With Doordarshan recently completing 60 years, here’s a look at some of the shows that used to be extremely popular during the channel’s heydays
Made on the lines of a Mexican television series, ‘Ven Conmigo’ using the education-entertainment methodology, ‘Hum Log’ tackled social issues like family planning, empowerment of women, alcoholism, and drug abuse. A middle-class family with problems is, in short, the story of ‘Hum Log’ (1984), and most of India’s. ‘Hum Log’, which began on July 7, 1984 and ended after 156 episodes on December 17, 1985, was the pioneering ancestor of today’s soaps. Author Manohar Shyam Joshi created a compelling portrait of a lower middle-class joint family – the alcoholic Basesar Ram, his self-sacrificing wife Bhagwanti and their five children. This was the national network’s first serial drama series. Actress Seema Pahwa, who played the eldest daughter, Badki, feels its plot is still relevant. “The middle class still stands in queues for trains; daughters are still difficult to marry off; dowry is a reality; and the ambitions of children do get thwarted. It is only for a certain class that India is changing or has progressed; 85 per cent of Indians would love to watch such a serial. It’s their life after all.”
DD telecast the series, ‘Malgudi Days’ (1987) based on R K Narayan’s book, comprising 39 episodes on its very special world, the world of carefree schoolboys. The plot revolves around Swami and his friends Mani, Shanker, Somu, and Rajam, and their escapades in and out of school. Who doesn’t remember, and, therefore, returns to his/her childhood? The appeal of ‘Malgudi Days’ is that it transports us to a time when things were less complicated.
‘Khandaan’ cast every big name in TV in its time – Neena Gupta, Mohan Bhandari, Jayant Kriplani, Girish Karnad, Shernaz Patel, Tinu Anand. It told the story of a very rich industrialist family, and the highs and lows of the much-better-off middle class. Neena Gupta, who made her TV debut with the show, played a complicated business tycoon.
Shernaz Patel, fresh out of college, joined the cast 20 episodes in, playing a nurse who got married to one of the sons in the family. “My character was pregnant and I remember taking the bus, and strangers started congratulating me for my on-screen pregnancy! We were mobbed everywhere. On Wednesday night, in my building, if you went down the lift all you could hear is the ‘Khandaan’ theme song,” she says, adding that though it looks dated, she thinks it is still relevant today.
Thirty years ago, retired armyman Colonel Raj Kapoor decided to make a coming-of-age show based on the lives of trainee commandos. The 13 episodes of ‘Fauji’ found a national audience for its insider’s view of military life.
But that’s not why you know ‘Fauji’. You know it because of Lieutenant Abhimanyu Rai, played by a young, gangly, dimpled Shah Rukh Khan. This was not his first TV stint (he had appeared in a two-episode role in ‘Doosra Keval’, another 1989 DD show), but it was his first break.
Rakesh Sharma played his cool, brooding older brother Major Vikram Rai. A Kannan played Major Narayanan. Vikram Chopra was Varun “I say, chaps” Chauhan.
If you’re watching today – it’s streaming on Amazon Prime. And you’ll see exactly why India fell in love with Shah Rukh Khan. He wasn’t even the first choice for the role. Anupama Chopra’s book on the star, ‘King of Bollywood’, says that he only bagged Abhimanyu’s role after Colonel Kapoor’s son, Bobby (who was also the cinematographer) backed out.
A MOUTHFUL OF SKY
This series depicted the preoccupations of India’s sophisticated young upper-middle class and high flying professionals. It debuted a young, hot Milind Soman, alongside Rahul Bose, Neesha Singh, Ranjeev Mulchandani, and Shiuli Subaya, playing five friends who reunite 13 years after their MBAs at the Management Institute of India (MII). There’s something sinister about the reunion; each one thinks the other has summoned them to the old, abandoned, MII guesthouse. As events unfold, we are let into a deadly incident that took place during their college days. The show, directed by Mahesh Bhatt, Anand Balani and Ajay Goel, also featured Samir Soni as the main villain, Kamal Siddhu, R Madhavan, Simone Singh, Soni Razdan and Ayesha Dharker, in the course of its 252 episodes.
YE JO HAI ZINDAGI
Ranjit (Shafi Inamdar), his wife Renu (Swaroop Sampat) and Renu’s unemployed brother Raja (Rakesh Bedi) live in a tiny apartment in Mumbai. And everything seems familiar even today: calculating one’s budget before visiting a restaurant, forgetting anniversaries, spinning lies to avoid annoying visiting relatives, unemployment, harmless flirting, neighbours who steal newspapers, and mistaken identities.
“I was the only woman from the main crew but all of us became best friends,” says Sampat. She says that in small towns, there was less traffic in the evenings as people would be home watching the show. Her friends abroad waited eagerly and paid high prices for bootleg cassettes. “One of my acquaintances called me up and thanked me because her husband would be back from work early than usual just to watch the series,” she says.
Written by Chitra Palekar, and based on the novel ‘Little Women’, Amol Palekar’s ‘Kachchi Dhoop’ chronicles the joys and sorrows of a single mother and her three young daughters – played by Bhagyashree, Shalmalee Palekar and Purnima Pathwardhan – as they navigate life.
The warm, slice-of-life narrative zooms in on the distinct personalities of the girls, how they spend their days, their friendships, their ambitions and struggles.
Amol Palekar says that he made the show because there was a dearth of good entertainment for children. “After seeing the pilot, I was given the prestigious Friday night slot for ‘Kachchi Dhoop’,” he recalls. “I wanted a Sunday morning slot, but the channel didn’t have one. So I went to Delhi and convinced them to create it. That’s how ‘Kachchi Dhoop’ came to be aired on a Sunday
‘Junoon’ starred popular faces like Mangal Dhillon, Shashi Puri, Archana Puran Singh and Neena Gupta, and revolved around two rich, rival households – the Rajvansh and Dhanraj clans.
A jilted lover’s tale kick-starts the enmity between the families and the rift gets worse and more vicious as both sides scheme to right real or imagined wrongs. The show ran for five years, becoming the longest-running Indian TV programme of the time.
“‘Junoon’ was based on reality and this resonated with an audience that was keen to view real drama on television,” says Archana Puran Singh. “The show was shot in real locations, unlike today’s TV serials. ‘Junoon’ would fit well in the web space today.”
“Main samay hoon,” announced a deep voice at the beginning of every episode of the mammoth 94-episode ‘Mahabharat’, produced by veteran filmmaker BR Chopra, which began in 1988. The greatest epic ever told went on to achieve great popularity on the small screen. Made firmly in the calendar art style with glittering tinselly costumes and cardboard sets, the show was lifted to sublime heights by Rahi Masoom Raza’s brilliant dialogues.
With a PhD in Hindi literature from Aligarh Muslim University, Raza was a foremost Hindi poet and novelist, with pathbreaking works such as Adha Gaon and Topi Shukla. He brought the full weight of his literary talent to write memorable dialogues, in the process even inventing words such as Pitashri and Matashri. He was targeted by Hindu fundamentalists who wanted to know how a Muslim was being allowed to write dialogues for a Hindu epic. Raza, who hailed from Ghazipur in UP, said, “Why can’t I write the dialogues? Am I not a son of the Ganga?”
BHARAT EK KHOJ
Based on Jawaharlal Nehru’s book, ‘The Discovery of India’, ‘Bharat ek Khoj’ (BEK) was a 53-episode drama spanning a 5000-year history till independence from British rule in 1947. Directed by Shyam Benegal in 1988, it is the best visual crash-course of India’s history. Another pull is that it cast the who’s who of India’s best actors in their youthful prime – Naseeruddin Shah as Shivaji; Kulbhushan Kharbanda as Akbar; Om Puri as Ashoka.