Media and the mafia

Sunday, 3 June 2007 - 7:43pm IST
People who want to know about life in Mumbai before the invasion of TV and long before Dawood took over, then 'Beyond The Newsroom' is a wonderful ride.

Beyond The Newsroom
Oswald Pereira


Ten pages into Beyond The Newsroom and a huge cinematic screen takes over your mind. The pages fade and you see Ram Gopal Varma’s name bursting on to a screen. Varma only because he has a little gangster film oeuvre. This book is a film crying to be made.


Beyond The Newsroom, then, reasserts itself as a book quite quickly. In fact, it’s a racy read. It is also a roman à clef of sorts that lifts the lid on the murky goings-on in the world of newspapers, the police, the underworld and politics. The writer is a journalist, a former crime reporter, and this book has several thinly disguised characters who once ruled the cityscape.


The police commissioner, the reporters and editors mentioned, and the underworld don himself are all familiars. Narayan Swamy, Oswald Pereira’s don, is of course, the famous Matunga godfather Vardarajan Mudaliar. Swamy is an odd mix of criminal and do-gooding social worker, who is himself confused by his two opposing roles. As the novel progresses, Swamy the social worker tries to take control of developments but is
always thwarted by Swamy the underworld don.


Hell-bent on destroying Swamy is Mumbai police commissioner Donald Fernandez. Known as the supercop, Fernandez is a tough customer who tries every trick he can to end Swamy’s stranglehold over the city. But although Fernandez has his friends in the media — notably Oscar Pinto, a young crime reporter with “The Newsroom”, India’s most venerable newspaper —Swamy’s ties in the media are stronger, more effective.
The political reporter in “The Newsroom”, the crime reporter in the Marathi daily, the business journalist known for his incisive analysis, the beautiful and lethal reporter in Madras — they are all on Swamy’s payroll and use their publications to further his various causes. The police force, the editor of “The Newsroom”, and the narrator, Pinto, find that Swamy’s people easily run circles around them.


The book in fact opens with Pinto’s exclusive story about Swamy’s arrest being proved embarrassingly wrong. Pereira makes a scathing indictment of corruption in newspapers. He details the way articles are planned and stymied and even planted. He also provides fascinating insights into how Swamy’s men infiltrate the media. Shamefully, in real life, Swamy’s formula was successfully repeated by one of India’s leading industrialists who, at one time reportedly had 50 top Indian journalists on his rolls. Pereira explains exactly how this can happen.


However, where the novel falters is when it comes to sustaining the main threads of its story. Pereira begins with the workings of newspapers but later switches completely to Swamy’s operations. Pinto’s character is therefore not developed. And later, Stella Kutty, the beautiful reporter, does not ring true at all. These are minor quibbles. If you want to know about life in Mumbai before the invasion of television and long before Dawood Ibrahim took over, this book is a wonderful ride.




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