The journalist on 70mm

BY T S Sudhir| IN Media Practice | 24/05/2011
The jholawala is gone and now we have journalists portrayed in movies with chief ministerial aspirations.
T S SUDHIR goes to see the Tamil blockbuster ‘Ko’ and wonders if `journalist’ is heading out to become a bad word
Mounting an appropriate subject at the right time on 70 mm was not the only reason for `Ko' becoming the latest blockbuster in Tamil. The political thriller, directed by photojournalist-turned-ace cinematographer-turned-director, K V Anand, is not a fight between two political parties whose political fortunes are governed by the TINA factor, but rather traces the evolution of a third alternative, propped up by the protagonist, a photojournalist in a newspaper office. 
What caught my attention is a dialogue in `Ko' that perhaps sums up the way a journalist is perceived today. ``You will get a story even out of a dead body,'' he says.
Many years ago, when Uma (my wife and journalist with NDTV) and I were walking out of a theatre in Hyderabad, after watching `Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani', someone commented, ``Oh, see, Sudhir and Uma. Like Shahrukh and Juhi Chawla''. We didn't really know if we should be flattered by the comment considering the rather inane content of the film and the puerile way journalists were portrayed in the film (crooning ``I am the best''). We managed to smile.
The last decade and a half has seen an unprecedented explosion in the growth of the media, specially audiovisual. Media has come to occupy centrestage, a platform on which political and other actors perform. If the world is a stage, showing on the closest screen near you is the television set.
For the privilege of capturing the theatrical happenings around the world and using one's power of discretion on what shall be showcased, the messengers and the medium gained an aura and a mystery that tickled public imagination and curiosity. No wonder then that journalists and the roles they play quite often became the subject films were inspired and influenced by.
From the idealistic, jhola-wala, stereotype who invariably was eliminated for daring to tell the truth to a cameraperson who becomes chief minister and brings in a political revolution (Mudhalvan in Tamil, Nayak in Hindi), the shades of the screen persona have evolved.
More recently we got Ramgopal Varma's `Rann'. `Disaster' would be an understatement to describe the film made by the man whose `disaster tourism' tour inside the Taj,  post 26/11, had the media encircling his face endlessly in news clippings, and perhaps inspired RGV to unleash his Aag on us.
I have admired Varma's sparks of brilliance earlier but this time we had to literally keep ourselves from `rann-ing' out of the theatre to escape the cacophony of nonsense being unleashed in the name of exposing the games being played behind-the-screens in television channels.

`Rann' was apparently inspired by personalities in two existing news channels and showed them stooping to any level to garner TRPs and entering into shady deals to further selfish interests. Unrealistic and over the top. Not to say there are no grey areas ever but to portray unidimensional, cardboard characters and turn them into caricatures is not just an insult to journalism but betrays a complete ignorance about the robust dynamics of the media.

Last year, when we were watching `Peepli Live’, I remember Uma saying ``It is embarrassing because what is being shown in the film is so true of how the medium has turned out to be''.
It helped that `Peepli Live’, a realistic, insightfully biting, sharp portrayal of how the media works today, was directed by an ex-journalist, Anusha Rizvi; the `treatment' of tragic real-life happenings that gets packaged as `human interest stories', with a limited shelf-life though. Television personalities who get a larger-than-life aura, but who at the end of it, look like merely cogs in a megawheel that really has no single person at the driver's wheel. So you don't really know who is the `villain'. The `dynamic' newswheel moves on to the next big, `engaging' story. Nothing else changes. No doubt the satire leaves you dissatisfied, uneasy, but then it can't get more stark and realistic than that. .
Tamil film `Ko' showcases the role a media house can play in bringing about a change in the political culture. May be simplistic, a tad unreal and idealistic. And yet it managed to be entertaining, engaging and holds out that fast-vanishing precious commodity, hope. Afterall, you need a culture of optimism and trust to work on cliches like `Hope for Change’. And that is what the film managed to do.
The hero, inspired by Anand's own experiences, is a daredevil photojournalist who does his bit to push his agenda for the larger public good. Actor Jiiva, who played the protagonist in the film, told me it was such a relief that journalists were not shown as the typical kurta-jhola waala type but more trendy and pro-active. Mostly, the camera is portrayed as the hero's weapon against political corruption.
The film shows how even a well-meaning media person can be gullible and get used by influential lobbies and individuals. But what I found redeeming is that there is no all-out cynicism that kills beliefs in institutions like the media or even politicians. And I say this not as a media person but as a citizen who realises how critical media role can be and how worried we need to be to ensure that this institution does not lose its credibility.

Politicians are not the only villains now. Journalists find themselves soaked in blood too big time, on the big screen. Time for some introspection and self-correction before `journalist' becomes a bad word just the way `politician' already has.
       (The author is Executive Editor of `The South Reports')
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