Surabhi, a 1993 cultural show that brought forth the various arts and crafts of India, didn’t take time to create a fan following. It was hosted by Siddharth Kak and Renuka Shahane, and featured both established and upcoming artists.
“It was a confluence of religion, region, culture and classes. It was a unifier, and showcased the diversity of India,” says Renuka. Surabhi also entered the Limca Book of Records for receiving the largest measured audience response in the history of Indian television.
Siddharth says the show gave him the opportunity to explore India in a big way. “We didn’t know we were pioneering things. Surabhi gave me the opportunity to interact with my own people,” says Siddharth,
Unlike anchors on other shows, Renuka and Siddharth used to sit on the floor while hosting Surabhi, and used to indulge in informal conversations. The latter says this aspect helped the show. “This helped people connect with the show in a big way, as it gave the show a sense of informality. When we started, we knew we weren’t experts on art, crafts, culture, music or dance. We learnt a lot on the show. We were surprised by the things that happened during the course of the show. There is immense talent in India. We could have gone on featuring artists on the show for 10 more years without repeating anyone,” he says.
Siddharth and his team were looking for an intelligent and interesting person to co-anchor the show. They auditioned many girls, including some “well-known film actresses”. But Renuka was finally selected. “We called her toofan mail, as she would mug up her script, and never fumble with her lines. I was a little slow,” says Siddharth, adding that once the show started, a review remarked that Renuka smiles as if she is in a toothpaste ad. “Renuka’s smile was her charm. But she got conscious, and stopped smiling in the next episode. I told her to forget about the comment and be natural. It took three-four episodes for her to be normal again,” says Siddharth.
Renuka’s popularity, as an actor, rose due to the show. She also did films while hosting the show. “People would copy my hairstyle and clothes. It was unbelievable. Even today, people in their 30s tell me that they grew up watching me, and how they enjoyed the show. Many kids were named Surabhi after the show,” she says.
Renuka feels that the show worked because the audience loved the stories that were narrated on it. The quiz section was also loved by people. In fact, the replies that people used to send through competition postcards used to be in thousands. “The piles of postcards would be as tall as Siddharth, who is six-feet tall. The concept of competition postcards also gained immense popularity due to the show,” says Renuka. She adds, “We didn’t try to make India into a homogeneous mass, but celebrated its diversity. Parents would tell their kids not to miss it. Our audience ranged from 5-year-olds to 90-year-olds. You can’t repeat the concept or success of the show.”