Friday, November 18, 2011

The Insider Reports : Baby Bachchan is delivered. Whew!

The broadcast media supposed refrained from covering the Bachchan baby’s delivery. What they did not cover was more than compensated for by the rampant reporting by their online divisions. The Hot featured my piece on this ( For those who could not open the link, I have reroduced it below -
When electronic media decided to go easy on the Bachchans by excluding Aishwarya Rai Bachchan’s delivery from news coverage, their online divisions went to town with a literal minute by minute analysis of the situation (considering the lack of any updates to report).

In the last one week, there have been over 4.3 Lakh mentions of the delivery. Of this, 601 stories were reported by leading news portals. From the speculation of the baby’s birth date being 11.11.11, hospital visits by the actress, fake news of the birth, betting on Baby B and the manner of birth, everything was covered the way a national crisis would be. Some portals even posted pictures of the family reportedly checking in to the hospital, perhaps in a bid to outdo the competition.

While the BEA Guidelines (Broadcast Editor’s Association) sought responsible and sensitive coverage, they seem to have turned a blind eye to the online divisions of their channels which participated in the coverage frenzy. Did the BEA not anticipate that such a loophole could be taken advantage of? Or were these guidelines issued to merely to pacify the new PCI Chief’s tirade against broadcasting celebrities and fashion? Surprisingly, while these guidelines were widely reported by the media, the BEA website itself carried no information on this.

For starters, the 10 point-guideline, as reported by the media, was shallow. No news organization highlighted this, possibly because they were in the midst of chasing the bigger story – Baby B’s birth. Let us analyse some of the guidelines that were reported.

1. No pre-coverage of the event – How do you define Pre-coverage? The broadcast media (and its online portals) have been actively reporting the Bachchan pregnancy since it was announced in June.

2. The story of the birth and baby to be run after official announcement from the family – Considering everything from what Aishwarya ate and wore to when she was admitted in the hospital was covered, what would be left of “the story of the birth”? The baby would obviously have to be born before anyone reported about its birth. As for official communication, only tweets sent by the father and grandfather were used in the news reports. Since when have we started considering tweets as official announcements? In the past there have been several instances of celebrity tweets being “mis-interpreted” by the media leading to “formal” clearing up of the air at press conferences.

3. No outdoor broadcast vans to be placed outside the hospital – The lady is not having her delivery in a government hospital. She has opted for a private fortress of a hospital in the full knowledge that 17 acres of land surrounded by considerable security and a massive entrance, will not allow any clear visuals for broadcast on TV. Even if one was to shoot the story via helicopter, they wouldn’t get visuals. Had OB vans been allowed outside the hospital, would journalists do a live broadcast of her admission to the hospital at 11:30 pm? Mostly not, considering it is way past prime time.

4. TV Channels can go for photos ops only if invited by the Bachchans – Unless you are signing an exclusive deal with a magazine for the rights of certain pictures, or want to be in the bad books of certain media, there is no way you can be selective about inviting the media. The Bachchans, having done it once before for the Abhi-Ash marriage, would rather not call any media than be selective. In that case, the Indian papparazzi would resort to other means to get pictures, like they normally do with any celebrity.

5. Channels to not run any astrology shows related to 11.11.11 – How absurd is this? What has 11.11.11 got to do with Baby B? We did not have a similar guideline banning astrology shows on 10.10.10 and nor will we have one for 12.12.12. Why this?

6. TV Crews and Cameras to leave the venue after 15 minutes of the event - What would be the event in question? A glimpse of Baby B or an interview with Aishwarya Rai Bachchan? Who will ensure the media leaves on time? The guidelines specifically says this is a self regulating measure to avert greater tragedy/ disaster and reference was made to coverage of the Ayodhya issue and the demise of Mohammed Azharuddin’s son. But Baby B’s birth is a happy occasion. Is it realistic to expect that the media would remain on ground only for 15 minutes? After all, the media would want to get some candid pictures also.

The biggest question remains – why were these guidelines issued specifically for the Bachchan family? Why not introduce better guidelines for general reporting? After all everyone’s dignity and privacy needs to be protected – be it the Bachchan bahu or India’s symbolic seven billionth child Nargis or a rape victim.

The problem with guidelines is that they show no clear benefit for the organizations complying with them. Their non-enforceable nature means that they are ignored in a bid to keep the organization as competitive as its peers. Because guidelines are not enforceable, they are vague and hence no one takes them seriously.

The solution is to ensure that the editorial and the advertising/ business divisions sit together and take a call on how they want to conduct themselves. Internal guidelines must be developed and these must be stricter, and clearer than those issued by external bodies. Moderation in coverage can be best met by self-regulation.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Earful!: Lessons from the Bachchan Baby

There are those try to be celebrities. Others have celebrity-dom thrust on them. And then there is the Bachchan baby (already christened Baby B). This one is for those of you who want to retain the spotlight without appearing cheesy. In other words, the art of telling all without actually saying anything.
1. Go reclusive – A good half year before your event (whatever that might be), stop going anywhere public or private. Avoid parties and get a pal or parent to say how reclusive you have become of late. Gentlemen, do promote that facial hair growth and get a scowl, it adds to the brooding image. Ladies, what can I say? You can pick any of the following options – turning up without makeup, wearing the same dress three times in a row, mimic Kangana Ranaut from Fashion, keep looking at the exit door or your cell phone and look through people. If none of that works, start a conversation about “How you don’t feel like talking these days…” or “How you feel tired all the time…”.

2. Use social media to go asocial – Talk to your family and friends by tweeting once in a day. The most obscure the tweet, the better. Take a cue from Big B’s “Another day of waiting..But yet again.. The lord had his ways…” Considering there are just 140 characters to mess with, start with “What a day! Don’t know where to begin…” As you master this game, you will realize you can keep repeating the same messages in a loop without anyone noticing…(Psst –It might be worthwhile looking through Big B’s tweets for ideas, avoid Shahid Kapoor’s Mausam outburst though)

3. Show, don’t tell – Assuming you have followed points 1 and 2, start making fleeting appearances and don’t speak a word. Let the public put together a morose look and a tweet that says “Feeling tired”. The lesser you show the better. Aishwarya appearing at Manyata Dutt’s Mata ki Chowki for 20 minutes led to the breaking news of her having twins. Or Rani Mukherjee appearing at the Durga Puja pandal in a saree and big red bindi, looking like a resplendent Bengali housewife, leading to rumours of her marriage. Well, what do you care? This kind of sensational stuff will withstand a week of you not tweeting.

4. Get quirky – Ask whoever you meet (hopefully this should be just parents and close pals) to get you weird stuff, like pencils or a night lamp. The fact that you no longer use these items but are now asking for it, will arouse interest. Did Aishwarya Rai not ask for Dhokla and Dahi Vada – all to satiate the hunger of the twin babies?. Didn’t we hear that Aamir Khan had lost his marbles and was sporting a weirdly criminal hairstyle before Ghajini released? What about Imran Khan’s often talked about “wicked humour” on the sets? Quirkiness is the way to go

5. Make the friends talk – We all know how reverently the media looks at celebrities’ “close friends” as news sources. Before D-Day arrives, make sure to start sharing different info with different friends. That way the media will fall over one another to keep breaking news every 30 minutes. Enterprising journalists may actually feed you fodder for further news. Remember the frenzy when 11.11.11 happened? Multiple stories on Baby B were generated – of the twins being born on this date, the BEA issuing guidelines allegedly upon Big B’s request, astrologers talking about Baby B, Seven Hills hospital’s nurses featuring in the news etc etc. If you want a simpler case to understand, how about Anushka Sharma crying hoarse that she was not seeing Ranveer Singh, followed by news of his trying to date Sonakshi Sinha, followed by news of how she was avoiding him? What are friends for if they don’t help you succeed in your objective?

What do you do after all these steps have been followed diligently and met with success? For that, we will have to wait for the first pictures of Baby B.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Insider Reports: Ra.One - the role of media in its failure

I was looking forward to watching Ra.One until I saw Enthiran (albeit half way - due to some technical issues). Since then I have wondered what response the film would garner. Thanks to the barrage of reviews, now I know. As Shah RukhKhan got pulverized for everything he did (and did not do) in the film, I wondered if he is the prime reason for the fate of the film. On introspection, I realised, perhaps not. Who is?

The Hoot published my views on

I am reproducing the content here in case the link does not open.

Two weeks ago, the much awaited film Ra.One released to mixed reviews. It faced criticism from popular film critics such as Rajeev Masand, Saibal Chatterjee, Raja Sen, Mayank Shekhar and Baradwaj Rangan, despite all the publications they write for carrying positive pre-release news over the last three years on the various facets of the film. Even after breaking box office records, the movie is still not being called a hit. This is a confusing outcome for the public who relied on print and online publications to gauge if they should watch the film. The media should perhaps introspect whether it promoted a poor product and misled the public.

When a product is heavily marketed, especially through editorials in media firms of repute, consumers tend to try it with a positive mindset. In case the product turns out to be bad, the disappointment is a tad bit more because the consumer trusted the media’s judgment of the product. Ra.One is no different. People awaited the movie with anticipation mainly owing to the media’s extensive coverage prior to its release. Had the media been more prudent, the public would have perhaps watched the film with realistic expectations.

Even before the film went on the floors, the media began discussing it. Since then every aspect of the film has been widely discussed without even seeing one screen shot. The actors finalized for the film, director, production spends, visual effects, story line, involvement of Hollywood technicians, release dates and rivalry – everything was reported with little scrutiny.

Is so much information necessary, considering most of this is nothing short of hear-say? Does the reader need to know that around Rs 150 crore was spent on a film? I don’t think so because it raises their expectations from the film and makes them want to see it as soon as possible contributing to the “initial” that the film rakes in. In case the reporter deems it necessary to quote such figures, he/she should also ask how the increased investment will translate into better experience for the viewer and whether such extravaganzas have paid off in the past. That would bring balance to the piece.

Post the movie’s release, publications that contributed to the hype around the film, pulverized it. For example, The Times of India has published two conflicting reports on Ra.One – One mentioning how the special effects have set a new benchmark for Indian film industry and another saying how the special effects fizzled out. What can one make of such reportage?

Some may argue that a film is a mass entertainment product and scrutiny into its business aspects are best avoided. I would differ on this point. In an age where film production houses are increasingly getting publicly listed, as also many have been discovered to have unscrupulous sources of funding, it becomes important for the public to become aware of where they are putting their money – even if it means shelling out a measly Rs 300 for a first day first show. Financial newspapers are already reporting on such data pertaining to film businesses. Why would film journalists want to go soft?

A film should be treated like any other consumer product. While covering products in any other industry, reporters do not quote unverified figures pertaining to investments in product development or discuss the product’s features without trying them out. Similarly, it is flawed to discuss any technical/ visual/ performance related aspects of a film without seeing a single shoot schedule or a rough cut.

Reporters covering the media and entertainment industry need ask questions that seek to provide a balanced perspective of their subjects. Not merely mouth the lines spewed by the actors, directors or film publicists. While the film review post release can be restricted to a critique of its storyline or acting or visual quality, one can ensure that other coverage can include aspects such as:

A) The distribution strategy and box office collections – For eg: Ra.One was released across in 4,600 screens and that is a key reason for it raking up high collections (Rs 170 crore and counting). Bodyguard which released in 2,700 screens made less money (around Rs 130 crore) in the same period. This is fairly simple arithmetic – the more number of screens you release the film in, the more revenues it is likely to generate. Reporters should instead focus on whether such a strategy is viable for long term and point out instances of other films where a cost effective distribution strategy has helped generate similar revenues. A case in point is 3 Idiots, which was released across a little over 2,000 screens and grossed over Rs 100 crore in the first four days.

B) Funding for films – When a film is made for public consumption, the public perhaps can be allowed to know how the film was sourced.

C) Project management of the film – Does the consumer really care if the project overshot its budget? I would like to draw comparisons with the Commonwealth Games here. The public perception of the games was poor due to the media’s coverage of the financial mismanagement and poor quality of infrastructure. In contrast, the public perception of the recently concluded Formula One event was positive because the management reported on the milestones from time to time and there were no reports on any budget overshoots or completion delays. Both these events are focused on public entertainment. When media coverage in both these cases can shape public opinion, is the same not possible with films?

Marketers will oversell products which don’t necessarily live up to their praise. However, the media must moderate whatever it publishes so that the public is not blatantly pushed towards consuming such products. How should media houses ensure that they don’t contribute to the hype surrounding films? Some of the following aspects can be considered.

The editorial must keep a tab on the number of stories it publishes pertaining to a film. This will ensure that only notable developments get covered and the quality of stories is retained. Additionally an arrangement can be reached with the advertising department of the publication to strictly not seek any favors from the editorial for biased publicity.

A strict policy needs to be developed on what aspects of a film will be covered prior to its release. Aspects bordering on speculation such as spats between the co-stars, leakage of storylines and budgets need to be clarified from multiple sources before validating if it is worthwhile to report on it.

Reporters must be cautious of films produced/ ghost produced by the lead actors as in such cases it becomes difficult to draw a line between the acting and production capabilities and hence evaluate both roles objectively. For eg: in Dabangg, the film’s production capabilities were compared to that of the lead actor Salman Khan’s ability to produce blockbusters. In case of Ra.One, reporters were seldom able to report on Red Chillies Entertainment (the production house) without reporting on Shah Rukh Khan.

Greater scrutiny of the film business is necessary so that film makers judiciously use the media for their promotions. In addition to some of the questions listed earlier in this piece, publications can try to randomly pick a layperson from the public and provide a joint review of the film. Alternatively, a movie buff can be asked to contribute a blog on any technical aspects of the film which the reporters are unfamiliar with. These measures will ensure that any bias by the reporter is suitably balanced by the public representative.

Reporting on films and the entertainment industry is difficult and often subjective. However, with proper guidelines in place, the media can give the public an informed perspective.