Pehle dharma neta, phir raj neta, ab abhineta. That's how Rajat Sharma, Chairman, India TV, described the hattrick of videotape exposes scored by his young news channels that spent the better part of Sunday airing a videotape that brought into the open Bollywood's infamous casting couch phenomenon.
First came the videotapes showing the sexual escapades of sadhus of Swaminarayan Temple in Ahmedabad. Then came the videotapes exposing the carnal depravity of two well-known political leaders of Bihar. And this Sunday it was the turn of senior actor Shakti Kapoor to be caught red-handed promising a young girl entry into Bollywood if she would have sex with him!
In a series of investigative CDs that have evoked nearly 60,000 SMSs, letters, phone calls -- and much praise and envy -- India TV is suddenly rocking, and the market is awake to what this channel has managed to crank up in a short time.
Is this new-age journalism? Is it a throwback to the mid-70s and early 80s era of investigative journalism in the print media? Have the typewriter guerillas of that era found a new avatar in today's small-screen guerillas! Or is it simply a relentless drive for TRPs?
When asked by exchange4media, Sharma's reply was very straightforward: "If you look at it carefully, it's new-age investigative journalism. It's the kind of stuff I promised when we launched India TV. Be it questioning the conduct of religious leaders, our politicians who have different standards for themselves, or the casting couch that we have brought to the nation's notice, this is modern-day reality TV. Just that the way we've packaged it with a 360-degree understanding of television news."
360-degree TV news
What does Sharma mean by 360-degree understanding of TV news? "Well, in all three cases, we have everything on video. Every word of what we have said is supported by visual evidence. That's different from investigative journalism that we've been seeing in the print media. Besides, we've packaged and promoted the videos with much sensitivity. We've blanked out the faces of the victims of the Swaminarayan Temple sadhus. In the case of politicians jumping into honey traps, we've ensured that nothing was aired until the votes were locked in the electronic voting machines, but thereafter, we went the whole hog on counting day much to the dismay of our competition. As for the CD this Sunday, we have brought the casting couch debate out from the closet."
Having done its journalistic bit, India TV was not lacking in deriving the maximum marketing capital out of this. It roped in DTH operator Dish TV to help set up mobile displays of the content across hot spots in the National Capital Region (NCR) and Mumbai. Remarked Sharma, "Thousands and thousands of viewers sampled the content, joined our forums and thrilled us with their support. That's what I mean by 360-degree understanding: packing sensitivity and strategy, timing and technology, and then get citizens to participate not just in lean-back mode, but as a valued partner."
So who is next on the firing line of the channel's deadly sting videos? Sharma ducked the question, preferring to keep things tight to his chest. "For me, exposing misdeeds is the mission," is all that he would say.
For those who may have missed the videotape on Sunday, India TV showed filmstar Shakti Kapoor saying that top actresses in the Mumbai film industry have slept with top directors to reach their present positions. Kapoor claimed that "Aishwarya Rai slept with director Subhash Ghai to achieve dizzy heights in her career". To buttress his point, Kapoor was seen and heard saying that actresses "Preity Zinta and Rani Mukherjee slept with (director-producer) Yash Johar". Johar, who is the father of Gen-Next film director Karan Johar, died some months ago.
Kapoor was caught in a sting operation by India TV's team of undercover reporters. A female reporter contacted Kapoor for help to gain entry into the Mumbai film world. He agreed to meet her in a hotel room. Within minutes he agreed to help her but in lieu of a quid pro quo -- sexual favours. When the girl did not appear to be convinced, Kapoor offered her help in losing weight, supporting her through acting and dance training, etc. "Once Shakti (Kapoor) backs you, no one will touch you," he told her, while consistently begging the undercover reporter to let him "make love" to her. He then went on to cite examples of top actresses like Ash, Preity and Rani had to do to make it big with which specific directors and producers.
Ultimately, the girl spurns his offer and a frustrated Shakti Kapoor walks out. At this stage, the India TV sting team storms into the room, only to find Kapoor get violent and abusive. After several minutes of altercation, Kapoor profusely apologises for his impetuousness and goes on to justify how "this happens every second day. The girls come, we f*** them, they go away. That's the way everything goes on."
Perhaps, except that this time the proverbial can of worms has been opened. And Shakti Kapoor has nowhere to hide.