An irate reader called me on the Friday before last to complain about city newspapers' coverage of the National Film Awards. "Why is everyone talking only about Vidya Balan?" she asked, referring to the award the actor won for her role in Dirty Picture.
But as the reader spoke it became clear to me that her criticism was only tangentially about the media's fixation with celebrities. Specifically, she was upset that newspapers had failed to mention both the name of the film that had won the award in the non-feature section and that of its director, who happened to be her brother.
To refresh my memory, I leafed through the reports that had appeared that morning. (The awards were announced on Wednesday but because Mumbai newspapers did not have editions on Holi Thursday the reports appeared only on Friday.)
It turned out that HT was actually the only newspaper among the three that I checked that had mentioned the winning film in the non-feature category, And We Play On. Moreover, it had not buried this fact, but had listed it first, along with film that had won in the high-profile feature section, the Marathi film Deool.
The report did not, however, mention the names of the directors - Pramod Purswane, the reader's brother, and Umesh Vinayak Kulkarni. This could be because most of the information was already two days old, and the report was meant to just take note of an important event rather than provide all the details.
In any case, the reader had clearly not read the papers carefully. This she graciously admitted, saying that she had been at a hospital all day tending to her sick father-in-law. But her call did set me thinking, so I requested Suprateek Chatterjee from the Sunday features team to call Purswane and find out more about the film. Both the film and its director turned out to be interesting. The film was about Vivek Singh, a national hockey player who died of cancer, largely unsung and unrecognised.
Chatterjee met Purswane on Saturday, interviewed him, saw the film and wrote an article that appeared the next day (March 11, page 10; 'In India, documentaries are like non-cricket sports').
The story became part of a larger two-page package on the changing face of entertainment, which ironically had a big article about how the audience for documentary films was actually growing, and how some mainstream platforms, such as PVR Cinemas and Flipkart were showing an interest in them. (March 11, page 11; 'Turning to true stories'). Purswane himself is likely to be able to screen his film a few times at Versova's Cinemax at the beginning of next month.
Purswane told Chatterjee that he may have been a "nobody" before he won the award but that it pained him that most publications had ignored him even afterwards. "It was almost as if my existence was being denied," he said.
This string of events showed me once again that many interesting stories lie underneath the obvious ones and those being pushed by publicists, if only we bother to scratch the surface.