Emmy (Awards to celebrate TV Series of the West) just got over and left me thinking about the television scene in India. Will we ever create television content which will be globally acclaimed or an industry worthy of an award show of its own? Then I realized, we already did? We created a history of great television shows in 80s and 90s. Sadly, there were no awards then.
The TV shows of that era were created by the likes of BR Chopra (Mahabharat), Gulzar (Mirza Ghalib) and Shyam Benegal (Bharat Ek Khoj) where everything was minutely sketched out, even the opening and end credits. A 13 episode series had more powerful story to tell than the soap operas of today which run for five years. The directors and producers turned to literature for content which took authors from book shelves to TV screens. Some of them introduced us to various cultures across the country.
The actors too were NSD (National School Of Drama) and FTII (Film and Television Institute of India) pass outs who made the characters real and believable. It was the time when film actors too did not hesitate from appearing on TV, and it wasn’t to promote their upcoming films.
These shows are etched in our memories and many nostalgic odes have been written for them. However, most of them talk about the famous ones like Ramayan (1987-88), Mahabharat (1988-90), Hum Log (1984-85), Buniyad (1986), Ye Jo Hai Zindagi (1984), Nukkad (1986-88), Malgudi Days etc. Here’s a list of the less written about fiction TV shows of the yore, some that I remember and some that I recalled while searching on the net. While some of them had great content, direction and production value others got us hooked purely because of the novelty factor and diverse genres.
Mirza Ghalib (1988)
This show is not less written about, given that it was directed by the legendary Gulzar and with another legend Naseeruddin Shah portraying the title role. I’ve read somewhere that Naseeruddin Shah wanted to play the great Urdu poet, but Gulzar’s first choice was Sanjeev Kumar. The duo shared great chemistry and had given classics like Koshish, Angoor and Parichay. Unfortunately, Sanjeev Kumar passed away and the role fell in Naseeruddin Shah’s lap who immortalized the character. The story followed Mirza Ghalib’s life, his marriage to Umrao Begum played by Tanvi Azmi and his alleged affair with courtesan Nawab Jaan played by Neena Gupta. Shafi Inamdar essayed the role of Mir Taqi Mir, another great poet of the Mughal era.
Mirza Ghalib introduced me to crisp Urdu shayari even though I was too young to understand it. Ghalib’s ghazals and nazms were composed and voiced by Jagjit and Chitra Singh.
Bharat Ek Khoj (1988)
I’ve always thought that Bharat Ek Khoj directed by Shyam Benegal is the benchmark for television content creation. The series was based on Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru’s book The Discovery Of India which traces 5000 years of Indian history in a dramatic way. Tales of Mahabharat, Ramayan, Chanakya, Ashoka The Great, Kalidas, Akbar, Shivaji were all portrayed by the likes of Om Puri, Naseeruddin Shah, Tom Alter and Kulbhushan Kharbanda. The narration by Roshan Seth who played Nehru (he also played Nehru in Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi) made the book completely transpire on screen. The title track with its Sanskrit chant and haunting score still remains one of my favourites.
The Sword Of Tipu Sultan (1990-91)
Way before when creating magnum opus for television became a thing, Sanjay Khan created history with his saga based on the book by Bhagwan Gidwani. The serial introduced us to the great warrior and king of Mysore, Tipu Sultan. It was grand with elaborate sets, tight script and some really good acting. The music was composed by Naushad; I still remember the title track.
Kile Ka Rahasya (1989)
Ye hai abhishapt kila…
bhool kar bhi isme mat jaana…
This tune followed by a woman’s scream on television every Tueday night was clue for my sister and me to run in the bedroom, hide under the blanket and sleep. From what I recollect the story was about a haunted kila (fort) where people would get lost, walk out with a hand print of blood on their backs and other such spooky stuff. While the end of Kile Ka Rahasya was a bit disappointing, the title track was haunting enough to spook the hell out of us. I don’t remember the actors except for Veerendra Saxena (remember Jassi’s dad in Jassi Jaisi Koi Nahin?). There’s not much info on the net about the director, producer or the plot either.
Reporter (Late 80s)
Way before Shekhar Suman became famous for his rib tickling comedies, he did some serious roles in films and television. His serial Reporter was one of them where he played a crime reporter cum detective on a lookout for stories who ended up solving those crimes at the end of the day. Makrand Deshpande played a key role of Shekhar Suman’s informer with a love for sandwiches.
Easily the second most popular detective series after Byomkesh Bakshi, Tehkikat was directed by Shekhar Kapoor and Karan Razdan. The detective duo Sam D’silva (Vijay Anand) and Gopichand (Saurabh Shukla) were a humourous take on Sherlock Homes and Dr. Watson.
Space City Sigma (1989)
Our very first sci-fi TV show, Sigma was inspired by Start Trek; I don’t clearly remember. The show was full of mysterious space elements and desi versions of Captain Kirk and Spock. Space City Sigma fascinated all of us 80s kids who hadn’t watched Star Trek yet.
You can read more about it here.
I vaguely remember Indradhanush, a sci-fi cum fiction series which got the kids hooked. All I remember is that the show involved a bunch of school kids, computer (which was a huge deal then) and time machine. Karan Johar, the famous Bollywood director, was also part of the cast.
Mr. Yogi (Late 80s)
“I am Y.I. Patel, Yogesh Patel”, is how Mr. Yogi played by Mohan Gokhale introduced himself to his would be brides. One of the best television comedies, the show was about an NRI Yogesh Patel meeting 12 girls of different Zodiac signs to find his perfect match. Om Puri played the sutradhar or narrator who took Mr. Yogi’s story forward.
The show was hilarious with new and quirky characters in every episode. I also remeber watching the cake fight for the first time in this series. Years later Ashutosh Gowarikar made a movie What’s Your Rashee based on the same concept. The TV serieal and film both were based on Madhu Rye’s book Kimball Ravenswood.
Gul Gulshan Gulfaam (1991)
While researching for this post I asked people on Twitter what they remember from the TV shows of 80s and 90s. @nrucho (Nrupal Choudhari) replied saying that he remembered Gul Gulshan Gulfaam for it introduced him to Kashmiri words, kahwa (Kashmiri tea) and kangdi (earthen pot with coal to keep yourself warm). I too remember the show purely for these reasons. Shot on location, the show took us to the lovely valley, lakes and houseboats.
It was the story of a family making their living with houseboats and how terrorism affects their profession. The sons of the family decide to move out of Kashmir for a better life which creates a divide in the family. Parikshit Sahni, Radha Seth, Kanwaljeet, Pankaj Berry, Kunal Khemu played the lead roles.
Way before Grey’s Anatomy got us hooked with all that melodrama in hospital wings or House got us confused with all the medical terminology, Indian television had Lifeline. Based on the lives of doctors and the relationships between doctors and patients, the show was genuine with least amount of melodrama. There were many stories inter weaved and new characters and cases kept coming and going.
The srong cast included A.K. Hangal, Pankaj Kapur, K.K. Raina, Ila Arun, Tanvi Azmi, Mohan Joshi, Renuka Shahane and was directed by Vijaya Mehta.
My only memory of this show was of the very gorgeous Kanwaljeet grabbing an unsuspectin Deepika Deshpande and kissing her. So, while researching for this post I found the series online and watched it again. Only to redevelop a major crush on Kanwaljeet’s Azar Nawab. Suave, dapper, dressed in tailor-made suits and cravats; he was the man of our teenage dreams.
The show was based on Rafia Amin’s book Alampanah. Aiman Shahab (Deepika Deshpande) arrives in Hyderabad as an assistant to an old begum. In the old haveli Aiman finds hidden secrets, false prides, diminishing culture, some friends and begum’s son Azar Nawab.
The serial didn’t have the garishness and exaggeration that usually represents the nawabi culture in films. The poetic charm of the old city, crisp Urdu and authentic locations kept it real. And above all, the love-hate relationship and Mills And Boons like romance between Azar Nawab and wide eyed Aiman was a major draw. Kanwaljeet’s Azar Nawab was dark, brooding, complex but upright; he was our original Christian Grey with great sensuality and minus all the kink.
You can watch all the episodes here.
Another brilliant show based on the life of a trainee in Indian Navy, played by Pallavi Joshi, her struggles, friendships and relationships. The cast included Girish Malik, Harsh Chhaya, Shefali Patel (then Shetty), Tarun Dhanrajgir and R Madhavan in a small role. Sadly. the serial was never concluded.
Mitti Ke Rang
The title track of this serial is so fresh in my mind that I can hum it even now. Based on Mohan Rakesh’s short stories, Mitti Ke Rang had a new story every week. These stories were of common people, their lives, hopes, despair, loneliness and all sorts of emotions.
Dekh Bhai Dekh (1993)
If Basesars of Hum Log was our favourite dramatic family, Diwans of Dekh Bhai Dekh was the most loved comic family. Whether it was Farida Jalal’s confused Suhasini bhabhi, Bhavna Balsawar’s crazy chachi or Shekhar Suman’s fun chachu aka Samir, they all made us roll with laughter. And who can forget the adorable Kareema (Deven Bhojani) with his halwe jaise gal, button jaisi aankhen.
The show was mostly shot inside the Diwan house where all the madness took place. There were new characters (mostly Liliput in different avatars) introduced in every episode which added to the craziness.
The opening credits of the serial had all the actors, dressed like their respective characters, walking towards the camera. The track “swaraj chahiye, swaraj chahiye. Marte dum tak humein, swaraj chahiye”, playing in the background would set the tone of the whole serial which was just brilliantly written.
Swaraj was one of the best television content made on the lives of Indian revolutionaries like Chandrashekhar Azad, Shaheed Bhagat Singh, Ramprasad Bismil, Ashfaque Ulla Khan, Sukhdev and more. The serial had a tight script never losing track of the main story and characters. Unlike films based on the same subject, the makers of Swaraj never used romance and melodrama to popularise it. The actors were mostly newcomers and fresh NSD and FTII graduates who played there roles to the T. Rajesh Shringarpure (Sarkar Raj fame) essayed the role of Bhagat Singh while Ravi Gosai played Chadrashekhar Azad.
Amravati Ki Kathayen – Directed by Shyam Benegal, the series was based on Sahitya Academy Award winning stories.
Ek Tha Rusty – Based on Ruskin Bond’s The Room On The Roof. Cast included Raj Zutshi and Bhanu Uday.
Chekhov Ki Duniya – Based on Anton Chekhov’s stories, this series was directed by the Delhi theatre veteran Rajat Kapoor (who also co-wrote Jaane Bhi Do Yaron)
Pachpan Khambe Laal Diware – Based on the novel of same name by Usha Priyamvada with Mita Vashishth and Aman Verma in lead roles.
School Days – It was termed as the DD version of Hip Hip Hurray which ran parallel on Zee TV. Since I didn’t have cable connection at home I watched it every Sunday morning. It was a cool show with school kids fighting over girls, leadership, sports etc. etc. Later they introduced another school and added more characters. Don’t remember how it ended exactly.
There’s not much info on the net on most of these serials and there are so many more like Hum Panchi Ek Daal Ke, Mujrim Hazir, Sukanya etc. just lost due to neglect. We can just hope that Doordarshan does something to bring the good serials back, release them on DVDs or just post them on youtube.