Representation of the media in Bollywood Films

Author: 

Shoma A. Chatterji

The portrayal of media personalities in Indian mainstream films in general and Bollywood films in particular can rarely be called authentic. In fact, sometimes, commercial compromises distort and dilute the image of a media professional – journalist or reporter from the print media or media professionals in the electronic media within cinema. How authentic are these portrayals? Are journalists, reporters, news-readers, anchors and interviewers really as cheap as they are shown in films? Or, are there genuine reporters committed to the three objectives of ethical journalism – objectivity, accuracy and integrity? Most films give a more or less realistic view of journalists as professionals and how their ethical values have taken a beat in an environment of corrupt practices. But sometimes, the general picture one comes away with is not very pleasant.
In the recently released Bajrangi Bhaijan (2015), we are introduced to a small-time reporter of a small town. His name is Chand Nawab (Nawazuddin Siddique) who is struggling for his “Bariking News” for a Pakistani paper. His entry gives a new direction to the story and to what a little-known incident can do to the career of a small time reporter. With his story about Bajrangi and Munni, the little mute girl he is trying his best to restore to her family in Pakistan, Chand Nawab joints the search for his long-desired story and becomes an overnight hero in journalistic circles.
Among the very few films that have portrayed journalists in a positive and strong way is Romesh Sharma’s directorial debut New Delhi Times (1986) that fetched Shashi Kapoor and cinematographer Subrata Mitra their only National Awards besides the Indira Gandhi Award to the director for the Best First Film of a New Director. Shashi Kapoor is the very honest and upright editor of a daily newspaper called New Delhi Times. The film depicts how, in the end, the two leading political parties - the Establishment and the Opposition, use him as an agency to get their work done but he does not suspect their motives of using him as a pawn and in the end, join hands behind his back and he is made a scapegoat. 
This hard-hitting political drama was hit equally hard by Indian distributors and television because they refused to take on the film for either theatrical release or television viewing.  Vikas Pande, the new editor who arrives in Delhi from Ghazipur in Uttar Pradesh to New Delhi, uncovers corruption, murder, and bribery in high office. When a politician is killed, a journalist discovers that a member of parliament had the man assassinated. More shocking news are revealed when this member of parliament it is learnt is an underworld gangster. As the editor digs deeper, the complicity of higher-placed politicians comes to the surface, which leads to riots in one town and an attempt to suppress his story. 
The Tinnu Anand directed Main Azaad Hoon (1989) is an Indianised and tweaked version of Frank Capra’s Meet John Doe (1941.) Though this was focussed on the unusual presentation of Amitava Bachchan as an unemployed, homeless and unlettered man who roams aimlessly from place to place in search of food, the film paid equal importance to journalists and journalism. When Subhashini (Shabana Azmi) is threatened with a sack because the editor has changed and so has the management, she creates a do-gooder from the grassroots and begins a column on the socially good acts to save society done by the fictitious “Azaad.” The incisive column,  a critique of political maneuverings becomes so famous that she had to look for a real person to fit into the mould of “Azaad” because the readers demand to meet him. She finds the man she is looking for – a man aimlessly drifting on the streets with his equally bum friend and immediately christens him “Azaad.” We never get to know his real name.
Slowly, when she realises that Azaad is being made a pawn in the vested interests of the politically ambitious and dictatorial editor, she changes her stance and decides to follow ethics. The editor (Manohar Singh) offers another dimension of a journalist’s character who is manipulating the news, the newspaper and his editorial staff to become prime minister one day. These two polarised faces of the media is presented realistically in this otherwise commercial film. There is third journalist, who is a stooge of the editor, following him and his dictates like Mary’s Little Lamb. But this man too quits his job and the editor when he is fed up with the way the editor has turned him into a human version of a pet dog. This was a hard-hitting film too and picked up at the box office much after it was released. Main Azaad Hoon is a powerful statement on how images can be created, manipulated and even destroyed by the media by journalists with vested interests. 
Madras Café (2013) directed by Shoojit Sircar and produced by John Abraham is perhaps the only film in recent times to feature a war correspondent. The film is set in the late 1980s and early ’90s, during the intervention in the Sri Lankan civil war and assassination of Rajeev Gandhi when he was the PM of India. The film won the  National Award for Best Audiography for Nihar Ranjan Samal for location sound recording and Bishwadeep Chatterjee for the sound design. Major Vikram Singh (John Abraham) is an Indian Army Special Officer appointed by RAW to head covert operations in Jaffna shortly following the Indian peace-keeping force’s forced withdrawal from the city.
During the course of his investigation, he meets Jaya Sahni (Nargis Fakhri), a London-based British war correspondent, who wants to reveal the truth about the civil war, and in the process he uncovers a conspiracy to assassinate “a former Indian prime minister. Jaya is a no-nonsense, committed war correspondent assigned by her paper to cover the Sri Lanka civil disturbances. As she joins in the investigation, there is a sharing of views but there is no romance and no sex in the relationship. The relationship is enriched by the control with which Nargis essays her role complete with her British accent, pragmatic attitude and guts. Jaya’s character was inspired by many war correspondents, including Anita Pratap, according to the director.
Mumbai Meri Jaan (2008) is an excellent portrayal of television news channels using news as sensational and titillating when it concerns even a massive tragedy like the July 11, 2006 Mumbai train bombings. Rupali Joshi (Soha Ali Khan) as a leading journalist of a television channel is assigned to cover the bomb blast in trains in Mumbai live. She finds that her fiancé has died in the blast. She then becomes the subject of the television channels who chase her for exclusive stories about her life with her fiancé and so on. Her grief is augmented when the news channel she works for tries to exploit her story for ratings. She is so traumatised by the shock that lies hidden within her own profession that she quits her profession. Her personal tragedy and its aftermath changes her perception about what being a television journalist means forever. 
Kundan Shah’s Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron (1983),  now considered to be a cult film portrayed media and media personalities in a shady light not conducive to a positive image of journalists in cinema. The story has a character named Shobha (Bhakti Barve) who is a double-dealing lady editor of a newspaper with the double-entendre name of Khabardar. It has two meanings. In Hindi, khabardar means “Danger” and it also means “do not dare” and in this film, the newspaper suggests both! The editor is ready to do anything to get a story that will raise the circulation of her paper including fake stories. Through its hilarious style, Kundan Shah weaves into its narrative some slapstick comedy. The massive Y-generation that has bloomed in the world of the internet, You-tube and blogs, have watched, downloaded and replayed the film many times. Just one site shows a hit of 1, 25,000-plus hits and there are many others you can hit and watch the film in with bigger hits.
But it is Peepli Live (2010) that takes the cake and has it too. It is one of the most scathing critiques of journalism in contemporary India. Natha, the younger of two farmer brothers burdened by debt,  living in a fictitious hamlet called Peepli is persuaded by his older brother to commit suicide so that his brother and their families can get the advantage of the Re. One Lakh dole the government has promised. But before he can actually commit the act, this news gets reported by Rakesh Kapoor (Nawazuddin Siddique), a local reporter from Peepli. One ITVN journalist keen on filming Natha’s death is Daytime Presenter, Nandita Malik. She joins Rakesh and takes desperate measures to interview Natha and his family. However things get trickier when rival Hindi news channel, “Bharat Live” finds out about Natha and Peepli. The news channel clashes with ITVN and each tries to film Natha’s death in its own way. Written and directed by journalist-turned filmmaker Anusha Rizvi and produced by Amir Khan Productions,    Peepli Live is a film that unmasks the underside of contemporary journalism, most of it not pleasing to the eye, ear or taste.  
By and large, journalists as a collective group of professionals are displayed in a rather poor light when they rush with their mikes and cameras inside any film to take a byte from everyone and anyone at the drop of a hat. It makes for a very poor and derogatory representation of journalists on celluloid. This must change and I wonder why journalists do not raise their voice against such derogatory representation of the entire group. One may sum up by saying that the credibility of journalists, especially television journalists, has fallen over the years and this gets reflected again and again in our films.