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Desi Making Waves

By Jignya Sheth

South Asian Programming

Not just for your parents anymore

Zee TV, TV Asia, B4U. Perhaps these words conjure up bad memories of hours spent watching movies that should never have even been made. But these staple premium channels have been beaming everything from serials and Bollywood films, to news and cricket matches into South Asian expatriates’ homes for years.

Now, however, you can have your say in the remote control wars! There are some new kids on the Desi TV block aimed at South Asian young adults. So, when Mom suggests a nice evening with Chachi 420 or Dad tells you to be quiet because the 9:00 pm news is on, hit back by asking to watch American Desi TV, Desivision TV, or MTV Desi. Asians are now the 3rd largest minority population in the U.S., behind African-Americans and Hispanics, and such growth causes opportunity for greater representation in the media and consumer markets. For the past 5 years there have been many films about young South Asians and their cultural identities, but now even TV networks are beginning to cater directly to the first generation of South Asians born in America.


The Players

Six months young, Edison, New Jersey based American Desi TV, headed by Chairman and CEO Vimal Verma is a 24 hour English-language television network for South Asian Americans which was launched in January 2005. Available on the DISH Network, the channel, which will be distributed by cable systems by the end of next year, carries more than just news about the Hollywood and Bollywood film industries. It boasts an exclusive broadcasting contract with the U.S. Pro-Cricket

team, a daily morning show, a program highlighting upcoming Desi comics, and a call-in show addressing adolescents’ questions on a variety of topics from cultural identities to lifestyle choices. Also included in their lineup is “Points of View,” a multi-generational chat show modeled after ABC network's “The View” that candidly discusses Desi women's issues. Hosted by Senior Vice President Divya Ohri, the show brings to the forefront subjects like premarital sex, domestic violence, and the changing professional and societal roles of Desi women, in both South Asian and American society. According to Ohri, “It is important that South Asians have a platform to discuss their contributions to society as well as a platform to talk about the issues that are affecting their lives on an everyday level.”

Three of American Desi TV's interview shows, “Live Wire,” “The Pulse” and “The Voice” are hosted by Sree Sreenivasan, who is the co-founder of the South Asian Journalism Association (SAJA), a WABC-TV reporter, and a Columbia University journalism professor and dean. These shows invite South Asian politicians, business people, authors and other prominent Desis to talk about their lives and professions.

Verma explains the choice of programming for American Desi TV by saying, “We are a brand new channel and we want to build our reputation on quality programming that is relevant to the young South Asian American perspective and audience that we are catering to.... We have done 30,000 interviews considering all the varied demographics of the Desi population from all over America to find out what people want and how to deliver it to them in the best most authentic way possible.”

Making another inroad in South Asian representation in the media is Desivision TV, a broadband television station started by Virginia native Roshan Loungani in April of 2004. The channel has covered events with South Asian artists such as Indo-Canadian singer Raghav, Desi fusion bands Tavia and Karmacy and Desi comic Russell Peters. In addition to the arts, they also cover South Asian nightlife and special events like the Bollywood Awards and George Washington University’s annual Bhangra Blowout. On the local scene they also highlighted the original South Asian

play Moving Forward, penned by Arpita Mukerjee and performed by the DC chapter of the NETSAP Stage Theater Group. And now, even weekend talents have a chance to get their fifteen minutes of fame with “Time 2 Shine,” Desivision’s open mic talent show, which has been held in DC and Manhattan. On June 4th, Desivision was one of the sponsors of the first annual South Asian Media Awards held in New York City.

Looking to the future, Desivision wants to expand its coverage area to LA, San Francisco and Chicago. “The one major difference between us and the other Desi TV channels is that we are not a cable or dish service. Our programming is free and available 24 hours a day over the internet.” says Loungani. “We are just trying to give people a platform to showcase their talents and build exposure for the South Asian entertainment community.”


The latest newcomer to the South Asian niche market is MTV Desi, scheduled to launch this July. This channel will be different from MTV India because it will have its own U.S.-produced original programming, on-air talent exclusively made up of expatriate and/or second generation Desis, and focus on Indian-American issues and experiences. Nusrat Duranni, General Manager and Senior Vice President of MTV World is overseeing this new member of the MTV family that, according to a recent press release aims to “tap into the rich transcultural nature of the target audiences in a manner that uniquely connects local audiences to their homeland.” The shows featured on MTV Desi include an amalgam of the Real World/Road Rules which puts four guys and three girls on a road trip across the U.S. and top ten Desi music video countdowns. MTV Desi also includes the basic staples of news and shows covering movies, fashion, culture and Desi nightlife all over the country.


"We live in an increasingly diverse and multi-cultural country, where conversations at the dinner table and in the living room are more and more taking place in Chinese, Hindi, Urdu and Korean," states MTV Networks Chairman and CEO Judy McGrath, in a press release. She continues, "Launching these new channels is the next logical and tremendously exciting step for MTV Networks, delivering customized programming that reflects the bi-cultural identities of these audiences, not to mention providing another platform for all the great talent from these communities.”


Desi Reaction

So what do South Asians have to say about these new avenues for South Asian expression and entertainment? The general consensus among the young Desi TV watching community has been positive. Ten year old Jaysal Desai of Atlanta, Georgia states, “Having a channel for Desis is cool because it stars people who look like me and do the same stuff I do so I’d watch it.”

Shilpa Hart, Instructor of Cross Cultural Communication at American University in Washington D.C. is looking for more. “At this point we don't have the diversity of representation that I'd like to see, but that will likely come as our numbers increase and we become more established in American society,” she states. In addition to teaching she is also the co-host of Darshan TV, the longest running South Asian American TV program in the DC area. When asked about what she would like to see from the growth of South Asian programming, she adds “I'm all for the Desi entertainment and Bollywood, but I'd like to see that balanced with discussions of deeper issues concerning identity development, social activism and politics. I don't want to see programming that focuses only on our community's successes and ignores our challenges and problems. That would be a waste.”

So far representation in film, TV, and music circles for second generation Desis has been minimal, but it has increased in recent years with the presence of Naveen Andrews on ABC’s “Lost,” Parminder Nagra on NBC’s “ER,” the highly anticipated film version of Jhumpa Lahiri’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Namesake starring Kal Penn, the successful run of the play Bombay Dreams in the West End and on Broadway, as well as Norah Jones’s runaway success in the music industry. Having “our own” channels will no doubt create a showcase for the already growing fan bases of South Asian musicians. Additionally, South Asian films are no longer relegated to obscure film festivals, limited theatrical releases and local screenings only. These channels also ensure that when your parents settle down for a long night of South Asian television, there are programs made especially for you too.




Jignya Sheth supports all creative artists in their endeavors to express themselves and for sharing their vision and talents with the world audience. She has acted in two plays for NETSAP-DC's theater group, STAGE.


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