Satellite Wars: exploration of a teeming bazar
Vani Dayal, Mumbai
THIRTY-ONE-year old Pratap Rughani in the last decade has ungarrulously and unflailingly notched up some 30 documentary films commissioned by the BBC, Channel 4 and other independent terrestrial broadcasting networks. His writings/scripts belong to a quiet, informed school of thought. As a producer, he is sure-footed, but loves the idea of collaboration. This outer Londoner of Indian descent is an Oxford fellow with a yen for scholarship and the aesthetics and is described as having a ‘neutral’ English accent, one that is wholly acceptable to the BBC. As a forward looking media person, his credo in delving deep is a stout one: "My overwhelming experience in any country is. that as long as you are upfront and straightforward about what you are doing, along with a sense of ethics, people will believe you’re doing a job worthy of their time and your stories will have profited from insights given by voices that otherwise do not get heard.”
His latest documentary, Satellite Wars, which is the first detailed exploration of the financial and cultural impact of Satellite TV globally was screened by the British Council Division and the British Deputy High Commission on Monday in Mumbai, having already done the circuit of Delhi and Madras, and also the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) in Pune. Rughani was invited to do this three-part documentary (40 minutes) each by Good Production and a writer, William Shawcross; who has published a biography on media potentate, Rupert Murdoch. Suffice to say that the opportunity was heaven sent especially in this age of the much discussed global communications network.
Satellite Wars, focuses on the world’s most populous nations. While the film shot in India unfolds the effect that opening up the skies has had on upgrading average Indian tele-viewing, without necessarily improving it; on the flip side is the range of realities in India today which are newly bred. What emerges then, is a sincerely woven humour-flecked docudrama—a talking point or a teeming bazarscape of crowds, chaos and The quick-buck makers, the cablewallahs.
A similar story outlines the situation in China, looking more at inter. national journalism and the way that satellite TV may be modifying that Rughani readily debunks wails of protest that satellite is a blight of cultural imperialism and western contamination. However, a more sophisticated approach to harnessing the full potential of satellite will not go awry. He advocates taking satellite by the scruff of the neck and really doing something useful with, it to meet the overwhelming needs of a huge percentage of populations where literacy rates are low. It is both a surprise and disappointment that as yet a channel dedicated to high quality productions looking at basic literacy, health care and nutrition haven’t figured on satellite’s interest serving agenda. This enterprising filmmakers documentary credits are variegated and cover a range from investigative to environmental films.
Last summer, he completed a four-week-long Film Appreciation course at the FTII, Pune. A daily subsistence level of at least four films per day supplemented with priceless archival prints, the programme had paid off for Rughani, whose interest lay in the study of Indian directors of parallel cinema. The dour note in the course’s briefing that ‘the FA Course is not to be seen as a film festival,’ however, brought a smile.