Thank you to Akshat for bringing this to my attention! I have no strong feelings about it, but I am finding it fascinating to consider from all angles and puzzle over what I would do, or what I would want someone else to do in this situation.
Anupama just put out this tweet formally announcing that the two big news stories of the Hindi/Indian film world this week, the release of the Sacred Games miniseries starting Saif Ali Khan and Sanju, the Sanjay Dutt biopic with Ranbir Kapoor, would not be covered at all by her website, Film Companion.
Some background, Anupama is a film journalist with impeccable credentials. She started as a writer for a film magazine right out of college, then went to Northwestern University Medill school of journalism (right down the street from my office) for her masters. Medill is the 3rd best journalism school in America, sometimes first best depending on the year. Anupama went on to write in depth articles, and eventually books, on Hindi film. Some of the best writing I have ever read on the subject, painstakingly researched and clear and memorable and extremely readable.
(Highly highly recommend this book. Especially if you like the way I write, Anupama had a big impact on how I look at film and film journalism)
And she also married Vidhu Vinod Chopra, a director/producer who also has impeccable credentials. He went to the Indian Institute of Film and Television, and his first student film won a National Award. His next short film, a documentary, was nominated for an Academy Award in America. He went on to direct a whole variety of critically acclaimed and popular films and eventually switched to producing.
Not only that, Anupama’s sister is a writer and director, and her brother is a novelist, careers that also run into her film journalism.
For years, Anupama and Vinod jogged along having similar careers that overlapped in a cheerful way. I’ve read a lot of Anupama, and she talks about some of her earlier interviews (specifically Govinda) coming about because stars were trying to suck up to her husband. She didn’t seek that out, she tried to get by on her own merit, but if they reached out through her husband, she also didn’t turn them down.
In a larger sense, Hindi film is a social world. Vinod is working with these people, he’s going to invite them to his house for dinner, they will become friends with his family, including his wife, and that is going to be part of any interview or research Anupama does. Most people in film know her socially thanks to their connection with her husband, as well as on her own as a journalist.
(Vidhu, Anurag Kashyap, and Farhan Akhtar all hanging out and being brilliant director’s together)
Anupama started as an investigative journalist, she did in depth interviews, and detailed massively researched books. This is not a huge conflict of interest with her husband’s work, so long as her particular in depth interview and massively researched book is not on her husband’s films (or her sister’s films or anyone else in her family), there’s no problem. But then she got funding to start moving into more of a cohesive film journalism role, an up to the minute “we cover everything” kind of thing.
Film Companion is a youtube channel, a website, a twitter account, an everything. The kind of multi-channel project that makes my head hurt. And the only way to keep all those channels busy is to keep providing constant varied content. Which means it becomes harder and harder to avoid overlaps with what Vinod is doing.
(For instance, here is an interview with Farhan Akhtar, star of Vinod’s last movie Wazir. Is Anupama allowed to ask him questions about that film? Should she be concerned that even having him on the show will increase interest in it? What about the ethical concerns of using her connections to even get the interview in the first place?)
Now, here’s the questions I am debating with Anupama’s decision to cut off all coverage by anyone on any of her outlets for her husband’s film or the mini-series based on her brother’s book:
1.Anupama finds an ethical issue here, but should she also find it an ethical issue to use her family connections to give herself an advantage as a journalist?
2. If Anupama feels that it would be a conflict of interest to cover anything that relates to her family on her channels, and if her family is so highly connected (husband producer/director, mother writer, sister writer/director, brother writer) to Indian film, then should she even have accepted the task of building these channels in the first place, knowing the conflict was inevitable?
3. Where does it end? For instance, Anupama’s sister wrote and directed Dushman, starring Kajol and Sanjay Dutt. It is currently available for purchase on YouTube. If Anupama interviews Kajol and thereby increases interest in her work and thereby adds to the likelihood that someone will rent Anupama’s sister’s film, is that ethical?
4. Is it better to avoid all coverage and thereby let a potentially bad movie or miniseries escape without a bad review, or to review it honestly, good or bad?
5. Is it fair to those who consume Film Companion to cut them off from content, or is it better it simply use a disclaimer and let them make up their own minds?
6. Is the ethical issue that providing publicity for these films by acknowledging them at all might lead to increased audience interest, or that the coverage of them might be biased? Or is it both?
I’ll put it another way. When I become Shahrukh’s secret American wife, and he promises me a new diamond necklace if his next film is a hit,
a. Review it honestly just like usual
b. Ask someone else to review it for me on the blog because I am afraid I will be biased
c. Not review it at all or acknowledge it in any way
d. Acknowledge it by announcing that I will not be reviewing it
e. Cancel the blog as soon as I become his white wife because conflict is inevitable
f. Lie and give it a glowing review because diamonds are a girl’s best friend