A dais comprising film journalists Indu Mirani, Archita Kashyap and Mayank Shekhar, Peruvian director Daniel Vega, Anusha Rizvi of Peepli Live, and actor Pavan Malhotra debated this very pertinent topic.
Anusha Rizvi who was a broadcast journalist before debuting as a filmmaker with Peepli Live, couldn't help but answer unending questions on her film and its association with Aamir Khan.
Mirani was certain that people watched the film, even the promos, only for Aamir Khan. He was their first contact with the film; and made a small film a big one.
Malhotra added saying that the film wouldnâ€™t be where it is without Aamir Khan. 'The media is star-struck,' he claimed.
When asked if star-system curtailed talent, he replied that even the parallel cinema has its own star-system. Kashyap felt that the media lauded Peepli Live (even though it satirised the media) because the media has never closed its eyes on its own mistakes.
Vega, whose film October was screened at the festival, said things were not very different in Peru: 'We release five films a year. But even then there is a star-system. Hollywood dominates most of the cinema journalism. You have to release the film abroad and once it gets attention there, it gets media coverage in Peru.'
Mirani defended the argument that the media concentrated on only a few A-listers, saying that those were the celebrities the readers were interested in. Malhotra said a light-hearted vein, 'Print my photo as well, and see where I reach'.
Kashyap however defended the media's role in defining a starâ€™s popularity by citing the example of Ranbir Kapoor and Imran Khan who debuted around the same time: 'One had a dream hit; the other debuted with a flop. But Ranbir Kapoor has a far bigger following today. It is the audience that decides who is an A-lister.'
Ad man Prahlad Kakkar who joined the dais later commented on the Hindi film industry calling it a 'Moms n Pops show'.
He spoke of the mentality of producers: 'Why take a good actor when I can employ my useless nephew. It takes crores to make a film, might as well take someone from the family.â€™
Also since most producers don't want the women in their family to work in the industry, more debut heroines get a break. To establish his point about star children having it easier, he said that Abhishek Bachchan should be in the Guinness Book of World Records for the most number of flop and still being around.
More controversially, Kakkar felt that no one supported Shiney Ahuja who according to Kakkar did something 'everyone does', because he did not belong to the industry.
One of the most interesting turns in the conversation was the way Peepli Live was promoted.
Said Rizvi, 'The film was wrongly perceived as a comedy thanks to the marketing. When people laughed as they saw Natha running, it was painful. That wasnâ€™t supposed to be funny.'
Rizvi also said this was a lesson learnt and she would be more careful about her filmâ€™s publicity next time around, adding that 'exposure cannot come at the cost of misrepresentation.'
Having worked with a news channel earlier, she was in the unique position of giving both sides of the story. 'Channels run 24x7, and have to generate news continuously. TRPs are now analysed every week, not monthly. That's the economy of Indian television. There is a problem within the system.'
Speaking of ethics in reporting, an audience member demanded to know if journalists paid for stories. Mirani, who earlier edited the entertainment section of Mumbai Mirror, honestly replied in the affirmative. She cited one particular incident where they paid a waiter at a high-end restaurant for providing news with an accompanying picture. 'If we don't do it, the news will go to the rival publication,' she reasoned.
The conversation floated away from paying off sources for news to paying to get articles published in papers. Moderator Mayank Shekhar brought up the topic of Medianet, where you can pay for getting articles published within The Times of India Group, mainly Bombay Times.
Kashyap who is the entertainment editor of Times Now was honest, 'Yes, due to this concept frivolous stories get highlighted and get more space than they deserve.'
And then came the inevitable discussion around film reviews. Many in the audience wanted to know how authentic film reviews were and whether reviewers could be bribed.
Kakkar felt that film journalism had become respectable off late and were being followed largely by readers.
Mirani said that some reviewers could be bought, but that 90 per cent of reviewers were genuine. She also urged readers to get intelligent and choose the critics whose writing they want to follow.
When asked if there was pressure on the critics to go easy on a film, Mirani said the pressure usually came from friends and associates of stars, not directly.
A member of the audience who worked in a news channel had everyone in splits as she revealed that she was instructed to do a certain number of stories about a star, so her editor could get an exclusive interview.
From reviews, to stars, to paid news: this discussion manoeuvred through them all!