Making India Visible: The Force of the Image from Center for South Asia
Arvind Rajagopal’s talk begins in video at 1:10 min.

It is well known that state-led economic growth was central to the period of Nehruvian development and that educated middle classes were entrusted with a technocratic function in the process. As a result, there was a tutelary hierarchy, with the state at the top, educated middle classes in the middle, and the rest at the bottom. The visual culture of the time as reflected in advertising, inverted the relationship between classes, interestingly. Advertisers sought to fashion a consumption aesthetic for the well-to-do, modeled on what were by then established norms of their profession. It was the working classes for whom efficiency and utility were emphasized as the main means of judging consumer goods; the latter could not justify the expenditure required to develop a consumption aesthetic specifically for them. Moreover, in the Nehruvian context, it was far from clear what such an aesthetic might be. Advertisers presented themselves as modernizers, and their understanding of this mission entailed a certain distance from indigenous culture. My paper will present images detailing and complicating this account of advertising, working across Hindi and English language ads, and across print and televisual platforms. I will suggest that a consideration of questions of voice and sound, where relevant, can shift our understanding of the archive of visual culture in advertising in important ways.

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