case, a well-dressed and widely travelled character, who is almost always a photographer (think Ranbir Kapoor in Yeh Jawani Hai Diwani) is not the staple Bollywood journalist. An interesting research on the popular portrayal of journalists in Bollywood over a 30-year period from 1981 to 2011 shows that the five most common stereotypes played journalists in the movies are romantic companions, glamour chasers, investigative superheroes, power magnates and brainless characters.

In Bollywood, being what it is, the focus is more on the singing, dancing and seduction skills of journalists. One must invest more time in chasing one’s love interest than in chasing stories. Reporting can wait, always. Sharukh Khan, an Air India Radio journalist, dancing dangerously atop a moving train in Dil Se is an example. Even so, lovers live. Investigative superheroes, on the other hand, are either ‘martyred’ or attain the pinnacle of popularity and power real-life journos can only dream of.

Of late, television scriptwriters in Mumbai have taken an interest in the lives of journalists too. In April this year, Sony aired a series called Reporters in which viewers get to see a decent number of female journalists in the TV newsroom. Who knew that Indian television could envision women stepping outside the chaukath of their houses and facing graver moral dilemmas than the kind one faces after adding excessive salt in the daal? That’s the only good thing about the series. The bad news is, Reporters is an extremely poor copy of the Aaron Sorkin series The Newsroom.

In one of the early episodes of Reporters, the female protagonist tells her boss at an editorial meeting that she is disappointed that a man who once stood for fearless journalism has now sold out. Such abundance of drama would make anyone wish to be in the newsroom.  If only people went around risking their jobs by speaking the minds! Zoom out and here’s what happens in real editorial meetings: journalists drag themselves out of bed reluctantly to report on what they are working on to their seniors.  Then they leave the room muttering about the futility of it all, without fail. In case a reporter has a bout of idealism, she gets a gentle reminder about the difference between working in a private news company and writing fiction.

No wonder the take home message of a scathing review of Reporters in firstpost.com is: it’s better for TV producers “to stick to making something they are good at—emotional dramas which are a deadly mix of over acting and sexism—than pretending to be ‘hard-hitting’.” The biggest failure according to the review is that the makers of the series have not done any homework to depict the nuances of journalism. Given the long history of Indian journalism and the upheavals the media has seen, there should have been no dearth of inspiration.

Closer home, however, it seems as though moviemakers do not think that fictional journalism would be interesting enough to watch on the silver screen. After all, if media reports are anything to go by, the Nepali journalist has been stripped of any glamour that might still be synonymous with the profession elsewhere.  The portrayal of a Nepali journalist, as reported by other journalists on TV or in the newspapers, is that of person who does not get to either sleep well or eat enough on time. The resultant bad state of health is further compounded by the perennial lack of money. Reports on the sexism women journalists face in newsrooms filled with men and while out reporting are equally depressing. The other, more conspicuous reason could be: every other person in Nepal seems to ooze with the confidence of being able to do a better job as a journalist. The lack of respect journalists command in society could be another deterrent for their onscreen presence.

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Even so, the protagonist of Rekha Thapa’s 2014 movie Himmatwali is also a man in the media. Guess where he works? Forget the daily grind of journalists working for Kantipur or The Kathmandu Post, Himal or Nepal or the Himalayan Times and the hundreds of FM stations all over the country plus the handful of television stations. They don’t offer all that action heroes are entitled to. Therefore, he works for Wikileaks in the US and has come to Nepal after killing a man there, hiding from American authorities.

Unbelievable you might say, but journalists definitely relish watching their onscreen versions now and then. Whether it be the ‘ideal’ journalism pursued by Emily Mortimer in the The Newsroom or Farhan Akhtar, who speaks up against patriarchy, they are all a good break from the mechanical rush to file stories. For people who have a more boring job in the newsroom of dotting other people’s i’s and crossing their t’s it could even serve as a much needed reminder that they too are part of the hypothetically ‘glamourous’ world of journalism.