Scoop review: Hansal Mehta sets the bar high in one of the best shows of the year

There’s a lot to register and process in Scoop, the new Netflix drama series created by Hansal Mehta. Reasonably, the conversation might kickstart whether the director has been able to surpass expectations that were created by the brilliant Scam 1992: The Harshad Mehta Story. I am here to tell you in the affirmative, with enough proof and evidence. With Scoop, Mehta has set the bar even higher, creating a strikingly written and performed show that stands on its own ground with an immediacy attempted by very few shows in recent memory. (Also read: Hansal Mehta chose Karishma Tanna over others because she was ‘hungrier’, didn’t come with ‘intellectual baggage’)
Scoop stars Karishma Tanna as a crime reporter accused of murder.

Based on Behind Bars in Byculla: My Days in Prison

Not a single minute is wasted in the hour-long, 6-episode long series, created by Mehta and Mrunmayee Lagoo Waikul– diving headlong inside the middle of everyday journalistic hustle: tracking breaking news, connecting with undercover sources, and bringing the report down to the page. Based on journalist Jigna Vora’s 2019 memoir ‘Behind Bars in Byculla: My Days in Prison,’ Scoop retells the true story of the murder of renowned journalist Jyotirmoy Dey, and the subsequent arrest of Vora. Here, it is mirrored in the cold-blooded murder of Jaideb Sen (Prosenjit Chatterjee, superb in a brief appearance) in broad daylight by gangster Chhota Rajan’s men. The focus zooms in on senior crime reporter Jagruti Pathak (Karishma Tanna, easily delivering her career-best work)– and Scoop devotes its initial episodes primarily in building the web of speculation that surrounds her, and which subsequently leads her to jail.

Jagruti is a single mother, a divorcee who lives with her loud Gujarati family in a tiny apartment in the city. The only aspect of her life that gives her purpose is her job as a crime reporter. When a junior reporter Deepa Chandra (Inayat Sood, registering a brief role with control) asks the resident photographer how she deals with her sources, he says that Jagruti always treats them first as humans and then as information bearers. It rings true, in the assuring and skillful presence of Jagruti’s exchanges- she chooses to stay right on track, even when the motives of the other person might feel otherwise. She’s tough and alternatively tender, confrontational but always authentic- and that rattles a few men around her. A woman with ambition, who has given the most front page exclusives for her newspaper. Scoop gets that thrill of nabbing an exclusive, proof-checked story for the next morning story extremely well.

The reporter becomes the reported

Jagruti’s equation bodes well with Imraan (played tremendously by Mohd. Zeeshan Ayyub), the desk in-charge, who believes in her work ethics. He also cares for her a little too much in a profession where time and again, he is reminded to prioritize the audience and the views. He refuses to let the culture of consumerism get hold of his morals, and Mehta constructs him as a moral compass of the show. In one standout scene later in Scoop, he expresses how the entire media trial after Jagruti’s arrest feels rotten. He can either stay and do his job or leave. What else are his choices? One can also ask DCP Shroff (Harman Bhaweja making his comeback), who becomes an important source for Jagruti and then an accomplice, accommodating himself according to the circumstances. Kudos to casting director Mukesh Chhabra for bringing back Harman Baweja- he is immensely watchable as the morally dubious player thrown in the ring, although his part does strike a little rushed.

Mehta is an immersive filmmaker, filled with a keen eye for world-building. He is interested in characters who demand control and agency; in constructing the spaces from which they generate that demand. There is no restlessness in his storytelling, as Scoop rarely feels hurried and burdensome with so much story to tell. Shoutout to the crisp, razor-sharp dialogues by Karan Vyas. Moreover, aided by Deepu Sebastian Edmond’s impeccable research and Amitesh Mukherjee’s taut editing, Mehta delves deep into the proceedings without losing touch of the authenticity. Scoop could have easily become a very different story of survival if he had just focused on the journey of Jagruti’s arrest and subsequent days inside the Byculla jail for almost a year. Instead he avoids any of that narrative trickery and chooses to account for the story that began to unfold much earlier. This is no survival drama, nor it is trying to be a true-crime thriller that has suddenly becomes the vogue of the web series format.

Yet, when the proceedings take us inside the jail, Scoop does lose steam for a while. The segments involving Jagruti being bullied by her cell inmates to Shikha Taslania’s underwritten cameo appearance as a cult-like figure– with so much already piling up already, Scoop could have benefitted more with a tighter control in these transgressions. The focus is pulled right back in, thanks to a tight run back to the court proceedings with Jagruti on the strands. She’s so exhausted with the toil and harassment of the media trial and the speculation on her motives, that words do not come out easily anymore. Karishma Tanna truly shines in what combines to form her breakout performance- nailing the body language and poise to precision. The toil that begins to get hold of her inside the jail is faultlessly expressed.

Scoop doesn’t hate journalists, nor does it want you to. It respects the profession and acknowledges the dangers involved, but also points its finger at the increasingly volatile scenario of the current trend of controversy-happy, clickbait journalism. There is no time for truth, only views. Less facts, more gossip. All part and parcel of the hustle. Scoop is gripping, thought-provoking work- right down to its bone-chilling final credits, and it is brought together by a director in full command of his craft. All reports need evidence, while some mostly need courage.

Scoop released on Netflix on June 2.

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