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Publicist manipulates film review

It is a development which could well shake the core ethics of journalism. For the first time in the history of Bollywood, a publicist has managed to dictate his terms in a film review.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007 | 3:18:05 PM IST (+05:30 GMT)
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Journalistic ethics damned!

Publicist manipulates film review

Noted industry personalities including Mahesh Bhatt, N.Chandra, Anupam Kher, Shakti Kapoor, Koel Purie and Konkana Sen Sharma comment on the beginning of an unethical trend, while Khalid Mohamed and Madhur Bhandarkar keep their lips sealed.

It is a development which could well shake the core ethics of journalism. For the first time in the history of Bollywood, a publicist has managed to dictate his terms in a film review.

Dale Bhagwagar, who happens to be one of the most influential PRs in the industry, shocked everyone when he manipulated words in a film review of leading journalist Subhash K. Jha last week. He did this, as he suspected that Jha had been vindictive to one of his new upcoming clients Nikita Anand because of his personal issues with the publicist.

The journalist, who had panned 'Dil Dosti Etc', a Prakash Jha production, was helpless when Bhagwagar simply contacted the owner of a renowned website and asked him to change a line in the review, as he felt it was "written out of prejudice" towards him. Shockingly, the website, without bothering to ask or inform the reviewer, carried out the change.

It can be recalled, that a few months ago, Bhagwagar had written an open letter regarding the journalist, exposing various facets of his doings. He had done this in retaliation to "inappropriate" and "attacking" articles the journalist wrote about his PR clients Shiney Ahuja and Shilpa Shetty. After the same, singer Sonu Nigam too, wrote an open letter condemning the same journalist, alleging, he asked for homosexual favours in return of positive writings. The publicist is rumoured to have leaked the news about the Sonu Nigam's grievances to the national television media. Following a traumatic showdown between the said journalist and Nigam along with other members of the film fraternity, Jha was unceremoniously removed from writing in several publications. Here again, it was believed by some that the publicist had schemingly maneuvered this particular journalist's ousting.

<a href=Shakti Kapoor" align="left" vspace="5" hspace="5" />Coming back to the review manipulation, the reviewer concerned, Subhash K. Jha however, was caught unawares when we enquired about the same. He said, "First of all, I don't have any idea about something of this sort. I don't have the time to keep a check on everything I write. I am an experienced person and such changes have never happened with my stories. I am in a good place and even if someone has changed something, it won't harm me. As far as ethics go, journalists also shouldn't cross their limits. Asking too many questions on a star's personal life is not right as we ourselves don't like too much intrusion."

Now whether Mr Jha admits to it or not, the damage has already been done. When we contacted Bhagwagar, he admitted to the manipulation. His justification was, "Jha has a history of taking out his personal grudge on actors, other journalists and PRs, and he doesn't spare me too. He seems to have some kind of ego problem because of a superiority complex. Jha bad-mouthed a client of mine in his review of 'Dil Dosti Etc' out of resentment against me. So I got it changed. What's the big deal?"

From the way the publicist has conducted himself in the past, Bhagwagar comes across as one who is madly in love with his job. He's known to fiercely guard and protect his PR clients against all odds, almost like a man possessed. "No media hanky-panky escapes my eye," he says with a grin. "If I don't protect my clients against such journalists who write for the sake of boosting their own ego, then who will? Sitting in remote Patna, Mr Jha is kicked about being the highest paid journalist (or so he tells many) and about the fact that forty percent of the industry sucks up to him. Sorry. I don't."

No wonder, in his short but spiraling career as a PR, Bhagwagar, who has always challenged the norm, has now earned the tag of 'Hitler' in industry circles, for dictating news pegs, stories, quotes, headlines and even story placements to the media. But manipulating a review is going to the extremes. After all, it is the prerogative of a reviewer to write what he wishes in his review, and a publicist has no right to call the shots there.

After this daring move by Bhagwagar, things are expected to change. In the coming days, other PRs might also try to take such steps if film reviews dissatisfy them. Everything boils down to the fact that there are not much of ethics left in the country today.

Koel PurieWhen questioned about ethics, Bhagwagar cross-questions! "Where has Mr Jha followed ethics?" The publicist says, he has heard that the said journalist tells actors not to speak to staffers of the Mumbai publications he writes for, and to only give stories and interviews to him. Inspite of that, knowingly, some prominent publications prefer to downplay their own staffers and give a platform to the Patna-based journalist to run his writing factory.

Koel Purie who recently appeared in a film titled 'Its Breaking News', panning the media on its sting operations, admits to this sorry state of affairs. "Recently, I read an article about me which said: 'Koel Purie daughter of Anil Puri who has starred in 'Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi' went to attend a premiere in Delhi.' If you go to look at the article, nothing in it is correct. First of all, I didn't go to the mentioned premiere, I have not starred in 'Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi' and my father's name is Arun Purie. There is no research at all in the articles today. This goes on to show the state of journalism in our country. There is great responsibility and power associated with media, but unfortunately only the latter is being utilized," she says.

Who better to analyze the situation than filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt, who always has a clever opinion on everything. Explains Mr. Bhatt, "There is a market force which controls every industry, and the newspaper industry is no different. Media is supposed to be the watchdog of the society but unfortunately, now it has become the lap dog of power. But there are exceptions. There are some journalists who still care about moral standards."

While Mr Bhatt chooses to examine, Konkona Sen Sharma whoKonkona Sen played a gritty reporter in 'Page 3', admits to not being acquainted with the darker side of the media. "As far as changes in articles are concerned, I have no idea exactly what the PRs and journalists are up to. However, I would like to say that there are different kinds of journalists in the country, some of whom I like and some I don't," she says.

Shakti Kapoor, who not very long ago, unwittingly got involved in a sting operation scandal, has a solution in hand. He hopes that a drastic step will be taken. He says, "I think the Government of India should intervene and a line should be drawn. The way there is censorship in films, we have to have some kind of censorship in media too. Journalists need to refrain from damaging reputations of actors. Then such PR manipulations won't happen."

Noted actor Anupam Kher says, "Times are changing, and so are a whole of aspects in journalism. I am not even aware if PRs are actually making changes in articles and reviews. I'm surprised to hear about their influence from you. But if this is the case, it's really not right."

Filmmaker N.Chandra, who is making 'Breaking News', with his unique take on the media, adopts a more diplomatic stand. "Moral values in our society have eroded. We need to accept change and deal with it. You expect the most virtuous of people to be in the field of education, but it is not so. Same is the case with the medical and the police profession. Same with people in journalism and PR. So why single out any profession?" he questions.

Considering the controversial nature of the issue, there were some who chose to evade it. Madhur Bhandarkar, who made 'Page 3' portraying the lifestyle culture catering to the media party pages, inquired about the issue but stayed away from comment. We also got in touch with India's most famous film-critic-turned-filmmaker Khalid Mohamed, but unfortunately, he wasn't keen to comment either.

For better or for worse, the bottom line is, things are up for change. Until some radical step is taken, one has to be ready for many such rude shocks in future as well! -(SAMPURN)


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