Gone are the days when journalism was just about informing the people of what was happening around them. Today, all we see is highly opinionated journalism where the concept of truth relies on the power of viewership and its monetisation. Advertising affects broadcasting, and this unfortunate stronghold affects the quality of journalism. Aashiq Abu’s Naradan tries to explore the falling standards of journalism and its takeover by the phenomenon of sensationalism.
Unni R, a former journalist, has clearly taken real-life inspirations to script the film. His lead man Chandra Prakash (Tovino Thomas), is chiselled on a certain firebrand journalist. The first half of the film concentrates on the functioning of Kerala’s TV journalism. We see how channels vie for ratings and breaking stories. Unni R’s writing gets to its best only towards the final half-hour. Here, the film becomes a gripping courtroom drama. Although how the narrative gets there is rushed. What follows is an interesting culmination with detailed and authentic legal proceedings.
When the film begins, Chandra Prakash is the main journalist of News Malayalam, Kerala’s leading news channel. However, his stay on the top is always on shaky ground because of the pressure from the never-ending race for breaking news and Television Rating Points (TRPs). At one point, he quits this job after being made a second fiddle at the channel. He gets a lucrative offer to head a new channel, which has businessmen, corporates, and politicians backing it. What we see then is the timid Chandra Prakash’s transformation to an evil CP. While recruiting journalists for his newly formed channel Narada, CP says, “This is the era of bet journalism. Allegations first, explanation later”. It kind of encapsulates what he becomes.
Right from the first time we see him, Chandra Prakash is portrayed as an insecure person who, despite being regarded as the ‘face of his channel’, is well aware that there’s an axe over his head waiting for him to falter. Though his personal side is not much focused on, we learn that he is a selfish man who ditches his girlfriend for wealth. With minimal dialogues, his patriarchal dad’s character is also established neatly. However, CP’s Trance-like transformation courtesy of a lifestyle guru is unintentionally funny, and Tovino’s dramatic shift in performance doesn’t come together either. He brings in a completely different body language for CP, who is bossy in every sense, so much so that he throws gifts at his team as if he’s feeding dogs. From someone who lets his panellists speak and only interject when there are false claims, CP becomes a loudmouth and self-styled moralist. This portrayal is bound to ring a bell on its not-so-subtle inspiration. It is appreciable that Tovino continues to take up such roles even after the elevation of his stardom post-Minnal Murali. It is impressive how Naradan has him in a completely negative character with no redeeming quality whatsoever.
On the other hand, there is Pradeep John (Sharafudheen), an ethical journalist who stands by what’s right even if it means he isn’t paid well. He is a representative of the everyday media person who struggles to meet ends, and Sharaf plays the part to perfection. There’s something about him that helps him pull off the affable roles convincingly. Also, we have Anna Benn, who plays a forthright advocate, shining in a not-so Anna Ben-like character. Being stripped of her angelic smile, Anna employs her stern eyes to good use this time and helps us warm up to her. Indrans is aptly cast in a judge’s role and his gradual development from a soft-spoken justice to eventually putting his foot down is reminiscent of Saurabh Shukla’s character in Jolly LLB. However, his final monologue, which gently veers down the preachy territory, stood out like a sore thumb in an un-Aashiq Abu-ish manner.
Aashiq Abu and Co look to hold a mirror only to the ugly side of journalism. It shows media trials, news reporters becoming the judge, jury and the executioners, channels resorting to honey trapping and sting operations, innocents being hounded, normalisation of casteism, moral policing, and more. With so many themes being jam-packed into the film, the lack of depth in any of them is disheartening. In fact, the film only touches upon topics that have already been explored and discussed. It doesn’t really get into the nuances of broadcast journalism, which robs the film of its true potential.
There are a lot of such flaws, but the intent of Naradan is almost flawless. However, as the credits roll, there is a sense of gratification as it instils a huge ‘what if’ about the future of Indian journalism.
Director: Aashiq Abu
Cast: Tovino Thomas, Anna Ben, Sharafudheen, Indrans