Delayed goodbyes from the entertainment journalist
How do you deal with death so easily? How do you keep aside your emotions and get to work?
Back when I was a sports journalist, after a long day at work, a few friends and I were chilling with a drink or two, talking about our lives in Mumbai. That's when a particular news item popped up on each of our phones through various sources.
Sridevi was no more...
This was huge. She was just 55. It sobered us instantly — nothing is more grounding than death. Even as we were expressing shock over her passing and began talking about her body of work, one of us began typing on his phone. He had to figure out details about filing an obituary. Was he the one who'd be sending out a copy? Would someone else be awake or less drunk to put out a copy about the death of one of the biggest stars of Indian cinema? He immediately read up some information and polished up a copy. This was no ordinary actor. One mistake, and the entire country would screenshot the error and tear it down. Imagine the pressure. So, this friend, half-drunk, typed out what he could, and returned, as we continued to talk about the Sridevi we knew.
Drunk or otherwise, I remember thinking then that it was something I'd never be able to do. How do you deal with death so easily? How do you keep aside your emotions and get to work? More importantly, how is it that work becomes so important when you hear of the death of someone?
I never understood it. Till I became an entertainment reporter myself. Till April 2, 2019 (Mahendran passed away)... Then, on June 10, 2019 (Crazy Mohan)... And then again, on March 22 this year (Visu)...
When these stalwarts passed away, it wasn't just about the demise of an icon of Tamil cinema. It rang personal. How can you not feel bad that the director of Uthiri Pookal was no more? How can you make peace with the idea that there will never be a new Kamal Haasan-Crazy Mohan film anymore? In times like now, when the lockdown has reignited our equation with our families, how can you not look at Visu's films, and think... well, what would he have done?
When these legends died, other cinema lovers would have had the time to process their loss, and more. However, as cinema journalists, our first instinct is to write a quick obituary. Figure out snippets of information from their lives to add to the copy. Make a list of possible contacts who can be reached for a quote or two. Ask around for the contact details of others related to the deceased. Choose alternate names when some are unresponsive, or in too much grief to talk. Sometimes, we even end up being the one to break the news to them. Imagine doing that. Who are we to a Mahendran or a Visu or a Crazy Mohan? Why are we breaking the news to some of their frequent collaborators? What can we say to console them when they are in shock? But duty calls.
We then have to move on to design a layout for the paper the next day to do maximum justice to the deceased icon. We have to ensure the tweets or posts about the deaths have the necessary hashtags and SEO-friendly terms. We have to ensure they are out there as soon as possible and are without any grammatical or factual errors. We can't afford screenshots of our errors. Trolling doesn't pause, not even for the dead.
This morning, Irrfan Khan died. The man who reminded us that nice guys don't always finish last. The man who reminded us that it is not always about "conventional" good looks. The man who showcased different forms of love, and how the world is accommodating enough for each form of love to exist. The man who constantly reminded us that talent is like truth and that it can never be buried for long. The man who remained humble and redefined stardom...
But before we can find the time to lament to each other, to process what this loss means, we realise the work waiting to be done. Even if the page is ready, the tweets are out, the posts shared, and the hashtags hashtagged, we know there are other news items too. There are other updates to be shared. There are other stories to be uploaded. You see, work doesn't stop just because someone's dead--not when it is a celebrity you share a 'tenuous' relationship with.
From the time I heard of Irrfan's death, there has been a tear at the edge of my eye. When I read those heartfelt tweets put out by his friends, fans, and followers, it stayed at the edge. Even when I read my usually reticent dad's message about his love for Irrfan, the tear stayed right there.
But now, the stories have been uploaded. The tweets have been put out. The hashtags are in place, and the posts have been shared.
Now, I can put my feet up and remember his eyes from Maqbool, his fiery demeanour in Haasil, his calmness in Life of Pi, his experienced smile in The Lunchbox, his mischievous banter in Piku, and his street-smartness in Hindi Medium.
Now, I can allow him to move on to a place where there is lesser pain and more peace. I know I'll always retain him as Ashok Ganguly, Billu, Maqbool, Monty, Paan Singh Tomar, Piscine Molitor Patel, Roohdaar, Roshan, Saajan Fernandes, Yogi, and Wali Khan.
Now, finally, at the end of my working day as an entertainment reporter... the tear can fall.