This is a slightly shaming thing to admit to, but I have to confess that I spend more time watching re-runs on television than any fresh programming. What can I say? A re-run of one of my favourite shows is so much more fun than watching yet another mindless cop drama or sitting through another dreary, depressing news bulletin or even enduring another tasteless reality show.
A re-run of Friends has a hypnotic pull on my remote, rendering it unable to proceed any further on a channel trawl. I giggle at gags I have seen a million times before; I mouth the dialogues along with my favourite characters; I crack up at Joey’s dim-witted adventures; I identify with Monica’s obsessive compulsive behaviour; I smile indulgently at Phoebe’s kookiness.
But mostly I just marvel at how young the cast members look, all dewy and fresh and embarking on the adventure of life. Don’t get me wrong. Both Jennifer Aniston and Courtney Cox look much more elegant and sophisticated now but there really is no substitute for the bloom of youth.
Will and Grace is as much fun now as it was a million years ago. Though it does seem funny to think now that a gay lead character was seen as such a bold, path-breaking move in those days given how far we have come (out) since then. And ever since re-runs of Frasier have begun showing on FX at some unearthly hour, I find myself staying up till the wee hours chuckling knowingly at what must be one of the best-written shows of all time.
Just in case the programming wizards let me down, I have a box set of West Wing saved up for the proverbial rainy day when I am stuck at home with nothing much to do. I guess that will have to do until Aaron Sorkin deigns to do a sequel with Matthew Santos (Jimmy Smits) as America’s first Hispanic President. (Wonder what’s holding him up? Isn’t the presence of Obama in the White House the perfect moment to go with a Hispanic President in West Wing II?) But till that happens – and I haven’t given up hope – I will just re-acquaint myself with the razor-sharp wit of CJ, Sam, Josh, Donna, Danny and the rest of the quirky bunch that inhabit President Bartlett’s often shambolic but occasionally sparkling West Wing.
All of which makes me wonder why we in India don’t make as much of our own iconic shows. After all, if Friends, Frasier or even Full House can have such faithful adherents decades after they were first aired, their desi versions like Dekh Bhai Dekh must have their own fan following, just waiting to be tapped. Or even Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi, which made the comic careers of Satish Shah, Shafi Inamdar and Swaroop Sampat.
But while sitcoms are, by definition, creations of their time, there are also those timeless sagas like Buniyaad or Tamas which had the entire nation mesmerised a few decades ago and would strike a chord with the audience even now if only someone had the imagination to mount a re-run at prime time. Growing up in the ’80s, I still have fond memories of the luminous beauty of Veeranwali (Kiran Juneja, now married to Buniyaad director, Ramesh Sippy), the courageous spunk of Lajoji (Anita Kanwar), the essential decency of Masterji (Alok Nath). And what could possibly beat the poignancy and drama of the Partition as an epic story for our times?
And that’s not counting the grandmother of all sagas, Ramayana, which was the high point of Sunday mornings during my childhood. It was cheesy, it was glitzy, it was completely over-the-top. But it was mandatory viewing, nonetheless, with the entire family sitting down to watch a story that they knew all too well unfold on the small screen.
Mahabharat was another staple of those times. Rupa Ganguly, with her flowing black hair, made Draupadi come alive while Nitish Bharadwaj’s Krishna quickly acquired a cult following. And we need to bring it back if only to erase the traumatic memories of the ghastly Ekta Kapoor re-make – which had all our epic heroes sporting freshly-waxed chests – that blighted our TV-viewing lives a few years ago.
But last night as I stayed up way past my bed-time to watch Nilesgaze longingly at Daphne while Frasier hovered disapprovingly around them, I started to wonder about my own television-viewing preferences.
Are these shows really better than the current fare on television or do I just like them because they remind me of my younger days? Is it genuine wit, humour and sheer entertainment I am reacting to, or am I just caught in a nostalgic haze? Am I, in fact, in danger of turning into one of those ageing codgers stuck on ’60s music because it evokes memories of their disreputable university days when they would stay up late smoking questionable substances and like, grooving, baby?
Scary thought. Maybe it’s time to tune into the latest season of Castle instead or catch the fag end of Two and a Half Men.
Follow Seema on Twitter at twitter.com/seemagoswami
- From HT Brunch, March 13
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