The Indian Economy Blog

May 12, 2006

Oh No! India Shining Again

Filed under: Miscellaneous — Atanu Dey @ 10:32 am

From the “Don’t Know What’s the Point Department,” the new release is I am India on Google Video. A collage of images–a field of wind power generators, a soaring jet in the blue skies above a lush green field, the majestic fall of water from a dam–introduce words of ersatz wisdom: “A man’s karma is to forever turn the wheel of life towards a better future for all.”

Wow. How absolutely majestically profound-sounding. Of course, I paused the video to ponder it for a bit and gave up after the screen saver kicked in after the usual 10 minutes of inactivity. Time to move on.

The sound track were the usual shlokas from the Bhagavat Gita set to a fast paced fusion type music. Mr A R Rahman, is that you?

The creator of that video, Bharatbala Production, have “unconsciously internalized” the movie Koyaanisqatsi, no doubt. Kaavya Vishwanathan, you are not alone. Check out the time-lapse photography, the images of crowds flowing like water, the random shots of people busy in high tech activities, the heavy crucible of molten steel, the hot-rolling sheets of steel, the welding robots busy at a car assembly line, . . . OK, I will not spoil it for you. But here is the blurb:

“This film is a journey through emerging India,”the fastest growing free market democracy in the world”. It celebrates the relentless spirit of the people of India, who through their karma give it a place amongst the leading economic nations of the world. Conceived and produced by Bharatbala Productions (BBP) for India Band Equity Foundation (IBEF).”

Wow again. I am impressed.

Fastest growing does not mean particularly much at all. Growth is neither necessary nor sufficient for any meaningful assessment of a system. But even then, fastest growing economy has to be qualified with “democracy,” of course. With sufficient qualifiers one can pretty much make anything shine.

I am still trying to figure out what “the relentless spirit” and “their karma” has to do with it all. But let that be for now. My meta-puzzlement is this: who are the idiots behind this sort of stupidity? Where did the money come from (even though it could have been put together by a few college kids with a decent video camera and some editing software)?

I have a thumb rule which goes: if you really have it, you don’t have to shout about it. The really academically qualified person does not have to put “B.S, M.Tech, M. Phil, PhD” after his name, nor a “Dr” before his name. The really wealthy person does not have to advertise that he is rich. A truly vibrant economy does not have to produce promotional videos.

The day that these idiots stop producing these silly “India Shining” videos, we will know that India is no longer at the bottom of the heap. Until then, enjoy the videos.


  1. In the larger scheme of things, was this really post worthy?

    Comment by Kaul — May 12, 2006 @ 8:00 pm

  2. Kaul, the point is that someone has to ask what the bullshit and malarky is all about. These feel-good videos tend to accentuate the contrast between the reality and the advertisement. For every hi-tech worker in a shiny highrise there are 99 laborers hauling bricks on their heads up high-rise buildings.

    India is doing better now than it used to do before during the days of Nehruvian socialism. But it is still not out of the woods and it is premature to pop those champagne bottles. Be that as it may, what bothered me about the video is the fake high-sounding crap about karma and the wheel of life. Mysticism mixed with mechanics makes it undigestible.

    Comment by Atanu Dey — May 12, 2006 @ 8:56 pm

  3. That was a bit harsh. Apparently you don’t believe in softpower :)

    Comment by Chandra — May 12, 2006 @ 10:35 pm

  4. Wow, so when someone finally gets you guys to post original thoughts instead of just reposting newspaper articles, this is all you can come up with? Whining about some commercial? People like to enjoy a sense of civic pride, what’s wrong with that. Who’s popping champaygne bottles? If anything, the video creaters are encouraging other people to hop on to the bandwagon.

    Comment by ak — May 12, 2006 @ 11:43 pm

  5. I am quite inspired by the video, thank you for linking it here.

    As to your comment about its validity, I guess we should shut down the marketing department in our IIMs. On second thoughts, let us shut down all IIMs and MBA shops. Whole point of management degree is to teach people how to market themselves and their companies & its products. But why should anybody market anything ? Good things will advertise themselves! Yes, what a radical solution. I am puzzled what I should do with my ad-budget now. Actually, I am meta-puzzled :)

    All this angst about an inspiring promotional video. Jeez.

    Comment by Just a journalist — May 13, 2006 @ 12:49 am

  6. I am a marketer by training and profession and have done a fair amount of advertising, PR and promotions in my career.

    IMHO, quite a few of my friends are missing the point. Any promotional communciation can at best sysnergise with the basic product offering. Atanu has talked of the reality of the other India to argue against this video. Without going into the validity of this, even assuming that we have something good to say, this video does not serve the purpose. Hyping up your achievements through a feel-good video is misdirected. If you wish tourists to flock you land- give them a reason; if you wish investors to invest, give them a reason; if you want nations to vote for you at the UN, give them a reason. You do need to answer the question- “What is the point of my communication?”- and then, answer it effectively in your communication.

    Comment by little Ram — May 13, 2006 @ 10:09 am

  7. Kaul, you ask if the post was really worth it? Hard to say. Is it worth pointing out that the “commercial” smacked of premature self-congratulation?

    Just a journalist: could we perhaps differentiate between “marketing” and “sales”? At best the commercial is attempting to sell an image of India. And as little Ram points out, we need to ask and be clear about what the point is behind the exercise.

    The real danger of false advertising lies not so much in deceiving others, but in believing our own bullshit.

    Comment by Atanu Dey — May 13, 2006 @ 11:01 am

  8. The real danger of false advertising lies not so much in deceiving others, but in believing our own bullshit.

    Atanu, in fact I’d aver that the latter IS the reason behind this video.
    It is not to sell India to others. It is not to market India to investors.

    It is to make Indians believe in the (admittedly incorrect) idea that India is shining.
    What I’m curious is why you think this reason is a “danger”?
    Is it such a bad idea to coax a historically inferiority complexed peoples to shake off their complexes?


    Comment by anon — May 13, 2006 @ 8:13 pm

  9. Atanu, I would much rather see your, eagerly anticipated, posts draw attention to more pressing issues.
    With much respect and some envy.

    Comment by Kaul — May 13, 2006 @ 8:48 pm

  10. I find the comments posted by others more amusing than the video. I didn’t know that the sole point of pursuing MBA was to produce self-congrtualtory feel good movies about your department.

    Listen, make all the movies you want, when someone lands up at the international airport of the capital of the ‘fastest growing free economy in the world’ the truth can’t be hidden. Until the airport (read infrastructure) is fixed keep watching the video.

    Comment by Neeraj Kumar — May 14, 2006 @ 3:30 am

  11. Neeraj, spot on about the reality hitting the inbound visitor upon arrival in India.

    Kaul, I will do as you suggest.

    Comment by Atanu Dey — May 14, 2006 @ 11:46 am

  12. So I guess, the lesson to take home is, don’t be proud of anything your country accomplishes until it becomes exactly like America or another wealthy country. Be ashamed. Be unhappy. Feel victimized. You’d be a perfect political candidate.

    Comment by AK — May 14, 2006 @ 1:36 pm

  13. You guess wrong, AK. The take home lesson is that we face facts instead of patting ourselves on the back based on idiotic notions of progress. We should be celebrating facts such as that around half of our five year olds are not malnourished (not true), or that we are a nation of illiterate people (we are). Being the back office for the world is not something that I am proud about India, an ancient and deep civilization brought down to its knees thanks to Nehruvian socialism. Wake up and smell the stink before you get too attached to the dreams peddled by such adverts. Like I say, it is OK to bullshit others with such obvious fakery, but it is not such a good thing to for us to believe the bullshit for we are liable to become complacent.

    Comment by Atanu Dey — May 15, 2006 @ 9:24 pm

  14. is not something that I am proud about India, an ancient and deep civilization brought down to its knees thanks to Nehruvian socialism…..
    but it is not such a good thing to for us to believe the bullshit for we are liable to become complacent.

    Must apologize for going Neitzsche on you, but to engage in a bit of group delusion is a time-worn psychological tactic that is quite beneficial; most religions engage in it.
    There is no reason why nationalism should not engage in it, particularly in the presence of undeniable psychological damage to the nation; due to Nehruvian socialism, due to dhimmitude, due to centuries of invasions; that has resulted in an Indic inferiority complex.

    Think of it as therapy. Arguing it would lead to complacency implies you do not have a handle on the malaise itself.


    Comment by anon — May 16, 2006 @ 1:17 am

  15. The self flagellation continue…apparently we can’t celebrate our successes because there is work to be done. This would all sounds so very familiar to Indians, especially to the generation of middle class Indians who got kicked around for three decades – can’t aspire for quality stuff because not everyone can afford it.

    Because we have bad roads, we can’t talk about the brand new highways; because we have bad airports; we can’t talk about the brand new subways; because we have illiteracy, we can’t talk about those rockets; because we have dirty cities, we can’t talk about lush green fields; because we have problems, we can’t celebrate successes.

    That person working in the outsourcing industry, helping someone across global with a problem, who is no longer unemployed and dependent on her parents, after getting that lousy degree from a lousy government college, is a cyber coolie. Why? Because she is not designing the next iPod.

    Never mind we don’t banish those in-your-face beggars from our cities to make the cities look pretty; never mind we don’t confiscate poor villagers’ farm land to built golf courses or high rise buildings – we don’t get to make those unfabricated videos to show the better aspects of our lives and what we aspire to. Why? Because we are Indians.

    Comment by Chandra — May 16, 2006 @ 3:14 am

  16. Atanu

    I haven’t seen the video and it’s possible, nay highly plausible that it’s over the top. However, I think your rant is a tad misplaced — after working in America for 15 yrs, there’s similar over-the-top videos/ movies/ advertisements/ articles all over the place.

    Yes, we do have serious problems. And yes, we’re still a long ways from solving many of them. And yes, the video may be misleading. But then again, show me a single promotional video of a country/ region that has won plaudits for accuracy and verisimilitude? For that matter, many techies would aver that most MSFT announcements/ videos are similarly inaccurate

    Going further, to your thumb rule if you really have it, you don’t have to shout about it. The really academically qualified person does not have to put “B.S, M.Tech, M. Phil, PhD” after his name, nor a “Dr” before his name. The really wealthy person does not have to advertise that he is rich. A truly vibrant economy does not have to produce promotional videos.

    I used to say so, too. However, after running my own company for a few yrs, changed my opinion a tad. It’s easy to be absolutely silent and make no efforts at promotion/ marketing, if you’re a Samuelson/ Friedman (in academia), or a Gates/ Buffett (business) or such like. But if you’re a country that is still regarded by some (many?) Westerners as one filled with snake-charmers & elephants and nothing else, then this video clarifies you of such notions. Your friends and mine may be plugged into what’s happening in India. Joe & Jane Doe, in Erie, PA may not be. And IF this is their FIRST introduction to India, then so be it. Not perfect, not even good — but, something positive.

    Comment by Prashant Kothari — May 16, 2006 @ 4:26 am

  17. Prashant,

    India is a country, a sovereign state, not a movie, or a tube of toothpaste, or a blockbuster movie, or even a software services company. The fact that in the grand country of the US of A, they go over the top advertising movies and toothpaste to gain market share, is neither here nor there when it comes to an incredibly amateurish video plainly unoriginal in its format attempting to portray an emerging economy.

    Krugman pointed out long ago that countries are not corporations. It is at best idiotic to consider India an “India, Inc,” and at worst dangerous because the rules that apply to corporations do not apply to national economies. Sure you can promote PreparationH without inviting ridicule but use the same tactic on an economy, instead of admiration, it reinforces doubts that whatever change is happening is just superficial. Protesting too much that you are not poor is a pretty good indicator of poverty.

    My favorite quote in this context is, “The louder he spoke of his honesty, the faster we counted our silverware.”

    The discomfort that I have with the video starts off in its title: I AM INDIA. Watching the video I realize that not one thing displayed has had a contribution from India — from the steel mills, to the highways (shoddy imitations, though they are), the cars, the computers, the metro-rail system — nothing. That video underlines once again for me that India is a follower, not a creator or leader in technology.

    Better for now to not yell too loud of how we have arrived. We haven’t. What India had and still has is something that is much superior than the inferior ability to copy and immitate technology. That something is latent and often (unwittingly) inserted in the background soundtrack to some high tech movie. Indians, no doubt, will in time figure it out but only after their “superiors” have endorsed it. When will that be? Soon enough as the Westerners are pretty much ready to graduate to the next level of Maslow’s hierarchy.


    Comment by Atanu Dey — May 16, 2006 @ 9:37 am

  18. What is the problem Atanu? All the good news coming out of India getting you down? The fact that some one with camera and video editing skills got their hands on some gear and had some fun.

    Feeling left out – all the progress – and they did not bother to consult you? Sour grapes.

    Get a life man.

    Comment by Cynuc — May 19, 2006 @ 6:02 am

  19. I like this video idea. Atanu – the era of “if you really have it, you don’t have to shout about it.” is over.

    Now is the age of “if you got it go flaunt it.” Welcome to the age of positioning. As Prashant pointed out, how will someone in Erie, PA will know India is a lot more than Taj Mahal, snake charmers and poverty on the streets?

    I think, a country is, and should be, promoted as a corporation. This is vital as countries now compete with each other in the market place.

    Comment by Shrini — May 21, 2006 @ 6:13 pm

  20. We guys arent good enough even to make such videos.
    Similar videos from the US are more puky!
    arrgghh. Cant forget “AAammmerriiica” video on that line for a US Visa.

    So its not, sadly, about India.

    Comment by BV — May 26, 2006 @ 2:11 am

  21. Kaul asked very simply, “In the larger scheme of things, was this really post worthy?” That was followed by your verbose defense sans introspection, which says more about you than the topic in question.

    As for my opinion, I have nothing further to add to Chandra’s and Prashant Kothari’s words.

    Comment by Mahesh Shantaram — May 28, 2006 @ 3:32 pm

  22. America does promote itself but most of this promotion comes from private enterprise (Hollywood being its torch-bearer). Want some perspective? Think how silly it must look to the western world when India boasts about its Metro trains (200 year old technology) considering that America put a man on the moon 37 years ago.

    Comment by SacredCyborg — May 31, 2006 @ 8:40 am

  23. SacredCyborg says America does promote itself but most of this promotion comes from private enterprise (Hollywood being its torch-bearer).

    I live in Washington, DC and based on personal observation, would not agree with this statement — yes, American private enterprise is out there promoting the US of A, but the various arms of the government (Federal, State or Local) are no laggards.

    Yes, we Indians need to avoid self-delusion and unjustified chest-thumping. However, let’s not underestimate the power of perception.

    Regardless, think we’re spending far too much time on this particular issue, starting with Atanu’s overly long rant ;-) Time we moved on to other issues. At least, I am…

    Comment by Prashant Kothari — May 31, 2006 @ 1:44 pm

  24. :) agreed. Let’s move on.

    Comment by SacredCyborg — June 3, 2006 @ 5:45 am

  25. Before you do move on, though… Atanu said something important: “What India had and still has is something that is much superior than the inferior ability to copy and immitate technology. That something is latent and often (unwittingly) inserted in the background soundtrack to some high tech movie.”
    On another strand, addressing such soundtracks, SacredCyborg lamented that the millions who consume popular Indian entertainment are the ACTUAL PEOPLES of the subcontinent (and now the world). But they have no purchasing power! What good are they, then, to a marketing plan? Good lord, it would take some fundamental transformation of the world economy for these two arcs to intersect! Fortunately, at the same time, the “something latent” also seems to get inserted in the work of your techies. I’m here in Greater Boston, where we Americans host you guys as graduate students. If you have a “cultural inferiority complex,” it is charming in its humility. All the cultures have to blur as they interpenetrate: that’s not new. We all only find our own living culture by letting it change. And that’s how my web search happened on your website. Because now my son wants to take his PhD in Computational Biology from Columbia University and go post-doc in Bangalore!

    Comment by Mary Porter — June 11, 2006 @ 7:12 pm

  26. Hallo Atanu

    I am one of the ‘silly idiots’ who participated in the project of trying to sell India as the ‘fastest growing free market democracy’ to foreign investors. While details such as ‘where did the money come from’ I cannot state for obvious reasons of confidentiality
    (and which you should be smart enough to guesstimate from the blurb, since you and I both think you are smart enough), I can in personally political capacity speak of what I think of your thoughts on the video, and the purposes of such creations.

    ‘ A truly vibrant economy does not have to produce promotional videos.’ Of course. Whoever said it does? One advertises only when there is a need to sell a product, and what is being done here is exactly that, selling India’s culture latently to make real the falsity of the fabric of the image being shown. Anybody can see that so I don’t understand your point. Let me be clearer because you puzzle me. I would understand if you would say that the entire point of selling through advertising is meaningless, because selling through the market itself is an activity that creates false notions of demands, needs and builds a culture of aspirations around ownership of commodities, the epitome of which is the capitalist west right now. What you say here is, to me, pretty obvious and the inference I draw is this. If you say we don’t need to make a promotional video for a truly vibrant economy, I agree. ‘Promotional’ itself says it all, the video is trying to promote India as the destination for future investment which could look as beautiful as the images in the video, all thanks to their contribution. Within the business of selling and promoting, the video does its job. So I can’t understand your disgruntlement, for I think it is not with having created a false reality, even if you don’t agree with that point FOR you agree it is promotional and aspirational. To promote, you oversell the haves and kill the have nots, right? Happens all the time.
    Then again, I am wrong, for you are unhappy with false impressions of India. So I do a little separation here of two things, one present and the other absent from your thoughts on ‘I am India’. One, that you are unhappy with the false impressions, this is not the real India. Two, you haven’t said a thing about whether you are unhappy about selling India, even though you agree it is an advertisement that also raises questions about the selling culture in general.

    I pose a question to you: Do you dislike India being sold as a product or do you dislike market culture that, i believe, threatens to make products of everything that exists in an outside this world, faith, beliefs, ideas, bodies, brains et al?

    Comment by Nupur Jain — August 1, 2006 @ 12:24 am

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