The business of doing good

The business of doing good

Raj Kumar Gupta’s impressive debut Aamir was a gritty, realistic thriller set in the underbelly of Mumbai. Despite supposedly being based on the Filipino movie Cavite, it was infused with enough local flavour, backed by a brilliant Amit Trivedi soundtrack and, most importantly, stuck to a no-compromise-ending to be able to hold its own. I was a little skeptical about the choice of a real-life incident for his second movie, No One Killed Jessica. When you are already in the know about the ‘what’, it must be the ‘how’ that holds your interest. But considering the media exposure in the Jessica Lal case, even the ‘how’ holds no surprises. But, where Gupta scores is by choosing to focus on the ‘who’ making the two lead characters interesting. While I did not care much for the overly de-glamourised look of Vidya Balan, who played the role of Jessica’s sister Sabrina, to lend a certain ordinariness to her role, and the smoking and trash talking, presumably to make Rani Mukherjee, the journalist, appear spunky, the fact that neither of them were shown to be unselfish was refreshing. Rani deciding to take up the crusade due to a genuine sense of social responsibility is indistinguishable from her viewing this as a significant reportage opportunity. And that is exactly how it should be.

I was a little skeptical about the choice of a real-life incident for Raj Kumar Gupta’s second movie No one killed Jessica. When you are already in the know about the ‘what’, it must be the ‘how’ that holds your interest but considering the media exposure in the Jessica Lal case, even the ‘how’ holds no surprises. Where Gupta scores is by choosing to focus on the ‘who’ making the two lead characters interesting.

The balancing act

There are enough instances that show Mukherjee’s character being aware of the ‘doing good’ side of her profession – when she stops to say a few comforting words to Balan as Sabrina Lal, when she declares that the perpetrators should not be allowed to get away with their crimes and even when she comically snubs a gushing, fawning fan when he trivialises a serious issue. At the same time, it also shows her viewing her job from a personal standpoint, looking for opportunities, recognition and growth – when she is genuinely happy returning from her Kargil assignment to an office full of applause or when she ruthlessly squashes a junior’s suggestion to do the Jessica Lal story as she thinks its an open and shut case with no value from a reporting perspective. The social impact certain professions have is intertwined with them also being a means of livelihood for someone. Even the marginal characters in No One Killed Jessica, like the conscientious cop, emphasise this, when he reveals he was compelled into accepting a bribe – keeping his job secure trumped the need to do the right thing.

Unfortunately, in such professions there is this overwhelming tendency to equate service to selflessness. Just because someone makes a career choice that involves serving society, does not automatically require them to be devoid of personal goals and aspirations. And if that someone also happens to display a want, to make money, they are immediately judged. The commonest instance of this happening is the medical profession.  I have had multiple people express righteous indignation at doctors and hospitals charging high fees. At times even I have ranted that I have a really pricey dentist. However, as long as the cost corresponds to the quality of service they provide and their treatment is driven by your symptoms and not the final bill they can fleece you with, there really is not much to complain about. If the doctor, who charges an arm and a leg for treatment, also happens to have the reputation to be among the best to save an arm or a leg, it is perfectly acceptable, is it not? It is hypocritical to expect people in such professions to not think about themselves. Choosing a career that does not have a direct effect on society does not bestow upon us a right that these people should be denied. While we may go about securing our futures working for a corporate that might sell an overpriced product with high margins, we expect those who serve, to do just that.

Doing good and making money

A lot of this thinking was triggered by a recent reading about salaried employees in charitable organisations. Not all work in charitable organisations is achieved by volunteers. Many of them have a highly professional set up and function very much like a regular office. Initially, the very idea that a portion of the monetary donations that they receive has to be used to pay salaries was a little odd, but then it made perfect sense. The people who work there need to lead their lives too and, moreover, the fact that they are paid brings in an accountability and responsibility that one cannot demand if they were merely volunteers.

Social entrepreneurship captures the very essence of this notion of doing good and at the same time making some money out of it. Identifying an area where society is benefited from your services is an intelligent business model as there will be no dearth of demand. Selfishness and selflessness need not be binary choices. It does not matter if the social entrepreneur’s motive is to make money or to do good, primarily because in this business transaction like most others, the parties at either end are set to gain.