Tuesday, May 05, 2015

The Tabloidization of Indian Media

I read this speech Prannoy Roy gave when he accepted the award for lifetime achievement at the Bombay Press Club. Essentially what Roy bemoans is the tabloidization of Indian media which lowers journalistic standards across media platforms: print and electronic. And, I agree. Bravo Roy!

Last month I went to author CP Surendran’s book launch. The media was there in full force. I attended CP’s last book launch and the media was absent. Well, a few stragglers, not many. So I wondered if it was the booze, or, something else that made them come in such force. There were cameras of all types, jousting to get better positions, a general hullaballoo.

No, it wasn’t the booze but a chap named Anurag Kashyap that made them come. I don’t know the reason why Kashyap was invited. He confessed he rarely read Indian fiction, and was openly sarcastic about Indian Writing in English. But forget that, and forgive all that, he was asked to be a panel member in the discussion about the book. Holy of holies!

The media was there because Kashyap with a few hits to his credit is a celebrity and the next best thing that is happening to Bollywood. I haven’t seen any of his films so I can’t comment on its quality. But his disdain for Indian Writing in English was quite clear.

When the floor opened for questioning the media started questioning Kashyap about Bombay Velvet and other projects. Poor CP and his book were ignored, passed on, for the more saucy gossip of Bollywood. Tabloidization had begun. The scribes wanted some cheeky quote from Kashyap which they could print in the next day’s paper. They got them too. Kashyap is a hunk, a proper muscled Bollywood-type hunk, and was married to another starlet, now divorced.

Kashyap was dismissive and said Indian Writer’s in English wrote tripe and Indian filmmakers made crap. Both were lapped up and reported on. Roy said that tabloidization leads to lowering the standards of journalism and I agree, with all my heart and soul.

In another launch I attended, this time it was my own launch. Actually, my short story was featured in an anthology and the publisher called us authors to take the dais and talk about our stories. This is the only launch I have ever had, so far, at least. The media came. The publisher, I don’t know for what reason, had invited a Bollywood starlet to be present. She smiled a lot, a nervous, self-conscious smile. The media focussed on the starlet and ignored us authors. I was chagrined. The next day’s papers showed pictures of the starlet with the publisher and not a word, not a word – I emphasize – about us poor authors, who slinked to the far corners of the hall to weep bitter tears.

That’s tabloidization for you, and it’s a bad thing. The earlier our media gets out of it the better it would be for them.

Saturday, May 02, 2015

Writing a Novel Is Like Putting a Universe Together

This appeared in my novel Mr. Bandookwala's dedicated blog yesterday. Reproducing it here for the benefit of readers of this blog:

Writing a novel is like putting a universe together: constructing its foundations first, living in it for days, acquainting with the people, and then letting it go. It’s a very slow process that requires immense patience. But once you are good at it, there’s a lot going for you. Recently I completed my novel and now, horrors, I am submitting to those whom I trust for a first look.

But then why do writers take this arduous journey to nowhere. Half the time – when you are writing - you are wondering what the critics will say. You are in turmoil, you don’t think straight, your narrative may falter, in which case – God forbid – you go back and rewrite. All along, you are not being compensated for your time. You are in constant dilemma: will my character say this; will he behave thus? Yes, in western countries you have grants, which you can avail while writing a novel. Yann Martel was on a grant when he wrote Life of Pi. But in India you have nothing. Zilch!

Yes, there is something. Aha! You get a lot of shit thrown at you if you read a chapter at a writer’s community. You sink into perdition once again. People in Indian write in their own language plus English (own language + English). I mean, Malayalis write in their English, Tamilians write in their English, you get the drift, right?

My effort has been to steer away from stereotype to portray a stereotype. In Mr. Bandookwala I have written about different communities and the different ways they talk English, without identifying the community. It becomes obvious which community I am talking about, and at the same time, a foreigner can laugh at the quaint way we talk. It was a tough task. But, now that it is done, I have the jitters again.