May 25, 2021
As a child, I watched All The President’s Men, the 1976 political drama about the investigative reporting of the Watergate scandal, by sheer accident. My father loved Robert Redford and — though he knew little about former U.S. President Richard Nixon or the political crisis that brought down his presidency — he felt it imperative to watch his favorite star. And because I modeled my every move after my father, I watched it with him. I was riveted. I found journalism to be a thoroughly brave calling, one that demanded spunk and a commitment to the truth. The movie may have even fueled my desire to become a journalist.
There is a reason journalists make for compelling film heroes. Whether principled or more grey, they bear a strong commitment to their work, to chase the story. For the audience, the journalist is their questioning, skeptical, fast-talking representative. And the journalist who speaks truth to power and takes on the mighty is David, in the David versus Goliath fight that cinema likes to get behind.
Hindi cinema too, which has had its share of stories of underdogs taking on the powerful, has gravitated to journalism dramas like New Delhi Times (1986), Main Azaad Hoon (1989), Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani (2000), and Nayak (2001) / Mudhalvan (1999), each illustrating the importance of a free press that must remain dedicated to a moral code above all else. But as journalism in India transformed from an independent institution to a profit-centered business to now, where it is all but entrenched in the political class, so did Hindi film journalists. They changed from moral figures to parodies of their former selves to now, where they are all but absent in film. The saga of the journalist in Hindi cinema parallels the increasingly sorry state of journalism in the country.
No film about journalism can work without the presence of an incisive, no-nonsense editor. In the 1986 political thriller, New Delhi Times, Vikas Pande, the fictional newspaper’s trailblazing executive editor (Shashi Kapoor), is a workaholic who is consumed by his responsibility to his paper. While investigating a political assassination, Pande is sucked into the insidious world of New Delhi’s politics, which can endanger both his reputation and his newspaper’s credibility. The screenplay by Gulzar explored the processes that go behind making reportage possible — writing, editing, and filing — and also the nexus between media and politics.