Thursday, April 13, 2006

NPR Baffled (film star, bandit, mob violence...)

On the way to the coffee shop this morning, I was pleasantly surprised to hear NPR’s morning edition carry a story about Bangalore – a story about Dr. Rajkumar. What can I say, they try.

The NPR correspondent in New Delhi (let's call him John) sounded genuinely baffled – he just could not understand why tens of thousands of (mostly) young men would leave work and school and pour out on the streets to catch a glimpse of a movie star in a transparent coffin. To the good folks at NPR, Dr. Rajkumar was just a movie star. As the newsreader (let's call her Mary) in Washington D. C. asked, and I paraphrase: “tell me John, he’s not a politician, he’s just a movie star. What is up with these crazy mobs of young men who’re attacking and burning buses, and fighting cops, and the cops are using tear gas and calling for reinforcements? This is so third world…”

John had little to add. “I don’t know Mary (pseudonym), I mean, a TV station here in Delhi is lighting candles. I really don’t know what the big deal is...these folks here are batty I tell ya...”

Mary continues: so John, tell us a little more about this film star. He is an icon there isn't he? He doesn't smoke, he led a good life...

[Yes, go ahead, this really is an ROTFL moment]

John: Yes Mary, he has acted in over 200 films and is a legend in Canada cinema.
[yes, he meant Kannada]

Mary: And wasn't he once kidnapped by a bandit?

John: Yes he was, by the notorious bandit Veerappan who had a moustache I greatly envy...anyways, he was held captive in a jungle for nearly 2 months.

Film stars, mob violence, a bandit kidnapping the star, a chief minister accused of flying in to meet the bandit to pay the ransom amount...its a bit too much for a foreign journalist, no? I mean which journalism program can possible train folks for something like this. I hope John gets a chance to experience cinema in spaces that are nothing like the comfy multiplexes of New Delhi. If you haven’t watched a Rajkumar or a Rajni or a Chiranjeevi film in a cinema hall in south India, you really won’t get it.

Much as I would like to dwell on the fan phenonmenon in south India, and my own experiences with fan activity in Madras and Bangalore, I'll just point you all to Srinivas' pathbreaking work on fan practices in south India. While you read up, I will go get my coffee, disable the wireless connection, and get to work...


  • bloody too much. shall we commiserate annavaru's death by drowing our sorrows in a madhushaala?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4/13/2006 8:23 AM  

  • I heard this story too and was at first really excited, hoping to learn something about why all this was going on. And I got nothing. This is the first time I had really noticed that NPR's South Asian correspondent is in New Delhi, and then my mind started to try to remember whether that's where he always is.... I can understand if someone is genuinely confused by the event, but I didn't get the sense anyone had really tried to find something to say that would help listeners understand. It almost sounded like he wasn't expecting to talk about this.

    By Blogger Beth, at 4/13/2006 8:55 AM  

  • Beth - yes, fair enough. I can see how this piece of news might have been included at the last minute. But I think they ran with it partly because Bangalore has been talked about on NPR (and other mainstream news outlets in the U.S.) quite a bit over the last year or more and listeners at least know where B'lore is. I mean, if they wanted to include some story from india, they could have done something on the Meerut fire which killed quite a large number of people (and Meerut is close to Delhi - this guy could've traveled there).

    Anyways, if you have the time, do take a look at the articles on fan activity that I linked to in the post. I'd love to hear your thoughts on them.

    By Blogger Aswin, at 4/13/2006 9:34 AM  

  • Ok..I am confused..This might sound very much like typical north Indian ignorance of things and events "South Indian" but why would you burn buses and fight cops if your film idol dies?? Is this what it means to ne a fan in South India? And as a foreign news outlet, how do you provide explanations or a background for this kind of hysteria? Maybe NPR should probably have left the incident unreported instead of doing a story that lends itself to shallow, inane stereotypes about people in the third world..disgusting...thoughts?

    By Blogger Durga, at 4/17/2006 2:58 PM  

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