Visualise this. A news reader is presenting a news bulletin on air. There is “breaking news” of a road accident. From the visuals, he gets to know that his mother has died in the accident. But he cannot get up from his seat. With tears in his eyes, he has to complete the news bulletin.
Or the chaiwala or a tea stall owner by the side of an office of a news channel. This stall is the hub of activity as everyone comes and gulp a refreshing cup of tea after spending a tedious time at the newsroom. In fact, the chaiwala becomes a source of news for everyone. Unable to cope with the growing demands and orders for cups of tea, he screams in exasperation: “I am a human being, not a machine.”
Or the rather hilarious rivalry between the television channels which can stoop to any level. For instance, an activist dies, and one channel says he is not an activist but actually a blackmailer. The second channel refutes the allegation and says that he was an honest activist who had to lay down his life because he was making the government feel uneasy. And the third channel, which had nothing to say, comes up with an innovative solution. It launches an SMS campaign and asks its audiences to judge whether or not he was an activist or a blackmailer. And in the evening they plan to have a panel discussion based on the SMS results.
These scenes, from real-life drama which goes on in a journalist’s life, were brought alive in a play “Alop Nubuja Daawar” (meaning things which don’t appear clearly though they seem apparent – almost like being hidden by a cloud)” written and staged by journalists of various print and electronic media in Assam. The journalists behind the glitz of TV cameras appear larger than life and glamourous for the common viewers. But nobody has tried to delve into their real life. “The play we did was based on our day-to-day experiences. It was more of a self-analysis. This is the real picture. It is easy to criticise a journalist but very difficult to analyse the circumstances in which they work,” says Sonit Bhuyan, senior producer with DY 365, a news channel aired from Guwahati. Bhuyan plays the role of a journalist who brags about his contacts with the top shots.
The play also delves into the aspects of yellow journalism with scenes showing two editors. In one scene a leader of an agitation comes to the editor and tells him: “Send your camera team and we will start breaking things.” The first editor rebukes him and sends him away. But the other editor urges the agitation leader to wait for his camera team and not to tip off any other rival channel. Utpal Das, Assistant Chief Sub-Editor of Asomiya Protidin, who plays the role of an editor, says: “Common people usually do not know much about the life of a journalist. I am glad we could find time from our busy schedule and work together as a team.” This was also an opportunity for Das to relive his school and college days when he actively took part in drama.
One of the brains behind this play, Abhijit Gogoi, Executive Editor with NETV, says that this was a unique collective effort of four news channels and seven newspapers. “The play has a play within a play with several characters playing dual roles. Thirty-three characters were played by 28 media professionals,” says Gogoi. They also managed to get sponsorships to stage the play. They want to stage the play in many more locations but it’s very difficult to get them all together at the same time. He adds: “Unfortunately, the image of journalists is becoming poor. We want to restore the public image of journalists.”
In fact, music director Abhijit Barman, who scored the music for the play, enjoyed this unique experience. “The play was realistic, and the director insisted on making the ambience realistic. “We had designed some extra sounds along with the background music,” he says. Moreover, he realised that the journalists are versatile in their own ways. Some are good singers, some good at acting, and some play musical instruments with finesse.
The north-eastern region has witnessed a proliferation of television channels, all of them based in Guwahati city. The region already has a teeming vernacular and local media. But nobody really tried to delve into the life of a journalist or the person behind the camera. The play was an attempt to discover and understand their trials and triumphs.
What does a journalist really want to do? What is a journalist allowed to do by the management? Does this lead to a crisis? All these questions perturbed the director of the play, Rituparna Das. “Our lives have become 24X7. We wanted to highlight the human face behind the allure and charm of a television studio,” says Das.
(The writer is a journalist based in Northeast India. She can be reached at email@example.com)