The 1987 Doordarshan (DD) show, Chunauti, might have had only 22 episodes, but it endeared itself to the audience in that duration. The show, which revolved around college life and subjects like student unions, elections, donations, ragging and hostel conditions, soon became a hit. Actors like Arif Zakaria and Suchitra Krishnamoorthi, among others, made their debut with this show, which was directed by late Sanjeev Bhattacharya. Seasoned actors like the late Mohan Bhandari, Paresh Rawal, Rajiv Verma, late Ajit Vachhani, and Bharat Kapoor added more flavour to it.
Suchitra feels the authenticity and innocence of the show was what worked like a charm. “Most of us were school and college kids, and not professional actors. That brought an element of reality to it. I would carry books to the sets to study for my exams. Sanjeev made it a breeze for all of us to do the show,” she says. Ali Asgar, who was also part of Chunauti, feels that the audience connected with the “content and dialogues, which were strong”. He says, “We were emotionally involved in the show. Nowadays, TV shows are like junk food.”
Arif, on the other hand, feels the script by Ashok Patale and Mir Muneer was “tight and fresh”. He says, “Something as dramatic, intense and emotional as campus life had never been shown on TV till then. The title song, which was sung by Amit Kumar, was a hit too.” Arif played the role of Ramakant, a student leader. Beyond the college politics, his love triangle with Suchitra and Channa Ruparel was also lapped up by the audience.
Looking back, Suchitra says, “I had just given my 10th standard board exams, and I fought with my parents to let me do the show. I promised them that after this serial, I’d get back to studies. Of course, that never happened, as modelling and acting offers poured in.” She played a student from a Hindi medium school, but “being a spoilt Nepean Sea Road kid, who could barely speak Hindi properly at the time, deliberately mispronouncing English words and mixing up my Vs and Ws was a challenge,” adds the actor, with a laugh.
Ali says that though he had worked on a few shows before this one, “no one took me seriously”. “Everyone wanted to cast me in a comic role. I played a rich brat’s sidekick. I remember, while auditioning, I had a long dialogue, and I got stuck, and I gave a ‘gaali’, and everyone laughed. The next thing I knew, I was cast,” he adds. Ali fondly remembers the directors till today, and how they would stay over at his house on weekends.
Arif was a student in Sydenham College at the time. He says, “It was my first experience in front of the camera, and I didn’t know it would become so popular. While working, we were all high on adrenaline, and wanted to give it our best. For me, the biggest star back then was Mohan Bhandari. I got `750 per episode, which I thought was a lot of money.”
As the crew shot in Ismail Yusuf, Wilson and Sophia Colleges in Mumbai, most shoots took place at night or on the weekends to get a relatively empty campus. Suchitra says, “Being so young and not used to staying awake so late, I would invariably fall asleep on the sets. Sanjeev would wake me up, and coax me to shoot for five more minutes. He was wonderful.” On the other hand, Ali remembers going to Chowpatty Beach after the shoot to chill with the cast. He says, “We had fun together, and were passionate about working. Everything was exciting back then.”