Thursday, 31 July 2008

Indian Television in the 80s

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One channel, no remote, limited hours of viewing, mostly black and white television sets, Government controlled content - for today's generation it would seem the most mundane form of entertainment but not for those who were television viewers in the 80's. Doordarshan was the only TV channel of the 80s and half an hour before the telecast this was the screen which greeted viewers

Beginning of the telecast meant this animation

I always feel that the programme content of the 80s though amateurish was far more intelligent than today's. Hardly, we used to get 6 or 7 hours of programming a day. The best thing about the telecast was it used to wind up at 10 pm. The most frequent program was "Sorry for the interruption". Despite, all the technological glitches the content was truly "rainbow stuff".

Serials were not gauche and unethical like now. The characters of "Chutki" and "Nane" from "Humlog" are still etched in the minds of viewers. The introductory and closing comments of Ashok Kumar in the same serial are mandatory content of most mimicry shows. The standards of comedy achieved by "Yeh Jo Hain Zindagi" are yet to be paralleled on Indian television. "Mr.Yogi" was a comedy of its own genre. Lajoji and Master Haveli Ram from "Buniyaad" are immortal. I don't find in today's television a single serial "Rajini" featuring Priya Tendulkar which represented common man's problem in an entertaining and educative format. The simplicity of narration and content in "Khata Sagar" endeared to every viewer's mind and soul. "Nukad" was a masterpiece and an all time great "Malgudi Days" brought to life its characters in the same way as described in the novel.

Even the mythological serials like Ramayan, Mahabharat, and Alif Laila were good in content. Foreign serials like "Old Fox" "Adventures of Sherlock Holmes" and "Oshin" were equally stupendous. The "Tele-match" special from Germany which used to be telecast during rain delays in cricket matches was entertainment in its own right.

Movie telecast thankfully was limited to three a week i.e. one each Hindi, local language and National Award Winner (any language). The content was highly censored and hence fit for family viewing. There used to be an air of expectation for Sunday evening films so was the wait for the twice a week Chitrahaar and Sunday mornings Rangoli.

Sports telecast were limited to important events like Olympics, Asian Games, Wimbledon and India featuring cricket matches. This is one aspect which today's television scores because the quality of India content those days was very pedestrian. During live telecast, there used to be frequent satellite outages and cricket match coverage in India used to be done with a single camera.

News was largely Government controlled and at times containing minutest details of the programme of the Prime Minister. People like Tejeshwar Singh, Gitanjali Iyer, Minu, Mita Chaudhary, Salma Sultana and others were masters of the language. One good thing about the news those days was it used to be once in a day and unlike today's nauseating 24 hour breaking news channels. News used to be details of events that have happened unlike today where the personal, political and business interest of the media group is presented as news. It was in late 80's that direct coverage of election counting was introduced and also the projections and I abhor the day.

The quality of social messages during those days was very good. Who does not remember the animated film "Hum Sab Ek Hain" in which the didi explains to his brother the importance of being united. The concept of "Mile Sure Mera Tumhara" was path breaking and still echoes in my ears. The one message I despised the most was promoting the use of "Iodine Salt". It was very badly conceptualized, shot and ran for ages. Advertisement and social messages had a great mix but that was possible because Television was state controlled.

Children programs were not far behind. "Giant Robot" and "Star Trek" were the introduction of sci-fi to me. "Spiderman" on Sundays at 5:30pm meant deserting of playing grounds for us. "Discovery of India" was a great way to understand Indian History apart from the mundane textbooks. Quiz Master by Siddharth Basu on Sunday nights enthralled and educated a whole nation.

Nostalgia apart, television in the 80s was entertaining, educating and enabling. Though it was of limited duration telecast the joy it bought was unlimited. It was not like television of today brash and bent upon higher TRPs. Those days will never be back again but one can recall with pride that Television of the 80s was never an Idiot Box.

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