The contrast was too stark. The president of Pakistan bounded up the lawns of Camp David, looking debonair, confident, at ease in front of the watching world. In another corner of the globe, the prime minister of India read out a speech at the Great Hall of People in Beijing, looking slow, hesitant, dawdling.
There is no getting away from it, in an age of 24-hour rolling news, our leader is disastrously untelegenic. And he is unlikely to improve. The former editor of Panchjanya remains an unreconstructed print-media man. Unlike George Bush, who has a phalanx of former television journalists in his staff, Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s media managers are all from print. Still, friends, family and members of the prime minister’s office have tried to coach the 78-year-old statesman on what to wear (blue suits not brown) and how to speak in front of the camera (his pauses have become shorter, they believe).
But Vajpayee is not always a willing student. When he was released from the hospital after his knee surgery, his press secretary, ex-PTI correspondent Ashok Tandon, suggested that the prime minister avoid emerging in front of waiting cameramen in a wheel chair. It could send wrong signals, Tandon worried. Vajpayee refused to oblige. Image management for the camera is simply beyond this prime minister. Or may be he knows his limitations too well. Wise men do.
Peck vs Biswas
How many of us have heard the song Dil jalta hai to jalne de or Door hato ae duniyawaalo Hindustan hamara hai or Hamsafar ek din to bichhadna hi tha, alvida alvida alvida alvida' More, I bet, than those who have seen To Kill A Mocking Bird. Yet, Gregory Peck’s death made headlines and, more significantly, earned that rare distinction in Indian papers: an obituary. The demise of Anil Biswas — who composed innumerable popular tunes, introduced the orchestra into Indian film music, started playback singers Mukesh, Talat Mehmood and Lata Mangeshkar on their careers — was barely noticed. They died within a fortnight of each other.
Gregory Peck’s impact may have been greater and his obituary was easily obtained. The Hindu and Indian Express apart, everyone went by stuff supplied by foreign agencies. But that does not wholly explain why the Indian media has so little space for the nation’s dead, especially people like Anil Biswas who have helped shape present-day India for good or bad. Only Ganashakti, the CPI(M) newspaper, duly records the deaths of even its smallest comrades. Is it because the press here has no sense of history' Time, surely, it learnt that good obituaries are about life, not death.
Features is in
Mention Features and you think fashion, lifestyle, travel — or long interviews with Booker aspirants, at best. But ask Aniruddha Bahal, made famous by the cricket betting story he broke in Outlook and the Tehelka sting operation that rocked the capital. Rather, read his just-published novel, Bunker 13. You will think again.
MM, the protagonist of Bunker 13, is hard-nosed, hard-headed, hard-another-four-letter-part-of-the-anatomy Bahal seems to favour. MM has an IQ of 130, he skydives with ace paratroopers, he outwits Chechen mafia chiefs, he runs rings around Indian defence and intelligence wings. Above all, MM is the Features editor of a weekly news magazine.
Yes, Features. He is also the head of the documentary division of his firm’s television unit but “you aren’t so pally with your crowd up at documentary as you are with Features”. Such is the tectonic shift that is underway in modern newsrooms. Even a few years ago, the star was always a news reporter (remember Shah Rukh Khan in Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani').
Today, the action — and the glamour — is in Features. As Bahal’s Features editor says, “In the competitive news environment we face, the treatment that we give to our feature stories is important.” The sooner fact catches up with fiction the better it will be for the Indian media.