December 01, 2016

India: For a pop culture expression of resurgent Hinduism, turn to Hindi TV channels

The Indian Express

Telescope: Where the gods dazzle
For a pop culture expression of resurgent Hinduism, turn to Hindi channels.

Written by Shailaja Bajpai | Updated: December 1, 2016 12:06 am

Since everyone else is talking about demonetisation, let’s talk of other things. For instance, are you even aware of the number of new Hindi regional news channels now available on your DTH server or cable system? News channels, perhaps serving their individual regions earlier, now show up on your menu: India Watch, Janta TV, News World India, Live Today UP, KNews, JK 24×7, News 11, News State UP/UK (Uttarakhand not the United Kingdom), India News MP and Chhattisgarh, Samay Rajasthan, MP and Bihar, UP Live, etcetra, etcetra.

No wonder we have 400+ news channels in this country. And many of them belong to the same stable: ETV has a pan India footprint with news channels in different languages — something Samay, for instance, emulates. Cannot comment on the journalistic quality of these channels but they are playing, and will play, an increasingly important role in delivering news and views in the Hindi heartland — where many states are due to hold assembly elections by 2018. Watch the UP/Uttarakhand ones closely for the next few months as the two states go to the polls; they will carry more news and debates, rallies and speeches than any of the “national” news channels.

They are also devoted to non-news news: The body build-up of Aamir Khan for his latest film was the subject of intense scrutiny, Tuesday night, on several of them — for example, News India, India News. The latter looked at how Adnan Sami, Anant Ambani and Arjun Kapoor won the battle of the bulge with photographs to illustrate their bodylines. In an aside, Aamir was asked about demonetisation which he wisely ducked, saying only that he hoped it would not affect Dangal.

Another trend: The number of mythological, historicals across general entertainment channels. If we were looking for a pop culture expression of the rise of resurgent Hinduism with the success of the BJP, it is here, it is here. Some examples: Santoshi Ma (& TV), Chandra Nandini (Star Plus), Karmafal Daata Shani (Colors), Jai Jai Jai Bajarangbali (Big Magic), Sankat Mochan Mahabali Hanuman (Sony) and Devlok with Devdutt Pattanaik (EPIC) in which Pattanaik explains the epics — on Monday, he spoke of Karn and his mother Kunti before he goes to battle.

Forget about the content — which is quite evident from the names — and admire the sets instead. In Shani, nothing is smaller than a kingdom — or so it seems — ergo, Surya’s palace, abode, the likes of which you have never seen before — ornate, cavernous, lit up with the light of the world. And the costumes are of so much gold, they should be surrendered to the RBI forthwith. You are so bedazzled, you almost miss Shani’s stout defence of his mother and by extension, of women (Friday).

And then, of course, there are the snakes. Or series based on the supernatural inspired by myth. None more so than Naagin (Colors), currently the top-rated series. Don’t even go into the plot, it is too confusing and you’re not really meant to go there. It’s the snakes and serpents and giant flies — computer graphic wonders of the world — the extraordinary evil which resides in the human heart, plus what one of the characters defines as “overacting ki dukaan’,” that will leave you in shock and awe.

The gods are present in many other soaps too, often playing a defining role. In Yeh Vaada Raaha (Zee), as Tai mercilessly scythes Survi, Ganesha is repeatedly shown to be standing between Tai and Survi’s death. Unfortunately, Tai — the most villainous-looking female you have encountered recently on TV — succeeds and Survi dies, leaving behind her mentally-challenged husband, Kartik and daughter Kushi. But, Ganesha is still very much in the picture.

Now, if only he or the other gods could solve the currency crisis.