India@75: Doordarshan

02 Nov,2021

 

 

By Avik Chattopadhyay

 

Avik ChattopadhyayWelcome to the third piece in the series on my thoughts about some of the country’s most enduring brands called “India@75”. The first two were on the journeys of ‘Democracy’ and ‘Indian National Congress’ as brands.

 

The battle of Kurushetra in the Mahabharata, one of the world’s biggest epics, starts with the words “Sanjaya uvaacha…”. The style of the narration was unique in the format of Dhritarashtra’s advisor and charioteer Sanjaya giving him a ‘live telecast’ of each nanosecond of the 18-day battle. Sanjaya had the divine gift of being able to see and hear everything in person without being at the actual location of incident. He narrates each incident to the king including the killing of his hundred sons at the hands of Bhima without ever flinching. He also describes the entire “Bhoomandal” [universe /galactic system] and entire Bharatavarsha to Dhritarashtra to build the context of all that is to follow in the battle!

 

Many equate the direct telecast of Sanjaya to the concept of television, just that it was described somewhere around 1000 BC.

 

On September 15, 1959, Sanjaya was reborn as what later got to be called as ‘Doordarshan’. Or DD as the nation prefers to call it. Though not yet 75 years old, but since we attained Independence, it has been one Indian brand that has endured all these years and continues to serve its core purpose.

 

From the days of Pratima Puri and Gopal Kaul reading out the short news bulletins, DD grew from a mere part of All India Radio with a five-minute news bulletin to a virtual tour de force in the 1980s. For my generation it was our “Sanjaya”!

 

Stamps issued to commemorate the 60th anniversary of DD in 2019

 

Since 1982 when colour transmission were launched it was our friend, philosopher and guide on all things proudly Indian while being our eye to the entire world. The 70s and 80s were creatively the best decades for India in terms of exploration and expression. While we were an economically backward nation, when it came to intellectual prowess we were at par with the best. Some of the best institutions of education, research and healthcare had been built. Some of the biggest infrastructure projects on this side of the world had been undertaken. The biggest democratic cooperative movements were here. The 50s and 60s had built the platform to allow creativity take flight, collectively as a nation.

 

The country’s biggest cultural movements in terms of art, cinema, theatre, music, and scientific temper started then and what we admire today about our current situation is an outcome of the same. And there was nothing ‘political’ about it, for there was enough upheaval in that field too to add to the magical Samudramanthan that we experienced. And DD was right in the middle of it all, including us all in this journey. It demonstrated the ethos of our Constitution and the values of the democratic system that we had decided to live with.

 

The twin principles of DD that made it such a brilliant vehicle of the new Indian ethos were, as I call them, “Door ka Darshan” and “Doordarshita”.

 

 

Door ka Darshan

Literally meaning viewing far away things, DD helped reduce the distance of knowledge through enjoyment for millions of us who aspired to be one with the rest of the country and the world.

 

I was exposed to Fellini, Aravindan, Gopalakrishnan, Ray, Ghatak, Patwardhan, Kurosawa and many more on DD. I gorged tales of Tenali Rama along with Byomkesh Bakshi and Panchatantra. I waited for Spiderman as well as The Old Fox with equal eagerness. I saw movies of all possible languages with subtitles as they were nationally and globally acclaimed. I never learnt to differentiate on language, subject or provenance as I wanted to absorb it all.

 

Doordarshita

Literally meaning vision, DD was carefully crafted by the early leadership of the country as a vehicle that would unite the young nation and equip us with the knowledge and wide perspective to step into the global arena.

 

DD was not seen merely as a tool for government propaganda, which all state-owned media platforms are across the world. it was seen as the Indian’s peep into the menagerie that is India and the world.

 

A generation of evolved Indians, with a greater sense of empathy and enquiry was built by DD. We were exposed to Chandra Prakash Dwivedi’s ‘Chanakya’ as well as Shyam Benegal’s ‘Bharat Ek Khoj’. We were enthralled by ‘Yes Minister’ as well as ‘Kakkaji Kaheen’. The world was brought onto the screen for us. We watched, consumed, debated and crafted ourselves as evolved Indians with a worldview without even having a passport!

 

The Great Indian Thali

That is what DD was curated as. Right from ‘Krishi Darshan’ [the longest running television programme in the world], to ‘Chitrahaar’ to the Sunday afternoon National Award-winning film, DD had it all.

 

It had something for everybody. The sports lover got all the key global events as highlights or direct telecasts. The curious got shows like Quest, Quiz Time and The World This Week. The culturally leaning got Surabhi and Mirza Ghalib. The religious-minded got Ramayan and Mahabharat. The comedy seeking got Yes Minister and Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi. The curious got Sherlock Holmes and Karamchand. The kids got He-Man and Malgudi Days.

 

Nobody was left out in DD’s mission to bring the entire nation together. It was a symbol of our unity in diversity!

 

Common Conversations

The nation had similar subjects to deliberate upon. Everybody from Mumbai to Madhyamgram was on the same platform of exposure, entertainment, and knowledge. Every part of the country felt proud to have been amply represented and amplified to the rest of the nation. Indians got to know more about India.

 

If an incident disturbed Assam, it disturbed Andhra too, and vice versa. When Adoor Gopalakrishnan received the Swarna Kamal nobody asked “Adoor who?”. When ‘Manthan’ was telecast, the entire nation new of a tiny place called Anand and a man named Kurien. The entire nation debated Salma Sultan’s red rose tucked behind her left ear. We all admired the new reading skills of Tejeshwar Singh. It was inclusive.

 

Deliberate Deprivation

With liberalisation in 1991 came commercialism and private enterprise. With private enterprise came the need to ‘protect and neglect’. To protect the fledgling private television channels, the government neglected DD. Like most government initiatives, this was relegated to being just a mouthpiece of the policy-makers and those in power.

 

DD was deliberately deprived of funds to ensure the private channels took over. Equipment was not upgraded, technicians were not paid enough, producers were short-changed, studios were not upgraded, and new technology was not brought in.

 

The best talent from DD went over to the private channels and termites had taken over in no time. Management after management had submitted plans of autonomy and revival but to no effect. It was to become a propaganda tool not too different from the likes in China and Russia. Viewership reduced year on year, creating a case of financial unviability and hence no serious infusion of funds.

 

 

The treatment meted out to DD was similar to that towards Air India. To encourage private enterprise the government deprived the shining public enterprises who were qualitatively at par with the best in the world. The intensity of this move was almost to undo the ills of the ‘socialist’ past. And as if all that was public was sub-par.

 

Division and Disunity

DD today is once again symbolic of India today, divided and disunited. We have become more insular while posing as being more global. The broadness of our mind and ability to accept has constricted to all that makes us feel comfortable and ‘superior’.

 

The quality of what is consumed today across the country is in direct correlation with the respect towards education and enquiry. The former is totally transactional while the latter is the exclusive domain of a few. Escapism has substituted inquisitiveness. Proliferation has led to dismemberment of issues of national interest and debate. We prefer to escape into a world of ‘reality’ shows and celebrity scandals rather than discuss issues like education and environment. And we don’t care a damn about diversity as we have media that restrict us to our own little worlds of wells.

 

As a collective, we are back to being what we were in the early 1900s… some 500-odd kingdoms and principalities busy with ourselves lacking a common identity. Having brought ourselves to such a state over the last 75 years, can DD rise from its ashes and unite us again? While the policy-makers would have none of it and wish to retain it as a political mouthpiece, Prasar Bharati can surely take a long hard look at its child and give it a serious makeover.

 

We did hear a statement from the Prasar Bharati CEO a few months back pointing to same, commenting it would be inspired by how the BBC has evolved. For that, one needs both intent and independence. Hope the ministry has the “doordarshita” for the same at the earliest. As we celebrate ‘Azaadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav” we would not like to see one of the country’s biggest brands be finally consigned to the flames. Sanjaya needs to be reborn…

 

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