In Texas, 1870, Tom Hanks’ character reads The Times of India. About right

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL February 21, 2021

Photo from Newspaper Advertising Encyclopaedia


“Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life”
– Jack Kerouac

The opening scene of ‘News of the World’, the new Tom Hanks film, features a stack of newspapers. Some are Dallas titles, the New York Times, and then Captain Jefferson Kidd (the Hanks character) picks up The Times of India.

In the film, the paper’s masthead looks like the one above. That’s what it was from 1861 when The Bombay Times and Journal of Commerce (founded 1838 to serve the British residents of western India) united with Bombay Standard and Bombay Telegraph & Courier to form The Times of India.

By all accounts, Robert Knight, who was editor in 1861, put out a pretty good product and The Times of India enjoyed a good circulation in India and Europe in the late 19th century. In 1890, according to one information source, the newspaper printed 3000 copies daily and employed over 800 people.

I found it curiously moving that The Times of India should be in the stack of papers examined by Captain Kidd in Texas in 1870. The paper is my old employer; in fact, I started my career in its offices. At the time, working in The Times of India was considered a privilege, a consequential step on the long road towards learning to tell stories accurately, fairly and with verve.

The last time I was at work in the offices of The Times of India, I was editor of its Sunday sister, Sunday Times of India. With a massive circulation – 10.1 million – the Sunday Times was the largest English language paper in the world.

Its masthead no longer looks like as ornate as on the paper in Captain Kidds’ hands. To keep up with changing times, The Times of India has had a more modern masthead, with a cleaner look, for several decades.

The film’s official poster

Sight of The Times of India in the Hanks film suggested that director Paul Greengrass took its title seriously. ‘News of the World’ is set in Texas in 1870 and Captain Kidd, a Civil War veteran, worked as something we would now call a news aggregator. He travelled from place to place, charging a dime per head to read selected articles aloud to audiences that didn’t know what on earth was happening beyond a 20-mile radius (if that).

I can easily imagine that in 1870, The Times of India would have been in any stack of papers that you procured (laboriously and slowly, by sea) in order to know – and tell – the news of the world.