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Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro to Scoop: The Changing Face of a Journalist in Hindi Cinema

Has Bollywood always portrayed journalists the way they are shown in Hansal Mehta's Scoop?

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In Hansal Mehta's Scoop, two television reporters are seen lurking in a hospital, trying to get a glimpse, a picture, a quote, just anything on the recent murder of another journalist, which is making the headlines.

On being told off and asked to "show some respect for the victim," one of them justifies his behaviour by saying, "People will change the channel (if they don't get something)."

Scoop has a journalist at the centre of its story, and clearly, the writers weren't lazy enough to insert that much-flogged scene of a reporter asking a victim's family, "Aap ko kaisa lag raha hai?" (How are you feeling right now?). Close enough, though.

Such scenes, in a nutshell, capture how the audience typically sees and portrays journalists today – as vultures, waiting to swoop in and sensationalise the misery of others, all for higher readership, better ratings, and more views – which then is reflected in our screens.

It took us decades to get here, though.

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When Bollywood Looked at Journalism as a Noble Profession

Pre-liberalisation, television news was a staid affair, as conservatively dressed men and women read from their teleprompters, going at 150 words/minute, enunciating all the while like their lives depended on it.

A rose blossom peeking from behind the newsreader's left ear was as adventurous as things got back then – there were no primetime debates or on-ground reporters showing off their hamming skills, and definitely no yelling.

Television reporting, in fact, was not even considered journalism back then. The journalist stereotype perpetuated by the film industry was that of an idealistic print reporter, one who didn't think twice before putting her/his life on the line for the job.

Films like Pratibandh (1990) and Krantiveer (1994) show journalists making serious enemies in the course of their work but motoring on nevertheless and martyring themselves for the cause. Even in the cult comedy Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron (1983), the two lead characters (Naseeruddin Shah and Ravi Baswani) play photojournalists who are framed for murder by the bad guys. 

Has Bollywood always portrayed journalists the way they are shown in Hansal Mehta's Scoop?

A still from Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron.

(Photo Courtesy YouTube Screengrab)

Less serious films like Mr India (1987), Dil Hai Ki Maanta Nahi (1991), and Mohra (1994) that featured journalists might not have made martyrs of their protagonists but always showed them in a positive light, overcoming obstacles and sometimes even finding love while chasing a story.

While it might be argued that the journalists in all these films were ridiculously unrealistic as they sang and danced their way to cracking open big stories, one thing was amply clear: Bollywood looked at journalism as a noble profession in those days.

Even Main Azaad Hoon (1987), which in effect paints the media as a tool of manipulation in the hands of plutocrats and politicians, doesn't show its journalist character (Shabana Azmi) in a bad light. In desperation to save her job, she cooks up a fictional character called Azaad who captures the public's imagination and turns around the fortunes of the newspaper. The villain of the piece, however, is always portrayed as the newspaper's owner who is in cahoots with a politician. 

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Turning Our Gaze to the New Face of Journalism

As cable TV began to seriously move beyond urban India in the late 1990s, the face of news also began changing. Newspapers were slowly becoming less relevant, and television news wasn't just some half-hour segment to be consumed twice a day.

Now, there were entire channels dedicated to the news, with on-ground teams reporting live from locations where anything newsworthy was happening. It was definitely flashier, and there was suddenly an element of glamour in how a journalist's work was perceived and portrayed in popular culture.

Along with the glamour came a highly visible ambition, one that dictated the narrative in the films that followed. The critical lens was perhaps first turned on this new face of journalism by Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani (2000), a satire on the race for television ratings and a film that was well ahead its time.

Has Bollywood always portrayed journalists the way they are shown in Hansal Mehta's Scoop?

Shah Rukh Khan and Juhi Chawla in a still from Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani.

(Photo Courtesy: Pinterest)

No film, however, made a larger impact than Madhur Bhandarkar's Page 3 (2005) on how the public would forever view journalistic work. While Bhandarkar's film literally follows the life of an entertainment journalist (Konkona Sen Sharma), others like Krrish (2006), Delhi 6 (2009), and Rockstar (2011) show reporters chasing stories that could make them famous.

Has Bollywood always portrayed journalists the way they are shown in Hansal Mehta's Scoop?

A poster of Madhur Bhandarkar's Page 3.

(Photo Courtesy: Pinterest)

The idealistic journalist of the 1980s-90s had forever been replaced by a more ruthless avatar who would do anything to get a sensational story, be it about a celebrity, superhero, or rogue monkeys. 

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Interpreting the Journalist's Character in Myriad Different Ways

This also meant that filmmakers could now interpret a journalist's character in myriad different ways. Some of these were positive characters, who would stop at nothing while changing the world for the better. In Guru (2007), R Madhavan plays an investigative journalist who exposes the underhand dealings of a business magnate.

In Rann (2010), Amitabh Bachchan plays a CEO who turns whistle-blower against his own channel to maintain his journalistic integrity. And in No One Killed Jessica (2011), Rani Mukerji plays an ambitious television journalist who conducts stings and exposes perjuring witnesses in a high-profile murder case.

Has Bollywood always portrayed journalists the way they are shown in Hansal Mehta's Scoop?

Rani Mukerji in No One Killed Jessica.

(Photo Courtesy: Pinterest)

These are all films that portray journalists as ambitious people, but the ruthlessness that is on display is channeled towards finding the truth.

These are stories where journalists capture the imagination of the viewing audience by doing things that make them superheroes. They take on the system, much as the angry young man of the 1970s did, by overcoming obstacles and fighting for the truth. 

Unfortunately, this superhero journalist was beginning to share screen space with that other kind of journalist, the vulture. And no other film has captured the sorry state of (television) journalism much like Anusha Rizvi's black comedy, Peepli Live (2010).

A debt-laden farmer's plight snowballs into a media circus to the point where his faeces is being analysed on air to ascertain his state of mind. As journalists flock to the fictitious village of Peepli, Rizvi takes both the principled, kurta-clad variety and the sensationalist star reporter and places them in the same boat, rowing desperately to be the first to break some news, any news.

While there will always be space for the superhero journalist in cinema, the appearance of one of these characters in a story that's not about them is highly unlikely today.

Over the past decade, we've had films like Madras Cafe (2013), Noor (2017), and Dhamaka (2021) that show passionate journalists. While the quality of these films might vary, every one of these characters is at the centre of these stories. Sadly, fewer of these stories are being told. What you have a lot more of instead, is the caricaturish vulture-reporter, waiting to pounce on what might become the next sensational story.

It's a stereotype that's so deeply entrenched that it's often used as comedic relief in our films and shows.

The most recent example of this is the character of Anuj Sanghvi (Rajpal Yadav) in Netflix's social satire Kathal (2023). Anuj from Moba News is perpetually on the lookout for some 'sansanikhez khabar' and when he finds himself being arrested as part of a larger coverup, he's not afraid to turn it to his advantage.

Anuj, unfortunately, has become the blueprint for the journalist character in Hindi cinema.

(This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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