Journalistic Ethics Tested

There are four special things about Don Special, written and directed by Kshitij Patwardhan. One, it throws up issues of journalistic ethics which are sharply relevant to our times when the most powerful interests in the country have sought to, and succeeded in, undermining media credibility. Two, it stages a conflict between the professional and the personal, one side tugging at the mind, the other at the heart. Three, the resolution of these conflicts comes, not as the result of individual will, but by the intervention of a deus ex machina. However, this is not a mere device foisted on the play to bring about a happy ending, as happens in farces. It comes as a normal newsroom occurrence, leaving the two parties to the conflict without the ultimate satisfaction of having resolved the problem through the excercise of their respective consciences. Four, as a result of this intervention, the play does what is very rarely allowed to happen on the Marathi mainstream stage. It leaves the audience with questions rather than a neatly closed cathartic end. Each person must now ask her/himself, whether they would stick their necks out in such a situation or submit to the power of money.

The play is based on journalist-novelist-short story writer H. M. Marathe's News Story. It is set in the newsroom of a Pune daily, Dainik Hindustan, brought to authentic life by Pradeep Mulye's set and Anmol Bhave's sound design dominated by the intermittent  crick-crick-crick of the teleprinter and the distant rumble of the press. It unfolds during the early hours of a night shift when the chief sub-editor Milind Bhagwat (Jitendra Joshi), is manning the desk. He has received news that the wall of a cultural institution has collapsed, killing three people including a child. The news carries the name of the builders responsible for the construction and Bhagwat intends to retain it in the report. He has stepped on big toes before and suffered for it, but will do so again.

His resolve is challenged and the issue complicated by the unexpected entry of Swapna Jog (Girija Oak-Godbole), Bhagwat's girlfriend of ten years ago. Recently hired as the Public Relations Officer of the construction firm in question, she has offered to ensure that their name will be dropped from the Dainik Hindustan report. The third though indirect participant in this drama is the idealistic newbie Umesh Bhosle (Rohit Haldikar) who adulates Bhagwat for his courage and is raring to use the might of his pen to expose powerful wrongdoers.  

The play is set in 1989 when big business was still looked upon with suspicion for its exploitation of the working class, its corruption of politicians and often, as in the case of the German industry which collaborated with the Nazi government during the Third Reich, its propensity for turning a blind eye to the incipient growth of fascism. The anger Bhagwat expresses towards the callous builders who wish to bribe their way to a news report that doesn't name them, belongs to that age. The forces ranged against him are the advertising industry on which the press depends for its survival, the cozy relationship between press owners and businessmen and the corruptibility of media people themselves.   

Bhagwat's principles of ethical journalism are safe so long as he can see Swapna as an opportunist who walked out on him for material reasons and is now back to take emotional advantage of him. But once she narrates the story of the circumstances under which she did so and confesses to her vulnerability in the job she has so recently managed to find, he is thrown into a painful dilemma. Should he publish Swapna's employer's name knowing that it will destroy her life, or should he submit to not publishing it and so destroy his own professional credibility? The quiet intensity of the actors' performances sharpen the contours of the dilemma. But this is where the play becomes problematic. Swapna's complicated back story occupies so large a chunk of the second act that it creates a dramatic-thematic imbalance which causes the play to sag temporarily.

Don Special is, even otherwise, an out-and-out talkie play. Sitting in a corner of the twelfth row in Shivaji Mandir, with a large male head blocking my view, I didn't miss much. The play was more an argument for the ears and the mind, than an offering for the eyes. So it was enough that Joshi and Oak-Godbole had a refreshingly chaste diction, and well-modulated, expressive voices.

Published On : 15-07-2015