Stories are either planted by PR agents or they are paid for
In India nothing sells like cricket and films. Going by that logic, sports journalists and those who write about films and the stars, should be the busiest and the most in demand fellas. Unfortunately, that is not the case.
Sports writers can still travel the world to cover events. Their opinion and access to the players matter. Some of them eventually write books on their subjects and their sources that go on to become bestsellers. But things are very different for their peers on the other beat.
Old timers will tell you that the best stories came from hanging out on the sets, befriending spot boys and ADs, makeup artists and extras who could fill you in with colourful versions of what went inside the star’s vanity van. But sets are impenetrable fortresses these days. And units often wrap up entire schedules abroad. What’s more, the stars who did not mind sharing a few drinks with journalists and spilling out a secret or two about the actress he had been eyeing, have either gone senile or don’t matter any more. Those who matter have a very different approach towards media which they treat as a necessary evil.
In fact, one of the country’s reigning heartthrob, who belongs to filmdom’s first family, does not ever entertain calls from journalists and in order to ward them off, has saved some of their names as Ch***ya1 and so on. Then, of course, there is someone like Shah Rukh Khan, who opens up the grand doors of Mannat to the hordes of hungry journalists and photographers every time he has a film to promote. From treating them to biryani in his lawns to cosy drinking sessions and popcorn in this private theatre, he often has the media eating out of his hands.
But more than anything else, it is the twin blow of the all-powerful film public relations professionals and paid content that have rendered journalists covering the beat completely redundant. Stories are either planted by the PR agency insisting that the stars communicate only through them, cutting off access to the journalists. Or they are paid for – in order for the film to be promoted exactly the way the producers and the stars want it to be.
So where does one get the real stories? The so-called ‘real’ stories went out with the likes of Rajesh Khanna. When stars were an enigmatic lot. They had fiercely private lives despite the access they granted to some of the journalists they had learnt to trust. Their public appearances were few and far between. And they did not speak only if they had a film to promote. Which meant, the fans were hungry for every morsel of star news that the glossies would throw their way. That was also when stars did not use social media as a weapon. Some of the biggest stars in the country prefer to use the social media over their PRs, who have been entrusted with the role of fire-fighters, in case trouble breaks out.
A leading actress, who was till recently in the eye of a storm over her alleged relationship with a married A-lister, signed on a formidable Bollywood PR woman who is known for her crisis management skills. While she stuck to social media to plaster the world with her pouts and her girlfriend party pictures, this woman ensured that there was no story in the media that tarnished her carefully re-crafted mage. Yes, sometimes it involved calling up some of the biggest and most influential media honchos to ensure stop press orders.
So there you go. Pages are now filled with innocuous stories about tattoos, shopping trips and holiday snaps. While the real stories remain beyond reach for most Bollywood journalists, who are either mastering the art of rewriting press notes or hoping that some day he too gets invited to Mannat for a session with the Badshah over biryani and beer. If not to be printed, at least there would be something to boast to their grandchildren about.