Arvind Balaram: Entertainment is a huge part of our lives in the world that we live in today, whether that’s Netflix or Hotstar or Prime Video. All of us are watching, enjoying, even indulging in all of this. But it’s not something that we talk about out, unfortunately, very often in church or in our Christian circles.
And so we want to talk about it right now, and I want to hear what you guys have to say. What is a healthy way to approach entertainment in the world that we live in today? What does the gospel have to say about it?
Akshay Rajkumar: Yeah, I think one of the first things to recognize is that we’re hardwired for stories, you know. And we live in stories, and so much of our lives are the things that have happened to us and the things that have been said to us. That’s all in the context of stories.
And sometimes you want an escape from that story. And so stories themselves just have a powerful magnetic pull on our hearts and our imaginations and stories can sometimes even sidestep your reasoning and your rationality and just go straight to the heart, appeal to your desires, appease your fears.
I think the pull of entertainment is that it draws you into a story that feels bigger than yourself, in which you can find yourself or hide yourself or search for yourself and the things that happen to other characters or the things that they say, feel like this is what’s happened to me—this is what I am saying to myself, and here somebody else saying it. So it’s very powerful.
But I think one of the ways the church can really harness this power is to recognise that the Bible is a story, and it’s a powerful story, right? And we’ll never get over the urge to escape, but it’s always important to recognize whom we escape to.
Netflix and entertainment, they invite us to escape, to ultimately deeply impersonal things, you know. These are not real people. There are stories in fiction, but in Scripture, you find David saying to God, “You are my hiding place” (Ps. 32:7).
He’s also escaping, but he’s escaping to a story that’s real, a story that’s powerful and personal, where he can find real salvation.
Anand Mahadevan: I think a related theme is how as a culture, we’re confusing rest and recreation. I think we are a generation that’s really forgotten to differentiate between the two.
Rest and recreation are very, very different, and we tend to think, assume we are resting, but what we are actually doing is enjoying recreation. I think that flows from the restlessness of the culture—because we are so restless, we’ve forgotten to rest, or rest seems strange or like a waste to us.
And so when we need to rest—without realising—we are kind of going into recreation, and that only makes us even more restless. And so, we are missing out on rest. I can see this play out in my own life as well.
When I think I need to rest, it’s good for my body, it’s good for my soul, I find myself almost subconsciously drifting away into recreation. So I think learning to differentiate them, between the two, and there are healthy ways to enjoy entertainment and we should; but not to mistake rest and recreation.
Ranjit David: I think it’s also shaping the future generation in terms of children. I’ve got three kids and especially during the online, they say how Netflix subscribers increased to such a fold during the pandemic. And in between every Zoom class, my kids are always asking permission to watch a show. And so it’s like nonstop, right?
In our family, I definitely can see how even at that age, because growing up I never watched TV like that. I grew up without any television in my home. So it is shaping a generation that’s hooked on to some of these shows and stories. So we have to intentionally have the conversation of parental controls and what is the age appropriate show and why it’s important for them.
And even if I tried not to talk about it, I tried to dismiss it. But no, they are talking with their friends. The first thing they are talking about is, “What show are you watching?” And they share, even as young as my seven year old, with his friends, he’s talking about shows that they are watching. So it’s important for us to engage with parents as well.
Anand Mahadevan: I think what you were saying about children, Ranjit, is also true about us. They’re wanting to kind of watch entertainment between their Zoom classes. I think even as adults, entertainment has become disproportionately large in our life. I think, in a sense, it’s like supply creating demand. There’s so much that’s out there, I think we’ve lost perspective as to how much entertainment we need, how much entertainment is healthy.
Again, from my own personal journey, I can see a lot of times where I’m over consuming entertainment and when we over consume entertainment, everything else gets affected.
So, one way is we see entertainment just from the prism of entertainment. But another way to look at it is, what is its legitimate place in our lives? What’s the amount of bandwidth, we can help, in a healthy way give it? And I feel I think as a culture, we are giving it just too much play in our lives.
Ranjit David: I think there’s also this power of idolatry in that I think the power it has overall lives because most of the conversations we have with people, you will immediately sense that people will say they are not able to stop watching.
If you start a show, you have to finish it and in two days you will give up sleep, you will give up work. So the idea of binge watching, the idea of running to Netflix or some of these shows, when you’re disappointed, when you’re stressed out, when you’re struggling in life, in a sense of, letting that comfort you.
So the power it has over our lives is so incredible these days. And entertainment is not worthy of that kind of devotion; only Christ is.
Akshay Rajkumar: And I think one of the things we can see entertainment as, is as a window. It is a window into the longings and the hopes and the fears of people. And that can be very revealing.
And if you think about entertainment in India or even from the West, we’re beginning to see something that we haven’t seen before in entertainment even a few decades ago.
So like a few years ago, if you talk to somebody, if you preached in church about how human beings are sinners, there would be some pushback, “I don’t accept that.”
But today I think the pushback will be if you insist that there are people who can be trusted, people of integrity. And I think our entertainment shows, particularly in Bollywood, there’s an increasing trend for portraying things that nobody wants to talk about that are kind of taboo, like dysfunctional families, and the harsh realities of the corporate world, and things like that, which are now, our shows are telling us.
So if earlier the world testified against the hypocrisy of the church, today the world is testifying against its own hypocrisy and saying that this is a broken world.
And in some ways, that’s a gift because it’s almost like the world is confessing. It’s confessing that things aren’t as beautiful as people think they are. And we need to stop pretending.
And it’s an opportunity for us to say, it’s an opportunity for us to say, “We do need to stop pretending, and we do need to start recognising that there’s hope for us, there’s hope for this broken world. And Christ is that hope.”
Anand Mahadevan: In that sense, entertainment, when we engage with it in a healthy way, can also remind us of the gospel and draw us back to the gospel narrative.
I was watching this movie Gehraiyaan recently, and I experienced three things as I was watching the movie. First, I began to see the sin of the culture around us more clearly. And as I saw the sin of the culture around me more clearly, I was reminded of my own sinfulness. And in being reminded of my own sinfulness, I found reason to go back to Jesus afresh, and I found reason to discover the beauty of the gospel afresh because I was able to see my own sinfulness afresh.
And yeah so, I think the opposite could also have been true. It could be true of some people that seeing sin portrayed like that, seeing the depravity of sin portrayed like that, could also trigger people to give in more, to that sin. So, I think it does come down to a healthy engagement, but it does have the potential to draw us back to the gospel narrative.
Ranjit David: In our conversations, we’ve talked about your fondness for Korean shows and stuff. You want to tell us about that?
Arvind Balaram: I’m not too fond of the Korean shows. But my family, sometimes it’s it feels like a little Korea in my house with the music and the shows. It feels like it’s taking over. But again I think it’s just a reminder of the power of entertainment or even eating Korean food now.
I think it’s been a really helpful conversation just thinking about the dangers—that it promises rest, but it actually leaves us restless; the idolatry, the enslavement. But at the same time, there is a healthy way to engage and to take it in, that actually leads us to the gospel.
I think that’s ultimately what we want, isn’t it? We want everything to help us, if it leads us to Christ, ultimately. The rest, the joy, the peace, hope, then that’s a great thing not just for entertainment, but for everything in life.