www.thehindu.com | July 13, 2020
Film journalism in India has been reduced to gossip, sensationalism and hype
The recent death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput has raised several questions. Many have expressed their concerns about blind items that regularly feature in film-related news space slandering actors. Some have also said that these news items are manipulated and controlled by rivals of the target. No evidence is given in such news items; they are all based on hearsay. Often the news item doesn’t even mention the writer of the piece. That we still call it news is nothing short of farcical.
A serious concern
Film editor and writer Apurva Asrani wrote a long blog explaining his agonising experience when targeted by a series of slandering articles aimed at tarnishing his credibility. Mr. Asrani had to pay a heavy price in terms of health and mental consequences that he suffered. Actor Himanshu Malik also wrote an article enumerating his unsavoury experiences and the ugly machinations of the Hindi film industry. Rajput’s death has opened the floodgates of numerous such accounts — mostly social media posts and personal blogs. The insider-outsider debate has been long ensuing. However, there’s another serious concern that shouldn’t be brushed under the carpet — the nature of film reporting in India or, to be more specific, film reporting in Bollywood.
Film journalism or whatever that means has been reduced to gossip, sensationalism and hype. Most film reviews are just badly written plot summaries with a few comments about song, dance, costume. In fact, that’s exactly how one shouldn’t write about films. These reviewers think cinema happens in a vacuum. There’s no mention of the socio-cultural dimensions of the film. The rest of the stories are interviews with actors. Most of these are PR-driven exercises engineered before the launch of a film or intended to serve vested interests. Questions are often sent beforehand. Tailor-made answers are offered. Then there are lifestyle features about actors’ homes, their holidays, children and their birthday parties and unending inanities. Rumours, link-ups and scandals form a bulk of film-related reporting in this nation. This deviance has been normalised. However, exceptions exist — there are a handful of writers who are interested in discussing the merits and demerits of a film. At the same time, alternative online platforms like Film Companion have emerged that are interested in discussing films and not stars.
The question to ask is, how did film writing descend so low? This could be seen as a post-liberalisation phenomenon with major changes in the media landscape of the country and the advent of lifestyle or ‘sunny journalism’ as some would call it. The range of film magazines that soon emerged did very little to create interest in cinema per se; their sole focus remained on the life of the stars and fashioning a halo around the persona of the leading actors. The magazines were sold on the merit of who featured on the cover and other juicy details they offered. These magazines also started their own film awards. An unholy nexus thus flourished. The film award show is nothing less than a TRP-generating spectacle. All claims of honouring the finest in filmdom are pure convenience.
This kind of film writing that thrived by spawning personal details of stars soon became an industry. Space for contemplative film writing and analysis began to shrink and a tabloid-type reporting took over by splashing photos of stars arriving at airports or leaving from home. We were told that this is what readers want to see.
Such reporting encourages unabashed voyeurism. It breeds ugly consumerism. In such a climate, films that deserve to be written about don’t get featured because they are either too arty or their actors do not have a fan following whose ‘airport looks’ will bring the publication more attention. There are a lot of things to fix in any social structure including the Hindi film industry. But let us not leave film journalism out of the radar.
- Prof. Kunal Ray, Assistant Professor – English Literature
*Views expressed are personal.