Interview: Washington DC's Senior Journalist and Actor DEVASISH RAY: "I don't Buy Indian Audience Loves Sensationalism"

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Devasish RayDevasish Ray, the well known and deeply respected Bengali American senior print and television journalist and media relations expert, gets candid with Gurjeet Singh in this wide-ranging audio interview. Among numerous recognitions, Ray is a recipient of the Governor of Maryland award for outstanding journalism and is a contributor to NPR, FOX, VOA and BBC. He has served as the bureau chief of TV Asia, Director of Communications at USINPAC, and is the CEO of RAY PR & Media. He also often volunteers to help us out here at Washington Bangla Radio and we are grateful for his time and encouragement. Also known for his expertise in media relations, business relations and public relations strategy, Ray has launched and implemented successful media campaigns and has advised several CEO's on media crisis management. Ray has an MBA and is a consultant to numerous companies and non-profit organizations. He has also been in charge of Development and Training at the Center for Social Change, an organization serving individuals with Developmental Disabilities. Ray put on yet another hat recently - that of a film actor - when he played a lead role in Manan Singh Katohora's award-winning thriller 9 ELEVEN - that too of the mysterious masked man with a booming voice and towering personality in the film.

Curiously, Ray is an accidental journalist - while studying MBA, he started writing for a web portal in the heydeys of the dot-com boom. Among writings he is fond of is one on the great divide between affluent and not-so-affluent south Asian immigrant communities, the latter often composed of folks who overstayed their visas becoming illegal immigrants but still looking to realize the American dream. Titled "The American Dream: Opportunity or Exploitation", the article told the story of three immigrants - one each from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. This article created quite a buzz and was picked up by many American and Indian journals, one of which was The Week from the publication house of Manorama in India who then asked Ray to write for them from the US, thus launching Ray's career as a journalist.

Ray's ascendancy was rapid - he was soon offered the position of Bureau Chief of TV Asia - a role which demanded exposure to Washington's government machinery and involvement with Congressmen, Senators, International Policy makers and even the White House. We all remember Ray's remarkable exclusive interview with Congressman Dan Burton (R-Indiana), one of the harshest critics of India. In that dynamic interview (excerpts), the first ever given to a South Asian channel, Ray challenged the sources of information which Congressman Burton based his rhetoric on human rights abuses by the Indian government on. By the time the interview ended, Congressman Burton, who had just visited India, revealed a changed and positive outlook and a desire for friendship with India.

In another memorable report, Ray wrote about a random act of irrational brutality that had shaken the quite neighborhood of the Greencastle area of Silver Spring, Maryland - two elderly Sikh gentlemen were beaten up mercilessly by a group of African American teenagers (read it here). This was yet another of Ray's reports that caught media focus in India as well here.

Talking about news dissemination in the age of internet, Ray describes the role of bloggers who report on events, sometimes from remotest corners of the world, in the order of minutes and make breaking news available to everyone on the planet instantly. Television, blogs and social media have become very powerful. However, Ray emphasizes the very important role of print media in analysis of unfolding events - newspapers are moving away from big bold breaking-news headlines into analyzing the ramifications of events the unfolding of which are already known to readers via the internet.

The other revolutionary impact of the internet is in the way it makes news blackouts by oppressive regimes difficult to achieve. Ordinary people now can and do send out events from the ground as they are occurring even when journalists have been banned - though authenticity could be compromised and the same facility used for propaganda.

When asked about differences in Indian and western journalism, Ray observes that though there are hundreds of television channels of which a significant number are news channels, all of them tend to report the same news, often over and over again which sometimes gets monotonous. Also, there is still significant sensationalism in the Indian media - as an example, Ray cites the incidence of a scuffle at a sports stadium involving Bollywood hero Shahrukh Khan which by itself is of little importance as news but the Indian media went crazy over it. Another aspect of Indian media is that it tends to become pretty aggressive even before investigations into accusations are complete, often times prematurely putting issues on a media trial.

Fellow journalists in India tell Ray that the media there caters to the tastes of the people they serve - but Ray does not buy that Indian news consumers value sensationalism more than quality news reporting. He firmly believes in journalistic principles of not being judgmental, and though a journalist can analyze reports, taking sides is not appropriate - things that Indian media still do quite regularly and risk losing credibility.

Devasish Ray as the Shooter in Manan Singh Katohora's Bollywood Thriller 9 ElevenThe conversation changes gears into Manan Singh Katohora's Bollywood-style independent feature Film "9 Eleven" in which Ray plays the central role of the mysterious masked shooter - his first stint as an actor. Ray was helping Katohora with auditions for actors for the film when one day Katohora asked Ray to read half a page of the script. Ray did so, and Katohora immediately offered him the role of the mysterious masked man, describing the script and explaining the need for a tall man with a great voice who would come across as commanding a situation. Ray found the script very interesting, and decided to give acting in a film a shot. The results are spectacular as you know if you have watched 9 Eleven.

Do not miss Ray's story of how, being a journalist and not used to canned dialog, he went to shooting the first day without knowing his lines. He realized quickly that he had to actually memorize his lines and get into the character, and the second day onwards it was all good.

Sharing his experience of shooting for 9 Eleven with the largely amateur cast driven by excitement and passion for the film, Ray expresses appreciation for the dedication and professionalism shown by everyone. As an example, actresses Nikkitasha Marwaha and Priya Mathur who were both born and raised here spent a great amount of effort to lose their American accent in Hindi speech. Sonny Chatrath's portrayal of a reasoning doctor was particularly outstanding, adds Ray.

'9 ELEVEN' is written and directed by Manan Singh Katohora (interview), winner of 2012 Rising Star Award at Canada International Film Festival, and produced by  ADF (Narain Kumar Mathur and Sadhna Mathur) in association with JMD Creations (Manan Singh Katohora). The cast members are Devasish Ray, Tejash Natali (interview),  Nikkitasha Marwaha (interview), Jyoti Singh (interview), Vicki Yung, Homi Irani, Vick Krishna, Paul Singh, Chinmay Dhamne, Priya Mathur, Roni Mazumdar, Samir Stewart (interview), Sonny Chatrath, Rashmi Pradhan, Salsabil Malik, Aisha Rasul, Manvi Puri, Tanuj Mathur, Sumeet Verma and Gopi  Jagannathan. Guest appearances by Mandira Mehra, Nilima Mehra, Nitin Verma, Ripneet Brar, Shalabh Agrawal, Sonny Suri, and Bollywood Actress Kashmera Shah. "9 Eleven" is the winner of Best Feature Film awsard at The Peoples Film Festival (TPFF) 2012.

Trailer: 9 Eleven

Article: Supratim Sanyal
Host: Gurjeet Singh

Gurjeet Singh is a Financial Analyst by profession and lives in Germantown, Maryland in the Washington DC metro area. A great enthusiast of Indian-American cultural exchanges, Gurjeet is also an avid  music lover. In her free time she dabs in some water color painting and loves to go on long walks. Gurjeet can be reached at guri070555 [at] yahoo [dot] com.