10 programmes I once loved on Doordarshan…

sharp-1844964_640There was a time when Indian TV had only Doordarshan. Colour TV was difficult to imagine. A remote was an unheard of concept. And multiple channels? Ha ha ha!

Strange but true: This government owned unprofessionally run non-24-hour TV channel was all we ever wanted. For us, Doordarshan (or DD) was Santa Claus who had at least one gift for every person in the family. DD probably peaked in the eighties and after that satellite TV took over. Last month, DD completed 50 years.

Here’s looking at 10 of my favourite programmes in no particular order…

Weekend Movies: Our home box office
The high point of every week was the Sunday Hindi movie. No matter what they showed, you still looked forward to it. Blockbuster or flop, millions would sit glued to it week after week right till the very end. I never missed the weekly regional movie too. It was a glorious peek into the culture of every state and national integration at it best.

The World This Week: The ultimate news capsule
When this was first aired, we were all blown away. Nobody thought news could be so slick and sexy. Prannoy Roy became a superstar overnight. If you missed this, then you felt as if you had missed the entire news of the week. But if that was cream, then the 24/7 news channels of India today are definitely highly diluted and adulterated milk.

Buniyaad: Saas Bahu ka baap
There was a time when Master Haveliram and Lajoji were the most watched admired couple in India. This epic, from the maker of Sholay, spanned decades and we didn’t feel like missing a single episode. The first serial for me that probably became a habit. (I always found India’s first soap Hum Log a tad slow)

Bharat Ek Khoj: India’s history channel
Even if you didn’t like Nehru, you couldn’t dislike Bharat Ek Khoj, based on the book The Discovery of India. This serial, which lasted roughly a year, took you through India from the Vedic period to Independence without sounding like a history lesson.

Karamchand: Desi Sherlock Holmes
We heard at that time that Pankaj Kapoor became the highest paid TV actor with this serial and he deserved every Rupee. Just like Hardy’s “Here’s another fine mess you’ve got me into”, the eccentric Karamchand’s “Shut up Kitty” became a national rage.

Byomkesh Bakshi: Classy and gripping
I had never heard of Byomkesh Bakshi or Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay in my whole life but when I saw this Bengali detective serial, my first thoughts were, “It’s right up there with Sherlock Holmes.” Sterling performances by Rajit Kapur and KK Raina.

Quiz Time: The battle of the brains
For me Siddhartha Basu’s university quiz is still the gold standard for quizzing in India and he’s still the ultimate quizmaster. The suspense and drama beat KBC, Dus Ka Dum and Bournvita Quiz Contest all put together.

Mr Yogi: The original What’s your Raashee?
By 1989 standards, this was quite an exotic concept and Mohan Gokhale seemed like an exotic actor too. This was a fresh serial and Om Puri as the sutradhar excelled. Our bumbling NRI and his 12 heroines enthralled us.

Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi: The original laugh riot
Shafi Inamdar, Swaroop Sampat, Rakesh Bedi and Satish Shah were the perfect cast. The script was perfect. The comedy was perfect. Indian TV is yet to better this serial. We looked forward to what avatar Satish Shah would come up with in every episode.

Chanakya: Vedic magic
While we had heard so much about Chanakya and his Arthashastra, to see it come out on the small screen was really different thing altogether. The atmosphere transported us straight back to the Vedic era. Dr Chandraprakash Dwivedi was Chanakya incarnate.

…and 4 “imported” ones…

Secrets of the Sea: The precursor to National Geographic
Jacques-Yves Cousteau has no idea how many millions of Indians he introduced to the wonderful world of televised nature. In an era starved of good educational and enlightening multimedia this was an hour of pure bliss.

Oshin: The most famous Japanese girl of that era

The dedication and toil of this 7-year-old girl bowled all of us over. We cried with her and rejoiced with her. We grew up with her.

Jungle Book: Chaddi pahan ke phool khila hain…
The cartoon was good, the story was good, Nana Patekar’s voice as Shere Khan was good… but the only thing that sticks is the title song penned by Gulzar.

Talespin & Duck Tales: High octane adventures
Kids of today who have 24 hours access to multiple cartoon channels will never understand the weekly anticipation for these two serials. Disney’s wonders travelled all over the world in these adventures… and we travelled with them.

And to think all that on a Black & White TV!

© Sunil Rajguru

DD has you in tears

An American resident today has access to dozens of TV channels. A technique is now being devised to make 600 channels available, most of them specialized. This makes the Indian viewer feel that he is living the Stone Age.

Doordarshan cannot even give one channel of clean entertainment and an intolerable ennui is shelled out day after day. The metros prove no better than poor cousins of the national channel. For variety, there is Star TV but satellite TV in India is definitely not free viewing.

Doordarshan begins with its morning transmission service, which is a mundane affair. After hearing your national song, your host comes along with a puppet in tandem presenting you with an update of the population clock. In the next two hours or so, you are subjected to more moral lectures and world philosophies that your father could have ever hoped to give you.

One has to have considerable talent to view your ideas in a ten-minute serial and talent is one thing clearly lacking here. Most of the serials dwell on humour, but the jokes fall far short of making you smile, let alone laugh. One misses nothing if all these serials are missed. Upbeat are only the slick business serials. Now even this ‘light’ entertainment has been replaced by ‘Yesterday in Parliament’, making you wish that yesterday had stayed in yesterday.

If the morning transmission is bad, the afternoon is worse. The hosts in the hour that they are present talk nothing but unoriginal, flat and repetitive nonsense. Their artificiality is enough to get on your nerves.

In the children’s stories, the kids seem more involved in clapping, smiling and talking than in actually listening to the story. The subsequent serials for adults dwell too much on morals, are too goody-goody, too obvious and sans any creativity at all. The less said about the acting and direction, the better.

The quickness and frequency in showing repeats is also appalling. More than a year back, afternoon transmission had interviews with housewives on what programmes they liked.

The answer was unanimous, ‘film song’. No one said much about the serials on information and entertainment.

The 9’O clock serials are average with few good contributions here and there. But on reading that more than 300 serials are in the cans and 4000 plus in the files, one questions the selection procedure.

The Punjab and Co. serials have been shown ad nauseam. In fact Doordarshan has done a greater job that the government in pursuit of national integration.

The news presented is highly unprofessional. Sometimes the number of mistakes in a single bulletin cannot be counted on one’s fingers.

Many a time, the news narration and the picture on your screen do not coincide. Many a time, the wrong and very flustered announcer is shown.

Authorities had made it clear some time back that they preferred smiling faces to correct pronunciation and presentation. Serious Salma Sultan was booked and others, with all their faults were excused thanks to their smiles. The number of birth and death anniversaries announced is increasingly alarmingly day by day. Then there are other minor and major mistakes. Once, when one of them said ‘tragic tragedy’, one was left wondering, what else? Sabitini once beat Graf 5-4 in a tennis set. When the pre-World Cup triangular series cricket matches were on, DD announced one night that West Indies were out of the tournament. At that stage, it was possible for the Windies to even top the table! The file photographs of prominent personalities also seem to be limited in the news desk.

Then, a news editor is under constant pressure and may end up showing a news item or giving prominence to something he doesn’t want to.

One has often heard of news editors being shifted for insignificant reasons.

The Sunday World of Sports programme still lacks the élan and viewership had dropped dismal below 5 per cent at one stage. The presenters amaze you at times.

Boris ‘Bo-kaar’ was Wimbledon champ in ’86. Once the presenter was struggling to give the name of the fourth participant in the Women’s Asiad winners relay and simply ended with ‘she finished the race’. What really took the cake was a tremulous and red-eyed professional expert one Sunday afternoon. The suffering and nervousness would have put even an amateur to shame. A confused view of events was presented. After trial and error, three combinations of teams of the pre-World Cup triangular cricket series were given and all three were wrong!

Most of the current affairs programmes end up as boring discussions between participants and a really good serial ‘The World This Week’ with its breaks is off the air more Fridays than off it.

Doordarshan has its fair share of good and bad announcers, but quite a high number of mistakes are made. Occasionally the camera is focused too early. Once when a hostess was caught off-guard, she bit her tongue like a small child and at another time was found shouting at someone. Bangalore Doordarshan cameras once captured an announcer happily drinking water.

When Rajiv Gandhi got assassinated, the announcer was found sans make-up and one even had her eyes moistened with tears. This is just too much. In a professional set-up, there is no need to get sentimental.

However, what was really disastrous was one Saturday afternoon hostess. The day’s guest was a poetess of humour. After cracking umpteen jokes, no more that a faint smile came on the lips of the hostess. When the guest questioned the lack of laughter, the reason given was that there were many problems on the home front! One couldn’t believe one’s ears, for after all, this is national network and announcers can stuff their nonsense at home.

The CPC had started with a lot of fanfare and does concentrate on ‘slickness’, but even that hasn’t made much headway with mostly sing-song series being presented.

The family planning and immunization songs are being presented with such frequency and regularity, that they might soon become our national songs.

At the beginning of this year, Star TV viewership was no more than 4 per cent.

A recent survey shows figures shooting to 25 per cent with a similar percentage contemplating a connection. So once the Star TV Hindi channel is installed, DD will face extinction if it doesn’t improve itself considerably, as viewers will switch in large numbers, irrespective of the fact whether they have to pay for satellite TV or not.

(This article appeared in Deccan Herald newspaper in 1992)