Krrish & Tell: How Indian TV News Covers The Hrithik-Kangana Saga
An analysis of the dramatic drivel dished out by Indian news TV covering the Hrithik Roshan-Kangana Ranaut spat.
All the world loves a lover, but we in India apparently reserve all our attention and affection for alleged lover’s spats. How else do we explain the reams of newsreel dedicated to the never-ending saga of Hrithik Roshan and Kangana Ranaut?
At 8 pm on 7 October 2017, a clean-shaven, grim-mouthed Hrithik sat opposite the sentient loudspeaker, Arnab Goswami, to categorically deny that he had ever had anything to do with Kangana. No matter what the question, and these were mostly softball ones, Roshan’s answer was ‘NO’. He was never in a romantic relationship with Kangana. He never proposed to her in Paris. He never threatened to leak her private photos. He never attempted to intimidate her into silence with his wealth and connections.
All through his answers, given in an indoor-voice manner, framed as a deliberate contrast to Ranaut’s more passionate outbursts, a counter was keeping track of the number of people tweeting with Republic TV’s hashtag (#HrithikSpeakstoArnab). That number had, by the end of the show, crossed 10k.
The Trial of K
Certain literary critics of Franz Kafka’s celebrated novel The Trial suggest that the nonsensical plot is merely an occasion for its protagonist. We can easily adapt this to the given situation, and argue that a major portion of English news channels’ coverage of this story is an occasion for a social celebration of our sexism.
Republic TV’s segment, for example, had leading questions like these flashing on the screen below a split-frame between a brooding Hrithik and clips from Kangana’s films:
No truth to ‘relationship’ claim? Was Rangoli writing as Kangana? What’s the ‘Paris Proposal’ truth?
That double whammy of punctuation – inverts and question marks – weighs the game of he said-she said in Hrithik’s favour. The entire interview – the journalistic necessity of which remains extremely questionable – orchestrates the narrative of this spat along gendered lines. Hrithik is projected as the calm, rational man, who has “snapped out” of dignified silence in this exclusive due to Kangana’s relentless hysterical accusations.
The extreme power imbalance between the two is glossed over and the story becomes a familiar one: That of a woman’s tempestuousness and a man’s admirable stoicism in the face of it.
The interview is extremely reminiscent of CNN-News 18 Bhupendra Chaubey’s Viewpoint on the feud some time back. The prelude to this 25-minute show is an elaborate mea culpa, where Chaubey claims that the only reason he is devoting time and resources to this story is because it has turned into a “clear cut case of criminal harassment and forgery.” What is less clear is how that makes it any more relevant to the lives of news consumers across the country.
For a veteran sexist like Chaubey, the burden of proof rests entirely with Kangana. He accuses her of playing the “feminist card,” calls her allegations a “desperate PR gimmick” and invites Dr Harish Shetty, a psychiatrist, to diagnose her in absentia on national TV.
Times Now keeps the misogynistic ball rolling with its own exclusive about Kangana’s “shocking” emails. The segment, consisting mostly of a correspondent reading a brief paragraph allegedly written by Kangana to Hrithik, makes Fatal Attraction out of the whole enterprise. Questions like “Hrithik: Object of Obsession” and “’Silly-ex’ figment of imagination” flash like signposts in a sordid alleyway. There is also a fair amount of pearl-clutching and hypocritical righteousness about “explicit sexual content.”
For Entertainment Purpose Only
Hindi TV news coverage of this saga, while every bit as voyeuristic as its English counterpart, is refreshingly straightforward about its intentions. Far from defensive, highfalutin spiel about investigative journalism, these channels do everything to package the story as a particularly juicy piece of gossip.
Take News World India, for instance. Their 17-minute segment (called Biggest Hate Story) apprises us of the latest development – Hrithik’s official statement of denial – and then offers an extended recap. From the sing-song manner of narration (borrowed from Zoom?) to strategic clips from Krrish 3 and Kites to comparisons with other filmy jodis; there is not even the shadow of pretence that this is anything but salacious entertainment.
This doesn’t stop the coverage from taking a sexist slant. It cannot be a coincidence that both film clips embedded in this segment fit the narrative of Kangana as a difficult, deceiving temptress. The first from Krrish is a brief scene where her doe-eyed character is charged with gross betrayal by the hero; the second from Kites features her character breaking into the home of Hrithik’s character to wish him a Happy Valentines’ Day.
Zee News does an identical number by running excerpts from emails written allegedly by Kangana, where she says that she has been attracted to Hrithik since her childhood days and then diagnoses herself with Asperger’s Syndrome. At no point is the veracity of the emails questioned.
Other Hindi TV news channels have, in the past two years of coverage, employed phrases like “mohabbat ke rishte ki laash,” made liberal use of snazzy lightning-related graphics, and called upon psychiatrists to talk about Asperger’s.
Dutt’s the Way
Barkha Dutt did a 24-minute one-on-one interview with Ranaut when she was in NCR to pick up her National Film Award, and it is one of the few points of light and sanity in this quagmire.
While it is not untrue that the interview is structurally and spiritually similar to what Goswami is doing with Hrithik, ie providing a supportive platform for one side of the story, it is the only thoughtful deconstruction on a TV news channel of the misogyny that plagues the narrative of Hrithik-Kangana, the industry to which the two belong, and the larger society this industry operates in.
The conversation between the two provides crucial context: Kangana’s outsider status, her vulnerability as a young female disruptor in a particularly exploitative workplace, the sexist stereotypes that shape how her story is received, the privilege bestowed by gender, and family connections on Hrithik, etc.
That said, it is clear as a blue sunlit day that there is little journalistic merit in obsessively covering the development in this story, particularly in a year where headlines seem bent on one-upping each other every single day.
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