The 2000s hit sitcom Sarabhai vs Sarabhai (2004-2006) is all set to return in a new avatar in May -- as a web series on Hotstar. The show starring veteran actor Ratna Pathak Shah and Satish Shah in pivotal roles, was a laughter riot which people recall even 10 years after it was last aired. Sarabhai vs Sarabhai ran on Star Plus and revolved around the struggles of an upper class family with their middle class daughter-in-law in Mumbai. The family often ran into one problem after another but emerged stronger after each one.
Given the kind of goodwill and expectations the audience has from popular TV serials, wouldn’t it be great to revive some of best-loved serials of the golden years of Indian TV? And if we were to pick the era of 1980s and 1990s, it would inevitably mean serials aired on Doordarshan.
In popular culture terms, the ‘80s are often considered the darkest period in Bollywood history. This was the time when the ‘70s big guns, Rajesh and Vinod Khanna, were giving dud after dud and the Khan troika of the ‘90s was yet to rise. Amitabh Bachchan and Jeetendra looked old and jaded, and Anil Kapoor, Sunny Deol and Jackie Shroff were nothing more than occasional flashes in the pan. Sridevi and Jaya Prada weren’t doing anything better either, busy churning out re-runs of their Tamil and Telugu hits for a foothold in mainstream pan-India cinema.
But this was the time when Indian television was warming up to some really good content. Rich in stories, an amazing collection of actors and some truly engaging storytelling meant that television was the place to be.
We go down memory lane and revisit some shows that ensured every minute we spent in front of the small screen was totally worth it.
Mahabharata (1988 – 1990)
Without a doubt, the king of Indian television! Sunday mornings, with those deserted streets anywhere in India, have never been the same since then. Even today, this BR Chopra-produced multi-starrer remains the benchmark for any mythological TV serial. Such was its popularity that even the BBC telecast it, and this mega serial was dubbed in Tamil, Telugu and Indonesian for viewers as well. Who can forget Mahendra Kapoor’s rendition of the shloka from the Geeta ‘Yadaa yadaa hi dharmasya’ and Harish Bhimani’s narration (he’s also the voice of Samay, if you recall).
Hum Log (1984)
Written by Manohar Shyam Joshi, Hum Log was India’s first soap opera. Tracing the lives of the members of a lower middle class family, their aspirations and problems would soon find a taker in all. Remember characters like Nanhe, Basesar Ram, Badki and Chutki? Who can forget the monologue at the end of every episode where actor Ashok Kumar discussed the happenings and ended it with the punchline ‘Hum Log’.
Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi (1984)
This Shafi Inamdar, Swaroop Sampat and Rakesh Bedi-starrer family drama, set in Mumbai (then Bombay, of course) was about the trials and tribulations of a middle class family. Written by Sharad Joshi, it was directed by Kundan Shah, SS Oberoi and Raman Kumar. It was interesting that the opening theme Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi was sung by legendary Kishore Kumar, complete with the yodelling.
Bharat Ek Khoj (1988)
This Shyam Benegal-directed serial, based on Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s Discovery of India, wasn’t popular but remains an important milestone for television historical dramas. It starred Roshan Seth (playing Nehru, who else but him!), and actors like Om Puri and Pallavi Joshi, Kulbushan Karbanda playing important roles. It was engaging if elite content.
Manohar Shyam Joshi was back on TV with another family drama called Buniyaad, which unfolded during the partition and in the period that immediately followed. It was a hugely popular TV serial that sealed Doordarshan’s place as the primary broadcaster in the 1980s. With theatre-honed talents such as Alok Nath, Anita Kanwar, Sulekha Sikri, Sudhir Pandey and a legion of good Bollywood talent like Soni Razdan, Vijayendra Ghatge and Kiran Juneja, the serial was a hit from the word go. Who can forget Lajoji and Haveliram!
Mungerilal Ke Haseen Sapne (1989 - 1990)
The magic of master story teller Manohar Shyam Joshi was at display in Prakash Jha-directed Mungerilal Ke Haseen Sapne. Starring veteran actor Raghubir Yadav in the titular role, the story revolved around a clerk who gets bullied at home by his wife and at work by his boss. To make life even more miserable, his father-in-law keeps talking of his days at a police inspector. Mungerilal deals with all this by dreaming about a better life, in which he takes revenge on his boss and dates a beautiful office colleague.
Katha Sagar (1986)
Yet another popular TV series directed by veteran director Shyam Benegal (and several others) and based on short stories by famous writers from the world of literature -- Guy De Maupassant, Rabindranath Tagore, Leo Tolstoy, O Henry, Anton Chekov among many others. And featuring in them were some of the best talents from Bollywood and theatre – Utpal Dutt, Shammi Kapoor, Om Puri, Saeed Jaffrey, Waheeda Rehman, Moushumi Chatterjee, Supriya Pathak, Vijayendra Ghatge, Parikshit Sahni, etc.
Directed by Govind Nihalani and based on a Hindi novel by writer Bhisham Sahni, the serial was based during the Partition and told the story of a Hindu and Sikh couple. Realistic, and with powerhouse performances by Om Puri, Deepa Sahi, Bahraj Sahni and Dina Pathak, and with music by the Benegal veteran Vanraj Bhatia, the series was a controversial but well-received show.
Malgudi Days (1986)
The charming tales of simple folks from the fictional town of Malgudi remains one of the best-loved moments of growing up in the 1980s. Based on the novel by legendary RK Narayan, the TV series (aired in 1986) was directed by Kannnada actor Shankar Nag. Its iconic background score was the handiwork of Carnatic musician L Vaidyanathan while acclaimed cartoonist RK Laxman did the illustrations that appeared during the credits.
Mirza Ghalib (1989)
For lovers of Urdu poetry, this was the serial to turn to. Written and directed by Gulzar, with ghazals by Jagjit Singh and a superlative performance by Naseeruddin Shah, Mirza Ghalib remains the last word in refinement.
Continuing the glorious run of great content on TV was Nukkad. Written by Prabodh Joshi and directed by two of the most respected names in Indian cinema, Kundan Shah and Saeed Akhtar Mirza, the serial received an overwhelmingly positive response from audiences when it first aired. In many ways, it made the careers of actors like Dilip Dhawan, Rama Vij, Pavan Malhotra, and Avtar Gill, some of whom like Pavan Malhotra are still around. So popular was the serial that many of its characters are still fondly-remembered: Khopdi, Guru, Kaderbhai and Ghanshu Bhikari. Remember the title track ‘Bade Shehr Ki Ek Gali Mein Basaa Hua hai Nukkad’?
Param Vir Chakra (1988)
Based on the exploits and sacrifice of the recipients of the highest gallantry award awarded in India, the Param Veer Chakra, the series chronicled the lives of the likes of Major Somnath Sharma (died in Kashmir, 1948), Major Shaitan Singh (died 1962, Ladakh, J&K) and Company Quarter Master Havildar Abdul Hamid (died 1965, Punjab) and Lance Naik Albert Ekka (died 1971, Bangladesh) and others. Directed by Chetan Anand, it too boasted of a bevy of established actors such as the late Farooq Sheikh, Naseeruddin Shah, Kanwaljit Singh, Puneet Issar and Annu Kapoor among others.
Phool Khile Hain Gulshan Gulshan (1972 – 1993)
Arguably India’s first celebrity chat show hosted by Bollywood child star Tabassum (by then, of course, a lady), it was among the most-sought after TV shows through the ’80s. Known for her charming and endearing persona, Tabassum was a star attraction, though almost always she would have a Bollywood celeb gracing the show. Man, was it popular!
Remember Vimlaji of the Surf ad in the 1980s? Well, yes, the ‘aunty’ Kavita Choudhary would metamorphose onscreen to don the khakhi, playing an Indian Police Officer in the TV series Udaan. Based on the life of IPS officer Kanchan Choudhary Bhattacharya (former Director General of Police), the serial traversed the trials and tribulations of the young female trainee and then officer in a male-dominated arena.
Chitrahaar (1960s – till date)
This Bollywood-songs based programme is definitely one of the best-loved moments from the ’80s era. While the programme itself has been around since the late ’60s, it truly went national when DD National channel spread its wings, post the Delhi Asian Games in 1982. Its format was a medley of Bollywood songs, both new and old. Thanks to it, my ’80s generation could get a glimpse of the golden era of Hindi film music – where else could one have heard and seen the works of Naushad, SD Burman, Ravi, Salil Chaudhury, RD Burman, Bappi Lahiri and more. And don’t forget – this was much before the era of YouTube.
Veteran Bollywood actor Pankaj Kapur’s most iconic character belongs not to the big screen but television. Playing the ‘carrot’ eating detective, Pankaj as Karamchand remains one of India’s best-loved detectives. And, how can we forget his ‘dumb’ sidekick, the utterly loved Miss Kitty, played by Sushmita Mukherjee. The serial was directed by Pankaj Parashar and written by Pankaj Prakash.
Vikram Aur Betaal (1985)
This Arun Govil and Sajjan-starrer television series was based a work called Betaal Pachisi by Mahakavi Somdutt Bhatt, a collection of stories meant for children, set in the times of King Vikramaditya of Ujjain. The format of the series was about King Vikram bringing a corpse (a ghost actually) to a mendicant whom the king meets in the first episode. Through the course of the journey, the corpse/ghost tells the king a story and at the end of it, asks him a question. On answering it correctly, the corpse returns to the tree and thus the episodes flow.
The World This Week (1988)
In the good old 1980s, Doordarshan news (read by the likes of Tejeshwar Singh, Nithi Ravindran, Rini Simon, and most famous of them all, Salma Sultan) was a staid if a dignified affair. The news readers almost always wore a sari and read the news without much drama (though in correct English). All that got a shake-up with the arrival of Prannoy Roy’s The World This Week. With better production quality and borrowing heavily from its anchor’s personality, news reading, for the first time, became glamorous.
Ramayana (1987 – 88)
TV series on the Indian epics might come and go, but this was the mother of all shows on the Hindu epic Ramayana. Directed and produced by Ramanand Sagar, this was the TV series that could make a one–day India-Pak cricket match look secondary. Primarily based on Valmiki’s Ramayana and Tulsi Das’ Ramacharitmanas, this series would launch Arun Govil and Deepika Chikalia as the face of Lord Rama and goddess Sita for millions of Indians.
The author tweets @mniveditatweets
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