How Democracies Work

For any observer of politics in South Asia, there is always a question waiting to be answered. What explains the enthusiastic participation of the electorates in the ‘new’ democracies/semi-democracies of South Asia (whenever they get an opportunity!) remains a puzzle for them. Why elections are such grand spectacles bringing a festive spirit among the masses is intriguing for an impressed westerner as she assesses the ground reality.

A Transition Illuminated

Chattopadhyay’s book provides an interesting research intervention in the field of visual and television study as well as in the general understanding of an image world which was a precursor to the current digital context of consumerism. It illuminates after all the crucial moment of post liberalization, a transition period, during which the chaos of new ideas, subjectivities, and a changing urban materiality was being churned out at the very point of origin in the world of advertisement, and presented back to the viewer for interpretation. Pointing at the sudden significance of commercials post liberalization, with the increase of satellite cable television channels and coming in of multinational brands, in contrast to cinema which served as the earlier popular vehicle of modernity during, before and after Independence, the book deftly demonstrates how commercials in the contemporary time stood at the helm of negotiating this transition in 1990s India from a receding socialism to advanced capitalism.

In a quasi-romantic and quasi-realist statement, ‘much to my disappointment, the shelves were full of texts on Hollywood and European filmmakers with nothing substantial on contemporary Indian directors’ (p. 10), Tula Goenka states, clearly, her objective behind writing the book, recovers directorial voices that contribute heavily to the process of filmmaking but still remain unheard. Interestingly, this attempt, to recover unregistered domineering voices, places Goenka in the vicinity of the subaltern studies circle.