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Guest Column<br>Retrofit: Amitabh Bachchan on ‘Rann’ and news television

28-January-2010
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Guest Column<br>Retrofit: Amitabh Bachchan on ‘Rann’ and news television

There is a new telly journo school in town. Its crusty old head tutor is good old Sunny Deol of ‘Border’ and ‘Gaddar’ vintage. Many of our news anchors have drafted themselves in for refresher courses. The idea is to take lessons in the Sunny Deol style of shouting, or was it acting. The once beefy Deol made a career out of his trademark shouting, be it ‘Ghayal’ or ‘Border’ or ‘Ghatak’ or ‘Gaddar’ or even the more recent ‘Jo Bole So Nihal’. Deol very annoyingly mastered the art of hurling invective at Pakistan. And mind you, he was extremely successful at this.

There are one or two anchors in news telly land who thrive in Pak bashing, then China bashing, and now Aussie bashing. One would think that India has opened three fronts simultaneously against the three nations. Such is the intensity of the tower of babble. But with the velocity of the attacks having been toned down against at least one of the nations - Pakistan - since the promoters of the channel have decided to involve themselves in a peace initiative called ‘Aman Ki Asha’, the fusillade in the Australian theatre of operations has escalated fiercely. The Aussies, who practice a strange kind of inverted snobbery thinking that they are better than everyone else, are not helping themselves by carrying out a non-stop raft of attacks against Indian students.

Sadly, restraint is a word which doesn't find place in the lexicon of our news telly wallahs, driven as they are by the ratings and revenues game. This version of R & R is eroding their very edifice of credibility.

Since 26/11, many searching questions have been asked of our news telly wallahs. In fact, they have failed several rounds of catechism – H1N1 flu epidemic, border transgressions by China, racial attacks in Australia, the smiling like a Cheshire cat Rathore and many other inexplicable decisions are cases in point. Against this backdrop, Ramu aka Ram Gopal Varma is readying to release ‘Rann’, hopefully an eye opening insight into the world of news telly. Ramu is known for his intensity as a filmmaker. His body of work is littered with many gems. And of course turkeys which defy logic. But if ‘Rann’ is anything close to an oeuvre brimming with ‘Shiva’, ‘Rangeela’, ‘Satya’, ‘Company’, ‘Sarkar’, ‘Sarkar Raj’, then we are in good hands. The important thing is that Ramu is trying to put news telly under the microscope so that its warts can be exposed. If he is true to his art, then expect something gripping and riveting. If he is in a ‘Ramu Ki Aag’ or ‘Nishabd’ type of mind set, then expect another shocker.

I read an interview with Ramu in Delhi Times the other day, where he says that many of the characters in ‘Rann’ are influenced by real people from the world of news telly. Amitabh Bachchan, for instance, has been inspired by Dr Prannoy Roy, according to Ramu; Ritiesh Deshmukh by Srinivasan Jain, Paresh Rawal is an amalgamation of several politicians and so on. Thus, ‘Rann’ undoubtedly has a tremendous curiosity factor. And with the movie's release having been delayed due to scheduling hassles after the producers versus exhibitors face-off, this has got accentuated. On his blog, Ramu had this to write about media sometime in 2008 - "What the media basically does is it just strips everybody and makes money out it. The only difference between a strip-teaser and the media is that a strip-teaser bares herself so that others can enjoy her and give money, and the media strips others so that some others can enjoy and give them the money."

Ramu was pilloried by the media for visiting the Taj Mahal Hotel after it was devastated in the 26/11 terror attacks along with then Maharashtra Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh and his son Retiesh. So, there must be a lot of angst boiling inside. If his movie is anything like this quote, then I guess Ramu is alive and well as a filmmaker.

Amitabh Bachchan on ‘Rann’

I decided to ask Vijay Harshvardhan Malik (sorry Amitabh Bachchan), the main protagonist of the film, as to what ‘Rann’ is all about, whether it indulges in media bashing and what is its raison d etre? Amitabh Bachchan, who has collaborated marvelously well with Ramu in ‘Sarkar’ and ‘Sarkar Raj’, believes that Ramu has always offered him challenging situations, even while presenting him brilliantly. Bachchan has also had a love hate relationship with the media, which goes back over the 40 years that he has spent in filmdom. At the same time, he is fascinated by media's complexities. This leads one to believe that one should expect another tour de force from the combine. Excerpts from the interview with Amitabh Bachchan...

Why did you agree to doing ‘Rann’, does the media and its complexity fascinate you?

I agreed to do ‘Rann’ because it was a Ram Gopal Varma film. Ramu, as he is fondly called, has been a passionate maker and I enjoy working with him. He has always presented me well and offered me challenging situations in the stories he creates. Yes, the media and its complexities do fascinate me and ‘Rann’ did carry some of the complexities when it was narrated to me.

Media has evolved over the years that you have been in entertainment, from the days of Doordarshan to satellite television, do you believe news telly in India is restrained and effective in doing its job?

I am not an authority in judging whether television in India has remained restrained or effective in doing its job. The onus of this must fall on those that construct guidelines for media in the country. As I see it, media has a job to do, much as I and others have a job to do. How we execute our respective jobs should be guided by our own acumen, or within the acumen of those that set examples and principles for us. In a rapidly changing world of communication, it would be difficult to maintain a set given code of conduct. I would imagine that the apparatus that the medium is in possession of would give an indication how best to use it. You may be owning a private jet and never use it to travel. Conversely, you may be the owner of a bicycle and making optimum use of it to get from one place to the other. Depends on what and which philosophy you wish to follow. Having said that, we cannot ignore the pressures of competition that various media now face. Competition may well push one to extremes and I wonder whether restraint and effectiveness are necessarily being considered in the middle of a news and entertainment battle. Well, any battle actually!

I notice that you are back to playing Vijay, why are you enamoured of this name? What is Vijay Harshvardhan Malik’s role in ‘Rann’, how do you define it?

The name in the script when written was simply Harshvardhan Malik. I asked Ramu to put a Vijay in front of it with the hope that it would bring success, much like some of my other ‘Vijayed’ films. (Laughs) Vijay Harshvardhan Malik is the owner of a TV channel, an established anchor, erudite, honest and with a voice that carries immense credibility. When he speaks, the nation listens and more importantly, believes. He is thrust into a dilemma that I believe most people in his position would - that of compromising conscience to enhance business or compromising business to keep his conscience intact. The journalist or the media that he represents being of course in the belief, that they are the conscience of the nation.

In the Capital today, you said that it is not a film which indulges in media bashing, then what is the message that one needs to take away from this film?

That like every other commercial mainstream escapist film made in India, the viewer shall be witness to poetic justice in two hours. You and I may never get poetic justice for ourselves in an entire lifetime; perhaps several lifetimes!

How do you view contemporary news television media, what are its warts and inadequacies?

News television media is still young and in its infancy, but growing up very rapidly. For a nation that has gained its independence just over 60 years back, we have done remarkably better than many others coming out from similar conditions. In order to forge ahead and keep up with the rest of the world, we would have to make 'quantum leaps'. Every time we do that, we shall create and leave behind a vacuum. The vacuum is the reason for some of our 'warts' and 'inadequacies'. This is a normal and natural occurrence; one that we shall have to face, but one that I sincerely believe we have the capacity to overcome.

What did you think of its coverage of 26/11?

Good in many respects, but overenthusiastic in some others, resulting in inadvertently helping out the terrorists.

Many years ago Shashi Kapoor acted in ‘New Delhi Times’, based loosely on the life of Arun Shourie and his relationship with Ramnath Goenka, while Abhishek himself played Guru, where he was pitted against Mithunda playing Ramnath Goenka again. What is the raison d etre behind ‘Rann’?

A story of everyday life set in a background of the electronic media.

(Sandeep Bamzai is a well-known journalist, who started his career as a stringer with The Statesman in Kolkata in 1984. He has held senior editorial positions in some of the biggest media houses in three different cities - Kolkata, Mumbai and New Delhi. In late 2008, he joined three old friends to launch a start-up – Sportzpower Network – which combines his two passions of business and sport. Familiar with all four media – print, television, Internet and radio, Bamzai is the author of three different books on cricket and Kashmir.

The views expressed here are of the writer’s and not those of the editors and publisher of exchange4media.com.)

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