The idealistic, ethical editor, the greedy media owner, the puppet of politicians and corporates, the crusading editor, the daring, adventurous investigative reporter, the ruffians and the laidback scribes... Viewers of Malayalam cinema have seen a gamut of journalists, mostly unrealistic and exaggerated, on screen.
Blockbusters starring A-listers and helmed by mainstream directors like Joshiy, IV Sasi, Shaji Kailas, Blessy, and so on have put the media centre stage. However, most of the films were not always about the media or its work. Many a time, the films turned into investigative or political thrillers.
All eyes are now on Aashiq Abu’s Naaradan, releasing on March 3. With an ensemble cast led by Tovino Thomas and Anna Ben, and written by Unni R, the film delves into newsrooms and behind-the-scene working of news channels. Also in the cast are Indrans, Renji Panicker, Sharafudheen, Joy Mathew, Balachandran Chullikad, Vijayaraghavan, Kunchan, Rajesh Madhavan and Navas Vallikunnu among others.
How different will Naaradan be from similar media-based movies in the past? Aashiq responds, “I want viewers to answer that. For instance, the political and social conditions that existed during the time of Pathram (1999) do not exist now. TV channels were not so pervasive and popular. The dynamics of news and the way it was handled and disseminated were different. Naaradan delves into ethical issues and internal and external conflicts that have a bearing on visual media journalists. Naaradan is about the universe of television journalists.”
He admits wryly that expectations make him nervous and that is why he does not make any claims about the film.
Aashiq says for some time now, he had been observing the cut-throat competition among news channels and the pressure it creates on journalists.
Says Aashiq: “I have watched the pressure of 24x7 live news channels on my friends in the media and how it has affected their lives. Some of them, like Unni, moved on to other fields. I wanted to discuss all that in a film.”
While Unni and Aashiq were working on Rani, one of the films in the anthology Aanum Pennum, they explored the idea of a film on new-age journalism and journalists. He felt Unni with his vast experience in a news channel right from its nascent stage would be the best person to narrate the story of a television journalist and talk show host Chandraprakash, enacted by Tovino.
The director says he could only think of Tovino to don the role of Chandraprakash. “Tovino is an interesting actor who is not predictable. He gets better with each film.”
Although the film has not been triggered by any one particular event, several contemporary events shape up the narrative of Naaradan, says Aashiq.
With his last feature film Virus anchored on real events around the containment of the outbreak of the Nipah virus in Kozhikode, he is familiar with the process of transposing a set of real events to the screen.
With Naaradan, he feels the challenge as a director was to learn what happens behind the camera of a news channel, who decides the content of the news and so on.
“I approached Naaradan as an ordinary citizen, a consumer of news watching the news unfold on a television screen. Television journalists perform for an audience. That’s what we see.”
“I wanted to portray the pressures — internal and external — faced by a person in the visual media. It had to be authentic. I did not want to make a film based on ill-informed notions..”
He says that compared to print, journalists working in new channels face more constraints from within their organisation and their fraternity.
Anna, appearing as Shaakira Mohammed, is the only woman shown in posters and the trailer. Has he missed out on the several women working in the news channels? “That’s a question to be answered only after the film is released. I can’t reveal that now,” laughs Aashiq.
He points out that all journalists cannot be categorised as unethical, corrupt and biased. “What we are showing is a situation where there is a conflict between old-school journalism and competition, there are two parts to it. We have attempted to discuss both parts.”
He points out that many of us know principled journalists and also those who comprise on ethics to get ahead in the rat race and for power.
“I don’t want to state who should be an ideal journalist because I am not an expert. In the post-truth truth era, there are lots of pitfalls. Many of us have fallen prey to at least some of those grey areas where it is extremely difficult to sift fact and fiction. I feel only time and technology will resolve these issues.”
Shoot of ‘Neelavelicham’
When Naaradan is still playing in cinemas, Aashiq will begin shooting Neelavelicham from the second week of April in Kannur.
“ Bharagavi Nilayam, which was based on Basheer’s Neelavelicham, one of the classics of Malayalam cinema, was the only screenplay written by Basheer. We go back to the original text and interpret it in a contemporary setting.”