Remembering Amita Malik

Personal Reminiscences of

Divya Raina

A Rare Early Picture of  Amita Malik with David Lean

 

One could never ignore her. She made her presence felt. Through her words. She spoke up. A lot. Fiercely. Independently. Fearlessly. In fact, she evoked fear in others. In I&B officials, in Doordarshan officials and programmers, in performers and practitioners. She straddled all the major film and TV columns in all major dailies. She was the last word.

You could resent what she said. Her pen was dipped in vitriol and as an English critic once said of her, “She chewed glass bottles..”. But she had the reputation of being someone who mattered – an authority on the media – and one could never ignore her. Her word was law. If she did not like you or your programme or performance, you were practically finished because she was the ultimate “quality check” in Indian broadcasting. And she held this position despite her health in her declining years. And she never forgot anything.

She paid a lot of attention to me when I appeared on Doordarshan in my very first programme, interviewing an English puppeteer, Elizabeth Puckle. Sure enough, I appeared in her column and my debut was lauded and my joy knew no bounds. To be praised by Amita Malik was heady stuff! But soon she wrote about how I was in Bangalore covering the Filmotsav there for AIR and though she did not attend the Festival she wrote about me without checking the facts. I clearly recall meeting her with my friends and apprising her of the facts of the situation. She took it in and said she admired me for standing up for myself.

There was mutual respect after that. She gave me her aashirvaad when I left for Media Studies in New York. When I returned I went through a tough patch trying to juggle bringing up a baby and doing a brief stint as DD’s morning newsreader. She sensed I was going through difficulties but her loyalty lay in seeing that the quality of the performance did not suffer. And so she wrote about it, no holds barred. And I suffered. But when I made an effort and she was pleased with the result she was unstinting in her praise. I chatted with her whenever we met at media functions. By this time she looked much older and her arthritis was troubling her. But one kept in touch. She liked my daughter’s name, Tarini. It sounds very Bengali, she said. I’ll bring her over to meet you, I said. But that was not to be as Amita Malik is no more.

But one cannot forget her. She was a film/media criticism pioneer in India and opened up a whole new field, an exciting, glamorous and yes, stressful arena for Indian women. She will be remembered for her tremendous contribution to the furthering of India’s image abroad in media and film. I will never forget her as she was inextricably linked to my own evolution in the field of media and cinema studies, but also because she was a mentor and a disciple always remembers.

 

Editor: Manohar Khushalani

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