Bollywood: Turning the tables on the media - GulfToday

Bollywood: Turning the tables on the media


The photo has been used for illsutrative purposes.

In a cinema-crazy country such as India, stars are revered and placed on a pedestal unthinkable perhaps in other parts of the world. There are countless fan clubs that laud the achievements of the superstars.

Who doesn’t aspire to be a movie star? It is the ultimate holy grail of fame, the klieg lights every aspiring actor’s dream: there is nothing like the tinsel and glitter. Fame, riches, flashy cars, palatial bungalows… these are all the trappings of success, but beneath it all there is also a seamy side, the disadvantages.

Bollywood is a multi-billion-dollar industry, with over 9,000 movie theatres in the country. Now a lot of lives are at stake, thanks to the closure of many of them due to the coronavirus.

Thousands of casual workers build sets for India’s Bollywood film industry or fight and dance behind established stars. There are more than 500,000 workers on daily wages. The coronavirus pandemic has put their daily lives on hold, and sent them into a financial tailspin.

For years, salacious stories of movie stars have been filling the pages of glossies. The actors took it all in their stride. Legal battles were few and far between. That was however in the past. In an era of a social media boom, where trolling stalks you like a night-time marauder lurking in the dark ready to pounce on his prey, the slightest slight evokes a firestorm. Spats break out on social networking sites every now and then. Catfights on Twitter for instance – triggered by another actor Kangana Ranaut – have become voyeuristic fodder for netizens.

The death of a Bollywood actor, Sushant Singh Rajput, has catapulted the battle royale between top filmmakers and the media into the national limelight. The film industry has demanded that two news channels refrain from “irresponsible, derogatory and defamatory remarks against Bollywood and its members.”

The lawsuit, filed on Monday, comes months after India’s freewheeling television news channels took on Bollywood, India’s Hindi-language film industry based in Mumbai, with a spree of allegations following the suspected suicide of Rajput in June.

The news channels blamed filmmakers who had rejected Rajput for roles for his suicide and accused many Bollywood celebrities of being part of a drug cartel that drove the actor to take his life. An investigation that is looking into alleged drug trafficking in Bollywood is being carried out by India’s federal narcotics agency.

The lawsuit saw some of Bollywood’s biggest names, including superstars Aamir Khan, Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan and Akshay Kumar join hands against news channels Republic TV and Times Now.

There are more 850 news channels in India. Many powerful television news anchors often indulge in rancorous and chaotic debates in which shouting, screaming and name-calling have become staples. One particular news anchorperson has been notorious for his lung power in his programmes, literally shouting down his participants, much to their ire.

The media hysteria has reached its zenith in Rajput’s case. Stories about the actor’s death sidelined other critical issues, such as India’s stalling economy, the government’s coronavirus response and growing hostilities with China over a border dispute.

The result was a surge in ratings for some TV channels.

The tables, however, turned considerably when police in Mumbai accused Republic TV of rigging the rating scores system, a significant component in television channels’ advertising income. The allegations were denied by Republic TV but led to some Indian advertisers taking never-before-seen measures.

Automobile giant Bajaj Auto and Parle Products, India’s biggest biscuit maker, said they were pulling advertising from news channels that endorsed toxicity and hate-mongering.

The problem is most of India’s TV channels have morphed into reality shows. There is a limit to abuse of freedom of speech and expression.

Spreading hate and preconceived notions should stop. Freedom entails responsibility; decorum and respect for one’s dignity are a sine qua non.

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