| MTV VJs Cyrus Sahukar and Shenaz
Washington, Oct. 12: Indian parents worried about the influence of television’s pop culture on their children may find answers to some of their questions in a book just published by an India-born academic at the University of San Francisco.
Becoming a Global Audience: Longing and Belonging in Indian Music Television is the result of three years of research, for which Vamsee Juluri extensively interviewed nine groups of Indian teenagers to people in their early 30s, who watched music television.
The book’s most important message — and one which ought to make those who swear by swadeshi sit up — is the ease with which broadcast and cable conglomerates have used Indian culture and ethos to shake up, if not undermine, those very cultural values.
Talking to The Telegraph from his home in California, Juluri recalled how MTV had the Tricolour on its screen in 1997 to assert the channel’s Indianness.
“Parliament objected, but MTV and Channel V have been able to get away with a lot,” he said.
These channels, he said, realised early on when they entered Indian living rooms in the early 1990s that the rebellious, anti-parent youth which succeeded in the West will not work in India.
“Two thirds of American teenagers have their own TV sets, but in India one TV set per family is the norm. So there was no way Indian teenage viewers could be isolated from the rest of the family unlike in the West,” he pointed out.
Channels like MTV, therefore, had to camouflage what was actually a youth channel as a family channel.
“Dating shows and the like are very much there on Indian pop TV,” Juluri pointed out, “but these are cleverly packaged in pop nationalism.”
Juluri, a native of Hyderabad and a graduate from the Indian Institute of Mass Communications in New Delhi, cited the example and impact of the popular musical number Made in India which was a hit on television.
“It is so shallow, but I was amazed to find people I interviewed speak of that number with pride as if it mirrored India’s achievements.”
Juluri said Indian music television succeeded in giving a local and national veneer to what is not an authentic representation of India by “self-stereo-typing”, by cleverly co-opting the aspirations of its viewers.
In the early years, it was criticised and scrutinised for its western influence. But through Indian programming, Juluri said, this medium became the harbinger of a youth culture in India, ushering in a high degree of cultural change and innovation.
These channels are using “images from Indian mythology, but a historic culture is being reduced to slogans and sold commercially”.
The author, who received his Ph.D. from the University of Massachusetts on the subject of music countdown shows in India, said part of the reason why MTV and Channel V succeeded so spectacularly was because they brought “nice social sentiments” in an environment in which intolerance exemplified by the Vande mataram controversy or attacks on painter M.F. Husain was common.
Juluri, who now teaches in the Department of Media Studies at the University of San Francisco, is currently negotiating the publication of his book in India.