In Graham Greene’s 1955 novel The Quiet American, Thomas Fowler is a British journalist in his mid-50s, and posted in Saigon. He is a fearless reporter and believes in conveying facts to the reader. Fowler is the epitome of an ideal journalist who is driven by the missionary zeal to expose wrongdoing and injustice in society.
The role of the media, as we know it, is to present news to the reader in all its shades — white, black or grey. For a journalist, it takes guts and conviction to go against the grain and stand up for what he or she believes in.
Bollywood movies have largely shown journalists in an unflattering light. They have been depicted as manipulative social climbers and morally fallible because they are aware of which side their bread is buttered. There have also been some films that have portrayed them as idealists and social crusaders.
In Mashaal (1984), Dilip Kumar is an honest journalist who runs a newspaper called Mashaal. He exposes business and political shenanigans through his investigative stories. Trouble starts brewing when he blows the lid off a drug trafficking business run by a wealthy and respected businessman. That magnate (Amrish Puri) then tries to buy his silence by offering him money but the ploy doesn’t work as the journalist is honest.
Scam 1992 (2020), an edge-of-the-seat web series, deals with the infamous Harshad Mehta scam of the 90s. The movie revolves around Sucheta Dalal, an intrepid woman journalist of the 90s. Her untiring efforts get to the bottom of Harshad Mehta’s financial shenanigans and piece together the jigsaw puzzle that link the scamster to the stock market.
Sucheta (played by Shreya Dhanwanthary) succeeds in focusing public attention on how Mehta threw the banking system and stock markets into turmoil. The movie is a paean to courageous women journalists in our country who display immense commitment in the face of challenges.
The hugely disturbing New Delhi Times (1986) conveys the fundamental duality that plagues all journalists — the adrenaline rush of chasing a good story that is also a human tragedy. Fearless newspaper editor Vikas Pande (Shashi Kapoor) manages to save press photographer Anwar in a communally volatile Ghaziabad. When they reach their hotel room, Anwar says, “On reaching here, I found out that riots have erupted. I was thrilled. I just jumped at it.” A visibly surprised Pande asks him, “You are thrilled by riots?” and Anwar says, “You understood exactly what I was saying. You found a good story. I clicked some good photographs. What else?”
In the satirical comedy Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro (1983), a canny and opportunistic female editor of a magazine exploits two young and gullible photographers by asking them to shoot snaps of a killer so that she could blackmail him to extort money. The movie scathingly exposes the seamier side of journalism where even an editor can misuse his or her authority for money.
In Mumbai Meri Jaan (2008), the fiancé of a successful female TV reporter dies in a bomb explosion in the first-class compartment of a local train. The news channel she works for decides to milk her personal tragedy to ramp up its TRP rating.
Peepli Live (2010), a dark comedy on TV journalism, adroitly captures the desperate hunt for TRP ratings among channels. In the movie, an impecunious farmer decides to commit suicide knowing well that after his death, his family will get a hefty compensation from the government. When a journalist gets wind of this, he immediately gloms on to this incident and goes live, with the viewers glued to their TV sets watching the minute-by-minute spectacle unfolding before their eyes.
In web series Paatal Lok (2020), the megalomaniac editor of a news channel (Neeraj Kabi) with a Machiavellian streak, is so blinded by his image and popularity that truth hardly matters in the larger scheme of things. His social conscience has hit the buffers.
Every profession has a few bad apples but there are a large number of equally dedicated members who keep their noses to the grindstone in pursuit of excellence and journalists are no exception.
(The writer is a Delhi-based journalist)