Work Memo No. 7: All Aboard the Chennai Express

Sometimes, third time isn’t the charm. Take, for example, my third ever press junket, which went a little less than seamless. However, for the chance to learn more about the Bollywood industry, I’d be willing to take whatever came my way.


I’ve probably seen three-quarters of a Bollywood movie. I’ve seen Slumdog Millionaire, but depending on whom I talk to, that one doesn’t really count. And then there was that one time freshman year I was invited to a screening at Strickland on a Tuesday night and only stayed one hour into the three-hour long film. I still haven’t seen a full-fledged Bollywood movie, but this week I had the opportunity to cover the press conference of one.

To preface, the Radio Times doesn’t really cover Bollywood news. We stick to Hollywood and UK entertainment. But when Susanna, one of the writers, got an invitation to the press junket of a new project called Chennai Express, she did some digging in the Google machine and realized that it was going to be a pretty big deal. The film, which centers around an unexpected love story, stars Shahrukh Khan, a Bollywood veteran who’s appeared in 75 Hindi films during his 20-year career. It also turns out that Chennai Express falls in line with the 100th year anniversary of Bollywood as an institution, and the blockbuster will mark the widest release in the UK in the history of Bollywood by playing in 170 cinemas here. Clearly, we had to be on it.

I’ve been to two previous press junkets (read about them here and here) and they both went smoothly. I would like to say that this one followed the trend, but that would be stretching the truth. Unlike the other events in which I was led from the event registration booth to a nearly empty press holding room and promptly met with the interview subjects, this time around I was directed to a small theater that was already half-full and ended up waiting around with the film soundtrack on in the background for a good hour. The press was then shown a few clips from the movie and the actors talked about the project for 15 minutes. This was the first time I wasn’t able to screen the film in full before interviewing the actors or filmmakers, so that was a challenge. From there, I had a two-hour gap in between the press conference and a roundtable interview with the two leading actors. During this waiting period, other reporters had the coveted spot of doing one-on-one interviews with the talent.

I returned, as a journalist should, a little before the second round of interviews were to take place in the Oxford Circus-area hotel. However, even after finding the toilet, taking in some complimentary refreshments and chatting with other writers, it was already 5:45 p.m. and we were still in the press holding room. I was told that interviews for us would begin by 5. They seemed to have missed the mark. After 15 minutes of waiting, and then another 15 minutes more, we were finally led into the interview room and conducted our roundtable chat about the filming process, the status of and what the cast was like behind the scenes.

Delays aside, it was still a valuable learning experience. I met and spoke with several other reporters for Asian-interest outlets who were all about covering Bollywood news, to other entertainment sites such as Digital Spy and even a French film freelancer. The French reporter, Marjolaire, had come all the way from Paris to London solely to cover this press conference. She said that even though Bollywood doesn’t carry as much weight over there as it might in the UK or parts of India, it was important for her and the outlet to include this part of the entertainment culture with the rest of their coverage. It was great to see that people were noticing this upward trend and bringing it to the forefront of more wider-reaching outlets to acknowledge the different cultures of entertainment that affect the environment here. I’m not sure that I actually want to see the film from the previews I saw, but I can imagine that someone scrolling through who finds the piece I wrote might become that much more interested to see what the Bollywood buzz is about.

Just for kicks, here’s a trailer for Chennai Express. Who knows, it might be coming to a theater near you.


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