where the writers are
Hubris, Ignorance, Or Just Plain Don't Care?
Gulzar's Maachis took a close look at the state's role in creating "terrorists"

I have been a news addict since I was a child.

My father's job required him to monitor all media very closely, so we all grew up with obscene amounts of newspapers, reports, clippings, and then finally television news around us. Dinner conversations in my parents house often feel like policy debates - and there have been instances when a dinner debate has formed the nucleus of the country's major policy document.

A not so pleasant aspect of this news addiction is of course the constant awareness of bias and ignorance regarding India (and a lot of other countries) in "western" press. Some how media based in USA, UK and Europe has greater credibility, partly due to history and partly due to the economic, military and political clout of these countries. It also helps that the same countries come up with increasingly unbelievable rankings and reports on "freedom of speech" and "freedom of the press."

Just think back to the WMDs in Iraq hysteria before that nation was attacked and you get the picture. Think back to the self-censorship of the western press regarding Iraqi and Afghan casualties. Or just think back to the level of attention paid to Mumbai simply because some of the victims were Western.

Yet its not just the "big" stories that get reported with glaring errors and free editorialising. The western media spends a lot of time and energy embedding value judgements into what appear to be "news stories." The result - and perhaps the motivation - is to subtly perpetuate a narrative, a stereotype, an idea that is more pleasing and acceptable to western powers, press and bulk of the readers/viewers. And in doing so, they choose to jettison the most basic qualities of reporting and the simplest of journalistic standards!

This morning brought home that realisation rather starkly. In the Times was a story about film-makers attempting to cash in on the Mumbai attacks and the public revulsion that such actions have unleashed. So far so good.

Except the story had serious factual bloopers: Filmmaker Ram Gopal Verma did tour the Taj, but not with his actor son, but rather with the now thankfully resigned Maharashtra CM Vilasrao Deshmukh's son.

And we won't even go into the overly generalised, condescending bit of editorialising that declares: "There are, however, indications that Indian audiences who are more used to lavish musicals will watch films that examine terrorism from fresh perspectives." Really? Like we did back in 1996? Or should we go further back to Roja and Bombay?

As the cherry on top, the story also cites unnamed critics who say: "Indian cinema has a history of films that address current affairs but most dealing with terrorism have used real-life events as springboards for crudely nationalistic action movies, critics say."

Ahem: I guess the critics missed films like the Mani Rathnam trilogy? Or Gulzar's Maachis? Or Mission Kashmir, which not only linked terrorism in Kashmir to bin Laden well before 9/11, but included the acclaimed novelist Vikram Chandra as one of its scriptwriters? We won't even go into the range of politically complex, ideologically sophisticated and well researched films, including Sarfarosh, 16 December: All Forces Alert, Fiza, Fanaa, Rang de Basanti that have taken on terrorism in the past decade.

Sure the western press trots out the handful of Indian writers/novelists on its op-ed pages to provide the illusion of objectivity. But beyond all that, a little painful truth I learned as a child remains: the western press will print what it likes about India, especially if it feeds their own illusions about the country. Anything actually based in facts is a little too politically, ideologically, possibly even morally, inconvenient!

Comments
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Comment Bubble Tip

Hi

What's most embarrasing about the coverage is that it ignores the nationalistic and jingoistic movies and other media that eminated from the US after 9/11. There is a plethora of country western songs doing nothing more than hyping a false notion of American supremacy in all matters and then there is the TV show 24 and on and on. Meanwhile, attempts at intelligent representation of 9/11 and the wars that have eminated from our insane response have been largely ignored by American audiences.

What is it that someone once said about the unexamined life...

Comment Bubble Tip

Thanks

And I agree. But then that takes us to other dichotomies: "they" have "sectarianism" while "we" have political differences, and so forth.

 Just as an aside, pretty much every film I mentioned in the post did well at the box office, so the audiences did accept narratives that were quite hard-hitting and critical of the government, state, society and so forth. 

Comment Bubble Tip

hi sunny

It's really ignorance from both the side, indian as well as international media. They dont have little place for small cops story who sacrifised himself while fighting with terrorist, but can spare lot of space for would be movie directors and that kind of crapes. It's pity that we indians dont read what is clearly written on the wall. I am a physician and still seeing a patient who are being nightmered by tv bombarding of all ill pictured snapes and vedios. Media can kill more people compare to terrorist.

                                                                                         jitu