Tamil Takes Centre Stage: Tradition and Modernity in Indian Television


  • Sunitha Chitrapu Social Communications Media Dept (SCMSophia), Sophia Polytechnic, Mumbai 400 026, India




modernities, India, television, oratory, Tamil, invented traditions


This paper draws attention to the role of language in mediated modernities in India through an analysis of Sirappu Pattimandram (Special Debate), a Tamil-language debate show on the politically-affiliated corporate Sun TV network in the state of Tamil Nadu in southern India. The show provides an opportunity for the articulation of anxieties over how social and economic changes affect the private lives of Tamil speakers. These anxieties are contained through the use of Tamil-language oratory which recasts quotidian everyday problems in an ancient literary idiom that provides reassurance through imagined continuity with a glorious past.

Author Biography

Sunitha Chitrapu, Social Communications Media Dept (SCMSophia), Sophia Polytechnic, Mumbai 400 026, India

Sunitha Chitrapu teaches communications research methods at the Social Communications Media Department, Sophia Polytechnic, Mumbai, where she is currently the Head of Department. She graduated with a PhD in Mass Communication from Indiana University, Bloomington in 2008 with a specialization in media economics. Her research interests include the economics of the international media trade, political economy and policy issues. Her work has been published in The International Encyclopedia of Media Studies, the Encyclopedia of Social Movement Media, Journal of Creative Communications, Social Movement Studies Journal, Bollywood and Globalization: The Global Power of Popular Hindi Cinema and The Magic of Bollywood: At Home and Abroad.


Appadurai, Arjun & Carol A Breckenridge (1995): “Public Modernity in India.” In Consuming Modernity: Public Culture in a South Asian World, edited by Carol A Breckenridge, 1-22. Minneapolis, USA: University of Minnesota Press.

Athique, Adrian Mabbott (2009): “From monopoly to polyphony: India in the era of television.” In Television studies after TV: understanding television in the post-broadcast era, edited by Graeme Turner and Jinna Tay, 159-167. Abingdon, United States: Routledge.

Badenoch, Alexander (2005): “Making Sunday what it actually should be: Sunday radio programming and the re-invention of tradition in occupied Germany 1945–1949.” Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television 25: 4, 577-598. https://doi.org/10.1080/01439680500262975

Bate, Bernard (2013): Tamil Oratory and the Dravidian Aesthetic: Democratic Practice in South India, New York: Columbia University Press.

Eisenstadt, Shmuel N (2000): “Multiple Modernities.” Daedalus 29:1,1-29.

Elstub, Stephen & Peter Mclaverty (2014): Deliberative democracy: Issues and cases, Edinburgh, UK: Edinburgh University Press.

Fraser, Nancy (1990) “Rethinking the public sphere: A contribution to the critique of actually existing democracy.” Social text, 25:56-80. https://doi.org/10.2307/466240

Harindranath, Ramaswami (2013): “The cultural politics of metropolitan and vernacular lifestyles in India.” Media International Australia,147: May,147-156. https://doi.org/10.1177/1329878X1314700115

Hobsbawm, Eric, & Terence Ranger (2012): The invention of tradition, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781107295636

Hughes, Stephen (2005): “Mythologicals and Modernity: Contesting Silent Cinema in South India.” Postscripts: The Journal of Sacred Texts and Contemporary Worlds, 1: 2-3, 207-235.

Kumar, Shanti (2014): “Media Industries in India: An Emerging Regional Framework.” Media Industries Journal, 1: 2, https://quod.lib.umich.edu/m/mij/15031809.0001.205/--media-industries-in-india-an-emerging-regional-framework?rgn=main;view=fulltext

Lewis, Tania, Fran Martin, & Wanning Sun (2016): Telemodernities: Television and transforming lives in Asia, Durham, NC, USA: Duke University Press. https://doi.org/10.1215/9780822373902

Mankekar, Purnima (1998): “Entangled spaces of modernity: the viewing family, the consuming nation, and television in India.” Visual Anthropology Review, 14: 2, 32-45. https://doi.org/10.1525/var.1998.14.2.32

Mazzarella, William (2003): “Very Bombay”: Contending with the global in an Indian advertising agency.” Cultural Anthropology, 18: 1, 33-71. https://doi.org/10.1525/can.2003.18.1.33

McMillin, Divya (2003): “Marriages are made on television: Globalization and national identity in India.” In Planet TV–A global television reader, edited by Lisa Parks and Shanti Kumar, New York, USA: NYU Press, 341-360.

Mehta, Nalin (2015): Behind a billion screens: what television tells us about modern India, Noida, UP, India: Harper Collins Publishers India.

Moorti, Sujata (2004): “Fashioning a cosmopolitan Tamil identity: game shows, commodities and cultural identity.” Media, Culture & Society, 26: 4, 549-567. https://doi.org/10.1177/0163443704044217

Neyazi, Taberez Ahmed (2010): “Cultural imperialism or vernacular modernity? Hindi newspapers in a globalizing India.” Media, Culture & Society, 32: 6, 907-924. https://doi.org/10.1177/0163443710379664

Parthasarathy, Ramya, & Vijayendra Rao (2017): Deliberative democracy in India. Policy Research Working Paper 7995, Washington, DC: World Bank.

Rajagopal, Arvind (1996): “Mediating modernity: Theorizing reception in a non‐western society.” Communication Review, 1: 4, 441-469. https://doi.org/10.1080/10714429609388274

Ramanujan, Attipate K (1985): Poems of Love and War, New York, USA: Columbia University Press.

Ramaswamy, Sumathi (1997): Passions of the tongue: Language devotion in Tamil India, 1891–1970, Oakland, CA: University of California Press. https://doi.org/10.1525/california/9780520208049.001.0001

Sen, Amartya (2005): The argumentative Indian: Writings on Indian history, culture and identity, Basingstoke, UK: Macmillan.




How to Cite

Chitrapu, S. (2019) “Tamil Takes Centre Stage: Tradition and Modernity in Indian Television”, Culture Unbound, 10(3), pp. 353–366. doi: 10.3384/cu.2000.1525.2018103353.



Critical Explorations of Media Modernity in India