Monday, August 15, 2011

Isn't The National Anthem For All Indians?

I have a huge problem with Times Of India's new marketing initiative centred around the National Anthem. It's nothing but an ego trip. Called "Jaya Hey," it rubbishes what school children sing everyday as being only a fifth of what Rabindranath Tagore originally intended, and proudly unfurls the remaining four stanzas that have now been set to music.



While this is a noble task by itself, what really gets my goat is the way TOI has gone about it. It's a ten-minute video that attempts to sell unabashed patriotism (through visual indicators like pained puppy dog eyes and upturned palms, as if invoking the Almighty), but in a manner that makes TV infomercials look like works of art. This video is an exercise for TOI's clout, nothing more. By pulling in 39 singers and musicians (who, I'm sure, have all worked for free because, really, how can you put money over patriotism?), TOI is essentially telling us, "Look at the connections I have. I am all powerful. Bow before me."

What's troubling, however, is what this video implies.

1. The National Anthem is not an individualistic song; what makes it truly powerful is the collective aspect of it, the fact that whoever you are, wherever you might be, when you hear "Jana Gana Mana," you stand at attention and sing along. Do you sing the National Anthem alone? No, you're usually singing along when it's playing in the theatre or at a flag hoisting or with your classmates in school. And yet, this video shows 39 well-heeled singers and musicians, dressed in their finest silk ethnic wear, performing individually for the most part. Essentially, when each one had some free time, they came into the studio, recorded and filmed, and left.

2. You all know the numbers - 1.2 billion people, 30 states, so many languages and religions and dialects, etc. Do you see any of that represented here? If you do, let me know, because I sure don't. It doesn't appear like TOI bothered to step out of their air-conditioned offices/cars/studios to go out on the streets across the country and let the people of India sing their National Anthem with pride. No, because how on earth are you going to haul all that recording equipment everywhere and still get quality sound while keeping costs low? What's that? Bring the people into the studios? You mean, poor and middle-class people who mean nothing to me or my ratings? Plus, we'll have to pay extra to sanitize the studio after the construction labourers come in with their dirty snotty kids and infect everything with their grubby paws. Instead, let me just call the famous people who can sing or play an instrument and have high hygienic standards.

3. Is this a TOI paean to India or to Rabindranath Tagore? I counted at least five portraits of the man. Oh wait, I forgot, it's a TOI tribute to the 39 well-heeled singers and musicians. India, meanwhile, can be represented through stock photography (which I'm hoping they paid for). More prioritizing of the individual over the collective. "National Anthem," indeed.

4. Rabindranath Tagore did not write "Jana Gana Mana" for it to be the Indian National Anthem. The man passed in 1941, while the National Anthem was adopted by the Government of India in 1950. So, TOI cannot say this is what Tagore originally intended when he wrote the song in 1911. The Government chose a stanza to make the National Anthem in 1950; TOI chooses to make a music video on Tagore's entire song in 2011. This marketing gimmick is NOT the new National Anthem.

A far better example of capturing the Indian essence, of unification of the whole over singling of the individual, is the "Mile Sur Mera Tumhara," a 1988 film about national integration and unity. (The redux, "Phir Mile Sur Mera Tumhara," released in 2010, was D.O.A.). Sure, it was conceived and delivered by an advertising agency for a government body, but what matters is the final film. It is representative of India, the lay of its land, its people, traditions, customs, languages. It emphasises the collective over the individual and stays true to its refrain of "One tune."