Joe Biden had to fly to Vietnam to take questions from the media. The Indian Prime Minister himself is famously known to never hold a press conference. And a couple of prominent TV anchors are either whining over or blasting a boycott against them by a group of politicians.
All too well known to be counted any longer as news. But how many people discuss or are even aware of the demise of the press conference in the Hindi film industry?
Before 2000, when as many film magazines as fingers on one hand existed, celebrities sportingly faced inconvenient questions and the media was free to break real stories.
However, the rise of an entertainment section in daily newspapers that had hitherto looked down on reporting on the film industry, the 24/7 bytes-hungry TV channels and a monstrous Internet led to the cremation of film magazines. The vast reach of social media through which the rich and the famous could speak directly to their audience was the last nail in the coffin.
Nobody’s mourning their death but gone unnoticed is that, along with the magazines, traditional press meets have also been buried. It began with the media being told at trailer launches and other celebrations to stick to questions related to the film. A fair request to prevent unnecessary derailment of an event. But when did it translate into, only carefully curated questions, please?
For instance, take Nana Patekar at the trailer launch of The Vaccine War who remarked that he was not even offered Welcome 3, probably because the makers thought he was too old for it. But could we ask Nana if he was being seen in a Hindi film after ages because of the #MeToo movement? Tanushree Datta’s misdirected charges of 2018 may have died a natural death and, today, few may even remember it. But hadn’t it played its unfortunate part in handbraking Nana’s career until Vivek Agnihotri cast him in the important role of Dr Balram Bhargava, the director-general of the Indian Council of Medical Research?
But since his rude replies to a couple of innocuous questions had endorsed Nana’s reputation as a cantankerous actor, a don’t-rock-the-boat atmosphere prevailed. What could’ve been a lively, wide-ranging Q&A session became a tame affair.
Perhaps the last proper press meet was hosted by Karan Johar after the success of Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani. There was a healthy ambience where the star cast took all questions in the right spirit.
The death knell has unfortunately been sounded by Karan’s best friend, Shah Rukh Khan. A five-star hotel banquet hall was crammed with fans who thumped, jumped, blew kisses and danced to all the numbers from Pathaan for two hours before a fawning RJ-turned-emcee, too thrilled to have got the job, exhorted the media to applaud like admirers for every star entry and for every “blockbuster” word that was uttered on stage. With the emcee himself asking obsequious questions, it turned into an insipid mohabbat ki dukaan. But it worked for SRK and Team Pathaan, who got reams of Insta reels from fans and celebrity-starved media sites. It was topped off with an #Ask SRK on X, another fan interaction. Sad because, once upon a time, SRK’s wit and quick thinking made him a delightful interviewee. Now lost in the new reality where taking questions from an informed media has become extinct.
SRK repeated the pattern after the release of Jawan, where hordes of fans screeched and drowned him, director Atlee, Deepika and Vijay Sethupathi. There were rehearsed song-and-dance performances from the film which had no place in a traditional press conference. It was followed by the emcee asking Team Jawan vetted questions and SRK once again turning it into an instalment of mohabbat ki dukaan with the media a silenced onlooker. You couldn’t even ask SRK why he sported braided hair almost Snoop Dogg-style. But the event fetched the film all the social media attention it wanted.
Everybody loves a celebration. We do too. But my dear Shah Rukh, may we please stop referring to a scripted celebration as a press conference?
RIP #Press Conference.
Bharathi S. Pradhan is a senior journalist and author