• Rahul Bose on Bollywood Bole Toh: Are there no takers for local heroes?

    Rahul BoseMumbaiJul 20, 2017, 08:07 IST

    People would be interested in local news, but only after reading the national headlines. So, readers are also to be blamed for missing out on local affairs
    People would be interested in local news, but only after reading the national headlines. So, readers are also to be blamed for missing out on local affairs

    Last Saturday, I found myself in Kanpur for the Jagran Film Festival, a wonderful initiative that takes excellent movies to towns where they might not have been exhibited, or if they had been (as is the case with our film, Poorna), didn't have an extended run.

    Like all festival screenings, there was a Q-&-A with the audience. The first question that is invariably asked by a member of any audience in India is: "How come we hadn't heard about this story – the fact that the youngest girl in history to climb Mt. Everest was a poor, Adivasi girl from Telangana?" Since I've been asked this question before, I've had the time to figure out the answer, and while, not pretty, it's simple.

    The fact is, for all our going on about 'global is local' and 'the world is more interconnected than ever', the narrative of any country is shaped by reportage from one or two cities of that country. Consider Russia. If Moscow didn't exist, would we be equally happy getting our Russia news by following the headlines from Novosibirsk? If London stopped getting coverage, would we track developments in Kingston upon Hull for news about the UK? Even in countries as important to the rest of the world as the United States, if New York and Washington disappeared from the grid, would you keep yourself informed about America through the developments in Milwaukee?

    Predictably, we lay the blame at the feet of the media. Like all blame-laying, it's only partly true. "Oh, the media isn't interested in reporting stories from the hinterland." Let me ask you: are you? Even ask those in the hinterland (as I often have): "When you open the newspapers, what stories are you most interested in, the ones coming out of Delhi and Mumbai, or the ones out of your district?" The overwhelming answer? They would definitely be interested in local news, but only after reading the national news. So yes, a part of the blame rests on the shoulders of the media, but only a part.

    And so, onto Poorna. The lack of national coverage of Poorna Malavath's astonishing feat is precisely because, for better or for worse, the narrative of this country is largely decided by what goes on in Mumbai and Delhi. Except, Poorna's feat wasn't just local news, it was national news. I'd go on to argue it was even international news. And yet, someone like me, a voracious reader of news, interested in all sport, abreast with developments in the world of social activism, involved in the struggle for gender justice — the three angles of the Poorna news story — totally missed it, as did almost everybody I know from these three worlds.

    That's a danger sign. Because it tells us that this is not a case of the media having a story in its possession and choosing not to run it. This is a case of the media not knowing or such a minuscule fraction of the media knowing that it got buried under 'bigger' news from Mumbai and Delhi. It would surprise you to know the number of well-read
    Hyderabadis (Poorna is from Telangana) who had no clue about her feat.

    However, things are changing. The stories of Dattu Bhokanal from Talegaon, Maharashtra, Devendra Jhajharia from Churu, Rajasthan, and Swapna Burman from Jalpaiguri, West Bengal, have begun to make national news, but it's still early days. Why do I say that? Because you're going to do a Google search of these three names after you've read this.

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