Working for a Bollywood website might seem like fun, but it is also a responsibility. Something more online editors (if they exist; because frankly I don’t see the signs) should exercise. In journalism, along with spine and soul, one needs sensibility. It should always be about breaking news. Sometimes it is more necessary to not break hearts.
My tribe needs to employ restraint while reporting. There is a thin red line that often gets crossed during celebrity reportage. While it is fine to have fun with gossip, scandals, hookups, and breakups, we need different rules when we deal with the loss of life.
Which brings me to the tragic news of Sridevi's demise. When the news broke out, my first instinct as a Bollywood reporter was to dig deep, make calls and check the authenticity of the news. Then get personal accounts from those close to her, and put together a comprehensive piece based on 'facts and documents' and not 'gossip and hearsay'.
What we witnessed on Monday night on news channels, would put any self respecting journalist to shame. A self proclaimed gossip columnist, also a consultant to a popular news channel whose agenda was to let the woman use the platform to tarnish every possible memory we have of Sridevi, went to the extent of blaming Sri's close friends Karan Johar and Manish Malhotra for not answering her calls, and she concluded “dal mein kuch kaala hai.” This was just one of the many ridiculous statements that came out of her mouth which had one purpose - spit venom. Other channels put up shoddy infographics with their photoshop department conjuring up visuals of a shocked Boney Kapoor standing next to a bathtub with a badly cropped picture of Sridevi floating in it. Another visual said 'Maut ka bathtub' with the anchor playing dramatic music each time the word bathtub (written in red) came up on the screen. If these images and visuals were compiled together into a document it would make for the poster of a B-grade horror film that had no budget for VFX.
I am sad, but more angry, because this is what we have done to an icon, a legend, someone we grew up watching, idolising. This needs to change. We have living legends, will we give them similar farewells when they depart? Will we huddle up in our meeting rooms and come up with headlines like 'Maut Ka Bathtub' and 'Murder in the bathroom'? Or will we do an In Memoriam that is fitting to the work and legacy of the actor?
Don’t get me wrong, I love reading gossip blogs, the page 3 culture and watching Hollywood celebrity shows as much as the next guy. And while the reporting in the West has a deadly bite and burn, there is also respect. Their reporting might hit you in the gut, but they never deliver a blow below the belt. Two big names that come to my mind — Perez Hilton and Wendy Williams. These two individuals say it like it is, they chase scoops with claws out, but a few years ago when Whitney Houston passed away, the manner in which they presented the news should be taught to journalists in our newsrooms. While the tabloids were screaming with headlines like: 'Crack is Whack!', 'Once you go crack, you never go back', alleging that Whitney overdosed and died of drugs, both Perez and Wendy took the line of reporting that said: the information was unverified and mere gossip mongering. Instead, their reporting focussed more on her music, her fans, the impact she has left on generations of singers like Beyonce and Rihanna. The reason I am bringing up these two in the conversation is to highlight the fact that even the biggest gossip mongers in the world showed sensitivity when required.
The opportunity to pay respect to Sridevi has been missed. She left behind a body of work that we should be celebrating. No one seems to want to talk about the kind of actress, mother, wife and person that she was. Instead the media is dissecting gory details of her last moments and making loose accusations on family members who will not be able to get closure anytime soon. It's a sad time to be an entertainment reporter. Especially those who work for news channels, whose only motive is to get TRPs and provide cheap thrills.
On behalf of my colleagues and the media fraternity, I apologise to you Sri Ma'am for what we have done. Your place in your fans’ hearts will not be damaged by the irresponsible reporting. The only death that needs to be reported is that of good journalism, Sridevi will always stay in the hearts of her fans. Long live Sridevi!
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