D Murali

Investigating Jasoos Vijay

D. Murali | Updated on August 24, 2011

Drama for Development: Cultural translation and social change edited by Andrew Skuse, Marie Gillespie, and Gerry Power

Meet Jasoos Vijay in one of the chapters of Drama for Development: Cultural translation and social change, edited by Andrew Skuse, Marie Gillespie, and Gerry Power (www.sagepublications.com). The jasoos (detective) premiered on Doordarshan in 2002, was part of a media initiative created in partnership with the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO), Prasar Bharati, the British Government's Department for International Development (DFID), and BBC World Service Trust (WST).

“The drama sought to combat stigma and raise awareness of HIV and AIDS in the Hindi belt (North and Central regions), an area considered highly vulnerable to increased HIV infection. The show was a fast-paced detective thriller focused on the adventures of Detective Vijay, an HIV-positive detective…”

It can be reassuring to know that at the time the show went off the air in 2006, it was among the top 10 most-watched programmes on TV in India, and that according to Nielsen data, Jasoos Vijay reached a weekly audience of up to 15 million during its final year, and over the course of the year, reached 70 million viewers.

What can be insightful in the chapter — authored by Charlotte Lapsansky and Joyee S. Chatterjee — is the groundwork that preceded the initiative. For instance, researchers studied national data on viewership trends and ‘most watched' programming and found that crime drama and action-based shows enjoyed the highest viewership among young men in the urban and semi-urban centres. Thus was born Jasoos Vijay to engage ‘young, sexually active males,' with the portrayal on screen of ‘a handsome, intelligent, athletic man with a real taste for heroic action, who was always victorious.'

Unintended consequences

Good intentions were similarly behind Naseberry Street, an early drama for development intervention in Jamaica, which featured ‘a character that had multiple sex partners and numerous illegitimate children, who reflected the prevalent masculine norms.' While the writers, in this case, intended the character to serve as a negative role model, a notable proportion of the male listeners reported not only liking the character, but indicated that they saw him as a ‘positive' role model to emulate, the chapter informs.

One other instructive example in the book is of an entertainment-education (E-E) campaign to promote family planning among men in Zimbabwe. A subsequent evaluation found that while men's involvement in family planning increased, this was accompanied by an increase in the proportion of men whose reported decision-making behaviour showed that they ‘alone' had made the decision to practise family planning, excluding women from the conversation.

“The campaign's reliance on traditional masculine images may have reinforced stereotypes about male decision-making and blurred campaign messages about the value of joint decision-making.”

As the authors caution, programme content — in attempting to propose ‘solutions' — can unintentionally reinforce gendered norms of behaviour and power structures, which in the long run may create additional barriers to the public health outcomes sought. They add that the ultimate result may, in fact, curtail or short-circuit the more progressive long-term agenda of promoting equitable gender roles and gender-equitable definitions of manhood. “Thus, it is important to not only engage men, but to do so with a clear strategy and an understanding of the different ways that such interventions can both reproduce and challenge masculine norms.”

Positive role model

Investigating the secret behind the success of Jasoos Vijay the authors find an answer in the way the character portrayed not only the bravery and good looks of the classical male Indian hero, but was also ‘depicted as sensitive, community-oriented and empathetic, and a champion of the rights of the marginalised.' They reason that this characterisation allowed the programmers to place a positive role model at the centre of narratives on gender equity-related issues such as domestic violence, rape and dowry. “A correspondingly strong female lead, Gauri (Vijay's wife in subsequent seasons), who was equally intelligent, courageous, and insightful, helped model an equitable relationship.”

In contrast, it can be worrying to read in the chapter that studies of Indian mass media have indicated that typical media representations of masculinity tend to eroticise male dominance and female submission, thus communicating that masculinity and male sexuality are linked to male violence and the control of women.


Published on August 24, 2011

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