Gandhi Meets Primetime: Globalization and Nationalism in Indian Television.

Author:Scotton, James F.
Position:Book review

Kumar, S. (2006). Gandhi meets primetime: Globalization and nationalism in Indian television. Champaign: University of Illinois Press. 240 pages.

Kumar is not sure how satellite television is changing India but he is quite sure it is shaking up long-accepted notions of just what India is. His book argues that the "imagined community" (p. 2) of India of the 1947 founders of the Republic is being shattered by satellite TV. In its place has come "the unimaginable communities of electronic capitalism" (p. 14). Gandhi, the "Father of the Nation" (p. 150), is used as the revered symbol of what the political and cultural elites wanted India to become: a political (if not social and economic) utopia with a united people struggling and sacrificing for future generations.

This was certainly the "imagined community" of Doordarshan, the stodgy government television monopoly established in 1959. It was the only television choice for Indians for 3 decades. Then along came satellite TV or "electronic capitalism." Starting in 1991 with CNN, satellite television grew phenomenally. Murdoch's STAR-TV from Hong Kong and India's own Zee-TV brought a "cultural mishmash" (p. 191) of mostly entertainment programs. Indian audiences loved them, and in 1992 cable operators were hooking up nearly 10,000 homes per day. Programs in Hindi, "Hinglish," and a multitude of "electronic vernaculars" (p. 12) burst forth from satellites. One result, the author laments, is that India is rapidly becoming a nation of consumers and ideals of Indian nationalism are being submerged as advertisers target cultural, linguistic, and regional subgroups.

Kumar's first chapter provides background on the early conflicts over Indian television. Then he picks and chooses his subjects and incidents to make an interesting if at times hard-to-follow argument about how television does (or does not) affect the audience. Chapter 2 reviews the cultural implications of advertising for television sets--ads that sought to persuade Indians to buy television sets by suggesting that reality and modernity were on your TV screen. Then the reader is taken on a ride through political and social...

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