Hindi Movies and the Indian Government

P. Kumaresan

TAMIL TRIBUNE, December 2000 (ID.2000-12-01)

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Hindians: People whose mother tongue is Hindi (similar to Tamil speakers are sometimes referred as Tamilans or Tamilians).


AIADMK - All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam

DMK - Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam


1. Introduction

2. Indian Television

3. Hindi Movies and Television

4. Lesson from this Episode

5. Discrimination in Royalty Payments

6. Indian Embassies and Hindi Movies


1. Introduction

Movie industry comes under the jurisdiction of state governments (under "States List" in the constitution). The Indian Government (that is, the Central Government or Union Government, as it is often referred to), dominated and controlled by Hindi politicians, are working hard to bring it under the "Concurrent List" and thus under the dual jurisdiction of both state and union governments (Thinaboomi: Tamil newspaper, October 12, 1998). Non-Hindi people should vehemently oppose this move because once the Indian Government gets dual jurisdiction over the movie industry, they can usurp state authority and use all the powers and finances of the Indian Government to promote Hindi movie industry, to the detriment of other language movies.

While Hindian politicians are maneuvering to bring movie industry under Indian Government jurisdiction, it is not waiting in its effort to help the Hindi movie industry. It is using other indirect means to help. Here are couple of examples.

2. Indian Television

All broadcast television in India is owned and operated by the Indian Government. Private companies are allowed only to operate cable-cast and satellite-cast television. While broadcast television is free and available for view every nook and corner of India, cable/satellite television is available only in large urban areas and you have to pay for it. So the vast majority of people watch only the government-operated broadcast television (called Doordharshan (means television in Hindi)). There are mainly two broadcast channels - the national channel and the regional channel. The former is broadcast all over India, while the latter is broadcast only in their respective regions (for example, Tamil Nadu). Also, the former is seen every nook and corner, even in most small villages. The latter is not so widely available - many villages cannot receive the regional channel. Bulk of the national channel programs are in Hindi, with a few hours of English and some Sanskrit programs (yes, programs in Sanskrit, a language understood by less than one-hundredth of one percent of the Indians, are broadcast throughout India every day, seven days a week). Bulk of the regional channel programs is in the local languages, with some hours of Hindi and a few hours of English programs as well. (Why many hours of Hindi programs are included in regional channels while they already have the lion's share of hours on the national channel?)

3. Hindi Movies and Television

Now, coming back to our discussion of Hindi movies and television, the national channel broadcasts a large number of Hindi movies. It used to show a few non-Hindi movies ("regional language" movies) also because of extensive pressure from the regional movies industry. Then a few years ago, they announced that henceforth only award-winning regional language movies will be shown on national channel while any two-bit Hindi movie got broadcast. In other words, the Indian Government is telling that any Hindi movie is as good as an award-winning regional language movie!

That was not the end. In October 2000, Indian Government controlled Prasar Bharati that operates Indian broadcast television announced that it would not show any regional-language movies at all on national channel, only Hindi movies will be shown. The South Indian Film Chamber of Commerce protested strongly and announced that it would organize protests in South India. Faced with public protest, Indian Government backed down in December 2000.

4. Lesson from this Episode

Let us not be too happy that we have thwarted Indian Government's move vis-a-vis regional language movies on television. Remember that only about 40% of the Indian population has Hindi as the mother tongue. Less than one-fourth the taxes are paid by Hindi states. Yet about 95% of the movies shown on taxpayer funded national channel are in Hindi. The South Indian Film Chamber of Commerce has merely stopped the Indian Government from making it 100%. It is not a victory; it is a defeat for non-Hindi film industry.

It may even be a temporary victory. If past experience is any guide, number of non-Hindi movies will be slowly decrease even further a few years from now and without any announcement reduced to just half-a-dozen movies a year. There is ample precedence to this. Here is an example. Back when M.G. Ramachandran was Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, introduction of Hindi newscasts in the Chennai Channel (Madras Channel) caused resentment among Chennai area residents and mass protests loomed. Chief Minister Ramachandran rushed to New Delhi and told the then Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi that if the government did not back down he would not be responsible for what could happen. Even his party may join in the protests. The Prime Minister backed down. Then, after a few years, Hindi newscasts were quietly re-introduced. How many times can we organize mass protests?

5. Discrimination in Royalty Payments 

Royalty payment is made to the movie producers each time a movie is broadcast on television. The Indian Government set it at 8 lakh Rupees for national channel broadcasts (about 95% of them Hindi movies) and 1 lakh Rupees for regional channel broadcasts (10 lakh = 1 million). The reason is that more people watch the national channel than each regional channel.

In 2000, the Indian Government controlled Prasar Bharati that operates broadcast television announced that royalties for national channel broadcasts would be increased by 50% to 12 lakh Rupees but there would be no such increase for broadcasts in regional channels, royalties would stay at 1 lakh Rupees. Since about 95% of the movies broadcast on the national channel are Hindi movies, this is in fact a discrimination against non-Hindi movies.

In fact, even the previous 8 -to-1 ratio (let alone the new 12-to-1 ratio) in royalties for national and regional channel broadcasts was tilted in favor of the former (about 95 % of which are Hindi movies) because the average ratio of viewership for Tamil or Telugu movies on regional channels were never as low as one-eighth that of Hindi movie broadcasts on national channel. The new 12-to-1 ratio is a whopping tilt in favor of Hindi movies and discrimination against non-Hindi movies. 

6. Indian Embassies and Hindi Movies

The Indian Government is using even Indian embassies abroad to promote Hindi movies. In May 2000, Indian Embassy in Israel organized a Hindi Film Week in the city of Tel Aviv. We would not object if the Indian Embassies promote all Indian movies, not just Hindi movies. It does not matter to the Israelis whether the language is Hindi or Assamese or Malayalam or Punjabi, or ... They do not understand any of these languages. If they watch these movies they would watch them for visual effects or artistry. So why promote only Hindi movies and ignore all other movies. The number of non-Hindi movies produced every year in India is much higher than the number of Hindi movies. In fact, in some years there are more Telugu movies produced than Hindi movies; in some years there are more Tamil movies produced than Hindi movies. Do the Hindian politicians who dominate and control the Indian Government hold the opinion that non-Hindi movies are of such low quality that they should not be shown abroad, and that only Hindi movies have the quality to merit showings abroad?


Hindi and Computers (by P. Kumaresan), TAMIL TRIBUNE, January 1998 (8 KB)

FEEDBACK (November 2, 2001)

I read the article recently. I remembered that the Tamil Nadu State Government also expressed a similar view. Searching the news archives I found that on January 21, 2001 (just about a month after the publication of the article) the then Tamil Nadu Information Minister V Mullaivendhan expressed his opposition to Indian Government moves to shift the movie industry from the "States List" to the "Concurrent List" at the Information Ministers' Conference in New Delhi. 

K. Perumal
November 2, 2001

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