Caught in narrative: gritty saga of Indian tele-news media (Book Review)
Book: "Newsroom Live"; Author: Prabhat Shunglu; Published by: Om Books International; Pages: 310; Price:Rs.195
Newsrooms are manic hell where destinies of the nation and its inhabitants are written, expunged and even manipulated to grab maximum TRPs as in the case of reality television that peppers news with spice to reach out to viewers.
In veteran journalist Prabhat Shunglu's novel "Newsroom Live", the media's veneer of respectability is ripped off. Media in contemporary India is about guts, gore and lust for power.
Money wins over journalistic ethics in the cut-throat deals cut by media moguls. The walls between media, politics and conscience crumble in unholy caucuses. Paid news is passe and life is a pittance in the roulette of personal stakes.
The Diamond News Network (DNN) - at th heart of the novel - is a satirical take on one of India's biggest multi-national news channels that is scouting for two-minute fame.
Shunglu opens his narrative with a farce that is dished out as spot news by Diamnond News Network under a reality show category. The news is telecast like a viral campaign with meticulously-crafted blitz on screen, bytes, weighty scripts and people's participation in the development of the news.
Golu, an elephant, has fallen into a ditch. And Uday, the stoic television reporter has been assigned to cover the news. Golu's 'mahout' (keeper) Ram Asrey claims that Golu fell into the ditch because his sexual desires were 'stifled'. The channel romps home victorious with the outpourings of an outraged nation stung by the plight of the lovelorn beast. Uday becomes a celebrity journalist.
From here on, Shunglu's book spirals into a whirlpool of overpopulation of characters, chaotic events that he has no control over, flurry of situations that overlap and takes the reader in reverse gear to sequence the narrative over and over again.
Where does all this confusion begin? The triggers could be Golu's death or Uday's dilemma or the changing world of commercial news journalism and television as a whole.
Several more sensational incidents like grisly murders in the capital, a hot lesbian romance, political intrigues and riots keep the network trundling along. The canvas becomes complicated when a rival television channel creeps up on DNN's TRP, unleashing almost a uniformed combat.
However, Shunglu manages to carry his story home to readers with odd but cute cast of characters like Binny, the DNN honcho, reporter Ritwik, Muskan, the emancipated lady on the newsdesk, Hemendra, Satydendra, an honest reporter, Prithvi, a side-kick, Yashwant, a boss-type and several more.
Shunglu's language is lucid and distinctively Indian, the kind of kitsch that we hear so often in the English-speaking newsrooms across the 'desi' urban hubs.
Lives in the novel take irrevocable twists to change forever in the media's trysts with murky politics. Issue-based objective media reportage and politics are co-opted by the ruling dispensations as instructions to journalists are issued by high priests from the corridors of power.
Shunglu shines through as a prophet at times, painting graffiti of 'future media-scapes" on the walls of his fictional media houses. Media barons like Hemendra of DNN become real estate sharks, building highrises in Himalayan towns.
Satyendra, a journalist with a soul, is murdered for standing up for truth.
The writer treats his saga of Indian television like the fall of Adam and Eve in Eden with the elephant Golu's death blowing the horn that the age of innocence has ended in electronic journalism.
The story, however, ends with hope. Uday, the journalist who covers Golu's fate at the beginning of the novel, teaches his three-year-old daughter Udita the importance of photojournalism inspired by a photograph of his dead colleague's wife with her daughters.
There is a hint of churning anew, a fresh beginning that all is not dead in the media.
"I have been watching a few things about journalism over the last 16-17 years as a television journalist. The values it once had are no more...," Shunglu told IANS.