Sex, Lies and TV news

Broken News is the perfect pot-boiler with its insights into the murky world of broadcast news.

WrittenBy:Sunayana Singh
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It’s been a few days since I finished reading Broken News. A book about broadcast news, TV reporters and the glamour and grime that comes with it. Took me a while to get engrossed enough in the book to want to get back to it asap, unlike my other reading material i.e. Patricia Cromwell, Michael Connolly, Jo Nesbo and the rest of the pacy, psycho-serial-killer-apprehending-cop books in the market. Mind you these books are awesome so no need to roll your eyes at my taste in literature.

So when I was asked to review Broken News (because I was once a journalist with Newstrack) I was convinced it would certainly not be in my preferred genre of reading. I was also convinced (and still am) that any work of fiction written by a professional, about their own profession is more than a touch autobiographical. I mean, here is a young female TV journalist/anchor who is writing about a young female TV journalist/anchor! Ahem… So while reading the book, the protagonist who is known only as the very bond-like M, was actually in my mind Amrita (sorry Amrita, but that’s how the cards fell as soon as I started reading the book). So now who really wants to read an autobiography of a 30-something TV anchor? Who writes an autobiography at this age? Mark Zuckerberg I can understand, but Amrita Tripathi?

But boy, I was wrong! About it not falling in my genre, about it being boring, and most of all about it being from an – Amrita who?!? Because Amrita, I mean M, is definitely not a ‘who?’  She has seen it and done it all in the Indian TV anchor space.

It took a while to get used to the style of writing, but from the third time I went back to it, I was engrossed. It’s fast, racy and explores all aspects of what life is like for a television anchor & journalist, especially a woman. The 20-hour days, the constant excitement when you’re getting a show together, the thrill of being on air, the highs and lows, the sexual harassment and especially (and most interestingly) the backbiting and the conniving. Getting to the top is a long and arduous journey; falling from grace, an overnight accomplishment.

M, a strong, independent woman is at the top of her profession and is a successful anchor. But that’s not where the story ends, it’s where it begins; the struggle to stay there and the constant fight to fend off the climbing hordes of young nubile aspirants with starry eyes who will do anything and everything to wrest her position from her. And I mean ANYTHING. Even your closest friends become potential competitors. If there is a story of a woman who was hounded out of a media house after falling out with her much-married anchor lover, there are more than enough instances of cleavage popping, tight-jeaned young things, screwing around with sugar daddies to get to the haloed anchor position.

And here’s where I find myself wondering. How much does this represent reality? Is everyone in the media business really sleeping with everyone else to give and get favours? Is it really so torrid? Damn, how boring was it during my time!

The story of M navigates the world of 24-hour news channels: their working and how they manage to get news out. It explores the crazy lifestyles of journalists and anchors who work around the clock to get news out, and the unimaginable thrill of seeing your work on TV exactly the way you wanted it. Being a former journalist myself, thankfully not from the age of 24-hour news channels, I completely understand this feeling. For me, one particular line in the book – when M is shooting/editing her piece to go on air – summed up what it feels like to be in the throes of television ecstasy: “It’s a fantastic feeling, putting all the blocks together in your head, making the jigsaw fit together mentally, and then…watching it all change completely on the edit table. When you do it right, as you watch it come together, especially when you watch it on air, there’s nothing like knowing you got it down pat. You have a thread going through the whole show – it has a soul.” And these are the moments when you feel for M, because you know that she loves what she does, and why she doesn’t want to lose it.

Unfortunately, that soul, that amazing feeling and the thrill of what it’s like to get out there to report and anchor news, is a bit lost in the novel, and what you actually get is an insight into the murkier world of TV; the behind-the-scenes scheming, bitching, power struggles and the cut-throat competition between media-persons in their mad power-crazed scramble to get to the top.

By now you can probably understand why I liked the book. It has all the masala of a good read – Sex (lots of sex), Lies and lots of Videotapes and in the end – the revelation! It may not be a heavily insightful analysis of the Indian media scene but it needn’t be. Of course any woman would have to be demented to enter this profession after reading Broken News (dying to know if this is intentional), but is it a good read? Hell yeah!

P.S. Without giving away the plot, here are a few conclusions I arrived at as I finished the book:

1)    Over my dead body will any female relative, friend or enemy of mine ever work at a TV channel.

2)    Thank God I escaped.

3)    If Madhur Bhandarkar wants to attempt a film on the media world, he has a script ready. Move over Chetan Bhagat, the screenplay for the next Bollywood blockbuster is coming from Amrita Tripathi!

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