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Assessing the Indian TV Juggernaut

Roshni Sengupta

By Nalin Mehta
HarperCollins, Delhi, 2015, pp. 312, Rs. 524.00


Since the advent of television in India the number of licensed television sets in India grew from 55 in 1964 to a lakh in 1975 and to just over two million connections in 1982; in 1991 a total of thirty-four million families owned television sets, growing to 65% of the Indian popula­tion owning television sets by 2014—the so­cietal and political landscape has transformed quite dramatically. As India changed, the im­plications of the spread of television, be it the number of channels, content and qual­ity of programming, or the technological revolution that set in motion the introduc­tion of satellite television, began to herald new insights into a radically charged, tran­sient society. The fact that television touches the lives of almost every Indian makes it a medium that is both revolutionary in na­ture and sublime in character. Nalin Mehta’s new book Behind a Billion Screens: What Tele­vision Tells Us About Modern India not only attempts to track this mammoth transition but also delves into the depths of the preci­pice to unearth the innate causes and rea­sons for the ever-booming satellite television industry in India. In 2001, Robin Jeffrey1 had written about regional language newspapers being the vital hinges on which the nation as a whole was supported. Aswin Punathambekar and Shanti Kumar, in their volume titled Television at Large in South Asia (2013) em­phasized on television’s re-mediation of the public/private distinction in the South Asian context that lies at the heart of the under­standing of how television stages the mod­ern in the postcolonial context in particular, and television’s impact on the modern world in general. Mehta wrote about satellite tele­vision being not only a marker of the progress of the idea of India, but also being a funda­mental contributor to it in Television in In­dia (2008). In 2015, he makes giant strides into the heart of the matter and forwards a few seminal arguments about the rise, con­solidation and the inimical nature of televi­sion programming in a largely middle-class, upwardly mobile society aspiring to jump cut into the league of developed nations. In exploring four key themes—the im­pact of the ‘business’ of television on the ‘con­tent’, regulations and its frameworks, pub­lic broadcasting and its rather neglected na­ture, and the speculative future of television based on the rapid success of digitization fa­cilitated primarily by TV ...

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