A Family Drama: Television and the fight for the national family

Curator's Note

Over the past two decades, the landscape of television in India has shifted from one dominated by state-regulated Doordarshan to an increasingly fragmented environment in which numerous transnational (Star Plus, for e.g.) and translocal (SUN TV, for e.g.) channels compete for attention. In a post-Doordarshan world, success has been defined by carving up Doordarshan’s “national family” into a number of identifiable and marketable units – youth, children, women, and so on. In many ways, this is hardly surprising. However, in an environment in which every major television channel is scrambling to devise further levels of differentiation (AXN’s “elite weekends,” for e.g.), it is surprising to learn about a new channel – NDTV Imagine, launched in January 2008 – that positions itself as TV that will cater to the “6-69” demographic and re-unite the “national family.” As Sameer Nair, the CEO, announced, “NDTV Imagine heralds the return of the General Entertainment Channel, the return of family entertainment for the entire family…bringing the entire family together to watch television.” At first glance, and as several trade analysts noted, this does seem like a smart branding tactic. As the NDTV news reporter in the video suggests, perhaps the nation is tired of watching conniving mothers-in-law and extramarital flings and ready for other stories. But as I see it, the real story about NDTV’s imagination of the “national family” emerges only when we pay attention to NDTV Imagine’s brand ambassador, Karan Johar. A Bollywood filmmaker who has been responsible for redefining the “national family” with immensely popular diaspora-centric narratives, Karan Johar offers us a glimpse into how the “national family” is being re-imagined. At a launch party, Johar announced: everyone is saying that India is on its way to becoming a superpower. But the one thing we need to keep in mind is India’s biggest strength: family. And this will be NDTV’s strength…NDTV Imagine will also be a family, a joyous and hope-filled family…a happy, positive, and real family. Karan Johar’s imagination allows us to consider how television channels’ branding strategies are caught up in broader struggles to define the “national family” in an age of globalization. In the Indian context, where a specific vision of “India Shining” has been aggressively marketed by a neo-liberal state with the help of media corporations, it is becoming increasingly difficult to carve out a space for other imaginations of the “national family.” For all their problems, I can’t help wondering if we’re better off with conniving mothers-in-law and their dysfunctional families than with Karan Johar’s “real,” positive, joyous, and shining families.


Aswin, I'll take the conniving mothers-in-law anyday. This is a really interesting piece and clip on NDTV and its attempts to brand a return to the national family, but the clips seem to suggest a national family that chooses to bracket and/or ignore the economic or social inequalities of globalization. NDTV seems to run counter to many of the filmic representations of the non-resident Indian and diaporic audience that circulated in the late 1990s-present that were focused on multiplying the number of family types that would count in Indian popular culture. By insisting on the dominance of the one TV set audience (one TV per household), NDTV still insists on a singular definition of family. How does NDTV make sense of this singular definition in the current economic climate? And how does Karan Johar rationalize being a part of this venture when so many of his films tried to articulate Indian patriotism with a range of diasporic experiences? On a side note, I think it's interesting that an A-list celeb like Johar is working on a project that seems so socially conservative - given his involvement with films like Khal Ho Naa Ho that likely will never be allowed to appear on NDTV.

Fabulous Aswin! This promo that celebrates family values as a soothing break seems to offer little drama that would entice viewers to tune in. This soothing positivity, cross-genre celebration of family just seems bland. As for you're reading of it--I'd rather tune in for that! Great piece.

Hi Aswin, Nice clip. I have been watching these promos on NDTV and am very curious about how the Karan Johar headed entertainment channel will shape the way we understand NDTV's politics. To an extent I think NDTV tries very consciously to present its viewers with some degree of "diversity" of coverage -- for example, i have not seen as many reports of South Indian cinema or South Indian actors on any other Indian satellite channel (available via Dish or DirectV) as I have seen on NDTV. And unlike Star' news "investigative" jounalism which is more about which Bollywood couple is breaking up (or not), NDTV tries to offer more thoughtful, critical news and commentary. In this context it would be interesting to see how the "family values"-based entertainment show shape up. And hey, let us not forget the diaspora market-- if Karan Johar is involved, can the diaspora be far behind? I wouldn't be surprised if we start getting NDTV entertainment channel pretty soon (before NDTV profit, which I think should be available in the near future). best, Madhavi

Ben - I agree, but I think we express surprise at a-list celebs' involvement in TV partly because we are yet to map and examine the many different links b/w film and TV culture. And let's not forget that karan johar's "koffee with karan" was one of the most popular talk shows for a while and that played a part in getting him roped into this venture. Madhavi - I agree that we need to understand this new venture in relation to NDTV's news channel and perhaps even NDTV Lumiere (the new cinema channel they've launched). I agree that with johar around, the shiny world of the diaspora can't be far behind and it would be important to track this and see what kind of a dent they make in ZEE, Star and Sony's audiences abroad.

Aswin, Johar & Rajshri - you have your Indian family there, or rather the 'ideal' Indian family (I wish I remembered some of those lines from K3G or HAHK that I could rattle off!) but club NDTV with them and suddenly, it becomes really interesting! After all, NDTV's been about Prannoy Roy, Barkha Dutt (yes, the Kargil coverage!) and Rajdeep Sardesai (before his defection to CNN-IBN)...and now, you have NDTV Imagine with KJo being on board, and yes, the huge Ramayan hoardings that were all over the place in Indian cities (I think the campaign was sometime in Dec-Jan). NDTV and Ramayan - that seems to be such implausible combo and yet... By the way, have you checked out the youtube videos on the Global Indian Television Awards (KJo + Balaji). One could almost be mistaken into thinking it's another Filmfare or Samsung Awards night...SRK at Telly Awards! But then, SRK seems to be the current fav...esp with the desi version of 'Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader?' coming up.

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