The world over, journalism has lost the prestige that it used to enjoy in the previous century. Whilst in this piece Shekhar Gupta focuses on how the Indian journalist went from hero to zero, the story Shekhar narrates is just as relevant for journalists plying their trade elsewhere.
Shekhar uses the Hindi cinema’s portrayal of journalists down the ages as a way of understanding how journalism fell from grace: in “Raj Khosla’s ‘Kala Pani’, 1958,…Dev Anand, is a journalist in search of evidence to redeem his father, falsely convicted for a courtesan’s murder and jailed for life. He travels from Bombay to Hyderabad and lands up, where else, but in a newspaper office to check out old editions. Journalistically, it is a double delight because Madhubala is also a reporter working at this newspaper. You can pretty much anticipate how this unfolds. The good journalists win.” This positive portrayal of the journalist remained the norm through the 1950s & 60s.
And then things start going south for journalists. Shekhar writes, “Then change begins, and now I struggle to spot a film in the past four decades where journalists are not mocked, painted as goofs and villains, plain idiots or abused even with the MC/BC kind of gaali with hardly a pretence of even beeping the cuss words.
You can see this trend developing in Kundan Shah’s Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro (1983), where two goofy photographers played by Naseeruddin Shah and Ravi Baswani are hired by a newspaper editor (Bhakti Barve) to conduct an investigation of the rich and corrupt. But in the end, she strikes a deal and lets them go to jail.
As I reflected on the change, I also figured out my severe limitations with recent cinema. But some I have watched, Peepli Live for example, and PK. Both mock television reporters mostly, unfortunately as far as this portrayal goes, young women.”
Shekar goes on to highlight that the descent of journalism is associated with the journalist’s greed for money and therefore need for TRPs [which makes him/her do naughty things]: “When news TV began, in fact, is when Bollywood’s romance with journalists briefly returned. Preity Zinta played thinly veiled Barkha Dutt in Kargil-themed 2004 film Lakshya. But from then on, it’s been all downhill. Shah Rukh Khan had already told us about the awful things TV anchors would end up doing in Aziz Mirza’s ‘Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani’ (2000). By ‘Peepli Live’ in 2010, the media with its stupidity and greed for TRPs, was pure evil.
By now, you can’t imagine a journalist being shown in good light, except something like Scam 1992 with investigative journalist Sucheta Dalal’s character. Remember that the series is set in 1992. The same superbly talented actor Shreya Dhanwanthary, who plays Sucheta, now acts as a TV journalist covering the 26/11 terror attacks in Hotstar’s Mumbai Diaries and is unethical to the core. She is cynically communalising a situation which isn’t so.
Did you watch Paatal Lok? We did during the lockdown. The editor featured there is so blinded by his own image, power and sex appeal that the truth no longer matters. And now, I believe there is the forthcoming Netflix production Dhamaka by Ram Madhvani, where the TV anchor apparently uses a “bomb attack” to win their way back into prime time.”

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