Hansal Mehta and Mrunmayee Lagoo Waikul’s latest offering on Netflix, Scoop, will leave you glued to your screens. This is not the usual Netflix fare you can consume with your brain wandering somewhere else. Anyone familiar with Mehta’s other work, notably Scam 1992, would know that all too well. Mehta likes to pack in a punch with heavy thematically relevant jargon that might feel like information overload at points. Despite that, he still manages to stir it all together with gusto to concoct a riveting and immersive series.
Based on investigative journalist Jigna Vora’s biographical memoir Behind Bars in Byculla: My Days in Prison, Mehta’s Scoop does a grand job blending fiction and truth. The series delves into the real-life events that led to Vora being accused as a co-conspirator in the murder of prominent crime reporter Jyotirmoy Dey in June 2011. The series features a stellar ensemble cast, including Karishma Tanna, Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub, Prosenjit Chatterjee, Harman Baweja, Tannishtha Chatterjee, and Deven Bhojani in prominent roles.
In Scoop, we meet a fictionalised version of Vora, Jagruti Pathak, who is portrayed with a lot of gumption and heart by Karishma Tanna. The former Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi alum is also granted a brief reunion with former castmate Amar Upadhyay (first of the three who played Mihir Virani). There is also a funny nod to Upadhyay’s stint that lasted two years on the show that aired for eight. But the scene does more than that. It establishes Jagruti as a well-connected journalist who will go the extra step to help ardent strangers. She knows how to invest in people; the stories and the favours that follow are mere ripple effects.
Being a natural people-person is a skill that can’t be taught in ‘Networking 101’ or any journalism classes. Jagruti has the spark, the It-factor, that helps her rise through the ranks faster than her peers. She is no Mary Sue. However, her penchant for chasing risqué stories also earns her many rivalries and ill-wishers along the way.
While the 2020 hit series, Scam 1992, based on the 1992 Indian stock market scam involving Harshad Mehta, is just as gripping, it had the added glitter of being about Wall Street-esque desi dude-bros hustling their way to the top before a final crash. Scoop may resemble the world of Scam 1992 in terms of look and feel, but it is a much more sobering take on ambition because at its centre is a woman battling it out in a highly cut-throat, male-dominated field.
Anyone who has worked in media knows the value of a well-timed scoop dished out with just the right hook. And the price you pay to get it out before anyone else can snatch it away. Scoop highlights that and also subtly exposes the all-pervasive microaggressions faced by journalists who happen to be women.
As much as the series is about the criminal conspiracy against Jagruti and her subsequent unfair incarceration, Scoop’s actual protagonist could just as well be journalistic ethics. Jagruti may be on trial, but modern-day journalism must provide the burden of proof.
The privatisation and digitisation of news revealed the many horrific realities and consequences of media manipulation, a growing concern throughout the 2000s, the decade in which most of the show is set. With the encroachment of private news outlets diminishing the relevance of the slower-paced print media, the importance of due diligence in news also got tossed out somewhere down the line. News became entertainment, as Mehta and Waikul repeatedly underline in the series.
Beyond Vora’s story, a life and painstakingly built career ruined forever, Scoop also mirrors the power struggle within the fourth pillar of democracy, where the pursuit of TRPs often overshadows the truth. The media circus that Jagruti and her family find themselves in eerily resembles the public trial and humiliation faced by Indian actor Rhea Chakraborty and her kin. She was mercilessly hounded after the death by suicide of her ex, actor Sushant Singh Rajput; her life turned into a media spectacle.
The pivotal death that triggered the catastrophic events in Jagruti’s life is based on one which shocked India just a few years ago. Prosenjit Chatterjee portrays Jaideb Sen, a character that draws inspiration from steadfast journalist Jyotirmoy Dey and his tragic death. It is speculated that his reportage on the oil mafia, the possible nexus between Mumbai police and the underworld’s most notorious names—including Dawood and Chhota Rajan—made him a target. In a country like India, where press freedom lies at the bottom of the barrel, this is a grim reality for anyone raising questions against the authority. With the recent murders of journalists like Gauri Lankesh and Shashikant Warishe still fresh in mind, the imprisonment of activists like Umar Khalid and scribes like Siddique Kappan on flimsy charges, Dey and Vora’s predicament is all too scarily familiar.
Jagruti’s peers who jump on her story like feasting vultures will bring to mind actual figures in media who act as stooges for the powerful. Of course, Scoop doesn’t name names, but it doesn’t need to. There are the likes of Arnab Goswami, Sudhir Choudhary, and Navika Kumar, the pond-scum who have turned current-day journalism into perverse pageantry for ratings, peddling misinformation and unverified stories without conscience.
In Scoop, Mehta cleverly incorporates the quote, “If one person says it’s raining, and another says it’s dry, it’s not your job to quote them both. Your job is to look out the fucking window and find out which is true.” This line speaks volumes about the importance of objective reporting and the need for seasoned editors in newsrooms, especially in a world riddled with late-stage capitalism like a disease, where the truth is malleable, subject to manipulation and business interests.
The cast and crew of Scoop deliver a well-written and effectively-performed story, barring a few slip-ups here and there. Ultimately, the series leaves us with more questions than answers, prompting the viewers to think for themselves. Perhaps that is necessary in a world where critical thinking has become as obscure as ethics in journalism.
Scoop is currently streaming on Netflix.