Indian Television In Technicolor

The resonating recall value of 1980s dramas like “Tamas,” “Shrikant,” “Buniyaad,” “Hum Log,” “Byomkesh Bakshi” can any day cast a deep shadow on the regressive mindlessness of contemporary Indian television

Jas September 4, 2022

Still from Tamas

Every time the TV industry opens its archives, brushes off the thin layer of dust settled on its many masterpieces locked away in the halls of lost glory and fame, and picks out a spool for a back to back re-run, the tele-phile in me makes a quick mental note and puts the classic on record. The most recent one on my tele-recording list was the moving “Tamas” that had a full and fulfilling run on History TV Channel all last month. Soon, I’ll be clearing the space for Sharat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s “Shrikant.” Sometime back, “Byomkesh Bakshi” too found a spot on the list and heck, if they decide to re-play “Buniyaad” and “Hum Log,” I’ll be looking forward to some quality replay time. Unlike the “Glee” club and “Pretty Little Liars” members or the compulsive consumers of saas-bahu sagas, these serials are my education, my legacy, my foundation course on what programming content should be like and my formative years of starting out as a dedicated television viewer.

Alok Nath in a still from Buniyaad

Alok Nath in a still from Buniyaad

The fact that these classics have a resonating recall value is not because Doordarshan was the only channel back then. That is secondary. What’s primary is the timelessness, the relevance, the execution and presentation of these iconic shows that still make us want to catch them every time they come back on air. It doesn’t matter if their technical quality is low or the sound and colour are a bit off. All I want to do is relive every moment of genius - right from the well fleshed out characters, the solid scripts and the phenomenal storylines brought to life with memorable performances. Where serials today run into thousands of meaningless sub standard episodes, our hunger pangs for something fulfilling would be satiated by mere 13 to 52 episodes back then.

Give me a “Chanakya” or a “Dekh Bhai Dekh” any day over any reality show or the K-brigade. Yes, it is unfortunate that DD has lost its midas touch, that talented makers like Govind Nihalani, Lekh Tandon and Gulzar graduated to cinema. It is also unfortunate that Doordarshan could not rise above petty politics and regressive government control or smarten up its programming. And it’s a tragedy that in spite and despite of independence and big budgets, private channels have nothing to show for till date.

Where Indian GEC conglomerates like Sony, Star and Zee and their multiple network channels wave the flag of progressive programming, encouraging women empowerment, decoding relationships, and presenting family dramas, the television of 1980s already enriched us with all this and more.

Take for instance Sony’s “Jee Le Zara.” An independent Sangeeta Ghosh who falls for a younger guy stands in pale comparison to the powerful story of Mita Vashisht’s character in love with a young and younger Aman Verma in “Pachpan Khambe Laal Deewarein.” Nowhere does “Parvarish” come near to family dramas like “Gul Gulshan Gulfam,” “Farmaan,” “Kachhi Dhoop” or “Neem Ka Ped.” No one raises issues like they did in “Humrahi” or give us layered adulterous affairs like “Hasratein” or even talk about real women like “Tara.”

Zabaan Sambhal Ke

Still from Zabaan Sambhal Ke

Comedies on Sab TV fall flat in front of giants like the rib-tickling “Zabaan Sambhalke,” “Wagle Ki Duniya,” “Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi,” “Dekh Bhai Dekh,” “Kakaji Kahein,” “Mr Yogi,” “Mungerilal Ke Haseen Sapne” and even “Idhar Udhar.” In a country that is crying rape, it’s “Udaan” we draw courage and inspiration from. High on Mills and Boon content, serials still can’t match the burning desire and romance of “Kashish.” While “Punar Vivah” is clinging desperately to drama, “Kshitij Yeh Nahin” in just a couple of episodes beautifully got two people together in name of companionship and remarriage.  ”CID” and “Crime Patrol” are effective but what is memorable is the carrot munching “Karamchand,” the feisty “Reporter,” and the on track “Tehkitkat.”

Going by the General Entertainment Content, it’s serials like “Circus,” “Nukkad” and “Fauji” that strike a chord the most. “Sanjeevani” doesn’t even come close by a 100 miles to hospital drama “Lifeline.” Youth-based programming needs to snap out of “Dil Dosti Dance,” “Emotional Atyachaar,” “Splitsvilla,” “Roadies,” and “Surveen Guggal” – it’s time to revisit the young and restless in “Chunauti” and “Banegi Apni Baat.” Give the kiddos a taste of real folklore by replaying “Panch Tantra Ki Kathayein” and “Malgudi Days.” Refresh our mornings with chat show “Surbhi.” Give us our daily bread of real entertainment and deliver us from dramarama!



  • Maddy Anish

    ‘Malgudi Days’ was one such masterpiece. In my school days i also saw the show for Swami and his friends and never could understand the underlying irony in the story, only to grow up and understand that during the re-run of the show in early 2000. All the characters are close to heart and there are times while travelling i meet folks who just remind me of them. Wonder, ever will there be shows of this class and maturity which allow you to grow along with the stories and characters.