Originally an introverted game played in Britain and a few of her colonies, cricket has been commoditised and marketed to the maximum possible extent, aided among other factors by technology and epitomised by its latest incarnation Twenty20, write Sanjukta Dasgupta, Dipankar Sinha, and Sudeshna Chakravarti in Media, Gender, and Popular Culture in India: TrackingChange and Continuity ( www.sagepublications.com ).
The authors note that cricket is today not just a game but a spectacle constructed by an aggressive visual regime, as a commoditised ‘item' of popular culture by virtue of being produced for the people who are basically perceived to be audience-cum-consumers. “At one stroke, it almost perfectly fits in the frame of popular culture when it expresses the aesthetic, hedonistic, spiritual, and symbolic values of a reasonably large segment of people.”
Citing the example of the television commercial of ‘a popular edible product' – during the last Cricket World Cup – which would implore the viewers to live, dream, and eat cricket, the authors underline that, going far beyond ‘doing' cricket and ‘talking' cricket, it sought to deepen our involvement with cricket in everyday life. Seeing the mainstream media as a key factor in the process of making cricket a commoditised item, an interesting point highlighted in the book is the ‘gender equity' in often showing a fair number of women – especially, ‘vibrant and energetic young girls who are supposedly engrossed in the game' – when panning the television camera to the spectators. “A careful look might reveal that the young girls are more of cheerleaders and less of intense followers of the game …”
And, moving from the gallery to the studio, the authors explore the ‘Mandira Bedi syndrome' in Extraa Innings , based on deft and calculated incorporation of a smart, talkative, and provocatively-dressed (attire ranging from the Indian tricolour to noodle-strap outfits) woman sitting with less exuberant male commentators and discussing the nitty-gritty of the game with much indulgence in trivialities.
In the authors' view, the media is playing a decisive role in promoting a trend in the Indian public space – opening up vistas and public discourse on gender and popular culture with the subtle strategy of promoting ‘post-ideological lifestyle' characterised by eclectic and fluid processes. Evidence of ‘print capitalism' bowing to ‘electronic capitalism' in promoting such a lifestyle is tabloidisation, the authors fret.
Reminiscing that the Page 3 culture (now an integral part of the newspapers in India) was never so in the earlier era because at that time information and entertainment could not be fused so easily and regularly, the authors mention the fast-changing track of the news media – that with increasing competition, the rush for quick and easy bottomline enhancers has become particularly graceless.
Talking about how films are reinventing themselves with the changing times, the authors mention Lagaan which goes back to the colonial times to take advantage of the popular cricket frenzy. On the gender front, going behind the scenes of Hindi filmdom – ‘arguably the most influential carrier of popular culture in India' – and digging deeper than ‘the astonishing gloss in terms of high-tech venture or the twisted storylines in place of the linear ones,' the authors notice a change in the dominant representation of Indian women – from the quintessential mother (as Nargis in Mother India or Nirupa Roy in Deewar ) to ‘equal' partner (as Kajol in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai ).
A distressing inference in the book is that the victimhood syndrome may still be ‘a safe bet' for the Hindi mainstream filmmakers in their perception of popular culture and construction of gender.
Studying the world of small screen, the authors make a positive reference to the mega serials such as Rajni and Udaan , which ushered in the representation of the ‘new era' Indian women on the television. “The screen character Rajni would make all sorts of tirades against the abuse of power, corruption, and wrongdoing faced in everyday life by the ordinary citizens. In Udaan the depiction of the struggle of a woman from the underprivileged class to become an Indian Police Service officer would definitely be offbeat.”
Disappointingly however, the point cannot be overstretched, the authors caution, because the above instances of ‘reversal of gender bias' are more than balanced by the K-serials of Ekta Kapoor. The authors bemoan also that, in reality television programmes based on ‘investigating' real-life crimes, woman's body as a locale of violence and abuse seems to have good market potential.