It’s always tricky when journalism becomes the story. The lives of the characters start to look like the work they do. They sound like the sensationalized craft that defines them. The film or series designs them as a clickbaity op-ed page instead of an investigative piece. The unsubtle treatment (adultery! workaholism! mean editors! desperate interns!) reflects the makers’ musings on a fraternity whose own insecurities shape the post-truth conscience of a nation. It pushes the viewer to read the news industry in binaries: TRPs (television rating point) v/s integrity, ambition v/s ethics, romance v/s relevance. Scoop, the new Netflix series created by Hansal Mehta and Mrunmayee Lagoo Waikul, is distinctly aware of this treatment. It knows the tropes and themes. It knows that, authenticity-wise, the only vocation worse than medicine in Hindi cinema is journalism. A popular comedian like Danish Sait has a cameo as a TV news anchor because the joke is on the audiences who lap up baseless judgements posing as primetime entertainment. If anything, this skewed gaze – and Scoop’s slow-burning subversion of it – is hardwired into its premise.
First, a bit of context. Scoop adapts the memoir Behind Bars in Byculla: My Days in Prison by Jigna Vora, a journalist who became a prime suspect in the 2011 murder of veteran crime beat reporter Jyotirmoy Dey. Vora was charged and subsequently acquitted under the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act, for allegedly conspiring with underworld don Chhota Rajan – or, more specifically, providing details of Dey’s vehicle and whereabouts, thus ‘instigating’ the gangster against him. In Scoop, this protagonist is Jagruti Pathak (Karishma Tanna), the deputy bureau chief of the newspaper, The Eastern Age. She is a rising star in the male-dominated field of crime reporting, guided by her mentor and editor Imran Siddiqui (Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub). The slain senior correspondent is Jaideb Sen (Prosenjit Chatterjee), a man who pays the price for being great at his job. And the murky Mumbai police investigation that incriminates Pathak is led by Harshvardhan Shroff (Harman Baweja). Over six episodes, we see Jagruti’s harrowing journey from journalist to victim, from insider to inmate, her world crumbling as the very profession that built her threatens to break her. The first three episodes feature the machinations of a newsroom: Jagruti’s unfettered access to cops and criminals, her hectic schedule, scattered personal life, her addiction to the hustle. The next three feature her descent into institutional hell. Her grueling time in Byculla Jail with the criminals she once reported on is intercut with the external limbo of her case. That’s the broad picture.
But the essence of Scoop lies in the way it toys with our preconceived notions as consumers of modern journalism and journalism movies. Every other scene teases the gap between reality and interpretation, the cultural void between truth and discourse. It invites the viewer to scrutinize the character of those involved before telling us: This is precisely why such tragedies exist, and you are part of the problem. Take, for instance, the staging of Jagruti’s career. A lot of it is filmed with a retrospective eye on the trial-by-media coverage that followed her arrest. Jagruti’s meetings with Shroff suggest that she has no qualms being his favourite as long as she secures a scoop. She barges into his office while the others wait outside; she texts and calls at odd hours to get his quotes; he offers her duty-free gifts, long drives and unsolicited advances. We are almost baited into imagining that there’s more to their arrangement. Ditto for Jagruti’s bond with her editor, Imran. We see the two of them after hours in his cabin, while he pours himself a whiskey and offers her a research gig on his new book. It’s cozy. Yet, this ‘look’ is exactly what jealous colleagues and rival publications prey on after her arrest. In the interrogations, someone makes a snide comment about her “special access” to Shroff and her rapid rise up the news ladder. A publication prints a provocative headline about a possible affair with Imran. It’s like the writing counts on the fact that we see the speculative narratives that society has conditioned us to see. Jagruti’s ambition becomes her crime, and her talent with people is twisted into a no-holds-barred hunger for success.
The series understands our first instinct as a patriarchal people, and thrives on this relationship between prejudice and perception. If the first parts of these scenes reveal how the world chose to judge her, the second parts are a sobering reminder that proximity is the cornerstone of journalism. It is too inconvenient to forget that Jagruti resists Shroff’s seedy advances, or that Imran’s wife Shelly is also present in that cabin at night. The first parts trigger the media frenzy (led by a rival paper called Citi Mirror), the second reveal the boring full story. A shot of Jaideb Sen leaving his house on the morning of his murder is shaped by the same duality. The one thing we notice is the upscale apartment of a man who rides a motorbike – a detail that a news anchor yells about while peddling conspiracy theories about his death.
Jagruti’s gender – and her identity as a single mother who exercises her sense of agency – is what makes her an oven-ready scapegoat in a system brimming with mutual complicity. Her confirmation bias – where her ‘race’ to outdo Sen makes her reject his theories and confuse his warnings for threats – further dents her image. Moments that look harmless in the first few episodes are then recalled as conflicts of interest and personality flaws. She meets her informers at quarter bars, befriends rich builders, and spends a night at an Ahmedabad hotel with her crime-branch boyfriend. While interns speak highly of her ability to treat her sources like human beings, it’s this ability that later casts suspicions over her character. Her unwitting role is underlined by a few stylistic flourishes. Twice we see her dancing the night away, carefree and happy, but the score slowly morphs into something edgier when the city comes into view – as if to imply that Jagruti is oblivious to the inner dealings of a place that’s preparing to swallow her whole. Even her exchanges with Sen bristle with ambiguous tension, leaving her exposed to future allegations of a feud.
Some nice touches drive home this reality-illusion divide. In an edit meet, there’s a passing mention of a new film called Pyaar Ka Punchnama (2011), the sexist romcom in which three Delhi dudebros blame their “manipulative girlfriends” for everything under the sun. There’s the personal track of Pushkar (Tanmay Dhanania), Jagruti’s bitter rival, whose wife (Ira Dubey) faces similar discrimination in her corporate career. In one scene, she arrives to find Pushkar and his chauvinistic colleagues joking about Jagruti’s ‘skills’ as a reporter. Her disappointment in Pushkar mirrors Jagruti’s disillusionment in a landscape that’s quick to discredit her. There’s also the meta casting of Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub, which channels the actor’s image as a politically expressive artist in a sea of silence. Imran staking his reputation on Jagruti’s innocence might have seemed awkward if not for Ayyub’s natural feel for the pitch of his role. (Which is to say: It takes nothing less than a real-life hero to convey that a woman’s agency is often misconstrued as hubris). Their platonic bond echoes the one between SI Anjali Bhaati (Sonakshi Sinha) and her righteous SHO, Devi Singh (Gulshan Devaiah), in the recent Dahaad. In both equations, it’s the woman who pays the price for being prized by their bosses.
For a series that spends so long breaking down our biases, it’s strange that the Byculla jail portions succumb to the very excesses Scoop sets out to subvert. Jagruti’s time in prison is dotted with Madhur Bhandarkar-era stereotypes – a local bully, spiteful guards, a pushy godwoman, noisy protests, and that old classic, the newbie subjected to a humiliating strip search. I don’t doubt the legitimacy of these events; it’s the tone that’s jarring. It feels like Scoop decides to co-opt the grammar of those news telecasts because, by then, Jagruti loses the freedom to tell her own story. We are not seeing her experience so much as a prime-time approximation of her trauma. This bleeds into other areas of the premise. Like the shots of Jagruti’s son glumly watching his boarding school mates go home for Christmas holidays. Thankfully, Scoop stops short of showing Jagruti’s family being turned away by a posh restaurant.
Another issue is the density of the plot. Even though the conspiracy is simple – Sen is killed for uncovering the cop-mafia nexus – the number of surnames (Irani, Acharya, Malik) thrown around in chats can be a bit disorienting. One can argue, though, that the pedantic lens (especially when a chain-smoking Imran does his own detective work) is actually a journalistic one. Achint Thakkar’s background score misses the mark as well – not because it’s omnipresent, but because there’s a forced ethnicity to it in context of Jagruti’s roots. I get the reasoning: The hook evokes a Gujarati soap opera, but it’s almost too exotic to explore Jagruti’s real moments of stillness.
Ironically, the weakest link of Scoop is Jagruti Pathak herself. The character is well conceived, but Tanna’s performance – unlike, say, Shreya Dhanwanthary in Scam 1992: The Harshad Mehta Story (2020) – is not diverse enough to channel the urgency of high-stakes journalism. Perhaps it works in her favour early on, when Jagruti is a slave to the all-consuming nature of her job. On receiving news of Jaideb Sen’s murder, the only thing she feels upset about is that she’s away from the action, on a family vacation (“out of sight, out of mind”) during the biggest ‘story’ of the year. She is too driven to grieve or express prolonged emotion. But this becomes a flaw later, particularly when Jagruti is at odds with prison life. As the protagonist, she is the difference between Scoop being a good series and a great one.
Fortunately, director Hansal Mehta has a knack of assembling great supporting casts, where the most familiar faces don’t act so much as comfortably occupy the environment. Harman Baweja as Shroff, for example, is a surprise and a masterstroke. It’s a performance free of history and vanity; the actor has a Wagner-Moura-like screen presence after all these years, and the film-making isn’t afraid to turn his everyman physicality into a character trait. In his hands, Shroff’s moral conflict – he’s mildly torn between being a government stooge and a Jagruti Pathak admirer – makes him a layered character. Credit is also due to old hand Deven Bhojani as Jagruti’s uncle, and Inayat Sood as Deepa, Jagruti’s intern who goes rogue with a clinical coldness that’s often lauded as a ‘slay’. (When she switches alliances, you can tell that she’s recently taken up smoking as a way to keep an eye on her colleagues during their balcony breaks). But the two best turns in Scoop come from relatively low-key names. One’s a cop: Ravi Mahashabde has the quiet intensity of John Turturro as Jagtap, Shroff’s right-hand man and griller of suspects. The other’s a lawyer: Theatre veteran Jaimini Pathak (or Sitaraman in Scam 1992) is a scene-stealer as Jagruti’s defense counsel in the final episode. He lights up the courtroom with his procedural wit and flamboyance, rescuing us from repetitive reaction shots of Sad Jagruti on stand. Everyone in court gawks at him, mostly chuckling or listening to him in rapt attention – a mix of both (real) awe for the actor and (reel) reverence for the lawyer.
Above all, what holds Scoop in good stead is the genuine bleeding-heart feeling that the makers have for India’s floundering fourth estate. It’s not just the accurate detailing: The press club routine (where every table is its own bubble of self-congratulatory quips and muffled gossip), the brisk edit calls, the temporary truces, Jagruti’s Ghatkopar colony, the tempers in an office replete with ideologies. It’s the sweet spot between narrative tension and texture – unlike The Broken News (2022), a tacky TV-anchor show that went too ‘method’ in its melodrama. It’s also the way they choose to end a series. It’s a muted finish, without any flourish, as if to suggest that journalism is a long-form tragedy – it remains guilty until proven innocent. The fiction gives way to fact: A video, some real-world photographs. The tribute doubles up as a reminder that Scoop was – and will always be – about the murder of the nexus between truth and storytelling. It’s a timely zoom-out from a specific account to reveal a universal lesson: The pen is mightier than the sword only because ink dries faster than blood.