Rationed Entertainment

Until around the 1990s, entertainment and leisure, like most other things in India, had long been a subject of control and rationing. The Indian censorship board built a reputation for being as tough and calculating in choosing what content may pass through its screen as the Ministry of External Affairs is when it comes to crafting joint statements between India and Pakistan. Before television, cinema was long the staple entertainment, complemented in part by the radio. There were times when Indians, as one, were riveted to their radio sets for Binaca Geetmala, a weekly radio countdown show of top songs from Indian cinema. The show’s host, Ameen Sayani, became a household name—and Radio Ceylon, which aired the show, was a favorite frequency. But Indians got this entertainment only in permitted doses, similar to their food allowances on their ration cards.

Entertainment in India traditionally has been treated as a nutritional substance to be doled out as if by parents (who know best) to children (who need to be protected from their own appetites). Most channels, like radio and television, were run by the government, and cinema was censored by a board controlled by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. As a result, average middle-class Indians—who slogged through the day in government jobs or their own businesses so they could afford a television set—came home to watch Krishi Darshan (an educational ...

Get Consumer India: Inside the Indian Mind and Wallet now with the O’Reilly learning platform.

O’Reilly members experience books, live events, courses curated by job role, and more from O’Reilly and nearly 200 top publishers.