Reel Life: A WFH life in the day of a film journalist
The press note, much as it was hilarious, also felt oddly reassuring -- that cinema is trying to get back to its old ways, trying to reach out to us. A sign that the world is healing
“So, which great new film are you planning to watch today?” My mornings usually begin with this question over a phone call with a close friend. Life as a film journalist has been much envied by those around me. Who wouldn’t want to watch films, meet the stars and, on top of that, get paid for it?
I, myself wouldn’t complain too much having watched some of the choicest films this year, not available easily otherwise—from the Tamil Seththumaan to Malayalam Everything is Cinema to French Petite Maman and a lot more in between. However, what people tend to conveniently forget, and I would like to stress upon is that my tribe also watches and reviews the likes of Hungama 2 so that others can choose to be spared of the torture.
Point I am trying to make here is that it’s not all fun and glamour. More so, ever since life altered drastically for us Indians at the start of the lockdown on March 24, 2020. From going out for film previews at Sunny Super Sound or PVR Juhu and Delite Diamond in Daryaganj and interviews and meetings at the film offices in Andheri, it has become all about living inside the laptop and the mobile, 24x7, complete with screenings and Zoom meetings, finding the eyesight going South from a +1 to +2.25 and mobile informing me that my screen time had gone up 177% last week.
All these excesses can’t mask the fact that it’s largely a banal routine. In between films, conversations and writing, while also cooking and cleaning, there’s a string of phone calls and emails, social media engagements and WhatsApp and text messages that make up for most part of our day, just as it does for all journalists in the lesser fun beats.
This Monday—the most dreaded day of the week—began auspiciously for me with a message from the night before. Of a small team of the Tamil film Koozhangal getting to attend the Transilvania International Film Festival in Cluj, Romania, in person and eliciting a standing ovation at the first screening. No mean achievement for one of the best received Indian films in the festival circuit this year that had to stay content with reaping all the laurels online.
Experiencing audience reactions and the frisson in a theatre can’t ever be replaced by anything virtual. And they got a small taste of it at least.
It was quickly followed by the news of Bengali filmmaker Aditya Vikram Sengupta’s new film Once Upon A Time in Calcutta premiering in Venice Film Festival’s Orizzonti (Horizons) section in September. One more film for me to look out for and put down in the “To Do” list in the diary.
Then came a sudden change of course. Yet another young film personality informed me about winning some random “Dada Sahab Phalke” award. I wondered briefly if the government shouldn’t intervene and get the nomenclature of all these wannabe trophies, that spoil the glory of the real and original one and create needless confusion, changed. But then the party’s own people, like actor and former FTII chairman, Gajendra Chauhan, have been tom-tomming one of these. How then to expect sense to prevail?
Between the Monday Motivation messages featuring a buff bodied Varun Dhawan and a press release on the praises earned by the trailer of Shershaah, based on the life of Kargil war hero PVC Captain Vikram Batra, an odd press note caught my eye.
Headlined “Hair is the most important aspect of being an actor, says Saif Ali Khan”, it made me immediately think of Anupam Kher and Fahadh Faasil and the serious funk this statement could send them into. A fellow journalist complained about how it touched a raw nerve and made her depressed about her own lockdown hair-loss.
A closer reading of the text made me realise that it was all to do with Saif becoming the brand ambassador of a new hair colour product. The accompanying picture only added to the mirth. Star advertising hitting a strange spot.
In the aftermath of the first lockdown, such weird PR releases and daily updates had come to a stop; to the extent that a lot of us had started missing their irritability value. The Saif note much as it was incongruous, out of joint and hence hilarious, also felt oddly reassuring --that cinema is trying to get back to its old ways, trying to reach out to us through its outlandish modes and that we should be happy with the fun that accompanies the droll press dockets. A sign that the world is healing and we should be thankful for that.