PM’s interview in peak poll season cannot be “non-political”!

Rohit Chandavarkar
Friday, 3 May 2019

Bollywood is used to interviews in which actors or directors are asked soft questions about their food preferences and lifestyle. No tough questions or in-depth questions are ever posed by any entertainment journalist to a movie star. It seems like Akshay Kumar has got used to this culture so much that he followed exactly that Bollywood system and asked very soft questions to the Prime Minister. This ended up damaging the overall credibility of the interview and gave critics and comedians the opportunity to mock it and get thousands of responses online.

In the current season of fast paced political developments, many interviews of various leaders have appeared in media, but the interview that perhaps created maximum gossip on social media was the one of Prime Minister Narendra Modi by Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar.

A long debate raged on social media and public space about this so called “non-political” chat that the Prime Minister had with one of bollywood’s biggest current icons. Some critics thought that it was too soft and looked stage managed while others argued that since it was described as a non-political chat, it was supposed to be that way.

Political interviews done for television are always tricky for leaders. If they decide to be aggressive with the interviewer they might give a signal to the viewers that they are too harsh. If they decide to be soft with the interviewer they might look like they are scared.

The 2008 Hollywood movie Frost/Nixon captures this paradox very well. It is based on a series of real life interviews well known television journalist David Frost did with President Richard Nixon after he was disgraced in the Watergate scandal. The film shows what goes through the minds of both the political leader and the journalist before every interview done on camera and how both try their best to put the other on the defensive just before the shoot starts in every session.

If Prime Minister Modi decided to do an interview in peak election season it cannot obviously be “non-political” because everything pitched before the cameras in this season makes some political impact or the other, the questions pitched by Akshay Kumar were described as “designed to reveal what kind of a person Narendra Modi is” but this very attempt as showing him in certain light had obvious political intentions because of the timing of the interview.

A lot of people including popular YouTube comedian Sham Rangila mimicked Akshay Kumar’s interview and converted it into a spoof video which went viral. Thousands joked on social media about the types of questions that were asked to the PM by the actor. As a result Akshay was seen as immature and silly interviewer because of these questions. But one must understand that it was not Akshay Kumar’s fault at all. He comes from an industry where interviews are only about a person’s promotion and a public relations (PR) exercise.

Bollywood is used to interviews where actors or directors are asked about their food preferences and lifestyle. No tough questions or awkward questions are ever posed by any entertainment journalist to a movie star, so Akshay followed that system and asked the PM about where he liked to eat mangoes! This perhaps damaged the overall credibility of the interview and gave comedians the opportunity to mock it and get thousands of responses online.

The lesson for an image manager is that an interview with a political leader becomes serious editorial content only when the questions seem at least a little combative. The leaders can always be given the opportunity properly to explain their side and explain to the public how their side is more genuine and that becomes credible content. If the interviewer begins the session on a defensive note and carries on to ask “extra-soft” it becomes a highly non-credible content which has more chance of being ridiculed in today’s social media age.

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