Media for a new India

Percentage of time devoted to rural news on TVPercentage of time devoted to rural news on TV. These figures don't show more than 7% of the time for over 2/3 of India's population and YET are deceptive, because this time shown too is rarely about rural issues and more likely to be other selling news from rural locations.

We say a lot about what the problem is with media, but we rarely look at what media could be. So…. of course, I write 😀

My main point in this is that media reflects reality, but media also influences reality. Media holds a lot of power to influence change. And it is power that is largely squandered in the present time. It could be used more actively.

Films (also Ad Films)

Films have a way of reaching out to the masses and creating memories. A film is a narrative that gets absorbed without resistance, because the conscious mind engages with the story, and the unconscious simply keeps recording. The unconscious never evaluates. Thus, an uninterrupted viewing of a film has the power to convey a lot of things without resistance.

As we struggle with women’s rights, caste differences, violence, and so on, what nuance can be added to films to create new “normals” with little resistance? Is there a way to beat our stereotypes? Can we accommodate more diversity? This is a matter for directors. But surely it is not impossible.

Many say that a certain quality of cinema, with emotional power, haunting melodies, and real characters is lost. Others notice that from a time when Muslim women ruled Indian cinema, they are almost extinct. Certainly none of the female mega stars are Muslims anymore. Can these lost representations be revived?

At the same time, there is a side of modern that is barely explored. Intricate cinematography, special effects, story lines beyond romance… why limit ourselves to enhanced jumps, flying villains and morphing? What else can be done?

Gone is the charm of Waheeda’s Hyderabadi accent rendered irrelevant with dazzling dances that no one else could do. Or Kishore Kumar’s “extraordinarily ordinary” voice. Today, Indian accents are given to comic characters and unimportant extras and heroes are “flawlessly international quality”. What is it that we say about India, with these choices? Are we not saying that the ordinary imperfect people around us are laughable and not admirable?

Egos, budgets, reputations… and we have narrowed our scope. As makers, as viewers. We are so unused to going beyond that stereotypical cinematic world, that even off-beat is off-beat within those gilded parameters.

BTW, where are children’s films?

For advertising films in particular, there needs to be some looking at the stereotypes being presented. Mother’s back aching from work, fair is attractive, etc. I agree that some is unavoidable – fairness cream, for example – you have no choice but to root for the primary quality of your product being advertized. If it can be mellowed so that it isn’t a carpet demeaning of the standard color of Indian skin…. that would be nice, but I see your difficulty. There are many other stereotypes that could be challenged to lead change of thought + it will create ads that will be remembered because they caused double takes. How about the father who got the backache from changing the gas cylinder? Or the mother who leaves the sleeping husband and child and sneaks off for a lovely drive in the car you’re trying to sell? Or a school teacher who is male?

Television programming

Kids know more about reptile species in the Amazon than the tiger in the Sunderbans. Discovery and NatGeo came to India, and we are learning the India of the West as a part of the world. We have the Mike Pandeys and Bedi brothers and all. We have tremendous media capacity. We are not interested in creating epic wonders, in our thirst for instant coffee. Use foreign programming, dub, sell ads, earn money, lather, rinse, repeat.

The “housewife programming” is another farce. Full of stereotypes and some very, very damaging thoughts modeled. Misogyny is ugly, and many of them are created by women, for women. The “good” woman, usually the bahu takes a surprising lot of shit. Why? Why must she be the victim without complaint? Why must the woman in the most stylish clothes have the worst character? Why must the elder “good” woman be gullible? Why must petty fights be fed into the minds of people day after day?

Why not the life of a nuclear family with both parents freelance professionals? Of people who make mistakes and recover from them creatively, empoweringly? Or a women’s crime show having an anchor dressed in anything other than a sari/salwar kameez?

I forget the name of the serial – I saw in glancing, but something about the daughter being attacked by her step sister or her boyfriend choosing to not say anything to the father for fear of hurting him… What? That the “good” daughter keeps quiet about a physical injury so as not to be an inconvenience to her father? And of course, the “man of the house” is invariably a poor, misguided, blind idiot who can (and mostly does) run business empires, but is clueless about what happens in the home he lives in? How about a shot where the husband and wife are speaking with each other in the kitchen and the wife chats at dining table, while the husband expertly puts on some *gasp* coffee as he listens to her? Must a man always be incompetent in his own home?

Where are all the single mothers, gay sons and daughters, office dramas, smart and sassy “good” characters who will nip rubbish outstandingly? Why can’t the good character be hep and rebel who sees problems but can’t be tactful enough to get results, and gets misunderstood while the pious and tolerant sounding one is actually the venom? Where are the soaps about the working women and husbands who lovingly care for families?

News Channels waste a lot of time. Show packagings run for ten seconds in some cases. Meaningless swirls of graphics wasting my time. There should be at least one programme created for say ten minutes that will cover top 20 issues – fast. Just hitting the main points – watch the lengthy programmes for more info. No micro details, no packaging, no nothing. Just the heads up on the most important things happening.

I want to know where the news for the deaf and dumb is. And why can’t I see it.

We have debates on TV, but while they inform about basics, they are largely superficial affairs severely restricted by time available. In the end it becomes the anchor conducting brief parallel interviews rather than true interaction. Most of these debates are on subjects crucial to the country. Also subjects people are interested in. There should be a separate channel with entire days devoted to an important issue, while smaller issues and interesting debates that aren’t really issues can fill smaller slots like half a day or four hours, etc.

It will create opportunities to include presentations, further references or evidences etc as a part of the debate, so that people really understand important things happening and their nuances and form informed opinions. Maybe people can message/comment/shortmail/tweet/etc their questions or even add information to the debate.

Like I said there… let’s blow this thing wide open – start meaningful national conversations. Information is vital to empowerment.

The potential is vast.

Newspapers and online news

Very important to cover news of the country as a whole. Perhaps there needs to be a job created for a “leak catcher” who can keep an eye out for the kind of news that slips through gaps. Rural areas and smaller towns particularly have a lot of totally invisible suffering no one bothers with till too late. This could be more sensitive, professional, caring.

There needs to be some serious reviewing and at least editorial understanding of the values the organizations stand for and those values must be meticulously lived up to. It is becoming a culture of lynching and finger pointing and sensationalism. My angry post after Delhi’s Besharmi Morcha highlights the differences in the coverage possible. A lot of the social psychological impact of the event was destroyed in how it was reported – reporters were simply unable to think beyond “sex sells”.

Let loose in a news scenario, the media seems to gravitate to first masala – be it bare stomachs at the slutwalk, or detailed descriptions and character judgments of people. This seems more common with print/web than TV. There needs to be some consciousness raised and skills built for identifying when this happens, so that it can be corrected gradually into more real reporting – de-addiction from masala thinking and sensitizing on ethics and social responsibility.

Another point seems to be a problem with the country in general, but the reading media is well placed to lead a change – learning to identify and stop using logical fallacies as a part of the reasoning process. Thoughts can be sharply focused on issues and lead to clearer thinking. Straightforward skill building.

Online social media

A lot seems to be happening and most of it is very democratic and life affirming and very good. There is a possibility for us to use the medium more actively to learn interaction. To learn to manage differences and disagreements. But I see that happening too, and where it doesn’t, it seems more a choice than any lack.

Important is that the social media resist attempts at censorship, or breaches of privacy, or if under unavoidable pressure (our government can “charm” the socks of any corporate with its “soft” power), then at least this must be transparent, and known to the netizens.

Actually, I had a few more points, but the electricity went off, and I am not able to remember them well right now, so rather than waste your time, I end here. I will add if I remember. Feel free to contribute your ideas in comments.

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About the Author

Vidyut is a blogger on issues of National interest. Staunch advocate of rights, learning and freedoms. @Vidyut

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