Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The EPIC Channel’s Assault on India

Among the shows airing on the new EPIC channel the scurrilous sitcom Yam Kise Se Kam Nahin sitcom  is not exceptional. Other shows are also offensive and some are historically misleading.

One feature length movie, Shaheed Udham Singh, tells of the communist Sikh revolutionary who, in revenge for the Jallianwala Bagh massacre of 1919, assassinated Michael O’Dwyer in London in 1940. The movie creates the impression that O'Dwyer was the man who commanded the troops at Jallianwalla when he was, in fact, the administrator of the district. (The man who led the troops was Reginald Dyer; he died peacefully in bed.)

The day before the assassination Udham Singh is shown celebrating in a London bar, doing the bhangra holding aloft three mugs of beer. At one point in the movie he derides the value of freedom to the poor of India. (Anyone inclined to agree should look at the ascent of Indian life expectancy after independence.) The show has several dumps on Mahatma Gandhi and one character refers scornfully to “Gandhi-priya” Indians. The producer is Iqbal Dhillon.

Dharmakshetra (26 episodes), is touted as going “beyond” the Mahabharata. The EPIC web site says “Well known characters from the epic” will be “questioned in a divine court where they explain their side of the story.”

In the episode I saw bits of costumed dramatization were interspersed with commentary by the host of the show, a woman whose name I could not decipher in the fast rolling credits. (Probably as a result of my identifying the producer of Yam Kise Se Kam Nahin, the credits on EPIC were – at this writing – either too blurred or rolled too fast to be read. A number had “Produced by” but no name. One had “Produced by R.”)

The show’s producer displays an extremely blunt understanding of Hindu scripture. At one point, Sri Krishna tells Arjuna “I am satya and also asatya,” a stunning statement nowhere in the Gita. The scriptwriter was either carried away by a misreading of the grand eloquence of Chapter 10 of the Gita or is engaging in a traditional missionary distortion.

Krishna is also shown saying that no one knows the mystery of life and death! As I have pointed out previously, the Katha Upanishad is focused entirely on that issue, and Krishna explicitly repeats the teaching in the Bhagavad Gita.

Some of the host’s interactions with "experts" chosen to provide illuminating commentary on the Mahabharata reinforce the impression that she and the producer are completely at sea about Hinduism. For example, she asks at one point, "Krishna could have stopped the war but did not. Why?”

The reply: “He didn’t want to stop the war because it was necessary to destroy adharma.”

Both question and answer are ignorant.

 Her question is based on the incorrect premise that India shares with ancient Greece and the Semitic/Western tradition, the deus ex machina concept of divinity (ie gods capable of magically transforming human narratives). The Indian concept, laid out at some length in the Gita and in common lore, is that Karma (causality) is a binding and universal law inherent in godhood itself.

The answer to her question is also stupendously wrong. The war did not destroy adharma; the Pandavas won but at a huge moral cost. The war augured the Kali Yuga when adharma is dominant.

In a more mundane take on “history,” EPIC provides brief bits on ten warrior heroes. In those I saw, Prithiviraj Chauhan is represented as killing Mohammad Ghori after he is captured and blinded by the invader.

The piece on Tipu Sultan gives the French credit for developing the rocket technology that Indian forces used with devastating effect against the British; in fact, it was entirely unknown in Europe. Bangalore techies built the weapon the British later incorporated into their own army and used against George Washington’s forces (the American national anthem's reference to “the rocket’s red glare, bombs bursting in air” recalls the vivid impact).

A more respectable contribution to the history genre is “The First Heroes of the R&A Wing.” Eleven episodes will tell of the exploits of Indian intelligence agents. The first episode dealt with the role of Indian intelligence in helping Bangladesh to independence. The credits absolutely whizzed by so I could get no details about who produced it.

The show was strictly factual and made no move to follow the Western track of glamorizing intelligence operations; but the Indian political establishment must keep careful watch to prevent mischief.

Britain has traditionally glamorized intelligence operations as a way of diverting attention from its frequently thuggish and criminal pursuit of elite interests. The James Bond novels and movies, casting a serial killer as a hero, are a case in point.  

The United States offers a cautionary example that India should take to heart. After Churchill launched the Cold War in alliance with the American military-industrial complex in 1946, the nascent CIA (and FBI in cahoots with the mafia), took on the “license to kill” ethic of the British., In effect that subverted American democracy and ushered in an unprecedented era of high level assassinations and human rights abuses. Things have got so bad that hit men and mafiosi have become the stuff of romance and comedy in Hollywood films, neutering the outrage that should be the democratic response to such fascism.

Another of EPIC’s historical contributions was on the excellence of ancient Indian steel production; it noted, very briefly and sotto voce, that the British had killed that technology.

Most of the rest of EPIC programming is either utter nonsense or incredibly boring.

The episode of Daanav Hunters that I saw presented an endlessly repetitive battle against blood-sucking demons with occasional detours, one to ridicule a Tamil fan of superstar Rajnikant and another to present an NRI woman scientist’s view of India as a “strange country.” It should be noted that blood sucking demons and the living dead are not part of Indian folklore the way Vampires and Zombies are in the West (where they reflect the creative artistic response to the realities of the colonial and industrial eras). It remains to be seen if 20 episodes of Daanav Hunters will change that.

If the lugubrious Mughal era costume drama Siyaasat has a plot it escaped me, probably because the love story of crown prince Salim and Meherunissa will drag out over a staggering 42 episodes. 

By way of travelogue a lanky long haired host (whose name I did not catch), walked in slow motion around the overgrown crumbling ruins of Ross Island, where the British once lived in the Andamans. He is set to do the same in 10 other shows on “abandoned places” in India.

Another host, Jaaved Jaffrey, mocked at interminable length the plot of a golden oldie film, Victoria #203. He is set to do the same with a lineup of other popular old Hindi movies. This is the opposite of nostalgia; it is “feel-bad” programming.

All in all, the proof of the pudding so far is unavoidable: EPIC presents in its shoddy line up of shows a view of India that is confused, misleading, and in its political content, indistinguishable from British propaganda.

So who are the people responsible for all this?

In operational charge of EPIC is Mahesh Samat, who quit in 2012 as Managing Director of Disney India. The head of Development is Ravina Kohli, formerly of Yash Raj Television and Sony Entertainment.

Some 20 production houses are reported to be contributing content. They include Balaji Telefilms, Green Light Productions, Bolt Media, A Bellyful of Dreams, Rose Audio, Face Entertainment and Rangrez Media.

It is obviously in these production houses, under the watch of Samat and Kohli that
the offensive content of EPIC is planned and produced. To be fair, much that I have pointed out was probably under the radar of the executives at EPIC.

But there is no denying malign intent. The question is, where is it coming from?

The promoters of the channel are India’s richest man, Mukesh Ambani, Anand Mahindra, head of a $16.5 billion industrial conglomerate, and Rohit Khattar, a biggie in the hospitality business who headed Mumbai Mantra Media Ltd, the communications wing of the Mahindra Group.

As none of these figures has any reason for shaping the kind of content EPIC is airing, we have to look elsewhere: to EPIC’s almost sole advertiser, Aquaguard water purifiers.

Aquaguard is a product of Eureka Forbes, which is part of the Shapoorji Pallonji Group, the largest single holder of stock in the TATA Group. To fill out the picture: Cyrus Mistry, who took over from Ratan Tata, is a scion of the Shapoorji Pallonji family; his billionaire father (living in Mumbai) has traded his Indian citizenship for that of Ireland.

Both Shapoorji Pallonji Group and TATA have long-standing and strong British ties. I think that somewhere in their nexus of interests is hidden the directive British element of EPIC.

If the programming does not change course as a result of what I have written, we should expect the British propaganda element in EPIC programming to become more overt.

In closing it is necessary to note that with the enormous clout of EPIC’s promoters the channel could be a major force for India’s intellectual decolonization. It is tragic that on its current tack it will only becloud our national awareness and extend the colonial mind-set.

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