In the first 24 hours, everybody was a doctor analysing her diet and fitness. Then came the opportunity to be Sherlock, as news emerged of Sridevi’s accidental drowning.
There’s nothing like a celebrity death to bring out the worst in Indian TV news channels. Bathtub, wine glass, conspiracy theories, insinuations of murder – the news channels had it all. Not for a moment did the TRP-hungry news channels think of how insensitive this would be to Sridevi’s family.
Bank scams by Nirav Modi and others, the hit-and-run that killed nine schoolchildren allegedly committed by a BJP leader in Bihar, protests by farmers – all these stories and more were pushed aside. The prime time agenda was the bathtub.
It was the sort of evening about which TV executives smugly say, “People watch this and then blame us.” It’s easy to blame viewers after having exploited their morbid fascination with the private lives of celebrities.
Glamorous actress, who looked much younger than her age, dies of cardiac arrest in a bathtub – did someone say bathtub? That was masala enough.
“Maut ka bathtub (Bathtub of Death),” declared Aaj Tak.
On social media and TV alike, there was stuff blaming her – her crash diets, alleged plastic surgeries, death despite staying fit, and so on. Somehow Sridevi did something to bring about her sudden demise, since successful women are often evil.
Until this point, everybody was merely a doctor. Then came the opportunity to be Sherlock as news arrived that the medical examination had found Sridevi died due to accidental drowning. Lo and behold, her body had “traces” of alcohol. All hell broke loose.
Sooner than you could spell her full name, Sridevi went from being a respected artist of an innocent era to a character who had died “mysteriously”.
Every aspect of Sridevi’s life and death was now going to be examined in microscopic detail. And husband Boney Kapoor’s too.
ABP News led the pack of hungry vultures, their worst being a tweet that read, “Sridevi’s last 15 min in the bathroom. Watch at 7:00 pm on ABP News.” The channel had various questions. When Sridevi didn’t drink, why was she drinking that evening?
An anchor stood beside a bathtub with a wine glass in a simulated luxury bathroom, with Sridevi’s photo in the background. There was a photo of Sridevi drinking from an old movie. Traces of alcohol was somehow the same as being drunk.
The channel was happily reinforcing every stereotype of old Hindi movies – bad women drink, and women can never hold their drink.
Competitors Times Now and Republic were united in getting the same hashtag to trend:#SriDeviDeathMystery.
Just because it was presumed before the medical examination that she had died of a cardiac arrest, Times Now had reason enough to find the death suspicious, and to hold a TV inquiry on it.
“Is Sridevi’s death an open and shut case?” The channel debated with its panel of experts, all of whom happily speculated, for or against conspiracy.
— TIMES NOW (@TimesNow) February 26, 2018
That a copy of the medical report said she had died of “accidental drowning” was cause enough for everyone to speculate further. It could have been anything, but a typo.
“Death theory changes overnight,” said the ticker on Newshour. It went into great detail on the dimensions of the bathtub, comparing it to Sridevi’s height.
The Dubai Police had recorded husband Kapoor’s statement, the Press Trust of India reported late night from Dubai, in what seemed like regular procedure.
But for Republic TV, it was exclusive news that Boney Kapoor had been “grilled” for 16-18 hours, and even spent the night at the police station. That Boney had been “cleared” by the police was hidden, like a footnote.
‘Exclusive Top Sources’ in Dubai Police told Indian news TV of how the matter was being investigated and the CCTV footage was being watched “again and again.” Dubai’s Khaleej Times reported, “The police stated that there was no clear criminal motive with regard to her death.”
At some point, ABP News stopped pretending about sources providing them with information, and started running every bizarre rumour from Twitter with “social media” credited as the source.
More characters tumbled out like the Bigg Boss house. Amar Singh told Republic TV he ‘thought’ that the first call Boney Kapoor made after discovering his wife dead was to him. The channel ran it like gospel truth, making it sound suspicious: “Details of midnight call from Boney Kapoor.”
If everybody’s using Sridevi’s death for five minutes of fame, why should Amar Singh be left behind?