Monday, August 28, 2006

Doordarshan vs Cable TV

Cable Television has been around in India for more than a decade now. Considering that the peak of Doordarshan as a monopoly lasted for less than a decade - from 1984 when it really began expanding nationwide till the advent of cable tv in 1992 - I thought it is time to compare the two to see which has fared better in terms of providing entertainment, information and education to the viewers. The monopoly of a state-owned broadcaster or the competition among private players?

Even as I set out to do the comparison, I ran into a problem. I used to be a regular DD watcher when growing up - seeing as that was the only source of entertainment back then and being a student I had plenty of time on my hands. I used to watch most of the serials, the news, current affairs program, sports etc (some say I even used to watch Krishi Darshan, but there is no truth to it. That was only for the first year or so :-) But since I started working around the same time as cable TV started, and hence time became somewhat of a scarce commodity, I haven't watched as much of cable as I have of DD. So it was never going to be an objective comparison, but since when is objectivity a requirement for blogging?

So, anyway, as I started comparing, I found that there is just no comparison. I could come up with dozens of programs that I liked and remembered on DD, but for the life of me, I couldn't think of a single cable program that I have watched in last decade that I really liked (not counting the likes of BBC, Nat Geo, Discovery etc - I am comparing DD with the Indian cable channels to compare apples with apples). The DD list was seemingly endless. In no particular order and off the top of my head - Buniyaad, Darpan, Katha Sagar, Tamas, Yatra, Intezaar, Nukkad, Bharat Ek Khoj, Malgudi Days, Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi, Choti Badi Baatein, Vikram aur Betal, Mirza Ghalib. Heck, even Mahabharat had its likeable moments (not Ramayan though). And this is just those programs which we used to call "serials". On top of that there were documentaries, the musical programs (sunday morning National Integraion show or some such), discussion programs (there used to be one hosted by Vinod Dua on Sundays called Phursat mein or some thing), award winning movies from such renowned directors as Satyajit Ray, Ritwik Ghatak, Bimal Roy, Mrinal Sen, Shyam Benegal etc. And what do we have on the cable side? Saas bhi kabhi bahu thi? Indian Idol? Even the much hyped KBC was not a patch on DD's Quiz Time, if you ask me, in terms of the quality of questions or of participants.

So how did this come to pass? How come a state-owned, cash-strapped monopoly could churn out entertaining *and* informative programs at such a regular rate, but the cash-rich private players can only come up with duds like Ghar ghar ki Kahani? Is it just my nostalgia or is free market really inferior to state-owned monopoly when it comes to providing meaningful entertainment? Note, the operative word there is meaningful. I have no doubt whatsoever in market's capability in delivering endless jhatka's of Rakhi Sawant into our living rooms. But why can't all those zillion channels produce a simple Darpan or Tamas?

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Some observations on NRI's

This comment on a blog triggered me to post these thoughts on NRI's which I have been thinking for some time.

In my observation I have found that NRI's are more negative on India than those who are living here. They generally tend to highlight the bad aspects of India in discussions, they are more alarmed by any bad incidents happening in India etc. It has always intrigued me as to what could be the reasons for this - after all these people are all highly intelligent, reasonable, successful people and there is no reason to suspect that they have anything against India per se. In fact, most of them do care a lot for India. Then why this harping on the negative aspects of India? (Actually, the last two sentences could provide a reason for this - that they are intelligent and hence can see what is going wrong with India and care for India enough to voice their opinion about it - could be, but I don't think it is just that). Here is what I think are some of the reasons.

Having lived in a developed country for some time, they are more sensitised about issues like corruption, freedom of expression, value for human life etc - more so than the resident Indians. So a corruption scandal or a farmer's death is viewed more seriously by them, whereas those of us who have lived here most of the time just take it as part of life. I mean, we don't even think politicians can be anything but corrupt.

Added to that, they get most information about India through news media on a daily basis. And it is a well-known fact that media generally has more bad news than good news. So, if you read Deccan Herald, you will find reports about deaths and rapes and murders which happened in Bangalore yesterday. What you are not going to find is that a beautiful park opened in my neighbourhood or that there is a nice darshini serving excellent dosas or that there was a great classical music concert two days back and so on. When rains flood the Bangalore roads it becomes front page news, but the papers don't report the beautfiul Bangalore weather for rest of 364 days a year. For us, it is those latter things we see most of the time. Yes, we also see garbage on the road, traffic jams etc and we do read about deaths and murders in paper, but the point is we also see these other positive things which kind of gives us a balanced picture. But for someone sitting in US, as he keeps reading about only the bad things everyday, the negative image keeps getting reinforced.

Now for the controversial part - it is that keeping and reinforcing this negative image sort of serves the NRI's purpose at a subconscious level. Most of the NRI's, whether they admit it or not, feel this need to justify their decision of having moved abroad. And let's face it, after a while, life in US does get very boring compared to life in India. Life may be hard here, but it is never boring. Sure, we have the traffic jams and pollution and crime and what not, but we also have many more means of entertainment here compared to US. Most of the family and relatives live here and we have the regular get-togethers be it for a naming ceremony or birthday party or a wedding or even a death. We have our festivals - especially those like Ganesha Chaturthi, Dasara and Deepavali which are celebrated in public. They may have their Indian associations or kannada sangha's but the celebration there doesn't come close to the experience in India. Come next week, there will be loudspeakers blaring out "orchestras" all over Bangalore for Ganeshana habba. It might irritate you when you are trying to get some sleep, but it is never boring. So, anyway, when the NRI's compare their boring life in a US suburb - same old commute to office and back, grocery shopping and visits to mall over weekends - they feel they are missing out on all the excitement in India. However, they can't just shift overnight - so what better defense than to have this negative image of India. They may not do it consciously, but without their knowledge they keep reinforcing this negative image because it makes them feel that they have done the right thing by moving abroad.