Monday, November 13, 2006

The Devil Digs MTV Desi

Launched in July 2005, MTV Desi is a music-based channel targeted at young South Asian Americans and those interested in desi pop culture. Now, The Devil lives in Mumbai, and hasn't watched MTV Desi, but it sounds decidedly wicked -

During one hour of MTV Desi, you might see the latest Bollywood music video, pop bhangra king Juggy D, Indian-fronted indie band Goldspot, and Pakistani rock band Junoon. Put them alongside American pop standards like Jessica Simpson, Christina Aguilera and Justin Timberlake, and you’ve got a multi-ethnic, multi-genre playlist that befits the modern South Asian American.

While music is the primary focus of the programming, it’s not the sole driving force of the channel. MTV News provides desi-specific news segments for the channel, covering everything from South Asian American reactions to the immigration debate to the latest from desi stars like Kal Penn, M.I.A. and Jay Sean. (link)
So, how is MTV Desi different from MTV India?

The channel will not be merely a tweaked reproduction of MTV India. Rather, it will, like its target audience, be a hybrid, blending here and there and grappling with identity issues, mostly in English.

Interspersed among Bollywood videos, electronic tabla music and English-Gujarati hip-hop, it will feature brief documentary clips profiling desis, comic skits about South Asian-American generational conflicts, interviews with bicultural artists and desi house parties, live. (link)

Ego Magazine spoke to MTV Desi head Nusrat Durrani -

who seems to be perennially dressed in black, has a crop of unruly curly black hair, and eyes that seem to be slightly bored with ennui, till he flashes an amused smile if you say something utterly heretical
- about what MTV Desi means for desis -

MTV Desi launched with the kind of explosive charm that is so MTV, so New York, and so deliciously desi. An enormous screen in Times Square, New York, launched MTV's salute to South Asians with flashing images of music videos from top South Asians artists.

It was almost a metaphor for the way that South Asian pop culture has been experienced in the US in the past - just glimpses of it. Some of it is chaotic, some is smooth and sexy, some is lost in translation. The countdown video to the launch was a metaphor for that experience.

It ended in a lucid piece which was the launch of MTV Desi. Suddenly at 9pm, the world saw a music video by Rabbi- a Sikh popstar from India who doesn’t quite look like what you’d expect a popstar to look like. There he was, displayed in Times Square - in the center of the world. With MTV Desi, there’s a platform for him now.

MTV Desi chose its VJs to represent the diversity of the desi experience. VJ Niharika Desai, for instance, balances hosting countdowns from mendhi salons and interviewing desi superstars with editing serious documentaries. Niharika sounds really interesting and so does the story of how she became a MTV Desi VJ -

"My parents didn’t raise me watching Hindi films and what not. So I implore you, please do something more than Bollywood." That’s what Niharika Desai told MTV World producers during her audition for the coveted role as a VJ on MTV Desi. Her honesty worked - Desai was singled out from hundreds of others, eventually landing the plum job.

Not that she doesn’t love Bollywood - she does. Desai was just hoping that MTV Desi would highlight all aspects of pop culture that interest South Asian Americans, not just the traditional desi staples. Her vision aligned with that of Nusrat Durrani, founder of MTV Desi and general manager and senior vice president of MTV World. And so Desai found a home.
Durrani's choice of Tim Cash, the youngest MTV VJ at 19, for the male anchor did not find much favour, by the way -

Since Kash isn’t an American, I’m guessing Durrani didn’t find a male anchor he liked by launch time and had to go to the UK bench. I’m also guessing that he’s champing at the bit to get an American. But maybe he just wanted one of the anchors to be an old hand at MTV.
Since then, MTV Desi has added Husna Hasan -

With her sweet exterior and princess smile Husna Hasan is a surprise attack who unleashes her sharp tongue and quick wit while interviewing celebs. She's a daddy's girl who fantasizes about playing drums in a rock band and a news junkie that keeps M.I.A. cranked up while reading the latest headlines. (link)
- and Utkarsh Ambudkar -

Utkarsh is a Brooklynite of many talents; one day knocking out judges in various rap battles around the city, the next recording his debut ep Lo-fi Champ, and the very next traveling to Africa teaching beat-boxing to underprivileged children and students in Ghana. (link)
- to its lineup of VJs.

MTV Desi has played a role in promoting Desi musical talent; Sri Lankan-American singer-songwriter Dushyanti is a case in point -

After writing and singing a poppy reggaeton song called 'Many Men', Dushyanthi rounded up professionals she’d met through her modeling career to shoot a video for the infectious single. She burned that video onto a disc and put it in the mail to the programming director at MTV Desi, who loved the it and put it into rotation. 'Many Men' soon climbed the charts to the number two spot on the MTV Desi countdown.
The Devil loved it a little less, though. In fact, The Devil found it to be decidedly mediocre -

MTV Desi has also dabbled in making desi remixes of non-Desi classics, like David Bowie's 'Let's Dance' (link via Ultrabrown)-

With top-notch musicians, a visually stunning music video, a sprinkling of Desi flair, and Bowie's original creative spirit even David Bowie's own management team is calling it one of the finest Bowie remixes ever. If you like the original, and dig Bollywood sounds - you'll love the remix.
The Devil thinks that both the remix and the video works very well, albeit in a kitshy kind of way -

The Devil is wondering if there's a way of watching MTV Desi in Mumbai - and if there isn't - is it worth losing one's sanity over it. Anybody?

Wicked Meter Rating: 9/10.

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2 Wicked Comments:

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