The first time Siddharth Bhowmik used the word ‘sexy’, he was four years old. He’d heard it in the infamous Bollywood song of the same name, featuring Karisma Kapoor.
“His granny told him it meant ‘someone who looks nice’,” says Siddharth’s mother Radha (56).
“Tu kitni sexy hai (You are so sexy),” he said to the neighbour’s daughter the next day, hoping to try out his new word and make a friend.
It took a lot of explaining from his parents — to him and the neighbour — to finally put the matter to rest.
Siddharth is now 22, and he and his family are part of an apparently massive group of Indians that thinks the TV, films and Internet are bringing immoral and un-Indian influences into the home.
About 79 per cent — even in the metros — are apprehensive about the influence of the media, an HT-CNN-IBN poll has found. And the concerns aren’t always about the sex and violence.
“TV has brought about a major lifestyle change,” says Siddharth. “As kids, we would be out playing all day. Now there are XBoxes and PlayStations. Kids don’t want to play outside anymore. They don’t know any better, and they have the most to lose.”
The Bhowmiks are the typical upper-middle class Pune family: Mother Radha helped out in the family business till her children were born; father Amit practices criminal and corporate law. The late grandmother, Usha, had a PhD in English and was three-term senate member of the University of Mumbai.
And the kids — Ramola (23) and Siddharth — are lawyer and engineering student respectively.
The youngsters have Facebook profiles and surf the Net. But with reservations. “I’m definitely concerned about content,” says Ramola. “I can’t watch half the programmes on TV with my parents. And how do you explain some of the love-making scenes to kids?”
Amit (60) says the influence is more than un-Indian. “It is truly the idiot box and it’s affecting children’s IQ. It’s also blocking communication in the home, even disintegrating the family.”
About 100 km away, in a spacious, airy two-bedroom flat in upscale Breach Candy, TV is not much of a threat to the Jalans.
“We have all the cable channels. I think we have a set-top box or whatever…” says Varun (21), lounging on a couch, reading a book. “But TV’s not intellectual enough.”
Varun’s parents, Kiran (45) and Anup (45), nudged him and his brother Gaurav (22) towards more intellectual and cultural pursuits, like chess and classical music.
Gaurav is now at Carnegie Mellon studying computer science. Varun is headed to Columbia University, also in the US.
“Programmes like Sach Ka Saamna and even the saas-bahu serials are definitely un-Indian,” says Kiran, who also worked in the family exports business till her children were born. “Faith is being lost in every home and TV is affecting our traditional family values.”
Husband Anup (45), a techie who works with Future Group, feels the media poses a bigger threat to young minds.
“It offers a biased, single view — everybody shouting about whatever is most popular at the time,” he says. “There is no sense of balance. It doesn’t help develop overall life values, as real interaction with real people would. It’s all about sensation and glamour.”
Gita Chadha, sociologist and associate professor at Russell Square International College, Mumbai, says she’s not really surprised at the way they feel — or the findings of the survey.
“This happens every time we go through a transition. It happened before Independence, as we sought to redefine ourselves, and it’s happening again as we move towards a globalised, corporate economy.”
Chadha says the sense of a loss of morality and identity are almost universal concerns.
“In India, this manifests itself as a perceptible threat to what is seen as Indian culture by the middle-class,” she says. “But the West is as concerned about the ‘loss of morality’ as we are.”
Nearly 2,000 km away, in rural Purnia in Bihar, cable TV and films offer this largely agrarian town’s 19 lakh people a window to the world — the only window for most residents.
And it’s the reality shows that excite them the most.
“These shows have helped rekindle a hope in those who feel trapped in the backwaters of Bihar,” says Sneha, an 18-year-old studying computer applications. Her friends seem a little startled by her candour, and she recants a bit. “Some of the shows should be censored,” she says. “They make a mockery of morality.”
Most of the boys and girls at her college, Millia Institute of Technology, admit they love the shows, but are quick to add that they would never watch them with their parents.
“We know our parents see wrong in them,” says civil engineering student Mohammed Jilani (20).
In the students’ clothes are signs of the stars they would like to emulate — dupattas tossed carelessly, pretending to be scarves; long kurtis masquerading as T-shirts.
“Yes, we want both money and fame… and there’s nothing wrong with a reality show that provides us with a platform,” says Sonu Kumar (19).
Writer and historian Dr R. Prasad (75), who now lives in Purnia, is concerned that the youngsters are losing touch with reality.
“One in a million may perhaps have some fleeting stardom on a reality show,” he says. “And yet they all chase the dream. They know nothing about farming and crops. Their minds have been corrupted.”
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