Friday, June 24, 2005

I Want My Hyphenated-Identity MTV

MTV Desi, a new channel aimed at and named for second-generation immigrants from the Indian subcontinent, is expected to go on the air in late July.

Published: June 19, 2005

ON a fine spring day in Manhattan, Reshma Taufiq, 28, was the first to audition for a role on a new MTV channel that will be aimed at second-generation desis, or immigrants from the Indian subcontinent. Her emerald-green bodice fit snugly atop navel-baring jeans, and her long black hair curtained her cheekbones as she sweated under the studio lights, trying sexy, then cheery, then exuberant variations on "Live from Jackson Heights, Queens, it's MTV Desi."
Ms. Taufiq summed herself up: R&B artist who is bilingual in English and Hindi; news reader for a local ethnic channel on which she conducts phone-in quizzes on Bollywood trivia; frequenter of the late-night desi party scene who thinks that arranged marriages are not such a bad idea; and, well, chemical engineer now working in software development at Hewlett-Packard.
Azhar Usman, 29, with his knitted skullcap and full beard, presented somewhat differently. An MTV executive, he explained, had recruited him, saying: "We're going to redefine the identity of the MTV host. It doesn't have to be someone sexy and good-looking." A comedian (and lawyer) from Chicago, Mr. Usman used the audition to invent an exaggeratedly accented (and quite amusing) character: Vijay the V.J.
Most of the applicants thanked MTV for thinking of them as a demographic ready for a music-video channel all its own. "It's so nice to be recognized," said Tara Austin, a Sri Lankan-American from Los Angeles. "I am just an American girl at the end of the day, but I have a strong South Asian background. I eat with my hands, you know? We're, like, so hungry for hearing our own culture."
That's what MTV World is counting on as it introduces three new channels focusing on the growing population of young, acculturated Asian-Americans: first, MTV Desi, which will go on the air in late July; then MTV Chi, for Chinese-Americans, by the end of the year; and MTV K for Korean-Americans next year. The channels will not be merely tweaked reproductions of MTV India, MTV China or MTV Korea, three of MTV's 42 channels abroad. Rather, they will, like their target audiences, be hybrids, blending here and there and grappling with identity issues, mostly in English.
MTV Desi will serve as the prototype. 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. MTV Chi will mix up Mandarin rock, Canto pop and Chinese-American rap; MTV K will tap into South Korean hip-hop and the little-known but vibrant Korean-American pop scene. MTV Desi will start on satellite nationally and then move to digital cable systems in various parts of the country.
MTV World's premise for these new channels was commonsensical: that young bicultural Americans have tastes different from those of youths in their ethnic homelands and therefore need, as it were, a customized MTV...

...Ms. Taufiq, the V.J. applicant who works at Hewlett-Packard, said she had opened as a singer for Karmacy.

For her audition, Ms. Taufiq was shown a Bollywood music video, an extravagant number from "Happiness and Tears," a huge hit film in 2001. She knew it well, and her head bounced along. When Mr. Durrani exclaimed that the leading man, Hrithik Roshan, was a seriously handsome man, Ms. Taufiq recoiled somewhat, saying, "But he has six fingers!"

Mr. Usman viewed the same video, watched it with a progressively widening smile, laughed robustly at the end and said, "Are you finding this ridiculous?"

Given several minutes to prepare an introduction to the video for a screen test, Ms. Taufiq decided to pretend that she was broadcasting from Jackson Heights, in front of Kebab King, whose quality, she said, could be measured by the long line of yellow taxis in front.

Mr. Usman decided to go with: "My uncle in India says desi stands for 'doctors earn significant incomes.' My relatives in Pakistan say desi means 'Don't ever say India.' Here on MTV, desi means South Asian flavor, style and music. Check this new video out. It's going to knock your socks off. You've heard of a big production budget. How about 500 backup dancers? This is like 'Grease' meets desi, making it ...greasy. No, that doesn't sound right."...
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