Issue No. 4
Spring 2000
Issue 4 home page
Return to current issue of TBS
Archives main page

BOOK REVIEWS

Christine Brosius and Melissa Butcher, eds. (1999) Image Journeys: Audio-Visual Media and Cultural Change in India. New Delhi, Thousand Oaks and London: Sage.

Reviewed by TBS Review Editor Amos Owen Thomas, Griffith University, Australia

Although its title is not explicitly about transnational broadcasting, a number of contributions to this volume address the impact of such media on India since 1991. The introductory chapter by editors Brosius and Butcher quite refreshingly deals with overarching themes or threads of thought running through the book rather than providing pithy summaries of each contribution. One key theme of their book is the decades-long search for an image of Indian-ness and the failure of Doordarshan, the public broadcaster, as well as the more recent transnational satellite broadcasters to deliver on this adequately. For reasons of necessary brevity, this review of Image Journeys will major on the chapters on television programming to the virtual exclusion of others on movie stars, religious gurus and wedding videos, though perhaps in the Indian media reality these are intertwined.

The chapter by Inden suggests that both capitalist and socialist governments in the Cold War concurred on the utility of television as a means of propaganda for their economic systems, and about the only critics came from often left-wing dissenters within the “free world.” He provides quite a detailed analysis of Indian movies of the 1990s, which are a staple of television in the country. What might be of interest to scholars of transnational media and culture is his insights into the NRI-factor in the setting and story line of Indian movies. NRI is the common term used for non-resident Indians or Indians who have immigrated historically or more recently to regions such as Malaysia, UK, South Africa, Fiji, the US and UK. Inden argues that they are the inspiration for the cosmopolitan-ness increasingly seen in Indian movies and which represent an aspirational culture for Indians resident within India.

Another contributor, Ohm, tracks the historical agenda of Doordarshan, or DD as it is popularly known, in its assigned role as integrative nation-builder and as propagandist for the governments in power. For much of its existence, during most of which it enjoys monopolistic control of television, DD clutched at vague notions of pan-Indianness and socio-economic modernity that satisfied no sub-cultural or ethnic group within the country. Ohm points out how, out of survival instinct, DD has shifted from extreme antagonism towards and mockery of foreign competition to grudging imitation and collaboration such as with CNN and MTV. Now DD is even claiming that it was encouraging of such transnational channels as contributing to media diversity for India's citizens!

Taking a different tack on nationalism, Brosius looks at the attempts in India to arrive at a “imagined community” particularly via Hindutva-related movements which, in their determination to define India as a Hindu nation, have co-opted television, movie and video media. In the 1980s Doordarshan, then under secular-minded governments, was unwittingly instrumental in this process through its screening of made-for-TV serialized Indian epics which proved highly popular with audiences. Now there is a pro-Hindu BJP government in power, pro-Hindu producers in the secular satellite channels such as ZeeTV, dissemination of pro-Hindu videos within rural India by Jain TV, and the utilization of web sites to reach NRIs. Thus Brosius implies that the construction of an image of India via these various media is taking on a distinctly Hindu tinge.

In her own chapter, Butcher discusses at length the role of the body in television or the personification of the idealized “new” Indian, at home in both western and traditional cultures. This is exemplified by the VJs or video-jockeys on MTV, Channel V and Music Asia, the triumvirate of music channels on satellite television. Butcher believes that this artificially created look seeks to reconcile current cultural hybridity with anticipated further cultural change. This is perpetrated by the circulation of the “TV body” through other media such as print, radio or other channels for economic optimization of the commodified image. She deals at length with the processing of such images in “after-TV talk” through which audiences decide to accept, adapt, contest or reject their meanings and implications for their workaday worlds.

With this timely collection Brosius and Butcher attempt to distance themselves from the quite extensive journalistic accounts of the so-called “satellite invasion of Indian culture” which seem to have a collective national/nationalistic memory in Moghul conquests and British colonialism. Instead Image Journeys demonstrates, quite admirably, how the satellite television medium has been domesticated and incorporated into the complex cultural ecology which is the India of the turn of the century, admittedly largely from a northern Indian perspective. The strength of this volume lies in its grappling with the nuances and undercurrents of television in India that many external observers of the globalization of the medium fail to notice or at best touch on superficially. TBS

Copyright 2000 Transnational Broadcasting Studies
TBS is published by the Adham Center for Television Journalism, the American University in Cairo
E-mail: TBS@aucegypt.edu