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Abhijit Roy: Reality TV, Participatory Culture and the Many Locations of Bengal and Bengaliness

We look at three sites of participatory culture around Reality TV that help us understand the many nuances of Bengal and Bengaliness in contemporary popular culture: Kolkata and its suburbs, Darjeeling and Shillong (the last two being hilly towns where Bengalis are a minority, the former within Bengal and the latter outside).
Abhijit Roy: Reality TV, Participatory Culture and the Many Locations of Bengal and Bengaliness

Abhijit Roy

While in Darjeeling, during Indian Idol season 3 (2007), concerted public mobilization for voting for a local participant led to the rejuvenation of a political movement demanding secession from Bengal, in Shillong mobilization to vote for a local Bengali boy greatly facilitated what Aswin Punathambekar calls ‘new sociability’ among thitherto separated ethnic groups.

I explore in this presentation how Reality TV has created new spaces for political articulation and sociability where ethnic and consumer subjectivities overlap to inscribe the small towns into the mainstream global popular. Such a process of getting globalized as the only way of obtaining national recognition in our times has a major correspondence to the structure of participatory culture around vernacular television in the suburbs which aspire for a metropolitan recognition. The metropolitan, Calcutta in our case, constitutes and represents an aspirational framework hinged upon a specific idea of Bengaliness.

I would try to demonstrate how certain institutions work towards connecting this idea of Bengaliness embedded in global consumerist popular to 19th century cosmopolitanism which found a special place in Bengal. The outcome of my fieldwork on Bengali Reality TV with particular reference to the game show Rojgere Ginni (The earning housewife, 2001-2013) would be thoroughly discussed in this connection. Issues in gender, marriage, family, sexuality, gift economy, leisure, work, domestic labour, etc. are likely to come up in the discussion.

As against a form of Bengaliness portrayed in contemporary Bengali Reality shows with which a large number of Bengali women identify, in the two other instances of participatory culture Bengal is perceived as an antagonistic divisive state (Darjeeling) and as a cohesive cultural force in a multicultural scenario (Shillong). This presentation examines the role of Reality TV in such diverse perceptions and articulations, with the purpose of rethinking the relationship between the city, its suburbs and the small towns, and reviewing the historical legacies claimed by each in post-Liberalization India.

Aswin Punathambekar (2010) ‘Reality TV and Participatory Culture in India’ in Popular Communication, 8:4, pp. 241-255 (download here)
Abhijit Roy (2016). ‘(In)Visible Publics: Television and Participatory Culture in India’ in Cultural Studies in India: Essays on Literature, History and Politics eds. Rana Nayar, Pushpinder Syal and Akshaya Kumar, Routledge, New Delhi. pp. 201-221 (download here)

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