Archive for the ‘fandom’ Category

What fandom could teach the ICT4D community

June 3, 2010

A few years back, I spent an entire summer hanging around info-kiosks – part of a major ICT4D (information and communication technologies for development) initiative – in south India (Tamilnadu). As it happened, I ended up spending quite a bit of time in one particular site, partly because a group of high-school and college age guys were part of the scene. These guys also happened to be members of a Vijay fan club, and given my interests in participatory cultures, I was more than happy to hang out and chat with them.

A few weeks into the summer, I showed up as usual on a Monday afternoon and found the kiosk empty and the Vijay fans were nowhere to be seen. I learned later that day that these guys has been told to stay away from the kiosk. Someone had found out that this group had been using the computers in the info-kiosk to watch (and copy) VCDs of Tamil films, some Hong Kong action films, and perhaps even a few “blue” films (porn). Word had come from the coordinators of the ICt4D initiative that such activities would not be tolerated, and if folks in this village couldn’t understand that these kiosks were for “development” and “progress” (munnetram, a word I heard often from the programme coordinators), they would shut it all down and set up the kiosk in a place where people understood its uses.

From the perspective of the predominantly urban and middle-class professionals involved in this project, this was disappointing. Watching films, toying around with Microsoft Paint to design a fan club poster, etc. marked a betrayal of sorts. Look, they seemed to say, here we are providing access and teaching them how to use communication technologies and this is what these boys do. It was clear that there was no place for pleasure in the ICT4D world. Or, at the very least, pleasure ought to be deferred.

I’ve always struggled to make sense of this incident. At one level, it wasn’t surprising. Contemporary iCT4D initiatives could certainly be located within the history of development communications in India (and across the Global South). One example that comes to mind right away is Hum Log, the “pro-development” soap opera that Doordarshan mandarins concocted with assistance from Miguel Sabido, renowned as the father of “entertainment-education.” And even then, the question of pleasure was always set to one side. Surveys of audiences focused on what was learned. The over 400,000 letters that people across India sent in, expressing thoughts about Chutki and Badki (the feisty young daughters in the show), for instance, did not seem in the least bit important.

I’ve always struggled to come up with an adequate explanation of why we need to focus on pleasure and participation even as we think about “development.” Not anymore. Lawrence Liang to the rescue!

In a recent essay, Liang points to French philosopher Jacques Ranciere’s take on a set of journals that workers in 19th century France wrote. These workers  (iron smiths, metal workers, and so on) were not interested in reflecting on the terrible conditions of their lives but instead, in  “poetry, philosophy and indulging in the pleasures of thought.” Liang extends this to the ICT4D world:

What the workers wanted was to become entirely human, with all the possibilities of a human being which included a life in thought. What was not afforded to works was the leisure of thought, or the time of night which intellectuals had…

If we were to translate what this means for our understanding of ICT and the subject of development, we find that most interventions frame the poor as objects of the discourse of digital access, and they are rarely seen as the subject of digital imaginaries. How do we think of the space created by ICT as one that expands not just the material conditions but also breaks the divide between those entitled to the world of thought, and those entitled to the world of work? In other words, what is the space that we create when we frame the discourse of ‘digital divides’ only as a matter of technological access? How do we begin to look at the technological lives of people beyond developmentalism and take into account the way it changes aspirations and subjectivities?

I wish I had been able to frame the incident I mentioned above in this way. In conversations with programme coordinators and fellow-researchers (who were studying other ICT4D sites in India), I was unable to articulate why a group of young men tinkering with computers, watching films, and going online to interact with Vijay fans in the world at large is actually very good news and not cause for despair. This is, as Liang puts it, “a classic instance of what Ranciere would term as an ‘exclusion by homage’.” I, for one, am yet to hear of an ICT4D initiative that moves beyond such exclusions to think more broadly about possible uses and engagements.


Circulation and cultural reach

January 27, 2009

In the rush to declare Bollywood as being “globalized,” clips such as these are wonderful reminders of the long history of Bombay cinema’s global circulations and the many south-south interactions that define media flows.

[via ultrabrown]

Filmy Flashback: Silver Jubilee Filmfare Awards

February 29, 2008

A couple of years back, I chanced upon a set of Filmfare issues from 1977-78 being auctioned on eBay. And as luck would have it, I managed to get them (12 issues in all) for about $14! I figured I might as well use snippets from them and make “filmy flashback” a regular feature on BollySpace 2.0. To kick things off, here are some snapshots from the April 1978 issue that covered the Silver Jubilee of the prestigious Filmfare Awards!

Best Actor: Amitabh Bachchan, for Amar Akbar Anthony; Best Actress: Shabana Azmi for Swami; Best Supporting Actress: Asha Sachdev for Priyatama; Best Supporting Actor: Sriram Lagu for Gharaonda; Special award: Amol Palekar for Bhumika; and a Special Award to Naseeruddin Shah for Manthan.

[rockyou id=104199797&w=450&h=338]

Filmy Flashback

February 19, 2008

Poking around TIME magazine’s archives, I came across a piece featuring Baburao Patel – the eccentric, snarky, and influential editor of Film-India, an important fanzine that set the stage for Filmfare, Stardust, and so on. Here it is, from November 3, 1941 (link):

In Bombay’s movie fanpaper, Film-India, Editor Baburao Patel conducts an unusually piquant question-&-answer department. Last week Hollywood learned how Editor Patel does it.


Q. Are there any raw-film manufacturers in India?

A. No. But we have directors who expose the film and make it look more raw than ever before.

Q. What is the exact relationship between Anuradha and Rafio Guznavi?

A. Come, I give you the guess.

Q. I hear bad rumors about Director Shantaram. Every man from Poona and Bombay says that Shantaram has done such & such a thing. I am sure that he is not a person to do such a thing. I think that Mr. Shantaram is aware of his fame and would not have done that thing. So you must tell the public that Shantaram is innocent by publishing his innocence in the next issue.

A. And I must also publish my innocence about what you are talking.

Q. Please tell me, which is the easiest way to get a job in a film company?

A. Get hold of the most attractive girl in your town and bring her to a film studio. . . . The other way is rather roundabout.

Q. Whenever I see a romantic picture, its effect lingers with me for five days and I cannot prosecute my studies. What shall I do?

A. Stop seeing pictures. Studies first.

Q. How many of our actresses are virgins?

A. I don’t know much about the actresses being virgins. This is an antique commodity in a modern world and you may find it in rural surroundings.

Friday Fun: Global Superhero Rajnikant

November 2, 2007


There’s all this chatter about Virgin Comics roping in Priyanka Chopra to create a new superhero character for the Indian market (story here). But everyone forgets the man who started it all – superstar Rajnikant! But then, any true Rajni fan wouldn’t be fazed. After all, Rajni has taught us all well: en vazhi thani vazhi (my way is unique).

Friday Fun: What could have Gordon Brown said…

October 26, 2007

…when he was forced to answer questions about Shilpa Shetty and racism on Celebrity Big Brother in the U.K. earlier this year (details)? Well, he could’ve taken a few minutes to listen to this podcast to learn a few lines from Bollywood! Go listen…and then take a look the translation:

Hindi: Jo kuch hua mujhe pata chala
English: I came to know of what happened

Hindi: Yakeen mano
English: Believe me

Hindi: Mera usse koi taluk nahin
English: I have no relation to this

Hindi: Main kuch nahin jaanta
English: I don’t know anything

Hindi: Aur phir, meri tumhaari dushmani thodi hai
English: And then, I don’t have any personal enemity with you

Hindi: Dekho
English: Look

Hindi: Main Hindustan hameshaa ke liye chod kar ja rahaa hoon
English: I am leaving India forever

Hindi: Mujhe jaane do, Please
English: Let me go, Please

And if you would like to learn how you can order tea in Hindi, haggle with an autorickshaw driver, or become an effective public speaker, check out the library of Bollywood-themed podcasts at Cutting Chai!

(via Saja Forum).

Amitabh Bachchan the farmer…

October 11, 2007


…turned 65 and needless to say, every TV channel went crazy. Check out CNN-IBN’s attempt at “Deconstructing Amitabh Bachchan” here. And to hear the Big B explain why he has the right to be called a farmer, go here. [pic: CNN-IBN]

SMS 52525: reality TV and local politics

October 8, 2007

In the latest issue of Himal Southasian, Sumana Roy probes what satellite TV does to local-national relations:

From the Bagdogra airport to Siliguri, there were posters of the Nepali Indian Idol contestant everywhere – glued to tree trunks and lampposts, on hoardings next to Shahrukh Khan, on car rears and house fronts in Gurungbasti, a locality with a pronounced Nepali population. For the next several days, everywhere I went Prashant’s face followed me, and with him, a trail of numbers – 52525, an incantation that seemed to have hypnotised my town and its neighbours. I began to hear stories of local patriots, of young men staying awake all night long, not at defence outposts or research laboratories, but at temporary telephone booths, erected by benevolent telephone companies and shrewd politicians, hungry for proxy votes.

Article here.

Indian Idol and Flash Fandom

October 2, 2007

Over the past few days, talk about Indian Idol has revolved around the violent clashes following the insulting remarks made by a radio DJ in New Delhi (coverage and reactions here). And leading up to the finals, media coverage was focused on how Amit Paul and Prashant Tamang, the two finalists from the north-east of India, were bringing people together and creating a space for people to cast aside decades-old separatist identities. In cities across the northeast, hundreds of people took to the streets to express their support for Amit Paul and Prashant Tamang and it seemed they were willing to look past linguistic, ethnic, and other separatist lines of identification (see, for instance, this story on CNN-IBN).

My friend Arijit Sen, who has been covering the northeast region for CNN-IBN over the past few months, had this to say about Amit Paul and the situation in Shillong:

In Shillong, the Khasis ( matrilineal society but property management vested in mother’s brothers hands) , the Garos (people from the Garo Hills/are of Bodo Tibeto-Burman stock and have settled in the Garo hills for 400 years and have 5 broad matrilineal clans) , the Jainitias ( people from the Jaintia Pahar, Hindus, traditional belief system close to Khasis ), the Bengalis and the Marwaris have never been this close before.

In Shillong, everyone except tourists heads home in the evening. Areas are marked within which Khasis stay and areas are marked within which Bengalis stay. Ignoring the past, people came out of their water tight compartments and started singing songs of Amit Paul. They even had a Khasi version of “yaad aan rahan hain tera pyar.”

But the music one associates with Shillong is western music. Bands like Boomerang and Soulmate are supposed to represent the state.Western music as much as it acted a bridge between Shillong and the rest of the country, also gave this state a distinct identity that somehow made it difficult for Meghalaya to join the Hindi film music party. Amit Paul broke it. So for the first time, you had popular mainstream music blaring out in the main square of Shillong. And so I guess everyone thought, who cares, this is our moment, let us all celebrate.

But people did not just come out all of a sudden. Businessmen and people living in Shillong for years took initiative. A fan club was formed. fans enlisted as sponsors of PCOs that were open all night for people to come forward and vote. Posters were distributed. Prepaid mobile cards were distriburted. So this was a much needed push and it worked like magic.

For me, it is this moment of fandom that is the most interesting aspect of Indian Idol. I was excited to hear about this and see a rally on the streets of Shillong with banners and posters announcing the formation of an Amit Paul Fan Club.


However, given the broader socio-historical context, the nagging question is: so what? Can we expect this moment of fandom to have any sort of lasting impact on inter-personal relationships in this region? How will different stakeholders cash in on Amit Paul? The state government has already appointed Amit Paul a brand ambassador of peace and communal harmony, and with elections to be held in February 2008, it will be interesting to see how this moment when cultural differences were blurred is (re)framed by politicians.

But then, given the structure of the show, isn’t it unfair to expect an Amit Paul fan community to cohere and sustain itself for a long period of time? After all, there will be an Indian Idol 4 within the next year or so. How, then, do we think about this instance of fan expression?

Would it be useful to conceptualize this as an instance of flash fandom? Flash fandom – like a flash mob, a fan community that coheres for a brief time period and draws people together but is so inclusive that it can only be fleeting. I think this notion of flash fandom lets us acknowledge that this was a space of sociality that allowed people to transcend rigid definitions of identity and, crucially, doesn’t force us to pose the “so what” question in entirely negative/cynical terms. Perhaps, more broadly, we could argue that flash fandom is the modality of fandom for reality TV shows.

(pic courtesy Arijit Sen)