Archive for the ‘identity’ Category

SAMMA ’08: giving up on television

January 16, 2009

Held in the Time Warner conference center in New York City, the South Asians in Media and Marketing summit opened with a keynote address by Peter Ligouri, Chairman and CEO of Fox Broadcasting. Neal Shenoy, one of the founding members of SAMMA, set the stage for Ligouri with a quick opening note about South Asians making quite a splash in the media world over the past few years. Mohinder-Heroes, Sanajaya Malakar-American Idol, Kal Penn-Namesake, Spielberg-Ambani, Richard Gere-Shilpa Shetty kissing…you get the picture.

However, Ligouri himself did not address the question of media production focused on South Asian-American culture . He chose to speak generally about challenges facing media corporations, and why he thought it prudent to ignore hype surrounding new distribution platforms. “Content is king,” he reminded everyone present. But given the setting, the question of why South Asians continue to remain marginal on American television came up as soon as he ended his talk. And his answer, predictably enough, was that demographically speaking, South Asian-Americans were simply not a commercially viable niche market yet. Ligouri, and everyone in the room, ignored the underlying assumption that no one else in the U.S. would be interested in watching, say, a sitcom that revolved around a desi family.

Here, then, is the trouble with desi culture and television. On the one hand, desi youth in the U.S. are stuck with American television institutions and their advertising revenue-based logic. And on the other hand, they have to contend with Indian television corporations (ZEE, Star, SUN, etc.) that couldn’t care less about desi culture in the U.S. and continue to churn out saas-bahu dramas. Unless media professionals in the U.S. are willing to learn from what shows like Goodness Gracious Me were able to achieve, television, I’d argue, will always remain marginal to desi culture and identity in the U.S.


Guha on Indian media and entertainment

November 7, 2008

I had an opportunity to attend the South Asians in Media and Marketing summit (SAMMA) held in New York City this past weekend (line-up here). The summit attracted a range of industry professionals who are involved in one way or another with “South Asian” media production. Like other industry conventions, this included panel sessions in which media professionals spoke about business strategies and new market opportunities, keynote addresses by industry leaders, and workshops with successful entrepreneurs. As such, it was a wonderful site for understanding what sorts of shared understandings regarding South Asian and South Asian-American culture and identity are shaping media industry practices. I will describe the summit and specific panels in future posts, but wanted to rant about Pradeep Guha’s keynote address.

Former President of the Times of India group and, until recently, CEO of Zee Telefilms, Guha is, without a doubt, one of the most influential media executives in the world. And given his track record and vast experience, I understood why he had been invited to speak at the SAMMA summit and was excited to hear what he had to say about the dynamics of the media and entertainment industry in India. I was disappointed and even outraged at some of his comments and thoughts.

Predictably enough, his presentation began with a series of powerpoint slides that illustrated how the media and entertainment industry, like other sectors, was “shining.” Drawing from reports produced by consultancy firms like Pricewaterhouse Coopers and KPMG, Guha seemed intent on reinforcing diasporic media professionals’ beliefs about the booming media industry in India. No complaints about this part – harmless enough I suppose.

But there were two arguments he made about the relationship between media content and audiences that made me cringe. The first relates to the print media and the criticism that newspapers such as the Times of India look more like tabloids and less like newspapers. With initiatives like Medianet (which allows businesses to buy editorial space in the Times of India) becoming standard operating procedures across many major newspapers in the country, and the utter disregard for stories that are outside the “India Shining” discourse leading to what Sainath calls a disconnect “between mass media and mass reality” (link), it’s no wonder that businessmen like Guha have come under criticism for “dumbing down” content. And how does Guha respond? At this keynote, he argued that the surge in literacy levels as created “neo-readers” who need banal content. These neo-readers, according to Guha, cannot possibly be drawn to newspapers if the content was not entertaining. And hence his catering to the “lowest common denominator.” As Sainath points out, this argument isn’t that different from a drug-peddler saying he does it because the junkies demand it.

The second argument Guha made related to mainstream television in India. He draws a distinction between the film and TV audience, claiming that Bollywood now addresses the urban and diasporic audience much more than television does. Arguing that television corporations are completely dependent on advertising revenues (and the ratings game, given that subscription-based revenues are next to nothing), Guha thinks TV will continue to speak to “heartland India” and not to urban and diasporic audiences until the revenue model for television changes. And what’s more, he lamented that he himself doesn’t care for this kind of television programming, but could hardly help it given that he had to run a profitable business.

What surprised me even more was the fact that these comments did not seem to bother anyone else in the room, leading me to wonder if South Asian-American media professionals knew enough about the media industry in India to question Guha’s assertions and if they have completely and uncritically bought into the “India Shining” rhetoric. It’s interesting also to consider the fact that an organization like SAMMA, at this historical juncture, needs the Indian media industry (and folks like Guha) on their side so they can position themselves as brokers b/w L.A./NYC and Mumbai. More on SAMMA later, but for now, here’s Sainath taking the Indian print media business to task:

p.s. I suppose a brief explanation of my break from blogging is in order. I had hoped to resume blogging on a regular basis after returning from fieldwork in Bombay this past summer, but other distractions on the home front (visiting parents/parents-in-law and several road trips with them) kept me busy. Then the semester began and so on. In any case, given that I have neither the time nor the inclination to make this blog anything more than a space for working through some thoughts about desi media and culture, I suppose a few blog breaks are perfectly fine.

The trouble with “ethnic” television

May 15, 2008

I’ve written about MTV-Desi in previous posts, but here’s a story that points very clearly to a shift in the way American media execs are now thinking about “ethnic” programming (link). According to this story, we will soon see a bouquet of STAR-owned channels (Star Plus, Star One, Vijay, and so on) on Comcast’s International line-up. Comcast owned International Networks has just signed a deal with the Star Group (owned by Newscorp). Good news, for the most part. But I also think that such relationships between U.S.-media companies and transnational entities like Star point to an important shift in how “ethnic” programming and the very notion of an “ethnic” audience community is being imagined.

Take a look at this statement from David Wisnia, senior VP of distribution and sales of Star North America and Europe:

International Networks is the leading aggregator of ethnic language programming in the U.S. and we are thrilled to have them represent five of our Indian channels to MSOs across the country. We look forward to increasing our distribution to cable homes across the U.S. so that more South Asian viewers can enjoy top-rated entertainment from back home.

It is abundantly clear that this exec, and arguably those at Comcast, conceive of South Asian viewers as remaining connected to their “home,” as viewers who can speak Hindi, Tamil or some other Indian language. Why are South Asian-Americans being defined primarily in South Asian terms? I would argue that there are three elements at work here.

First, we need to acknowledge the limits that marketing discourse imposes on distribution and programming decisions. The failures of MTV-Desi and AZN, one would imagine, have added to industry lore that such niche channels simply do not work. Besides, there is a very well-etablished tradition of marketing and advertising executives (including many who are of South Asian descent) who work hard to define ethnic difference.

Second, and perhaps the biggest challenge for the industry, is the problem of content. Why would a company seek to invest in original program production when it is clear that audiences are already watching programs from various television channels via YouTube and even by borrowing tapes of saas-bahu serials from a local desi grocery store. It is, without a doubt, financially more prudent to enter into a deal that brings in top quality content.

Third, and more broadly, this new definition of “ethnic” television that ties migrant populations to their “home” (the where are you really from question) completely ignores second and third-generation desis. South Asian Americans are now caught between two powerful nationalist imaginaries: an American television/marketing industry that is struggling to think beyond old notions of “community,” and an “Indian” television industry that includes desis but doesn’t need to worry about those desis who do not understand Hindi or Tamil or, for that matter, might not be “desi” in these very limiting ways.

Family Matters – two takes

April 30, 2008

On the one hand, a story in the Washington Post about lower class/caste men and women trying to break into the film industry (go here):

Today, a trickle of actors, dancers and screenwriters from India’s lower and middle castes are trying to break into a formerly impenetrable star system, full of actors from Bollywood royalty and other insiders hailing from high-caste families. New drama schools are training Indians from all castes. And Bollywood is starting to tackle more serious plots that could potentially star low-caste actors.

“Will you get more attention if you have the right surname and are part of an entrenched star family? Of course,” said Anupama Chopra, a film critic and author of several best-selling books on Bollywood. “But there is increasing space now for a booming Bollywood film industry, and there’s a feeling that if you are talented enough, well, maybe you will get noticed, no matter what your family ties are.”

And on the other hand, Time Out Mumbai offers a map of the film industry to illustrate how important family ties are (subscription required, link):

Despite enormous changes in recent years, the Hindi film industry is still influenced tremendously by society’s most basic unit. A snap survey of today’s noteworthy actors reveals that many of them were either born into a film family or married into one. Hrithik Roshan? The son of actor-turned-filmmaker Rakesh Roshan and the grandson of filmmaker J Om Prakash. Salman Khan? The son of scriptwriter Salim Khan. Aamir Khan? The son of filmmaker Tahir Hussain, the nephew of producer Nasir Hussain, and the cousin of director Mansoor Khan. Abhishek Bachchan? The son of Amitabh Bachchan and Jaya Bhaduri. Saif Ali Khan? The son of Sharmila Tagore. Kareena Kapoor? A member of the Kapoor clan. Kajol? The daughter of actor Tanuja and director Shomu Mukherjee. Rani Mukerji? A member of the Mukherjee clan and the niece of Bengali actor Debashree Roy. The only outsider to have made it in recent times without family connections is Shah Rukh Khan. Akshay Kumar qualified too until he married Twinkle Khanna, herself an actor and the daughter of actors Dimple Kapadia and Rajesh Khanna.

Many more DNA matches can be found among directors, producers, and distributors as well as among second-rung actors. These include Karan Johar, Rohan Sippy, Goldie Behl, Aditya Chopra, Farhan Akhtar, Sidharth Anand, Sajid Nadiadwala, Anil Thadani, Meghna Gulzar, Amrita Arora, Zayed Khan, Esha Deol, Neil Nitin Mukesh, Ravi Chopra, Shaad Ali, Pooja Bhatt, Bobby Deol, Farah Khan and Sanjay Leela Bhansali.

Aliens in America and America’s “muslim problem”

March 28, 2008

I’ve heard several folks suggest that CW’s Aliens in America is really about “middle America” – it’s really about the Tolchuk family – and does not warrant all the criticism that revolves around the show’s portrayal of a Pakistani exchange student. In a recent article in Flow, Ellen Seiter explains that the show is indeed about America’s “muslim problem.” Calling attention to efforts such as the Brookings Project on U.S. Race Relations with the Islamic World, Seiter writes:

What makes Aliens in America interesting is the uses to which it has been put. The sitcom was screened for a special Ramadan Iftar dinner hosted by the Brookings Project on US Relations with the Islamic World. The show’s ratings have been abysmal, and this would not be a story worth recounting if it weren’t for the promotion of Aliens in America in the world of public diplomacy.

It is also interesting, though not surprising, to learn about how decisions regarding the show’s cast, setting, plot, etc. were made:

Opportunism (we will be the first US sitcom to use a Muslim) and desperation (how to compete with Disney’s domination of the high school sitcom) probably explain how this inane comedy about a Midwestern small town where no one has seen an immigrant before (a fallacious premise, but never mind) got greenlit. Even the show runners seemed mightily surprised to find themselves doing press for a “controversial” show and facing questions about how they are avoiding getting “Salman Rushdied”.2 The sitcom bears resemblances to Freaks and Geeks and The Wonder Years — the host family includes an overbearing mother, a conformist sister and a lonely but intelligent son. The writers gave Raja his Pakistani origin in a late plot twist (the character was originally a European exchange student). Arab Muslims seemed too dangerous, and it was thought best that the country be an ally of the US. Research on Pakistan consisted of reading wikipedia entries. A staffer on the show was elevated to the role of adviser. (According to Kamran Pasha, there are only two Muslims among the entire membership of the Writers Guild). The actor cast in the role, Adhir Kalyan, had grown up in South Africa and was selected from an on-line audition in London.

Contrast this with CBC’s Little Mosque on the Prairie: the show’s creator, Zarqa Nawaz, worked closely with a team of writers and helped them learn about Islam and other aspects of being Muslim in Canada; they tested ideas by screening pilot episodes in canadian-muslim communities; the costume designer worked closely with Sitara Hewitt to create a smartly dressed cosmopolitan Muslim woman; and so on. To borrow a phrase from one of my colleagues, if we can think about television production as a “care structure,” the contrast between Aliens in America and Little Mosque on the Prairie becomes clear.

Circles of Sexuality

February 28, 2008

The latest issue of HIMAL SOUTHASIAN draws attention to the many transitions and conflicts surrounding sexuality.

Discussions on the wide range of human sexuality have begun in Southasia, albeit only in certain circles – universities, NGOs and within specifically interested communities. For the rest, alternative sexuality exists the way it always did, mostly clandestinely, at other times through rigidly defined ‘communities’. However, as television and film producers, authors and journalists continue to try to push certain envelopes, and appeal to additional (and younger) audiences, these discussions are inevitably cropping up with greater frequency within the mainstream.

But just how realistic is all of this talk? More importantly, just how pertinent is it to the lived experiences of Southasians, particularly long-oppressed sexual minorities?

Articles tackle the state of homosexuality in Nepal, class and conservatism in Pakistan, “virtual closets” in Bangladesh, NGO-isation of sexuality, and much more.

Recasting Women?

February 27, 2008


I can never forget Lalithaji, or the crusading Rajni. I’m not sure if there was any intended correspondence between the woman in the ad and the TV character, but it worked. But in a post-DD world of numerous cable and satellite channels, not much changed in terms of women’s choices being framed first and foremost in relation to the family. Husband’s health, kids’ health, soaps and detergenets, colors for the room, and so on – it seemed advertising agencies simply could not think about women beyond a heterosexual/family frame.

According to this story, there are signs of some change:

Over the last few months, several non-gender specific categories such as breakfast cereal, alcohol, health drinks and even services such as radio have launched products aimed at women. The launches are part of a trend that recognizes women not just as primary decision makers in the Indian household, but also a large enough specialist target group or so-called mega niche that marketers can address.

My question is, will this new demographic construct lead to shifts in TV programming? I’d like to know how many women in this category watch the “women-centric” saas-bahu soaps on TV? Why does TV continue to segment the “women’s audience” into either a “youth” (MTV, etc.) or a “saas-bahu-family” category? I’m not suggesting that the U.S. model of Lifetime is necessarily the best way forward. Just wondering if this shift in advertising/marketing might lead TV producers and writers to imagine new programming possibilities.

On being desi in post 9/11 America

February 20, 2008

After a session on Goodness Gracious Me, I usually get students to watch Hanif Kureishi’s My Son the Fanatic in an attempt to talk about cultural citizenship and the ways in which religion has become an increasingly important fault line. And until now, I’ve never found a film like My Son the Fanatic that might help us talk through these issues in the context of South Asian-Americans. Mississippi Masala only gets us so far. Last night, I learned about “Punching at the Sun,” a film that takes on the question of what race, nationalism, and citizenship mean for South Asian muslim youth in post-9/11 Queens, NY. Here’s the trailer, and you can watch the entire film on Jaman:

Links to reviews and interviews with the filmmaker Tanuj Chopra here.

Tracking Bhangra: DJ Rekha on NPR

February 18, 2008

On NPR’s weekend edition, a feature on DJ Rekha – listen here. The site has links to earlier features on Rekha, and a nice 6-minute piece from June 2000 on the rise of bhangra in the U.S. club scene (link).

TV and taste: the “saas-bahu” question

February 15, 2008

In a recent article in the avowedly “upper-class” Mint, columnist Vir Sanghvi wonders why television in India speaks to PLT (People Like Them) and asks the readers of Mint, People Like Him, why “so many of us (readers of Lounge, for instance) thrill to masala Hindi movies while remaining resolutely unmoved by the appeal of the mega-serials that have much of middle India so completely enthralled?” He writes:

As much as you may have enjoyed Om Shanti Om or even Saawariya, do you watch Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi? When you flip from one Hindi entertainment channel to another, can you really tell the difference? Isn’t there a certain stultifying sameness to the manner in which over-made-up, overdressed women waddle around lurid and garish sets, pausing every five minutes or so for an extreme close-up, accompanied by loud and, frankly, disturbing explosions of music? Do you really find the jokes on the many stand-up comedy shows (spawned by the success of The Great Laughter Challenge) genuinely funny? Can you understand why Navjot Singh Sidhu laughs so hysterically at every weak gag uttered by each aspiring comedian?

It’s a strange thing, but even as Hindi cinema has become the great leveller, television has become a world unto itself, carving out a solid constituency in the lower- to middle-middle class (look, I’m sorry if this sounds snobbish, but there’s no other way to say it), while almost completely ignoring the upper-middle class and the elite.

Given that these shows remain highly popular and continue to draw the highest ratings points, it is rather easy to imagine what Ekta Kapoor, the architect of many a saas-bahu television serial, might say to Sanghvi and People Like Him. But it is not as easy to brush aside Sanghvi’s assumptions about taste, class, and the expectations of a medium like TV – in fact, it wouldn’t be a stretch to suggest that academic culture is yet to take saas-bahu serials seriously. I have heard nothing but dismissal of shows like Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi (Because mother-in-law was once a daughter-in-law) as regressive and that they do little more than reinforce gender stereotypes. But is this all we have to say?

Does the study of TV begin and end with this all-too-easy ideology critique? Would it not be worth exploring how Ekta Kapoor, a young woman, managed to become one of the most important figures in the TV industry? What about looking closely at how writers on this show think through characters like Tulsi Virani (Smriti Irani)? Do we have nothing interesting to say about Smriti Irani’s move from a TV soap into the realm of politics? And tempting as it may be, are we really prepared to call women and men (yes, men watch these shows too) across India who enjoy these serials cultural dupes? Without falling into the trap of 80s-anglo-american-style “resistant reading” ideas, would it not be important to explore the politics and pleasures of these TV serials in relation to everyday life?

In many respects, this piece by Vir Sanghvi reminded me of the discussion about taste cultures in the context of television scholarship/writing in the U.S., and the fact that there is hardly any “ideological and cultural diversity within television studies per se” (more here). Talking specifically about discussions at a conference (Flow), Henry Jenkins picks up on Greg Smith’s question – why JAG, a popular show never gets the kind of attention that a cult hit like Buffy does – and writes:

I would argue that our inability as a field to write intelligently about shows like JAG has something to do with our sense of cultural isolation from those people who live in Red States. One challenge may be to broaden our object of study. An even bigger challenge may be to expand who studies television and what kinds of perspectives are welcome at our conference. Very few folks at the Flow conference rose to defend JAG as a worthy object of study. My bet though is that there are people out there reading this blog who regularly watch JAG. Indeed, it was one of my late father’s favorite programs and I found watching the program with him helped me to understand how his generation saw the world.

Along the same lines, while I cannot bring myself to watch a saas-bahu serial, I did spend many hours watching a Tamil-language saas-bahu show with my mother. This was right after my father had died, and I was with my mum in Bangalore for a couple of months. At one level, the ritual of watching TV, quite simply, provided great solace. And for my mom, these shows with their strong (and yes, in some ways regressive) women characters were almost a balm for grief. During those weeks, I was, in Sanghvi’s terms, PLT. The “saas-bahu” question needs to be framed differently and not just in a banal isn’t-it-regressive vein.

Yizo Yizo (The Way It Is) and Wetin Dey (What’s Up?): Revisiting “Development TV”

February 8, 2008


Thanks to my colleague leo africanus, I could include Yizo Yizo, a groundbreaking and gritty TV show from South Africa, in my course on Global Media. Yizo Yizo is a terrific text with which to invite students to think about the question of “development communication” and the central role that this strand of communications research (carried out, for the most part, in mass communication departments in the U.S.) has played in shaping media policy in much of Africa and Asia. But what sets Yizo Yizo and Wetin Dey apart from other “pro-development” Miguel Sabido-inspired dramas developed in places like India during the 80s is the socio-cultural and political context – post apartheid South Africa.

Where radio and television in India were imagined and controlled by the state as a means for integrating the “nation,” in South Africa, radio and television were central to the project of racial and ethnic separation. Yizo Yizo, however, is in many ways emblematic of “post-apartheid” TV in South Africa – by which I mean not just the re-structuring of the South African Broadcasting Corporation and the growing influence of transnational formats and genres on TV in South Africa (Big Brother Africa, for e.g.), but also the ways in which TV has emerged as a key site for the re-articulation of cultural citizenship. And Yizo Yizo is a brilliant text to work with for the simple reason that it is so uncompromising – it lays bare the many issues troubling township life in South Africa (violence, drug abuse, sexual harassment, and so on) in unprecedented ways. And needless to say, the show generated tremendous controversy and attracted considerable public discussion. TV done right.

While I’ve planned to screen an episode or two of Yizo Yizo in class, it looks like I now have to make time for another show – Wetin Dey, from Nigeria. A story in the BBC says that this show, produced by group of international TV, film and advertising producers, is designed to raise HIV and AIDS awareness across Nigeria (here). Nigeria, as we know, gets talked about in both popular and academic settings in relation to Nollywood and the enduring popularity of Bollywood. I’m hoping this show (clips available on BBC) will help add another dimension to our understanding of media production in Nigeria and force us to think anew about TV and the question of “development” in an age of global flows – Wetin Dey is, after all, funded in large measure by the U.K.’s Department for International Development (DFID) and produced in collaboration with a number of NGOs.

[Pic from BBC]

Tamil cinema and the NRI Question

November 14, 2007

I recently watched Sivaji-The Boss and it made me wonder why Tamil cinema (and other “regional” cinemas) doesn’t seem burdened with the NRI problem, of re-positioning the NRI within the national family. As far as I know, there hasn’t been a Tamil film along the lines of a DDLJ or a K3G, blockbuster Bollywood films that reclaimed and redefined the NRI as one of our own. I find this intriguing, especially given how strongly the Indian diaspora of late-modern capital (90s, high-tech migration) has been defined by cities like Chennai, Bangalore, and Hyderabad.

In Sivaji, Rajni plays an NRI who returns to Chennai with the lofty aim of serving the poor by providing them access to free education, healthcare, and so on (synopsis here). It is striking that there isn’t a single instance in the film when Rajni’s outsider-status is questioned – in contrast to NRI-focused Bollywood films (Swades is the obvious parallel here), here Rajni’s outsider-status is located within a corrupt political landscape and he is like any other person (only richer) in a city like Chennai who cannot get anything done without the help of powerful politicians and wheeler-dealers. There is no hand-wringing about who Rajni is – he is a Tamilian, and that’s all there is to it.

The easy way out, of course, is to fall back on the national-regional hierarchy that has been in place for over 7 decades now (since the advent of sound in cinema) and suggest that “regional” cinema’s concerns are “regional” and not (trans)national. But would it not be more productive to conceptualize Tamil cinema as having always had a trans-national dimension in the sense that it interrupts the narration of the nation by Bombay cinema? This is the argument that Vijay Devdas makes in a piece on “Rethinking Transnational Cinema: The case of Tamil Cinema” (link). Devdas surveys Tamil cinema from the period after independence to the late 1970s to argue that –

“…over time, there has been a shift within Tamil Cinema from a pan-Indian construction of the nation, that was part of the anti-colonial cinema of British India, to the call for communally centred, closed, ethno-nation, premised on a discourse of Tamil cultural nationalism.”

It is perhaps because of the strength of this discourse of Tamil cultural nationalism that Tamil cinema feels no need to re-territorialize Tamil NRIs.

What Brown Can(not) Do For You

November 9, 2007

A week from now, I will be on my way to Boston to participate in a workshop at M.I.T where a group of academics will talk about Unboxing TV. Following the model established by Flow, this workshop is organized as a series of roundtable discussions with each participant outlining a provocation instead of reading a paper for 20-25 minutes. Take a look at the program and the provocations here.

I decided to take this opportunity to think through the MTV-Desi experiment, and use discussions surrounding MTV-Desi to think about the relationship between the South Asian diaspora and TV. Over the next week, I will be working through answers to the questions I raise and will have more to say. For now, here’s what I wrote:

In July 2005, MTV Networks announced the launch of MTV-Desi, a niche channel for South Asian American youth. Launched with great fanfare and made available on Direct TV, MTV-Desi featured Bollywood sequences and Indi-pop (sourced from MTV India), diasporic artists in North America and the U.K., and shows about desi life in the U.S. Recognizing the transcultural nature of South Asian American youth culture, executives and producers at MTV-Desi worked hard to define MTV-Desi as a unique site of cultural production that neither mainstream American television nor Indian satellite TV channels could match.

Eighteen months later, MTV Networks pulled the plug on MTV-Desi, stating that the distribution model failed to draw in South Asian Americans. As one prominent South Asian journalist commented, “we published next to nothing on the channel, because I couldn’t find anyone who watched the satellite channel: no college students, no twenty-somethings with spare change. And it wasn’t just me. All the tastemakers I interviewed – DJs, other music types – said they didn’t know any MTV Desi subscribers either.”

While pricing and poor marketing were cited as the major reasons for failure, it is worth noting that MTV-Desi’s business and content-production strategies were shaped not only by the institutional politics of the U.S. television industry but also by the operations of satellite television channels such as ZEE, STAR, and Sony Entertainment that cater to South Asian audiences worldwide. MTV-Desi executives were also attuned to reports emphasizing that South Asians are now among the fastest growing minorities in the U.S. and, more importantly, as a niche demographic with tremendous purchasing power. Thus, at one level, it appears as if executives at MTV-Desi did nothing wrong in terms of identifying an audience community. So what, besides the premium distribution model, went wrong?

I wish to argue that the MTV-Desi experiment constitutes an important moment in the history of diasporic media production, and that a critical post-mortem will allow us to grapple with challenges faced by media producers and cultural critics in imagining and mobilizing a diasporic audience community. Outlining the changing dynamics of migration between South Asia and the U.S., and competing definitions of desi identity and being brown in the U.S., I will tackle these questions during our roundtable discussion:

– In what ways does the institutional framework of the television industry in the U.S. limit the possibility of imagining a “post-national” audience community?

– If Bombay, as a film and television capital, is dominating and defining the production and flow of South Asian content, what possibilities remain for diasporic television production?

– Does “diaspora,” as a socio-cultural and political critique of the nation-as-community, need TV?

“Made by Arabs, for Arabs”

October 15, 2007

Petrodollars and a booming under-25 audience in the Middle East…of course MTV Networks is interested!

MTV Arabia is the biggest test to date of the network’s two-decade-old localization strategy. MTV’s flagship music channel has seen its American TV ratings slip and has struggled online. Management believes the biggest growth will come overseas, and the network now pumps out a blend of international and local tunes from Russia to Indonesia to Pakistan. That has helped MTV and sister operations, such as VH1 and Nickelodeon, reach 508 million households in 161 countries. “This isn’t going to be MTV U.S.,” Bill Roedy, vice-chairman of MTV Networks, says of the latest offering. “It is Arabic MTV made by Arabs for Arabs.”

Story here.

“My film industry is bigger than your film industry”

October 8, 2007

Couldn’t resist posting the Goodness Gracious Me bhangramuffin’s (sanjeev bhaskar) take on Bollywood –

We hear a lot of Westerners dissing these movies saying that they is not realistic, but we say: KISS MY CHUDDIES! They is not supposed to be realistic. The question shouldn’t be: “Why aren’t those films more like the real world?” but: “Why ain’t the real world more like these films?” Why can’t we do triple back somersaults when fighting 20 thugs, while only being armed with a spoon? Why can’t we burst into song when we is on the bus? Let’s face it, what world would you rather live in, innit? I blame Western society, man…Bollywood makes more movies than anywhere else, like in the galaxy man. So next time you go dissing my posse, just remember – my film industry is bigger than your film industry…innit!