Doordarshan Serials: That 80s Show

Can I make an honest statement? These days, I never, ever watch any TV serial. None. Zilch. Nada.

Neither Hindi or Bengali, and after laughing hysterically through about 4 seasons of Big Bang Theory, nor English anymore. Why, you may ask (I am sure you won't, given that they're generally ridiculously bad). Well, apart from the fact that I just mentioned inside circular braces, I have a mental benchmark of what Good TV Serials have to be like. Especially Hindi ones.

Yes, I know that I am an old lady, that my vision is perpetually saturated with Sepia tone (okay, Eastmancolor) and I see the world through a retro kaleidoscope, but still! Do you remember what Doordarshan serials used to be like?? Let me refresh your memories with some of my personal favourite gems.

  • Hum Log – The First Indian Soap Opera. A drama depicting the hopes and struggles of a middle class family, this was the brain child of Vasanth Sathe, the then Information and Broadcasting Minister. Remember the sombre Badki (Seema Bhargav), the diva Majhli (Divya Seth), the sprightly Chhutki (Loveleen Mishra) and the endearing Nanhe (Abhinav Chaturvedi)?  And remember the Ashok Kumar epilogues with his blind-man sunglasses? Like me, if you have ever wondered 'why on earth the sunglasses??', then the answer is – because he didn't want the audiences to know that he was reading on the teleprompter! Yessiree, I googled for it!
  • Malgudi Days – It's a Legend with a capital L. In fact, I can already hear you humming 'ta na na ta na na na...’ :D Based on the stories by R. K. Narayan and adorned by fantastic R. K. Laxman sketches, this masterpiece was directed by the eminent Kannada theatre and film personality Shankar Nag. These were forever stories… stories of ordinary lives, and the extraordinary beauty and humor that lies in the simplicity of them.
  • Katha Sagar – This superb serial featured a collection of short stories by literary masters like O. Henry, Somerset Maugham, Maupassant and Anton Chekov to name a few. Directed by Shyam Benegal, this series showcased the acting prowess of some of the greatest TV and film actors like Om Puri, Sharmila Tagore, Utpal Dutt, Moushumi Chatterjee, etc. I remember being captivated by the episodes based on Maupassant's short story 'The Necklace', or the adaptation of O. Henry's 'The Last Leaf', long before I read the original works. 
  • Karamchand – I loved, loved, loved Karamchand jasoos! So much so, I even went through a spell of munching raw carrots! (no kidding). The plots were intriguing with the right amount of twists and turns, the stories were crisp and taut and the chemistry between the super sleuth and his cutesy nitwit secretary Kitty was amazing! But what I loved most was the young Pankaj Kapoor with his socially awkward and nerdy mannerisms. My heart would do a little flip every time he would take off his signature shades and scratch his head in that typical Karamchand style of his! (Yes, I am weird that way).
  • Tamas – Dark, riveting and often disturbing, this unforgettable mini-series portrayed the agonizing pain of partition of the Indian subcontinent. Brilliantly made by Govind Nihalani, its stellar cast read like the Who’s who of Hindi stage and film fraternity – Bhisham Sahni, Sayeed Jaffrey, A.K. Hangal, Dina Pathak, Amresh Puri, Om Puri, Surekha Sikri and Deepa Sahi – to name a few. The drama was a shockingly descriptive and authentic depiction of a very hard time in Indian history.  
  • Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi – Kundan Shah defined what good comedy should be when he created this classic sitcom. Revolving around the funny occurrences in the lives of the couple Ranjit (Shafi Inamdaar), Renu (Swaroop Sampat) and Renu's younger brother Raja (Rakesh Bedi), this was clean, good, roll-on-the-floor riot. The cream of this sweet, sweet treat was the special appearances of Satish Shah in different characters, each one playing a key role in that particular episode. 
  • Kachchi Dhoop – This one still reminds me of playing in the sunshine, of collecting useless rocks, buttons and other childhood treasures... the joys and pains of growing up! Amol Palekar adapted the story from 'Little Women' and sprinkled his own brand of Desi pixie dust on it. Though created for children, the appeal of this serial was universal.
  • Mr ya Mrs – Long before everyone talked about breaking gender stereotypes, there came the sitcom Mr ya Mrs. The hilarious gigs of Jayant Kripalani as the sit-at-home husband and Archana Puran Singh as the working wife was funny to watch, and depicted a controversial topic of role reversal in an intelligently humorous way. 
  • Mungerilal ke Haseen Sapne – Did you know that this Raghubir Yadav debut starrer was inspired by the James Thurber's short story 'The Secret Life of Walter Mitty'? It was an 'A-Ha!' moment for me when I read the story later. The story is a humorous take on the crushed dreams of the middle class man, directed by Prakash Jha. The serial along with its title became so popular that it became a phrase to describe the idle daydreamers. 
  • Ados Pados – This heartwarming serial marked the television debut of theatre and film veteran Sai Paranjpye. Revolving around the life of a single father (played by Amol Palekar) and his budding romance with his son's governess (played by Rameshwari), this tale was tinged with Paranjpye's signature middle-class charm – with characters who are instantly likable and brings a smile into your face. 

There are so many others than these, isn't it? It's a sacrilege not to mention Bharat: Ek Khoj – the magnum opus that Shyam Benegal created to unfold Jawaharlal Nehru's account of 5000 years of Indian history; Buniyaad – Ramesh Sippy's take on drama series with partition of India as a backdrop, that became a cult; Yatra – the Shyam Benegal series that so aptly amalgamated the journey of the Great Indian Railways with the journey of Life; Rajni – where Priya Tendulkar taught us the power of common man to fight the negligence of social and administrative systems; Udaan – probably the first serial on women empowerment; so many significant series were showcased in Doordarshan during the '80s that entertained us, educated us and empowered us. They played such an important role in shaping our psyche! 

I hope my reverie not only serves as a trip down memory lane, but underlines the importance of creating great shows - ones that not only entertain, but teach us how to appreciate the simple values of life, the basic goodness in human heart and help us to be better people.