Journalism is seldom shown accurately in Hindi film media. Print journalism, on the other hand, is seldom shown. It’s mostly TV anchors screaming on debates, mimicking a particular real-life presenter and being parodic elements of a satire or reporters seducing sources for a tip.
In such a world, director Hansal Mehta’s six-part Netflix series Scoop feels fresh. It weaves the story of Jagruti Pathak, a print journalist and a senior crime reporter, who is arrested for abetting the killing of rival scribe Jaideb Sen, who was shot, in broad daylight, by gangster Chhota Rajan’s men.
The story is inspired by former crime journalist Jigna Vora’s memoir Behind Bars in Byculla: My Days in Prison. It stars Karishma Tanna, Harman Baweja and Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub.
“I think the logline itself was the arresting bit. The reporter becomes reported,” says Mehta, who has carved a niche for himself on OTT with real-life-inspired, informative, pacy shows like Scam 1992: The Harshad Mehta Story.
Although the director is known to create believable, fleshed-out worlds in which his characters operate, what gets him going is telling a human story.
“Jigna’s book became the catalyst to tell a larger story, which is actually a personal story,” he says.
“Who exactly are journalists? We see them as mere bylines in newspapers or faces on TV. They are just people who report on other people. Do we really bother about what they do at home?”
The director also believes that a lack of empathy leads to creation of stereotypes in cinema. “Whether it’s politicians, cops, or journalists, we, as filmmakers, usually fail to understand them as human beings. We show them as stereotypes and don’t go beyond that,” he says.
Reiterating that any film or series will have the frivolousness of fiction unless it has a personal element in it, Mehta adds, “The portions of Jagruti’s life which excite me are the ones in which she wakes up in the morning, in a typical, loud Gujarati household and has to talk to sources with the noise of the grinder in the background.”
“That’s the sort of detail he gets,” interjects Karishma Tanna, who plays the protagonist Jagruti in the series. The actor, who has been a TV regular, is playing the lead and a crime reporter for the first time on an OTT show.
“I think it is really stressful to be a crime journalist. I mean imagine getting a work call every time you go on a vacation,” she quips. Explaining the process of shaping the character, Tanna shares, “I shadowed a female crime reporter. I was concerned with the body language, how I am supposed to talk, what words or jargons to use.”
The show marks the comeback of Harman Baweja, who plays DCP Shroff in the series. The actor plays a chubby cop who is an important source for Tanna’s Jagruti.
“I hope I don’t look like Hrithik Roshan anymore,” he jokes. Baweja’s appearance and dancing skills were compared to Hrithik at the time of the former’s debut Love Story 2050 (2008). He took a back seat from acting after subsequent films like Victory (2008) and What’s Your Raashee? (2009) failed to impress both trade analysts and critics.
“It’s just that I can’t say no to Mukesh Chhabra (casting director). Whenever he wants something from me, he starts speaking in Punjabi, he knows it is my weak spot,” he says.
On the other hand, Mehta and Baweja go long back. “I know him since he was 18,” says the director. The actor’s first production Yeh Kya Ho Raha Hai? (2002) was directed by Mehta. “I couldn’t hear a no from him so I asked Mukesh to approach him first.”
The director also states that he was a bit apprehensive about reaching out to Baweja for the role. “I have seen his journey up close. His launch as an actor and then things not working out. I didn’t want to ask him to act again and trigger any negative emotions within him. But he was sporty enough to take up the role.”
While the series is filled with crafty newspersons eager to clinch the scoop, Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub’s Imraan, who is Jagruti’s boss and the editor of the newspaper she works at, is the moral compass of the show.
“Through this character, I think we are talking about the importance of ethics in journalism,” says Ayyub. “Hansal’s viewpoints on journalism and the state of the media are communicated through Imraan’s character.”
And what are the director’s views on the condition of the media? “It’s very chaotic. Especially the TV news media with 15 windows open, red colours flashing and everybody screaming. I can’t sleep well at night if I watch TV news. It is meant to mess with your head,” says Mehta.
So, does he prefer to read the news online? “Digital news, like on WhatsApp, comes from too many unverified sources. I am a bit old-fashioned. My morning is not complete without a newspaper.”