Network the 1976 movie is one that’s truly ahead of its times, over four decades to be precise. The film beats Nostradamus in predicting the future, with its dark and satirical take on the mess that news television is. It’s relevant more than ever now in the Indian context and even more so in Kerala considering the number of channels that crop up every other day for the size of the state and the audience they cater to.
With every channel vying for space and that elusive exclusive that would ensure a loyal viewership on a consistent basis, a fair dash of manipulated news content is something that we should start getting used to, I think. Prime time broadcast is not about news anymore, it’s about opinions. In fact we’ve already been there and done that, the ISRO scandal being the most glaring example. Back then it was still mostly print media, imagine the kind of hounding the individuals involved would have been exposed to, if we had the kind of visual news media presence we have today. The political landscape doesn’t help either. The networks are merely tools at the end of the day and broadcast television is an expensive affair too. It’s dog eat dog and to expect ethics and morals to take a front row seat would be downright naive. The arrival of internet and social media added fuel to a fire that was already raging. It’s only a matter of time before we start yelling in Kerala, to quote Network itself. In fact, we’ve already been yelling for a while now, thanks to social media too.
Madhur Bhandarkar explored these themes to an extent in his filmPage 3 in the context of the print media a decade and half back. Politics, celebrity culture and big business are as heady as mixes come. Technology and new media have definitely changed the ecosystem today. The nature of interaction and level of engagement with the audience has changed too but the influence and the effect on the audience isn’t far removed from what we see in Network. Like it or not, we are in fact discussing something that the West was exposed to and dissected, almost half a century back.