Psst…I've Got A Scoop For You
March 17, 2013
Mourning the death of the true blue gossip journalist.
The other day I received a rather desperate call from a journalist friend from Mumbai. He was nearing his deadline but had no story to report. He wanted to know if I could give him a juicy scoop or two from Dubai. Having handled several such calls from him in the past, I knew only too well the stress of getting a tabloid-worthy story. I passed on information I had heard from my sources here about an upcoming actor throwing a huge tantrum for an event. Unfortunately, the news didn’t make it to print. The reason: no individual involved was willing to go on record and the editor wasn’t ready to accept a mere ‘source’ based story. My friend had to start his headline-hunt all over again.
I didn’t envy him; he probably had the worst job in journalism – being a scoop (a polite version of yellow) journalist!
Bollywood journalism may be a rather disdain-worthy phrase for many but let’s admit it; we all love a bit of gossip. Who wouldn’t want to know what Ranbir Kapoor’s sleeping habits are or what the exact state of SRK’s marriage is! Even if you act puritanical (read hypocritical) and admit you can’t be bothered about filmi trash, there is no escaping it – entertainment news is page 1 news in India and film stars are needed for everything, from cricket to creating environment awareness to fighting corruption! Even high-profile news channels can’t think of a organizing a single event without the presence of filmis.
So that should ideally make the gossip journalist a much sought-after figure, right? Wrong. The sad fact is that ‘genuine’ film journalism is gasping for breath in the wake of a PR-orchestrated onslaught on news. Though stars need such scribes as a medium through which they can keep themselves relevant in these times of shrinking attention spans, the true gossip journalist is a dying breed! Most of the so-called Bollywood reporters are merely mouthpieces for celebrities.
The primary reason for this is the rise of the publicists and image managers – a relatively new phenomenon in India compared to the West. With stars behaving truly like heavenly bodies – remote and inaccessible, my depressed entertainment journalist friends say, they have no option but to turn to spokespersons and PR people for information. Needless to say, PR people ensure that any news that comes out is strictly on their own terms.
The second big reason is the number of events sponsored by media houses. Now, if you want an A-lister to dance at your trophy-distributing ceremony (also called awards nights), you can’t expose his or her secret affairs, can you?
Thirdly, there is a huge dearth of celebrities. The West has its pop stars, TV stars, rock stars and film stars; in India, cricket aside, entertainment often begins and ends with Bollywood. And here too it’s only the handful of A-listers that merit the big headlines. Naturally, every day there can’t be an affair or a brawl to keep the Bollywood pages alive. So canny stars – even the upcoming ones – along with their PRs, carefully use the media for their own purpose. Interviews, stories, quotes are all carefully planted. “It’s either planted news or no news,” rued another veteran Bollywood reporter to me recently. With the paparazzi still not finding much motivation (no one gets paid thousands or millions for a scandalous picture in India), there is little or no scope for real exposes.
It’s at times like these that one misses the stories that used to emerge from Bollywood in the past!
I remember the time during my growing up years in the 80s and 90s, when reading Stardust or a Cine Blitz was a guilty pleasure. The ‘scoop of the month’ and Neeta’s Natter, the shocking quotes of stars, the sensational revelations of hidden affairs… it was pure, unadulterated, harmless sin we loved indulging in. Going further back in time, there was the irrepressible Devyani Chaubal whose column Frankly Speaking alone sold copies galore.
Old-timers have told me it was also a time when the relationship between a star and journalist went much beyond what was printed. A senior journalist in the newspaper I earlier worked for would fondly recall her intimate, chatathons with actresses of the 70s and 80s. The love-hate relationship between the subject and the journalist made this stream extremely interesting despite it not getting the ‘respectability’ that beats like defence, politics, sports etc would. “Well, tell them (the ‘serious’ journos) to deal with monstrous star egos! Exposing the misdeeds of a politician is child’s play,” the journalist would crib.
Today, technology and professionalism have changed the rules of the game. Stars prefer talking through tweets than giving interviews. There are hundreds of websites, magazines, newspapers craving for a celeb quote which the publicists are only too happy to provide. If there is one story in a newspaper, immediately there is another negating it in a rival paper. So the real battle for headlines is not between Bombay Times and Hindustan Times or Mumbai Mirror or Mid-Day. It’s between Deepika Padukone’s PR versus Priyanka Chopra’s publicist! No wonder, the journalist’s role is at best limited to being the bearer of good or bad news.
The result is that entertainment news – despite catering to a huge, burgeoning market – has become manipulated, fake and most importantly…boring. No amount of shock value created by Priyanka Chopra’s affairs or Salman Khan’s tirade against Shah Rukh takes you by surprise any more. You know it’s all part of a big game. Scoop was when the media exposed the secret wedding of a Dharamendra and Hema Malini. Or when reports of a diva like Zeenat Aman suffering abuse by her then boyfriend Sanjay Khan and his wife emerged.
Today, news is delivered and packaged into the scribe’s inbox by helpful publicists. There is no personal touch, no joy in juicy exposes. Any wonder why the entertainment quotient has just disappeared from the lives of the entertainment journalist?