Science

Energy studies get colour: Cambridge researchers look at Bollywood to understand consumption patterns

Richa Mishra New Delhi | Updated on August 26, 2020

For the otherwise highly technical energy studies, the researchers have used 19 Indian feature films to document household energy and appliance use

What’s common between films such as Basu Chatterjee’s Piya Ka Ghar (1972), Sai Paranjape’s Katha (1983), Ram Gopal Varma’s Satya (1998) or more recent Zoya Akhtar’s Gully Boy (2019). These movies and many such can be used for understanding the energy trends in households.

This is what a new study from the University of Cambridge has shown. In a recently published paper, ‘The study — Films as source of everyday life and energy use: A case of Indian cinema’, a group of researchers has showcased a far more colourful approach to understanding household energy demand.

For the otherwise highly technical energy studies, the researchers have used 19 Indian feature films to document household energy and appliance use. The 19 films used for the research demonstrate that between the 1970s and the 1990s, the devices that the people living in the chawls used appeared to depict a low-income status.

However, from 2000 onwards, the device range shows a similarity in assets in low to middle-income households. Accordingly, the energy footprint appears to be increasing among people belonging to the bottom of the pyramid, it reveals.

Drawing from film studies, this paper introduces a new, experimental method to understand domestic practices and energy use at home. For this paper, a detailed keyword ontology was developed in order to identify practices, technologies and energy use at home, Jaideep Prabhu of Cambridge Judge Business School and one of the co-authors told BusinessLine in a telephonic chat. The other co-authors are Minna Sunikka-Blank, Ronita Bardhan, Janina Schupp and Francois Penz of the Department of Architecture at the University of Cambridge.

“Our intent was to show that commercial Bollywood films and TV serials can be used for energy research purpose. Through this study, we just wanted to show the method; the next study could show outcomes too,” Prabhu, who is Professor of Marketing and Director of the Centre for India & Global Business at Cambridge Judge Business School, said.

‘Understanding everyday life’

The paper adopts the methodology of the AHRC (Arts and Humanities Research Council) CineMuseSpace project and applies it in the context of energy studies, Prabhu explains. Measuring human behaviour such as energy use usually involves conducting time-consuming, costly and inaccurate surveys, he said, adding: “This is particularly true in the developing world due to relatively low levels of literacy and the lack of infrastructure.

“Surveys are also subject to bias as people may not remember their behaviour accurately or may tell researchers what they think they want to hear, and such surveys provide only a snapshot rather than a dynamic picture over a period of time.

“Predicting the future of energy demand lies in understanding the everyday life that sources domestic energy consumption…Yet approaches to effectively capture everyday life in domestic environments are a blind spot in current energy research.”

Expanding this study into a larger data set could provide information for linking a film-based analysis to energy use predictions, especially in a domestic low-income environment and another genre such as television mini-series or the daily soaps could be appropriate. The way in which films can visualise ‘invisible’ energy use can be also used as a participatory planning tool to empower stakeholders in low-income communities.

‘Reconceptualising energy studies’

“At best, this study may prove to be a useful methodological innovation that paves the way for others in social sciences. At the very least, it can show the potential of arts and humanities to reconceptualise and personalise highly technical energy studies,” he said.

Published on August 26, 2020

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