This article was written in Jan '95. I've made a couple of trips to India since then and have different opinions now.
I am back after spending around a month in India. Cannot deny that India has changed. The question to be asked is "Is it for the better?" I will leave these musings to the philosophers and rabble rousers among you. Here are my reflections/impressions on India -
BITZ & PIECES
It took a week and hundreds of insults hurled from passing autorickshaw drivers to drill into my head that in India the left side of the road is still the right side of the road (though the traffic on the streets seemed to be as haphazard as ever). For the first week or so I was in a zombie-like daze. My relatives, anxious to prove their "global awareness" and instill some life into me, tried to engage me in conversation about Oprah and Bold and Beutiful. Poor Souls!! How were they to know that day time talk shows were anathema to me and that I go to sleep every night after watching Letterman? There was quite a bit of this "India is at the forefront of it all" style conversations. The buzz words in India seems to be words like 'Economic Liberalization', 'Free Market Economy' and 'I have Cable'.
Star TV's music channel is now called 'V.' Channel V would have us believe that Asia is swarming with Generation X-ers. The VeeJays seem to be like one of those slacker Zombies. For the first time, a Tamil song (A.R. Rahman's) made it to channel V. I remember the days when the only pop Tamil music came out of Sri Lanka. Nowadays, this is no longer true.
The latest controversy in the Advertisement world in India seems to be about the latest Kama Sutra Condom Ad. Many publications have refused to carry the Ad. because they think it is too explicit. No, the model is not Pooja Bedi anymore.
Speaking of controversies... India's first gay conference was held for a week in Bombay. There was a lot of furor by the right wing BJP-Shiv Sena combine. The conference aimed at forging an identity of the SouthAsian gay community. Security was so tight that even the venue was kept a secret.
The latest craze among kids seems to be the collection of paraphernalia of the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) and its "Heros". I spent more than an hour trying to convince my ten-year-old cousin that WWF was a big sham and that the "fights" were as orchestrated as any opera. From the strange looks my cousin gave me I was sure that he did not believe me. Guess Indian kids are doomed to suffer a WWF-Sticker-Mania stage of life. My only consolation - I tried to show him the truth. Then again, I probably should not go around telling kids that Santa Claus does not exist.
A.R.Rahman seems to be the darling of the masses. Everywhere I went it was "Pettai Rap" and "Urvasi"-hit songs from the movie kAdalan. Got to give it to the youngster. He has the knack for finding out the tunes that would be the next hit. Three-year-olds mouth Rahman's songs little understanding the erotic imagery of the songs.
Plethora of Sattelite Channels
Heard a friend commenting that people hardly watch dull Doordarshan nowadays. In fact, I did not watch it for more than 5 minutes at a stretch, the 5 minutes spent gathering the totally biased and Gobbelesian 'sEythikal' (News) on DD. Read in the newspapers that 'chennai tholaikaatchi' (Madras Television) had stopped sponsored programs temporarily and had only recently started showing them again.
The two main channels which Tamils seem to be watching are Sun TV and Jain TV. Sun TV starts its broadcast at noon and goes on till late at night. Jain TV (in spite of the northie name) shows many Tamil programs. The winner? The audience. People get to watch at least one movie a day (a big deal when you learn that theatres in Madras can now fix the prices of the tickets depending on the movie they are screening. Prices of Rs. 50-200 seem to be standard.)
One thing I noticed in these sattelite channels is the usage of colloquial Tamil rather than the terse 'sEn tamil' (Classical formal Tamil). There are Tamil equivalents of 'The Ideal Couple', anthakshari etc. There is also a Hindi program which is similar to 'The Price is Right'. The quizzes are a lot better than bad old 'sindhikka oru nodi'.
The humour is mostly crass and tasteless. Learnt that only in India can slapstick be made so lousy. I was genuinely surprised that people could laugh at all that *expeletive deleted*. The "comedy" serials had gaudy sets and "Loose" Mohan's loud dialogues. The dress worn by people on TV still is of the 'kAAnum pOnkal' type - pink/orange/yellow colored nylons with purple colored velvets.
The best of the lot seems to BBC dishing out informative and educational programs. Even the BBC could not stop from showing bulletins about the OJ trial. India seems to a major target of Star TV. Most ad's are targeted at the Indian audience. The background score for many programs is still a Casio Vialtone droning some preset "musak".
Heard that a cable operator in Bombay is now offering upto 30 channels!!