Hansal Mehta gets journalism and drama right
Exemplary performances by Karishma Tanna, Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub and Harman Baweja, pump up the show
In a recent interview with this reviewer, Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub, who plays straight-arrow editor Imran in Scoop, said that his character is a vent for director Hansal Mehta’s views on journalism. Imran, in a scene, reminds his superior (who is reprimanding him for not jumping onto the breaking news bandwagon) of journalism professor Jonathan Foster’s quote: “If someone says it’s raining and another person says it’s dry, it’s not your job to quote them both. Your job is to look out the f****** window.”
With Scoop, Mehta does. Firstly, he steers clear of cliches. There are no table-thumping anchors or reporters colluding with G-men over chuckles and glasses of whiskey. Rather, there are print journalists calling up their TV counterparts and leaking stories after being snubbed by their editors. Mehta explores this back-scratching world through the story of Jagruti Pathak (a promising Karishma Tanna), a sagacious scribe, ready to pounce on a floating tip or on anyone who tries to poach her sources (“It wasn’t easy for me to become Deputy Bureau Chief in just 7 years”). She runs with one foot in the Underworld and another in the Mumbai Crime Branch, chasing page-one bylines. But, she trips, when a rival journalist Jaideb Sen (a remarkable Prosenjit Chatterjee) is shot dead on the street and she is arrested for abetting the murder.
The series is inspired by former crime reporter Jigna Vora’s memoir Behind Bars in Byculla: My Days in Prison. While the book explores the writer’s ordeal in jail as an undertrial, accused in 2011 of providing reporter Jyotirmoy Dey’s details to gangster Chhota Rajan which led to his assassination, Mehta takes a different route. He puts the story that led to her undoing in the forefront. We see Jagruti, before the arrest, as an aspirational Gujarati woman, a single mother who can’t take out time for her son. She skips meeting her paramour because a source calls for a meeting. She even cuts short her family trip to Kashmir because she can’t let go of that coveted page one. It can be triggering, watching all this as a journalist, but as a viewer, I am in for the ride.
Among Jagruti’s top sources is JCP Shroff, played by Harman Baweja, making his comeback. The reporter and the cop share an uneasy relationship. He buys perfume for her, but she rejects his advances. Baweja, having put on some pounds since Love Story 2050 (2008), essays the role with equal, if not more, weight. He isn’t reduced to an ignorable creep and after Jagruti is framed for the murder, his face portrays the plight of a helpless man, constipated with guilt. The series finds its moral compass in Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub’s Imran. He plays the gruffy, conscientious news editor with aplomb. When two reporters hover in the hospital corridor to report on Jaideb Sen’s death, he shoos them away. “He was your senior, show some respect.” Imran knows where to draw the line.
Scoop, like Mehta’s previous OTT offering Scam 1992: The Harshad Mehta Story, comes under his brand of infotainment. It keeps the viewer hooked with a barrage of revelations and the drama doesn’t pause for a tell-all. Riding on Jagruti’s back, viewers nosedive into the interconnected web of crime reporting, police procedurals, underworld operations and political influences. No source divulges the full story. It only comes in parts as “confirmations” and reporters, along with the audience, painstakingly put the puzzle pieces together to get the entire picture. When Jagruti’s junior Deepa (Inayat Sood) asks a cop a probing question he chides her: “Do your own investigation.” There are no freebies, you give before you take. Quid Pro Quo.
While bent over that window, Mehta doesn’t lose sight of the truth inside the room. Amidst fast-talking reporters and cagey cops, the director finds quiet, introspective moments. In the series’ opening scene itself, an ecstatic old man scurries to a newspaper vendor to read her granddaughter’s first byline. In another sequence, a policeman, who later develops a terminal illness, pushes his obese son to go faster on the exercise bike. A woman, subject to rumour-mongering at the office, smokes alone after work while sitting on the sofa’s armrest. Although, in the final episodes the personal takes over the political and the pacing suffers. Mehta boils his dish on a high flame, lets it sizzle on a low but takes off the pan too quickly. Just like the story, as Imran said, it wasn’t fully cooked yet.
Cast: Karishma Tanna, Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub, Harman Baweja
Director: Hansal Mehta
Streaming on: Netflix