Hansal Mehta chose Karishma Tanna over others because she was ‘hungrier’, didn't come with 'intellectual baggage'

BySuchin Mehrotra
May 31, 2023 07:46 AM IST

Hansal Mehta's Scoop follows the story of Jagruti Vora, played by Karishma Tanna. In an exclusive interview with Hindustan Times, Hansal spoke about Scoop.

After his internet-breaking Scam 1992: The Harshad Mehta Story, filmmaker Hansal Mehta is back with another series, this time on Netflix. Based on Jigna Vora’s book Behind Bars In Byculla, Scoop follows the story of intrepid crime reporter Jagruti Vora (played by Karishma Tanna). After a fellow journalist is murdered by the Chhota Rajan gang in 2011, Jagruti’s investigation into the murder soon leads to her being arrested and falsely accused of the crime. The hotshot journalist who frequently found her stories on the front page herself becomes the victim of an ugly media trial. “The reporter becomes the reported” as Hansal puts it. (Also Read | Scoop trailer: Karishma Tanna plays a crime journalist who herself becomes the story in Hansal Mehta's gripping drama)

Karishma Tanna in a still from the Netflix series Scoop.
Karishma Tanna in a still from the Netflix series Scoop.

Co-created and written by Mrunmayee Lagoo, Scoop uses Jagruti’s story to explore the ethically murky world of crime journalism, corruption, and coverups. Ahead of the show’s release, creators Hansal Mehta and Mrunmaye Lagoo, and lead Karishma Tanna spoke to me about the series, the unlikely casting of Harman Baweja, and the sorry state of journalism.

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Edited Excerpts:

I have to start with the obvious question - what about Jigna Vora’s book made you feel like it would make for a great series?

Mrunmayee: It's a very compelling story of a woman in a field that isn't tailor-made to see women in. We were also very excited to be in newsrooms. I don't think we've really been in newsrooms in this kind of capacity in anything we've seen on Indian screens. That’s why we decided to go beyond the book and look at not just what happened in prison, but also what happened before and take you into a print newsroom which feels like a different era altogether. And which other format really lets you deep dive into something like this and do it justice? That’s why we thought it had to be a series.

Scoop also has a very curious structure. It’s not entirely an investigative thriller about the underworld and it's not entirely a journalism story. It’s a bit of both, but it’s also part biopic with Jagruti’s story and what she goes through. Was it tough to crack a structure that balanced all those elements over six episodes?

Mrunmayee: When you say it now it sounds really complicated. But when you're actually working on it, your entire focus is on telling an engaging story. Whether it’s balancing Jagruti’s family life with the investigative angle, or figuring out who’s taking the plot further when she’s in jail. All these kinds of concerns made the show what it is. We never started from “biopic karna hai” or “investigative series karna hai”. It kind of happened as we went along

Hansal: The other decision we made was to tell the story in a linear manner rather than go back and forth in time and complicate the journey. For me, more than the book I found her character to be very compelling. After Harshad Mehta, this is the other character that really interested me. And it’s such an interesting coincidence - both are Gujaratis. He also started off in Ghatkopar and she’s also Ghatkopar based. That, and deep diving into Jagruti’s world was interesting. What do you really want in a newspaper? You just want a byline at all costs, and this is the price you pay for that byline. And I loved the idea of the reporter becoming the reported.

Karishma for you, this is one of those roles where you’re playing every aspect of this person’s life. Jagruti the mother, the badass journalist and her harrowing experience of being falsely accused and going to prison. Was there a specific moment either when you were reading the script or when you were on set where you thought “Okay I got her. I know who she is now”?

Yeah, when I was reading the script, one thing about her I really connected with was her restlessness and impatience which I also have. I talk fast and I fumble because my mind is racing faster than I'm talking. The character required a really fast energy because you're in the newsroom and that world is very fast-paced. And even on shoot, if I fumbled, Hansal Sir said “If you’re overlapping or talking over someone else, please keep going don’t stop. I want that in the scene because that’s how people talk in real life”.

Hansal: It's a nightmare for the sound designer (laughs). They always complain saying “I can overlap them in the final sound design” and I said, “no, it’ll never look or feel natural”.

Hansal, I have to ask about casting Harman Baweja. It's such an unlikely piece of casting and he's very good in the show. How did that happen?

Hansal: (laughs) That was Mukesh Chhabra and my idea. Thankfully, the platforms like Netflix also give me free rein in terms of casting and it works. I enjoy casting as much as shooting, and that process of surprising myself. Karishma was just that. There were a lot of accomplished actors in the room that auditioned for the part of Jagruti, but I found Karishma to be hungrier than them and that’s what I wanted for Jagruti. I didn’t want intellectual baggage.

There were a lot of accomplished actors in the room that auditioned for the part of Jagruti, but I found Karishma to be hungrier than them and that’s what I wanted for Jagruti.

With Harman, he’d actually given up on acting. He's actually producing now and we were working on a film together at the same time we were casting Scoop and we were struggling with the character of JCP Shroff because so many actors had said no. And suddenly I messaged Mukesh and said “What do you think of Harman?”. He said, “I think he’d be great but will he do it?”. I really had to work on Harman because his previous acting stints left him in a bit of despair and he had since shifted his focus to producing which he's doing successfully now. When he finally agreed, he came without any baggage. He didn't have anything to prove. The second that happens, the actor within you blossoms. I really enjoy that process of an actor not worrying about how they come across.

Were you also glad that you were making a show about journalism that’s set in 2011? It just felt like a simpler time when newspapers mattered, the front page mattered, and the beast of social media and online reporting wasn’t the mess it is today. I imagine it’d be much harder to tell this story if it was set in 2023?

Hansal: At that time we were right at the cusp of change. The landscape was already changing. Some monsters were unleashed just a few years later. Ever since the Kandahar Hijack, you saw the landscape shifting and news becoming reality TV. And then 9/11 and 26/11 - all those things impacted the way we were consuming news. It had become a medium of engagement and generating business, which is what we explore in the show - the constant battle of what is news, what is ethical, and what sells. Now it's not a battle anymore. Now it's understood that ethics don't matter.

You have a great line in the show when journalists in a hospital are trying to take a picture of a dead body, and someone shouts at them and says “Show some respect”, and the journalists say “Sir, if we show respect people will change the channel”.

Hansal: Exactly. It’s a very telling moment. It's an important line, but I didn’t want to underline it or stress on it in the show. It’s said in just matter of fact way. That’s just their reality.

Jagruti becomes the result of that reality and an ugly media trial. But she’s also a part of the very system that attacks her. Do you consider her to be a good journalist?

Karishma: I think she was very ambitious and there’s nothing wrong with that. She had dreams and she was very talented. And in that mess, if something like this happens, it’s very unfortunate.

Hansal: I think she also crossed the line. But you never know when you're crossing the line. You justify it to yourself, not knowing what the collateral damage is until you become the collateral damage.

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