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   REKHA PAPPU - Asst Prof, TISS, Hyd

One way to begin this column is to state a fact right away, which is also perhaps to pay Naveena its highest tribute. Naveena, the talk show on the Telugu channel TV9, is unique both in the history of Indian television comprising of the many national and regional channels as well as in the engagement by the Indian women’s movement with the electronic media. This exalted but well-deserved praise needs no further explanation for the regular viewers of Naveena. However, for those not familiar with this regional language programme, some elaboration is called for. I will therefore use this space to expand on what I think makes Naveena such a landmark event in the histories of the Indian television as well as the Indian women’s movement.

The fact that Naveena is the only daily show that discusses a whole range of issues related to women without ever taking recourse to the predictable appeal of the cookery and makeover segments already marks it as different from what is conventionally understood as “women’s show.” In a context where the format of most shows allows women to be either joyous consumers or weeping victims, Naveena has sought to explore the countless dimensions of women’s life in between these two extremes.

The most striking aspect of Naveena is that it takes women seriously and works towards making an intelligent address to them. Its treatment of the most controversial of subjects too is sensitive and not salacious. This aspect is evident in all the segments of the show, but most obviously in the discussion segment “360 degrees,” which has Guest Speakers engaging with the Anchor on a particular theme. Naveena has discussed topics covering an impressive range: from marital rape to housework to same-sex love to menopause to literary and cinematic representations to female friendships to sporting activities. Some of these subjects are high profile issues that feminist thinkers and activists have made visible and others are less publicized everyday issues. Naveena has discussed all of them with the same degree of admirable sensitivity and respect that the subjects have deserved.

Interestingly, through the breadth of the topics that it takes up, Naveena elaborates on “what women want,” and perhaps this partially accounts for the fact that it has as many regular male viewers. But Naveena then goes a step forward and also conjures up an entirely plausible vision of what women should want! While “what women should want” is also high on the agenda of the policy makers, the market and a range of other entrenched patriarchal institutions, Naveena’s stake in the matter is precisely to combat the hold of these directives. It has been totally unapologetic in presenting alternative ways of thinking and living that would enable social transformation resulting in an equal and just society that women and other vulnerable groups of people could inhabit. Naveena’s is a thoroughly modernizing project that is sensitive also to the diverse contexts and the differences among women along various axes.

Naveena’s efforts could well be recast in theoretical terms. The terms of discussion in the show encompass social constructivism, which is another way of gesturing towards the notion of “gender.” By and large though Naveena’s understanding of the “woman” is as a sex: a female sex as opposed to the male sex. The important distinction that Naveena makes though in relation to the other “women’s shows,” which also regard women as a sex is that Naveena does not believe that the female sex is a given or is ultimately defined. On the contrary, the show seems to emphasise that a particular sex is a way of being, but more importantly that it is also a way of becoming. And it is on this latter aspect that Naveena places a great deal of emphasis. The show seems to stress that there is a context and a conditioning in which one is a woman in a particular mode but that it is possible to transcend the existing constraints by aspiring towards becoming something other than what one is at present; through defining other ways of being / becoming a woman. And Naveena’s task has all along been to aid this project of redefinitions. In the process, Naveena has actually ended up setting standards for the discussion of issues that will be difficult for other serious programmes / channels to ignore. A proliferation of such programmes could well bring about a transformation in the existing common sense in relation to women.


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