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The end of innocence

Eventful, loud, tumultuous. No single word can describe the Eighties. The winds of change blew, but was different better?Colour television had come to the country just a year before, courtesy Asiad ’82, but it was... Rajdeep Sardesai writes...

brunch Updated: Jul 14, 2012 21:18 IST
Rajdeep Sardesai
Rajdeep Sardesai
Hindustan Times
Mahendra Singh Dhoni,Kapil Dev,Vivian Richards

Long before Mahendra Singh Dhoni, there was Kapil Dev Nikhanj. The original small-town folk hero, he of the toothy smile, the proud moustache and yes, of ‘Palmolive

da jawaab nahin!

’ I turned 18 in 1983, the year Indian cricket achieved manhood and Kapil Dev, all pace and aggression, came to symbolise a generational change in the sport. June 25, 1983 was a defining moment, and three decades later, we can all still watch and admire Kapil Dev pluck the catch of Viv Richards that made us first believe we could defeat the mighty West Indies.

Colour television had come to the country just a year before, courtesy Asiad ’82, but it was on that summer day in June when we first realised the power of a live sports event on television. It marked the transition of cricket from a national passion to being at the heart of the entertainment industry.

If Gavaskar was to represent the defiance of the ’70s and Tendulkar the exuberance of the ’90s, it was the charismatic Kapil who was the magnet who drew in the crowds through the ’80s.

Long before Rahul Gandhi, there was Rajiv Gandhi. Fresh-faced and ever-smiling, his enthusiasm was infectious. A reluctant politician, he became Prime Minister in the cruellest of circumstances, his mother’s assassination a reminder that India’s age of innocence was well and truly over.

Turning Point: India’s World Cup victory in 1983 (with Kapil Dev as captain) changed cricket from a national passion to a national obsession.

For a younger India, itching for change, a 40-year-old Prime Minister appeared to be well-suited for the times. In 1985, when Rajiv delivered his famous speech at the Congress convention in Mumbai, promising to rid the country of power brokers, we all cheered. By 1988, when I had become a full-time journalist, hope had slowly turned to cynicism.

Bofors was the 2G of our times, so what if Rs 64 crore appears loose change in today’s context. Rajiv was never quite able to shake off the Bofors stigma, but he did leave a more enduring, positive legacy: his passion for computers and gadgets. We still typed our articles, but by the end of the decade, the desktop had made an appearance in newsrooms. Rajiv may have struggled with his present, but he did see the future.

Long before Satyamev Jayate, there was Ramayan and Mahabharat. Sunday mornings in the 1980s became the ultimate devotional fantasy for millions as the two eternal Indian epics were played out before a genuine ‘national’ audience. Okay, so there was no superstar like Aamir Khan to grab eyeballs, but there was also no remote control and no five-hundred-odd channels competing for attention. Little wonder then that Sita (Deepika Chikhalia) and Ram (Arun Govil) became the first small screen stars.

It was the high noon of Doordarshan (or should we say last stand?): a number of tele-serials were rolled out that stood out for their simplicity and middle class values: Hum Log, Buniyaad, Nukkad, Rajni.

Yes, there was no breaking news because news remained a government monopoly, but it was in this period that we had a glimpse into the future with Prannoy Roy’s The World This Week. The world was a quieter place, but does noise alone make news?

Long before Salman Khan made Chulbul Pandey a national craze, there was, well, Salman making his hero debut in a 1988 romantic family drama called Maine Pyar Kiya. He didn’t flex muscles, but actually tried to play a gentle lover boy! The 1980s were a strange period for Hindi cinema: Amitabh Bachchan was still delivering hits, but they weren’t quite the ’70s classics. He was number one to 10 in Bollywood, a fact confirmed by the national outcry that followed his near-fatal accident on the film sets of Coolie in 1982.

The superstar Khans were taking their first tentative steps and the rest really didn’t matter. Oh yes, there was Madhuri Dixit, the Ek Do Teen beauty. And yes, there was Govinda of the purple pants and Anil Kapoor out to prove that a moustache was no handicap to stardom.

As for film music in the 1980s? Well, a decade that saw the decline of the legendary R.D. Burman must be seen as lyricist Javed Akhtar once told me, ‘a period of


music, loud and, at times, downright embarrassing’.

Long before Mukesh Ambani, there was Dhirubhai. Controversial but charismatic, ruthless but revolutionary, Dhirubhai was a beneficiary of the licence-permit raj but also far-sighted enough to see the world beyond. There were no richest businessmen lists in the ’80s and those who were crorepatis were still nervous about exhibiting their wealth openly. We were still in a shortage economy, where a pair of Levi’s was a prized possession. But the winds of change had begun to blow. The equity cult was slowly filtering through, and Dhirubhai became its high priest.

May 20, 1985, when 12,000 investors attended Reliance’s AGM at the Cooperage football ground in Mumbai, was perhaps a turning point. The country was used to political rallies, but for a businessman to stage a similar event was unheard of. Manmohan was the emerging god, and India was ready to profit from its blessings.

Long before Lady Gaga, there was Michael Jackson, he of the Thriller dancing steps, best-selling music videos, the star of India’s first MTV generation. We didn’t have any Page 3 celebrity lists, but I knew of at least two friends who attended dance classes only to learn the Jackson moonwalk!

Lady Gaga, my daughter informs me, holds the record of the maximum followers on Twitter: more than 25 million. I have a small wager with her: if Twitter was around in the ’80s, Jackson would have topped the Gaga act! That’s what nostalgia for the ’80s can do: make you feel young all over again.



India hosts the Asian Games. Watches it unfold on colour TV. Free neighbours with every viewing.

Nearly 2,50,000 mill workers join the Great Bombay Textile Strike, protesting against low wages


India wins the World Cup for the first time in the history of cricket with Kapil Dev as the captain


Control of the Siachen Glacier from Pakistan, gaining 3,000 km of territory.

Prime Minister Indira Gandhi is assassinated at her home by two of her Sikh bodyguards. A nation is shattered.

Indira Gandhi’s assassination sparks bloody anti-Sikh riots in north India. The death toll is in the thousands.

Methyl isocyanate seeps out of Bhopal’s Union Carbide factory. Death, disfigurement everywhere.


The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act makes it illegal to produce or cultivate a narcotic drug.


The Indo-Sri Lanka Peace. Accord is signed to resolve the ongoing Sri Lankan civil war.


A historic election. Rajiv Gandhi’s Congress loses to a coalition of minority-led parties headed by VP Singh.

Besides being the editor-in-chief of the IBN 18 network, Rajdeep Sardesai also has a law degree from Oxford University

Next week

–The Seventies by Shiv Visvanathan

From HT Brunch, July 15

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First Published: Jul 13, 2012 10:42 IST