Book Review: Indian Mass Media and the Politics of Change

It has taken me some time to finish reading the assemblage book entitled Indian Mass Media and the Politics of Change. An overly long reading list has been haunting me for the past few months, but I was slow and self-indulgent as I read and re-read many sections of this insightful book which is path breaking in many ways. First, it is a unique collection which emanated from intense thinking and collaborative action; and second, given the fairly recent rise of Indian mass media (also applicable to South Asia in general) this is quite a seminal work of its kind.

Four comrades at the School of Oriental and African Sciences (SOAS) conceived this book around a collective they called Sacred Media Cow to make sense of the rising Indian mass media and its ubiquitous nature, its articulation of a middle class vision, and how through this process Indian nationalism was being redefined.

The four editors – Somnath Batabyal, Angad Chowdhry, Meenu Gaur and Matti Pohjoen – are also contributors to this volume; and have assembled an impressive array of essays which move from mass media, news channels, to mainstream and regional cinema arriving at the rise of digital cultures of India. Through the book, we view the reimagining of India as a ‘shining’ middle class dream using the popular media lens, which are both powerful and trans-national. That is why the last essay, a poignant piece by Naresh Fernandes, The Uncomfortable Truth behind the Corporate Media’s Imagination of India closes in the various debates.

Fernandes makes an unpopular (and increasingly ‘unpatriotic’) conclusion: that despite the shining India narratives, India remains a poor, developing country with myriad problems. Using the stories of a reputed journalist P Sainath, this essay looks at the ‘other’ India which the ‘hyperreal’ media has rendered invisible to provide a more palatable vision for its key corporate target – the middle classes. The conclusion of the essay is haunting as it cites the infamous TV commercial where the legendary actor Amitabh Bachchan indirectly blames the poor for “preventing India from realizing its true potential”. Pohjonen’s introduction also cites this memorable line from Sainath: “Evading reality helps no one…a society that does not know itself cannot cope.” […]