K G Suresh*

Ram Gopal Varma’s ‘Rann’ has been run down by the media, particularly electronic, no end. The Amitabh Bachchan starrer has been rubbished as a figment of RGV’s imagination with an exaggerated story line and unreal characters. Yet, the fact also remains that even highly acclaimed movies such as ‘Three Idiots’ suffer from these very shortcomings – a technical person handling a pregnancy with an improvised suction and the new born responding only to a song ‘All is Well’ in a miraculous climax. Or for that matter, the Oscar winning ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ where an excreta enveloped Jamaal shakes hands with the Big B. But the media did not condemn the movies as they did with ‘Rann’ because RGV touched a raw nerve, rubbed where it hurt the most.

In a world where Rakhi Sawant and Raju Shrivastava are prime time and television ratings thrive on ghost stories, where trivia has become mainstream and professional ethics mere lip service, it is but natural that Varma becomes enemy number one for stating the unpalatable truth. The truth is that sensationalism rules the roost and paid news has become a harsh reality. The Indian Media Centre and its publication ‘Media Critique’ were the first to highlight this syndrome, which was later picked up by The Hindu and subsequently the Editors’ Guild of India. Yet, surprisingly, the Guild’s statements have been published extensively by none other than The Hindu.

Once upon a time, newspapers had the courage and conviction to publish even the counter point but today they have become a self-righteous lot. To cite a recent personal experience, the highly over rated The Hindustan Times recently published an article outrightly condemning former Prime Minister H D Deve Gowda terming him as the worst Prime Minister India has ever had. Having covered Mr Gowda extensively as Prime Minister, I knew for certain that he may not have been among the best but was certainly not the worst. I have mentioned his contributions already in these columns earlier. I wrote a small piece for The Hindustan Times enumerating the contributions of the former Prime Minister in response to the critique. Forget its publication, they never bothered to even acknowledge its receipt.

It’s not just about self-righteousness but also vengeance of the highest order. CNN-IBN’s orchestrated campaign against Shiv Sena in the party’s spat with King Khan was apparently and evidently a response to the Sainik’s vandalisation of their studios last year. Whither objectivity? Agreed, Bal Thackeray is no paragon of virtue but SRK too is no messiah. He did not take a Pakistani player in his own Kolkata Knight Riders and painted the town red with his rhetoric generosity towards Pakistani players, ensuring in the process the success of My Name is Khan across the border and courtesy a self righteous media, we had the entire Mumbai police who could not prevent 26/11 protecting the commercial interests of Messrs Karan Johar and Khan.

Silver Lining among Dark Clouds

However, all is not dark and dingy. There are honest and committed journalists around who believe that they have to play the role of catalysts in a society where as per Government’s own figures 77 per cent of the population earn less than Rs 20 a day and for all you know that could even be Rs 2 or 5.

What a tragedy that in an agriculture dominated economy, we have only one P Sainath to boast of. Journalism in this country was born in the cradle of freedom struggle. Journalists were more of missionaries and less of mercenaries. While much water has flowed down the Ganga since then, ilsome of those missionaries are still around. Shivnath Jha is one of them.

The newspaper vendor turned senior journalist along with his wife educationist Neena have brought out a first ever compilation ‘Prime Minister of India – Bharat Bhagya Vidhata’. Nothing great except that proceeds from the sale of the coffee table book on the 14 prime ministers, would go to rehabilatate Sultana Begum, last Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah's great grand-daughter-in-law who currently ekes out a living selling tea on the streets of Kolkata.

The 444-page hard bound 12x 12 illustrated book enlists the performance of the leaders as well as their achievements and the controverises they survived, starting from Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru to Manmohan Singh.

It is the fourth book in the "Andolan Ek Pustak Se" movement, which was launched by the duo in the year 2007 to publish one book per year aiming to honour and help "those who have brought laurels to the country."

"Sultana Begum runs a tea stall in Cowies Ghat slum in Bengal's Howrah district. She lives in dirtiest of conditions and earns a living to support her family. We hope we can help her through the royalty we earn from the book," says Jha.

The "Andolan Ek..." series was begun with a "Monograph on Ustad Bismillah Khan," to draw attention to the plight of the ailing shahnai maestro. Other books in the series include one on the then railway minister Lalu Prasad, "Lalu Prasad: India's Miracle," as well as "India calling -to commemorate India entering 60th year of Independence."

Jha had earlier used the sale proceeds of the book on Bismillah Khan to rehabilitate Vinayak Rao Tope, the great grandson of Tantya Tope, a front line leader of the 1857 uprising.

The book which is priced at Rs 8000, includes writings by eminent personalities including noted historian Bipan Chandra. Your truly too had the privilege of contributing a write-up.

Kudos to Shivnath and Neena for rediscovering that extinct Dodo called journalism with a mission in an era of commodification and commercialization of Media. One sincerely hopes that this modern day classic would inspire the media fraternity to come out of their ivory towers and work for the Sultana Begums and Kalavatis, lost and waiting for redemption in the dusty streets, lanes and bylanes of Hindostan.

(*The author is a Delhi-based senior journalist and Editor of Media Critique)


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