Formative influence – Doordarshan and the TV

Ideally, you should have read the short intro for the Section – Growing up in 80′s and 90′s, by clicking on that tab – before jumping into this article. But continue and read on if you are too lazy to do that – no problem…

HAVE to start off with Television and Doordarshan – the inevitable whipping boys for the cultural upbringing that we got. First the hardware part – so, there was an antenna on the terrace of the building for each TV, which used to “catch” the waves sent by the TV tower in the city (in Worli for mine). So antennas were made to face the TV tower. A wire used to bring the TV signal down from the antenna into the TV. TV was black and white till 1982 – Asian Games held in India were the trigger for launch of colour TV. On the software part – like Henry Ford’s black Taurus, one could watch any channel on TV as long as that was Doordarshan National. I think it was on air from 6-11pm, then possibly launched Breakfast TV also from 7-10am from 1985 or so. Sundays 9-11am later on became quite a famous slot.

In the evening programs, the 8:30-9:30pm slot was the king slot. In this slot, there was Chitramala on Monday, in which songs from all regions of India were played. We used to wait for the one Hindi song in that program…sometimes, they used to go for Punjabi and we used to make do with that. Tuesday was Chitrahaar, a collection of Hindi songs, played without VJs explaining the motif or “making of the songs”; there just used to be a slide separator between each song, with the name of the song and the film.

I remember one of the first serials as Laddoo Singh Taxiwala – think Paintal used to play the lead role there. Hum Log was the first serial which became widely popular and made serials a genre of entertainment in India. Who can forget Basesar Ram, Lallu, Nanhe, Majhli, Chhutki – the sheer middle classism of the story, aspirational. The epilogue by veteran actor Ashok Kumar was a master-stroke – Chhanna Pakaiyya Channa Pakaiyya Chhanna ke upar joga, Badki-Majhli ka jhagda bhai dekhenge hum logaa. Lot of people used to wait for Ashok Kumar to provide the executive summary of the show. I had heard that in Chennai, this epilogue was done in Tamil by Sivaji Ganesan.

Hum Log was followed by a slew of serials which I remember we were glued to – Khaandaan, Idhar Udhar (Dhhonde kidhar, do haseen pal…), Yeh jo hai Zindagi, Biwi Naatiyon waali, Rajani (ek bhi jahaan buraai hai, who jaa ke wahaan takraayi hai), Bahaadur Shah Zafar. Of course, the true inheritor of the mantle of THE key serial from Hum Log was Buniyaad, which spun a superb tale of a Punjabi family during and after partition – characters of Haveli Raam, Labhaaya Ram, Santo Tai, Veerawali were discussed much after the serial ended. There were also some unusual but popular youthful shows like Subah (ae zamaane tere saamne aa gaye, ban ke suraj le ke subah aa gaye).

There was also a bunch of whodunits – Karamchand still occupies the top slot in the mind and even now, when we see Pankaj Kapoor in Maqbool, I always feel that he is going to pull out a carrot and start chomping on it. Barrister Vinod, Byomkesh Bakshi were the others that come to mind, the first one with a loud Parikshit Sahni and the second with a subtle, under-stated Rajit Kapur.
We as children of course could not do without Vikram aur Betaal (hee haa haa haa haa…tu bola aur mein chala), Chandrakanta, easily the precursor to Harry Potter.

There were some international shows at that time also – while Didi’s Comedy Show, Jungle Book and Telematch provided succor from the daily grind, Bodyline was a brilliant cricket-based serial, which brought the Bradman era to us, who had not seen him in live action. The grey cell polishing happened through some classy programs like What’s the Good Word ? (Sabira Merchant at her polished best), Quiz Time (Siddarth Basu)…I think Bournvita Quiz Contest was still on radio in our phase.

The Sunday morning slot mentioned above was populated by mythological serials like Raamayan, Mahabharat, Krishna avtaar; or inspirational serials like Neenv (..rakhein Neenv ujaale ki…Vidya ke prakaash se roshan neenv rahe vidyalay ki), Kacchi Dhoop (Zindagi ke aangan mein dard ke dehleez per..), Kahaan gaye who loag ?, Lekhu (Lekhu sochta jaaye), Wah Janaab (Shekhar Suman – Khushboo hain, pyaar hain hum, phoolon ka haar hain hum…). There were some insightful and educating historical serials as well like Tipu Sultan, Chanakya, Bharat Ek Khoj.

Saturday evenings was a Marathi film (am guessing a regional film for each state). Sunday evenings a Hindi film, the highest TRP collector of the week. We have grown up with the family gathering to watch the Sunday film, have a “batmya” (news in Marathi) break at 7:30pm and wrapping up the film around 9pm, with Monday morning blues and heaviness in the stomach from then on.

Cannot leave this era without mentioning Sunday morning Rangoli, which was a collection of old Hindi film songs. Some one tells me that this show is still on on Doordarshan (now called DD1 or DD National for reasons I shall explain below).

So you get the point…TV and DD were the dominating facets of our life and I can go on and on about various nuggets missed above…Malgudi Days, Nukkad, The World this Week, Fauji, Mirza Ghalib, Tamas…

Living in Mumbai, there were also the wonderful (or wonderful sounding) Marathi programs – Mulkhavegdi maanse (different people from different regions), Amchi maati aamchi maanase (our soil, our people), Kilbil (for kids, not the Uma Thurman one…for different type of kids), Santa kukdi (no idea what it was), some Gujarati programs like Aavo mare saathi. There was Aapann yanna paahilat kay? (Laapata), where one could put the description of some dear one who was lost (gehua rang, salpaatal bandha, Dadar varun haravla, white shirt ghatlela).

And then, life changed at some point of time, with the nation getting a choice of what to watch. DD2 (I think was called DD Metro) was launched for 6-11pm slot, as an alternative to DD1. Of course, it got inundated with regional shows, but also some locally produced Hindi/English shows, which might not have made sense to the country at large, and hence had the local connect.

Here, we take a logical break to describe the overall situation…the DD era of dominance comes to an end after this… Who was seeing the above programs was changing with each month. I believe there were less than 10 cities with TV coverage till beginning of our era. But I remember one town getting TV coverage every week in the Indira Gandhi regime (must be her 1979-84 stint) – that was a sign of development of the country!! Today, possibly 140 out of 210mn households in India have a TV set. In our era, it was not uncommon to see 3 homes without a TV set for every one which had one. And those were the Mumbai suburbs. There were side-benefits of neighbours getting together and watching TV, socializing. Also, the scene was not all colourful…in fact, you could choose between two colours – black and white to describe all programs. It took the Asian Games in 1982 to bring colour TV to India and that caught like wildfire. That BnW TVs continued to sell till 2005 was testimony to the fact that lots of people saw BnW throughout this era.

And then, about the Remote!!!! What about that? Well, with one channel till mid 80s and 2 after that, you can guess that one did not need a remote. You could go to the TV set and change between DD1 and DD Metro. In fact, most of TVs did not have channel knob and people upgraded their TV set for that. Since there were no multiple channels, you could adjust the volume, brightness, contrast and relax after that.

Coming back to the DD1/ Metro story, thankfully, DD Metro could never become a lifeline for us since, the “airs” were thrown open to foreign & Indian private channels which could come into our homes through a wire – the cable TV. So as telecommunication started moving from wired to wireless, television started moving in the other direction (only to be reversed with recently introduced Dish / satellite TV). CNN and Star started off, followed by Zee and Sun TV. Please remember that these were available in only cities to start off with and on payment of Rs 200 per month. Hence, the penetration was not massive. People even in cities used to contemplate on spending that Rs 200, and some used to think about the ill effects of so much TV on children!!! But, what had to happen had to happen…for the first time, we started getting Bold and Beautiful, Santa Barbara, Baywatch, and the cultural integration of Indian metros with the world was completed…

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