AFTER SPENDING OVER FORTY-FIVE years in media and entertainment, actively working in all sectors at the top, I decided it was time to quit working for profit. However, having spent a lifetime pursuing not only a passion but being involved with various arts and crafts of different media, I wanted to do some academic work on the subject I knew well. One of the first thoughts which came to my mind was to write a book. After bouncing various ideas and discussing them with some friends, whose opinion I value, I zeroed in on doing this volume.
I had two choices. Either I could do a comprehensive book on Indian cinema, a field where I have spent maximum time, or do an overview of the evolution of different segments of creative and performing arts. I chose the latter. Again, the choice was between writing longish essays on different media or taking a much broader perspective. Finally, the book is a bit like an encyclopaedia, where some portions are described in detail. It’s a big fat book, but I have written it in a manner that you can read the whole book or just read about media and art forms which interest you, or about specific periods in history.
When one writes about so many different yet allied subjects which involve hundreds of much-loved and admired people, one is bound to miss out many truly talented achievers. For such omissions, some deliberate, but more on account of space constraints, I can only apologize. I have tried to be objective and give the reader a kind of a bird’s-eye view with an occasional deep dive. Sometimes if it reads like a book of lists, I crave your indulgence. A research team helped me for three years to gather material from various sources, which I then distilled and interpreted. Most of the facts are culled out from different sources, not any one source, hence not attributed. Besides, a large part is based on personal knowledge of people and events since the 1960s.
I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to work in every media form and discipline in the past five decades. My first poem was published when I was fourteen. I wrote my first play a year later, I got involved with stage, radio and journalism by my sixteenth birthday. I was editing a magazine when I turned eighteen. Soon I did my first TV programme, wrote advertising copy, film reviews and more. I was an active member of Delhi’s cultural scene. All this gave me a chance to observe and acquaint myself with leading artistes, musicians, painters, dancers, journalists and many other creative professionals. Some of those relationships have endured for five decades.
A serendipitous meeting with a matinee idol opened the doors of cinema for me. While still in college, I was working with the star’s production company Navketan. And on completing college, I went off to Bombay and again was lucky that in a couple of years I was heading the company. Meanwhile, I pursued my writing both on cinema and in cinema. Soon I turned a lyricist and script writer, even as I learnt the ropes of film making. Those were heady times as I came in contact with the giants of showbiz and creative fraternity. I worked with several top film-makers, artistes and technicians. I turned a producer in 1975 and was soon an active member and office bearer of the Producers’ Guild and other industry bodies.
By the time, I was an established lyricist, writer, film-maker, industry leader and nominated on various government committees and institutions. I was an important interlocutor between governments, media, industry and a regular speaker at conferences in India and abroad and wrote extensively for various publications. I was one of the first to enter TV production. I was one of the most well-networked individuals in media and entertainment in India and developed long-lasting friendships with many from various fields. I kept engaging with eminent persons from different fields, learning and absorbing as much as I could. Interestingly, while I was involved in the hurly-burly of mainstream popular cinema I kept engaging with my colleagues and peers from the new wave, academicians, advertising fraternity, writers, media and corporate leaders. I was always willing to try my had at something new— from music video to commercials, documentaries to feature-journalism to academics—so that I was constantly learning and acquiring new skills.
In 1989, I set up Plus Channel, the first integrated media and entertainment company, and in 2000 set up Reliance Entertainment with the leading business family—the Ambanis. I spearheaded the move towards corporatization of this industry and have headed media and entertainment committees of both FICCI and CII. All this gave me deep insights into various segments and disciplines. Since I lived alone and worked long hours, seven days a week, I was able to squeeze time for all my interests and work. There are dozens of masters whom I either worked with or observed from close quarters for years, which taught me most of what I know. This book is a tribute to these pioneers and achievers.
Imagine the earliest times when homo sapiens evolved on Earth about three hundred thousand years ago. They were roving hunters and gatherers living in unfriendly habitats and fighting for survival with other species. It is assumed that they had at least primitive verbal skills and thinking ability, which allowed them to use fire and fashion basic tools. Somewhere, a few thousand years ago, humans dispersed to different parts of the world in search of food and shelter or just to escape the wrath of nature. Typically, our ancestors would have lived in caves, or other sheltered spaces and in groups. Communication between individuals and groups gave rise to language and semiotics. Conversation, stories and songs ensued.
Besides traversing for food and escaping from predators and, of course, sleeping, a lot of time would have been spent in leisure. Fear and boredom, as Arthur Koestler has once written, are two primordial emotions. Both these require not only conversational skills but also some pastime. My hypothesis is that the early humans thus became the first storytellers. Around a campfire or in long periods of resting or on the move, knowledge gained through experience was shared between community members. Over time, learning from nature, they acquired elementary musical and dancing skills and this became the first form of entertainment. Every small or big event like birth or death or a good day at the forest would call for a celebration. Ritualization of these acts followed, though organized religion was still some centuries away. The first tribes were born around this time, as were tribal cultures. In fact, even today some tribes in remote areas of India have been observed to follow a similar life pattern, thousands of years later.
A few thousand years ago, these nomadic humans settled down in larger colonies which then gave rise to the first civilizations. There is enough empirical evidence now that at least four or five ancient civilizations took root about six thousand years ago. The Indus Valley, Gobekli Tepe, Sumerian, Chinese, Egyptian, Mayan and Persian are among the earliest ones, though some recent finds indicate signs of settlers in Africa and northern Europe as well. These civilizations are the cradles where human thought and creativity was born.
All arts begin their journey in this antiquity. We still have some remnants of the earliest cultural inheritance till date. Cave paintings, artefacts and excavations tell us how rich and varied these people were. For the purpose of this book, let us focus on the Indian subcontinent. There are historians and anthropologists who believe there were indigenous people scattered across India as early as 7,000 years ago, probably part of the first dispersal of homo sapiens. The Indus Valley Civilization, originally thought to be limited to the north-western part of India, is now looked at differently as excavations in the past two or three decades have found ruins dating back to more than 5,000 years in areas as far apart as Lothal in modern Haryana and Dholavira in Gujarat. The people of this period had a well-developed script, and knowledge of agriculture, astronomy, architecture, pottery, weaving arts. There are icons and images depicting dance and music.
The Vedic Age saw the first pan-Indian civilization (and among the oldest and advanced) and the Vedas, Ramayana and Mahabharata, arguably the most ancient surviving texts in the world. In the four Vedas, one gets a complete account of ethics and social structure. Samaveda, for example, is the first known text about music. The essence of Vedic culture has survived till today, though centuries of interpolation of what was largely an oral tradition has altered context and meaning. It is also clear that as far as 1000 BCE, there were travellers to and from India, the Middle-East and Europe and they brought and took away various streams of thought into and from India, enriching the people away and in their own countries.
By the time Alexander invades India in 326 BCE, India had already seen the rise of large kingdoms and though Hinduism has no founder, it was already the major faith. Two iterations of the Vedic philosophy, Buddhism and Jainism, had also come into existence. There was a distinct Indian culture and arts, music, dance and literature were thriving.
Obviously, there were influences from the Hellenic and Sumerian (and later Persian, Egyptian and Roman) cultures, which enriched the local lifestyle, but never overwhelmed it. Alexander’s return saw the emergence of the Mauryan Empire which became the largest kingdom of its time. Somewhere parallelly in south India, there was another culture—an amalgam of Vedic philosophy and indigenous peoples’ beliefs. This is depicted well in what is known as the Sangam literature.
By this time Indian performing arts, painting, sculpture and other art forms had developed a lot. There are symbols including India’s National Symbol originating from that period. The iron pillars, stupas and temples going back to Mauryan times illustrate the mature aesthetics and arts of 2,500 years ago. Stone edicts, town criers and special messengers were the mass media of the day. Often, folk tales and specially commissioned songs and dramas would spread the stories of valour and triumph around the country.
It was in the Gupta period, around 2,300 years ago, that ancient India reached its cultural peak. Natya Shastra, written by Bharat Muni during the Gupta period, is the oldest treatise on music, drama and dance. Different styles of singing from simple chants to complex raga-based Dhrupad style of singing were practised in royal courts, temples and other public spaces. Sanskrit, Prakrit, Pali and Tamil are all languages with a rich history of being spoken and written from the pre-Christian Era. While other civilizations, notably Greek and Roman, have been historically given more importance, it is now acknowledged that India (and China and Persia) was perhaps richer and more advanced than its contemporaries in the West.
Plays by Kalidas and Mudrarakshasa by Visakhadatta are the oldest surviving dramas. Temple dances dating back 2,000 years are the precursor of classical dance forms like Bharatanatyam and Odissi. A few ancient songs and prayers of this vintage are still current in India. Travellers like Megasthenes, Ptolemy, Xuanzang (Hiuen Tsang) and Faxian (Fa Hien) have left accounts about India’s rich heritage. Nalanda in Bihar had the world’s largest university 1,500 years ago. Besides there were thousands of learned priests and monks in various temples, monasteries and other holy sites, where through pilgrimage or events and festivals (like the Kumbh) knowledge and traditions and art forms were transmitted from one generation to another.
India has the most continuously inhabited cities in the world—Varanasi, Delhi, Patna, Thanjavur, Kannauj, Ujjain, Gwalior, Kollam, Madurai, Vadodara. India was not only the wealthiest country but also the home to spiritualism, scholars and artistes and with a diverse cultural and social backgrounds. Home to different ethnicities and backgrounds, India gave birth to diverse and heterogenous folk cultures. No wonder it attracted emperors and bounty hunters from all over for thousands of years.
After Alexander’s invasion the next wave of disruption happened a thousand years later when the first Islamic invaders came to India. India by then had broken up into smaller regional kingdoms. These early invaders were basically plunderers, who ransacked the divided country and went back. It was only later when Turks, Afghans, Persian and Central Asians like the Tughlaqs and Khiljis decided to stay and rule India that Middle-Eastern Islamic influences crept into India. Most of these rulers and their courtiers and army settled down and intermingled with the local population, giving rise to a syncretic ethos. Sure, there were conversions and atrocities but by and large the people stuck to their faith and customs.
Sufi scholar Amir Khusro in the twelfth century, for example, not only popularized Hindavi (Hindi) through his poetry and plays but also invented the sitar. These people brought their food, language and culture into India. And some of it has stayed alive over centuries. Ghazal, qawwali and a few other musical forms have their origin in the Middle East and Iran. Much of the existing music, dance, drama was formalized during the Mughal reign. Even as Sufism spread in India, the Bhakti movement took its roots. While Islam was entering India from the north, in the south the Cholas and Pandyas were taking Hinduism to various parts of South-East Asia.
Along with the Vijayanagar rulers the three southern dynasties were at the forefront of a revival of India’s ancient culture. These rulers were great patrons of music, dance and other arts. From various frescos, sculptures and paintings, we get an idea of the creativity of the people in this era. Some of the music and dance created during those times are still practised in India and stories from the epics, puranas and other ancient texts are recited and read till now.
The Mughals came from Central Asia, led by Babur in 1526. Beginning with north-western India, they established in a few decades a large empire. Fascinated by the wealth and cultural diversity they stayed on. Later kings like Akbar, Jahangir and Shah Jahan expanded their kingdom. They were ruthless and often tyrannical but to an extent assimilated with the peoples of their new home. Many of their subordinates and satraps were local chieftains. They adopted some of the Indian customs and values. While they retained Islam as their faith they could never uproot the beliefs of this ancient land.
Kathak, for example, evolved during this period. Indian classical music too spread at the same time. Even smaller states and Indian rulers like the Rajputs, Marathas, Cholas, Pandyas, Sikhs and others also had hundreds of artistes and performers in their courts. While like most emperors of the time they may have been ruthless and tyrannical, the Mughals were great patrons of arts. The stories about Akbar’s court with Tansen and other artistes are well-documented. We have detailed accounts (Babarnama, Ain-e-Akbari, writings of European travellers) from this period which give us an idea about how music, dance, art, literature and architecture flourished in India. Many of these artistic traditions have survived five centuries and are still practised in some form or the other.
The great transformation of media first began with Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press in 1439 in Europe. This made the written word accessible to a much larger of population than ever before. In 1556 the Jesuits brought the first printing press to India and ignited what was to be a revolution. Printing led to books, newspapers and journals of various kinds. This was the first new media invented in over 5,000 years of recorded human history. In museums across the world the earliest books can still be seen.
In a country like India with its low literacy and where knowledge and epics had been transmitted through word of mouth for centuries, it would take time for this new technology to take root. During Mughal rule itself the aristocracy, including local satraps, rich merchants and landlords had created their retinue of scholars, artistes and performers. Folk music, dance and theatre, though confined to rural hinterland, were invariably unharmed by invaders or change of rulers except in case of religious or temple activity. Simultaneously, the different gharanas (schools) of music and dance developed. India has absorbed a lot from travellers, merchants and invaders, while retaining its own heritage and values.
By the sixteenth century, many European rulers had set up outposts in various coastal towns in India. Portuguese, Dutch, French and English merchants and small bands of mercenaries began capturing small enclaves. In a decisive battle in Plassey in 1757 British soldier Robert Clive defeated the Nawab of Bengal, sowing the seeds of two hundred years of British rule in India.
The Industrial Revolution in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries in Europe had a seminal impact on human life—with the advent of electricity, photography, phonograph, projectors, radio valves, printing, microphone, telephone and wireless and automobiles. There is no doubt that most colonialists, including the British in India, exploited both human and natural resources in countries they ruled. However, there were some gains too. They created the first laws, police, judiciary, civil services, army, hospitals, schools, universities, etc. They built the first railroads, postal system, water, sewerage and electricity supply.
The first newspaper appeared in India in late eighteenth century and a century later there were many newspapers in most large cities in English and local languages. As the freedom movement gathered pace and newspapers became a major catalyst, the British Government of India imposed strict censorship rules. Interestingly most of India’s top leaders of the time had some newspaper connection.
India was one of the first countries where cinema took root once Lumiere Brothers of France came and exhibited the first moving images in 1896. Similarly, gramophone records caught people’s imagination at the beginning of the last century. However, it took time for classical music and dance to chart its course under foreign rule, but it remained in homes, bazars and courts. Later, some British governors and bureaucrats began admiring Indian arts and culture and even helped conserve them. The Europeans also brought with them their music, dance, arts, literature, food and attire, which were adopted by affluent Indians. A few Europeans became connoisseurs of Indian music, dance and arts.
The new Indian elite of civil servants, engineers and doctors, educationists, businessmen and merchants were often educated in English in schools and colleges set up across India in the nineteenth century. A few took to western way of life but largely retained the family structure and value system of their forefathers. Some businessmen made big money trading, even abetting, their British masters, but many also were philanthropists and reformers. They spent their fortune to help build institutions and infrastructure. They helped preserve social, religious and cultural traditions. So much of our present-day syncretic heritage comes to us because someone was kind enough to help keep it alive through difficult times.
The first half of the twentieth century is best remembered by Indians for the freedom movement but it was also the time of modern conveniences like electricity, water, sanitation, education, healthcare and of course media and entertainment. The two world wars (1914-18 and 1939-45) in the last century not only killed millions amid destruction and misery but also changed the map of the world. Yet mankind made unprecedented progress in the first half of the twentieth century, which altered our life on this planet.
Science and technology accelerated this dramatic transformation. Telecommunications and air travel increased the interaction between nations and peoples. While manufacturing industries made various goods available to more people at affordable prices, there were still millions in abject poverty, often without food, clothing and shelter. Millions died in the two wars and more due to famine and disease. After the war ended in 1945, the world had polarized around a capitalist America and a communist Russia, which would ultimately divide the world ideologically. Fortunately, after almost 200 years, colonial rule was heading towards a sunset. Media, especially print and radio, played a significant role in these times. Films had by then emerged the dominant mass entertainment form around the world including India. In the West, television was about to go on an expansion spree in the 1950s.
India woke to light and freedom on 15 August 1947. There was a political, social and economic turmoil as a traumatic Partition killed a million people and displaced many more millions. Post-Independence, India was filled with optimism and idealism, despite widespread hunger, disease and poverty. Adopting a socialist economy meant Indians grew up in frugality and shortages. Rapid urbanization and a large-scale migration of people, driven by joblessness, famines and natural calamities, created a paradox of hope and despondency.
Nestled in the cradle of optimism and idealism, India was ready for a renaissance. Driven by the left ideology (India had chosen the socialist economic model) hundreds of idealistic men and women led the new charge. Progressive writers, artistes and intellectuals helped in building a resurgent India. New institutions of learning and propagating the arts came up. Films and newspapers, which were in private hands albeit with governmental controls and regulations, reflected the mood of the times.
I, as a child in the 1950s, the decade of the paradox of hope and despair, grew up in a frugal India faced with perpetual shortages of essentials. Some of us were lucky to be born in comparatively privileged families and enjoyed luxuries such as electricity, telephone, radio and even a rickety old car. We went to picnics, fairs, circuses, and yes, movies. Cinema and film songs were the staple entertainment in urban India, sixty years ago as they are now. Indians were and are obsessed with films (and songs), religious celebrations and cricket in differing order.
Newspapers were read (or read to) by millions who then transmitted them by word of mouth to millions of others. A small minority of Indians had a radio at home and people would often go to a café or shop or a neighbour’s house to listen to their favourite programmes or cricket commentary. News about important political happenings, disasters, elections and war was caught on radio somewhere. Surprisingly, India made a large number of films (100+) every year in several languages even in 1950 and was one of the few countries which could withstand the Hollywood onslaught.
Classical music and dance suffered a bit as the small kingdoms and principalities where they were being kept alive were abolished. Government started to support classical artistes through various academies and institutions. All India Radio and gramophone records were the main platform for most performers, apart from music conferences and public concerts. In spite of various hardships, India produced some of its greatest singers, musicians, dancers, writers, painters, actors, film-makers, journalists, broadcasters and scholars during this time. Amateur dramatics, music and dance festivals, university cultural groups and artist communities like the progressive writers and artist groups too helped further the cause of creativity.
The 1950s and 1960s are said to be the golden period of Indian cinema, which we discuss in detail later. Films are a social document of our lives and times. If you look at a cross section of Indian films of that era you discover myriad Indias, which coexisted in different spaces and times simultaneously. From the most artistic cinema to the archetypical masala film, the sheer variety of talent and genius amazes you. Even the most inane potboiler had some intrinsic merit, which clicked with a disparate audience then. Some of this cinema has withstood the test of time.
There were big stars, heartthrobs, visionary directors and tall writers and musicians about whom we shall read in the book. In a phenomenon not seen anywhere, Indian film music has remained the most popular music since 1930s. Often five generations have hummed the same song. India did not have the wherewithal to get the latest equipment. Our studios were old, recording rooms outdated with little infrastructure for film-making. At the end of the 1960s, over 300 million people every year went to a theatre, often dilapidated, and laughed, cried, sang and danced along. The success ratio of films in India has always been poor, yet brave film-makers not only kept making movies with passion but manged to create a few classics as well.
Often people speak of masala films. We have to keep in mind the long Indian folk theatre tradition of song-and-dance-filled melodrama interlaced with comic interludes to understand the popularity of masala films. Popular cinema adopted this format. It started with archetypes but then soon landed in stereotypes. However, even in the 1950s and ’60s leading film makers made films about human values and idealism. A few even explored neo-realist cinema. Action, romance and mythological were other popular genres. Many actors came from a stage background and brought tremendous sensitivity to their performances. The stars reigned supreme and popularity of music was an important ingredient of box office hits.
The 1970s and ’80s were a time of disruption. The evolution of new technology had created new media, formats, techniques and form of entertainment. The tiny silicon chip ushered in the age of computers and other devices. Offset printing and colour entered publishing in a big way in India. The 1980s brought in scanners. New magazines entered the market and newspapers expanded their reach. A new generation of reporters went out to the hinterland and remote areas, highlighting the failures and triumphs which had so far remained away from print.
Radio reached almost 90 per cent of the population and 80 per cent of the land mass. Commercial broadcasting and FM were launched by All India Radio. TV, which had been confined to Delhi and some experimental rural transmission, reached other cities. New auditoria in different cities encouraged people to start watching plays and live concerts. Indian performers began to travel extensively and a few achieved international acclaim.
Another interesting development was the entry of film personalities in south Indian politics. There is one dark spot in India of the 1970s: the imposition of National Emergency by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. All kinds of curbs, including a draconian censorship, were introduced. Thousands of opposition leaders and activists were arrested. Except for a few brave journalists, most preferred to crawl rather than revolt. Ultimately, the people rose in one voice and freedom was restored after elections and the formation of a new government. Media, specially print, played a critical role in this fightback. The period post emergency saw a glorious decade of journalism as a new aggressive breed of editors and journalists started to investigate and report on issues hitherto not covered by the press.
Electronics heralded the next generation of media. A tiny microchip led to computing and an entire range of technology-driven communication, manufacturing, services and home devices and appliances. There was a burst of new technologies from satellite communication to networked computing. Printing, cinema equipment, radios, music players, all were now technically superior but less expensive. The TV went colour and national as satellite communications arrived in India in 1982. India saw an unparalleled spread of TV across the country in this decade. Doordarshan (the national broadcaster) unleashed compelling programming from soap operas, sitcoms and the two epics, Ramayan and Mahabharat.
It was a matter of years before TV overtook cinema as the main medium of mass entertainment. The state still controlled news on radio and TV but the sheer reach and audio-visual nature of broadcast made teeming millions far more aware of what was happening, via daily news bulletins. TV also started covering major national and important sporting events live. The 1980s saw the awakening of the Indian middle class, and consumerism haltingly entered the collective consciousness. Ad spends increased rapidly and enticing commercials sold everything from soaps, toothpaste, soft drinks, white goods and contraceptives. Video and audio formats contributed in overhauling media and entertainment business models.
An obdurate film industry did not notice the straws in the wind and refused to sell TV and home-video rights. Soon pirated audio and video cassettes started impacting both the film and music industry. Cinemas began shutting down, finance became scarce and there was a general sense of despair. In spite of that, big budget multi-starrers and the one-man army of superstar Amitabh Bachchan delivered some huge blockbuster hits. TV started stealing advertising and readers from print. Cassettes replaced hard media.
In 1991, India’s economy shed its socialist garb and dismantled the decades-old Licence-Permit Raj. Animal spirits of a whole generation of eager entrepreneurs suddenly unleashed unknown potential. By the early 1990s, satellite TV entered India as government relaxed its broadcast policy. Millions of homes were wired by cables strung across buildings by enterprising, often shady, local operators. Broadcasters like Star, ZEE, Sony, ATN, ETV, and Sun, BBC, CNN and MTV competed with Doordarshan to grab eyeballs and advertising rupee. Independent production companies came up. I was one of the first entrants along with UTV, NDTV, TV18, ABCL, Nimbus, TV Today, Miditech, BR Films, Sagar Arts, Cinevista, Creative Eye and Siddhant Cinevision. My company Plus Channel became the first fully integrated media company with a presence across media segments.
India and the sector were buzzing as institutional finance was permitted by the government. At least two dozen companies listed on the stock exchange, while a few attracted private equity capital. In every region, there was a similar story. A variety of channels, Indian and foreign, beamed to an eager audience in India. Meanwhile, broadband and a host of devices and services experienced a digital impact. India was this time a few years behind. Mobile phones were launched by various private companies and soon you could see mobile phones everywhere.
Interestingly a new crop of film-makers rediscovered the mojo of popular cinema and Sooraj Barjatya, Aditya Chopra and Karan Johar and others created candyfloss, feel-good family entertainment. After two turbulent decades, box office expanded as the first multiplexes with plush interiors and contemporary technology changed the theatre-going experience. Ticket prices increased substantially and the demographics of audience tilted towards urban young. For the first-time, professional event management was introduced and live entertainment and amusement parks made their appearance in India. E-mail, websites, gaming, streaming music and video were the new catch phrases. A Dotcom bust in 1999-2000 after an irrational boom only filtered the boys from men. Young, tech-savvy Gen X upset the analogue business applecart and were on the way to lead a brave new world through newly minted companies in Silicon Valley.
Life turned digital. Suddenly everyone was talking of connectivity, Internet and digitization. The runaway success of companies like Microsoft, Apple, Yahoo, AOL, Google and Facebook accelerated the onset of an all-digital ecosystem. New hardware and software reimagined the information, communication and entertainment (ICE) universe. A plethora of new options of communication like text messaging, mobile telephony and worldwide web altered lifestyles everywhere. Hard media including cinematograph film and recording rapidly disappeared. Film-making tools and theatres switched to digital systems. Integrated networks leveraging different technologies created an always networked society. E-mail, Internet search, streaming audio and video, gaming, and millions of websites empowered ordinary people to access an array of services, including news and information, music, movies, gaming, commerce, banking and governance.
Before the end of the decade, social media made the one-to-many and many-to-many contact and communication a reality, making a truly democratic media. However, there were new problems—intrusion of privacy, data theft, fake news, media manipulation, digital addiction. In time perhaps, solutions, technical, social and regulatory, will be figured out. As broadband, wireless and wired multiplied, algorithms were the new weapons of instant engagement mass destruction. In a society where multiple media are consumed simultaneously, traditional media are being forced to adapt.
Never before have so many people been connected to one another. Over five billion people have mobile phones and 3.5 billion use Internet and four billion screens on handheld devices, computers and televisions. On an average, people spend five hours a day before a screen of some sort. We have evolved from an information age and knowledge economy to on-demand services, instant gratification and transactional always-on economy.
Over the top (OTT) services like Netflix, i-Tunes, Google Video, Facebook, Amazon Prime, Instagram, Snapchat, Wechat, Spotify, Hotstar, Gaana, Twitter, Spotify are the way we consume media today and content. We have already seen the beginning of a global takeover of large media and entertainment studios and companies by Internet and communication companies like AT&T, Comcast, and Alibaba. Except Disney (and Fox) and Viacom-CBS, there is no global pure play entertainment company anymore. In India, Mukesh Ambani is the new media czar, who straddles from networks to production and distribution of all types of content. Players like ZEE are looking at a strategic sale.
The big daddy of traditional media, the Times Group is fast acquiring a digital avatar. Newspapers are looking at online edition behind payment walls. Music is entirely online. Gaming is the fastest-growing entertainment segment. Linear broadcast is threatened by an oblivion, driven by mass customization and personalized segmentation. Web series, digital snacking and interactive programming, on-demand music and video are defining taste and creativity. There will be a shakeout. We are over producing films (2,000 a year). We have 800 TV channels of which over 300 are news channels and thousands of online providers of news, information, entertainment, gaming and various transactional and convenience services. Progressively, all of this will coalesce into the new-age living on this planet. Creativity will retune itself and a lot of reskilling will need to be done in the world of automation and AI.
India is in a sweet spot for many reasons. Its large population (1.3 billion and counting) is demographically young. Its economy is growing faster than most other countries. Rising incomes, education and connectivity are increasing media usage and revenue. In the next decade, we should see an unprecedented growth and our share of the global pie will double by 2030. While successive governments talk of entertainment as India’s soft power, nothing substantive has been done to harness its potential. This, when this industry is a force multiplier for socio-economic change. If an industry which offers direct and indirect employment to more than five million people has to match its potential, it must redefine its ecosystem and reach out to newer markets.
Among themes for the next few years will be hyper connectivity, blockchain and artificial intelligence (AI). Smart cities, smart work places and manufacturing and smart homes will become a reality, even as physical infrastructure struggles to keep pace. Immersive content powered by AI will take creativity to another level. Technologies like cinematic VR and holography are not far away.
There is a completely tangential development, which will continue well into the next few decades. Live entertainment, sport, theme parks and other event-based engagement will become popular. The success of IPL and other sports leagues is an example of this. As we spend more time in front of various devices, the social need to move out of the home will impel us outdoors. So even as digital entertainment dominates other segments will leapfrog too. For example, the total number of artistes engaged in classical music and dance has risen sharply in the past four decades.
Shorter attention spans need a different creative grammar to engage audiences. Monetization of content is the key. Blockchain, analytics and AI will help the creative community to be suitably rewarded. New frontiers of imagination are constantly being conquered with science. Formats and platforms will change with time as will narratives. What will not change is human ingenuity and the fundamental need of leisure fulfilment.
The above is the preface from the book ‘Words. Sounds. Images: A History of Media and Entertainment in India’ written by Amit Khan and published by Harper Collins