After actor Sushant Singh Rajput was found dead in his Bandra residence in Mumbai, reports claimed that the actor had been suffering from depression because of professional setbacks engineered by nepotism in Bollywood.
The film industry has been traditionally guilty of promoting family raj at the expense of outsiders. Rajput was a promising actor without being an A-lister or having a godfather in Mumbai. So, we believed what we read or heard.
The infinitely bigger developing story of the same period was the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. Rajput died on June 14, a period in time when the dreaded virus had been infecting unsuspecting people the world over, including India.
Two and a half months later, India is among the worst-hit nations in the world. Each new day is the forerunner of bad news with thousands falling sick and many dying a few days after getting infected.
The nation’s economy has hurtled towards a big crash with the GDP shrinking by 23.9 per cent in the first quarter of 2020-21.
Lakhs of Indians have experienced job losses, among them daily wage earners whose lives are a struggle for survival even under normal circumstances.
Troubled by the news of sickness and deaths, faced with the possibility or reality of unemployment, and aware that there is no reliable vaccine and well-defined route of treatment, many are doing what they can to protect themselves from the wrath of the virus.
Other ‘brave’ ones who are being inexplicably reckless are not only more susceptible to the illness, but the infected ones among them are also guilty of spreading it among those taking precautionary measures. The presence of such irresponsible individuals is a significant worry for the Indian society.
Given a choice between continuous coverage of the pandemic and prolonged focus on the SSR death case, where should the media look? It must concentrate on the pandemic and its aftermath by delivering stories on health, economy and society to the consumer.
What the masses need to know are facts and figures. Human interest stories in large numbers must be reported as well, which can happen only if the media plays the role of the dutiful messenger for one and all.
Does this mean the SSR death case should not be covered at all? It does not. But the developments in the case can be covered in a precise manner without going overboard. Websites can carry one story detailing all the angles every day. Television can give half an hour each day to do the same thing.
Giving more attention to the case or any other story is unpardonable as long as the news is not as important as the death of our former President Pranab Mukherjee or the India-China face-off.
It is not as if certain sections of our media whose focus on the SSR case is disproportionate to the need of the hour do not know what their priority should be. Yet, they are bombarding the viewer and online visitors with extensive reports on the case from various angles. Speculative stories are being churned out, too, and that is happening at the expense of finding less time and space for Covid-19.
The SSR case has indeed snowballed into a delicious drama that can catch the public eye.
Not a simple case of depression leading to suicide, it is a complex web of plots with elements such as nepotism, an allegedly wicked girlfriend who has committed financial fraud, her family that might have been also involved in a cheating strategy that misfired, drugs, participation of central agencies including the CBI, political war between cops of Maharashtra and Bihar, the presence of several other dubious characters and so on.
The entry of the girlfriend in the script (Rhea Chakraborty, a national name now) followed by hysteria on social media enhanced the focus on the case, which is providing with the recipe for action in the media each day.
Cacophonic drama is irresistible for certain news anchors, who are capitalising on the story’s ability to deliver entertainment packages. These anchors are analysing the case endlessly, knowing they will find a captive audience that the coverage of Covid-19 may not guarantee.
The need to find viewers for TV shows and online visitors in an eternal rat race has made rationality disappear in many sections of the media. While that is not a good thing, don’t expect such disproportionate coverage to end anytime soon.