Just came across the above promo from Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara that makes fun of Doordarshan, posted by a friend in Facebook. He was disgusted, so was I and it compelled me to write this post. But going by the comments below this video, people are finding it amusing & “LOL”worthy. One may accuse me of making a mountain out of a molehill, but it disturbs me as it strengthens certain stereotypical thought processes that ail the society and reminds me of certain other issues related to preservation of our cultural heritage. It is not particularly a critique of this one off incident but of the bigger phenomenon that it alludes to.
Typical Indian mindset: Stereotypes and more Stereotypes
It disturbs me because adjectives like classic, antique, historical or vintage make no sense to us. They are thanklessly bracketed with old, outdated, banal and boring. However I don’t think it is a recent phenomenon. It has been the case with us all the time. I am sure people in the 70’s too made fun of KL Saigal. So it is only poetic justice that they now deserve Action Replayys and OSOs as throwbacks to their times. Most of us Indians have no sense of history and have no interest in preservation of important cultural landmarks. That is exactly why I have been able to watch Birth of a Nation and Cabinet of Dr. Caligari but have no clue about Raja Harishchandra & I know for sure that Alam Ara is lost forever, except for a few photographs.
Doordarshan: A few memories
In the late 80’s and early 90’s, Doordarshan came up with some world-class programs. My personal favourite was Dr. Chandraprakash Dwivedi’s Chanakya, one of the most well researched pieces of celluloid to have ever come out of India, notwithstanding the criticism from some quarters with vested interests. For me, it is still the epitome of period detailing and research, backed by excellent performances and dialogues.
Although I must mention here that I was never fond of Ramanand Sagar’s mythologicals despite their huge popularity. Their low production values led to hilarious and cheap aesthetics, not to mention the lack of research and detailing. But their success set up the assembly line of mythological serials to cater the most “religious” and “spiritual” society on earth. However, BR Chopra’s Mahabharata stood out in terms of high production values as well as excellent casting, which made later adaptations of the epic unwatchable (such as that of Ekta Kapoor’s).
I think the main reason this sudden burst of quality asynchronous to its times can be attributed to the involvement of capable directors, writers and producers from the film world such as BR Chopra (Mahabharata), Sippy (Buniad), Benegal (Bharat Ek Khoj), Gulzar (Mirza Ghalib), Nihalani (Tamas), Basu Chatterjee (Byomkesh Bakshi), Dr Rahi Masoom Raza (Neem Ka Ped), Sanjay Khan (Tipu Sultan, Great Maratha) among others. Quality actors like Om Puri, Naseeruddin Shah and Irrfan were also regularly visible on Doordarshan at those times. Besides, most of them choose to draw from epics and classic literature. The boom of “cool”, pulp, Indian English fiction was still a more than a decade away.
But even comparatively better filmmakers of today like the Akhtars remember nothing about that period except for the signature tune that they find hilarious. What do they think about the present state of Indian television? What about un-dead and evergreen matrons without a single grey hair? What about random biker chicks who cannot name the president, swayambar of drug addict divorcees and schizophrenic item girls, logically dead historicals, gambling shows masquerading as quizzes, a jumble of urban and rural legends masquerading as news channels, reality shows to detect who is cheating on one’s BFs or GFs???
But this is not to say that DD is doing well right now. It has now reached a phase of worthlessness and irrelevance. It no longer has the talent pool that created that golden age. More importantly, it is only trying to emulate the garbage created by private channels with lower budgets and cheaper aesthetics. The result? Only those who have no other options watch DD.
Another alarming trend is its own lack of respect for their glorious past. Serendipitously, today I also came across the photograph pasted above. Just have a look at the people involved. I had no idea that these maestros attended a discussion in DD and I still can’t believe that they no longer have this tape. They have either lost it due to incompetence or deleted it themselves due to apathy, ignorance and tastelessness. One may also read this post by Amita Malik to get a better idea of this uniquely Indian phenomenon.
Satan save India, the Gods have failed!