Friday, 20 May 2011

Female Reporters, Hollywood and Bollywood Style

Last weekend, by sheer chance, I ended up hiring Roger Michell's latest romantic comedy, Morning Glory, which turned out be based on morning television in the USA. With a stellar cast including Rachel McAdams, Diane Keaton and Harrison Ford, the film doesn't do anything entirely surprising within the rom-com genre, but I was interested to note that at least some of its sub-texts engaged with wider social issues. These include the news versus infotainment debate, the female anchor and producer championing the cause of soft news, and the old-guard male journalist who only believes in serious stories. This is not unlike the increasing tabloidisation of television in contemporary India, even though there is a plethora of women in the Indian print and electronic media doing the hard news rounds. Yet the problem seems to be that when represented in films such as Page 3, the female reporter is not merely feminised, but also infantilised.

Academics like Brian McNair and Matthew Ehrlich have written extensively on the how Hollywood renders journalist and the profession of journalism on film. In terms of female reporters in the west, there has been a shift from the "sob sister" of yesteryears to the modern supergirl journalist who struts her stuff on the most difficult of beats (although these stories are more likely to be maternal or fashion-centred than those assigned to their male counterparts). There is yet to be an extensive study on whether there has been a corresponding trend in Bollywood. If my anecdotal knowledge of the industry is anything to go by, recent films such as Peepli Live and No One Killed Jessica show us more empowered versions of the Indian female journalist. Their journalistic practices may not be perfectly ethical, and they may still be puppets of an increasingly corporate media ecology, but they are neither submissive nor chaste. Is the particular genre of Bollywood that is generating such filmic renditions of career women possibly ahead of Hollywood in some respects?