Studios. Tapes. Men. Women. Memories…There are many old things at the Doordarshan archives. Some of them are working and some have refused to. Just like one old Ampex machine at the ‘cleaning room’, bought in 1959, the year Doordarshan began — so the story goes — on German charity.
“The Germans had come for an industrial exhibition. While leaving, they donated their entire equipment. Three office rooms were broken up and a studio was set up. That’s how TV started in India,” recalls 60 year-old Suhas Bose, a veteran.The first studio, remembers NC Sarin, an editor who had joined DD at Rs 300 a month in the sixties, had no air conditioner. "To keep the room cool, a fan would blow from behind a box of ice before telecast and shut down during it. There were no recording machines till ’61. It was all live, so the fan’s noise wouldn’t do…don’t you remember Begum Akhtar or Girija Devi singing and mopping their faces?" pipes in another old-timer. "A documentary, Highway No 2, (a road movie from Bombay to Delhi) was made into a 16-mm film, because that’s what we had," adds Sarin. "We have Gandhiji’s clippings from the 1930s, signing of the Constitution, Nehru’s oath taking, footage of Bhimsen Joshi and Amjad Ali as young men in their 30s," says Adnan Bismillah working for five years in the production department. "Jo dusro ke liye koora, woh hamare liye khazana (what may be rubbish for other people, we consider gold)." Needless to say, all this is heritage. Or should be. But too much of history can get to be a problem, especially without safekeeping. The editorial of Kamalini Dutt, archives director, in ‘DD-Arc’, a bi-monthly newsletter for internal circulation, does pat the team for work done. But for the most part, it’s a cross between a Greek chorus and a war cry against "fungus attacks on tapes, binding breakage resulting in dropouts, dust gathering and ‘vinegar syndrome’, jitters, noise and instability."
In the studio, people are at work, transcribing a Bharat Ek Khoj episode or giving Lord Ram a nose job by cleaning the colour around it. The efforts of at least 20 people (from the library, dubbing, cleaning, restoration, subject expert and digitisation departments) go into fixing an old tape, says 26-year-old consultant Asha Sharma.It’s all happening in Doordarshan’s fiftieth year. For the first time in the history of broadcasting agencies in India (and certainly Doordarshan’s) it has introduced a Media Asset Management system for archive purposes. And the work done so far? For an initiative started in November 2008, "14,000 hours have been digitised and two lakh hours waiting to be so," says Dutt. "The roadmap of DD archives to become a virtual archive so that access to any content from anywhere at all has begun. One channel of high definition will be operational from 2010, from the Commonwealth Games. 100 titles of DVDs are out in the market for sale."
The archive department is also repurposing old programmes into new. For example, if the original programme is in Hindi, then it is recreated in eight other languages to support regional language networks or vice versa. “Other regional classical literature are also translated into Hindi,” explains Dutt. “We don’t just preserve, we digitise, we give it life. This is not a museum.”
Classics are fine, but what explains DD’s stress on classical song and dance? Where are the takers? Newsreader Salma Sultan, who is one of DD’s well-loved ‘face,’ says the bent is natural given that “DD is a public service broadcaster. We don’t have that much of hungama, our agenda was and is social transformation, we were proud of our Krishi Darshan and our classical programmes. We just need to package it with the contemporary.”
Content developer Irfan, who is editing a 12-year-old Manna Dey programme for telecast, is doing just that. A window into his world to see how all this works. While previewing a 9-year-old interview of novelist Vishnu Pradhan a few days back, he chanced upon the line, ‘Last year, I wrote this novel.’ “But if telecast in 2009 it would be a historical inaccuracy. So I edited that out. This is not cheating or trying to give the impression that this is a latest recording. It would have created confusion.” In every room of DD Archives, there is thus a new relationship with the future of history. And it’s looking kind of good.