Creator Hansal Mehta’s Netflix series, adapted from Jigna Vora’s memoir Behind Bars in Byculla: My Days in Prison,’ and written for the screen by Mrunmayee Lagoo Waikul and Mirat Trivedi, suffers from an identity crisis. The six-part series seems unable to decide whether it should be a prison drama, a family drama, a newsroom drama or a crime story.
Season one of Scoop recounts crime reporter Vora’s experiences as an undertrial after being accused of conspiring to murder fellow journalist Jyotirmoy Dey in 2011 under MCOCA (Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act). She was subsequently acquitted in 2018.
In Mehta’s show, Jagruti Pathak (Karishma Tanna) is a single parent, an ambitious crime reporter and deputy bureau chief at the Eastern Age newspaper. She has favourites in the police force, particularly JCP Harshvardhan Shroff (Harman Baweja), and contacts in the underworld. As the rare woman reporter on the beat, who is on a career fast-track, she invites scrutiny and judgement. Her unconventional methods and pushy nature earn her editor Imran’s (Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub) admiration but also resentment from her colleagues.
Imran is based on Jigna’s former editor and friend Hussain Zaidi, who is also credited as one of the producers of the show. There is the upcoming junior reporter Deepa (Inayat Sood) emulating mentor Jagruti. Then there is the jealous contemporary Pushkar (Tanmay Dhanania), whose prejudice at work mirrors his response to his successful wife’s (Ira Dubey) experiences in the corporate world.
Many of these prejudices emerge follow her arrest, and a trial by media that hastily pronounces her guilty until proven innocent. As a co-accused, suspected of conspiring with underworld don Chhota Rajan in the murder of rival reporter Jaideb Sen (Prosenjit Roy), Pathak goes from being the hunter to the hunted. In her corner, stand her family, Imran and a few colleagues. Through this presentation of the media trial, and a thirst for clickbait headlines, the show captures the media’s role in conducting a public trial and sculpting a biased narrative.
Parallelly, the cops conduct their own investigation, desperate to pin the blame on Pathak, and to cover up their own complicity. The police is presented as terrorising, self-serving, sleazy and spineless, rather than dutiful.
The principal characters are composites of real-life personalities, but for anyone following the crime and news beat at the time, they are easy to identify. The initial three episodes build a back story to Pathak’s career, her methods, home life, fancy for the good life, and skewed priorities. These are add-ons to the book, which takes visual shape from episode four onwards, when the action includes the jail and courtroom.
The family moments in the crowded Pathak home are best crafted, capturing the noise and chaos of a middle-class Gujarati joint family. Deven Bhojani as Jagruti’s uncle stands out for his consistent and convincing performance as the emotional rock.
In jail, Jagruti meets some colourful characters---some powerful and others stereotypes, some implicated by Jagruti’s reporting. The prison is a welcome break from the drab shades and flat lensing that dominate the inert narrative. Here we feel the claustrophobia, despair and need to quickly learn the unwritten survival guide.
From being hard-core reporter, in jail, Jagruti whimpers and whines as the wrongly-accused, misunderstood woman, dealing with harassment in prison and battling character assassination outside.
While Scoop captures some of the complexity of Jigna Vora’s story, it doesn’t capture its cinematic potential. Tanna is unable to bring out the true nature of a career journalist, a field reporter with friends in high places or a caring parent. Her reaction to news of Sen’s murder is as casual as learning that her lunch delivery is delayed. Chatterjee is a curious choice for Sen and so is Baweja for Shroff, the difference being that, unlike the former, the latter gamble actually pays off. Sood and Ayyub pad up the lead actor, one as the mentee and the other as mentor, representing the new and the old guard.
Mehta reserves a final burst for the courtroom where Jagruti’s defence lawyer haughtily strikes down the prosecution. Even though it is an overt grandstanding, Jaimini Pathak’s interpretation gives the show a much-needed shot of adrenaline. By the end the show’s identity at least becomes clear that, above all, it’s in service of its protagonist.