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Made for a young India

March 30, 2006 14:35 IST

If the hits and misses of the cine and television world can be seen as providing an insight into the dreams and aspirations of the society at large, then I would confidently state that for India, the future has already "arrived"!

In recent years, a lot has been written and talked about how young India is with over 65% of its population below 35 years (i.e. almost 700 million) and almost half (i.e. over 500 million) below 25 years of age. One of the oldest civilisations on this planet is also demographically the youngest and will remain so for most of this century.

It is no surprise, therefore, to find movies such as

Rang De Basanti, Bunty Aur Babli, Salaam Namaste, and even Bluffmaster amongst the biggest hits of recent times. All have themes with a heady appeal to many of these young Indians, now increasingly in the majority.

Before I write about the aspirations of the young India, it would be interesting to reflect on what exactly the identity of a young Indian is today. I would like to hypothesise that slowly, but very steadily, a transformation is taking place in this identity.

In the millenniums of the past, an Indian's identity was determined more by his/her family, caste, community, religion, place of birth, occupation, and the socio-economic strata. This is now giving way -- very visibly -- to a new multi-faceted identity that has very distinct contours.

Cynics may argue that this is true only for a very small fraction of the society, but that is not the case -- there are over 9 million young Indians in the age group 12-25 belonging to the SEC A&B strata in the top 35 cities, who are the trendsetters for the other hundreds of millions and hence in the next few years, most of India will reflect this change.

Coming back to the new facets of the young Indian, the most interesting one is "me and my dreams." This is manifest by way of an increased confidence and optimism in one's ability and heightened aspirations and keener desire to succeed, whichever way.

Studies after studies have shown that the new icons are those who have succeeded, be it in business or sports or profession (e.g. Dhirubhai Ambani and Narayana Murthy, Shahrukh Khan and Preity Zinta, M S Dhoni and Sania Mirza, Prannoy Roy and Barkha Dutt, or for that matter -- even Bunty and Babli believing that the ends justify the means). From "me", the identity is dramatically transcending the caste, community, and regional considerations to just being an "Indian."

Older-generation politicians are now finding it more difficult to practise the divisive politics that yielded results for them in earlier days. The new young Indian is proud to be one, and is quite comfortable being one.

Hence, she is as happy with a Haldiram as with MacDonald's, Fabindia and Esprit, Harry Potter and Hanuman, and MTV and Aastha.

Yet another very distinct facet is now an emerging "western / global" Indian. With ubiquitous real time electronic connectivity and a growing personal exposure to the rest of the world, through professional and leisure travel, in many ways the new young India is already more aligned to the West than it may appear on the surface.

I believe that despite geographically residing in Asia, many young Indians think more Western European and American (and by extension, Australia and New Zealand) rather than Japan or China or the Middle East. Some of the values that they cherish (of the West) include the freedom to think, speak, and act.

It is no surprise that a Zara or a Gap is more aspirational than a Giordano or a Bossini (both from Hong Kong), and European football league/ Formula 1 finding an ever increasing legion of followers in India.

In a way, the Amber and Nikhil (Nik) of Salaam Namaste provide them with close surrogates -- who run to Melbourne to follow their own dreams and live their life as they wish to.

Some of these "global" Indians already think in US dollars rather than Indian rupees, and are becoming more vocal about social issues, be it environment or justice, much the same way it is happening around the world these days.

This young India is already behaving in a very different way than their parents. They are earning younger, and working in myriad "new age" professions e.g. dance and fitness instructors, radio and TV jockeys, adventure tourism, cooking, grooming, counselling besides, of course, retail and IT and other emerging sectors. They are highly networked, and net/blog savvy, with a more open lifestyle having a "live and let live" philosophy.

Gaming, films, and hanging out are their top three "leisure" activities. I can also say with confidence that this phenomenon is not limited only to the top few cities in India. Else, we would not have a Munaf Patel or a Rajpal Yadav making it big, Café Coffee Day thriving now in more than 61 cities across India, and the starry eyed from the Rohtaks of Haryana and the Bareillys of UP hitting the ramps and the big screen!

If this is true, then the "old" India (as well those entering India now) must accept this inevitability, and therefore "adapt" rather than "impose." It must start thinking "young" and "contemporary." It should change its "own" mindset, and break its "self-imposed" rules. In short, it must invent "for" India and reinvent "in" India!

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Arvind Singhal