Before breaking news

On our channel yesterday we paid a tribute to Doordarshan turning 50 years old. We had the most recognisable and the first news anchor of India Salma Sultana on the show. I don’t know how many of you remember the lady with a severe face who always sported a flower behind one ear and read the news on DD. When Rajdeep Sardesai asked her that you were in an era where there was no breaking news, the lady wittily replied, “Hamare zamaane mein breaking news nahin, rukawat ke liye khed hai hota tha.” That brought so many memories of watching movies where right at the time of the climax when the killer was going to be revealed or the villian was going to be shot, suddenly there would be a black out and after a few seconds it would state ‘Rukawat ke liye khed hai.’ Man I grew up with all of that.

I was born the year Indian TV saw its first cricket world cup broadcast and what fortune we won that cup. Now looking back I sometimes feel I am very old. Many people today dont know what a great achievement it was for a family to buy a TV and then to switch from black and white portables to 14 inch colour. Today we are in the hometheater age. Maybe it was this feeling of achievement that Onida TV exploited when it came up with the tagline ‘Neighbours envy, owners pride.’

The thrill of waiting for Sunday mornings that started early with Rangoli, went on to mythologicals and then to the favourite cartoons and special children’s shows. The Jetix generation would probably never know how excited we used to be by He-Man and Spiderman cartoons and how eagerly we would wait for weekends for the latest episodes. We also waited for the Sunday evening movies and the only show my friends and I were allowed to watch during our exams was Chitrahaar.

Serials were about families and the troubles of the aam aadmi and aam family. Clean fun, no extra marital relations, no vamps, no generation leaps, only realistic, normal people like you and me. Social messages on Nukkad and Rajni, emotional sagas on Buniyaad and Humlog, short story wonders on Malgudi days, Mitti ke rang and Potli Baba ki. Comedies did not mean mindless aping of regional accents or tomfoolery, but clean fun with situations and liberal use of puns. Idhar Udhar, Ye jo hai zindagi, Mr. Yogi, Flop show and Dekh bhai dekh come to mind, shows that can be watched even today with equal pleasure. If it was science you had turning point. DD had something for every genre. If it was thrillers and detective shows that you liked then you had the amazing Byomkesh Bakshi, Tehkikat and Reporter. If it was travel and culture you wanted then you had the unbeatable Surabhi. I remember getting the first rush of watching a romantic story when they telecast Kashish. You had regular quiz programmes. Afternoons were about educational and women oriented shows. India’s first daily soap Shanti was quite a revolution in women oriented programming. And DD had some really cool year ender and summer vacation programming.

And your serials didn’t have to have only Gujaratis, Punjabis or Bengalis as central characters. You had even Kashmiris play central characters in Gul gulshan gulfam. You had UPites in Neem ka ped and Talash. You had a Maharashtrian in Wagle ki Duniya. Malgudi days had essentially south Indian characters. Truly unity in diversity.

I remember seeing how news evolved from lines just being read out by an anchor to showing some pre edited visuals, to news magazines like World this week and Newstrack, discussion shows and then to the current style of news stories and live telecasts. DD had tied up with CNN to get the live telecast of the Gulf war and thats when for the first time they had started bulletins in the afternoons also. There are countless stories of how politicians used to sabotage news telecasts because DD was after all the government mouthpiece.

But somewhere along the way after Cable tv was allowed in India, the bureaucracy started dictating more and more terms to the government channel. Viewers moved on to fresher looking programming (though I must swear that even shows on Zee and Sony were much better then) and as the viewership declined, producers also stopped giving fresh shows to DD. DD bosses also being slaves of bureaucracy were not really bothered because their salaries were probably not based on the channel’s TRP’s. The channel declined fast after that and today hardly anyone watches it.

But give me a Byomkesh Bakshi, a Surabhi or a Malgudi days anyday over a screeching, dramatic woman trying to choose a husband or a foolish whacko trying to outsmart other people in some random house or jungle. Give me atleast one show that I would write about 20 years after it got over.