Shailesh Kapoor: It’s All About Hindi Vindi

20 Dec,2012

By Shailesh Kapoor


If we had to make a list of the most common fallacious arguments in the corporate world, one that will definitely make it to the list will be the tendency to generalize personal experiences to a larger target audience. Executives, being human beings after all, tend to extrapolate their own, their family’s and their friends’ experiences to the general population. Informally, you can also call this method ‘mother-in-law research’.


In the entertainment business, this tendency is bound to be even more dominant, given that there is a passionate entertainment consumer in all of us. To separate personal likes and dislikes from business decisions may not be always possible. Also, it can be argued, and rightly so, that in a business as dynamic as this, personal judgment does play a key role. Those who manage to use personal judgment and yet draw a line between that and mother-in-law research are in the best seat.


There are various aspects of this syndrome that we encounter regularly, each worth a column in itself. Here, I focus on one such aspect: The language bias.


English is the business language of the industry. Surely, no one can be complaining about that. But when business language meddles with the communication language for mass consumers, it can be a cause of concern. Let’s look at some examples:


1. More than 75% of Hindi channels have brand logos in English. In fact, the percentage would have been higher than 90%, but for Hindi news channels, which have been more prudent in this regard. It is well understood that a logo works as a symbol, and the textual content of the image is not seen in isolation. But that happens over years. For a new Hindi channel, a brand name that can’t be read by more than half of the literate target audience, because it is in a language they are not familiar with, is a luxury such channel can only ill afford.


2. This obsession with English extends to channel packaging and taglines. There are two strong stereotypes at play here. One says: In the metros, English is now widely used, and hence, can be the main language of communication. This is classic mother-in-law research (or my-friends-circle research) at play. In cities where slow-paced songs are called ‘silent songs’ and horror movies are routinely referred to as ‘horrible movies’ (by the youth, no less), using English for brand communication of a Hindi channel is pure futility at display.


The second stereotype involved is: English is aspirational. Hence, even if it reduces audience comprehension just a wee bit, the aspirational layers more than make up for it. Yes, English is aspirational. But there’s a difference between sending your children to English medium schools and trying to crack communication puzzles in English on television. The context decides the value of the aspiration. To see Dove and a TV channel brand with the same lens may not exactly be wise!


3. Show logos and packaging for serials has moved to Hindi over the last few years, though most reality shows continue to be packaged in English – another stereotype. What amuses me no end is the to see Hindi credits in serials, where designations like ‘costume designer’, ‘cinematographer’, ‘creative head’ and ‘associate producer’ are written in Devnagiri, without translation.


4. The most dangerous of all – English promo supers. So many promos across Hindi GECs and Hindi movie channels use English language for supers to communicate their message. We have built conclusive evidence over the last few years to prove that English supers are nothing but blind spots, rejected en masse because of lack of effortless comprehension.


I have no personal preference for Hindi. It used to be my first language for more than 25 years. But over my early years of working, I realized that my ‘thinking language’ has shifted to English. Personal language choices should be a matter of comfort and convenience. But the consumer needs to be spoken to in his/ her language of expression. And without a sense of reluctance or apology at the communicator’s end.


Shailesh Kapoor is founder and CEO of media & entertainment research and consulting firm Ormax Media. He spent nine years in the television industry before turning entrepreneur. He can be reached at his Twitter handle @shaileshkapoor


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