The department of Journalism at Lady Shri Ram College for Women, held its Annual Academic Meet – Juxtapose 2015 on 8th and 9th of October 2015. The theme this year for Juxtapose was ‘Deconstructing Identities, Reconstructing Perceptions’ – revolving around questions of the various identities that the media creates or enforces and also the identity of the media itself as it lies in today’s digital world. The meet included various competitions like a turncoat debate, a paper presentation competition, Ad Mad, the All India Media Meet and the highlight of Juxtapose – the panel discussions.
On 8th of October, the panel discussion was the second event of the day after the an intriguing debate on the issue of censorship, and was based on the question of media’s content, titled: Media’s Conten – a state of compromise or progression? The panelists included eminent personalities from the field of media – Abhinandan Sekhri, Shoma Chaudhary, Ritu Kapur and Supriya Sharma. Anshul Tewari, an Indian media entrepreneur best known as the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of YouthKiAwaaz.com, a digital media platform for the ‘current generation’ to express themselves on issues of critical importance, was the moderator.
“Are we consuming content because it is coming to us or are we putting any thought as and when we are consuming it?” – This was the question raised by the president of the department of journalism, Rajkanya Mahapatra, in her introductory speech. “Digital media has really shot up in the last 7-8 years. Though it has received a fair share of criticism but it has emerged as a powerful tool for people to speak up” quoted Anshul Tewari. With this the panel went on discussing the nuts and bolts of digital media. “Yes, digital media is limited there is no denying that. But I think over the next few years it will go deeper.” said Ritu Kapur, co-founder- The Quint, with hope in her voice. They further went on to discuss the impact of digital media to which Abhinandan Sekhri’s stance was very unambiguous. According to him it’s a screen and it doesn’t really matter whether it is NDTV or News Laundry or Scoop Whoop. He also mentioned that he believes that the number of views is not a yardstick to judge whether something has impacted people or not, rather, it’s the time they are spending in reading it which speaks volumes about the content and its quality.
On comparing the online media with print, Supriya Sharma, a renowned journalist working with Scroll.in, pointed out that online media is an interactive media with young readership and a sense of feedback. For her it is really very exciting to be able to influence the young minds of the country. “Digital media is also changing the discourse of what defines news. Every mobile phone has the potential to be a media outlet”, added Ritu Kapur.
“Can’t both the principle of pleasure and conscious sit together with none outlawing the other?” This was the question raised by Ms. Shoma Choudhary, Editor in Chief, Catch News, on the content which is being published by online media these days. She also questioned the attempt that media owners make to try and second guess what the viewers want. According to her, journalism should not be a market based profession. According to Supriya, though, it is completely fair for people to read something light at the end of a big and hectic day and therefore these articles have twice the number of views when compared to serious articles.
Towards the end the panelists discussed about free speech and reasonable restrictions to which Abhinandan responded by saying that he is an absolutist and does not believe that any restrictions to free speech are reasonable. His opinion was seconded by Ms. Shoma but with two caveats, which were – factuality and incitement to violence. The session concluded with a question and answer session with the audience where in issues like gate keeping, hate speeches and corporate ownership were discussed.
On 9th of October, the journalism department welcomed a jam packed house despite the 12 pm heat, with people clamoring in to grab any inch of space that they could find, even on the floor at the Panel Discussion, the second event of the day after the paper presentation competition. The esteemed panelists entered the room to a very warm welcome from the extremely enthusiastic audience. The basic outline of the day’s discussion was beautifully summarized by the title of the Panel: Alternative vs. Mainstream Cinema, will the spectrums ever converge? The panelists on board were, Mr. Pankaj Butalia, an award winning documentary filmmaker known for his films like Moksha and Textures of Losses; Mr. Aamir Bashir, a renown Indian actor and filmmaker, known for his work in films like Harud and A Wednesday; Mr. Adil Hussain, an Indian stage, film and television actor most known for his work in Life of Pi and English Vinglish; and Ms. Shohini Ghosh, is the Zakir Hussain Professor of media at the AJK Mass Communication Research Center, an essayist on popular culture and a documentary filmmaker. The discussion was moderated by Ms. Abhija Ghosh, who is a student of Cinema Studies at the School of Arts and Aesthetics at Jawaharlal Nehru University. The discussion began with the moderator asking each panelist to define what mainstream and alternative films are to them.
One particular analogy given by Shohini Ghosh, was that of “the king’s highway and the detours” referring to the mainstream and alternative films, respectively, was used extensively througout the debate. Ms. Ghosh looked more towards the intersection of the two ways, and the ways in which each has its own importance. She quoted the example of Christopher Nolan, as to how he converged the king’s highway and the detour to completely redefine film form. She said, she prefers the term ‘independent cinema’ over alternative cinema. Documentaries, she believes, create the ground for content based movies in the mainstream cinema and have an invisible network of screening and reaching the audience.
Mr. Aamir Bashir wondered where the “dung on the detours” would go with the “swachh abhiyaan” happening. He said that the problem was of appropriation of alternative into the mainstream and how the mainstream tries to proach the alternative. He questioned the distribution system and market economy and how these forces were not willing to back alternative content. He also clearly mentioned, how he wasn’t very optimistic for the future of alternative films in India.
Mr. Butalia was concerned with documentaries and the lack of importance given to them in conversations about films in general, saying that it was “almost as if they do not belong to the category of films“. In the words of Mr.Batalia, we look at the “content” and “form” to distinguish between alternative and mainstream cinema. As the content gets more and more acceptable, it gets appropriated into mainstream media. The demands of commerce do not constrain the alternative film whereas a formula is literally laid out to govern the mainstream cinema; while the alternative cinema experiments more with the form. According to him, creativity is the defining factor in alternative media.
Adil Hussain said that all people who act, make or criticize movies are only human. Human nature and tendencies lead to mainstream media to be more widely accepted than the alternative, simply because it is more familiar and more acceptable to the masses. According to him, the greatest flaw in the medium of film is the need for money to begin making it. While comparing films to theatre, he mentioned how theatre needs no such investment. He defined alternative or more artistic films as those which put the characters and content under an electron microscope, giving them a completely new perspective rising from extreme curiosity and respect towards the arts.
All in all, the discussion was intriguing and raised some important issues regarding the functioning of the Indian Cinema and its audience. Meanwhile the complex question that the Department of Journalism had initially raised, remained partially answered, and partially ambiguous. The moderator, Ms. Abhija Ghosh, concluded the discussion by saying that the alternative is, in a way, always in co-existence with the mainstream cinema. The alternative cinema will surely be redefined in the near future.
Compiled by: Tanvi Jalan and Maitreyee Misra, First Year Students of Journalism at LSR.