WHEN MEDIA PLAYS THE VOYEUR, JUDGE & DOCTOR

Long after Nargis and Meena Kumari died, a cinema actress in the person of Sridevi received fitting tributes when she passed away on February 24, suddenly, tragically. Her receiving “state funeral” with the national tricolour draped on her, perhaps in recognition of her popularity, as millions watched her funeral procession made the event memorable. This is not about Sridevi or about her contribution to cinema that she served for half-a-century before dying at 54. It is about the way media projected the event and the way it generally does with anything, on any issue that it deems will give it higher TRPs (television rating points). Again, this is not only about television, but also the mainstream media and the social media, since they all feed on and flirt with each other. And again, this is not about the media alone. It must include the government – any government irrespective of political hue – and the selfie-struck society as a whole. Tall order, but Sridevi sparks this concern. Without seeking to play the TV medium against the print, it is better to quote from The Indian Express editorial that sums up her death reporting. “Whether it happened under botox, or under the influence, or under the confluence of constellations, or none of the above, is speculation. The question of causality is addressed by forensic specialists, not by TV journalists trying their hand at amateur sleuthing. In this electronic version of the 19th century freakshow, digital wine-glasses are being stood on the rims of digital bathtubs, and real journalists are being made to slide into real bathtubs, while the dead actor’s height is being measured up against the length of products in sanitaryware catalogues. This is mumbo-jumbo journalism, a ratings game in which Mumbo is trying to pull ahead of Jumbo.” After the initial shocker that she died of “cardiac arrest” the TV talk shows and social media held lengthy discussions on the state of her health. Conjectures were based on ‘rumours’ about her consuming diet pills, having weight reduction surgery, adhering to a strict keto diet, among others. Value judgments were also passed about whether a middle-aged lady that Sridevi was ought to engage in these alleged methods to stay slim. Nobody thought that the decent thing to do was to wait for the official post-mortem report. When that report certified that Sridevi had died due to “accidental drowning after a loss of consciousness”, all hell broke loose. She was painted as someone too drunk to step into the bathtub for her bath. Was she drunk? Politician and a family friend, Amar Singh, volunteered that she did not consume ‘hard’ drink; “only wine, occasionally, like me.” But that did not help. Media turned anti-booze. The twitterati’s verdict was that she brought her own end. Some people suspected foul play: industry rivalry… husband Boney Kapoor… these filmy fellows are like that only…. Some channels simulated the scene of Sridevi’s death. One of them placed their reporter at the scene of her death, with the studio bathtub reading ‘Maut Ka Bathtub’, another thought it fit to photo-shop a comatose Sridevi in a bathtub. A channel added a wine glass for effect. And another thought the picture wasn’t complete without Boney Kapoor. And yet another even promised to take viewers through “Sridevi’s last 15 minutes in bathroom”. Kapoor being questioned by police is normal procedure. It was exaggerated as if he was a suspect and was being ‘grilled’. Channels forgot to mention that he was eventually ‘cleared.’ Did she take wine or vodka? What caused her to drink that evening? One ‘analyst’ surmised that one glass of alcohol and an antidepressant could have been fatal.  Extended discussions ensued on what ‘frustrated’ Sridevi, what caused her to drink that night, and so. Ah yes, the bathtub was not spared. Most Indians do not enjoy this ‘luxury’ and bathe using bucket and lota, someone observed. He forgot that she was in a luxury resort, without bucket and lota. The photo-shop of Sridevi’s body reminds of a TV channel in flood-hit Chennai last year. It stood its reporter in the midst of flood water gurgling around. It was a studio trick. Many believed, sympathizing with the reporter, others were angry at this subterfuge. In another photo-shop, Prime \Minister Narendra Modi was shown surveying those floods from his aircraft.  He had neither flown, not visited Chennai. The photo was officially released by his office that had egg on its face. One can go on. But lo! A blogger for one of the country’s largest newspaper chain accused those in the media critical of the TV coverage of ‘hypocrisy’. They would have done the same thing. Grapes are sour, etc., etc. Many TV celebrities get friendly print space in major newspapers to defend themselves and snigger at their critics. They enjoy best of both the worlds. It is incestuous relationship. Much of the fare is at personal, physical level. A top-line newspaper carried a picture of actor Deepika Padukone commenting on her cleavage.  “Yes, I am a woman. I have cleavage. Any problems?” she responded, She was trolled for several days by social media. The concerned newspaper carried comments justifying its initial action. She was accused of being squeamish, touchy, spoilsport and much else. Whatever may have happened to the actor’s sense of hurt and self-esteem, the newspaper enjoyed multiple-whammy. It argued – with its many takers, but many more critics, hopefully — that people in public life are public property and should be ready to face criticism. But was that criticism of Deepika or cheap comment by closet voyeurists? From social and filmy issues with obvious glamour content to be exploited, the Indians have in the recent years graduated to political trolling. Virtually all political parties have armies of trollers euphemistically called “cyber media cells”. Day in and day out, they are on TV network screaming at each other with the anchors screaming the loudest to ensure control over what is supposed to be a debate. What is astounding is that the ‘guests’ on the TV channels who otherwise belong to the political-social elite, turn into shouting brigades shedding all forms of public decency. They often get rudely told off by the anchors – but they still keep coming. Then, take India-Pakistan debates by some of the top channels. The shouting game has chest-thumping Indians versus pan/chewing gum chewing retired Pakistani military officers and experts who actually enjoy being bullied and called names from the safety of Indian studios. For all that derisive laughter and screams, one hears the fee is a good USD 500. Not bad at all for all the notoriety and fame among Indian viewers and quite possibly, pats on the back from compatriots. And why not? It is hardly surprising that the Indian media is not taken seriously abroad.     ]]>

She was one of her kind, truly special

By Subhash K Jha

We all say good things about the dead. But Sridevi was truly special. Her mere presence could light up the screen like no other actress.

Sridevi started her career as a child actor when she was all of four. “I knew nothing about acting at that age. I’d do exactly what the director asked me to do. I think I continued doing that in my later years,” she once told me. All our conversations were coordinated by her devoted husband Boney Kapoor. It was always difficult to make Sridevi talk. She was always an actor, not a talker. I don’t think she enjoyed talking about herself. And she was extremely health conscious. No late nights, no partying. Though she avoided eating beyond her dietary regime, Sridevi loved to feed others. I remember when former actress Asin came to stay in her building, Sridevi would prepare and carry tiffins with South Indian goodies for the younger actress. Sridevi was shy. But once she took to you, she was comfortable. She loved having fun and enjoyed going out for meals and shopping with her daughters Jahnvi and Khushi. What made her very uncomfortable were the gawking crowds. She longed for privacy and for uninterrupted time with her precious family. The craving for private time with the family came from her childhood when baby Sridevi spent hours in and out of studios in Chennai and Hyderabad, playing roles when she should just have been… well, playing. Her stint as a Bollywood star began in 1978 ith “Solva Sawan”, which bombed. She was all but written out of Bollywood for the next three years until she was re-launched in “Himmatwala” in 1981. There was no looking back thereafter. Jeetendra, who starred with Sridevi in “Himmatwala” and a string of hits in the 1980s, told me of her self-discipline. “Uss ladki mein ek lagan tha… ek junoon thi. She was determined to make it as big in Hindi cinema as she was in Tamil and Telugu. I’ve never seen a more hard-working actress.” After her marriage to Bollywood producer Boney Kapoor, Sridevi slowed down her career but returned with a bang in 2012 with “English Vinglish”. Sanjay Leela Bhansali, a huge Sridevi fan, remembers his last meeting with her. “She came to my special screening of ‘Padmaavat’ with Boney Kapoor. She loved my film and said she wanted to work with me. That wasn’t destined to happen. It will remain a lacuna in my oeuvre. How could she go so suddenly? Sridevi can’t die. She’s magic. “There is nobody else who can do ‘Hawa hawaai’ and ‘Kate nahin katte’ the way she can. She had natural-born instincts for the camera, which she sharpened and honed over the years. It is strange to be talking about her in the past tense’ I can’t believe she’s gone,” Bhansali added.]]>

Stunned India mourns Sridevi's death at 54

Saddened by the untimely demise of noted actor Sridevi. She was a veteran of the film industry, whose long career included diverse roles and memorable performances. My thoughts are with her family and admirers in this hour of grief. May her soul rest in peace: PM @narendramodi

— PMO India (@PMOIndia) February 25, 2018 Sridevi was in Dubai to attend the marriage function of actress Sonam Kapoor’s cousin Mohit Marwah, along with husband Boney Kapoor and younger daughter Khushi. She exuded elegance in her appearances — photos and videos that were now being shared on social media as her “last”. Confirming the news of her death, Sridevi’s brother-in-law and actor Sanjay Kapoor, told IANS: “Yes, it is true.”
Obituary: She Was One of Her Kind

The Indian Embassy in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the Indian Consulate in Dubai were assisting the family to expedite the process to bringing her body to India as soon as possible. The actress is remembered for her performance is some of the iconic Bollywood films like “Mr. India”, “Nagina”, “Sadma”, “ChalBaaz”, “Chandni”, “Khuda Gawah”, among many others in different Indian languages. The Padma Shri recipient, who made a comeback to Bollywood in 2012 with “English Vinglish” after a long break of 15 years, was last seen in “Mom” in 2017. Apparently having a premonition, Bollywood megastar Amitabh Bachchan and Sridevi’s co-star in half a dozen films, including “Khuda Gawah” had tweeted at 1.15 am on Sunday: “I don’t know, but I feel a strange sense of unease.” The untimely death of the veteran actress has left the country shocked. President Ram Nath Kovind and Prime Minister Narendra Modi mourned her demise. “Shocked to hear of passing of movie star Sridevi. She has left millions of fans heartbroken,” Kovind tweeted. Modi also took to Twitter, saying: “Saddened by the untimely demise of noted actor Sridevi. She was a veteran of the film industry, whose long career included diverse roles and memorable performances.” Southern movie stars and politicians Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan also expressed disbelief. “I’m shocked and very disturbed. I’ve lost a dear friend and the industry has lost a true legend. My heart goes out to her family and friends. I feel the pain with them. Sridevi, you will be missed,” tweeted Rajinikanth, who featured with her in the memorable “ChaalBaaz”. Kamal Haasan, her co-star from “Sadma” — one of her most evocative performances — said: “Have witnessed Sridevi’s life from an adolescent teenager to the magnificent lady she became. Her stardom was well deserved. Many happy moments with her flash through my mind including the last time I met her. Sadma’s lullaby haunts me now. We’ll miss her.” Legendary singer Lata Mangeshkar, who has sung for Sridevi in 20 films including “Chaand Kaa Tukdaa”, “Khuda Gawah”, “Lamhe”, “Chandni”, “Nazrana” and “Himmatwala”, had no words to express her shock. “Yakeen nahi ho raha ki itni choti umar mein Sridevi chali gayi. Kya kahun kuch samajh mein nahi aa raha hai. Boney Kapoor aur unki do betiyon ke dukh mein main shamil hun. (I can’t believe that Sridevi died so early, she was too young. I don’t know what to say. Condolences to Boney Kapoor and the daughters),” she tweeted. Her “Mom” co-star Nawazuddin Siddiqui wrote: “It’s a heartbreaking news, can’t even imagine in the worst of my dreams – World losses the best performer.” Superstar Aamir Khan was “saddened by the untimely and tragic passing away of Srideviji”. He said he has “always been an admirer of the grace and dignity with which she conducted herself”. While veteran filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt was “jolted” by the news of her sudden death, Sunny Deol, who has worked with her in films like “Sultanat”, “ChaalBaaz” and “Ram-Avtar”, said he is “going to miss her”. Showbiz queen Ekta Kapoor tweeted: “The strongest women have the weakest hearts sometimes.” Filmmaker Shekhar Kapur said “with Sridevi gone an era is over”. “Like life turning a new chapter. A beautiful story just ended. An amazing spirit just vanished leaving us with amazing love, memories, and incredible grief,” he tweeted. (IANS)]]>