Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs

Joyojeet Pal -- Of Mouse and Men: Computers and Geeks as Icons in South Indian Cinema

Friday, October 22, 2010

4 p.m. – 6 p.m.

Joukowsky Forum

Of Mouse and Men: Computers and Geeks as Icons in South Indian Cinema
Joyojeet Pal, ATLAS Institute, University of Colorado at Boulder, and NYU-Poly
In the canonical Hollywood blockbuster, the pleated pants of a computer engineer have been sadly overlooked as the exemplar of virile heroism. Not so for the Indian film industry. Since the early 2000s, Information and Communications Technology for Development (ICTD) has rapidly gained attention as an emerging area of scholarship as engineers and social scientists alike investigate the impact of digital technology on issues of economic development. Research in ICTD while vibrant, has been largely restricted to issues around the use of information technologies towards a range of activities including eGovernance, computer-based learning, agricultural information systems. In the past decade, India with its visible duality between the plenitude of the high-technology sector and the widening inequality with its urban and rural poor has presented a unique paradox in the ICTD space. In this talk, we examine issues in the broader discourse of technology in India, to get at heretical questions of why people living in various forms of deprivation find hope for economic and social development in technology. In following a project that researched peoples' perceptions of computers in states of rural South India, we find that media depictions are an important part of a larger enthusiasm for the 'computer'. Investigating the cinematic representation of technology in popular Indian film, we find a visible positive and highly aspirational discourse of technology both in the representation of technology users and the artifacts themselves, such as laptops or the internet, a trend particularly evident on comparison with western cinema. To discuss the issue of intentionality in this trend, we present a textual analysis of some of the major films in the recent decade, and interviews with filmmakers in the Chennai and Hyderabad film industries discussing the screenwriting process. The use of India as a case for broader examination is important on two levels. First, regionally, India is a ‘leader’ in the ICTD movement both because of the symbolic value of its software sector despite the co-existing underdevelopment and also because it is home to a range of ICT-based initiatives aimed at bringing about developmental outcomes. Secondly, from the perspective of the future of ICTD, the role of media, especially popular film, in the construction of knowledge about technology is an important and under-researched area that this work seeks to take forth.

Location: Joukowsky Forum, Watson Institute, 111 Thayer Street.