Archive for the ‘radio’ Category

Radio and the creation of an “Indian public”

January 30, 2008

One of the most striking gaps in both popular and academic writing on media in South Asia relates to the question of relationships between media institutions. And this is especially relevant in the Indian context given the extent and range of film content that shapes radio, TV, the Internet, mobile, and increasingly, video games. This question shapes my research in important ways, and I am particularly interested in mapping the film industry’s relationship with radio during the first decade of independence.

While waiting for inter-library loan materials (such as “Indian Listener,” an All India Radio publication) to arrive, I decided to look into newspaper coverage and came across a number of interesting articles and advertisements that provide glimpses not just into how the airwaves became a key site for elites to define “national culture,” but also some sense of the rhythms of everyday life during the 1950s.

I will post images and snippets of articles as I work through them over the next few weeks, but to begin with, here is an excerpt from October 3, 1957 (The Hindu) that caught my attention right away.


I could not have asked for anything better – the juxtaposition of All India Radio’s broadcast schedule with an ad from Radio Ceylon (run from Colombo) speaks very directly to the ways in which the commercially operated radio station from Colombo challenged the nationalist elites at All India Radio who, after nearly a decade of obstinacy, relented and allowed the broadcast of film music and other “light music” on All India Radio.

As the story goes, All India Radio had banned “vulgar” film music arguing that it was critical to cultivate the tastes of the Indian “masses” by exposing them to classical music from both south and north India. Radio Ceylon, run on a commercial basis, spotted an opportunity and launched a number of programmes that revolved around film and film music, the most famous one being a countdown show sponsored by Binaca and hosted by Ameen Sayani (Binaca Geet Mala). If you click on the excerpt above and look a bit closer at the broadcast schedule on All India Radio, you will notice that listeners in Madras (now Chennai) who tuned into All India Radio could listen to a violin concert followed by Russian orchestra music. However, if they had purchased a radio set that was equipped to receive shortwave signals, they could tune into Radio Ceylon and listen to Shakeel Badayuni, a renowned poet and film lyricist (more here), and famous playback singers like Mukesh and Talat Mahmood.

And this is precisely what listeners in India did – for nearly a decade, each evening, they gathered around radio sets to listen to film music from Bombay being broadcast from Ceylon. An “Indian public/audience” was forged, to the surprise of bureaucrats at All India Radio, by a small overseas programming division of a broadcasting station from a neighboring country with the help of the film industry in Bombay. Moreoever, many of these shows were sponsored by companies based in Bombay and other cities in India that could not advertise on the state-controlled, non-commercial All India Radio (in this instance, the company sponsoring the show is Sanforized – Sanforized ke Mehmaan translates to Sanforized’s Guests). And these shows served as a template for producers at Vividh Bharati as they launched their programmes in October 1957.

Needless to say, I’ve only scratched the surface here. Over the next few weeks, I will return to this moment of media convergence and transnational flows (Radio Ceylon could be picked up in Southeast Asia and as far west as the east coast of Africa) with, of course, fascinating archival material. Stay tuned!


Bombay cinema in Tamilnadu (1940s-1960s)

October 5, 2007

Watching Iruvar (Maniratnam’s film that traces the political careers of MGR and Karunanidhi) a few days back got me thinking about Bombay cinema’s “national” status and specifically, the idea that Bombay cinema managed to forge a “national audience” in post-independence India.

It is difficult to imagine a large audience for Hindi films in Tamilnadu given the agitations and struggles against the imposition of Hindi that defined politics in Tamilnadu for over three decades (from the late 1930s-early 1970s, chronology here). Anti-hindi protests organized by E. V. Ramaswamy’s (aka Periyar) in 1938 were taken up by other prominent politicians and served as a major campaign issue for the DK and DMK parties (more here). And I also wonder if distributors and exhibitors in Tamilnadu during this time period needed to bring in Hindi-language films given the strength of the Tamil film industry and the close ties between the Tamil film industry and mainstream politics.

My grandparents and parents lived in Madras during this time and were generally supportive of the anti-Hindi platform, and tell me that they did not get to watch many Hindi films during this time. An occasional big-budget Raj Kapoor film, but nothing on a regular basis. Besides, neither they nor anyone in their circle of family and friends spoke or understood much Hindi.

Yet, they are all fans of Hindi film music! Their anti-Hindi sentiments did not, in any way, interfere with their ritual of tuning in to Binaca Geet Mala (Radio Ceylon) and listening to the most popular Hindi film songs of the time. And once All India Radio relented and began broadcasting film music on Vividh Bharati, the popular Chaya Geet became a part of their daily routine. To this day, my grandfather spends a few hours each week listening to compilations of songs by playback singers like Talat Mahmood, Lata Mangeshkar and Mohammad Rafi even though he doesn’t quite comprehend the lyrics.

I think our narratives of Bombay cinema’s mediation of the “national family” (and perhaps more broadly, of nationalism in postcolonial India) will be so much more interesting if we take into account the role that radio played.