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Sunday, January 21

A Cocktail of Alleged Racism, Engineered TRPs and Resurgent Pride

Read this analysis by Vir Sanghvi of HT(Hindustan Times) in his Sunday column. I find him amongst the best planners(Indian) outside the advertising space. With decades of journalistic world-view, a well-travelled mind and a liberal POV, I love to see the world through his sharp lens.

This morning's analysis was on the Big Brother/Shilpa Shetty fracas! Was in two minds whether to write on it. But then John's(Grant) post on the subject made up my decision:-)

Below is a mish-mash of Sanghvi's opinions and my thoughts on the subject.

1. Sanghvi - "Lets not pretend the fracas is because Indians(in general) are concerned with racism in England. They can burn down an entire block of flats in the East End of London without a single educated Indian giving a damn about all the poor displaced Bengalis. They can beat up hapless Gujarati children in Leicester and it won't even make it to the Indian papers. Compared to the kind of racism that Asians in Britain sometimes have to face, the Big Brother abuse is kid stuff!"

myTake - Was not really aware of the extent of racism prevalent in Britain. In the wake of the Big Brother hue and cry, many skeletons are tumbling out of the closet.
But agree with Vir, Shilpa's case appears to be one of 'designed racism'- made-to-order for reality TV fare!!

2. Sanghvi - "The real reason we(read middle class India) are so shocked is because Shilpa Shetty is not a British Asian. She is one of us. And each time her housemates call her names, the slurs tap into the collective insecurities and resentments of English-speaking India."

myTake - Sanghvi has got it bang-on. This controversy(I can only pontificate on the Indian side of it) has little to do with racism in Britain. For glued-to-prime-time-TV-middle-class-India, the abuse comes at a time of resurgent pride and sundry accolades from the world. Calling names at a time of 'booming economy' and the season of great self-congratulation. And that's where it hurts middle class India.

3. Sanghvi - "Each abuse brings back memories of having to stand in immigration queues at Heathrow or JFK, never quite sure of how the official behind the desk will behave; of applying for visas and having to prove that we are not going to become waiters in some Southall curry shop"

myTake - Well, haven't been to the UK; so can't comment on the immigration queues and the sore points raised.4. Sanghvi - "This episode reminds us of the awkwardness we feel each time we meet a Brit or an American and they tell us they can't understand what we are saying because our accent is too strange; of the abuse the young people who work in our call-centres have to face when Americans realise they have been connected to Gurgaon or Bangalore.

myTake - Fortunately, in my limited interaction with Brits and Americans have never faced such a problem. However, am aware of the abuse faced by the BPO industry. But my guess is those incidents are few that are generally blown out of proportion and context for political mileage. But they need to be condemned nevertheless.

5. Sanghvi - "And at some subliminal level, memories of the Raj have been burnt into our DNA. We remember the era of Whites-only clubs, of having to defer to some British half-wit even though we speak his language so much more fluently than he ever will, and of sadly recognising that no matter how well we do, the white man will always think that he is better simply because he is white and we are not."

myTake - I was born into Independent India. So I don't quite have the Raj memories. But while growing up was acutely aware of the disparity between the 'First and the Third' worlds. And while Sanghvi is at his vitriolic best, a lot of his sentiments are sadly true. The furore in much of Europe over LN Mittal's take-over of Arcelor had less to do with commerce and more to do with the colour of his skin!
So, yes I agree with Vir, the Big Brother reaction is a cumulative reaction of a simmering middle class.

6. Sanghvi - "Over the last decade we have told ourselves that India is the flavour of the new century. And then suddenly we see one of our better actresses, being humiliated by white trash. When we(middle class India) take up for Shilpa, we are responding to centuries of humiliation and hurt. We are serving notice that the old days are gone and done with. This is the new India. And we don't take this kind of crap any longer."

myTake - But for the fact that this particular episode was engineered for TRPs, the lead victim has been paid a whopping Rs. 3.5cr, I agree with Sanghvi's observation.
A sharp back-lash from resurgent India was bound to happen sooner than later. This media blown event just proved to be the right trigger.

7. Sanghvi - "The Indian reaction is not about racism. It's about Nationalism. About our coming of age as a country. About a new pride in ourselves. Within a month the Big Brother controversy will be forgotten. But am glad it happened. It told us something about ourselves. And more important, it told the world that the new India will not allow itself to be messed with."

myTake - Yes, indeed this is not about racism. Indians, themselves are fairly racist!It's about the pride of being Indian. And its getting manifested through Bollywood - "Rang De Basanti' is a story of a Nation awakened; mass media(TV channels and newspapers are running sundry campaigns to celebrate 'Rising India'. And everywhere its this constant chant of 'India Shining'.

Of course this resurgence story is the story of just one amongst the many Indias. But this is the dominant India that's young, has money, goes to the malls, buys foreign brands, spends more than saves and watches reality TV.

As I said, this game is a heady cocktail of alleged racism, engineered TRPs & glocal non-events, big moolah for marketers and resurgent pride among the wallet-heavy middle class India:-)

3 comments:

FiNK said...

v interesting post manish.. really enjoyed this one. usually find vir sanghvi a bit full of himself but he does come up with interesting POVs now n then.

I think the reason the BB shilpa episode hits us so much is coz we're the new india - agree with you, we dont have hangovers of colonial memories but we do have a strong image of the way we want to be percieved now & we're proud of what we are... its the .. main kissi se kam nahin... that we have in us i feel, almost defensive.. you wanna make sthg of it?! which is why, for an educated urbane indian a silly little chav like Jade goody calling us paki dogs.. hits a buried touchpoint. Aah.. but the cynic marketeer in me sees the end purpose and i wonder if we're all getting wound up pointlessly...

Manish said...

agree with you completely on vir being a lil full:-)

its just another case of tamasha TV!!

harshalg said...

Actually Vir Sanghavi's food writing is quite a pleasure to read. As are some of his edits.

I've just picked up a copy of Rude Food because of his Brunch column and find it hilarious - in the Bourdain vein, sanitised for our own sensibilities. He is, after all, a nice gujarati gent.