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Choice is forcing change in TV, cinema content: Amit Khanna

Madhusree Chatterjee
30 January 2013

Jaipur, Jan 30 (IANS) In an age of multiple entertainment choices, the ways of consuming media has changed, forcing a rethink in TV and cinema programming for crisp and shorter content, as people's attention span is also getting shorter, says an industry leader.

"There is cacophony of media today. Never in the history of human race have we been so networked," says Amit Khanna, poet, film lyricist and media mogul who is also chairman of Anil Ambani-led Reliance Entertainment Limited.

"We have nearly two billion internet connections, more than four billion phones. We have multiple choices of media. In Indian households, a young daughter is texting a friend, a son has an iPad, another is watching a TV and yet another reading newspapers," he said.

"Television now is characterized by variety and in Bollywood, cinema is catering to two segments of audiences," Khanna, 71, who has now published a book on poetry after nearly 30 years, told IANS in an interview.

"Bollywood has become more polarized. Young filmmakers are catering to the youth with more intelligent and earthy films rooted in socio-political fabric of the soil, while movies for expatriates in US and UK are more glossy and conventional."

The proliferation of media tools, Khanna says, is spurring viewers to consume in small doses, which means lesser eyeballs - as viewership is spread across the wide genres of mediums. "People don't have the patience to reflect. We have to make more eye-catching programmes to grab eyeballs."

An outspoken media entrepreneur, Khanna has also been working on a range of issues concerning the media and entertainment industry in India as the chairperson of FICCI's Convergence Committee and CII's National Committee in this area.

"The country needs a cultural policy that upholds freedom of expression, looks at self-regulation versus censorship, and encourages the state to play a non-interventionist role," he says.

"The state has to be a facilitator rather than a regulator. Culture is a sum of several facets -- traditional, folk and the contemporary. It is a combination of heritage and modernity. How do you achieve an optimum balance between the two is the debate."

The biggest challenge, he feels, in evolving a national cultural policy is to overcome the resistance to the status quo by the powers-that-be.

Khanna, who started working with Nav Ketan Films in 1971 as a young man, has also had a long association with poetry. "I used to write poetry between writing film songs," says the poet who has penned the lyrics for nearly 400 Bollywood movies and non-film songs.

"I've translated the works of poets like Kaifi Azmi and Javed Akhtar. In the Illustrated Weekly (now defunct), I translated Hindi film songs to English. There was an audience for Hindi film songs. They were not considered infra dig."

His latest anthology, "Anant Raaq: Infinite Verses", published by Harper Collins, is a "set of diverse poetry, inspired by nature, human stories, emotions and spirituality" that has been translated by him from Hindi to English.

"It has translations of traditional Hindi kavitas, ghazals, dohas (medieval homilies), couplets and film songs," says Khanna, who feels poetry has been neglected for a while as there are not enough readers.

"It is still very difficult to make a living out of poetry. There are 'kavi sammelans' (gatherings) and 'mushairas', especially in the vernacular language. But the tendency among poets is to write populist rather than serious poetry. These small gatherings do not reach out to people with poetry."

Traditionally, he says, cinema lyrics, songs and poetry in India had always overlapped since the beginning of the talkies era. "Except for a small gap, that has been the tradition since the 1940s and 1950s. Poets had been writing lyrics and songs."

The overlap started waning in the 1990s with a phase of clear distinction among film lyrics, songs and poetry. But the trend is catching up with a new breed of writers like Prasoon Joshi, Neelesh Mishra and Irshad, with a penchant for the written word, prose as well as poetic cadence, he says.

"Poets now realize that they have to reach out to the younger audience if they have to make a living out of it," says Khanna who is currently working on a book on the history of Indian media and entertainment from the 18th century.

(Madhusree Chatterjee can be reached at madhu.c@ians.in)

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