After making the clutter-breaking series Scam: 1992, director Hansal Mehta has mined another real life story for his latest series. Soon to stream on Netflix (June 2, 2023), Scoop is based on journalist Jigna Vora’s memoirs Behind Bars in Byculla: My Days in Prison, which recounts her time as un undertrial accused of conspiring with the underworld to murder fellow crime journalist Jyotirmoy Dey. This fact-meets-fiction crime drama explores the controversial relationship between crime reporters, the police and the underworld. Starring Karishma Tanna as Jagruti Pathak, the show also stars Prosenjit Chatterjee, Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub, Deven Bhojani, Tanmay Dhanania and Harman Baweja.
Mehta and Tanna spoke about the making of the show. Edited excerpts:
Did you have much interaction with Jigna Vora on whom your character Jagruti Pathak is based?
Not as such. I met her towards the end of the shoot. I didn’t meet her before at all, but I was told what her characteristics are. I shadowed a crime journalist to understand body language, how you talk to cops, how you interview people, etc., to get the scoop. When I was reading the script, I was understanding what her traits are, how she talks, what she wanted from other people. I understood the character.
What was the shoot like for you?
When I reached the set, I couldn’t believe it was a newsroom set. It was so real that I actually started shivering. I didn’t know much about journalism. I have not gone into detail into all of this, besides what I was reading. I understood that this is what I have to talk about and this is what it is. Of course, I was doing my own little research on technical words, etc., but when we were on set, Hansal sir was very clear that how you talk in real life has to come across naturally — with the fumbles, stumbles, overlaps, and so on.
It’s interesting that Jagruti and her family are played by Gujarati actors, including Deven Bhojani and Sanat Vyas. That makes the family interaction easygoing. Did that make things easier for you, on set?
It was really nice to have Gujarati co-actors and a Gujarati director also, because when two Gujaratis start talking, it’s a riot. I’m very happy that this role is also that of a Gujarati and even though the dialogues are in Hindi, sometimes Hansal sir would want us to do something impromptu and say something in Gujarati. That would help as the emotions could come correctly for the family.
How would you describe this season of Scoop?
I feel being ambitious in life is not a bad thing. She was just ambitious and being a female, she just wanted more out of life. I just want viewers to relate to the character and take it as a very nice, light family-drama subject.
How would you describe Scoop Season 1?
This is an investigative drama about crime and the police-crime-journalist nexus. But at the heart of it, it’s a family drama. I’ve treated it like a family drama. It’s almost like a soap opera: they’re loud, their speaking is overlapping each other, the mixer is on while the chaklis are getting fried. Those things are part of my growing up, too. Another aspect is to empathise with the job of a reporter. Ultimately we trivialise it, or we tend to demonise journalists very easily. But a lot goes into just one piece of reportage. The media is often painted one way, as biased. But a reporter cannot just print anything. There’s an editor. He wants you to confirm your story and sources. So, you have to investigate. There is effort that goes into the job. By the time the show ended, I also had greater empathy for people who report.
How did you go about creating the newsroom?
It’s an ordinary newsroom, it’s not that romanticised view of news where everybody is energetic and believes they are changing the world every day. This newsroom is ordinary. And you’re sometimes fighting for some silly front-page story. A lot of the insights of a regular newsroom came from the writing team and their interaction with editors which helped understand how different people work and how every editor has their own style. You will see that Tannishtha Chatterjee’s editor is very different from Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub as editor. We have tried to understand that energy and create whatever we could.
Because it’s based on her book, were you sensitive to the possibility of painting the protagonist in a sympathetic or positive light?
That is not something I can do. I try not to judge my characters. I try to look at them, try to trace their journey and see where it goes. I leave it to the audience to interpret. Whether it’s a terrorist, a gangster, or a gay professor, I try not to judge my characters. And I let the audience take back their nuances. It makes the exploration slightly more layered. I remember when the headlines came out about Jigna’s arrest, I was a bit shaken. How can she conspire to murder, and if she has, then it’s really shocking. The headlines really scared me, that somebody so regular could be part of a conspiracy to murder, that too in connivance with an underworld don. It seemed too far-fetched. At the same time, the media rushes to judge. You’re guilty until proven otherwise. So, even if you are acquitted, you remain guilty for the rest of your life.
What was the learning from Scam to Scoop?
The most important learning is that long or short form, the nurturing of an idea and script is very important. You cannot have crazy deadlines such as begin today and go on floors in seven months. I signed Scam in November 2017, shot it in September 2019 and we released it in October 2020. We gave the show time to live and breathe. We started Scoop in February 2020. Netflix came on board in November 2020 and we shot in 2022. The time you give to development is crucial. A script needs TLC all the way. Nurture the idea and live with the characters. The long form makes you delve into and explore characters, so that by the time you go on floors, you are friends with them and are going further.