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A Transition Illuminated


Ipsita Sahu

UNDERSTANDING INDIA: CULTURAL INFLUENCES ON INDIAN TELEVISION COMMERCIALS
By Rohitashya Chattopadhyay
Sage Publications, New Delhi, 2014, pp. 192, Rs. 695.00

VOLUME XXXIX NUMBER 2 February 2015

Chattopadhyay’s book provides an interesting research intervention in the field of visual and television study as well as in the general understanding of an image world which was a precursor to the current digital context of consumerism. It illuminates after all the crucial moment of post liberalization, a transition period, during which the chaos of new ideas, subjectivities, and a changing urban materiality was being churned out at the very point of origin in the world of advertisement, and presented back to the viewer for interpretation. Pointing at the sudden significance of commercials post liberalization, with the increase of satellite cable television channels and coming in of multinational brands, in contrast to cinema which served as the earlier popular vehicle of modernity during, before and after Independence, the book deftly demonstrates how commercials in the contemporary time stood at the helm of negotiating this transition in 1990s India from a receding socialism to advanced capitalism. Understanding India Cultural Influences on Indian Television Commercials provides a fairly comprehensive insight into the world of Indian television commercial in the period of the 1990s. As pointed out by the author, the strength of this study lies mainly in its methodological approach bringing in ethnographic study and detailed micro analysis not only of the textual but also production history of a series of Indian commercials showing the stratums through which different questions and aspects of Indian identity is addressed. The chapters are thus divided based on the diverse tropes and subjects of the commercials such as changing feminine identity, sports and nationhood, global vs local and regional identity or the integration of the rural and the urban. The book’s unifying theme in remains the manner in which a certain ‘Indianess’ is imagined, constructed, performed and lived through these commercials and the rise and socialization of a consumer society.  The thematic, as well as visual rhetoric of the commercial is shown to weave in a complex and layered message to seduce the viewer within a short duration, and triggering his or her aspirational desires for upward mobility linked with consumption and globalism. For this purpose the commercials mobilize already existing norms, rituals, sentiments and iconic cultural themes such as the wedding, mother-daughter icon, cricket, and popular film stars. At the same time the presence and influence of shooting methods is analysed by the author as crucial visual communication tools to address the spectator ...


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