Saturday, September 8, 2012

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

Author's Note: You may read the 1st part of this series: HERE.

Here's a little trivia regarding "Kitty" of Jasoos Karamchand: the popular misconception that Sushmita Mukherjee is actor Keshto Mukherjee's daughter. In the 70's and early 80's, Keshto Mukherjee specialized in comic drunkard roles in Hindi films. He was a discovery of the legendary Ritwik Ghatak, but it was Asit Sen who ought to be credited for unearthing Keshto Mukherjee's potentials for the patent drunkard act (although he was a teetotaler in real life). Here is Keshto Mukherjee doing his classic act (that of a drunkard) and annoying Utpal Dutt immensely (in the Hrishikesh Mukherjee-directed 1979 classic 'Golmaal'):

Now, think of the latest auteurism that has come out of Ro'hit' Shetty's stable? A (supposedly) 'modern take' on Hrishi-da's classic! Enough said. Think of the other 'masterpieces' being churned out at regular intervals? There seems to be no dearth of Vitamin M - when it comes to sponsoring or financing below-the-nadir stuff. And to think we are bang in the middle of a bottom-less recession! Strange indeed!!

It is true that various channels are exploring new avenues for generating mirth. Shekhar Suman's now-defunct Movers and Shakers tried mime and parody so successfully that one of his prime targets, the then prime minister, Mr. Atal Bihari Vajpayee, personally complimented him. Later Suman anchored Poll Khol wherein he targeted various politicians. Often, the monkey in the show overshadowed the host.

As for Shekhar Suman (SS), he is now a pale shadow of his once-upon-a-time-glory-days of 'Reporter', which kept us glued to the television screens. Samir Hegde of 'Reporter' was a total contrast to Samir Diwan of the laugh-riot 'Dekh Bhai Dekh'. However, both were a far cry from the blabber-box that SS has somehow managed to metamorphose himself into. The much-admired Samir Hegde (from 'Reporter') was a very unassuming, well-meaning, down to earth, investigative journalist. His manner and attitude were more intense, more ponderous and in terms of dialogue ... understandably quite unlike those mouthed by the somewhat frivolous Samir Diwan (from 'Dekh Bhai Dekh'). But we loved them both - one made us think, the other made us laugh. And Shekhar's expressions weren't frozen then. Unfortunately the same cannot be said about his various avatars that plague us now (or have been plaguing us for a while now) - on the idiot-box. Botox has claimed yet another high-profile victim. Muscles and nerves have been 'downsized' as per the signs of the times and have been given the 'golden handshake' aka 'voluntary retirement' too; therefore, no voluntary or involuntary responses or reflexes to be found on the faces of folks facing the arc-lights. Muscles and nerves: RIP.

Sadly, now-a-days, people turn into walking mummies but no pyramids are built anywhere. That's progress, I guess.

Whether 'Movers and Shakers' - the very popular tongue-in-cheek current affairs show hosted by Shekhar Suman in his earlier mobile-faced avatar, complete with an in-house musical band, innovatively christened the 'Rubber-band' - was telecast by DD (Doordarshan) or not, I don't quite remember.

Ditto 'Pradhan Mantri' featuring the versatile Kay Kay Menon and Malvika Tiwari. But 'Ji Mantriji', which took a barbed look at Babudom and featured Farooque Shaikh, was telecast by Star Plus.

We discussed crime-based and detective serials in the 1st part of this series. Frankly, when it comes to iconic detective characters, I prefer the original ... or at least one or the other of their earlier versions. In short: yours truly isn't really taken up with any of the upgraded or modified variations, no matter how many clothes they shed. I mean: the compulsory 'moulting' that actors have to undergo these days, whatever the weather. 

So, Benedict Cumberbatch or no Benedict Cumberbatch, my loyalties firmly lie and will remain with Jeremy Brett - always. He IS Sherlock Holmes. Period. Gazing down from the suitably cavernous windows of 221B, was Jeremy Brett. Watching him stride on the small-screen today - as the peerless detective (thanks to box-set DVDs), I am transported back to my childhood days. Jeremy Brett and Sherlock Holmes continue to thrill and fascinate.

[Jeremy Brett: website.]

During his distinguished 40-year career, however, Brett's repertoire included such diverse roles as the foppish Freddie Eynsford-Hill in the 1964-film version of My Fair Lady, Bassanio, Robert Browning, Che Guevara, Dracula, and even Dr. Watson in a 1980 Los Angeles production of the play The Crucifer of Blood, with the screen-legend Charlton Heston as Holmes. However, Brett's brilliant portrayal of Sherlock Holmes in a series of episodes for British television (filmed between 1984 and 1994) - remains ever-popular. With his intense and ascerbic Holmes, Brett added something to the character (of Holmes) that no one else whom I have seen has done: He brought a sense of humor to the part. And he and David Burke and Edward Hardwicke let us know that this Holmes was very good friends with Dr. John Watson.

Jeremy was very ill by the time the last series of S.H went into production. His ill-health visibly showed but he bravely carried on. Here was a well-known and accomplished actor willing to go to the lengths of losing weight, dying his hair and taking up pipe smoking to properly inhabit the world's most famous detective. It all seems very irresistible; but it also proved fatal for him, leading to a nervous breakdown, repeated illness and a premature death.   

Robert Downey, Jr.? Nah.

Although Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's writings (as well as those of the celebrated Agatha Christie's) were not free from racial leanings and colour, we - the Indians - have always possessed the necessary magnanimity and sophistication required to separate the milk (cream) from the water. The fair and lovely world has failed to acknowledge this. But so what?

However, while the British have preserved the famous (yet fictitious) address - 221B Baker Street; we - the Indians - have destroyed and demolished every inch of the brilliant Shankar Nag's beloved "Malgudi". There are some lessons that we can and should learn from our erstwhile colonial masters; unfortunately, we have been insisting on learning the wrong ones.

I am glad that the "Feluda" series still remain firmly in the hands of the Ray family and Satyajit Ray's son, Sandip Ray, remains perched atop the director's saddle. Otherwise, by now cringe-inducing item numbers, crude jokes, lewd gestures, double-entendre dialogues and adult content would have first wormed their way into the narrative - flaunting the ever-ready laws of necessity, market dynamics, changing tastes of Gen X, reel-life mimicking real-life, aesthetics and whatnot. And though I said, "first wormed their way into the narrative", in reality, all the above would have quickly enveloped and submerged the narrative itself - thanks to sundry moneybags, etc that are so keenly and genuinely 'concerned' about projecting real life onto reel life ... while upholding 'our ancient culture and traditions' - simultaneously. Quite a balancing act, must say.

I so wish Satyajit had made 'Badshahi Angti' (The Emperor's Ring) - even before making 'Shonar Kella' (The Golden Fort). This way, Soumitro would have played Feluda and that would have been a perfect cinematic treat - one, we would have cherished forever. The quartet of Feluda, Sherlock Holmes, Byomkesh Bakshi and Tintin actually made us want to be detectives, no? Here is Soumitro as Feluda (in Shonar Kella) exercising his 'mogojastro' - his agile mind and brilliance:

None can quite match up to Soumitro. He is an enchanting combination of good looks, great personality and classy demeanor; a rich, cultured voice combined with layered and nuanced acting abilities. Many think him to be Satyajit Ray's alter ego. Anyone going gaga over thespian Dilip Kumar's or even the emperor-of-ham, Shahrukh Khan's portrayal of 'Devdas' - should watch the Bangla version featuring Soumitro - in the same role. Superlative. [Those who do not know the language can use the subtitles option.]

Now, weren't all these movies so much better than the heavy-duty-dialogue-spewing-angry-young-man types, heaving bosoms, jhatkas-matkas, cheap jokes, rehashed clichés and all? Weren't they better than what now passes for "new-age cinema" or masquerades as "mass entertainment"? 

Do films really portray real-life? Is reel-life actually inspired by or borrowed from real-life? Or is reel-life a powerful vehicle, instrument and medium - for creating multiple mindsets, one that has been utilized to the hilt? 

As usual ... you decide.

The charm of the classics: be it movies, books or music have not diminished, even after many decades ... and they will most certainly retain their allure after the passage of several more decades. Then why is there a dearth of such movies, books or music (conveniently ascribed to 'changing tastes of Gen X', 'market dynamics' and the like) ?? Why is there a sudden 'paucity of funds'?

What do you think? [Always keep your thinking cap handy - to bring out the mini-Sherlock Holmes in you :)]

Well ... I guess we have discussed enough about movies; lets get back to the television fare of yore.

Some of DD's shows targeted at children (but enjoyed by viewers of all ages) were: Fairy Tale Theatre (that featured all-time favourites like: Beauty and the Beast, Jack and the Beanstalk, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, etc); Dada Dadi Ki Kahaaniyan, Vikram Betaal, Singhasan Battisi, Indradhanush, Space City Sigma, Stone Boy, Malgudi Days, Tenali Rama, Potli Baba Ki, Superhuman Samurai Cyber Squad, Knight Rider, Street Hawk and a suspense-horror serial - Qile ka Rahasya (1989). 

Rex Smith (astride the all-black mesmerizing mean machine) - was played by Jesse Mach. We diligently watched every episode, and that does say it all, doesn't it? :) Do have a look:

Seema Kapoor, actor and TV personality Annu Kapoor's sister and acclaimed actor Om Puri's first wife, helmed the very popular 'Qile Ka Rahasya'. How the jealous, egoistic and insecure Om Puri destroyed her and her very promising career - are stuffs that legends are made of. But I wish this legend were not made; and those of you that have watched this serial would agree, won't you?

I'm still shaking my head though.

[Annu Kapoor is the guy who played Sridevi's editor in Mr. India.]

R.K. Narayan's "Malgudi Days" continue to charm and perhaps DD still telecasts all of the 39 episodes off and on. But there are CDs and DVDs for the ones (like moi) that cannot wait until DD decides to re-telecast them. Here's My Reflections on 'Malgudi Days' and Malgudi: How a village was transformed into R.K. Narayan's fabled town - from the blog archives.

Malgudi Days was and is not the usual comic production. The idyllic setting, innocent characters having small problems, and only imaginary demons to contend with, leave one wishing for such a charmed and laid-back life. When, at the end of an episode, a problem is resolved, one feels contented. A sense of happy satisfaction is the ultimate test of a quality comedy. But can we say: Give us more?! 

Well, you and I both know the answer to that one.

'Malgudi Days' remains one of the most loved, nostalgic television series of all times. I have shared my thoughts in my two earlier posts on Malgudi (links provided above) and therefore ain't deliberating on it again. But this is what my friend Rajdeep had to say: "Malgudi Days has been one of my favorite books over the years. We identify ourselves with those stories. The present generation X does not seem to. They will miss the treasure not us. Unfortunately most of the good books do not have translations in foreign languages. I actually gifted a copy of "Malgudi" to my university library here, though I doubt anyone would ever read it!" [Rajdeep was referring to the library of a well-known University in Japan.]

This, while certain "ist" and "ism"-based writers seem to have no shortage of translators and publishers; no matter how cringe-worthy their works are. *Sigh*

The spicier the contents, the longer the line of translators and publishers - outside their homes and offices; the more coloured, fantasy and figment of imagination-inspired their works on history, the more the takers - and all of them then jointly flood our bookstores and airwaves. Result??

Post the unbottling of the much-vaunted liberalization genie, television has not been indulging in profound issues or even simple entertainment; it keeps doling out stupefying doses of frivolities. The inane soaps churned out sap the intellect and wearies the soul. And, since the entertainment industry caters to the lowest common denominator, it cannot afford to be cerebral. Or so we have been told; and the ones that tell, expect us (viewers) to accept this logic and be 'understanding' too.

Sadly, ever since the almost-namesake of 'Kyunki Chaach Bhi Kabhi Dahi Thi' hit our cable airwaves, all we have been receiving are perfectly coiffed and made-up dolls - glittering sarees, elbow-length churiyan, big bindis, high-heel stilettos, wedge or beaded sandals and all ... preparing tea at the crack of dawn (read: in the blue predawn hours). Perhaps to wake up the roosters for their morning cock-a-doodle-doo, or maybe that too has been outsourced - to this churiyan-brigade. Who knows?

(Stay tuned…)

Pictures: 1. Pic1 - Keshto Mukherjee and Utpal Dutt in Golmaal (1979). 2. Pic2 - Jeremy Brett (as Sherlock Holmes from "The Problem of Thor Bridge". 3. Pic3 - Feluda and Topshe - sketch by Satyajit Ray. 4. Pic4 - Soumitra Chattopadhyay as Feluda (in Satyajit Ray's Shonar Kella). 5. Pic5 - Rex Smith (astride the mesmerizing mean machine) - played by Jesse Mach. 6. Pic6 - R.k. Laxman's sketch for 'Malgudi Days'; don't remember the link :(


  1. With due apologies to I wish these beautifully articles were not so longish.

  2. @ BK Chowla: Chowlaji, I can’t put a cap on nostalgia :)

  3. I have watched 'Golmaal' many times...never mind watching again and again!

    Shekhar Suman mimicked Laloo Prasad very well!

    Movers and Shakers is not from DD period. It came in Sony? I remember their Rubber band too. Many celebrities came in that programme.

    I remember watching 'Ji Mantriji' though I didn't admire that much. We had watched 'Yes Minister' and enjoyed that more!

    We had watched Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot on Sunday mornings. My sons compelled me to leave all work and sit and watch those serials.

    About Feluda...Clean serials and films still gain popularity, Roshmi! Yesterday I watched Kareena Kapur's Jab We met. It was a clean movie. Then 'Mozhi' in Tamil. No double meaning dialogues or scantily clad heroines. Though the percentage of vulgar movie watchers is growing, it is not alarming, though.

    Even now we sing 'Vikram, vikram, vikram...Betaal, betaal betaal'...It was one of our favourites. Indradhanush was the first science fiction serial. My sons were glued to the TV then. Now, they watch only English programmes. Everything else is 'kuppai'! Even I used to dream of Street Hawk at night. The influence was so much even for elders because everything was first time for all!

    Annu Kapoor is more famous for his Antakshari series!

    Malgudi days were one of our family's favourites. Many actors were familiar for us too! But as you say, will it attract this generation now? I doubt. They don't know to enjoy. It is not that I don't like modern books or serials, now, everything seems to be fast and very intellectual targetted! We can't just sit, relax and watch.

    Enjoyed reading all the DD parts, Roshmi!

  4. I agree with Chowlaji, Roshmi. Make it into more parts but a bit short. Hope you don't misunderstand.

  5. @ Sandhyaji: Yes, Hrishida’s ‘Golmaal’ is evergreen.

    Shekhar Suman mimicked Laloo very well; that became his USP.

    Yes, now I remember, it was part of Sony. I had forgotten actually. Ji Mantriji wasn’t great, but certainly better than all that is dished out now-a-days in the name of serials and entertainment, no?

    Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot were all time favourites. Jeremy Brett forever J

    But I watched them on the History Channel, before laying my hands on the Box-set DVDs J Can watch them whenever I want.

    ‘Jab We Met’ is a nice movie; one that can be watched many times. ‘Mozhi’ I haven’t watched. Sometime back I watched ‘Naan Mahan Alla’ starring Karthi. Liked it. Good movie. Have you watched it? If not do try to catch this one.

    Feluda is evergreen, especially the ones starring Soumitro Chattopadhyay (Shonar Kella and Joi Baba Felunath). The latest one - ‘Royal Bengal Rahashya’ starring Sabyasachi Chakraborty as Feluda is quite good. You may like it. Even the earlier one - ‘Gorosthane Shabshan’ starring Sabyasachi again – was pretty decent. Among the rest, you may also like ‘Baksho Rahashya’ starring Sabyasachi in his earlier days (perhaps some 16 years ago.)

    Do try to catch Soumitro in: Basanta Bilap, Baksha Badal, Akash Kusum, the 2 Feluda movies, Hirak Rajar Deshe and Jhinder Bondi (Tapan Sinha-s adaptation of ‘The Prisoner of Zenda’).

    Do also watch Goopy Gayen Bagha Bayen and Goopy Bagha Phire Elo (directed by Satyajit Ray and starring Tapen Chattopadhyay and Rabi Ghosh in the title roles) – if you can.

  6. @ Sandhyaji: And here are the names of some great Uttam Kumar movies: Sharey Chuattar, Deya Neya, Ora Thake Odhare, Dhonni Meye, Kakhano Megh, Nayika Sangbad, Ekti Raat, Ogo Bodhu Shundari, Chaddobeshi (Bangla version of Chupke Chupke) and Bhranti Bilas (Bangla version of Angoor).

    Some more great movies are: Golpo Holeo Shotti, Bhanu Goenda Jahar Assistant, Ashite Ashio Na, Personal Assistant, Miss Priyambada, Jomaloye Jibanta Manush – all starring the grand man of Bangla comedy and humour – Bhanu Bandopadhyay (Bhanu Banerjee)

    ‘Char Murti’ featuring Chinmoy Roy as ‘Tenida’ and Shriman Prithviraj (starring Mohua Roy Chowdhury and Ayan Banerjee), Parash Pathar (starring Tulsi Chakraborty, directed by Satyajit Ray).

    Yes, Street Hawk, Indradhanush and Vikram-Betaal were very, very popular. And so were most of the serials during the heydays of DD. Now we have a deluge of unwatchable soaps L

    Yes, Annu Kapoor was synonymous with ‘Antakshari’.

    Did you watch ‘Qile Ka Rahasya’?

    Malgudi Days is an all-time charmer and evergreen – for many of us. Sadly, the younger generation is losing out on happy entertainment and clean fun.

    What we see these days is not intellectual, but mind-numbing and stupefying; all that these serialwallahs want to do is complicate events and stretch it as much as possible :(

  7. @ Sandhyaji: Sure thing, Sandhyaji! I’m always open to suggestions. Whatever I write, it is for my readers – those who like to read my posts, such as you.

    As for myself, I can read anything, no matter the length. But if you feel the length should be shortened, so be it :)

    PS: However, these posts are looking extra-long ‘coz of the many pictures attached. But never mind, will shorten the length of subsequent posts.

  8. @ Sandhyaji: One more Uttam Kumar starrer (along with Ranjit Mullick and Mithu Mukherjee) - ‘Mouchak’ is also a superb movie. Do watch it if you can. Also Tapan Sinha’s ‘Khudita Pashan’ (Robi Thakur’s ‘The Hungry Stones’) starring Soumitro and Arundhati Devi.

  9. I mentioned you in Twitter and Facebook. Your writings are very good, Roshmi. I would like many readers to read your posts.

    I am noting down the names of the movies you have mentioned here and in the last post. We get to download most of the movies but getting sub titles is difficult. I love Bengali movies.

  10. @ Sandhyaji: Thank you so much Sandhyaji. That’s so sweet of you :)

    Yes, do watch the movies if you can. Are you reasonably familiar with Hindi? If yes, then it shouldn’t be too much of a trouble following Bangla. You’ll enjoy all of these movies – that is for sure!