30 August 2005

Film-shilm: Whose critic is (s)he anyway?

So I read a review in the Indian Express, telling me that "No entry" is a movie that should be avoided. An unfamiliar byline in Deccan Herald says it is fun.
My guess is that the latter is a newbie to the media, fresh out of a college, and enjoying herself--like the average youthful viewer.
Brings us to the question on film criticism: Is the reviewer someone who advises the reader to see or not to see a movie? Or is that someone imposing her/his standards on the reader? Or is this some arty critic using exalted standards of Cinema with a capital C, gorging on Truffauts like waffles for breakfast?
I broadly welcome the dumbing down of movie reviews, at least for their ability to connect with the average reader. But I would prefer reviews that assess films in their genre and mix healthy criticism with a feel for the readership. Easier said than done.
Writing for the Dumb requires a lot of Intelligence.
And it reminds me of a famous quote from Amitabh Bachchan, who was once asked why he was paid so much for running around trees.
Answer: "It is very difficult to make something stupid look convincing!"

24 August 2005

Columnist blues: Opinion vs Bias

If you thought columnists voiced opinions, and it was a natural thing, it may pay to think again on the issue.
Opinions are one thing, bias is another. One is about a point of view, the other is about integrity.

News is out that a New York Times columnist faces a defamation complaint from Institutional Shareholder Services, a reputed advisory agency that offers its considered opinion. It seems from the story that the columnist accused it of bias, and ended up facing the same charge! Is it okay to hurt reputations?
Here is the story:

And here is the column:

In India, this could be food for thought after a recent incident involving a planned (but not real) privilege motion against Pioneer columnist Swapan Dasgupta after he questioned the neutrality of the Lok Sabha speaker, Somnath Chatterjee, using some data and plenty of vitriol to paint the chair with the speaker's communist red. But the columnist is a well-known saffron sympathiser!
We can bring this colour scheme down to political mudslinging but that does not mean that we can abandon measured thoughts on where a columnist becomes biased and where s/he voices a well-thought-out opinion. In such cases, both the reputation of the columnist and the facts in question play a role.
Of course, the moot point, as the cliche goes, is that a columnist with a sustained bias is called an intellectual with a right to ideological twists, but when the speaker does it, he is partial. We are talking chairs here, not people.
Strange, but I didn't hear in the Pioneer episode of any significant cries of bias from the opposition benches that was loud enough. Were they bowing to authority, or was the columnist--in his own outdated British lingo--more loyal than the queen?

22 August 2005

Baa, Bahu and the Maturing of The Indian Soap

Good news for Ekta-bashers!
Star Plus's new soap, "Baa Bahu and Baby," may be changing the rules of Indian soap. Shrewdly positioned to seamlessly start at the end of Kaun Banega Crorepati II on weekends, the show about a somewhat middle class business family from Gujarat has literary shades, discusses work ethics and simple values, eschewing Ekta Kapoor's formula of Conspiring and Scheming women in a tug-of-war for men's hearts and purses, loaded in the umpteen K serials. At the very least, Baa speaks of variety in TV serials, and at the most, it could mean a maturing of the soap in India to include some shades of realism and a plumbing down of the market to include the less than industrialist khandaans. We would love to watch the TRPs on this one!

Celebrate! It is the end of Faking News

It is official, finally!
No less than the head of TAM says that news channel viewers don't really care much about "breaking news" --or who broke the news first, and are more concerned about quality of coverage. Here is the story:
And a reaction talk-shop:
For at least 3 years now, channels have been breaking out trivial bits of information, and spending more time and money than brain work, in pretending to lead the field...Do viewers really care? Apparently, they want more value from the coverage.
Let us hope this would knock some sense into those who mistake rigged athletics for journalism.

18 August 2005

Parineeta Pandey: Mythical period marriages

My Independence Day weekend was spent watching "Parineeta" while crowds outside the multiplex rushed to watch "The Rising" a.k.a. Mangal Pandey. There is a common thread between the two period movies. Uma Mahadevan-Dasgupta (who blogs as well) in a recent piece in the Hindu compared Parineeta with its original by Sarat Chandra, bringing in relevant points to show that the 1960s adaptation by Vindo Chopra of the story originally set in 1914 was a travesty of the times it was portraying.
But I liked the movie much as I agreed with the author.
In the post-Devadas period chic, the beauty of the sets and the heroines, and an opulent romance, are what drive movie goers, not the genteel sensitivities and social motifs of ye olde classics. Cinema verite? Forget it, dahlings!
Like in Parineeta, Mangal Pandey is also cast in a dubious mould.
If romance is the leitmotif of new-age literature re-makes, pop patriotism replaces authentic history in political movies. One blogger, in dense academese, makes some fine points on 1857 (http://ssaklani.blogspot.com) effectively to suggest that there is a whole load of myths about the man who staged the first war of Indian independence and the movement itself...Rudrangshu Mukherjee's book on the first freedom fighter, coinciding with the movie, also provides a reality check to the movie.
In the world of feelgood period movies, there is little those with an appetite for facts can really do. How about petitioning the directors to show a disclaimer? : "Any resemblence to real history is purely coincidental"!
And so, I await a new period movie in which Mangal Pandey travels in a time machine and woos Parineeta with a guitar, which must be made of oak to show the period authenticity.
Welcome to surreality chic!

10 August 2005

Anchor-white toothpaste: On your TV channel

Pssst! Wanna buy a tube of Anchor-white toothpaste?
Two years ago, it was the turn of Hindi channels to start a merry-go-round of anchor-poaching. Aajtak's faces cropped up on Zee News, NDTV India and Doordarshan, and some moved back, and later, Channel 7 joined in. This year is the partner-swapping season for English channels. With IBN and Times Now poaching anchors from familiar grounds, it seems like a good time to be a recognisable face on TV.
But I think TV Today's Aroon Purie may soon have an I-told-you grin on his face. Aajtak made no great attempt to retain its anchors when the last battle of the faces happened and it nearly seemed they had made a mistake. Now, it may be proved right, perhaps.
Two of its old faces are back alongside the familiar red logo.
By Diwali this year, we shall probably see more old faces in new environs. CNBC has lost some well-known faces to Times Now, and NDTV is set to see some of its known faces on IBN. My hunch is that faces will become less and less associated with channel brands and that could be good news for the channels after some initial rounds of anxiety. This could lead to the "commoditisation of anchors", perhaps. The brands will become tubes and anchors the commodity toothpaste inside. Am I being pessimistic about anchors? I hope I am wrong!
This you-poach-my-anchor-and-I'll-poach-yours game may have its limits as viewers dissociate faces from logos. When the dust settles, there will be other winning formulae.
I am not going to tell you what they are.

When the PM gently weeps...

The Economic Times reports in a dramatic lead that Manmohan Singh wants out.
Seems the prime minister feels lonely in the Congress benches, with party people not supporting his reformist measures enough, and sounding more like the Left parties...(With friends like that...).
Great story, I thought (by Girish Kuber).
One, it says Mr. Singh expressed his tiredness and frustration in several meetings, sort of proving that the story was on strong ground. And then, the story also manages a nice quote from Mr. Singh's spokesman, which does not amount to a denial: "I don't want to talk to you on this issue!"
(I noticed that the PM's spokesman is a former editor of the reporter who wrote the fine story!).
I wonder how all the leading lights of the capital's news brigade missed this stuff if Mr.Singh indeed so frustrated. They must have been on cha-biscuits at PIB!
Sometimes, such stories are "planted" to build public opinion or score small political points. But, when there is merit in the back-up facts, the stories manage to break new ground. I suspect this one does.
(P.S.--The story has since been denied officially by the Congress, but it still seems on solid ground...a plant of sorts, but relevant to reflect the PM's mood)

9 August 2005

Desi Dukes: A Southside Story

I enjoyed reading Anubha Sawhney's story in the Times of India on Jay Chandrasekhar's box-office magic last weekend with "Dukes of Hazzard"...managing to quickly detail the Indian origins and nomenclatural quirks of Jayant Jumbulingam Chandrasekhar, the next big Tamil gift to Hollywood after Manoj Night Shyamalan. But I struggled to confirm the vital detail....and had to turn the "continued on" page to find out that he was indeed the director of the movie.
I find that in newswriting, reporters tend to delay or miss some vital point which can make a reader restless. Hitting the small stuff early can work wonders. The deskers who need to be alert on this are often caught sleeping at the keyboard (as it were!).
But the story deserves praise (Gee! I avoided saying kudos!)...Sitting in Delhi, the reporter made a quick front-page connect with the reader, and even managed to stay ahead of the paper's prolific and passionate Washington correspondent, who never misses a detail of the "desi-derata" he writes so well about.
Maybe he could not stomach the official subtext: He is no longer the wittiest South Indian in America!
(p.s. Apologies to Chids. Could not resist that one!:))

8 August 2005

When showbiz follows journalists

There is a new Kannada movie out called "News" which I don't propose to see, as the reviews are not exciting. But I like the storyline: One TV channel breaks big news too often, and a rival company sends its investigative reporter to find out how!
Journalism/media movies are engaging, and it is my regret that I haven't yet seen some classics, like
Citizen Kane (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0033467/) ,
The Front Page(http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0071524/) and
Network (http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0074958/)

I have enjoyed seeing He Said She Said (love story on two anchors).
Having seen more of Bollywood than Hollywood, I have more expsoure on the theme closer home, like "New Delhi Times" which was a fine portrayal mixing politics with journalism, and of course, this year's "Page Three" on the cultural politics of the party circuit. "Jaane Bhi Do Yaro" of the early 1980s, is a comic, cynical portrayal of two naive reporters. There was also a nice TV comedy called "Chhapte, Chhapte" and another serial called "Newsline" on life in a broadcast company.
Irving Wallace's novel, "The Almighty" is about a newspaper baron who "creates" events in order to break news on them!
I am not talking here of movies like the classic "Roman Holiday" featuring Gregory Peck as a reporter-hero, because it is more about the man than the profession or society.
Will someone help me compile a list of media-centric movies/shows/fiction?

Peter Jennings, R.I.P.: Amitabh of anchors

I have fond personal memories of seeing Peter Jennings, the ABC anchor who has just died.
Those were the days when India had no cable TV or news channels, and colour had just visited television. And, I would visit the American Center every week to watch weeks-old videotapes of ABC news, broadcast one day of the week, I don't remember which. The joy of watching real TV news, complete with a suave anchor, was then sheer magic in a nation where Doordarshan was dull and drab. I do miss those DD anchors, for reasons of nostalgia more than professional liking.
But Peter Jennings was like Amitabh Bachchan, with a wonderful mix of what I call American ease and British dignity (I learn he is Canadian, and that might figure!).
I did not much fancy the ABC news selection, which focused too much on the then usual U.S.-centric obsessions like the Cold War and Cuba. But it was all worth it to watch Jennings, finely dressed, elegantly curt, with a chiselled face and wonderful voice.
Here is the story of his passing. Am glad to know that he died in peace, having lived a full life.


4 August 2005

Business vs Media: Self vs Reliance

I was wondering why NDTV was going overboard covering Mukesh Ambani's shareholder meeting speech last night at 9 p.m. (when it usually covers not business but diplomacy, Bihar or the shenanigans of the Sangh Parivar!). The answer came in this story, involving a ban on NDTV by Anil Ambani from his post-AGM news conference earlier in the day.

The story shows NDTV responsibly used a wire agency story to serve its viewers, but it still begs the question as to why Mukesh should get so much prominence in its flagship general news channel, all of a sudden. (A big of divide-and-rule helps us get stories, I do confess!).
And the younger Ambani, nursing an empire that he just inherited, should perhaps learn from his late father, who he adores so much, how to gracefully bypass unpleasant confrontations with the media.
This Press vs Business clash is not new anywhere in the world. But both the media and the businesses concerned are perhaps better off handling things with a touch of class. That's easier said than done. So I am just doing some loud thinking today.
Take a look at this story involving the venerable Los Angeles Times and the auto giant General Motors, which suspended ads to the paper after its auto critic trashed its CEO (since then, peace has broken out!)

There used to be an old saying:"If it is good for GM, it is good for America."
And sometime in the 1990s, we heard "If it is good for Reliance, it must be good for India."
Strangely, both these big names are in less-than-excellent confrontation with the media!

3 August 2005

The Rise of "Personal" Journalism

Take a look at this personal account of the rains that lashed Mumbai. With blogging on the rise, there will be many useless, self-involved stuff, but some, like the one below, show how people will begin perceiving and expressing reality in many more ways. And some will emerge as stars in their own right.


2 August 2005

DNA: Premature obituaries are naive

I saw this piece about Mumbai's hot-new paper, DNA. It pronounces that the product is not really going to dethrone the Times of India (a claim never made by the challengers in the first place). It is a timely, relevant article based on a panel discussion. And I do believe first impressions matter and expectations were high from the paper. Here is the story.


But one is reminded of a Mark Twain saying:
Rumours of my death are greatly exaggerated.

DNA, Daily News and Analysis for the uninitiated, has just been launched, defying the monsoon-fed paralysis of Mumbai, against a formidable opposition. Looking back, it took the Telegraph years to dethrone the Statesman in Calcutta (oops, Kolkata) despite the late C.R. Irani (bless his soul!) moving more into real estate than the Fourth Estate. India Today's early issues were decidedly shoddy before it became a powerful, rich magazine.
Methinks early editions give some flavour, but may not be the Real McCoy.
Exchange4media may jump to hasty conclusions, but the Jains, who know how to run a big publishing house, will most likely not!
(I haven't seen DNA yet, so I don't propose to say anything on that now).

The Coming Fall of the Mass Media?

A few days ago (in an entry last month), I had mentioned "Bhelpuri" news--a do-it-yourself approach in which news will become more tailored to the viewer, thanks to new technologies. CBS is already on it.
Now, a company called Current TV, launchd by former U.S. president Al Gore, is taking the media to the next level, where amateur broadcasts will get prominence. Here is a story for details.

And here is the site http://www.current.tv

What does all this mean?
Precisely that the coming of blogs, podcasts, amateur videos and cheaper digital technologies are giving a chaotic mix of opportunities and threats to the media industry. If you look at the ads thrown up above entries like this, you begin to see the possibilities. Advertisers and publishers have their challenges coming up, and nobody is going to have an easy time.
For journalists, this is a moment of truth: Accept, if you have not already, that this is the decline, if not fall, of the age of the mass media. You may be a niche celebrity but your neighbour may not recognise you. Your opinion or news may be excellent, but it may not carry with the ease with which it did in the good old 20th century. On the other hand, I expect a new system of intermediaries to emerge and alter the landscape. And that could mean a new form of mass media.
The rules are changing, but the basic game is the same: Human beings want to communicate with each other!

1 August 2005

Mumbai Rains: After the Deluge, the Media!

I found this piece on Mumbai's rains quite exhaustive.


NDTV made up at the weekend after a slow start with excellent live coverage of Mumbai's rain ravages, with correspondents being there.

I am yet to see a decent piece on urban planning. The key point is that Mumbai's problems are not its own. It is about why there is no meaningful urban infrastructure in many parts of India. If there was, there would not be so much migration to Mumbai!