With over 1,600 languages and dialects in India — not to mention myriad of religions — it is difficult for TV broadcasters to fulfill the government’s mandate to create programs that project cultural diversity.
“Galli Galli Sim Sim,” the local version of “Sesame Street,” however, is making a brave attempt — primarily through a Muppet named Aanchoo.
This character is transported to a different space and time when she sneezes. Through her travels, she engages in story-telling and discussion about various Indian cultures and meets youths from diverse backgrounds which she then explores through positive images and stories.
The project, a joint venture between the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Sesame Workshop and Turner Broadcasting, is aimed at educating Indian children about their own country. Storylines encompass Indian topics and cultural mores while particular focus is on the positive roles girls can play in the conservative, male-dominated society.
Aside from Aanchoo, characters in “Galli Galli” include a shopkeeper and his wife — who speak numerous Indian languages — and Muppets with names such as Chamki, Boombah and Googly.
The show earned a huge splash of publicity when Laura Bush visited the sets in Noida, near New Delhi, in early March.
The First Lady was so taken by the concept she agreed to appear in one episode during which she, playing herself, meets social activist Nafisa Ali in a cybercafe. The pair chat with the inquisitive Chamki on a wide range of cultural topics.
Apart from the Muppets, the cultural and religious diversity of the country of more than a billion people is perhaps best reflected in the so-called God-channels, the paybox stations which variously cater to the Hindus, Muslims, Jains, Buddhists and the Parsis.