By Roshni Chakrabarty
Indian Television was not always dominated by saans-bahu serials which have the most popularity today. During a time when Doordarshan had the monopoly on Indian TV, several shows were aired which helped to educate the masses in some way or the other, bringing into the forefront Indian history and culture in a way that enriched minds and made us think.
1. MALGUDI DAYS
This age-old series based on R K Narayan’s works premiered on Doordarshan in 1986 and still boasts of a huge fan-following, even in the current generation.
Kannada actor and director Shankar Nag skillfully adapted to the small screen Narayan’s works from his books ‘A Horse and Two Goats,’ ‘Malgudi Days,’ ‘Swami and Friends’ and ‘The Vendor of Sweets.’
Set in a small South-Indian village in pre-independence India, the series portrays the typical Indian society in all its glory and shame. It shows the mundane listless facets of life and appeals to every common man in its simplicity. It is a down-to-earth rendering of life and childhood and uses little dramatization.
Carnatic musician L Vaidyanathan set the nostalgic score for the series, while Narayan’s brother, acclaimed Indian cartoonist R K Laxman, was the sketch artist. Most of the actors in the series hailed from the Kannada film industry.
The 39 episodes of Malgudi Days had reruns on Doordarshan, Sony Entertainment Television channel, and MAA Television in Telugu.
2. FLOP SHOW
This brilliant satirical series written and directed by Jaspal Bhatti made him one of the lead names in the Indian comic scene when it was aired on Doordarshan in 1989.
The sitcom took up the socio-economic problems faced by the common man at a time when the public sector heavily regulated the state and license-raj was still going strong. The series used humor via skits to take potshots at various aspects of Indian politics and society—ranging from government clerks to telephone operators and traders.
Each of the 10 episodes started with a dedication to whoever is made fun of in that episode and went on to play the title sequence which surprisingly mocks the show itself. The show had the same cast playing different characters in each episode. Jaspal Bhatti played himself in the sitcom, while his wife, Savita Bhatti, who is also the producer of the show, played the role of his wife in each episode. Moreover, the end of every episode featured a satirical reworded version of a popular Hindi film song.
Taking into account the current socio-political scenario of the country, the show still has reruns on various Doordarshan channels.
3. BHARAT EK KHOJ
Jawaharlal Nehru’s celebrated book, ‘The Discovery of India’ was taken up by Shyam Benegal in 1988 to create this series, which explores the dramatic 5000 year Indian history till the 1947 independence.
The series, which aired on Doordarshan, uses both drama and documentary techniques to explore the political, historical, and cultural scenarios in India’s history. It tracks the significant landmarks in the steady evolution of the great Indian civilization comprising multiple cultures, religions and ethnic communities.
Roshan Seth, playing the role of Nehru, anchors the episodes, while the narration is done by Om Puri.
This political documentary series is a real life ‘Game of Thrones’ and is a must-watch for every Indian interested in understanding the political history of the nation that we see today. The show, which premiered on Hindi news channel ABP News in July 2013, presents the changes that took place in the post-independence India during the tenures of the 13 prime ministers till date.
With the thought provoking anchoring by Shekhar Kapoor and Puneet Sharma’s direction, the series uses re-enactments of news pieces from the past, interviews with important personalities, and original addresses to bring forth the history of Indian politics in a spectacular manner. Every episode focuses on a particular political vista and extensively gathers the “story of today’s India” from 1947 to the present day in 26 episodes.
The series has been adapted in Bengali and Marathi and are hosted by Bengali actor Dhritiman Chatterjee and by Marathi actor Vikram Gokhale on the respective channels.
It has garnered praise from the likes of senior BJP leader L K Advani, retired Indian Police Service (IPS) officer Kiran Bedi, and Lal Bahadur Shastri’s son Sunil Shashtri.
5. PARAM VIR CHAKRA
This series, based on the real life winners of Param Vir Chakra, the highest military honour in the country for Defence forces, received great critical acclaim when it was first aired on Doordarashan in 1988.
Chetan Anand, who had previously made war films such as Haqeeqat (1964) and Hindustan Ki Kasam (1973) directed this documentary drama series, which brilliantly portrays the gallant individuals standing in the country’s defense.
The first episode shows Major Som Nath Sharma of Kumaon Regiment, the first recipient of the Param Vir Chakra. Naseeruddin Shah acts in the tenth episode as Abdul Hamid, who destroyed eight Pakistani tanks before laying down his life. He was awarded the Param Vir Chakra posthumously.
This partition era drama series first aired on DD National 27 years ago in 1986. The show tells the story of family torn apart by the partition of India and the ensuing trauma and struggles they have to go through.
The show directed by Ramesh Sippy and Jyoti still finds relevance in the Indian audience and has been re-aired a number of times. It introduced famed TV actors such as Alok Nath in the role of Master Haveli Ram and Kanwaljeet Singh as his son, Satbir.
This Hindi TV serial, directed by Kundan Shah and Saeed Akhtar Mirza, aired on the DD National channel in 1986 to garner a tremendous audience response, turning the characters of the beggar, the drunkard, the tea shop owner, and the street thug into household names.
The series was based on the troubles and issues faced by city-dwelling lower income zone people making a living in a harsh economic climate. It featured a group of people hanging out at the local street corner or ‘nukkad,’ where they shared their joys and sorrows with each other.
With a brilliant mix of satire, humour, and drama, each episode dealt with a particular problem faced by a couple of specific characters and ended with either a positive and hopeful resolution, or a rather realistic but saddening conclusion. This simple and realistic treatment made the show one of the top three TV serials on Doordarshan along with Buniyaad and Hum Log.
Producers re launched the Nukkad brand in 1993 as ‘Naya Nukkad’, adding new actors to the original cast. But it wasn’t as successful as the original show.
This show featuring different facets of Indian culture was hosted by Siddharth Kak and Renuka Shahane and ran from 1993 to 2001, thus holding the post for the longest running cultural series in India.
Initially aired on Doordarshan, the show later moved to Sunday morning slots on Star Plus. The series was earlier named Amul Surabhi as the Amul company sponsored it for quite some time.
The show is widely credited to have brought into attention folk dances, tribal traditions, temple sculptures, and even the manner of construction of mosques and churches. It was also dubbed in other Indian languages like Tamil, and went on to garner a good response from non-Hindi speaking Indian states as well.
Viewer participation was one of the major ingredients that went into making the show this popular. The weekly quiz asked for viewer responses and at a time when the internet or mobile phones weren’t prevalent, the people resorted to using 15 paisa postcards of the Indian Post. One such question received over 1.4 million letters in a single week, thus securing the show a place in the Limca Book of Records for the largest measured audience response in the history of Indian Television. This also made the Indian postal department come up with ‘Competition Postcards’ priced at Rs 2 for participating in such contests.
The beautiful title track of the show was composed by famed Indian composer and classical violinist Dr L Subramaniam. Siddharth Kak later went on to establish the Surabhi Foundation and started a cultural artifacts preservation project.
9. ZABAAN SAMBHALKE
Directed by Rajiv Mehra, this Hindi sitcom is the Indian version of the 1977 British sitcom Mind Your Language and first aired in 1993 on the DD Metro Channel.
The series featured actor Pankaj Kapoor as an engineer who is forced to teach Hindi in a language school attended by people from various culture backgrounds hailing from different parts of the country and the world. The show explored culture shock situations, job dissatisfaction and how so much is lost in translation.
Other than Kapoor, the show also featured Viju Khote, Shubha Khote, and Tom Alter. Reruns of the show were aired on SAB TV and later on Bindass channel.
10. TARAK MEHTA KA ULTA CHASHMA
This series, which went on air on SAB TV in 2008, is relatively much newer than the rest in the list.
The show is based on journalist Taarak Mehta’s column ‘Duniya Ne Oondha Chashma’ for the Gujarati weekly magazine Chitralekha.
The series depicts the daily occurrences in the Gokuldham Co-Operative Housing Society in Mumbai, where the residents of different cultures and religions refer to their society as “Mini-India” and spread the message of unity by worshiping every God and celebrating each festival with the same enthusiasm.
Various socially relevant issues are taken up in each episode and dealt with in a humorous manner.