Friday, November 30, 2007

The Afternoon is back, but...

One of Bombay's oldest and most well-known newspapers, The Afternoon is back.

On September 26, 2007, the newspaper closed down in the midst of an ugly battle between Farzana Contractor, wife of the late founding editor Behram Contractor and the single largest shareholder Mr Kamal Morarka. I do not know exactly what happened though I feel bad for Farzana because she and her late husband, who was fondly called Busybee, started this paper, when Behram and 30 people quit Mid-Day where Behram was the editor at that time, to start a new newspaper. Some people say it's a real-estate play, i.e. the building 'The Afternoon House' is what some moneybags are after. But who knows the truth, except GOD.

The Afternoon was a very insipid newspaper, especially as compared to its more illustrious competitor, Mid-Day, ironically founded by Behram himself years ago. Not that Mid-Day's quality was inspiring, it was and still is a very gossipy newspaper, oops...sorry tabloid, whose one of the sole purposes is to titilate the readers. But then, that's what a tabloid is supposed to. I have not tracked and read the Afternoon for many years, but I used to occasionally pick up a copy here and there since 2005. Coincidentally, Behram had passed away in 2001, so I don't know whether the quality slipped after that.The paper quality was very bad, it looked dirty and the print would come off it and stick on your palms. The stories were not in-depth; infact there were very few stories to begin with. What made Afternoon still, a must-read newspaper? The 'Round and About' columns written by Behram. One of the longest-running columns in the world (I read somewhere it was supposed to have been submitted to the Guiness Book of World Records), Behram Contractor used to write on a variety of issues with gutso and passion, quite unlike anyone. It was unparalled chronicling of life and times in Bombay, amongst many other things. As Vinod Mehta, editor-in-chief, Outlook group of publications had once said, Behram was not a humorist of the the ha-ha-hee-hee variety. But he used his humour in devastating effect. Often people would laugh for five minutes after reading his pieces. Good humorists make you laugh; great humorists make you laugh and think. In his memory, every year since Behram passed away, Farzana released compilations of his columns year-wise. There are several books that have come out till now; save one I have all of them. I am a huge fan of Busybee and find inspiration in his writing, both as a journalist and a reader.

Few other columns in the Afternoon, notably by Mr Pramod Navalkar, were one of my favourites. I am happy to see the paper back again on the stands. The paper's masthead says that Morarka is the chairman of the Board of Directors and one A.K. Kanangi is the associate editor. I have never heard of Kanangi. There is no sign of a managing editor or the editor. An associate editor would come after the managing editor in the usual scheme of things, but then i do not what the rules are at the new Afternoon are. The new paper looks a bit better in quality, i notice more number of stories in the new version that the older versions. I will wait and see how the paper shapes up.

One other departure from the old Afternoon is the absence of the 'Round and About' column on the last page. Instead, a hackneyed interview of Shah Rukh Khan and an almost full-page phot with his six-pack. I hope there aren't any more six-pack SRK pictures that we have to put up with, now that Om Shanti Om is already released, seen, appreciated, criticized and, you know, basically, done away with. It's a shame. Even though Morarka fell out with Farzana, at least he should have kept (reproduced) the Busybee column on the last page, due to which the paper earned a lot of acceptance and respectibility.

Two things that disturbs me. Firstly, Farzana's name does not appear anywhere on the masthead, so I gather she is not a part of the Afternoon anymore. What a pity. And secondly, they have shifted to a new address at Janmabhoomi Bhavan at Janmabhoomi Marg. The Afternoon house does not find a mention, which looks fishy and one wonders whether there was any truth behind the rumours that had caused the spat in the newspaper, in the first place.

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