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Assessing the Indian TV Juggernaut


Roshni Sengupta

BEHIND A BILLION SCREENS: WHAT TELEVISION TELLS US ABOUT MODERN INDIA
By Nalin Mehta
HarperCollins, Delhi, 2015, pp. 312, Rs. 524.00

VOLUME XXXIX NUMBER 7 July 2015

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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