An Indian personality for television?

by Shanti Kumar

from Jump Cut, no. 43, July 2000, pp. 92-101
copyright Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media, 2000, 2006

A wit among media circles in India once observed that the nation's first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru was a visionary, while his daughter Indira Gandhi was a televisionary. The quip, of course, was a cruel backhanded compliment to the authoritarian way in which Indira Gandhi shrewdly manipulated the Indian television network, Doordarshan, to project her own personality among the nation's vast audiences. Although ironic in this observation, the wit does recognize that in matters of Indian television, Indira Gandhi, however authoritarian, was indeed a visionary. In 1966, when she became the prime minister, Indira Gandhi commissioned her one-time classmate, Vikram Sarabhai, of the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), to work on the development of satellite television in India. In 1969, Sarabhai outlined the blueprint for developing "An Indian Personality for Television." This ambitious vision for the development of Indian television proclaimed:

"A national program which would provide television to about eighty per cent of India's population during the next ten years would be of great significance to national integration, for implementing schemes of social and economic development, and for the stimulation and promotion of the electronics industry. It is of particular significance to the large population living in isolated communities" (quoted in Ninan 1995, 22).

Thus, the early attempts to envision "an Indian personality for television" came from two different ambitions, or more precisely a single ambition with a dual agenda — the rapid development of a sovereign, postcolonial, nation-state unified by a twin-commitment to democracy and technocracy. In this twin-commitment to techno-democratic idealism, the nationalist elites united as much around a desire to imagine an "Indian" personality for the nation's disparate communities, as they did around a modernist faith in the power of new technologies like television to represent and realize these imaginations. These techno-democratic visions of nation-building always continue to work in Indian television, although television's workings are by no means restricted to the discourse of Doordarshan. Rather, I argue, television's "Indian personality" has a long history which has been traced all the way back to the discourse of the printing press, and the mass consumption of novels and newspapers among nationalist elites in the colonial world.

In the first section of this paper, I briefly discuss the question of an Indian personality for television in relation to some of the major transformations in the political economy of India's global, national and local networks. In the second section of the paper, I critically examine cultural anxieties around envisioning the nationalist vision of television's Indian personality in tents of Benedict Anderson's (1992) influential notion of nations as "imagined communities." In the third section of the paper, I examine how the emergence of global satellite networks like STAR TV and Indian language channels like Zee TV Sun TV and ETV has necessitated radically re-imagining the "imagined community" of Indian television. Finally, I conclude that in the discourse of global, national and local networks, an Indian personality for television can only be envisioned in terms of a paradoxical double vision, which has been aptly articulated by postcolonial critics like Homi Bhabha (1994, 1991) and Partha Chatterjee (1993, 1986) among others.


Even a cursory glance at the changing television environment in India reveals that the meteoric rise of the Hong-Kong-based STAR TV network since 1991, has transgressed the sovereign authority of the Indian national network, Doordarshan, in unparalleled ways. In May 1991, then a little known network called Satellite Television Asian Region or STAR TV started broadcasting over Asia from Hong Kong using a leased satellite called Asiasat. Initially, there were four channels on the STAR TV platform: Star Plus, an entertainment channel largely made up of Euro-American programming; Star Sports, once again a channel with largely Euro-American sporting events; BBC News, the British Broadcasting Corporations worldwide news service; and MTV, the U.S. music channel's joint-venture with the Asian satellite network.

As Sevanti Ninan (1995), S.C. Bhatt (1994), Gopal Saksena (1996) and other recent studies of the 1990s explosion of television networks in India point out, when STAR TV's transborder transmissions reached unsuspecting Indian shores in 1991, only a few hotels and business houses which had a satellite dish could time in to its four-channel fare. Soon, however, a number of enterprising business folks caught on to the game, hastily assembled satellite dishes in their backyards, and offered to connect homes in their middle-class neighborhoods for a modest monthly fee of 60-100 rupees (approx. U.S. $2-3). Within a year or two of the arrival of STAR TV, a modest satellite and cable television industry was born in India, and metropolitan TV audiences suddenly found themselves exposed to a variety of hitherto unheard voices and unspoken messages (Ninan, 1995).

Before the arrival of STAR TV in 1991 and the subsequent rise of a satellite-cable industry in the 1990s, television in India was synonymous, quite literally, with the powerful state-sponsored national network called Doordarshan (Door: meaning tele, and ekirshan: meaning vision). Following the launch of television in and around Delhi in 1959 and its modest success in the early 1960s, Indira Gandhi, then Minister for Information and Broadcasting, took note of the medium's potential to aid national development. Soon after she became the Prime Minister 1966, Indira Gandhi earnestly adopted the ambitious blueprint for national television envisioned by Sarabhai and his fellow scientists at the Indian Space Research Organization ([SRO)

By the early 1970s, Sarabhai's vision for an "Indian personality for television" began to take shape as the government of India, under Indira Gandhi's leadership, explored Doordarshan's potential to sustain national development through rural education and poverty alleviation projects. As Gopal Saksena (1996), Doordarshan's first Director of Central Production Center (CPC), recalls, in 1972 television in India began to slowly emerge out of its Delhi moorings as transmission centers were set up in Bombay, Madras and Calcutta. Soon other transmission centers were commissioned in cities like Srinagar, Amritsar, Lucknow, Jaipur, Hyderabad, to name a few. In 1975-76, under the stewardship of prime minister Indira Gandhi, television in India launched one of the most ambitious projects of national development in the postcolonial world. Called SITE, or Satellite Instructional Television, the project was conducted in 2400 villages in five different states across the country. The proclaimed goal of the SITE project was:

"To gain experience in development, testing and management of a satellite-based instructional television system,  particularly in rural areas, to demonstrate the potential of satellite in developing countries, and to stimulate national development in India…to contribute to health, hygiene, and family planning, national integration, to improve agricultural practices, to contribute to general school and adult education, and improve occupational skills" (cited in Mitra 1993, 32-33).

The stated objectives of the SITE project match early nationalist attempts to imagine into existence a uniquely Indian personality for television as represented by the techno-democratic vision of Sarabhai and his followers. Therefore, SITE was instrumental in setting the political, economic and cultural agenda for the use of television for nation-building and development. During this period, television programming predominantly focused on developmental issues like agriculture, animal husbandry, poultry fanning, education, health and family welfare. However, Doordarshan provided more than this. As Ananda Mitra (1993) reminds us, viewers saw other genres like "informative talk shows, quiz programs, educational and entertainment programs for children, feature-film based music programs and sports programs" which supplemented Doordarshan's developmental agenda.

Yet with the nationalist agenda of education and development clearly taking precedence in Indian television, not surprisingly, Doordarshan placed little emphasis on developing a medium of entertainment or a private enterprise for commercial use. But in the early 1980s that began to change. In 1982, when India gained the opportunity to host the prestigious Asian Games, Doordarshan was still being broadcast in monochrome black/white. For reasons of national prestige, among other things, the postcolonial elites in charge of Indian television, deemed it essential that Doordarshan shift to color transmission for broadcasting the ASIAD nationally and internationally. Under the leadership Rajiv Gandhi, the influential son of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi — later to be the Prime Minister himself — the government of India heavily invested in the technological shift to color.

Thanks to Doordarshan's coverage of the Asian Games, the relatively small but significantly powerful urban middle class in India, which hardly associated with television's early developmental agenda, had their first taste of continuous entertainment programming — that too in color. Their enthusiastic response to entertainment programming prompted advertisers to compete for commercial sponsorship on Doordarshan, which then had a monopoly on television viewing in India. By virtue of its monopoly, Doordarshan could simultaneously reach all its audiences across the country by strategically placing what the network called "national programming" during the primetime hours of late evenings and weekends. As Arvind Rajgopal (1993:92) defines it, Doordarshan's national programming refers to

"an emergent category of software in Indian television thawing upon mythological and historical sources, and portraying an idealized past above and beyond latter day divisions."

Elaborating on the definition, Rajgopal (1993:92) writes,

"I choose the term 'national' to indicate the broad cross-regional appeal of the programmes, and their (usually implicit but sometimes explicit) elaboration of a national culture. The state's appeal to myth and history (intermingled, as always) is instrumental in this purpose. A shared past, behind and above all latter-day divisions is projected as the crucible in which a distinctive Indian identity was shaped. This identity is, of course, under fierce dispute as competing interests vie to redefine its character, currently, minorities, especially Muslims, are threatened by a blatantly 'Hinduized' national identity."

Referring to the popularity among Indian audiences of television epics like Mahabharat and Ramayan and historical series like Bharat Ek Khoj (based on Nehru's Discovery of India), Tipu Sultan and Chanakya, Rajgopal argues that the emergence of national programming as a television genre was crucial for the political elites in the postcolonial project of nation-building. To sustain the political agenda of transcending diversities of language, religion, region, ethnicity, class, caste, gender in the modern nation-state, the nationalist elites were so drawn to the genre of national programming in television that they were willing to overlook the increasing commercialization of what was essentially a public medium in the first instance.

At the same time, national programming seemed extremely attractive to the economic elites — ranging from transnational corporations to local businesses and advertisers — who had as a primary objective reaching the largest number of audiences in the cheapest possible way. In these solely economic terms, the political expediency of national programming did not matter to advertisers and sponsors who wanted to negotiate with the state-sponsored network in order to gain access to its monopoly over audiences. Thus, national programming represents a peculiarly postcolonial genre that allows the mutual legitimation of the political and economic elites' hegemony over nationalist discourse. In this hegemonic context of TV's political economy, Rajgopal aptly articulates national programming's peculiar necessity as a genre:

"As notions of entertainment culture (as well as their more concrete embodiments by way of imported technology and software) 'leak'…private entrepreneurs enter the business, in films, video and cable (satellite, of course, represents a new challenge, the terms of engagement with which are still emerging). The state may turn to entertainment culture as follower rather than initiator, on the heels of a growing entrepreneur's market. State-owned media may then be used as a way of seeking control over a growing popular culture serving an influential sector of the public, and potentially threatening in its autonomy. Broadcasting, unlike other public utilities, needs to create varied rather than unvarying products to fulfill its function. Being highly rule-bound and structured, however, state-controlled media are often unable to generate the innovative capacity required to attract audiences. State sponsorship of private production thus becomes an attractive option. Audiences then begin to move towards television as a fixed-cost investment, and advertising money follows audiences" (Rajgopal, 1993: 92).

With national programming's commercialization on the rise, by the mid-eighties the early blueprint for developing Doordarshan as a public medium for education was quietly discarded by an emerging generation of postcolonial elites in favor of a more commercialized entertainment-oriented culture. Led by Rajiv Gandhi — now the Prime Minister of the nation — a younger, more urban, anglophile and technophile generation took charge of envisioning a new, more cosmopolitan personality for Indian television. In this changing scenario, as Ananda Mitra (1993, 18) points out, the non-educational programming genres in Indian television began to diversify "from the earlier dependence on feature-film based programs into television plays…serials and soap operas." Thus, in the "What's on TV" section of the March 1987 issue of TV and Video World, Mitra finds eleven different serials in Hindi and English in the national programming schedule of Doordarshan. These include, writes Mitra:

"Sara Jahan Hamara, a program that tells the story of '13 lovable, generous and impressible "brats" who set about tackling life on their own terms in an orphanage'; Kojh, a story about a lady detective; Mickey and Donald, the cartoon series; Kashmakash, which features 13 short stories all by Indian women writers; Swayam Siddha, which traces the story of a woman from a 'vulnerable, confused and unsure person' to a confident woman; Subah, which engages in the debates surrounding the quality of contemporary college life in India; Ek Kahani, about a set of villagers who struggle with oppressive land owners; Buniyad, the so-called Indian Dallas; That's Cricket, which is a commentary on cricket in India and abroad; Contact, a quiz program for school children; and Ramayan, the religious soap opera." (1993, 19)

With advertising and commercial sponsorship of national programming bringing in considerable revenues, Doordarshan began to broadcast more sporting events, sit-coms, soap operas, religious mythologies and film-based programs, which both urban and rural audiences seemed to view with equal relish. By the end of the 1980s, Doordarshan had expanded into a sophisticated network reaching the entire nation from a centralized high-power transmission service in the nation's capital, New Delhi. This monolithic network was decentralized only to the extent that large metropolitan cities like Bombay, Bangalore, Calcutta, Madras, Hyderabad and a few other smaller cities, had low-power, regional language, transmission centers. Each center, catered to the specific regional interests of their audiences, who all shared a common regional language, usually within a single state.

Although the languages were different in each of the centers, the programming formats and content remained largely similar across the nation. The political bosses in Delhi managed to sustain their version of an Indian personality for television through a loosely defined yet extremely centralized authority over the administration and programming of the national network. But that began to change in 1991 when STAR TV's transborder transmission began to transgress Doordarshan's central authority in India. In stark contrast to the censored news, regulated documentaries, patriotic songs and trite sitcoms on the state-sponsored network, STAR TV seemed to offer viewers a varied and novel fare: old and new U.S. soaps like Dynasty and the Bold and the Beautiful, titillating talk shows like Ricki Lake and Oprah Winfrey, dramatic shows like Baywatch, live coverage of international sports, MTV and BBC World Service. Quickly STAR TV became a rage among the affluent English-speaking Indian middleclass, and the satellite and cable television industry in India began to witness radical transformations (Bhatt 1994).

In July 1993, Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation bought 63.6% shares from the then-owners of STAR TV Hutchinson Whampoa and Li-Ka-Sheng. In July 1995, STAR TV was wholly owned by Rupert Murdoch, when News Corporation purchased the remaining 36.4% shares. STAR TV began to be rapidly transformed after Murdoch took control of the network. Immediately after Murdoch's entry into the arena, STAR TV parted ways with MTV due to "contractual disputes." Recognizing the need to compete with other major networks for a potentially vast (but currently limited) Asian audience, STAR TV has embarked on a policy that Manjunath Pendakur and Jyotsna Kapur (1997) have described as a "think global, program local." STAR TV's policy has had a twofold strategic mission: (i) to provide a more "localized" perspective to the network's visibly global personality, (ii) to deliver this by embracing a programming strategy that caters to very specific regional and local audience tastes. For instance, after parting company with MTV, STAR TV launched a pan-Asian music service called Channel [V]. In keeping with the objectives of its localization policy, STAR TV split its pan-Asian music channel into two — a northern beam for the Chinese market, and a southern beam for the Indian subcontinent. In doing so, STAR TV provided Channel [V] with two different personalities in Asia: one with a "Chinese" personality which caters to the cultural tastes of audiences in Southeast Asia, and the other with an "Indian" personality which appeals to audiences in South Asia. However, in order to cater to the English, Hindi, and other regional music interests of its diverse South Asian audiences, Channel [V] has found it necessary to further localize its Indian personality by transforming into a hybrid "Hinglish" channel. The hybrid Hinglish personality enabled Channel [V] to project itself as a local channel with global flavor; a clear contrast to MTV's earlier approach of being a global channel with a local flavor (Bavadain, 1995).

In its efforts to localize its Indian personality, Channel [V] established production facilities in major cities like Delhi and Bombay. Although located in Indian production centers, the programming formats on Channel [V] seemed to be derived from MTV's globally familiar production techniques, which are based on verité camera work, rapid editing style, provocative animation, and top 40 song rotations. To this vulgar appropriation of MTV formats, Channel [V] creatively added iconographic elements of the Bollywood musical as well as the self-deprecating humor and slapstick comedy that are hallmarks of Indian cinema. Channel [V] thus promoted the rise of a new hybrid satellite channel, casually mixing East and West in what one might refer to as television's first "masala" music service.

Key features of the Channel [V] "masala mix" included creatively designed movie and music tie-in shows featuring film snippets and music, introduced by glamorous Indian and Anglo-Indian veejays, with shows named after them. For instance, an irreverent and parodic show such as Videocon Flashback used old Hindi film songs dating back to the sixties and seventies, added catchy dialogues mimicked by the popular V-J Javed Jafferi, and rekindled interest in old Hindi film songs by giving them a new ironic, hip factor. Other Channel [V] programs followed similar strategies of creative recombination with the songs they played on air. Recognizing the mass appeal of Bollywood and Hollywood films as well as the immense popularity of U.S. pop music in India, Channel [V] strategically exploited the market further by nurturing the emerging genre of Hindi pop and promoting the growth of Indian music video stars like Remo Fernandez and Alisha Chinai to name a few (Brijnath, 1995).

On its part, MTV launched its own satellite channel called MTV Asia. In an effort to increase its audience share in Southeast Asia and South Asia, MTV entered into a partnership with Polygram. MTV Asia is carried on the Palapa C1 and the PanAm satellites, giving the network access to a potential 18 million homes in 39 countries (Dickenson, 1996). However, in terms of actual market penetration in Asia, MTV has a long way to go. According to Leo Burnett Media estimates, at the end of 1995 MTV's market share in Asia was a mere 2.2 million households. In an effort to increase its access in the Asian markets, MTV was forced to sign several terrestrial re-broadcast deals with state-sponsored networks, like Doordarshan in India (Dickenson, 1996). However, since 1995, MTV has tried to regionalize its fare even further, and has embarked upon a long-term strategy to transform its "all-American" personality to a more culturally sensitive "Asian" one (Agarwal, 1996).

In recent years, almost every global satellite television network worth a name — CNN, TNT, The Cartoon Network, ESPN, Disney, Discovery Channel — has set up shop in Asia. Without exception, each one of these global networks has recognized the strategic significance of embracing the "localization" policy popularized by the success of Channel V on STAR TV. In doing so, all global networks — each in a slightly different way — have tried to fashion for themselves a culturally sensitive, "Asian" personality. In their ambitious efforts, some of the global networks distribute their services through satellite transmission, while others have entered into strategic partnerships with state-owned terrestrial broadcasters. Whatever their methods of transmission, all these networks aim to carve a share in vast Asian markets, which, according to a Kegan World Media report for 1994, have a combined viewership of 367.5 million that is estimated to grow up to 484 million by 2004.

A Goldman Sachs report published in 1996 reveals that in the vast Asian markets, STAR TV is growing into the largest global media network with an estimated potential of 53 million television households. These estimates, reported by Goldman Sachs, include the 47 million households in 16 countries that are capable of receiving STAR's service, and an additional 5.85 million households in market areas not surveyed. Although STAR TV now covers over 50 countries in Asia and the Middle East, the Goldman Sachs report outlines an uncertain future for the pan-Asian network. Despite the market uncertainty and early setbacks, Star TV's parent company, News Corporation, has long-term plans in the Asian markets. Citing the Sachs report, Watson (1996) writes, "Star's value to News Corp…is its building asset value." As estimated in the Sachs report, STAR TV negatively affected News Corporation's earnings for the fiscal year 1995 by $30 million. The report also finds that despite a poor performance in 1994, Star TV's revenues rose in the fiscal year June 1994-95, with advertising revenues totaling over $60 million (90% of total turnover).

Based on the 1994 figures, the report forecast that STAR's revenues would grow by around 50% in '95/96. Losses were expected to decrease with the rise of pay-TV subscription revenues and increased advertising revenues, leading to break-even for STAR TV by 1999-2000 (Watson, 1996). These figures are, however, mere speculations in a global market which always has unexpected, intervening variables which can ruin even the best of predictions and estimates.

A case in point, is the notion of pay-TV, which was expected to grow phenomenally after the eruption of satellite television across Asia. As the Sachs report suggests, in the mid-90, pay-TV was embraced by global networks like STAR TV as a strategy to circumvent their dependence on local cable operators across Asia, who would drop and add channels from their everyday fare to cater to the tastes and preferences of diverse audiences in their community. However, the pay-TV phenomenon failed to take off as anticipated. And the networks recognized that the economics of signal transmission, encryption, distribution reception, and revenue-collection were far too cumbersome in the diverse Asian markets where, despite half-a-decade of intensive probing and surveying, media researchers cannot seem to agree even on the number of television households in any given community.

In 1992, when a privately owned Hindi channel, Zee TV, joined the STAR TV bandwagon and started broadcasting soaps, sit-coms and talk shows in Hindi, Indian audiences for the first time received Hindi language television apart from Doordarshan, the state-sponsored national television network. Zee TV's strategy was to provide the viewers with what Doordarshan did not, and STAR TV could not — at least in 1992 — a Hindi-language equivalent of STAR TV's English language fare of soaps, sit-coms, talk shows, game shows and the like (Zee TV Annual Report, 1996). Moreover, unlike Doordarshan, the privately-owned commercial networks like Zee TV were not constrained by direct government control over programming content. As Pendakur and Kapur (1997) point out, this factor alone offered audiences to witness the possibility of democratic debate on television in India. They cite the example of a popular weekly program on Zee TV called Aap ke Adalat (Your Court) in which politicians, celebrities and business tycoons are openly accused of corruption and interrogated in a rapid-fire Q&A session by a real-life lawyer named Rajat Sharma. To account for the popularity of privately-owned commercial networks like Zee TV in India, Pendakur and Kapur identify a number of attributes of shows like Aap ke Adalat which the viewers find riveting:

"They [the viewers] want to see the politicians who are key to certain national crisis pinned against the wall. Because political power is the domain of the rich, powerful, and/or criminal elements in society and because it touches their lives so deeply, the audience love to see the politicians unmasked, albeit briefly. Even if they wiggle out, their sweaty foreheads, embarrassment, awkward grinning, when they seem to be caught by the clever questioning and evidence presented by the attorney, are entertaining. The audience identifies completely with the host, who is smart, informed, well dressed, and clearly appears to be on the people's side. The laugh track ruptures the false idea created by the show that it is a court of law, but nobody seems to care." (Pendakur, Kapur, 1997: 202).

In order to recognize the political appeal of the visibly simulated debates on shows like Aap ke Adalat, one only has to compare it with similar programming (or lack thereof) on the state-sponsored network. As Pendakur and Kapur (1997:202) remind us, if a show like Aap ke Adalat were to be aired on Doordarshan,

"[a]t every step of the way, there would have been political hindrance placed in its way by the Prime Minister's office or someone in the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting."

While criticizing the blatantly political process of decision-making in Doordarshan, Pendakur and Kapur (1997:202) are earful to highlight the hidden economic motive of the private, commercial networks like Zee TV To put it plainly, in airing controversial shows like Aap ke Adalat, commercial networks like Zee TV are less concerned with creating democratic spaces of political debate in the public sphere than with exploiting the economic incentive that television provides; television can generate

"sufficient numbers of those desirable audience members with disposable income to spend on the goods that are advertised on the show" (Pendakur and Kapur, 1997: 202).

Still, the popularity of shows like Aap ke Adalat fleetingly revealed a subtle yet significant distinction between the programming strategies of the state-sponsored network, Doordarshan and commercial networks like Zee TV in Indian TV's rapidly transforming political economy. In their eagerness to gain economic dominance, commercial networks like Zee TV revealed to their audiences an almost suicidal willingness to disrupt the hegemony of the political sphere. This is something Doordarshan had always been unable or unwilling to do in its attempts to create a national programming strategy that would bind the diverse nation together.

In the wake of the rising popularity of Zee TV's programming strategies among Hindi-speaking audiences in India, other privately owned, commercial networks began offering regional language services, especially in South India where both English and Hindi are spoken by a limited few in the large metropolitan areas. Catering to the regional and local interests of audiences, local networks like Sun TV in the city of Madras and ETV in the city of Hyderabad have steadily grown in the last few years by wedging their claims to legitimacy in the rupture created by the rise of STAR TV and Zee TV The strategy of the regional language channels has been to cater to a niche market of local interests that the centralized authority of Doordarshan did not ever deal with appropriately, and the English language STAR TV or the Hindi language Zee TV could not ever address adequately. By strategically exploiting the competition between global and national networks, regional, vernacular media in India have steadily grown in the last few years.

Take for instance, the recent emergence of a Telugu language network, Eenadu Television, which is part of a large, regional conglomerate by the same name in the city of Hyderabad in the state of Andhra Pradesh in South India. Its unique selling point is what the Eenadu Group proudly likes to call the "ETV" advantage for its Telugu viewers. As the ETV Publicity Report, Tune In, (1996) proclaims:

"Today the Telugu viewer has no real choice of programmes, in his own mother tongue. Entertainment starved, he has settled for badly produced programmes or satellite channels in English or Hindi. So, if you were to give him quality programmes and in his own mother tongue, rest assured he would tune in. And tune in to ETV — a quality family entertainment channel in Telugu."

The obvious embellishments of publicity and promotion notwithstanding, the ETV Report points clearly to the perennial wisdom of audiences. That is, all things considered, language and cultural location are central to understanding television. In this context, I argue that Eenath — a polysemic Telugu term which means "this day" and "this land" — represents not merely the name of a major regional conglomerate in Hyderabad. But it also articulates the creative ways in which vernacular media use the linguistic appeal of cultural proximity and regional identity to compete with their national and global counterparts. The rise of regional language networks like Lenadu Television, I argue, reveals how vernacular media have come to occupy a significant cultural space for audiences in the political economy of Indian television.

With the glut of global and local networks, all eager to carve out a niche in the lucrative hypermarkets of Indian satellite television, the state-sponsored national network, Doordarshan, it appears, has never been so threatened. Yet, here is the central contradiction of the national network in India: In its four decades of existence, Doordarshan has never been so vibrant either. As Doordarshan's Annual Reports (1993-1996) suggest, in the 1990s, national television — the indispensable ideological cohort of nationalist visions — has grown phenomenally to counter the threat of its global and local competition in India. Doordarshan had an increased geographic reach, sophisticated technological innovations, newer programming strategies, and a phenomenal economic boom supported by rising advertising revenues. Its audiences also responded enthusiastically to first-runs and re-runs of nationalistic programs like Discovery of India, serials based on traditional folklore like Chandrakanta, and religious epics like Ramayan and Mahabharat. The channel's success thus empirically validates the vigor and vitality of national television and nationalist visions in India (see for instance, Doordarshan's technologically sophisticated website at http://www.ddindia.net/ where the network displays with evident pride comparative advantages over its competitors).

Nowhere is the phenomenal growth of Doordarshan in the first half of the 1990s better reflected than in its share of advertising revenues, which many industry analysts argue is the most appropriate indicator of a network's vitality in the television market. In a market survey published in 1996, the ad agency Lintas reported that the television advertising revenue in India has been on the upswing since the introduction of satellite television in the early 1990s. The Lintas report notes that within one year (from 1994-95 to 1995-96) the television advertising revenues in the Indian market had grown from Rs. 7,620 million ($223.5 m) to Rs. 10,200 million ($299 m). For the year 1995-96, Lintas estimated, Doordarshan had the lion's share of the advertising revenues, by cornering a whopping $196.5 million (out of a total of $299 million).

Zee TV was a distant second with an advertising revenue of $64.5 million and the Tamil language network, Sun TV gathering a respectable $13 million during this period (Reuters Textline, April 1, 1996). While it is apparent that all the major global networks, including STAR TV have been struggling to control their losses, and many other Indian language networks have been forced out of the TV market, the Indian national network, Doordarshan, has continued its political, economic and cultural hegemony over audiences in India. In this context, the central problematic I seek to address is as follows: how can we explain the simultaneous construction and deconstruction of an Indian personality for television in the discourse of global, national and local networks?


Although modern nationalism has a history of at least over three centuries and the modem discipline of history a legacy mite longer, the study of the history of nationalist visions has gained scholarly attention only in the decade following the publication of Benedict Anderson's (1992) highly acclaimed work, Imagined Communities. With remarkable creativity, Anderson argues that nations were imagined into existence on the basis of premodern cultural systems such as kingships and religious communities which preceded them. Mapping the interactions in colonial discourse between the political-economic institutions of industrial capitalism and the cultural imaginations in literary texts such as the modern novel, Anderson creatively coins the term print-capitalism to articulate the complex cultural process by which nations are imagined into existence. Locating the transformations of nationalist thought within the framework of imperialist history, Anderson argues that modern nationalism was born(e) in the colonial discourse of print-capitalism, which eventually led to revolutions in the Americas and Europe. These imaginations of nationalism in the Americas and Europe, Anderson further argued, later provided the models for nationalist imaginations in the colonial world.

Responding to Imagined Communities from the perspective of anti-colonial nationalism, Partha Chatterjee (1993) commends Anderson for moving the debate about nationalism away from sterile sociological theories based in Western liberalism and Marxism. However, in raising the question, "Whose Imagined Community?" Chatterjee takes a central objection to Anderson's imperialist framework of nationalist history. If nations are imagined communities, and if nations in the rest of the world have to choose their imagined communities from certain models made available to them by Europe and the Americas, Chatteiree (1993:5) asks, "What do they have left to imagine?" Chatterjee argues that proclaiming the imagined communities of Europe and Americas as the only true subjects of Universal History decrees that in the postcolonial world "[e]ven our imaginations must remain forever colonized" (Chatterjee, 1993: 5).

Chatterjee points out that his objection to a universal nationalist history in terms of Euro-American models is based not on sentimental reasons, but on empirical evidence of anti-colonial nationalism. This evidence suggests, "The most powerful as well as the most creative results of the nationalist imagination in Asia and Africa are posited not on an identity with but rather on a difference " from the Euro-American model prescribed by Anderson. (Chatterjee 1993: 5). How can we ignore this empirical evidence, he asks, "without reducing the experience of anti-colonial nationalism to a caricature of itself?" Drawing on his own arguments from an earlier study on Indian nationalism, Nationalist Thought and the Colonial World — A Derivative Discourse? (1986), Chatterjee (1993) systematically outlines differences in the Indian experiences of "print-capitalism" from the modular form of the nation in the realms of language, drama, literature and the family. Elaborating here the "differences" between modular forms of European print-capitalism such as the modern novel and its nationalist appropriation in vernacular languages. Chatterjee finds that in devising the vernacular novel's prose and aesthetics, nationalist elites in India drew not only from the modular English novel, but also from the ancient Sanskrit drama and vernacular folk theater traditions.

In a similar vein, what I have proposed here is a close analysis of the Indian experiences of the political economy of transnational capitalism in order to address the role of television and its genres in articulating the imagined community of nationalism in the discourse of global, national and local networks. If with Chatterjee (1993) we agree that difference is the marker of identity in nationalist discourse, then in order to speak of nations and communities, one can no longer use imperialist models that speak of an imagined identity across nations and communities. Following Chatterjee, one has to necessarily reject Anderson's notion of an imagined sameness across nations and communities, and seek to locate the difference that marks national identity in postcolonial discourse.

Chatterjee's invocation of "difference" is, however, not without its problems. Since difference and not sameness is the marker of identity, then one can no longer speak of imagined identity within communities and nations either. For instance, to speak of, say, the Indian nation, or the Indian literary novel as Chatterjee does, is to ignore that even within "the Indian community" there are different imaginations of nationalism in literary discourse. Or in the context of televisual discourse, to speak of the Indian personality for television merely in terms of the identity of the state-sponsored network, Doordarshan, is to ignore the radically different imaginations of Indianness which are always at play, be it at the global level in transnational networks like STAR TV and its hybrid "Hinglish" Channel [V], at the national level in the private realm of commercial networks like Zee TV or at the local level in vernacular media networks like Eenadu TV.

Elsewhere, I have discussed, in greater detail, how the question of an Indian personality for television can and must be strategically re-articulated in terms of the many hybrid imaginations of Indianness in the discourse of global, national and local networks (Kumar, 1998). Here, by way of illustration, I will briefly address the question in terms of a controversial episode on the Star Plus Channel, which is part of the STAR TV network in India. The controversy I refer to, occurred on May 4, 1995 in an episode of the now-defunct talk show, Nikki Tonight. Chatting with the hostess Nikki Bedi, a guest on the show, Ashok Row Kavi, a well-known gay-rights activist and journalist in India, called Mahatma Gandhi "a bastard bania." Bania is a Hindi word, used to refer to a Hindu community of traders in north-western India from which Mahatma Gandhi hailed. But sometimes, people also use the word in a pejorative sense to call someone a miser and sharp-dealer.

The transgression was, quite literally, momentary, but soon it was engulfed in controversy as the offended kin of the Mahatma filed a lawsuit, various politicians across party lines demanded a ban on STAR TV, and angered audiences cried foul. The embarrassed mandarins of STAR TV issued a public apology, and a few days later, they quietly withdrew the controversial talk show "in deference and respect" to India as a sovereign nation. Although the controversy soon faded from public memory, the Nikki Tonight episode remains an exemplar text that shows how traditional issues of national identity and cultural boundaries have become ever more important, even as we are integrate in an increasingly transnational world of satellite television. Stuart Hall (1997) makes this point elegantly in his discussion of British identity politics in relation to what he calls "the very contradictory space" of the "global post-modern." Hall writes,

"We have just, in Britain, opened up the new satellite TV called 'Sky Channel,' owned by Rupert Murdoch. It sits just above the Channel. It speaks across to all the European societies at once and as it went up all the older models of communication in our society were being dismantled. The notion of the British Broadcasting Corporation, of a public service interest, is rendered anachronistic in a moment…at the same time as sending the satellite aloft, Thatcherism sends someone to watch the satellite. So Mrs. Thatcher has put into orbit Rupert Murdoch and the "Sky Channel" but also a new Broadcasting Standards Committee to make sure that the satellite does not immediately communicate soft pornography to all of us after 11 o'clock when the children are in bed" (Hall, 1997:27).

The "balancing act," as Hall puts it, of Thatcherism which attempts to regulate "the already deregulated Rupert Murdoch" with an old petite bourgeois morality" in Britain is clearly at play in postcolonial India as the nation seeks to mediate the many contradictions of the global postmodern in the 1990s. For instance, when Nikki prompted Row Kavi to recall his abusive remarks against Mahatma Gandhi, neither the Indian producers of Nikki Tonight, nor the media barons of STAR TV had perhaps imagined that the old "bourgeois morality" of nationalist consciousness would be so powerfully mobilized to protest a stray transgression on the talk show. Nor had they considered the possibility that someone from Mahatma Gandhi's family would take issue with Rupert Murdoch and his pan-Asian television network and start a systematic political and legal campaign against them. Angered by the abusive reference to the Gandhi family, Tushar Gandhi, a great grandson of the Mahatma, filed a lawsuit against Rupert Murdoch, who is the owner of STAR TV, Raghav Behl of TV-18 which produced Nikki Tonight, Sanjay Roy Choudhari, the director of the show, Nikki Bedi and Ashok Row Kavi.

At the time of writing, the case is still being contested in the Indian courts (Times of India, May 9, 1995). Responding to Tushar Gandhi's call, furious politicians, in a rare show of unanimity, referred to Row Kavi's derogatory remark against Mahatma Gandhi in the Indian Parliament (the remark was promptly expunged by the Chair as a mark of respect for the Father of the Nation). Some even admonished the government for preferring to remain silent "when imperialist forces were out in the open," while others referred to the scandalous talk show as "cultural terrorism," and demanded that the government ask STAR TV to "shut shop" in India (Times of India, May 10, 1995:6).

In the unanimous agreement that there could be no difference of opinion about the unspeakable remark against the Name of the Father of the Nation, the Indian Parliament attempted to demonstrate how ideological differences must be transcended to sustain the sovereignty of, what Benedict Anderson (1992) has called, the "imagined community" of nationalism. However, even as the Indian Parliament sought to re-establish national sovereignty in the Name of the Father, irreducible differences within the imagined community of Indian nationalism were already in evidence.

The national crisis precipitated by Ashok Row Kavi's invectives against Gandhi on television needs to be understood in terms the complex responses that the Father of the Nation elicits in Indian culture. For instance, the Nikki Tonight controversy can be weighed against the contemporary Hindu Right's celebrated Marathi play, Me Nathuram Boltoi (I Nathuram Speaking), popularly referred to as the Gandhi-Godse play, which toured several North American cities in the summer of 1999 after its success in Bombay and its surrounding areas. Based on Gandhi's assassin, Nathuram Godse's court testimonial during his trial, the play presents Godse's Hindu nationalist fervor as a justification for his action while accusing Gandhi of "appeasing" the Muslim community. The controversy, official repudiation and public opinion over whether to support free speech or oppose hate speech/ crime the play stood for abetted its popular showings. Gandhi's veneration as a national leader, "father of the nation," or in the case of Me Nathuram Boltoi, as a pacifist figure forging harmony between the Hindu-Muslim communities, is yet another instance of the complex process of signification Gandhi represents as a national/ political figure for the left, the right, feminists, and the marginalized gay community in India.

For one, at the same time as the members of Indian Parliament were demanding that STAR TV "shut shop," the government of India was pursuing a policy of economic liberalization, inviting global media magnates like Rupert Murdoch to set shop in lucrative media markets like Mumbai and Bangalore (Mullick and Mendonca, 1996). Thus, the political motivation to protect Indian television as a public service interest is, to use Stuart Hall's phrase, "rendered anachronistic in a moment" by the government-sponsored economic liberalization of the Indian media markets. In this very contradictory space of Indian television, it is important to recognize that however misguided in his remarks, Row Kavi is not a "cultural terrorist" of a hostile country but an Indian citizen venting his frustration at the marginalization of his much maligned gay community in the national mainstream. Similarly, the blonde-haired, green-eyed British-Indian Nikki Bedi, may well be a curiosity to many in India, but she can hardly be considered the symbol of imperialist forces out to get Indian nationalism. Rather, Bedi, who defines her hybrid identity as a "glocal girl" — at once global and local — sees herself as an Indian who is ideally suited to host a "glocal" talk show on a "glocal" network like STAR TV (quoted in Balaram, 1995). This hybrid definition of Indianness as a glocal identity aptly symbolizes what Arjun Appadurai (1990) has outlined as "disjuncture and difference in the global cultural economy." For Appadurai, the disjunctive cultural flows that at once sustain and disrupt our notions of identity in the global economy are these:

"[i] ethnoscapes produced by flows of people: tourists, immigrants, refugees, exiles and guest workers…
[ii] technoscapes, the machinery and plant flows produced by multinational and national corporations and government agencies…
[iii] finanscapes, produced by the rapid flows of money in the currency markets and stock exchanges…
[iv] mediascapes, the repertoire of images of information, the flows which are produced and distributed by newspapers, magazines and film…
[v] ideoscapes, linked to flows of images which are associated with state or counter-state movement ideologies which are comprised of elements of freedom, welfare, rights, etc." (Appadurai 1990, as quoted by Featherstone 1990: 6-7).

Arjun Appadurai's notion of cultural-scapes in the global economy enables us to articulate the reasons for the rise of hybrid "glocal" shows like Nikid Tonight in the global cultural economy. If the notion of mediascapes, for instance, can help us understand how global media networks like STAR TV can at once claim to be multi-national and multi-local, then the notion of technoscapes can explain how these glocal networks use satellite and cable technologies to at once broadcast globally and narrowcast for local audience preferences. Similarly, Nikki's self-definition as a hybrid "glocal girl" signifies how the disjunctive flows of ethnoscapes have disrupted traditional organization of "identity" and "community" in terms of national geographies and cultural histories in our at-once-global-local world of television.


In the discourse of global, national, and local networks, the question of an Indian personality for television, I conclude, can not be adequately addressed in terms of an imagined community that is solely based on identity — as Anderson's universalist model proclaims — or on difference — as Chatterjee's postcolonial intervention suggests. Instead, I posit, the question of an Indian personality for television can only be addressed in terms of what I call an unimaginable community of nationalism that, however paradoxical it may seem, is at once based on identity/ difference. This paradoxical notion of nationalism as an unimaginable community that is imagined into existence through identity/difference can be best understood in terms of what Jacques Derrida (1981, 1973) has called differance. The notion of differance refers to two meanings of the verb "to differ" (or differer in French), which as Derrida points out, "seems to differ from itself." Or as Derrida (1973: 129-30) puts it,

"On the one hand, it indicates difference as distinction, inequality, or discernibility, on die other it expresses the interposition of delay, the interval of a spacing and temporalizing that puts off until "later" what is presently impossible…In one case "to differ" signifies nonidentity; in the other case it signifies the order of the same. Yet there must be a common, although entirely differant [differante], root within the sphere that relates the two movements of differing to one another. We provisionally give the name differance to this sameness which is not identical: by the silent writing of its a, it has the desired advantage of referring to differing both as spacing/ temporalizing and as the movement that structures every dissociation."

In positing the notion "sameness that is not identical," Derrida marks differance as something that is not the same as identity, and is clearly different from difference. Instead, he argues, differance

"indicates the middle voice, it precedes and sets up the opposition between passivity and activity. With its a, differance more properly refers to what in classical language would be called the origin or production of differences and the differences between differences, the play [jeu] of differences. Its locus and operation will therefore be seen wherever speech appeals to difference" (Derrida, 1973:130).

Following Derrida's appeal to invoke the unavowable discourse of differance through the play of language, Homi Bhabha (1991) playfully coins the term dissemiNation. In doing so, Bhabha creatively extends the theory of differance (which Derrida has variously referred to as dissemination or deconstruction) to the postcolonial context and demonstrates how the nation can be imagined into existence only through a middle voice of hybridity. For Bhabha, the middle voice of hybridity, which "precedes and sets up" the opposition between identity and difference in postcolonial discourse is aptly articulated through the dissemiNation of the nation, that is to say, in the silent writing of its Name-with a silent but emphatic capital "N." At once playful and powerful, Bhabha's appropriation of Derrida's theory of dissemination (or differance or deconstruction) lets us comprehend the many hybrid articulations of the nation's imagined community or the unimaginable dissemiNation of identity/ difference in postcolonial discourse. As Bhabha points out the hybrid articulations of dissemiNation are well evinced in the many contradictory dual narratives of the nation: in the passionate erection and annihilation of historical narratives in the name of an imagined community of nationalism, in the artificial insemination and dissemination of the seeds of mythic origins in the name of a unified national identity, in the prodigal production and reproduction of hegemonic institutions and hierarchies in the name of national sovereignty.

Through Bhabha's playful extension of Derrida's powerful theory of dissemination to the postcolonial context, I posit that these diverse imaginations of the nation engendered in relation to the discourses of globalization and localization can be envisioned in a paradoxical double vision of television. Such a double vision is always at play in the structures and hierarchies of TV's institutions, ranging from global and national networks to local community stations; in the imaginations and representations of advertisements and programming genres ranging from news and current affairs to education and entertainment, from quiz shows and talk shows to soap operas and sitcoms. In these diverse representations of the double vision of Indian television, the central question that remains contentious is the age-old issue of cultural identity/ difference.

What is the "authentic" location of the Indian personality for television? Is it an imagined cultural production or a given product of political-economic institutions? Is it the terrain of the nation-state or of transnational networks? Is it the domain of ancient traditions or of metropolitan modernity? Is it produced by nationalist television and elite representations or by vernacular television and popular perceptions. Perhaps, in each of these questions, both alternatives are at once true and false. In the imagined community of the nation, TV's Indian personality can only be located as a boundary site of hybridity. In that hybrid location of dissemiNation, as Bhabha suggests, the traditional boundaries of difference become the new centers of identity, and the traditional centers of identity become the new boundaries of difference.


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