Entertainment Underload: There's more entertainment than ever, just not for Indians

Palash Krishna Mehrotra @palashmehrotra | First published: 27 October 2016, 20:33 IST

The first television show I ever watched was Lucille Ball's 'I Love Lucy' on Doordarshan. Our family didn't own a television set, so I would wait for the annual trip in the winter holidays to Bombay, where my grandmother lived. Grandma had a TV and her favourite show was 'I Love Lucy', even though she didn't speak a word of English and couldn't follow the dialogue.

This was in the mid-1980s. In the thirty years since, we have seen an explosion in the range of entertainment options available to us in India. Today we have access to content on YouTube, Netflix, direct-to-home hi-definition satellite television and, of course, the neighbourhood multiplex.

"The web was a genuinely revolutionary space in the 90s, with everything available if you knew where to look."

The entertainment universe has simultaneously expanded and contracted for us. Back in the Noughties, the internet was a genuinely revolutionary space. Everything was available on it; you only had to know where to look. This might be true even now, but solely for a small band of geeks who know how to beat the system. It's not that easy for the rest of us, certainly not as easy as it was when one could simply type in a song name on Limewire and download it.

The Noughties revolution had more meaning for us than an American. We were the ones emerging from decades of socialism and its limited options. The west already had access to their movies, music and TV shows. The Internet was one more way of accessing the same content. For us, however, it was as if the whole world had opened up at the press of a button. It was only a matter of time before the world would start shutting us out.

Access denied

Look at YouTube now. There is plenty streaming for free but every so often you will encounter a message which says: 'this content is barred from streaming in your area.' You can watch it in Europe but not in India. It's increasingly difficult to find new music on YouTube-it's removed as soon as it's put up by dedicated armies of hired monitors. This wasn't the case in the Noughties.

Sometimes the restrictions seem bizarre because you can access content on one platform but not on another. Perhaps the idea is that you can access only what you've paid for. So while I can watch a major English Premier League match on Star Sports HD, I cannot tune in to the commentary on the Internet station BBC Radio Five Sports Extra. Similarly, I can watch the Jimmy Kimmel Show on direct-to-home but if I want to re-watch a segment on YouTube, I cannot. Instead, I get the blocked-in-your-area message.

How about telling us why, though?

At times, this is enormously frustrating. It reminds me of Indian schoolboy slang from the eighties: KLPD. It's a bit like when someone invites you home for dinner, shows you the spread on the dinner table and then does an MC Hammer on you: you can't touch this. How rude.

Say I am exploring BBC's impressive array of radio stations. I go into the archives and I want to listen to a John Peel session of an obscure band. I can see all the archives, I spend hours trawling that list and choosing which episode I want to listen to but when I finally click on it, it gives me the blocked message. BBC's indie music station Radio 6 Music announces that it will stream the music festival Glastonbury live. As a loyal listener you look forward to the announced evening only to find you've been barred again.

Or someone sends you a link about how the humour in Scandinavian TV shows is very different from Anglo-American humour. The obvious next step is that you want to sample some of these shows. Technologically it's possible, but the rules and regulations make it impossible.

Back to the dark days

This, I feel, is worse than the good old eighties when we were happily unaware of half the developments going on in the entertainment universe. Ignorance was bliss. These days, you really feel discriminated against. You feel left out. You think to yourself: There is all this, but why am I not allowed access to it? You think 'racist' thoughts: what will white people do with their walled off archives? Will the heavens fall or will their bottom lines collapse completely if Asians and Africans access some shows and songs lying in their vault?