13 July 2010
The Angry Old Man vs Jackass Journalist
Dear Mr. Amitabh Bachchan,
Chances are very low that you will read this blog because you are a superstar while I am not. But I was tempted to write this following your fascinating exchanges with my fellow journalist Rajeev Masand of CNN-IBN (whom I have never met) on Twitter. Since it concerns critical aspects of journalistic and media conduct (and this blog is on media issues), I decided to jump in.
I have once in the past talked about film critics and filmmakers clashing when I wrote about the conflict between Khalid Mohamed (who has been a colleague of sorts twice in my career) and Ram Gopal Varma.
Today, I write about your taking offence to Mr. Masand calling Akshay Kumar a “jackass” I would have expected Mr. Kumar to defend himself, given his strength and propensity to jump from tall buildings for something as minor as a Thums Up bottle, but it was nice of you to marshal your formidable intellectual resources to defend Akki.
I know you are not in love with the media.
In the 1970s, you and Stardust were estranged for a long time, before they decided to say you won. Nice of them. But Stardust did survive for long without The Big B, because they believed that what they wrote was as important as the subjects they wrote on.
Things have changed, however. The simple fact is that film gossip sells. We in the media write reviews and carry gossip for the same reason why Bollywood stars dance around trees. It sells or appeals to our readers/audience, the same way your wriggles and strange outfits impress the people we call fans. Occasionally, the fans and readers turn out to be the same folks.
Was it not you who said in a rare and famous interview to Madhu Jain of Indian Express that you get paid a lot for dancing around trees because the difficult thing is to make “something stupid look convincing.?”
You work for your producers, directors and fans.
Mediapersons work for their publishers, editors and readers/viewers/listeners – as the case maybe. That includes critics.
We often are in different industries and address different audiences.
In case you think film journalists are part of the film fraternity, I urge you to think differently. It is true that some journalists become close to filmstars to get stories, but that is an occupational hazard. Unfortunately, some in the process end up with more groupism than journalism in their track records.
Journalists compete with each other for stories, and are known more to fight within their fraternity than jump to each other’s defence. Sadly, we are not invested with the comradely loyalty of the kind you bestow upon Mr. Akshay Kumar.
Mr. Masand has defended himself in his own way, but I have to stand up for him today not to defend him but to make a point.
Just as film journalists carry filmstar gossip and delve into their private lives to please their audience, it turns out that Bollywood has also dubiously stepped into the media realm to please its own film promotions. There is a peculiar controversy or media story that is spun artificially around movies every time there is a release due. I call this the abuse of the media, and the media stupid to fall for this. But guess what? This sells, too.
In the latest incident, Mr.Masand is understandably offended by Mr. Akshay Kumar’s visit to the ailing R.K. Laxman. I will not stand up for him calling Mr. Kumar a “jackass” for doing so in promoting his forthcoming film (in which he ostensibly plays cartoonist Laxman’s “Common Man”). But I will instead stand up –like you have done for Akki – for Mr. Laxman.
Rasipuram Krishnaswamy Laxman is India’s most respected cartoonist. Undisputably. He is the Amitabh Bachchan and more for a generation of mediapersons – if not two or three. Do you think it is decent to use the illness of a venerated figure and build a publicity campaign around it for a movie?
Has Mr. Akshay Kumar ever before in his career crossed paths with the eminent cartoonist? Why is he behaving like a cartoon when the grand old man of Indian cartooning is lying ill?
Look hard, Mr. Bachchan. Mr. Masand is only doing for Mr. Laxman what you are doing for Mr. Akshay Kumar.
The media is an institution. It has a social responsibility. It has a dignity, too.
I should think Rajeev Masand is a jackass for tweeting in casual language. I would have preferred him to say, “Akshay Kumar’s cheap use of Laxman’s illness for film promo is insensitive and sad.”
Perhaps he used the word jackass for the same reason you did my favourite drunken scene in Amar, Akbar Anthony. It kind of makes people remember you.
Considering the consideration(your expression in Namak Halal), I would urge you to understand that it is best for the media and the film industry to have a healthy Chinese Wall between them. Or call it an arm’s length. My intention is not to hurt you. I do not expect you to be an Angry Old Man, anymore than I expect Rajeev Masand to be a Jackass Journo.
It so happens that journalists, in their dog-eat-dog keyboard-pushing deadline-driven careers, have their own dignity and professionalism, not visible to your famous eyes.
It is your job to defend your dignity. It is our job to speak up for ours.
If you are reading this by chance, having taken time off from your busy career as TV host, model, actor and celebrity father-in-law, I thank you for your valuable time and giving me an opportunity to liven up an otherwise dull media industry blog.
P.S. I hope Rajeev Masand can smile at my description of him as a jackass. Among our myriad shortcomings, we journalists can sometimes laugh at ourselves.