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ISSN: 0974-892X


July, 2017



The World is My Family”: Reading Globalization, Postnation and India in a Short Film

Dr. Samipendra Banerjee, Assistant Professor, Department of English, University of Gour Banga, Malda (WB)

The idea of this brief paper stems from the recent surge in nationalism studies that are in turn influenced by the conflicting, activist and paradoxical nature of contemporary nationalisms. Positions on nationalism are being understood in terms of the wide ranging effect of globalization and an equally strong urge to retain local concerns. The global economy and culture has often fostered interesting links such between apparently conflicting ends. While there is no denying the growing force of globalized networks and a global system, this has not always led to a demise of the local concerns; rather local identities are being reinforced in relation to global systems which can be read in terms of what Wilson and Dissanayake refer to as “global-local nexus”. Wilson and Dissanayake find in the ‘nexus’,

a new world-space of cultural production and national representation which is simultaneously becoming more globalized (unified around dynamics of capitalogic moving across borders) and more localized (fragmented into contestatory enclaves of difference, coalition and resistance) in everyday texture and composition (1).     

The everyday lives that we lead today, especially in India, are indeed full of numerous such examples, one of which is the way foods and cuisines have emerged to be simultaneously global and local.  If the presence and popularity of the McDonald’s chain of restaurants across India is a vivid sign of the globalized flow of food cultures beyond national borders, then a new entrant on the McDonald menu, the ‘McAloo Tikki’ is McDonald’s innovation designed specifically for the Indian palate. The KFC, another popular American fast food restaurant chain recently introduced the ‘Paneer Zinger meal’ which is basically the classic American burger stuffed with paneer and served with French fries. In the wake of global capital flows in what Friedman terms as the ‘global marketplace’, the multinational giant often enters into curious relationships with the local and indigenous cultures. And these relations, instead of threatening, often sustain such cultures.

Globalization, it is evident, creates a vast and wide playing field with multiple implications and connections between economy, politics and culture that in turn redefine contemporary notions of nationalism.1 For a better understanding of such global paradoxes, one must turn to Arjun Appadurai. In his seminal work Modernity at Large, Appadurai brilliantly addresses the multiple paradoxes and disjunctures concerning globalization by suggesting certain revisionist critiques of globalization in relation with nationalism and modernity. Appadurai sets the scene by pointing out that

The new global cultural economy has to be seen as a complex, overlapping, disjunctive order that cannot any longer be understood in terms of existing center-periphery models (even those that might account for multiple centers and peripheries...The complexity of the current global economy has to do with certain fundamental disjunctures between economy, culture and politics (32—3).          

Hence he calls for a revision of these earlier binary categories as we seek to probe globalization and his task is to argue “for a general rupture in the tenor of intersocietal relations in the past few decades” (2). Appadurai suggests the apparent collapse of the boundaries of the nation-state and in fact, emphatically declares that “we need to think ourselves beyond the provide part of the apparatus of recognition for post national social forms” (158). In Appadurai, already in 1996, there is thus a recognition of the need to move, theoretically, towards the postnation.

A strong set of beliefs in contemporary nationalism studies emphasizes the fast erosion of nation-state’s borders and in it derive impetus for a postnationalist vision. Habermas is at the helm of a group of several scholars who believe that in an increasingly transnational culture, the relevance of the nation-state, ‘national identity’ and the idea and viability of nationalism is being questioned and is fast being relegated and conceded to a post-national sense of citizenship and identity. This has been most evident through the rise of regional blocs like the European Union (EU) and transnational regulatory bodies like International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank.2 Allegiance to many such transnational bodies have demanded a participation in a civic culture and democracy that is defined in postnational terms and has to be adhered to without prioritizing the territory of the nation-state. This erodes the sovereignty of the nation-state and it is difficult for states to pursue their own national interests without considering its effect and impact on affairs and institutions that lie beyond their geographical borders. Habermas (2001) remains a strong advocate for universalism and postnationalist democracy with the decline of the nation-state. His image of the ‘postnational constellation’ suggests a revision of our perceptions about the nation-state. He envisages the many ways in which the demise of the nation-state is apparent and shows how democracy, the basis of the erstwhile nation-state must reclaim itself in the new politics of the postnational. As McBride rightly notes,

Habermas believes [that] the success of postnationalist democratic institutions depends not on the possibility of forging a new unified national identity corresponding to these institutions, but on the strength of the interactions between the various publics, which must exercise discursive control over formal democratic institutions (165).      

The postnation subsequently remains a contentious issue of debate in the interactions between nationalism and globalization, in the passages of the contemporary. However, as the global experiences of the twenty-first century show, postnation has neither been able to render nationalism and nation-states irrelevant, nor can we afford to think merely in terms of defined and physical territories of the nation-state. As most scholars agree today, the interaction between nationalism and globalization produces two conflicting ideological positions. The first theoretical standpoint is offered by the critics of globalization (or the traditionalists) who believe that globalization is detrimental to nationalism and cultural identity. This includes the view that under the sway of rampant global homogenization, the cultural specificities of the nation would be lost. The second view is offered by the supporters of globalization who argue that the apparent collapse of the boundary walls of the nation-state has been a liberating experience because such walls were actually delimiting. Under the spate of globalization local identities have been reinforced and strengthened rather than destroyed. In fact there are many instances of nationalist communities at the global level today that can evade national players and address a global audience: a phenomenon that is often being referred to as transnational nationalism. What I wish to emphasize is that while it would be wrong to assume that nationalism is irrelevant today, its relevance lies no longer in anti-colonial struggle; rather it is in the ways in which it enters into new relationships with the global culture. This in turn is being made possible by the collapse of the delimiting boundaries between nation-states and thus the postnation is a vital premise in the thinking about nationalism.                 

India in the twenty-first century is at the very center of these debates. India continues to remain a site where new patterns of civic society movements and experiments of democracy continue to be inscribed—where state, nationalism, globalization and postnation contest and cohere in such diverse ways so that no specific ‘ism’ is said to have emerged victorious. In fact, the contemporary nation resists easy binarizations like the centre and margin and continues to celebrate a heterogeneous plurality. In a new introduction to his The Idea of India, Sunil Khilnani cites Thomas Friedman who has recently referred to the collapse of the earlier binary categories of the West and the East in a post 9/11 world. The ‘crucial polarity’ now, is between the ‘World of Order’ and the ‘World of Disorder’, where “the ‘World of Order’, Friedman has suggested, is constructed around four pillars: the US, the EU-Russia, China and India” (Khilnani xiii). Khilnani asks whether India will be able to sustain herself as a major pillar in the ‘World of Order’ but that is a matter of India’s national policy and shall be answered by posterity. India’s participation in a global culture and her ‘plural’ identities are the realities of the contemporary nationalism. I shall conclude this brief essay by analyzing a specific case from popular culture.          


India’s television broadcast giants Zee Entertainment, who runs the Zee TV network, had released a short film in November 2013 entitled, Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam.3 The video is basically a promotional film for Zee network that was shot as an advertisement of the company’s brand image. After its fashionable launch, this promotional video of about 4.52 minutes was subsequently aired across all Zee channels. The video is a promotion of Zee’s new corporate brand image—that the company adopts the Sanskrit phrase Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam as its motto. The phrase is a compound of meanings. Vasudha in Sanskrit is the earth and Kutumba is family. These root words joined with suffixes and prefixes combine to create the sense of a phrase, which can be roughly translated as ‘The world is my family’. This translated sense accompanies the main Sanskrit phrase Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam in the short film.      

In the text itself, thus, there is already a sense of multiple interpretive possibilities that is taken up in the accompanying film. With the increasing dependence of our global existence on visual and moving images, predominant media presences and the growing virtual world we are more and more getting accustomed to meanings generated by visual signs and their diverse ramifications. Films obviously capitalize heavily on such a situation leading on to brilliantly suggestive creations that appeal to our senses. Moreover we are now more prepared to ‘read’ into diverse cultural texts like films, images, documentaries, videos uploaded on youtube and interpret them as important rejoinders to the everyday life around us. As early as in 1989, Cosgrove had asserted,

The kind of evidence that [we] now use for interpreting the symbolism of cultural landscapes is much broader than it has been in the past. Material evidence in the field and cartographic, oral, archival and other documentary sources all remain valuable. But often we find the evidence of cultural products themselves – paintings, poems, novels, folk tales, music, film and song –can provide as firm a handle on the meanings that places and landscapes possess, express and evoke as do more conventional ‘factual’ sources (127).

The film and its accompanying images is of course one of the major sites today that lead on to multiple possibilities of social and cultural understanding. My text here, the brief video, in its rich array of suggestive images also emerges as a crucial locale of multiple meanings and a cultural record of the contemporary.                    

The brief promo is a neat work and is brilliant especially in its use of colours and editing. The promo also brilliantly captures the spirit of joy, happiness and festival and almost perfectly expresses Zee’s motto of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam or the sense that ‘the world is Zee and India’s family’ that Zee wishes to identify themselves with. It uses a bilingual song that begins in Hindi, moves on to English and uses the Sanskrit phrase Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam as a refrain at the end of the quartets. However, part of my fascination about the video lies in the way it generates images of a global culture, of global citizenship and the place of Indian traditions in the face of such global entity.

The video is a melange of several disjointed images that yet suggest a loose thread of a narrative around an ‘Indian’ wedding ritual. This ritual is colourfully projected with excellent editing and sharp camera movements that often involve the jump cut—sharply emphasizing and distinguishing one visual subject from the other. Using a series of ‘Indian’ festivals, rituals and customs, the video claims to be rooted in a local culture and yet the players who participate in these festivals and by extension in the celebration of Indian cultures, are global actors. There are Indian characters as well, but the video strategically places them in the background. The idea is to emphasize not the Indian people but an Indian ‘national’ culture and celebrate its participation in a global world. The video brings together global racial and ethnic minorities dancing to Indian steps along with white American/Europeans in a rare sense of a community. Within a brief time span, the sheer variety of global presences caught in the video are startling—there are Europeans, Africans, Hispanic-Americans, women of the Arab world, Japanese and Caucasian peoples joining hands together. A vivid scene is of a village where a white boy (European or American) leads a group of other boys across puddles and harvest along a typical Indian agricultural land. Girls are seen stepping up to the Mizo bamboo dance but when the camera zooms to the faces of the dancers, one finds that none of them are Indians. A Negro woman splashes the colours of Holi with a ‘pichkari’ that drenches an Italian girl. A Chinese ‘Halwai’ or sweet vendor prepares north-Indian sweets that are being relished by white Americans.4                     

The lyric of the bilingual song that accompanies these scenes is equally interesting. The first quartet in Hindi goes as follows:

Saat samundar paar basi hai meri des ki duniya
Dharti ka har kona kona meri des ki duniya
Sabse rishta bandh chuki hai meri des ki duniya
Sarhad seema langh chuki hai meri des ki duniya

This is followed by the refrain: Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam. There is an official version of translation that accompanies the shorter version of the promo film and appears as subtitle reading:

My India nestles beyond the seven seas
Across the earth, across every nook and corner
India has forged bonds with hearts worldwide
My India transcends every border
The world is my family, the world is my family.

There are obvious problems in the translation—especially the last line ‘My India transcends every border’ fails to adequately translate the brilliance of the Hindi ‘Sarhad seema langh chuki hai meri des ki duniya’. Again the brilliance of the repetitive ‘meri des ki duniya’ is absolutely lost in the translation. The phrase ‘meri des ki duniya’ is actually a wonderful interface between the home and the world, implying that ‘my world’ is simultaneously within my nation and beyond it. The lyrics however, fascinate in its celebration of the collapse of boundaries, of border crossings in what Arjun Appadurai might have noted as a vivid “landscape of images” geared towards “imaginary worlds” (33). The voice-over at the end of the video clarifies this stance as it narrates the following facts:

More than 700 million viewers
Over 169 countries
One family.
Zee Entertainment.

The distinctly global edge of the video is thus a celebration of the Zee network’s multi-national presence, based on which they transmit images of the contemporary and plural India to its transnational consumers. This celebration of multiculturalism and plurality can be read as a brilliant visual rendering of the postnationalist imagination. If globalization has enabled the easy access to international brands in Indian markets, the reverse has also been true. Indian brands have accessed transnational passages and entered global markets. Bollywood blockbusters like Kal Ho Na Ho, Kabhi Khusi Kabhi Gam, Son of Sardar and a host of such films have reaped heavy returns by targeting global markets and the Indian Diaspora. However, Zee’s Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam video adds a new dimension to this trend. It sheds off the limitations of even the Indian Diaspora by targeting an even global audience and speaks of a community in the postnationalist sense. The sense of de-territorialization and collapse of the old boundaries of the nation-state in the face of globalization and hence of a formidable postnationalist world has been brilliantly visualized in the video.

However, a carefully etched image at the beginning of the video provokes further thought. It is a scene of a river-bank in a common Indian landscape and the image of an anchor appears in the foreground. The anchor is a symbol of the cultural anchorage amidst this global world and as the film moves on to show through easily recognizable images of the national imaginary, the anchor is that of an ‘Indian’ culture. The problem however, is that, as in many such cases, a dominant Hindu culture masquerades as the Indian culture and the anchorage is of a monolithic construction about India. Though there are secular images as well, the festivals of Holi and Diwali, essentially Hindu festivals, are emphasized in the film.

However, despite this fundamental slippage, and more importantly because of it, the film can be read as a wonderful visual rendering of not only the postnational but the contested interaction of globalization, postnation and the popular imagination of an Indian culture. The short film is an instance of India’s simultaneously global and local identity and an important symbol especially in the times of utter confusion between militant patriotism and nationalism.




Works Cited

Appadurai, Arjun. Modernity at Large. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1996. Print.

Cosgrove, Denis. “Geography is everywhere: Culture and Symbolism in Human Landscapes”. Horizons in Human Geography. Eds. Derek Gregory and Rex Walford. Basingstoke, Macmillan, 1989. Print.

Habermas, Jurgen. The Postnational Constellation. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2001. Print.

Khilnani, Sunil. The Idea of India. New Delhi: Penguin, 1999. Rept.  2004. Print. 

McBride, Cillian. “Postnationalist Democratization: Rethinking Nationality, Trust and Accountability”. After the Nation? Critical Reflections on Nationalism and Postnationalism. Eds. Keith Breen and Shane O’Neill. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010. Print.  

Oza, Rupal. The Making of Neo-Liberal India: Nationalism, Gender and the Paradoxes of Globalization. New York and London: Routledge, 2006. Print.

Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam. Short Film. Zee Entertainment Company Ltd. Youtube. Accessed 25 Mar 2017.

Wilson, R. and Wimal Dissanayeke. Eds. Global/Local: Cultural Production and the Transnational Imaginary. London: Duke U P, 1996. Print.