‘Scoop’ series review: Hansal Mehta’s valentine to conscientious print journalism

Karishma Tanna and Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub power this series about the pitfalls of ambition and the price of journalistic grit

Published - June 02, 2023 12:48 pm IST

A still from ‘Scoop’

A still from ‘Scoop’

Ambition — unbridled, all-consuming — comes with a heavy price tag in the shows of Hansal Mehta. His last series, the mega-hit Scam 1992, told the story of Harshad Mehta, an ordinary textile merchant’s son who emerged a colossal fraudster. Harshad’s decline, in both life and web-show, was all his own doing, yet he enjoyed — at least for a little while — the fruits of opulence and the high life. The situation is cleverly altered for Jagruti Pathak (Karishma Tanna), a driven journalist and the protagonist of Hansal’s brand-new series, Scoop. Though as bullish and self-willed as Harshad, she is ideologically and morally his superior, accumulating front page bylines instead of material wealth. It’s a niche hustle, and it doesn’t pay very well.

The series is based on former crime journalist Jigna Vora’s memoir, Behind Bars in Byculla: My Days in Prison. It begins in earnest in 2011, with Jagruti — a stand-in for Vora — landing a tip to a gang-related shootout in Mumbai. Her brightest and toughest contemporary is Jaideb Sen (based on Jyotirmoy Dey and played with solemn magnetism by Prosenjit Chatterjee), who offhandedly tips her off about a larger conspiracy involving gangsters and cops. Jagruti, leaning into her network of small-time informers, pursues but fails to land an interview with gangster Chhota Rajan. However, soon enough, Rajan dials up her office and agrees to speak. The interview goes swimmingly and Jagruti packs off for a family vacation in Kashmir.

Scoop (Hindi)
Creators: Hansal Mehta, Mrunmayee Lagoo Waikul
Cast: Karishma Tanna, Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub, Harman Baweja, Prosenjit Chatterjee, Inayat Sood, Deven Bhojani
Episodes: 6
Run-time: 52 to 71 minutes
Storyline: In this true-lifer, an ambitious crime journalist is falsely accused in the murder conspiracy of a rival reporter and thrown in prison

Needless to say, the vacation is cut short. In a chilling early morning sequence that caps the first episode, Jaideb is shot by Rajan’s sharpshooters (J. Dey was killed in a similar fashion outside his Powai residence). That a former colleague who was covering the same beat is murdered in cold blood does not immediately ruffle Jagruti. Instead, she moves fast, parsing theories about the killing even as her editor, the more emotionally-affected Imran (Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub), advises caution and restraint. Soon, Jagruti’s world is flipped upside down. A recording emerges of Rajan admitting, on call, that he was spurred by Jagruti into murdering Sen. She is arrested under Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) charges and put in judicial custody.

Scoop — co-written by Mrunmayee Lagoo Waikul and Mirat Trivedi with dialogues by Karan Vyas — ambitiously and at times clumsily combines multiple genres: prison, courtroom and newsroom drama, conspiracy thriller, true crime, investigative mystery. Jagruti’s innocence is never in question; we know for certain she’s being framed, just not entirely by whom or why. The series portrays in detail the prejudices that can accrue to a female journalist working in a male-dominated beat. Time and again, Jagurti’s working relationships are called into question; with Imran, with the palpably predatory JCP Shroff (Harman Baweja), even with the deceased Sen. In prison, she’s catcalled as Rajan’s ‘girlfriend’, goaded by similar insinuations in the press. The cops use her relative influence — minor favours pulled here and there, a strongly-worded text to Sen — against her. Her personal life is seen in disarray: A single mother, she’s forced to send her son off to boarding school (her ex-husband and a lover are both revealed to be cold, self-seeking men).

Karishma Tanna in a still from ‘Scoop’

Karishma Tanna in a still from ‘Scoop’

With his glasses, beard and ethical rectitude, Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub recalls Liev Schreiber from Spotlight (2015). Karishma Tanna gets the speed and gumption of a high-functioning, exclusives-landing journo like Jagruti. In an early interrogation scene, she keeps her cool even though the walls are clearly closing in. The prison scenes are garish and brutal, as Jagruti stands up to an influential inmate and later (briefly) falls in with a terror-accused. Hansal, thankfully, keeps moving the drama around, and there’s an interesting subplot involving Imran’s chauvinistic successor and his wife. It’s also fitting that, given the middle-class Gujarati milieu of Jagruti’s home, actor Deven Bhojani gets the sweetest role, as her affectionate, signature-canvassing uncle.

Though it’s set only a decade in the past, Scoop feels like a valentine to conscientious print journalism in India. More than once, Imran calls for ‘sensitivity’ and gets told off in return. The outmoded interiors of his struggling ‘Eastern Age’ contrast tellingly with the glass walls and sleek cubicles of the rival ‘CitiMirror’. The final episodes are a blur of lurid news flashes and ravenous television cameras. “That’s where I want to be,” says Deepa (Inayat Sood), an ambitious trainee reporter and the scariest character of all.

In the end, too, it’s not journalism that bails Jagruti out, but a bunch of stirring arguments funnily presented in court; speculation turned on speculation. Hansal ends on a sombre note, with a montage of journalists killed or incarcerated in recent years. Forget feeling indignation; I’m surprised it even made the cut.

Scoop is currently streaming on Netflix

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