Sreenath Bhasi | Photo: P Jayesh/ Mathrubhumi
During the promotions of his latest film, Chattambi, when its lead actor Sreenath Bhasi was impishly asked to name top 5 mischief makers (roughly translated as chattambis in Malayalam) in Malayalam cinema, the actor after initially playing along, suddenly shifted gears and retorted with a highly audible swear word. Reportedly after insisting that the crew switch off the cameras, he continued the tirade much to the mortification of the female anchor and the crew. Soon after, an old interview with the same actor resurfaced on the internet. But in this interview to an RJ, the actor is unequivocally aggressive, pouring the hapless RJ with an assortment of expletives to the careless questions. While the RJ seems to have swept it under the rug, the female anchor didn’t take it lying down and filed a complaint against the actor. Eventually, an apology from the actor led to the case and the controversy dying down. As expected, social media is divided, with a section while empathizing with the anchor, shrewdly implying that perhaps she should have exercised more caution with questions. That brings us to the question—what’s the rule book when it comes to interviewing celebrities in the age of new media? In an age of instant gratification, where the average attention span of a human today is 8 seconds, isn’t it natural to deviate towards a medium that churns quick and quirky content? The internet is flooded with incessant popular and obscure online platforms which miraculously hit million views with just a celeb quote or a controversial quip. Today’s online movie anchors are mostly college passouts who have been briefed to keep it fun, cheeky and provocative. And they are simply following the instructions to the T. The views also point towards a simple reality—they have a dedicated audience. Rather, there is an audience for every form of content today.
Interestingly, the questions or the tone never vary according to the credentials or seniority of the celebrity guests in attendance. Take Veena Mukundan who anchors Behindwoods 'Ice break with Veena'. Irreverent and funny, it takes a while to warm up to her—she giggles, asks the most evident questions, shows too much familiarity with the guests and even irksomely addresses the men/boys as ‘chetta’. During an interview with a television couple, she had no qualms in implicitly asking them about family planning or asking a female actor whom she wants to romance first on screen. But strangely a large percentage of celebs don’t seem to mind, on the contrary they have all struck a kinship with her style of interviewing and laugh the loudest in her company. Maybe they don’t really feel the need to impress or say things to make themselves sound perceptive or insightful. She perhaps generates a vibe that makes them bring out their cheekiest side and confide things they wouldn’t have normally divulge in front of seasoned film journalists. That often results in great anecdotal bits for public consumption too.
In hindsight, it was Producer-Director Karan Johar who really set the precedence with Koffee with Karan for such intruding and irreverent celeb interviews in India. What we are seeing today are various editions of that, including the popular rapid-fire round.
Look at how film promotions are organised now. Even some of the biggest superstars, aware of the possibilities of the medium, give their time slot to online media. Despite being aware of the nature of the format. Most often such platforms are preferred over serious, professional media houses.
In fact, such online platforms have literally created monsters out of actors like Dhyan Sreenivasan and Shine Tom Chacko. And the actors play along, giving them exactly what they want, bolstering the TRPs. In a way the new age interviews can be called voyeuristic in nature. So a Shine Tom Chacko wriggling on the floor, standing on all fours or Dhyan Sreenivasan washing dirty linen in public grab more eyeballs than all their films put together. Just the fact that the public love and are bowled over by the (supposed) candour and honesty of the actors make you understand the viability of such interviews.
When a section of the audience are scoffing at such formats, it also points out to the politics of intolerance. It’s as good as dissing someone for preferring mainstream potboilers over realistic films. Because now what you have before you is a veritable buffet—serious, fun, intellectual, semi-intellectual, academic, cheeky, you name it, they have it. In a way some of the actors are also exposing themselves to the public, revealing their self reflexively.
A Karan Thapar and a Karan Johar are able to co-exist in whichever interview formats they deem fit, as long as there is an audience for it. The entertainment/engagement value of an interview also depends on the actors/filmmakers too. As someone who has worked in the business of interacting with actors/technicians for the longest time, I can say this with certainty—you are only as good as your subject. So the right questions will not give the right answers all the time, sometimes even a silly question when asked to the right person can elucidate profound/entertaining answers. I have struggled with notoriously diplomatic actors, found surprisingly great conversations with new actors and have always found technicians to be treasure troves of information. They would often take us through the nitty-gritties of their profession that help us to get closer to the medium like never before. While actors can be humble braggers and never really talk beyond themselves, the real deal can be the technicians of cinema.
Though most actors extended solidarity to Bhasi, the truth of the matter is that actors have the option to pick the interviews they want or graciously choose not to comment. What Bhasi conveyed is not just sheer arrogance and disrespect against a female anchor but also the general attitude towards film scribes. Or maybe the presumption that they won’t retaliate out of fear. That they feed off each other’s work is something actors very conveniently tend to overlook.
In a world where elusiveness and exclusiveness no longer sells, it’s smarter to get down from your high horse and be inclusive. Actors at least are slowly recognising this fact. Kudos to the new media for manifesting it.