My day job insists that I stick to facts. My night job seriously prefers that I don’t. Which is just as well. But there are moments, when Narasingha-like I sway between journalist and fabricator and have this intense desire to break out of the pig-pen of facts pulling on my dog collar.
Not too long ago, I had interviewed Amitabh Bachchan, a notoriously adept (read: boring) interviewee. He spoke about his woes of being a father-in-law of someone whom the media had set out marrying a tree, about his political buddies, about the price of fame — those yawnful things that even Filmfare won’t touch. The truth is, I wanted him to say how he snorted cocaine on the sets of Jhoom Barabar Jhoom (which would have explained many things about the movie); about how he fantasises about Amar Singh every Tuesday; about his fetish for track suits with high zippers; about his deep seated desire to trash the trash cans outside 10 Janpath; about his belief that vegetables can talk. Problem is he didn’t say a word about these things.
Now it wasn’t ethics or a sense of propriety that made me refrain from cunningly adding my very own ‘Bachchan lines’ on my Microsoft Word document file. I didn’t add them because this newspaper, in-built with fire extinguishers and healthy professional doubt, just wouldn’t have let such a wonderfully colourful interview be printed. Not because HT and Amitabh have a good thing going on the side, but because the former would have caught me fibbing. Of course, I would have managed to sell an on-camera ‘Amitabh interview’ to the channel, Live India, after taking some tips from Cyrus Broacha, who on the more respectable CNN-IBN runs a gag interview segment that splices old interviews of worthies with his own questions. (Cyrus: President Musharraf, do you think Manmohan Singh is a moron? Musharraf: I absolutely think so.)
But let’s move away from media studies. As I put on my glasses and chug on my Bertrand Russell pipe (bought on eBay for an undisclosed amount), let’s go straight to the heart of the matter: truth and lies. Now you would quite clearly think that a documentary is a film bereft of acting. Apart from the editing job, a documentary is supposed to be about seeing something the way it is. Well, I’m afraid it can be a bit more tricky than that.
Robert Flaherty’s Nanook of the North (1922) is generally considered to be a masterwork of documentary film-making. Flaherty ‘captured’ the struggles of the Inuit Nanook and his family in the Canadian Arctic not only by pointing the camera at them but also by staging many scenes so that the Inuits behaved more ‘Inuit-like’ than genuine Inuits did. So a scene showing Allakariallak — that’s Nanook’s real name, but it’s a little hard for the audience to pronounce ‘back home’ — looking curiously at a gramophone. Which on second thoughts is a bit strange, considering that Inuits were familiar with gramophones in the 1920s. Flaherty also had his Inuits hunt with spears and clubs — a bummer for Nanook and the boys as they wanted to show off their usual shooting skills with their guns.
To fool people into believing that your fabrications are facts you have to choose your platform. My mother believes everything she reads in newspapers — drinking a glass of wine everyday is good for the old ticker; Jagdish Tytler is a good man; tomorrow’s quote of the day is really by Tagore. So it’s the delivery system — the newspaper, the non-fiction book, the documentary — with its sticker, ‘WE ONLY DO FACTS’ running across it — that decides matters. Now if such a ready-made platform can be infiltrated by lies — a ‘history’ book about the Holocaust being a Zionist concoction; a news flash about an UFO landing on Rashtrapati Bhawan, a newspaper columnist stating that he was planning to expose Amitabh Bachchan’s cocaine habit — my night job as a fiction writer can finally be up and running even when the sun is up. But will I be able to bullshit the bullshitter? Watch this shimmering space.