Karishma Tanna and Zeeshan Ayyub on what makes 'Scoop' a huge success and how it is a game-changing show for their career

Netflix series 'Scoop' has been nominated for 2023 Best Asian TV Series at the Asia Contents Awards & Global OTT Awards. Harper’s Bazaar India catches up with the lead duo about preparing for their roles, the world of journalism, their takeaways from it, and much more.

Harper's Bazaar India

The Netflix series, Scoop garnered a lot of attention and love from Indian audiences, primarily for two main reasons. One, it had at its core a real-life incident that shook the country then and two, it gave a glimpse of what journalism was like and the working of a newsroom before digital media took over the space. The series is a powerful and intriguing narration brought on screen by Hansal Mehta and had Karishma Tanna and Mohd. Zeeshan Ayyub in lead roles. The duo essayed the roles of a crime reporter and an editor of a newspaper, respectively, who paid a heavy price for being sincere, dedicated, and ethical. Justice does prevail in the end, but as they say, justice delayed is justice denied.  

Bazaar India catches up with the duo who speak about prepping for the role, cinema, and the story at large, their thoughts on journalism, and much more. 

Sonal Ved (SV): The show traces the world of journalism in the early 2010s. How different do you think the show would have been if it was set in the current times?
Karishma Tanna (KT): Social media or not, the crux of the story remains the same. So, what happened in 2010 could happen now. There are so many other cases now, in the presence of social media.
Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub (MZA): On the contrary, I think it would have been a very different show, because then it would not have been focused on print journalism. It would have revolved around social media and how people are making memes and reels and TikTok videos about the case and trying to sabotage Jagrati Pathak’s character. It would have been a more pacy show.
KT: But I feel a victim would be a victim.

SV: What kind of preparation did you do for your characters?
KT: When I got the role, Hansal (Mehta) sir’s DA (Ankur Pathak), who’s an ex-journalist, asked me to shadow a crime reporter. So, I shadowed a crime reporter for a week. We visited police stations in the suburbs and South Bombay. I saw the way she talked, observed her body language. When I read the script, I saw how detailed and well-written it was for me to understand the graph. But when you visit a police station, see the jail, meet a real cop and crime reporter, everything changes. You can envision the ambience, the body language, etc. I went to the Mumbai Press Club and met a lot of journalists and got to understand what they talk about and how they are in everyday life.
MZA: I know many journalists, and some of them are really good friends. I know the basic world of journalism. Imran’s character is more about the language he uses. It’s very academic so he’s always using quotes, talking about ethics. There was concern that he might sound boring after a point, like he’s always giving a lecture. So, the one thing that Hansal sir wanted from me was to make him humane.

SV: Having not met Jigna Vora at all, how did you play her so convincingly?
KT: The credit for this goes to the script. Mrunmayee Lagoo Waikul has done a fabulous job. When we read it, I knew exactly what Jagruti’s role is. I did assume that I will have to meet Jigna Vora, but Hansal sir was very clear that we aren’t meeting anybody and doing things the way we want to. He kept a clean slate and told us to fill the character the way we wanted. It was only during the end of the shooting when she came to the set in Ghatkopar that we got to meet her. She got the news that we are shooting and arrived with Gujarati food. That’s how I met her for the first time and it was very surreal.

SV: Did you have to work on the thick Gujarati accent that you have in the show?
KT: I am a Gujarati and know the typical ambience of a Gujarati family and home. So yes, I have tried to give that little accent, which is relatable. When I’m in the newsroom, I am speaking in English to Imran, my editor, while it’s Gujarati when I’m at home to make it more convincing and real.
SV: What about you, Zeeshan? Did you meet the character that you played?
MZA: My only interaction with Hussain Zaidi is the message he sent me after watching my performance. He said it was a ‘magnificently sterling performance’. I was elated at receiving a compliment from him. Like how Karishma said earlier, we did not meet anyone and that is how Hansal sir works. Even when I worked with him in Shahid, he was clear that the actors will not be meeting anyone.
SV: Zeeshan, you said that you have a lot of friends who are journalists. What do you think about the journalism world right now?
MZA: Imran is very much what any editor or journalist should be. When people are saying, ‘Oh he’s such a good man, he’s such a great man’ it is very unfortunate to think of Imran as an idealistic person, because I feel that should be the minimum. You should always stand by your principles and not publish anything if you are not convinced about the truth. That should be the case, according to me, and the way the show goes, it feels like Imran is standing in the centre and you can actually measure how far you have come from the basic idea of journalism. That is why, people, journalists and editors are shocked, because they feel they have come so far.
SV: Zeeshan, people know you for your work now, but, Karishma, there was a long break for you. Tell us about your journey between that long break and now? Today, everyone’s looking forward to what you’re going to do next.
KT: It’s the most difficult thing to decide what I’m going to take up next. Right now, I’m just enjoying this moment and the success of Scoop. My journey has been good. Yes, it’s had a lot of ups and downs, but I’ve learnt a lot with every project and gained a lot of experience. A lot of people have said that I’ve got a role that I’ve deserved after 18 long years, which makes me feel like good things do indeed take their own time.

SV: What about this story made you want to be a part of it?
KT: Everything. It ticked all the boxes—Netflix, Hansal sir, getting cast by Mukesh Chhabra, it being a real story, a character with so many layers. There was so much to learn, since I hardly knew anything about journalism. After reading the script and understanding it and being part of such a show, I’ve learned so much about how you all work, how the narrative is, and have immense respect for you all.
MZA: There was no option of saying no. Mukesh Chhabra called me to his office and that’s where Hansal Sir told me that he’s making a show and there’s the character of a newspaper editor that I should play. That’s how I said yes. But then, when I read the script, I realised that it is one of the best written scripts Hansal Sir has worked on. I was blown by the script and, obviously, Imran’s character. So, we had a long chat about what the script is trying to say, and how it is important in these times and those conversations got me more excited to be a part of this project.
SV: It’s impressive that you admit to your character being based on Hussain Zaidi, that was not something that came out evidently unless one knows the inside of the journalism world.
MZA: The character is not exactly based on him, but, at that time, Hussain Zaidi was the editor of the newspaper that Jigna was working for. It’s more a case of fiction with Imran, but a very important thing, because he is actually the voice of this show. Imran’s character is not there in the book. It is more about the protagonist’s journey in prison. The show is mostly fiction, but inspired by a true event and Hussain Sir.
SV: Karishma, you certainly could not have come out of this unaffected taking into account the scenes in the jail and knowing that this happened to somebody in real life.
KT: We started with scenes in the newsroom in the first schedule and followed that with all the shots done inside the house. The third schedule was shot in jail. While reading the script, I knew that it’s going to be very challenging, very draining, so I was prepared. Hansal sir was very clear that we’ll start with the scene where I am frisked inside the jail. He wanted my soul to feel naked and humiliated. I was already vulnerable, and after that we did all the scenes. Since I was in that zone, it impacted me every time. I felt her frustration on being behind bars and questioning what she’d done.
SV: Are you somebody who takes the character back home?
MZA: I think every actor takes something from the character and they give something to the character. You find a new personality within yourself and it definitely affects and changes you somewhere. It is not possible to be completely detached from any role I do.

SV: What is Hansal Mehta’s strength as a director?
MZA: There are many. I think the most important thing is his honesty. He only makes a show or a film if he feels like telling a story. I think that is one of the biggest strengths you can have if you are in art. I also think he actually collaborates while making a film or a show. He gives an actor complete freedom. It’s a complete collaboration and he leads from the back. It’s like he’s not there on the set, but he’s running the whole set.
KT: I feel his strength is also his instinct. If he feels something from the inside, he’ll do it. He gives you the liberty to chart your own graph to make your own character and just lets you be. He lets the younger generation from his crew take over and use their creativity along with his. He gives credit to so many people and the stage for each one of them to grow.
SV: Would you say this has been a game changing show for you, for your career?
KT: Hundred percent.
MZA: I think this is very special. I’ve never got such a response over the past 10-12 years. My first film, No One Killed Jessica, released in 2011. People have really loved my work and appreciated my character and are calling it a game changer for me as well.

SV: What’s been the biggest take away from the show for both of you?
KT: I’ve learnt a lot about journalism and gained a lot of experience and some amazing friends. I’ve also understood that life is very uncertain and anything can happen at any time, but it’s important not to lose your focus and believe in yourself.  
MZA: I have not watched the show yet, so I don’t know exactly. But the kind of response I am receiving from people is something really important. Maybe, after a month, I will be able to answer the question. I am not talking about what people are saying, I am speaking about something internal. I think I found something new as an actor, but I’ll be more confident after watching the show.
SV: What’s next for the two of you?
KT: I am holidaying, while Zeeshan is very busy. He’s got something about 10 projects in the pipeline. I’m currently waiting for a good project to come my way. There are lot of inquiries and offers, but let’s see.
MZA: There is one film, Joram, directed by Devashish Makhija that stars Manoj Bajpayee and me. Add to that, there’s Haddi with Nawazuddin Siddiqui, KD with Abhishek Bachchan, a series by Prakash Jha called Laal Batti that’s got Nana Patekar and me, a show named Kadetta and Sam Bahadur that’s directed by Meghna Gulzar.

Props for the interview sourced from Marks & Spencer; Sonal Ved dress: Marks & Spencer