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I am yet to come across a child who doesn’t look forward to TV time. Owning a TV set – even a B/W one – was a luxury for my middle class family. And as an early 80s kid, my sister and I grew up on a steady diet of Doordarshan broadcasting. And we even fought over which shows we would watch even when there was only DD 1 and DD 2 to choose from!
Just hearing about World Television Day brought back vivid and cherished memories of my growing up years with a host of wonderful characters – some real, some imaginary, and some animated. This blog is like going through an old family album. There’s an old memory waiting to be revisited with every turn of page.
The Jungle Book Clan!
Years before I heard of Rudyard Kipling, I had developed a love-hate relationship with Mowgli. How could I not love this lanky wild child who got himself into all sorts of sticky situations, only to be bailed out of trouble by his four-legged, thicker-than-a-family set of friends?
I also hated him because he got countless bear hugs from the cuddly Balu. Bagheera protected him with all his might. And even the otherwise-aloof Kaa had a soft corner for him. Boy, his friends were cooler than most humans I knew! The animation, the dubbing (who can forget Nana Patekar’s booming voice as the menacing Sher Khan), and the title track made the show irresistible. Gulzarsaab nailed it with one line: Chaddi pehenke phool khila hain, phool khila hain!
Malgudi Days with Swami & Friends
It was R K Narayan’s literary genius that enabled him to make strong political statements in a story about a bunch of school going boys’ shenanigans as they grow up in an idyllic South Indian village in colonial India. Swami, the protagonist – dressed in a dhoti, kurta, and a Gandhi topi – was far removed from the urban realities of the 1980s. And yet, the timeless themes of friendship, peer pressure, school politics, generation gap, and the all-too-familiar pains and angst of a pre-adolescent made me empathise with Swami. Shankar Nag’s direction brought Malgudi and all its characters alive on my TV screen every week.
Duck Tales (in Hindi!)
While kids the world over – including my sister – were nuts about Tom & Jerry, my favourite was Duck Tales. Weekly tales of the miserly Uncle Scrooge’s obsession with money, and his underground chambers containing mounds of gold coins had me hooked. I remember my secret attempts at mimicking the tiny ducks’ nasal voices, all in vain. Only Disney could have made ducks look and sound so cute and charming. I preferred them over the constantly-at-war cat and mouse any day!
The wise Mullah Nasruddin
Thanks to his wit, wisdom, and humour, I always thought of Mullah Nasruddin as a new-age Birbal. Raghuveer Yadav nailed the mullah’s eccentricities, clever arguments, and shrewdness disguised as innocence to the core. Yadav did a fabulous job as the eponymous day dreamer in the Prakash Jha-directed Mungerilal Ke Haseen Sapne too. Yet, for me he is synonymous as Mullah Nasruddin.
The Super-hit Flop Show
In true Jaspal Bhatti-esque ulta-pulta style, he fashioned and directed a super hit show titled as Flop Show. Long before multi-camera set-ups, professional styling, and slick cinematography made an entry on Indian television, Jaspal Bhatti proved that content rocks. His formula was simple: Pick up current affairs issues, lace them with satire, have a standard set of artistes playing varied characters in the series, and end the how with a parody of a popular song to drive the satire home. It guaranteed laughs for sure, but not without a thought for the mess that the Indian society was in. Bhatti’s real-life wife played his better half’s role on screen with aplomb too. The miya-biwi’s tu-tu main-main in colloquial Punjabi and Hindi made them like any other squabbling middle-class couple. For me, they remain THE hit pair of the super hit Flop Show.
Karamchand (and Kitty)
For the longest time, I didn’t know who Pankaj Kapur was. And it didn’t matter, because right since childhood, I knew who Karamchand was. Long before the words “cool”, “swagger” and “dude” got assimilated in urban lingo, this cool as a cucumber sleuth personified them. Forget about fingerprint experts, crime scene investigations, and technical sophistication. All Karamchand required to solve a case was his microscope, a few carrots, and his bumbling bee of a secretary, Kitty. The brilliant Sushmita Mukherjee as the dimwit assistant made the perfect sidekick for Kapur’s genius. Some on-screen pairs are written on paper, and immortalized on screen. Karamchand and Kitty were made for each other, and even though I remember very little about the show, Kapur and Mukherjee’s chemistry is fresh as ever in my mind.
Zabaan Sambhal Ke!
An English actor; an Arab sheikh with little sense of grammar; a south Indian actress with a thick regional accent; and a hoity-toity airhostess who probably even dreamt strictly in English. Put them all together in a classroom to learn Hindi, and you have a recipe for an uproarious sit-com. This one had several stalwarts under one roof (or one class). Tom Alter, Bhavna Balsavar, Viju Khote, Tanaaz Currim, and Pankaj Kapur as the Hindi teacher. Now that’s one classroom where I would have loved to be a backbencher!
Shriman Shrimati (aur padosi)
This one had a predictable plot. A regular married man’s humdrum routine life is suddenly fraught with excitement when a popular film actress moves into his building. While he (the talented Jatin Kanakia as Kekuji) goes all out to woo the actress – who clearly enjoys the attention – her husband is attracted to Kekuji’s wife. And the hotch-potch continued every week till it had the audience in split. It’s tough to pick who was the most talented and loved of the lot. Kanakia, Reema Lagoo, Archana Puran Singh, and Rakesh Bedi (as Dilruba) made a great team.
Ordinary looking, but with an intellect that was extraordinaire. Razor-sharp, yet understated. Simple, yet unforgettable. That was Basu Chatterjee’s Byomkesh Bakshi. Decades before the suave Sushant Singh Rajput played the eponymous detective on celluloid, theatre artiste Rajit Kapur personified the Bengali sleuth on TV. With his trademark dhoti-kurta, oversized thick-rimmed glasses, and thoughtful silences, Kapur fit the bill perfectly. This show was perhaps my first experience of viewing a thriller.
Bharat Ek Khoj
This one was the baap of all TV shows. A magnum opus that was brilliantly directed by the redoubtable Shyam Benegal, every episode was a lesson in history, right out of the pages of Jawaharlal Nehru’s The Discovery of India. While making it, Benegal may have never imagined how young minds would perceive it. As a wide-eyed kid, I harboured a nagging doubt in my mind every time I saw this show. For the life of me I couldn’t understand that if Nehru was dead (as my history textbook and everyone else claimed), then how on earth could he be possibly appearing at the beginning of every episode? After this question had tormented me for weeks, I thought of a way to ask my dad about it, without making an ass of myself.
“Dad”, I said as casually as I could, “wasn’t Jawaharlal Nehru the prime minister of India?”
“Yes, of course he was!”
“Well, then how did he have the time to run the country and also be a part of this TV show?”
Three seconds of silence… 1…2…3…followed by a loud chuckle.
“So you thought this is Jawaharlal Nehru, huh?! That’s actor Roshan Seth. He bears a striking resemblance to Nehru, and that’s why you were mistaken.”
And I thought I was being clever....