Lockdown Stars: An Actor Who Acted, A Reporter Who Reported

05 Jun,2020


By Shailesh Kapoor


Two-and-a-half months into the lockdown (or Unlock-something now, I have lost track of the nomenclature), the pandemic continues to loom large, especially here in the city of Mumbai. Yet, as if almost bored of having kept their hand on the pause button for far too long, the powers-that-be have decided that life must go on. The economy cannot afford any more damage, even though it can be argued that a large share of the damage already done was preventable in the first place.

With no shootings, releases and promotions, celebrities across media have been locked up in their homes, waiting patiently (or impatiently) like all of us. Many of them have put up content on social media to engage with their fans. Karthik Aaryan has his own little talk show going, Salman Khan has released three music videos on last count. It’s difficult for film and TV stars to stay relevant in such times, and everyone is trying their best to not go out of sight and hence out of mind.

But the real stars of the lockdown are not those on YouTube, Instagram or TikTok, but those on the ground. If I have to pick media personalities in India whose work from this period will be remembered much after the fun and the shot-from-home messages on social media are forgotten, there are just two names that stand out at a national level: Sonu Sood and Barkha Dutt.

Sonu Sood, a reliable film actor seen playing supporting parts or the antagonist in big-budget Hindi and South films, took to contributing towards solving the migrants crisis. His method of solving, however, was not a donation or an awareness campaign. He actually got down to getting it done, hiring buses and even a flight, to transfer large number of migrants to their destination.

It is well understood by now that the migrants crisis in India was grossly under-estimated when the lockdown was announced first in March. No one saw this problem coming up in the first place. But 75 days later, the migrants are still on the road, waiting for a bus or a train ride to take them back home. Ironically, it’s now time that we are “opening up”.

Often, the administration’s failure requires citizens to step in. Sood’s efforts are a reassuring sign that some celebrities (however few) can go beyond thinking of their own self-image and its marketing. It is way too evident that Sood is not doing this for any publicity or perception building. His passion and honesty towards the mission to get numerous migrants back to their homes is palpable in his social media posts and his interviews. In an age of orchestrated media appearances and cultivated image building, Sood has shown a different way to think to many of his co-actors.

Barkha Dutt has been on the ground, reporting on Covid-19, the migrants crisis and the healthcare infrastructure for more than 80 days now. It has been one relentless pursuit, one story after the other. Dutt’s penchant for field reporting has been well-known since her reports from the Kargil War in 1999. Even as ‘seasoned’ TV journalists (barring a couple) continue to report (and conduct inane debates) from the comfort of their studios, Dutt has shown them what true journalism in such times is. Many of them will hate to admit it publically, but even her harshest critics would have developed a newfound admiration for Dutt.

Dutt has been slammed incessantly on social media for years for her liberal, anti-Right political leaning. Fighting that branding in an era of right-wing fueled nationalism, Dutt has done 80 days of strictly non-political reporting, each story more engaging the one before. This is some relentless, tireless pursuit of the truth. Dutt has shown her journalist counterparts the true power of their profession. Even if the old hats turn a blind eye, she would have inspired many young guns in the new crop of scribes coming up. After all, a much-maligned profession has found a new endorser.



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