Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Doordarshan, etc: Wisps of Nostalgia (Part-I)

Authors Note: Though this post is not quite part of the same series, you may read: Notes on 'Chinky' and this thing called 'racism' (Part-I)HERE and Part-II: HERE.

Notes on 'Mainland India' and the "unknown" part called 'the North East' can be read: HERE.

In the previous post we discussed about the coining of new terminologies like 'Mainland India' ... among other things of course.

But how have we responded to the above?

Umm, well, so far we have managed to establish a string of high-end restaurants and appropriately named them: Mainland China. They serve one of the best Manchurian cuisines, this side of the Himalayan ranges. I say 'Manchurian Cuisine' and not 'Mandarin Cuisine' since the former is adapted to the Indian palate; so much so that folks from the land of dragons would have fire in their mouths and smoke coming out of their nose and ears ... even if they so much as tasted it. 

That's ahimsa.

(A longish pause)

Phew! Now that this ahimsa bit is safely out of the way, lets retrace our steps a couple of decades or so ago. To be precise, let us reminisce about how things were, about a couple of decades and a half ago - 'coz anything beyond that will be a tad difficult for yours truly to shed light on. [Note: Nevertheless, lets also keep all the media-created-and-sundry-activists-and-talking-heads-fueled perception, that: 'Mainland India' is unaware of the seven states that make up the "remote" North East i.e. the North-Eastern parts of the country - at the back of our minds.]

Must say, things were rather different, no?

We did not have computers then, let alone the 'wonders' of the Internet to 'enlighten' us. We also did not have mobile phones or endless channels to surf or SMS messages to send. And no 24/7 news either! It was an era when the newsreaders or anchors never yelled out the day's events or spoke in the weirdest accents. [Do read my last post HERE - to know more.]

A bit about DD: Our national broadcaster - Doordarshan (DD) - turned 50 on September 15, 2009. DD had a modest beginning with the experimental telecast starting in Delhi on 15 September 1959 with a small transmitter and a makeshift studio. The regular daily transmission started in 1965 as a part of All India Radio (AIR). The television service was extended to Bombay (now Mumbai) and Amritsar in 1972. Up until 1975, only seven Indian cities had a television service and DD remained the sole provider of television in India. Television services were separated from radio on April 1, 1976. Each office of AIR and DD were placed under the management of two separate Director Generals in New Delhi. Finally, in 1982, DD as a National Broadcaster came into existence. "Krishi Darshan" was the first program telecast on DD; it commenced on January 26, 1967 and is one of the longest-running programs on Indian television.

DD is a division of Prasar Bharati. It is one of the largest broadcasting organizations in India in terms of the infrastructure of studios and transmitters. Recently, it has also started Digital Terrestrial Transmitters.

So, from one transmitter in 1959, our first-ever TV channel (Doordarshan) had indeed come a long way ... until it first faded-off and then decimated in the battle for viewership by a clutch of pesky upstarts and pretenders - that had no substance or quality, except that they arrived in the form of an unmitigated deluge. We have not recovered ever since, and watching TV has never been the same again. 

National program was introduced in 1982. In the same year, colour TV was introduced in the Indian market to coincide with the live telecast of the Independence Day speech by the then prime minister, Indira Gandhi - on 15 August 1982; this was followed by the 1982 Asian Games held in Delhi. Now whatever it's outcome, Appu - the celebrity mascot of the 1982 Asiad, became widely known and loved. At least that's what I have heard from my elders. Sadly though, Appu passed away on May 14 2005; he had fallen into a septic tank (in 1992), fractured his limbs and was maimed ever since. Poor thing :(

This 29-year-old lovable elephant had captured the imagination of the country during the '82 Asiad, gamboling about near the Games Village in the capital. Officials had refused to make a live animal the mascot, but Kuttinarayanan alias Appu, then six years old, was inalienably identified with the balloon mascot that kept bobbing up over the Games venue. Doordarshan beamed footage of Appu being petted by Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister, across the country. That was one of the enduring images that marked a milestone. [The Asian Games had set the stage for the launch of live television broadcast in colour in the country.] The Games also saw the transformation of Delhi into a modern capital. An explosive spell of construction (much maligned then) changed the face of our national capital - forever.

We may have missed the '82 Asian Games, but those of us that have watched the 1988 Seoul Olympics on television are unlikely to ever forget the images etched in our memories: of track-and-field stars Carl Lewis, Ben Johnson, Florence Griffith-Joyner ("FloJo") and Jackie Joyner-Kersee; ace pole-vaulter Sergei Bubka, tennis queen Steffi Graf, swimmers Kristin Otto and Matt Biondi ... and the other greats; besides the opening and the closing ceremonies. [Note: In disgust at not being considered a co-host of the Seoul Olympic Games, North Korea boycotted the Games. Only Ethiopia and Cuba joined N. Korea's boycott; thus the 1988 Olympics turned out to be a very large, exciting, and competitive event. Approximately 8,500 athletes participated, representing 159 countries.]

Ben Johnson was famous for the power of his start, Carl Lewis for the pace of his finish. Bubka was such a soaring sensation that he had only himself to compete with, while ice-maiden Steffi was the "Fraulein Forehand". 

Steffi had arrived on the tennis scene as a 17-year-old in '86-87. This golden-haired girl belonged to West Germany - it being the pre-Berlin-Wall-demolition era. Her game focused on power, countering the effectiveness of the serve-and-volley play; she possessed an amazing inside out forehand that became her weapon of choice as well as tremendous foot-speed. As Steffi rose to number one in 1987, 1988 and 1989, another tennis great Martina Navratilova fell to number two. In 1988, the all-conquering Graf arrived at the Seoul Olympics - having swept all of the four tennis grand slams: the Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open in her wake. Seoul was to become her crowning glory; 'coz it was here that she scooped up the Gold - to achieve a rare Golden Slam by defeating the raven-haired Argentine - Gabriela Sabatani. But they later teamed up to win the Bronze medal. It was Steffi's year. It was also the year that tennis returned to the Olympics as a medal sport after a 64-year hiatus. [In 1984, in Los Angeles, tennis was merely a demonstration sport ... but Steffi was the Champion there too.] Of course, all of this was all very exciting for us (then) kids and we watched all of those engaging matches on television with much interest and appropriate gusto. The tennis grand-slams were telecast from the Q/F onwards, though there would be a recap or highlights - the following day. [The 1988 Women's tennis medal ceremony: LINK.]

Graf had arrived in Seoul mentally and physically exhausted. The pursuit of the Grand Slams had taken it's toll. People thought: perhaps she was trying to accomplish too much in one-year. But as the Olympics progressed, she slowly became rejuvenated. She is a track fan who could easily make the West German team, her father, Peter Graf, said. Steffi even went for some runs on the training track at the Athlete's Village, outpacing a former Olympian, Harold Schmidt. Her enthusiasm returned and it showed on the court in her last two matches. She played one of her best matches ever, defeating Zina Garrison in the semifinals. Then appearing more relaxed and uninhibited than she was during the US Open final, Graf completed what probably will be regarded as the finest year ever in tennis, defeating Gabriela Sabatini of Argentina, 6-3, 6-3, to win the Olympic gold medal.

While trawling the net I came across several images that made me nostalgic, but then I came across one that not only took me back to the 1988 Seoul Olympics but also (to my mind at least) defined it. That moment of Ben Johnson crossing the line by that far - was such an unbelievable performance that it simply blew all of us away.

Though it happened 24 years ago, I still remember the day clearly. It was billed as the race of the century. On September 24, 1988, Carl Lewis, the defending Olympic champion of the 100 metres, was to race against Ben Johnson. The excitement was at fever pitch.

The race made history for other reasons as well. Ben Johnson tested positive for performance enhancing drugs and was stripped of his title and Carl Lewis was declared the winner. The news came to us the following day; and so while Lewis basked in Olympic glory, Johnson was quietly whisked away to the airport. 

Yet, this race remains arguably the greatest ever men's 100 metres final, or perhaps the worst. It is certainly the most famous. And infamous. Yet what remains with us in our memories is that one indelible image: that of Ben Johnson with his right hand up in a sign of victory and Carl Lewis following. The clock stopped at 9.79. A new world record. [Nobody quite remembered Linford Christie amidst all the hoopla.]

There had been a lull ever since. Carl Lewis and Ben Johnson were the rock stars of athletics world and the Olympics. So, when Usain Bolt took on the upstart Yohan Blake - during the (recently concluded) 2012 London Olympics, the excitement and hype had been building for months. And thank god for that! Track and field events have an energy and charm of it's own, that no other sport can match. So, if the excitement has returned in the shape of Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake ... great! But unlike Johnson and Lewis, Bolt and Blake are training partners and friends. They do not despise each other. So far so good.

DD provided round the clock coverage of many a sporting event. We have much to thank this unassuming channel for. It diligently brought to us all the great sporting events and sports icons that we watched from the comfort of our homes, and we are indeed grateful for all the memories that we cherish today. Sadly, ever since that great deluge called liberalization, there has been an overkill; watching sports has become a different ball game altogether. A difficult and complicated one at that.

In the glory days of DD we were also served quality serials and programs. 

Hindi film songs-based programs like: Chitrahaar, Rangoli, Ek Se Badkar Ek and Superhit Muqabla instantly grabbed eyeballs. 

Crime based and detective serials like: Jasoos Karamchand, Super Six, Faster Fene, Ek Do Teen Char, Reporter (Shekhar Suman's first appearance on TV), Tehkikaat, Jaanki Jasoos, PC 1008, Agatha Christie's Poirot and the Basu Chatterji-directed "Byomkesh Bakshi" - were all prime-time watch.

The surprisingly popular "Jasoos Karamchand" featured a semi-comical, carrot-chomping Pankaj Kapoor in the title role; Sushmita Mukherjee essayed the role of his merry sidekick - "Kitty". Sushmita was so hilarious as "Kitty" that in no time she had carved out a clear niche for herself. This was no mean feat, considering that Pankaj Kapoor was and remains a powerhouse performer. [For all those that haven't watched this iconic series: Karamchand was a detective who helped the local police solve murder cases in his inimitable style: playing chess - with the police inspector.]

"Byomkesh Bakshi" - yet another of Bengal's contribution to the detective genre, was created by the celebrated Sharadendu Bandopadhyay in 1932. It is generally believed that Byomkesh was Sharadendu's alter ego.

The understated but dashing Rajit Kapur - who featured in and as Satyanveshi Byomkesh Bakshi - had many a fan; but when in the IXth standard we accidentally discovered he was 34, needless to say, there were many glum faces :)

Umm, let me not digress ... it's not good. I tend to go off on a tangent.

(Pause - for effect)

Satyanveshi means "the truth seeker". However, I must say that despite being a Kapur, Rajit carried the "dhuti-panjabi-look" with élan. And what's more he even possessed the charisma to pull off a Seventies' sleuth-look in dhuti-panjabi and thick-framed glasses. See for yourself:

To all those that are confused, the kurta worn by Bengali men on special occasions is called "panjabi" in Bangla. [Perhaps the kurta arrived in Bengal thanks to the Punjabis - i.e. the people of Punjab, who came as traders or soldiers.]

Frankly, I cannot think of anyone else with the exception of Soumitro Chattopadhyay of course - that looks so good in the traditional Bengali attire (think: Charulata, Baksho Badal, Basanta Bilap, et al.] But Soumitro had already essayed the role of "Felu-da" - Satyajit Ray's hugely popular fictional detective character, and therefore could not have been cast as "Byomkesh Bakshi" as well; plus he was much senior to Rajit (by over two decades) ... and Hindi was not his forte either. 

But, as you might have rightly guessed by now ... no complaints whatsoever :)

Cut to present times: I hear that Tollywood (the Bangla film industry) actor Abir Chatterjee (who featured in a blink-and-miss role in the Vidya Balan-starrer "Kahaani" - as her husband) is now reprising the role of "Byomkesh Bakshi" - on the silver screen. I haven't watched any of Abir's movies, and am no fan of the director (whatshisname) either. But that's not all there is to it. What really riled, shocked and saddened me was to learn that Prosenjit Chatterjee, another veteran Tollywooder-cum-sometime-Bollywood-aspirant-cum-B-Town-flop-show, is also doing his own version of the iconic Satyanveshi. Prosenjit is unpalatable - as far as yours truly is concerned; all he has ever done is 'star' in sorry imitations of cheap and garish B-Town's B-grade pot-boilers - in Tollywood. To be precinct: I simply cannot stand him. And this extends to the director, Rituparno Ghosh as well. Frankly, I have no issues with his orientation, but what I am curious about is: who finances all his 'masterpieces' ... given that he churns them out at regular intervals? Big mystery.

Bottomline: I cannot imagine myself watching either Abir or Prosenjit - as Byomkesh; and even if someone were to gift me free tickets, I would promptly donate them to the nearest available person and get hold of DVDs featuring Rajit Kapur instead. 

However, getting back to the traditional Bengali attire, there is this one other person that I can think of, who would look debonair in a dhuti-panjabi ensemble ... and that is actor Victor Banerjee.

Here is the dhuti-panjabi clad now-septuagenarian Soumitro. [And he looked equally dashing in a suit. Think of the 1965 Mrinal Sen-helmed Akash-Kusum. You get me, don't you?] None of the current bare-chested, steroid-fed, gelled-haired Himbos can hold a candle to the likes of Soumitro. Ever.

Which means: Parambrato come back!

Note: Website dedicated to Soumitro: LINK.

(Stay tuned…)

Pictures: 1. Pic1 - Fire-breathing fierce Red Dragon 2. Pic2 - Ahimsic Baby Dragon. 3. Pic3 - DD logo. 4. Pic4 - the '82 Asian Games mascot/ the lovable Appu. 5. Pic5 - Steffi Graf achieved the 'Golden Slam' in tennis - all four Grand Slam titles plus the Olympic gold medal. No one in tennis has achieved it. 6. Pic6 - iconic image from the 1988 Seoul Olympics/ Ben Johnson celebrates as he crosses the line well ahead of Carl Lewis of the USA and Linford Christie of Great Britain. 7. Pic7 - the dashing Rajit Kapur as Satyanveshi Byomkesh Bakshi. 8. Pic8 - A dhuti-panjabi-clad Soumitra in a still from Mrinal Sen's Akash Kusum. 9. Pic9 - Soumitra and Aparna Sen in yet another still from Akash Kusum.


  1. Yes, Appu was very famous!

    I was so fascinated by Sergai Bubka that I started calling my son Bubka often! He was improving the height of the poles by a few inches everytime! And nobody was there to compete that height with him! Each and every time he was creating new records!

    I remember the grunting girl who was playing against Steffi often...forgot her name. She was stabbed later by a fan.

    Carl Lewis was the most talked about person for young and old fans in those days.

    Until DD came, we were not familiar with track evens. Everything, swimming, long jump, high jump...was new to us. You know what, we were not familiar with the giant like Africans too! After sometime, we started liking them, esp. Carl Lewis and Vivian Richards!

    We have watched all the thriller serials of those days. Mostly they were screened on weekends or after 9 pm on week days. So it was not a hindrance to or daily routine.

    We never say Pankaj Kapoor, it is always Karamchand. Yes, Kitty was very good with her dumb comic face.

    I thought that Byomkesh was Sathyajit Ray's story! It is Feluda, right? You were upset because you came to know that he was 34?! He was a very good actor! He looks typical Bengali with the specks!

    I thought Rituparno Ghosh is a great director!

    I like Victor Banerjee. He too is a good actor.

    Nowadays, I watch only one serial, Balika Vadhu! Don't feel like watching more typical Rajasthani dress clad, jewellery bedecked, wearing high heeled chappals at home characters!

    Enjoyed reading this post, Roshmi!

  2. @ Sandhyaji: Thank you Sandhyaji :)

    You called your son “Bubka”?? You must have been the only mommy doing that. All the others called their sons: Pele, Maradona or Zico :)

    Really, Bubka and Carl Lewis became known faces thanks to television and DD. Ditto Olympics. But it used to be so much fun in those days, no? Moderation played a big role. And there were many talented characters that held our interest as well.

    “I remember the grunting girl who was playing against Steffi often...forgot her name. She was stabbed later by a fan.”

    … That’s Monica Seles.

    “We have watched all the thriller serials of those days. Mostly they were screened on weekends or after 9 pm on week days. So it was not a hindrance to or daily routine.”

    Yes, DD’s timings were great. Most crime and thriller related serials were during dinnertime.

    “We never say Pankaj Kapoor, it is always Karamchand. Yes, Kitty was very good with her dumb comic face.”

    True. Pankaj Kapoor is synonymous with Jasoos Karamchand. His reel-persona swallowed up his real-persona. And name as well.

    “I thought that Byomkesh was Sathyajit Ray's story! It is Feluda, right? You were upset because you came to know that he was 34?! He was a very good actor! He looks typical Bengali with the specks!”

    Yes, Feluda was the creation of Satyajit Ray; he based this character on Sherlock Holmes and Tintin. Byomkesh Bakshi was the creation of Sharadendu Bandopadhyay; Byomkesh too is very popular in Bengal. Basu Chatterjee directed the TV series.

    A lot of us were upset to know he was 34. We were all in the IXth standard then. You see, someone that was 34, was two decade senior to us and therefore fell into the “Uncleji” category” – that’s why we were upset :) :)

    Yes, Rajit Kapur pulled off the Bengali look very well, even better than most Bengalis.

    Rituparno Ghosh churns out trash and manages to get good funds for his ‘masterpieces’. Don’t know how.

    Victor Banerjee is a good actor; he used to be quite dashing in his younger years.

    “Nowadays, I watch only one serial, Balika Vadhu! Don't feel like watching more typical Rajasthani dress clad, jewellery bedecked, wearing high heeled chappals at home characters!”

    I don’t watch that also. Maybe National Geographic, Animal Planet, History Channel … that’s all. Can’t stand the stuff on television these days :(

  3. I like Mohan Agashe also. He too came in some serial. He has got a feminine voice. I took sometime to like him! I remember watching 'Naqaab'. The lead role was by a Bengali actor and his nurse was Maharashtrian. It was very good. We will never see serial like them hereafter! Yes, as you say, all the channels vie for TRP ratings.

  4. A friend of mine gave this information about DD: http://ddnational.blogspot.in/

  5. Naqaab's hero was Soumitra Chatterjee?

  6. @ Sandhyaji: Mohan Agashe has worked in some of the Sandip Ray directed Feluda series, I think. Will check. He could fit into the Feluda films too – as the villainous “Maganlal Meghraj”. A role earlier reprised by the peerless Utpal Dutt.

    PS: And thanks a bunch for that link. Will be of great help for my yet-to-be-written posts :)

  7. @ Sandhyaji: Naqaab? I don’t think so. Soumitro has not acted in any Hindi film or serial. He has done a lot of work with Satyajit Ray, Tapan Sinha and Mrinal Sen. He is “Feluda” in both of the Satyajit Ray-directed “Shonar Kella (The Golden Fort) and “Joi Baba Felunath” (The Elephant God) – the best of the lot; since Ray’s son, Sandip, is not quite in that league.

    Soumitro is superlative in all his performances. Has done and still does a lot of theatre too.

    Do watch him if you can; it’s a visual and cinematic treat.

  8. Naqaab hero was Anil Chatterjee.


    I have watched him in some Hindi movies also.

    My son has downloaded some good Bengali movies. Will include the names you have mentioned for the 'must see' list!