There is a moment in the sixth episode of “The Broken News” where Sonali Bendre Behl’s Amina Qureshi is standing alone in her apartment, leaning against the kitchen counter. As her emotions overwhelm her due to her tribulations in her professional life and the emotional blow she received a few minutes ago in her personal life, she starts throwing plates and wine glasses from the table, breaking them apart, until she finally stops and leans down to the ground, sobbing profusely. However, after a couple of minutes, she collects herself, gets a mop, and starts cleaning up the mess she had created. Isolated moments showing the inner strength of characters like Qureshi (the chief editor of Awaaz Bharti, a struggling news channel), are far more effective than blunt writing forcing characters to espouse platitudes that ring simplistic and hollow.
There is almost a similar moment occurring for Radha Bhargav (Shriya Pilgaonkar), ostensibly the protagonist of the show. A hotshot idealistic reporter with shades of greatness that only her superiors could see, she manages to enter the private party of one Akhil Kapoor, a movie star who has been accused of sexual harassment by no less than sixteen women. Bhargav wanted to conduct a personal sting operation and record Kapoor giving an unwitting confession of her deeds. However, Bhargav’s ruse is revealed by Kapoor himself, who manages to remove the hidden camera from the lining of her purse, and then both threatens and belittles her by reminding her that not only is she unable to cause any long-standing damage to him here, she is also going to have to prep him for a softball interview by her news channel because she is so low on the totem pole and is unaware of what true power wields. The resultant scene sees her walking out of the party, getting into a taxi, and driving away, with a determined and angry expression on her face, which slowly melts away as the distance increases from the party, and she breaks, tears streaming from her face as she looks out the window of the moving taxi. This is again one of a few isolated moments exploring the innermost despair of individuals far better than the overt writing or conversational scenes. It’s telling that these are the only two scenes that genuinely struck me about this mostly mediocre mess.
Adapted from the BBC show, “Press,” “The Broken News”, has arguably one of the worst pilot episodes. Part of the fault is the writing, and especially the dialogues between characters, which lack any semblance of nuance or subtlety. Jaideep Ahlawat’s Dipankar Sanyal, a no-nonsense maverick only interested in TRP and sensationalist coverage (at least according to the first episode), gives such a cartoonishly mustache-twirling performance that you are forced to wonder how the writers will manage to make you follow this despicable person for eight straight episodes. His colleagues at Josh 24×7, the media house of which he is the face, don’t fare any better. Thus, the other fault lines are in the most over-the-top and blunt performances, which gradually mellow out and even show hints of interesting layers in subsequent episodes, but are mostly content to coast with loud archetypes.
The structure of “The Broken News” is a mixture of procedural and serialized storytelling. The procedural aspects allow for “The Broken News” to explore a wide range of topics, from a student suicide to a sexual harassment scandal involving a prominent actor, to corporate espionage, and even social causes. Credit must be given to the writers for how the procedural and serialized elements are tied together in a mostly coherent narrative. However, the show suffers from the lack of translation that most remakes of imports face. The student’s suicide might have been caused by his reticence in revealing his sexuality, but that is the extent of representation “The Broken News” is content to show. The exploration of why a youth minister is unable to be candid in an interview regarding a leaked MMS and instead is comfortable apologizing to the country in an interview with a rival news channel is an interesting subplot of the story. However, it is never effectively explored. Instead, dialogues like “She would never do this. She is a strong woman”) are littered throughout the script as an exploration of characters instead of true, deeper characterizations. Simple dialogues and a light touch on important issues are insufficient for a web series dealing with the impact of media on the current landscape of information delivery and sharing.
The show, however, really manages to allow us to delve into some deeper layers in Ahlawat’s character, Dipankar Sanyal. While he is still a suave and cynical journalist, there are codes he is content to follow, and codes he is content to break. A story thread of a divorce and a battle for custody of his daughter is explored, but that thread is only effective because of Ahlawat’s performance, who again is acting far beyond what the writing gives him. His chemistry with Pilgaonkar’s Bhargav is the highlight. There is a twisted mentor-mentee relationship present, where Sanyal sees in Bhargav what he used to be. As Radha Bhargav, she has the meatiest role to play. She is the audience surrogate, the middle ground between the harbinger of actual credible news like Awaaz Bharati and Sonali Bendre’s Amina Qureshi, and the more powerful and rumor-mongering channel of Josh 24×7, led by Dipankar Sanyal. Bhargav’s becoming disillusioned between her idealism and the harsh reality of TRP as a viable metric for any medium to exist in the television landscape is an interesting story on paper. And Pilgaonkar, even in the most outlandish of character turns, is convincing and compelling to follow. It’s the writing here that is wildly inconsistent, ranging between nuanced and subtle to becoming over the top within a single scene. It is almost jarring how the show showcases Bhargav’s character leaving one company to take up a job in the rival company, getting disillusioned fast, and, by the end of the episode, getting back to the same company she had left in the first place. And while, as a consequence, her character is asked some legitimate questions by her superiors, her flip-flopping decision somehow makes her the face of the new version of the company, and thus she begets a promotion. This entire series of sequences is so far removed from reality that even comparing it with any semblance of realism feels like an absolute waste of time and energy.
Thus, even if you watch “The Broken News” as a mostly fantasized version of journalism, the basic storytelling is subpar to even write home about. However, the overall cast is good with the roles they are given. As another comeback story of a popular 90s actress, “The Broken News” might have been sold as a Sonali Bendre Behl vehicle, but she is more a part of the ensemble than the lead of the show. But even as part of the ensemble, she leaves an impression. Director Vinay Waikul attempts to hold the most inconsistent narrative together, and his direction during some of the isolated moments I mentioned earlier manages to elevate “The Broken News” from being a caricature of what Bollywood and the majority of the entertainment industry are content to picture them as. “The Broken News” manages to showcase the chaotic nature of the behind-the-scenes of the media houses while being unable to show the personal lives of the protagonists with much flair. It’s a shame because “The Broken News” had the potential to be a far more nuanced exploration of the profession of journalism instead of being sensationalist junk fodder, which ironically, the show’s protagonists are against.