The paper’s entertainment supplement on Sunday carried a patronising and offensive article aimed at promoting a film backed by the group’s production arm.
The entertainment supplement that accompanies the Times of India has been known to have its bizarre moments, but none as strange as on Sunday, when a front page article advised readers to take their domestic workers to watch the Meghna Gulzar’s Talvar since, among other things, “the film presents both sides of the story”. The article did not mention the fact that Talvar has been produced by Junglee Pictures, the movie production arm of the Bennett and Coleman Company Limited, which publishes The Times of India.
Talvar is based on the murders of Aarushi Talwar and Hemraj Banjade in Noida in 2008, for which Aarushi’s parents Nupur and Rajesh have been sentenced to life imprisonment. The movie, written by Vishal Bhardwaj, makes an understated but unmistakeable case that the Talwars are innocent, and that the murders were actually committed by the friends of their domestic worker, Hemraj. While claiming to be an unbiased account, the movie counters the prosecution’s version of events, which were based on investigations by the Central Bureau of Investigation, and argues on behalf of the defence.
The supplement variously known as Bombay Times, Delhi Times or Gurgaon Times, depending on where it is circulated, is a self-described “entertainment industry promotional feature”. The article on Talvar consisted of alleged testimonials from readers advising the public at large to follow their example and troop into the closest multiplex with their maids and drivers in tow because, as one Ravinder Sabharwal is quoted to say, “In our society, we place a lot of trust in our staff at home… While watching the movie, I realised that sometimes this freedom and familiarity have its downsides.”
Publicity as journalism
The supplement’s pages often carry stories on upcoming Bollywood releases that are identical in tone and intent to press releases and are intended to drive ticket sales. Since Talvar is an in-house production – Junglee’s third this year after Dil Dhadakne Do and Bangistan – it is hardly surprising that the newspaper should use its own supplement to try and push readers into the cinemas. But why is the newspaper asking them to take their maids, cooks and drivers along?
Talvar is a sharply written and beautifully performed movies that strives not to demonise the men who it claims are the killers. It eschews the pulpiness and voyeurism that are inherent elements of the true crime genre of which it is a part. Talvar aims boldly for the head and gently for the heart. The arguments in defence of the Tandons (who portray the Talwars in the movie) are presented by a government investigator, which lends them weight and legitimacy. The sequences involving the Talwar family (their name in the movie is Tandons) try to be poignant and moving rather than overtly sentimental and manipulative. Bhardwaj uses all of his persuasive skills, as might a brilliant lawyer, in the service of bolstering the case for the Talwars.
The purported news feature on the movie tries to emphasise the movie’s broader relevance by scaremongering. The testimonials ask readers who might have live-in help or domestic workers who spend many hours with their employers to guard against the worst by watching Talvar. They are advised to treat their workers with sensitivity but also educate them on the perils of discussing their employers with their friends, fraternising with the wrong kinds of people, and drinking alcohol after hours.
If the testimonials come off as patronising and offensive, the newspaper can always claim that they represent the attitudes of the readership and therefore do not reflect the views of the publisher. The majority of the middle-class and affluent readers of the Times of India is also likely to be rattled by the suggestion that employers need to keep an eye on domestic workers at all times because you never know what they are up to.
For all its sophistication, Talvar says that the butler did it. The TOI story is saying that your butler is next.