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How pop culture failed us in the times of coronavirus

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Covid is a time both of loneliness, and intense conversations. I used the telephone as a lifeline to keep in touch with people and ideas. As an academic, I often go back to my old teachers, scholars who taught me, who are now retired but still active, running the university of ideas while they walk around parks and housing colonies. I rang up one of them recently, a brilliant cantankerous anthropologist, a semiotician, a man who enjoyed the symbolic.

We were discussing science, epidemics, then he said that my analysis was half done. "For a journalist your sense of Covid is incomplete. You have little sense of Covid as popular culture, its failure to enact a myth."

Where is Bollywood?

My professor said, "We look at Covid as medicine, as public health, as science, as political economy, but we ignore the illiteracy of Covid as a symbol. Why don't people see it as an unsuccessful myth? The State is challenging Covid, in offering a new kind of normalcy, and is trying to create a new myth, a new sense of the world as it is today. It has failed disastrously." My professor paused, and said, "Think of it. What sustains us as a society is four ideas, four truths. These are, Bollywood, cricket, science, and democracy. These are the four myths that sustain modern India as a nation-state."

(Photo: PTI)

My professor said Bollywood has been the biggest failure in recent times. Earlier, it could combine family and the official life, urban and the rural. Anyone who watched Seeta Aur Geeta (1972) or a Bachchan movie........

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