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The Rediff Interview/Professor Vamsee Juluri

October 23, 2003


It is what made Vamsee Juluri travel from San Francisco to Hyderabad.

The professor of media studies at the University of San Francisco was so intrigued by the sudden transformation in India's young people who watched MTV and Channel [V] that he spent three years researching its impact for a book.

Juluri grew up in India during the 1980s when government-run Doordarshan was the only television channel. The satellite boom in 1991 brought 70 channels into Indian homes.

His study into the cultural implications of media globalisation has been recorded in his book Becoming a Global Audience: Longing and Belonging in India Music Television.

Juluri's interaction with today's younger generation revealed interesting vignettes into their views on freedom, modernity, traditional values, love and personal dreams.

In an emailed interview with Senior Associate Editor Archana Masih, he said India's youth were international in some commendable ways, but also in some misinformed ways. Their openness to the emerging global culture was commendable, but they were misinformed in their sense of India's place in the world.

I understand you conducted three years of research on the youth in India. What was it about Indian youth that made you want to write a book on them?

Two issues, one personal, and the other, academic. As someone who grew up in India in the 1980s, I was deeply struck by the sudden transformation that began to take place in the country since 1991 because of economic liberalisation and the rise of satellite television.

It was like going from Krishi Darshan on DD to 70 channels of global television in the span of a few years. I was interested in knowing how the generation coming of age in the 1990s would deal with questions of tradition and modernity in a fast changing social setting.

The academic reason is I wanted to bring together during my PhD what had been two divergent streams in the field of media studies/mass communication research: international communication on the one hand, and audience studies on the other. This was necessary also because MTV/Channel [V] had confounded a simple assumption that globalisation meant Westernisation because of their localisation strategy.

To really understand the cultural implications of media globalisation, I felt I would have to conduct an indepth audience study.

How many youngsters did you meet? Did you find them mature? Were they clear headed about what they wanted from life?

I conducted nine indepth focus group interviews which were structured around the viewing and discussion of 4 to 5 video segments (Made in India etc). The participants ranged from their middle teens to early 30s, and were not necessarily the stereotypical picture of 'youth' one would get -- most of them were from fairly conservative middle class backgrounds and not necessarily party-hopping 'types.'

I felt they were mature and smart.

How big a problem is the 'parent factor' for today's youth? Do they believe their parents are more open? Can they cope with their parents' expectations? Do they have more freedom?

My data suggests that parents are a lot more open than one would imagine. The participants do acknowledge that they are often embarassed to watch certain programmes on television in front of their parents (not just MTV but sometimes also Indian film songs that have suggestive lyrics or images).

However, parents in general realise the new career pressures and personality pushes of the current climate, and are more open. My hypothesis about this acceptance is that it is the result of a clever marketing strategy by MTV/Channel [V] especially in the early days, when they tried to create a youth culture that would be 'cool' enough for the young, but not offensive for parents. (Channel [V] called itself a 'youth channel in attitude but a family channel in demographics').

To illustrate, whatever goes -- but dress it in a flag and it can be reclaimed as 'Indian.' 

Which cities did you visit for this research? What differences did you find say in the youth from Mumbai or Delhi or Bangalore?

Hyderabad, through and through. A vastly neglected city in much research, but many participants were non-locals -- either from other metros or even from villages.

What were the common traits in the youth that you met? How about youngsters from outside the metros? How different are they from city-bred youth?

The urban youth thought of globalisation in more consumer terms, but rural origin youth were more political and critical.

How did you choose the youth you wanted to meet? How different are the young people in their 30s from college-going youth? With greater economic spending and more glitzy places to hang out in they seem to be in the fast league. What is it that drives them? They surely are getting and demanding more than just a good life and comfort.

I would say they chose me!

One difference between teenagers and the 30 somethings was that the teenagers are a lot more self-conscious about their likes and dislikes, particularly in relation to television. Also, the music tastes were different, with the teenagers being more into pop and the older participants more interested in classical, world music, etc.

A report in The Telegraph said you felt that Indian culture and ethos had been shaken up, if not undermined, by channels like MTV. What does that mean? How has Indian culture and ethos been shaken up? In what way? Any examples?

My conclusions about the whole study are that the media have essentially coopted a popular Indian sentiment/value system (that we often saw in relation to mythological stories as well as some of the older Indian films) about relationships, family,
and identity to support an emerging misperception about what it means to be a young Indian in an emerging global context. 

The participants' values are commendable, but the images on music television they identify with are not -- I critique the pervasive trend of 'self-exoticisation' on music television throughout the book -- whether it is pictures of poorer people on
countdown shows (like the now gone Public Demand) or Western fantasies about India (snakecharmers and animals on Made in India).

What cultural values have been shaken up or undermined? What liberties have these channels taken, and at what cost? Is this phenomenon limited to the metros or does it extend to smaller towns as well?

I talk about the notion of an 'epistemic shift' in my book -- the change really is not superficial, but in the 'ways we know.'  I argue that the big change is in the terms of self-definition.

For example, before the 1990s, one did not have to advertise or publicly proclaim one's national loyalties -- now it seems that unless one does so (by consuming 'tricolor cocktails' on August 15, for instance) or such one becomes suspect.

The changes in smaller towns is indeed present, but it is more indirect, and less visible than in the metros.

During your meetings, what were some pointers indicating the lifestyle changes taking place in India?

Too broad :) I did not get too much information on lifestyle changes, since my study was more on reception and knowledge systems used in reception. But there was some sense that there was a lot more television in peoples' lives than in the past.

What is their take on family values and what are their views on sex? Are they very materialistic?

Surprisingly, not so! I felt that they had a uniquely positive attitude to family; both traditional and cosmopolitan in the best senses of both terms.

Is dating widely prevelant among them? What is their idea of love?

For a few people, yes. Their ideas about love came through a great deal when we were discussing Made in India. They believe that love is about 'character' and not about one's place, background, race, job etc. They also believe India is famous for its strong respect for such values.

In your assessment how international is India's youth? Are their heroes international rather than Indian?

They are international in some commendable, but also in some misinformed ways. What is commendable is their openness to the emerging global culture. But what is misinformed is their sense of India's place in the world -- one popular myth I found was the belief that globalisation had essentially made India a global cultural superpower -- particularly the assumption that the rest of the world was watching the same MTV etc that they had in India

What are their biggest concerns? Are their concerns international rather than Indian? What is it that bothers them
most about the motherland? Do they have ideas to address these concerns?

My study was in the middle 1990s. There was a sense that everything was changing, and that television was both a source and an effect of that change. Concerns really seemed to be about careers more than anything else. 

Are they obsessed with making a life outside India? How do  they view their country? What does patriotism mean to them?

Very few of them were obsessed about leaving the country -- patriotism to them meant, not 'official' duties, but popular sentiments ('dil,' many said). Good values etc.

What were your experiences while researching the book? Did you enjoy it?

Thoroughly. It was challenging because of the vast complexities of the changes involved that I was trying to understand, and also about negotiating the demands of what was happening on the ground as well as the demands of the US academy.

Main Image: Jewella C Miranda. Design: Uday Kuckian


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