Hachette, Rs 350, Pages 310
Tranquebar, Rs 200, Pages 232
What are the stereotypes that immediately come to mind when you think of TV news journalists?
1. They lead crazy, high-pressure, stressful lives. They inhale adrenaline instead of oxygen. They don’t have time to die, forget bonding with family and friends.
2. They are ambitious, aggressive and will do anything (well, almost) to get a good story on primetime TV.
Well, guess what? A large part of all this is apparently quite true — and we have it from the TV journos themselves, in two brand new books: Braking News and Broken News (no, I swear I haven’t made up these names).
Braking News is a racy, readable account of a jaw-dropping journey that Sunetra Choudhury (NDTV 24x7) and her colleague Naghma (NDTV India) undertook in the scorching summer of 2009, two months before the general elections. Aboard a big red bus (the NDTV Election Bus), the two girls (along with a small crew), travelled all over India, hunting for election stories, home-cooked meals and clean loos with single-minded determination, braving all manner of odds — from rat-infested hotels to Naxalite landmines — and incidentally, managing to have the time of their lives.
Though Braking News does quick little cameos of political leaders and also indulges in a bit of political analysis (mandatory, since the book is about election reportage, I suppose), the book really comes alive in its candid depiction of the reporting process itself.
The punishing deadlines, the intense pressure of finding ‘sexy’ stories every day (Lalu Prasad is always ‘sexy,’ Mayawati less so, though there is a rather, er, sexy story about her in the book), the periodic crises during the journey (when the author cheerfully admits to turning into a shrieking banshee), the niggling inter-personal tensions — it all adds up to a fun read. Thankfully, Sunetra doesn’t make heavy weather of it.
Instead, she recounts the 15,000-mile (gulp!) journey with self-deprecating humour and a take-it-or-leave-it-we-are-like-this-only attitude.
Broken News, on the other hand, is a novel. Set in Delhi, it’s about a TV news anchor hurtling towards a breakdown with a kind of unstoppable inevitability. Broken love affairs, competitive colleagues, gnawing insecurity, office politics, brittle friendships — M’s (our prima donna heroine) world is full of tension.
And M makes sure that you, the reader, knows that every step of the way. Frankly, there are moments when you want to give old M a bit of a shake — come on, you want to tell her, get a reality check. You’re on a small TV screen, not plastered on billboards that can be spotted from outer space.
But plenty of people, I imagine, often wonder what goes on behind the TV news channels that they watch so regularly. They’ve seen the anchors, fully made up, trademark jacket and discreet necklace thingie in place — but what are these anchors really like? Are their lives glamorously hectic or are they just hyper creatures, addicted to their 15 minutes of fame every evening, always courting the possibility of a burnout? And what’s their work really like? What happens behind the scenes?
For TV professionals and insiders, there’s nothing particularly mysterious about all this (that #^%*# screwed up my bulletin again?) but for outsiders, it could be a world they would love to peep into. If you’re one of those, read on.