Excerpts from Words, Sounds, Images – The History of Media and Entertainment in India by Amit Khanna
The 1990s, in more ways than one, was a defining decade for the entire world. The longdrawn-out Cold War came to an end as Mikhail Gorbachev brought perestroika and glasnost to the Soviet Union. Once the Berlin Wall crumbled in 1989, a wave of change swept across the Eastern Bloc and a new order began to emerge in Europe. Nelson Mandela, the South African leader and champion of the anti-apartheid movement, was freed after twenty-seven years in jail. A fierce war broke out in the Gulf when Iraq invaded Kuwait, becoming the first televised war in history. In Britain, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was replaced by John Major after years and Bill Clinton became the president of the USA. There were regime changes in many other countries as well and a move towards détente and democracy.
1990s was not only the last decade of the century but of the millennium.
These years faced both a digital storm and a global economic crisis. There was political turmoil in South America (Nicaragua, Chile and Haiti), Europe (Poland, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia) and the Middle East (Gaza, Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan). The digital era arrived towards the end of the millennium as analogue minds grappled with economic challenges. The first cloned mammal, a sheep named Dolly, was born. Viagra, a sexual stimulant, was introduced. The race to outer space quickened and the Hubble telescope was launched into space. The World Wide Web was created. Email became popular and the first email services such as Yahoo!, Hotmail and Google, as well as websites like Amazon and eBay were launched. Microsoft-Windows and a new, rejuvenated Apple started a fresh bout of war to gain dominance in the space of computers. Mobile telephony was now available throughout the world. For the first time, handheld devices connected hundreds of millions of people across geographies 24×7.
Cable TV was the new global force in media. Round-the-clock news altered forever the way people consumed current affairs. Time magazine— and its associates—and Warner Brothers combined to create the largest media company in the world, Time Warner. Rupert Murdoch extended his media empire all over the world, as did Japanese media and electronics giant Sony. Disney became a diversified media and entertainment company.
Popular American TV shows of the 1990s beamed in dozens of countries. They included soaps such as The Bold and the Beautiful, Beverly Hills, Mr. Bean, Larry King Live, The X Files, Friends, The Simpsons, Seinfeld, Frasier and ER. Hollywood expanded its global footprint. Titanic (1997) turned out to be the biggest blockbuster movie of all time, collecting over US$2 billion worldwide. Other Hollywood hits included Home Alone (1990), Star Wars Episode 1—The Phantom Menace (1999), Forrest Gump (1994), Jurassic Park (1993) and animation films The Lion King (1994) and Toy Story (1995). Among the critically acclaimed films were Hoop Dreams (1994), Pulp Fiction (1994), Goodfellas (1990), Fargo (1996), Three Colors Trilogy (Blue , White , Red ), Schindler’s List (1993), Breaking the Waves (1996), Leaving Las Vegas (1995), Malcolm X (1992) and JFK (1991). In pop music, MC Hammer, Sinead O’Connor, Britney Spears, Jon Bon Jovi and Spice Girls topped the charts. Fast-food chains such as McDonalds, Pizza Hut and Starbucks expanded to many countries. In fashion, denim was once again the fabric of the decade. 1990s styles included black leggings paired with oversized sweaters, low heels, flannel shirts, T-shirts, sweatpants, flowing skirts, turtlenecks, sports shoes and flip-flops.
India faced ten years of political ups and downs. Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated in 1991 in Sriperumbudur near Chennai by supporters of the Sri Lankan Tamil rebel organization, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Terrorism raised its ugly head in Kashmir once again and the Babri Masjid demolition in December 1992 created a sharp communal divide. Communalriots— like in Bombay in 1992-93 – erupted at regular intervals all over India. Riding a rightist wave, Atal Bihari Vajpayee led the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to power at the Centre in 1996, only to bow out in less than two weeks. The BJP, however, returned in 1998 and remained in power for a full term.
Ambitious and encyclopaedic in scope, this is a firstof- its-kind book that presents the history of media and entertainment in India – from the times of the Indus Valley Civilization right up to the twenty-first century. The book starts with an examination of the origins, looking at a wide array of aspects such as: the state of entertainment during Harappan and Vedic times, including details from the Natyashastra; the early drama, music and dance of Kalidasa; the development of ragas; musical instruments and early folk traditions; the genesis of classical dance forms; developments through the ages, including in the Mughal period, in the southern kingdoms, in the north-east, and under the Marathas and the British. Independence onwards, the book takes a decadewise look at the evolution of newspapers, cinema, music, television, dance, theatre and radio. The author, himself a film producer, director and lyricist who has worked in the entertainment industry all his life, brings his unique perspective to bear on the subject. This pioneering work is a must-read not just for the students and practitioners of the arts and media but also for their lay consumers. Publisher: Harper Collins India
Pages: 952 pages
Price: Rs. 1449
Under P. V. Narasimha Rao’s premiership, Finance Minister Manmohan Singh unleashed India’s most substantive economic reforms since Independence, again in 1991. The old Nehruvian socialism was discarded, leading to a pragmatic opening-up of the economy. It was the beginning of the dismantling of the Licence Raj. From a land of scarcity, India took the first steps towards becoming a nation of abundance. Fast food, colas, chocolates, ice creams and instant noodles were the favourite of the youth.
In sports, cricketer Sachin Tendulkar was the new icon and Viswanathan Anand the first Indian world chess champion, while Leander Paes made his Davis Cup debut.
The advent of satellite TV brought with it multiple channels. Zee TV became
the first homegrown private channel. Faced with competition, Doordarshan opened its doors to private productions as time slots were auctioned. It also launched the DD Metro channel. By the mid-’90s, India had two dozen satellite channels. Zee TV, Star Plus, ATN, Sun TV, Gemini TV, Udaya TV, Sony, MTV, ESPN, BBC, CNN and Doordarshan and its Metro channel were all keenly watched by millions of Indians. Almost every town in India had miles of cables strung across streets as cable TV made its unorganized entry. Local cable operators began delivering pirated films to cabled homes. The media boom had begun and ad spends zoomed up. News television produced its own stars and journalists like Rajat Sharma, Rajdeep Sardesai and Barkha Dutt became household names. The coalition government led by the BJP went on to further liberalize media and communication in the country in the late 1990s.
Mobile phones came to India in the mid-1990s and, in less than ten years, completely altered the state of communications in the country. Maruti, in collaboration with Suzuki, changed the way Indians commuted. Suddenly there was a choice of cars you could drive. Ready-to-wear clothes became popular as several home-grown brands sprang up.
The Indian IT industry began its roller-coaster ride to global prominence as Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), Infosys, Wipro and HCL became the new leaders in providing outsourced workforce to the world. Stock markets ere the preferred investment option for the new middle-class Indians as more and more companies listed on the bourses, Harshad Mehta, Ketan Parekh and other securities scams notwithstanding. Credit cards and home and auto loans transformed the lives of the middle class. Foreign travel was no longer the preserve of the rich.
There was a substantial growth in print media as many newspapers, especially regional ones, started new editions. The film industry, too, started its metamorphosis. Sooraj Barjatya, Aditya Chopra and Karan Johar brought new-age romance to the big screen. The first multiplex, PVR, appeared in Delhi and satellite TV rights of movies fetched exorbitant amounts. FM radio expanded as licences to run local stations were auctioned. Private FM stations finally went on air in the 1990s, immediately catching listener attention with their snappy jock talk and latest music.
Amitabh Bachchan started the high-profile ABCL entertainment company. Others too started similar enterprises—Ronnie Screwvala’s UTV, Raghav Bahl’s TV18, Harish Thawani’s Nimbus, Subhash Ghai’s Mukta Arts, Sri Adhikari Brothers and Manmohan Shetty’s Adlabs. Corporatization entered showbiz as industry bodies such as FICCI and CII began to take interest in this high-potential sector.
For me, it was the beginning of twenty-five years of a hectic and eventful professional life across the entire gamut of media and entertainment as I launched Plus Channel, India’s first media and entertainment conglomerate, with friends
The three Khans—Salman, Shah Rukh and Aamir—ruled the silver screen. Aishwarya Rai not only became Miss World but a huge Bollywood star, too. Madhuri Dixit and Kajol were the other female heartthrobs. A. R. Rahman brought a fresh sound to Hindi film music. Filmmakers like Mira Nair, Deepa Mehta, Ashok Amritraj, Shekhar Kapur and Manoj Night Shyamalan made waves in Hollywood. Big stage events and concerts finally came to India as event managers Wizcraft, Showtime and DNA brought international acts to perform here. Relaxation in foreign investment policy led the way for several large global giants like Sony, Disney, Fox, CNN, MTV and CNBC opening subsidiaries in India.
In 1999, India decisively defeated Pakistan in what is known as the Kargil
war on the northwestern border. A brave, new and confident India presented itself at Davos and other international forums.
For me, it was the beginning of twenty-five years of a hectic and eventful professional life across the entire gamut of media and entertainment as I launched Plus Channel, India’s first media and entertainment conglomerate, with friends.
(Courtesy: Harper Collins India)