The 1980s are considered to be the golden era of Doordarshan in India. For those who are ignorant, Doordarshan is the mother of all television channels in India, which still clings onto its legacy role as a public broadcaster. Particularly, DD National was the only channel available to the masses before the advent of cable TV in India in 1991. This was the time when most of today’s generation was young and impressionable. When I look back, I have to agree that nothing we see on TV today seems matches up to it! What gave the TV shows of that era their universal appeal? How did those shows manage to mesmerize an entire generation that they are still nostalgic about it? Was it merely the newness of having a TV set in your house or was it something beyond that? Here’s an attempt to find out.
Humlog was Doordarshan’s longest running television serial, having aired over 150 weekly episodes! This serial was quite popular when it was telecast in 1984 and many characters from this serial had a fan following which rivalled even film stars at the time. Even today they have a fan page on Facebook and my mother refers many of Humlog’s actors by their character names! Humlog was a story of a middle class family with each member of the family having a unique quirk and different aspirations. 52 episodes of this serial were originally written and telecast and then the story was stretched as per the audiences’ response. Bollywood doyen Ashok Kumar as the ‘Sutradhaar’ used to sum up each episode in a unique interaction with the audience. The show received audience response letters in huge numbers. There was a time when people thought that one of the characters was really a social worker and Ashok Kumar had to subsequently clarify that she was just an actor and not a real social worker! The appeal of this serial lies in the fact that many Indians during the ’80s could relate to the characters and the issues it dealt with.
Nukkad was another popular TV serial telecast on Doordarshan during late 1980s. This was a show about the activities of a lower income suburban locality and the hardships they faced. Matching with an India that was urbanising, this show saw a lot of people identifying with the different colourful characters and could relate to their problems. Each episode was based on an everyday issue that often revolved around one or two specific characters at Nukkad. At the end of their day, members of the group met at Kaderbhai’s tea shop and talk about their day. Some of the characters from this show, like ‘Guru – the leader’, ‘Khopdi – the chronic drunkard’, ‘and ‘Gupta Seth – shop keeper’ became memorable. The first run aired for 40 episodes and each of them dealt with different everyday issues and concentrated on one or two of the main characters. Every episode ended either on a happy note or on a sad note, but what made each episode endearing was that it was true. People could see the reflection of their life, their issues in there. Subsequently there were attempts to revive the show, but nothing could match the magic of the original.
3. Malgudi Days
If there was one show that fascinated both the young and the old alike, that was Malgudi Days! It was based on the short stories and novels of renowned author R. K. Narayan such as “Swami and Friends” and “The Vendor of Sweets”. Directed by the late Kannada director, Shankar Nag, the series was shot near Agumbe in Karnataka. The main story, “Swami and Friends” revolved around the life of a ten-year old boy Swaminathan (Chamy), living in a fictitious town of Malgudi. Swami hates school and prefers to roam around the town with his two best friends, Mani and Rajam. The story also included the day-to-day travails of the people in the town in general. The serial’s titles were showcased with beautiful sketches by Narayan’s brother and acclaimed cartoonist, R. K. Laxman along with the immensely hummable tune, “Taa naa na, tana nana naa…” Doordarshan aired 39 episodes of Malgudi Days in its first season. The show is running even today on Doordarshan and is aired every Saturday morning at 10am. The appeal of this series lay in its simple and realistic look; and the children, of course, couldn’t wait to see what mischief Swami got into next!
This was the first mythological epic TV series that gained incredible popularity in 1987-88 when 78 episodes were aired on Doordarshan. The series directed by Ramanand Sagar, was a TV adaptation of the great Hindu religious epic and was based on “Ramcharitmanas” written by Tulsidas. The Limca Book of World Records claims it to be “the world’s most viewed mythological serial”. Being a country of God fearing people brought up on mythological stories, Ramayan was bound to attract immense appeal by bringing these mythological characters to life. Incidentally, Doordarshan officials were initially sceptical about the response for such a serial and wondered if it would breed an atmosphere of communalism. But they were in for a surprise when Ramayan achieved such a popularity level due to which daily life used to come to a standstill on a Sunday morning when hordes of people gathered around the closest available TV set. Arun Govil and Deepika Chikhalia who played the roles of Ram and Sita were revered as demigods where ever they went!
Suggested Read – The Magical Era of Doordarshan Serials – Part 2