Suddenly from an occasional film about the media—Ramesh Sharma’s New Delhi Times (1986) and Anusha Rizvi’s Peepli [Live] (2010) come to mind—the Mumbai film industry has started showering an inordinate amount of attention on the news media, print and television. First there was Sudhir Mishra’s Afwaah which shows us the mirror on fake news and how a combination of TV hysteria and viral YouTube videos can create a version of truth that everyone believes. Soon, Netflix will release a new web series, Scoop, directed by Hansal Mehta, and based on the murder case against Jigna Vora. Scoop shows the pressures of covering crime in the time of the mafia and the uneasy relationship between journalists and police officers. Vora was accused of organising the hit on fellow journalist J Dey through underworld don Chhota Rajan. She was eventually cleared by the court but not before her life was in ruins. Hansal Mehta’s Scam 1992: The Harshad Mehta Story (SonyLIV) was as much about stockbroker Harshad Mehta’s rise to riches as it was about Sucheta Dalal’s relentless coverage of his business. Despatch, the talented Kanu Behl’s forthcoming film, stars Manoj Bajpayee as a 52-year-old crime editor in a city tabloid who is desperate to break a story at a time when he feels print is becoming defunct. In the process, he discovers more than he has bargained for. After a long break, Titli (2014) director Behl is back with a bang. His deeply felt study in masculinity, Agra, is being shown at the Directors’ Fortnight in the ongoing Cannes Film Festival. Expect more news on movies on the news.
The Importance of Archives
Sometimes one person’s life choices can have a strange impact on that of another. When Debashree Mukherjee decided to return to academics after five years of working in the Mumbai film industry, she met Georg and Josef Wirsching in Goa, grandsons of Josef Wirsching, who was head cameraman for Bombay Talkies and shot movies like Dil Apna Aur Preet Parai (1960) and part of Pakeezah for Kamal Amrohi as well. Mukherjee was researching her PhD on 1930s Indian cinema, and so decided to interview as many film families related to Bombay Talkies as she could locate. Says she: “Turned out that the Wirschings were super warm and generous and had this amazing cache of photographs. I introduced them to the Alkazi Foundation and Rahaab Allana was able to finally create some contexts that made the family comfortable with sharing the images publicly. We did a big exhibition at the Serendipity Festival in Goa in 2017.” Since then, the photographs, part of 6,000 images which were carefully preserved in a steel trunk by the legendary cameraman after 1964, have travelled across India. Wirsching was filming Pakeezah, but then Kamal Amrohi and Meena Kumari separated. Amrohi shut down the shooting of Pakeezah and Meena Kumari went abroad for treatment of alcoholism. Wirsching died in 1967 but his photographic archive provides a valuable insight into how movies were made. They are also to be found in a new book Bombay Talkies: An Unseen History of Indian Cinema, edited by Mukherjee and published by Mapin. In one of the great ironies of life, Wirsching, who was fleeing the rise of Nazism in Germany, was interned in India during World War II on account of being a German national. While his work as a cinematographer in Bombay Talkies is now well known, Pakeezah, which he shot in Eastmancolor and CinemaScope, is quite exquisite. The later parts of the film were shot after 1969 by Jal Mistry and VK Murthy. Fali Mistry is said to have helped and RD Mathur finished the classic. The book also places Wirsching among a long line of foreigners who contributed to what is now called Bollywood, among them are Indian- American Suchet Singh and Italian cinematographer T Marconi.
Scene and Heard
One of the pleasures of watching HBO’s last season of Succession is how closely it follows real events. Even as the children of Logan Roy (played by Brian Cox) squabble over their inheritance and end up endorsing a rightwing extremist as president of the US, there is consternation that the Norwegian tech company, GoJo, which their father had done a deal with, has fudged its subscriber numbers in India. With new money, says Kendall, the second-oldest of Roy’s children, you have to “hold those bills to the light”. An interesting departure for poor and exotic India to be seen as the land of ‘new money’ but also dodgy regulatory practices.