Tell me not in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream.
Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal.

When I go from hence
let this be my parting word,
that what I have seen is unsurpassable.

Monday, 7 July 2008

Once upon a time in India...

I have taken the title for this post from an email my friend H sent me this morning. The mail contained stills from popular serials that were aired on Doordarshan when we were kids. It brought back a flood of memories from those days. The days when Doordarshan used to be the only channel around seem so long ago. I cannot remember the last time I watched Doordarshan. And yet, there was a time when our daily schedules were regulated by program timings on Doordarshan. The most maddening part of the day was the news hour. Father insisted on watching both the Hindi and the English news. He claimed that the english version contained more information. I failed to find both the difference between the two and why he didn't just watch the English version. What made it worse was that he demanded absolute silence during that time. News hour coincided with dinner time. So we were never allowed to talk during dinner. But it was not all bad. Apart from the special breakfast mom used to make on Sundays, Doordarshan was what made Sunday mornings so special. Mornings started with Chitrahaar at 7:00 AM. That was my and my sister's only chance to see newly released movies as we were not allowed to go to the theaters back then. Chitrahaar was followed by Disney Hour at 8:00 AM. The whole family used to gather around the TV for Ramayan at 10. That ended at 11. Everybody else moved off to do whatever they wanted to do after that. But my day was just starting. I used to stay glued to the TV for the english programmes that came later. Doordarshan provided me my first taste of western serials. My introduction to Agatha Christie was through David Suchet's Poirot. I faintly remember another serial called Bay of Danger. It involved a lot of flying in a sea-plane. I have never heard it being mentioned anywhere since then.

I can go on and on about Sunday mornings but I don't want to risk being called a bore. Though I am strictly against putting up copied material on my blog, I could not resist putting up the images from the mail. Here they are with my notes (couldn't resist those either):

The slowly revolving logo with the accompanying trademark music which used to indicate the start of any program. I don't think Doordarshan has changed the music even today. And rightly so. No other channel has been able to create a signature tune which identifies it to the viewers. All of them have to resort to something on the lines of "You are watching XYZ" to announce themselves.

The most irritating image on TV ever. It was always accompanied by a mind numbing metallic whistle. I lost count of the number of saturday movies that were spoiled by this image. This was one thing I will never be nostalgic about, ever.

Complan really did work wonders for these two. Did you ever imagine Complan boy and Complan girl would go on to become what they are now? Ayesha Takia still looks the same as she did then. Only a little plumper. Its hard to guess that the boy is Shahid Kapoor. Incidentally, I watched these two romancing each other in the eminently forgettable Fool N Final just yesterday.

Vicco turmeric,
नहीं कॉस्मेटिक,
Vicco turmeric आयुर्वेदिक क्रीम

I have never used Vicco turmeric cream, but I thought the lady in its ads was simply the most beautiful woman on television then. She went on to played the role of Ahilya Bai in The Great Maratha. I have seen her in a couple of saas-bahu serials which I don't care to remember.

वाशिंग पाउडर निरमा, वाशिंग पाउडर निरमादूध सी सफेदी , निरमा से आए,रंगीन कपड़े भी खिल खिल जाए
This ad showed a lot women creating a lot of foam while washing a lot of white clothes with just a spoon full of Nirma washing powder. I still hear people humming its jingle.

Few screen adaptations manage to retain the spirit and atmosphere of their sources as well as Malgudi Days did all those years ago. Even today, I cannot read any of R.K. Narayanan's works without placing his characters in Shankar Nag's Malgudi. I think this still is from the episode about an old man (pictured) whose son comes back from the US with an American wife.

Enough has been said about the phenomenona called Ramayan and Mahabharat. I won't add to it. Just for the records, my favourite was Mahabharat. I can't help noting though, that the mythological serials that are aired today have the same sloppy standard for special effects that these serials had almost 20 years ago. I guess poducers rely more on viewers' devotion for TRPs than on production values.

Not a patch on Karamchand or Reporter. I was old enough to judge things like plots and production values by the time Tehekikaat was aired. I don't remember ever being satisfied by its resolutions. But it was fun to watch none the less. And definitely better than the later serials like Raja aur Rancho,etc. I think it was Saurabh Shukla's first big break. He played the role of Vijay Anand's assistant.

Before Discovery, NatGeo and History channels made their debut in India, there were Surabhi and Turning Point. As far as I remember, Surabhi used to be aired on Saturday nights. It was as popular as Ramayan in our house. I remember sending answers to the weekly quiz quite a few times. I did not win even once. Thats not surprising really. The response the quiz generated every week would compare with what todays reality shows generate and that too when sending postcards was the only ways to participate. The government introduced special competition postcards priced at INR 3 just for these competitions. Turning Point was hosted by Girish Karnad. He used to give away prizes for best questions on science every week. I sent a number of questions but never won.

Shyam Benegal's adaptation of Jawaharlal Nehru's Discovery Of India was one of the best serials ever aired on Indian televsion. It is difficult to accpet anyone other than Roshan seth as Jawaharlal Nehru. Bharat - Ek Khoj was part of Doordarshan's sunday morning treats. I was an avid follower. I still remember a few of the episodes which moved me most. The ones on sepoy Mutiny and ancient Vijaynagar, for example.

I didn't realize, I have rambled on for this long. This must be the longest post I have ever written. I have got to stop right now. Have to go and cook dinner anyway.

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