tv on the radio

While flipping channels at one of the hotels, I asked Ganga what her favorite station was when she was a kid.

“There was only one station,” she told me. “We called it ‘television’. It was run by the government.”

From these dreary beginnings, India has developed a TV industry that is now top-notch. In Delhi you can get a wide range of English channels and a different wide range of Hindi channels. In Chennai you can get a wide range of English channels and a different wide range of Tamil Tamirrrrrr channels. In Bengaluru you can get English channels and Hindi channels and Tamirrrrr channels and channels in strange squiggly languages that don’t even exist!

As our traveling through the country was deliberately done at a relaxed pace (and as the TV at our first hotel had a second set of speakers in the bathroom), I had the opportunity to observe quite a bit of Indian TV. Here are some observations.

(1) HBO India

con: unlike regular HBO, plays commercials
pro: unlike regular HBO, plays No Retreat, No Surrender

Joel: Hey, isn’t this the guy from No Retreat, No Surrender?
Ganga: What’s that? [!]
Joel: Hey, this is No Retreat, No Surrender!
Ganga: I thought Bruce Lee was dead.

(2) Sports

India has (at least) 3 sports channels. One of them is devoted full-time to “cricket”, which is some vaguely-baseball-ish game in which people wear floppy hats. A second seems to show mostly soccer (“football”), volleyball, badminton, and something called the “Commonwealth Games” which was probably started by Ted Turner.

The third, however, is vaguely America-facing, and will show (live, at 7am) World Series games and (on Tuesday morning) Monday Night Football. When these events are not on, however, they show wrestling. Indians (or at least people who watch Indian TV) love wrestling. WWE? They’ve got it. ECW? They’ve got it. TNA (whatever the hell that is)? They’ve got it.

The most confusing part is that Sting is still wrestling. Isn’t he like 70 now?

(3) Infomercials

There are two kinds of infomercials in India. The first is American infomercials that are dubbed into local languages. They are (for the most part) stupid, mostly because they never contain Chef Tony, Ron Popeil, or Billy Mays.

The second (more entertaining) type is for only-in-India products like the “home jogger”, a device that wiggles fat people’s legs as a form of “exercise”:

(4) Commercials

There are several commercials in India:

a. The commercial for Airtel Digital TV. This one plays all day, every day. I saw it hundreds of times. I memorized it. I hear the stupid “oh oh oh” theme whenever I shut my eyes. It is beyond awesome, even though it is full of Indian-famous people I have no idea who they are:

b. The commercial for the Moto Yuva “sketchpad” cell phone. I actually find this one kind of funny:

c. Commercials in which Aamir Khan endorses things (but which I can’t remember what they are).

d. Commercials in which national heroes “chess dude” and “air pistol dude” endorse things that have nothing to do with chess or air pistol, like AMD processors and Dell computers.

e. Commercials where Shahrukh Khan tries to convince you that your skin isn’t light enough.

f. Commercials for American products with rhyming Hindi slogans (I don’t actually know Hindi, but the following gibberish is pretty much how they sound: “Kentucky Fried Chicken Batchia, Goobalabi Matchia!)

g. That’s it, there are no other commercials in India.

h. In particular, I didn’t see any political commercials, which is sort of funny in light of what you’ll read in my forthcoming post “Politics in India: Not just assassinations and Italian carpetbaggers!”

(5) Religion

There are a lot of religious programs in India, although I’ll save discussion for my forthcoming post “Religion in India: Not just dots on heads!”

(6) Bollywood / Kollywood / Tollywood / etc… movies

I can’t understand these, but they seem to be popular.

(7) POGO

This is a children’s channel. It plays “Tom and Jerry” dubbed into Hindi (unfortunately I didn’t manage to see any episodes featuring the awesomely stereotypical black maid, and so I am unable to report on how she might be translated) and “Harry Potter” dubbed into Hindi (where “Gryffindor” becomes “Garudadoir” and “Harry Potter” becomes “Laxman Balasundaravijaylakshmi”).

(8) Music

There is an MTV India.

pros: Unlike regular MTV, this one plays music.
cons: Completely unwatchable, on account of multiple scrolly things, irritating VJs, and terrible songs.

In the south there are also stations that play carnatic music, which is awesomer than awesome.

(9) News

There are many news channels, but they can’t decide what language they want to be in. For instance, one will print “BREAKING NEWS” across the top of the screen in English, then scroll the actual news across the bottom in Hindi, with a semi-literate announcer simultaneously reading the news in Joobly-Gibbly or whatever the language of the day is.

There is also a CNN, which plays Presidential debates and Larry King and occasionally gives stock market updates, but which mostly talks about things happening in India, which (of course) no one really cares about.

(10) The “Jaipur Monkeys” channel

Nominally this is the “National Geographic” channel, but they seem to spend 23 hours out of every day running the same program about monkeys in Jaipur (whom I met personally, and who are much nicer than their “thieving” reputation would suggest).

Of course, at home I don’t watch TV, only Hulu, which (runs on my blessed little Aspire One and) allows me to catch up on episodes of “Heroes” (which is terrible, good god, is it terrible, and since when did they start stealing all the cast members from “The Wire” anyway, and in that event why have they not added Clay Davis as a hero whose superpower is that he can say “shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit” longer than anyone thought humanly possible) and watch Japanimation shows about tentacles and space travel.


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