It’s 25 years since satellite TV came to India. We look back at the early years (before saas-bahu serials took over our screens) and zoom in on 25 desi shows we loved.
1. Dekh Bhai Dekh (1993) : People Like Us, Only Way Funnier
Anand Mahendroo put together an ensemble cast with great comic timing – Sushma Seth, Navin Nishchol, Shekhar Suman, Farida Jalal – in Dekh Bhai Dekh, which was shown on DD Metro. The story was of a khandan with all sorts of idiosyncrasies. Plus: a young Deven Bhojani playing Karima, the obese domestic help with panache. Also, Liliput, the writer, did several cameos.
2. Antakshari (1993): The Great Indian Singalong, And You Knew The Words
When Antakshari started in 1993 on Zee, nobody thought it would go on to become so popular. Using a combination of normal antakshari along with rounds based on audio and visual clues, the simple household game got a glamorous makeover. Host Annu Kapoor became synonymous with the show, though his co-hosts – a succession of women – kept changing over 11 seasons. Part of the joy of Antakshari was that audiences themselves played along with the show.
3. Tara (1993) : The First Touch Of Feminism
Four girls. Interweaving storylines of friendship, ambition, love, and secrets. When Raman Kumar’s soap, Tara, written by Vinta Nanda, aired on Zee in 1993, viewers were riveted. With its refreshingly honest depiction of urban women, it gave viewers their first taste of feminism and made the cropped haired Navneet Nishan a household name. Tara was axed five years later. Says Nanda: “I remember the programming head calling me to his office and saying, ‘women like you should not be allowed in the country’. I knew I had done something right!”
4. Philips Top Ten (1994) : Hit Songs, Hilarious Hosts
Wadda Kaun? Tussi.” Say this line and TV viewers of a certain generation will start to smile. That is the recall of Philips Top Ten, which aired on Zee from 1994 to 1999. A music countdown show in which the lines of the anchor duo were often more anticipated than the songs it featured. The show turned Satish Kaushik and Pankaj Kapur, who played two rustic Punjabi brothers, into household names.
5. Office Office (2001) : Laughing Along With The Common Man
This show, which touched a chord with thousands of TV viewers at the turn of the century, was a comment on our bureaucracy. First aired on SAB TV in 2000, it took a scathing dig at the exploits of a man who runs into red tape, corrupt officials and middlemen in the government.
6. Shanti (1994) : Love, Sex, Dhokha Aur Drama
The first ever daily soap on Indian TV, Shanti aired on DD National in 1994 and re-ran on Star Plus later. A drama series that acquired a cult following, it delved into the story of two friends and their heavily guarded past that is unearthed layer by layer when a young journalist called Shanti arrives in their midst. Dark, slightly sinister, Shanti was an explosive mix of love, treachery and betrayal.
Shanti, played by Mandira Bedi – with her flowing curly hair and big bindi – became one of the most iconic TV characters.
7. Swabhimaan (1995) : The Other Side Of The Other Woman
A daily soap that aired from 1995 to 1997, Swabhimaan was every Indian woman’s guilty afternoon indulgence. Directed by Mahesh Bhatt, scripted by author Shobhaa De and writer/actor Vinod Ranganath, the serial revolved around a unique premise. Svetlana (played by Kitu Gidwani) is a mistress whose rich patron dies. She struggles to deal with the emotional turmoil that follows his death along with bitter inheritance wars and succession rights with the legitimate family.
How Svetlana manages to keep her swabhimaan (self-respect) against the flurry of emotional attacks on her identity is what formed the basis of the show.
Swabhimaan was a big success on DD, and as Bhatt says, it launched the careers of many actors like Rohit Roy, Sandhya Mridul, Ashutosh Rana and Manoj Bajpayee.
8. Filmi Chakkar (1995) : Turning Comedy Into A Superhit
It was supposed to be a show of film songs with stories woven around them. But the producers ran into copyright issues and it became a sitcom about a film-obsessed family on Zee. Ratna Pathak Shah played Rukmani, the wife. Satish Shah, who came up with the idea, played Prashant, her husband. They had two kids, and there was a dadi, who unlike the others, was not too fond of films and was often traumatised by the proceedings. Eventually the gags became repetitive and the show reached its expiry date. There was a reboot, but it failed to impress.
9. A Mouthful of Sky (1995) : When Indian TV Spoke English
Written by Ashok Banker, A Mouthful of Sky was India’s first English-language television series, and had names like Anant Balani, Mahesh Bhatt and Ajay Goel among its directors. It began with a reunion and quickly turned into a thriller, which was eerily similar to Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. Owing to its ‘bold’ content, it was aired during a late-night slot on DD Metro – but its plot kept the audience hooked to the screen even post 11pm. The other thing that worked for it was the dream (or rather, dreamy) cast: Milind Soman, Rahul Bose, Ranjeev Mulchandani, Samir Soni, Mukul Dev, Parvin Dabas, Arjun Rampal, Simone Singh, Ayesha Dharker, Kruttika Desai and Kamal Sidhu.
10. Saans (1998) : A Breath Of Reality
Before the saas, there used to be Saans. The saga of marital ennui and extramarital excitement enacted and created by Neena Gupta in 1998 for Star Plus predated the deluge of saas-bahu soaps which have numbed viewer sensibilities. Her role of Priya as the loyal wife cheated upon by her husband caught the fancy of audiences.
While people were glued to their sets, Gupta was attacked for endorsing adultery. “I’m just mirroring society. What happens to Priya... can happen to any of us,” she said in interviews.
11. Aahat (1995) : Big Chills on the Small Screen
For 20 years – with some breaks in between – Aahat has been haunting audiences across the country. It started in October 1995, when Sony first launched. And within two years, Aahat was cable and satellite TV’s most watched show, rating higher than even the soaps. And it overtook the massively popular Zee Horror Show by the Ramsays.
This is because Aahat introduced a new kind of horror – its director BP Singh, in an interview had said, “We don’t call ours a horror show for it’s not a horror show” – it wasn’t gory and it didn’t involve dollops of make-up, but relied on suspense, deep plots and special effects to induce fear. The show ran in its sixth season last year.
12. Sarabhai Vs Sarabhai (2004) : A Class War With Real Class
Rukmani (Ratna Pathak Shah) and Prashant (Satish Shah) were back as Maya and Indravadan Sarabhai on Star One, a few pounds richer and heavier, living in a swish SoBo apartment. Their sons were called Sahil (Sumeet Raghavan) and Rosesh (Rajesh Kumar). Sahil had a wife, the ‘downmarket’ Monisha Sarabhai (Rupali Ganguly), bullied by her ‘prim and propah’ saas. Remember the catchphrase, ‘Don’t mind me beta, I’m just making a point’?
13. Hasratein (1996) : Rocking The Boat
In the 1990s, it required a certain bravado to depict extramarital relationships on the small screen. But director Ajai Sinha decided to take that risk. To Sinha’s credit, he narrated the story with great maturity. Based on the Marathi novel Adhantari, written by renowned author Jaywant Dalvi, the Zee serial chronicled the life of Savi, who leaves her husband and gets into a relationship with her married boss. With powerful performances by Shefali, and Harsh Chhaya, the show managed to recreate the fine nuances of a man-woman relationship. Looking at the subject from a woman’s point of view added to the show’s appeal.
14. Astitva-Ek Prem Kahaani (2002) : TV Finds A New Identity
Another show on Zee with an unconventional story. The show, written by Purnendu Shekhar and Gajra Kottary, centred on the life of Simran Mathur (Niki Aneja), a gynaecologist. As the story unfolds, she ends up eloping and marrying a man ten years younger. With a rakish Varun Badola playing Abhimanyu Saxena, the young photographer, the show initially garnered good reviews. After Hasratein, director Ajai Sinha was back in familiar territory and he handled the premise well.
15. Jassi Jaissi Koi Nahin (2003) : The Makeover India Loved
Jassi Walia, with her nerdy glasses, braces, clumsy ways and a heart of gold won over her colleagues, her handsome boss and all of us. The story of an ordinary girl with dreams of making it big, Jassi Jaisi Koi Nahi was a departure from the saas-bahu soaps which were a staple on Indian television at that time. The show’s script made the audience connect with the geeky protagonist. So popular did the Sony show become that fashion designers launched Jassi collections and the Indian postal department even issued a first-day cover featuring the protagonist, played by Mona Singh, on the show’s first anniversary.
16. Sa Re Ga Ma (1995) : When Only The Music Mattered
In the summer of 1995, singer Sonu Nigam hosted the first episode of Sa Re Ga Ma. Within months, thanks to his knowledgeable anchoring and impeccable Hindi diction, Nigam became a popular music talent show anchor. Unlike today’s shows, where the family background of the singers is often taken into consideration, the emphasis in Zee TV’s Saregama, conceptualised by Gajendra Singh, was always on the singing.
17. Kora Kagaz (1998) : Pushing The Envelope
Conceived by Asha Parekh for Star Plus, Kora Kagaz tackled a bold subject: a woman (Renuka Shahane)from a conservative family refuses to take back her husband who had abandoned her on their wedding night, for another woman. Instead of wallowing in self-pity, Shahane’s character goes on to have an affair with her brother-in-law, played by cricketer-turned-actor Salil Ankola.
18. Kaun Banega Crorepati (2000) : AB Became The Right Answer
It’s been 15 years since “Computerji, lock kiya jai” entered the Indian lexicon and Kaun Banega Crorepati (KBC) enthralled us. The desi version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?, KBC became India’s first official adaptation of a big international reality franchise. The prize money, which was a staggering Rs 1 crore when it kicked off, has reached an eyeball-popping Rs 7 crores today.
The Star Plus show (later on Sony) also gave a new lease of life to Amitabh Bachchan’s career. Not only did he reinvent himself as a poetry-spouting reverential figure, he also brought acceptability to the idea of Bollywood’s popular stars trying their luck on the small screen. After eight seasons, Bachchan, the show’s biggest attraction (never mind the shaky Shah Rukh Khan interlude), continues to be popular with a new generation of quizzers.
19. Star Bestsellers (1999) : When Bollywood Made Short Films For TV
A serial killer’s story, shot on a train by Anurag Kashyap. Tigmanshu Dhulia’s take on middle-class adultery. Sriram Raghavan’s riveting tale about the double life of a gangster. Mita Vashist, Rajeshwari Sachdeva and Surekha Sikri playing two generations of women for an episode directed by thespian Rajit Kapur. Rajkumar Hirani making his directorial debut. That’s quite a roll call! The brightest of Bollywood has been part of these hour-long novella-like stories shot with the sensibilities of celluloid, shown on Star Plus. That was the appeal of Star Bestsellers.
20. Movers & Shakers (1997) : Our First Late-Night Laughs
There was something so international about Sony’s Movers & Shakers, part satire, part stand-up comedy, part celebrity chat show. Shekhar Suman would poke fun at the Prime Minister and then interview Shah Rukh Khan in the same episode! And there was a band too.
21. Crime Patrol (2003) : True Crime, True Grit
This show opened up a new genre on Indian television: true crime reconstructed and police investigations dramatised. The straightforward narrative, well-enacted scenes and focus on crime-solving has made for strangely compelling viewing. The episode that recreated the events of the horrific December 16 gang rape in Delhi garnered record viewership.
One of the most popular shows on Sony, Crime Patrol made a popular host out of Anup Soni, a National School of Drama alumnus. He has now became the face of crime reality TV. It also spawned a number of me-too shows, famously Savdhaan India, hosted by Sushant Singh.
22. Indian Idol (2004): Giving Our Stories A Voice
Almost 12 years ago, the first episode of Indian Idol (a franchise of Britain’s Pop Idol) was aired on Sony TV. Today, six seasons later, the show has spawned countless mini celebs and much of India has voted for a talented or deserving voice. it’s also become the benchmark for how to deal with criticism from a TV judge and how to go from television to Bollywood playback.
23. Powder (2010): Hot On The Drug Trail
In 2010, YRF TV, a newly floated unit by Yash Raj Films, introduced viewers to a string of shows that followed the globally popular season format. One of them was Powder, a gripping crime series on substance abuse that was written and directed by Atul Sabharwal, and ran from January to June 2010 on Sony TV.
The show stood out for its gritty content and action-packed execution. Set in Mumbai, it chronicled the lives of two men on the opposite sides of the law. Both Usmaan Ali (Manish Chaudhary) and Naved Ansari (Pankaj Tripathi) grew up in the slums, but the former ended up as the head of the narcotics bureau, the latter became a drug kingpin.
Although the critics loved Powder, it didn’t manage to rake in the ratings.
24. Stories by Rabindranath Tagore (2015) : Rabi Da Returns
Anurag Basu recreated the magic of Rabindranath Tagore’s stories on Epic channel. Classic tales such as Chokher Bali, with Radhika Apte playing Binodini, and shot in Basu’s inimitable style, were a hit with audiences tired of hackneyed soaps. Also, popular playback singers Arijit Singh, Neeti Mohan and Shalmali Kholgade lent their voices to the soundtrack. What was not to like?
25. 24 (2014) : The New Game-Changer
In 2009, shooting for season eight of the popular American drama TV series 24 in Los Angeles, actor Anil Kapoor decided he had to adapt the series for India. The result was the desi version of the series, which aired on Colors in late 2013.
The show was appreciated by audiences for its production values and taut storytelling.
The first season was on air in 2013, with Kapoor playing an intelligence officer countering attempts to assassinate the prime ministerial candidate Aditya Singhania (played by the solid Neil Bhoopalam).
Are all your favourites on this list? Did we leave out an episode you loved? Did you have a big crush on the small screen? Talk to us! Tell us about rushing home to catch your favourite show, about laughing and crying with your family in the living room and about satellite TV’s brief, bright spell. Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org, tweet to @HTBrunch using the hashtag #GreatIndianRecap
From HT Brunch, January 10, 2016
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