Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Losing Yourself in Music: MTV Has Been "Indianised"-But Is It Still an American Brand at Heart? Emily Jeal Investigates

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Losing Yourself in Music: MTV Has Been "Indianised"-But Is It Still an American Brand at Heart? Emily Jeal Investigates

Article excerpt

The offices of MTV India in south Mumbai seem to embody the fusion of local and international culture on which MTV prides itself. Huge posters of American pop stars such as Britney Spears and Prince jostle for space alongside cardboard cut-outs of Bollywood film stars. Hindi music plays loudly and there is even a statue of the Hindu god Ganesh. But is everything as harmonious as it seems?

I came to Mumbai to investigate the impact of MTV around the world for the BBC World Service. MTV India is one of the most successful global channels, and I wanted to find out whether it reflects the growing confidence of a changing India, or the country's Americanisation.

When MTV launched in India in 1996, five years after economic liberalisation, it transmitted the usual western brand of pop and lifestyle shows. The channel was a flop. It was forced to "Indianise", and relaunched in 1997 with Indian presenters and a high proportion of Hindi music. Ashish Patil, who oversees creative content, argues that his network has embraced Indian tastes such as Bollywood music. He says it has played a crucial part in "making desi cool"--by desi he means Indian identity. "People are proud to be Indian," he says. "It's no longer about a T-shirt that says 'I love New York'. It's about a T-shirt that says 'I love Cochin', or 'I love Kerala'."

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This view is not without its critics. "It's like putting a potato patti in a hamburger and saying it's 'desified' the hamburger," says the novelist and journalist Shobha De. "It's about as real, tasty and appetising as that." Niti Sampat, a professor of media in the English department of St Xavier's College, Mumbai, agrees. "The way we look at ourselves in India is very derivative, and this is reflected by MTV. It is an American presenting style we have appropriated. …

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