Narendra Modi's interview to Akshay Kumar is as much smart strategy as a snub to the media

Bikram Vohra
With Narendra Modi choosing to interview with Akshay Kumar instead of a journalist, leaders in the media must realise that until this lost credibility is redeemed by good, strong journalism, surrogates will be easily found, and we will tamely report it.

On Wednesday, I watched Prime Minister Narendra Modi being interviewed by actor Akshay Kumar in largely bucolic surroundings. My first reaction was one of surprise that an actor was ploughing the fourth estate. That too mid election.

Of the thousands of Indian journalists, wasn't there one of stature and standing to interview the prime minister at this juncture that he would choose to talk to an actor instead?

Have we so lost our way that Modi can choose a celebrity to do our work? No one from the ranks of the media even thinks it is worth commenting upon or find annoying.

The more I thought about the flaccid response and the obvious lack of frames in the hall of fame of the news world, as well as the fact that for so long, we have been preoccupied in letting each other down, I realised we had destroyed the general respect and admiration our profession enjoyed not so long ago.

We no longer care about each other as a fraternity, why would anyone care about us?

Was Modi employing a strategic move, or was the snub deliberate and a way to show genial contempt for the media and the manner in which it covers the news, the element of fake news having eroded not just the credibility of content but also the individual peddling it.

If President of the United States Donald Trump has an inimical relationship with the media and the hostility is unremitting, perhaps the Prime Minister of India has also begun to feel that every time he gives a one-on-one interview, the questioner becomes aggressive and shifts the focus onto shame and scandal rather than achievement. By the same token, the other side become docile and meek, overawed in his presence. As a result, the message he wishes to send out, be it right or wrong, does not find traction.

So Modi does not go for glamour. Instead, he chose an actor who is closely associated with initiatives that are dear to the government's agenda. Between toilets and sanitary napkins and the promotion of rural hygiene and sanitation, Akshay Kumar has become the squeaky clean face of that revolution.

As he sits with the prime minister in front of an orchestrated, gently-panned camera, creating the ambience of tranquility, laughter of the happy kind, with tea for two in an idyllic lawn, the eyeballs he attracts are far more than of some shrill pundits of the press who would have been more intent on marketing themselves than conducting a meaningful interview.

We must ask ourselves: have we become redundant? Trump is still loud and vitriolic and bad mouths the media at every opportunity. Modi, on the other hand, has been smart enough to do none of that, using his weapon of silence to simply sidestep the media and find other options to package himself.

There is no doubt that the placid Akshay interview was a hit and completely sidesteps the media's sworn duty to question, question and question those in power. Somewhere, those questions were hijacked. Leaders in the industry must realise that until this lost credibility is redeemed by good, strong journalism, surrogates will be easily found, and we will tamely report it.

The saddest part is that as we hurtle down the path of self-destruction, no one cares enough to say, "Hey, wait a minute. Why is this film star doing our job?"

As a journalist for 50 years I would go to any lengths to get a one-on-one with a prime minister like Akshay Kumar did.

Also See: Akshay Kumar interviews Narendra Modi: An artistic appreciation of PM demonstrating ye olde ‘Man Tells Wife Joke’

Akshay Kumar interviews Narendra Modi: 'I'm strict but don't humiliate anyone,' PM tells actor

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