Noor’s fluffy portrait of a thoughtless journalist made this columnist think about other films that have dealt with the media’s murkiness.
|Sonakshi Sinha's portrait of a journalist in Noor (2017)|
Last week, I wrote in these pages about the 1986 film New Delhi Times, in which Shashi Kapoor’s ethical Delhi news editor finds himself pushed to the edge by political pressure and physical threats. Rakesh Sharma’s under-watched film traced the beginnings of a threatening climate for honest journalism. So it felt strangely serendipitous this week to be watching a film which might be said to bring Hindi cinema’s portrait of the crisis in journalism up to date.
Noor Roy Chowdhury, the titular protagonist of this week’s release, Noor, works as a journalist at something called The Buzz. We’re told she wants to be the next Barkha Dutt, but director Sunhil Sippy’s targeted vibe for her is more desi Bridget Jones. Noor trips clumsily on her way into her office, cribs constantly over her maid not getting the geyser fixed, obsesses loudly over her weight (which – this being Bollywood – seems totally under control), and makes louder faux pas as she waits for the hot boyfriend and big story of her dreams.
Our heroine’s blissful obliviousness about most things – journalistic and otherwise – is put to the test when a real scandal falls into her lap, pretty much alongside the much-desired hot boyfriend. Goggle-eyed with excitement at the thought of catching a big fish, Noor pushes hastily forward with the story – only to have to repent at leisure.
It’s interesting that something very similar happens to Shashi Kapoor’s character Vikas Pande in New Delhi Times – although unlike Sonakshi Sinha’s Noor, Vikas is both seasoned and conscientious, and his failing is not thoughtlessness but an inability to see that he is being used – until it is too late. Although thirty years apart, and hugely different in intent and tone, both films focus on journalists so caught up in what they thought was the big picture that they sacrifice the individuals at the centre of their story.
In the same period as New Delhi Times, Jagmohan Mundhra’s Kamla – based on a script by the legendary playwright Vijay Tendulkar – also tells an acerbic tale about a journalist intoxicated on his own power. In Mundhra’s film, Marc Zuber plays a star reporter called Jaisingh Jadhav who decides to ‘buy’ a young woman from a tribal area in Madhya Pradesh and bring her back to Delhi. His reason, he says, is “Desh ka aam aadmi jo bhayaanak nashe mein jee raha hai, usse jhatka deke jagaana hai.” Which is all very well. But right from letting Kamla believe that he’s ‘bought’ her, to cruelly forcing her to wear her ragged saree to a press conference that ends up as a sexist free-for-all, Jadhav’s insensitivity to the bewildered, childlike Kamla belies all his high-minded statements. If it is the tragic state of humanity he is out to expose, one begins to feel, he should perhaps have started with himself.
Kamla’s depiction of Delhi’s journalistic world is bleak. The film’s Press Club scenes have journalists either sitting around playing cards, or talking trash. Once a female journalist is seen retouching her lipstick before her supposed meeting with a minister – who is ‘Suresh Darling’ to her. Later, in the drunken, orgy-esque ‘press conference’ (which contains no sex but the pervasive suggestion of it being on people’s minds), far from offering the poor tribal woman a buffer against a horde of camera-wielding men, the same woman emerges as the flag-bearer of the press’s urban middle class hypocrisy, making crude remarks about Kamla’s adivasi way of wearing her sari as her ease with ‘displaying her body’.
Meanwhile, Jadhav’s penchant for sensational exposes is juxtaposed with the old-school journalism of his wife’s uncle Kakasahab (AK Hangal), who makes a caustic remark that rings truer now that it probably did then: “Haan bhai, nowadays a man is as successful as the number of phone calls he receives”. Later he makes the point that journalism cannot only be about showing us ‘how’ and ‘what’ is happening – it must also try to say ‘why’.
Cinematic censure against journalism, of course, reached its peak in Madhur Bhandarkar’s 2005 hit drama Page 3, in which Konkona Sen Sharma’s Madhavi tries her best to move from covering high society to exposing its grimmest underbelly – which turns out to be child prostitution: it was a Madhur Bhandarkar film, after all. Naturally, her big story is nipped in the bud. Over a decade later, Sonakshi Sinha in Noor is struggling to make a similar leap, and after a difficult interlude that is actually much more difficult for her informant than herself, she triumphs – with the aid of social media.
Page 3, Kamla and New Delhi Times may feel dated, but in their clear-eyed pessimism, they seem much more in tune with the journalistic present than Noor is.
Published in Mumbai Mirror, 23 Apr 2017.