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The Spotlight on investigative journalism in Bollywood 


The relationship between journalism and cinema is integral. As Spotlight runs away with the 2016 Oscar for the Best Feature, we take a look at the iconic investigative films in Bollywood. 

Shriram Iyengar

The well-known surprise of the Oscars of 2016 was Tom McCarthy's Spotlight winning the award for Best Picture, right from under the noses of frontrunners, The Revenant, The Danish Girl and The Big Short. The story of a group of investigative journalists from The Boston Globe following a story on child abuse by priests in Boston. Hard hitting, sensitive and buoyed by some splendid actors, the film slowly built its lead as one of the best films of the year. Across the ocean, in India, the press finds itself being vilified and screamed at for being, either pro-government or anti. But it is films like these which raise a strong point for the case of powerful, unbiased, cause based journalism.

In a recent study titled 'The Image of the Journalist in Popular Culture', Ruhi and Danish Khan described Bollywood journalist heroes as belonging to five simple categories - romantic companion, glamour chaser, investigative superhero, power magnate and brainless mouthpiece. Unimaginative as it might seem, the power of the press occupies very few pages in the history of Hindi cinema. 

Although journalists have been portrayed positively, and popularly, in films like Chori Chori(1956), Kala Pani(1958), Dil Hai Ke Maanta Nahi (1991) and Mohra (1997), stories of investigative journalism are few and far between. The most memorable of these are the two photojournalists of Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron, who find themselves unwittingly end up in prison trying to expose their masters. Another brilliant film on the functioning of the press is New Delhi Times(1986) with Shashi Kapoor putting in a searing performance as the honest editor, Vikas Pande, who find himself the unwitting pawn in a game of politics. In both cases, the films reflected the societal fears of their times. Politics trumped journalistic ethos and honesty, leaving the journalists in the lurch.

It is in the post-90s decade that some of Bollywood's best journalists emerged. The Kargil War, Bombay riots of 93-94 and the bomb blasts that followed were tracked by some of the best journalists in the country. 1994 was also the year of Nana Patekar's vitriolic Krantiveer. Dimple Kapadia wielded the pen as the crusading journalist trying to change the world around her in the film. For all its jingoism, the film only managed to depict Dimple as the stereotype of a journalist who takes the high moral ground. Another film that portrayed the journalist as a recorder of society is Page 3(2005). Madhur Bhandarkar's film talked about the complicated relationship between the press and those in power.

Regardless of this healthy presence through the years, Indian cinema lacked a film which provided the bite or portrayed the inner cogs of the editorial desk, a la All The President's Men. The closest one got to an insider look at the editorial desk was in films like No One Killed Jessica(2011) and Rann(2010). The latter, a Ram Gopal Varma film, was an apt take on the growing commercial interests of the press. The Big B, Amitabh Bachchan, played the ethical CEO of a television channel that sells its scruples in return for TRPs. This film, in particular, possessed all the potential of exploring the same themes as Spotlight. Corruption, scandals, the dogged persistence of journalists and the mismanagement of ethics were all a part of the theme. However, where the film faltered was in its search to find a singular hero, rather than a group of individuals.

This remains a common theme throughout. Bollywood, for all its collective dislike of the term, follows an unwritten code of hero worship. In each of these films, journalists, and the media is either part of, or in pursuit, of a story already in progress. The film is more about the story than the individual's effort and involvement in it. The exploration of ethics is another factor that is often mitigated in Bollywood. From being depicted as conniving partners, the image of the press has slowly turned to that of crusaders punished for their audacity. Be it the defeated Deepu of Aligarh(2015) or the hunted Madhvi of Page 3, the search for truth often proves dangerous, fatal even, to their careers.

Even as Spotlight basks in the glory, India is struggling to adjust to the concept of a free media. While political pressure on the press has only increased, public vilification of the industry has also doubled. There is a growing feeling among the public that the media is a distrustful, fear-mongering entity. In such situations, it is left to films to remind audiences of the true purpose and ability of journalism.