Thursday, August 04, 2005

Doordarshan, nostalgia and the lack of answers

Charu speaks of the seventies-born generation and television. She speaks of Doordarshan, attitudes, our politics and what made our generation what it is... and I am not sure I can answer any of those questions.

But I'm indulging my nostalgia, today... I'm trying to think back.

Back to the time when television was Doordarshan. And vice versa. The logo slowly forms itself in my mind - the oval lines, the tangentially curving edges, the Hindi alphabets forming themselves.

The screen coming alive in the afternoon, but before that, the sharp, whining sound of the vertical colourful lines on the screen, as I switched the television set on, and immediately turned the volume down to zero - I wasn't allowed more than an hour a day, initially.

I don't remember what values and aspirations I absorbed from all those years of TV and DD.

I do remember being hooked. I remember slowly upping my television intake as I grew up, and mom relaxed the rules a little, or was too busy to keep an eye on me all the time. One hour turned to three. I ended up watching Chaupal and Krishi Darshan. And advertisements issued 'in the public interest'.

I even remember staring, over long, long minutes, at the 'Rukawat ke liye khed hai' (Sorry For The Interruption) notice, which had a cartoon of a man carrying a briefcase, not watching where he was going, about to fall into a manhole.

For years, I wondered whether this meant that some of the television crew had fallen into a sewer.

I remember watching regional movies - Tamil, Malayalam, Assamese, Punjabi - on Sunday afternoons. Some of these were award-winning. I also remember that, once cable television came in, I didn't get a chance to watch such movies again (now I go looking for 'different' cinema, at film festivals).

I remember watching only one late night English movie on DD.
The film was Tom Sawyer, and since we had the book in our English syllabus, mom (who worked in the same school) wanted all her students to watch it. I remember being the only student - the only person - who sat up half the night, watching it. Everyone else fell asleep. Including mom. (I don't remember seeing Tom kiss Becky Thatcher, though I swear I didn't even blink.)

I remember being thrown out of the room (by mom) the first time they showed a James Bond film on DD. It was not until I turned 17, when I was finally, officially, taken to see a James Bond film; it was dubbed in Hindi.

I vaguely remember Buniyaad. I remember that one scene, at any rate, in which Lajoji (Anita Kanwar - I remember thinking she was beautiful) sets back the clock, so she can spend more time with her Masterji (Alok Nath, with his shy smile, khadi kurta, and a lot more hair).

And Karamchand, with 'Kitty'. And the spine-chilling theme music for 'Honi Anhoni'; for some strange reason, I remember that Asian Paints used to be the sponsor for that program.

I remember waiting, week after week, for Fauji. I remember Shah Rukh Khan, before the symptomatic mannerisms were acquired.

Then, Zee TV brought cable into our lives. But there wasn't enough programming to fill the day, so they'd play and replay and rerererereplay old Hindi film songs.

The same ones, every day. I remember watching them - the same ones, every day. Even the order of the songs was the same, everyday.

Sanjeev Kumar singing Taal Mile Nadi ke Jal Mein, driving a bullock cart... Asha Parekh consoling a disconsolate Rajesh Khanna with Aaja Piya Tohe Pyar Doon... a screen-father leaning against a piano listening to his screen-wife hum Dheere Dheere Machal...

Then, the transition.

Game shows came in. Not just quiz contests. Not just tough army-style obstacle-clearing challenges. There was Snakes and Ladders, with tall girls in little shiny dresses and everyone getting all wet. I remember thinking that they didn't look like they were enjoying themselves so much.

Tara came in - Tara, with her cast of rebellious, fun, unhappy girls, and their complex, twisted destinies. And Banegi Apni Baat, where no one kissed anyone, but everyone ended up getting pregnant by someone.

There was firang cable TV too. But a lot of it was forbidden.
Mom got hooked to Santa Barbara; I had access to the Wonder Years, Small Wonder, Different Strokes, and much kissing.

I still remember the year I was home alone, watching a forbidden (or would have been forbidden, if mom knew it existed) romantic film where the heroine and hero wake up in bed, and the heroine saying, 'Lie here in bed, for a while;'.... I remember thinking 'You idiot, what else has he been doing all this time?'

I remember the first uncensored firang film, courtesy the local cablewalla. I remember the shock of it... for weeks, I used to stare suspiciously at the cablewalla. But most days, he'd just show us Mr India.

Again, and again. And again. Six times I saw it. Mr India. He made sure that we all came to appreciate 'Kaate nahin kat.te' and a bosom-heaving Sridevi being seduced by an invisible man.

When Mr India first reached us, on cable (we didn't have any movie theatres where I lived), none of the girls in school would sing this song. Because it had 'I love you' in the first verse.

At the end of the year, we were singing it, always in low voices, humming through the 'I love you' bit. (We practised heaving-bosom dancing, in the short lunch break, when the boys were out playing basketball.)

In news terms, I don't remember the transition from DD to cable.
One day, I seemed to be watching Rini Simon/Khanna and Sultana somebody (the one who read the news, wearing a rose in her hair)... and suddenly, I was a grown-up, sitting beside my grandfather, as he demanded that we watch ALL the news on ALL cable channels, one by one.

So first we heard a name-forgotten reporter talking about the latest blasts in Kashmir on Star News. Then, we were watching a name-forgotten reporter talking about the latest blasts in Kashmir on Zee News. Then we were watching the name-forgotten girl on CNN... somebody else on BBC...faces, names, channels... all melted into an indiscriminate slush of recorded misery. Same clothes. No flowers.

I forget when one turned to three, and then into a dozen news options.

But I remember Aap Ki Adalat. I liked the program - watching politicians and other important people being grilled by a sneaky-smart Rajat Sharma. He asked uncomfortable questions, ever-smiling. But he never screamed or outshouted anyone... I remember Vinod Dua and his talk-show too. (Both were better than Mr Sardesai, or any of the others, on any of the 24-hour news channels we have now.)

I don't watch TV now. I get my news from the papers or the web. I have never enjoyed news, and unless it's an emergency situation, I don't watch news channels.

When I did watch TV, until last year, I picked the garish, MTV-type of programming. The films, the songs, the mindlessly chattering veejays who wore nice clothes sponsored by designer boutiques. One didn't need to listen. I didn't want to listen.
I watched Friends. Or Will and Grace. Or Sex and The City (yes, that... unbelievable that!). Even Oprah.

I saw Office-Office (the only decent comedy show this country has produced over the last decade). Then, they started this show on Hindi poetry, Wah Wah, where poets would come on and compete, and I enjoyed that.

Nobody I know enjoys the saas-bahu drama. Nobody from my generation. Some married cousins do, perhaps. But none of my younger cousins would be caught dead watching Kyunki whatever.

Some of my friends watch cartoons. Even now. Some of my friends watch Pikachooo!!! And Bob-the-builder. Made for pre-schoolers. (Hey, the Sony Playstation was not designed as an adult toy either, was it?)

Yes, I saw Smriti Tulsi Irani do her silly stunts in Kuch Diiiil Se. Once or twice, I watched. Then I was disgusted and I stopped watching... she was judgmental, rude, inconsiderate of other people's compulsions or choices, super-conservative.

Charu, I cannot understand why the MTV generation voted for Ms Irani as a youth icon.
But, just like the TV channels give us few watchable options by way of programming, this country gives us very little by way of role models. Why single out this country? What does the world offer us? Who leads us? Who do we follow?

At least, Ms Irani stepped into politics at a time when she didn't need to. Not because her acting career was fading. Not because she was retired and missed the limelight. At least, she professed to stand for some ideals.... I don't know. The wrong ideals, maybe. But she stood up and spoke of the need for cleaning up the system. Maybe that was why?

Reminds me of the time when I spoke of some very uncomfortable truths about a certain celebrity-writer, to a friend.
He responded with a couplet: "Ye akhiri but bhi gir gaya... ab hum bhi musalmaan ho gaye..."
My last idol has fallen; perforce, I am now a Musalmaan (one who doesn't believe in idols).

Who are our icons, anyway? And who is the youth?
If youth is defined by idealism and innocence, where is that?
What ideals? And what are we innocent of? What is this post-MTV generation innocent of?

What, but a vast landscape of socio-economic truth, that our communication systems (TV, newspapers) increasingly keep us sheltered from?


Anang said...

Aw man I just relived 13 years right there.
Byomkesh Bakshi?
That weird ad with the grandfather and the kid and some flower.
Remember the ekta ad? With the ek anek butterflies and the kid and his older sister?
What about when Doordarshan started for some reason to switch to an MTV broadcast at 6 PM in the evening? And made me lose my He-man in the process. Bastards.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful! Although I was born in the early eighties, I watched only Doordarshan until 1998. All those wonderful years, with regional language films, and all. Some of my favourites were Mahabharat, Chanakya, Bharat Ek Khoj, Jungle Book, Byomkesh Bakshi, and Agatha Christie's Poirot (for its theme music).

zigzackly said...

Sultana somebody (the one who read the news, wearing a rose in her hair)
Salma Sultan, no?


Ashish Gorde said...

A very thought provoking article. Infact, I was thinking along the same lines today... when we were kids in Bahrain, Hindi movies were quite rare and if any of the Gulf channels showed a Hindi film, then, there would be phone calls, shouting from the balcony, you name it. It was an event, nay, a festival. But things changed over the years. Most of the Gulf channels capitalising on this excitement began showing films every week, then with the dawn of the video age we could watch a Hindi movie anytime and now with satellite TV (and in particular Zee TV) the novelty is no longer there. But I still miss the shouting from the rooftops....!!!

Suhail said...

OMG! I have so much to comment..I will come back later. Right now, just this:
"... ab hum bhi musalmaan ho gaya"

sacrilege!! shd read as: "ab hum bhi musalman ho gaye".

and zig, i think her name was Samar Sultana, no?

Quizman said...

Salma Sultan and J. B. Raman - the two zombies imposed by Delhi DD on the rest of India.

You said:
Sunil Dutt singing Taal Mile Nadi ke Jal Mein, driving a bullock cart.
Wasn't that Sanjeev Kumar with a trailing Mukhri trying to catch a glimpse of the bride?

We have lots of role models in India. We only need to look. Not that hard to find. :-)

Anangbhai - you can see the Ekta ads and other very good documentaries on the Films Division website.

R. said...

Hey, they had an english movie every saturday night, the first one they ever played was Adventures in Baby Sitting (one of Elizabeth Shue's earliest movies).

Remember Yeh Jo hai Zindagi? I don't think there has been a more entertaining sitcom than that in India ever.

Anonymous said...

considering the 'lack of answers' bit, you have quite a few answers here :)
my biggest lesson from the one channel days was simply that small or a few is enough. apart from DD, the entire market scenario was itself one of lack of choice.
even with youth icons, my feeling is that this is manipulated by the tv channel / media agency, depending on their other aqenda, say marketing... I was pretty shocked when Smriti irani emerged as a potential youth icon! but then I figured it is all about TRP.

(by the way, would appreciate it if you could leave some thoughts on my post too - am trying to compile responses and see if something concerete comes up - except my site is down for the moment - will update you when it comes back)

1conoclast said...

Zig & Quizman are right! Salma Sultan it is. And I agree with Quizman on plently of Role Models being available. Mine's been Abraham Lincoln for as long as I can remember. Rajiv Gandhi too. Manmohan Singh now.
Smriti Irani...??? It is the TRP war that's to blame yes! Can't blame the channels. They're in it for the money. If their TRP's aren't high enough, they get no ad revenue. So rather than be gutsy they're providing the people with what they want. Therefore "Kyunki..." etc are being aired.
Leave the being gutsy, make good cinema up to NFDC(?) and to the likes of Amol Palekar.
Let Naseeruddin Shah starve until he decides to get into commercial cinema & dishes out the crap that front-benchers want to watch.
In the meantime, let us cater to popular taste, like a Shahrukh Khan & make lots of money! Let's not bother with what we're showing the public. We have no responsibility as far as moulding public taste is concerned.
Why doesn't someone run a Role Model contest on their Blog? Nominate, Shortlist, Vote & Announce the Blogger Role Model! And if that too throws up a Shahrukh Khan/Smriti Irani/Shobha De, hide the results away so that we can continue to believe that we are amidst our kinds here!

s said...

this wonderful post was at least partly inspired by post-Riyaz DV8 conversation, I hope?
Bless Doordarshan. And us 70s born types :)

Quizman said...

I was referring to role models from India who are ordinary folks like us. The ones that are not so famous.

I have recovered my old posts on these role models and put them here

Annie Zaidi said...

Anagbhai, wasn't a Byomkesh Bakshi regular myself... but I loved that Ek-Anek ad. I still sing it to myself.
Vishnu - Funny how many of us - across religions - used to watch Mahabharata so religiously... I still miss Bhishma Pitahmah and his terrible loneliness.
Zigzackly, forgot her name, but Salma it was.
Suhail - sacrilege, indeed! Have gone and corrected the typo, and am still blushing from making that kind of error in a sher.
Quizman, yes. It was Sanjeev Kumar. That error too has been corrected.
Opinionated, I know I was the one gushing all over the place about our new PM, but after his US visit and the silly 'deal' which smack of a third world person's crying need for a Thappa of approval from the USA... I'm annoyed.
Charu, will do. Let me know when it's up and working. Still thinking of more, by way of answers.
Samit, probably. Sat and thought about this generation thing for a long time - how there's such a huge gap between the 70s-born and the 80s-born... and why. What changed? Still thinking.

Annie Zaidi said...

and r, would beg to differ about Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi.
I have a softer corner for Dekh Bhai Dekh.
And did you watch Amma & Family?

Anonymous said...

Annie, blog up and running again :)


Janaki said...

no way annie.. yeh jo hai zindagi was much better than dekh bhai dekh but yes amma and family was a classic which unfortunately not too many people saw!

greatbong said...

Wow Annie...brought up some old misty memories....Mr and Mrs, Yeh Jo Hain Zindagi....

Dilip D'Souza said...

And what about us 60's-born types? Who never had TV to begin with? It's funny (really) how utterly foreign much of this discussion is to me! I mean, by now I've heard all the names -- Smriti Irani, Yeh jo hai zindagi and so forth -- but in a vague and ghostly sort of way, if you know what I mean. There are times when I envy you guys all these little meeting points you have, that I totally missed.

Anang said...

Well if you find some difference between those two (70s and 80s) in a media context, be sure to post it here.
Still searching....

Ankur said...

just read this lovely piece on the evolution of TV in india - head to - i wrote something similar but less scathing and more nostalgic - who knows you might enjoy it!

Anonymous said...

Really nice blog. i can just say that i relived my childhood memories related to television. Those were the days when we used to wait for Chitrahaar to come once a week and then twice a week. Those Sunday movies, good serials with some sense in them and most of which would end in just 13 episodes, so there was some excitement about them.

And Yes I do agree with you that how could Smriti Irani be voted as a Youth Icon? I just dont watch any of her serials because I sincerely think that watching her on TV is a waste of time and of course I get a headache too.

desh said...

Awesome post annie...i mean so many good memories fall in place due to this

DD was so much good
Caught this post link from a website

Unknown said...

DD serials...a part of ur childhood and coming of age.... i still remember farman , kashish, they do not make romance and passion brought so alive any more.. neev,stone boy, jungle book so distinctly imprinted in memory.. one day back i had rare chance of watching udaan in regional dd channel... it still brings same emotions.... my question is where has real feelings gone from our serials.... who can relate to cat and mouse games of k -type serials.... and who is responsible for such degradation.....

ಕಾರ್ಯಕರ್ತ said...

Even though I have watched most of the serials post 1985, I cherish the ones that were made differently; Khandaan, Ados Pados.

Afzal-ul-haque said...

hi!..... did anybody use to see "kabhi tanhaiyon me" on lucknow door darshan....

i like its song veri much...

"...yeh jalti bujhti ummeedein yeh raat ka kisne mujhko sada di hai jugnuon ki dil machalta hai titli ke baazuon ki tarah........"

can some body gimme full song & other song of serial as well...please...

hoping for positive reply...

SS/IC said...

"I remember watching regional movies - Tamil, Malayalam, Assamese, Punjabi - on Sunday afternoons. Some of these were award-winning. I also remember that, once cable television came in, I didn't get a chance to watch such movies again (now I go looking for 'different' cinema, at film festivals)."
EXACTLY! This is what I miss most...

Babaji M P said...

Hi Annie,

This is the first time i'm visiting your blog.

I ended up here searching for the movie "Tom Sawyer Doordarshan" online for nearly one hour.

Suddenly, i remembered Becky (the golden hair girl in Doordarshan) and wanted to watch that movie now. I still remember that movie and enjoyed watching it on that particular day you have mentioned above (my good old school days). But still i'm searching and couldn't find that Doordarshan Version of Tom Sawyer :(

If you find link to that version please do post it.

You have posted this on 4th Aug, 2005 and now i'm searching it on 29th Jan, 2011 :)

Babaji M P.

Anonymous said...


Can I use your post or some version of it on my website (work in progress) ?

I would be happy to credit you as the post author on my website.

Annie Zaidi said...

ddinostalgia: yes, okay. use it if you want with credit.

Anonymous said...

thank you :)
Appreciate it.

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