Lights, camera… Press!

Shashi Baliga | Updated on January 20, 2011

Citizen’s journalist? Rani Mukherjee and Vidya Balan in No One Killed Jessica   -  Business Line

WITH "CITIZEN KANE AGAIN TOPS BEST-FILM LIST IN BRITAIN" A picture taken in 1941 during the shooting of "the Citizen Kane". For the fourth decade running, Orson Welles's "Citizen Kane" has been ranked the best picture of all time by a select group of film critics polled by the British Film Institute. AFP PHOTO   -  AFP

Hindi films love to take the occasional swipe at journos... but few get it right.

Bitch. Bitch. And super bitch.

That's what colleagues think of Meera Gaity. What she calls herself. And what director Rajkumar Gupta, director of No One Killed Jessica, wants you to think of Meera Gaity, celebrity reporter and television anchor.

To ensure that you do, Meera (played by Rani Mukherjee) generally casts a liberal sprinkling of obscenities and the f-word through the movie. When she is not haranguing her boss, junior colleagues and assorted vermin who dare to cross her path, that is.

On the redeeming front, she is a bloody good reporter and has the guts, heart and staying power to see a good story to its conclusion. From the guns of Kargil to the gore of the celebrated Jessica Lal case, she's in the thick of it all.

Second half of the profile sounds familiar? If it's Bollywood, it's gotta be Barkha Dutt. When a Kargil sequence pops up onscreen you sigh to yourself, here it goes again. Remember Preity Zinta's Romila Dutt in Lakshya? If it's not Kargil, it's that particular brand of arrogant aggression: refer to Nandita, the TV anchor who queens it over the village in Peepli [Live]. (For those who didn't know, the film's director Anusha Rizvi herself has worked with NDTV.) Meera combines both these telltale signs in No One Killed Jessica. It is an arresting portrait, even if one bordering on caricature, for lay viewers who love to hate the electronic media but are fascinated nevertheless by how journalists and the media work. Pretty much in the same manner that so many people love to bash Bollywood, but will follow every off-screen scandal and slug-fest involving its stars.

Continuing the circuit, Hindi films, on their part, enjoy taking the occasional swipe at journalists as well. Surprisingly, so few get it right, considering that these two branches of the mass media are so closely interlinked. In most cases, it's a jaundiced view of the press, which is painted in bright yellow. Or red, for sensationalism. I'm not complaining about that; I thought Peepli [Live ] for one, was bang on in its satirical take on how we tend to whip up issues and abandon them on the run when the next big thing crops up.

Page 3 was another movie that rang true for me; I have myself been in situations near-identical to many of those in the movie. Any journalist who's been on the glam circuit would probably say the same.

And if you're talking the film press, that terrific, vastly under-rewarded movie, Luck By Chance, tossed up a true-blue slice. There's a saner, fairer side to film journalism, let me hasten to add, but I have to concede that the slice Zoya Akhtar served up was the real thing.

However, No One Killed Jessica, a movie to be otherwise cheered, turned out to be such a disappointment in this one aspect. Especially since it is one of the very few to declare its admiration for the media — at least in the Jessica Lal murder case.

Sadly, Rajkumar Gupta is guilty not of prejudice, but glamourisation. Okay, we'll overlook the perfect makeup and wind-blown hair (even in Kargil); we're at the movies after all. It's the terribly self-conscious, sometimes gratuitous cussing that hurts the most. Yes, cusswords fly around the newsroom. But nobody thinks they're cutesy, for Christ sake; definitely not when directed at a quivering junior colleague.

And the movie makes it all seem so easy — Meera simply whooshes from one triumph to another, when much of investigative journalism is numbingly painstaking research and legwork. If you remember Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein wading through the telephone directory and knocking on unfriendly door after door in All The President's Men, you'll know what I mean.

It is possible to dramatise, exaggerate and yet be real. Take Citizen Kane, which is (among other glorious things) one of the most memorable portrayals of a newspaperman. Orson Welles made his character so much larger than life, yet so vulnerable and believable.

And there is the tormented Marcello Rubini, cynical journalist and man-about-town (played by the uber-cool Marcello Mastroianni) in Federico Fellini's La Dolce Vita. Rubini's conflicting feelings of ennui and morbid fascination with the trappings of his profession make this the most deeply sensitive portrayal of a journalist's dichotomous life. (In addition, the film's character of the hyper-active photographer Paparazzo was the inspiration for the much-despised term, paparazzi, and all the excesses that it conjures up today).

In much quieter but equally sharp and telling shades is sketched the journalist Aditi, played by Sharmila Tagore in Satyajit Ray's Nayak. So true, so smooth, so effortless.

But then, we're talking of the great masters here and perhaps of less excessive times in our society, the press that it fosters and the relationship between them. Today it's all breaking news, shattering reputations, media darlings and bogies and Radiagate. I'm waiting now to see who's going to be first off the mark with a Neera Radia clone. And guess what, Barkha Dutt is going to pop up there as well.

Published on January 20, 2011

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