Our tryst with Doordarshan started in 1983 when father got home a boxy black and white television set with wooden shutters. To protect the TV from dust, it was draped with a beautiful cloth embroidered. As a finishing touch, a plastic flower vase was placed on top, completing its look. Not surprisingly, it occupied the pride of place in our drawing-room.
Ask any Indian who grew up in the eighties/early nineties, and one of the things they are quite nostalgic about is Doordarshan. Many years ago, much before binge-watching on OTT platforms and the 24/7 programming of cable, the only thing to watch on TV used to be the slim offerings of Doordarshan. With limited programming and limited time of broadcast, we, the audience, did not have much of a choice.
Sometimes I look back and think about the outstanding content that Doordarshan churned out at one point in time and feel nostalgic. “Trishna” was the introduction to Jane Austen, while “Udaan” gave the inspiration to reach for the sky. “The World This Week” sparked an interest in world politics, while “Surabhi” showcased the delights of India. “Malgudi Days” was the introduction to Swami and his friends, while the re-runs of BBC shows made me fall in love with classics and a fan of British humour. While regional content might be the current flavour on OTT platforms, it was Doordarshan’s Sunday afternoon regional movies that introduced me to the rainbow of languages from India. The delights of art cinema, “Suraj ka Satwan Ghoda“, “Manthan“, “Trikaal” etc. were all first watched on that boxy black and white TV. “Dekh Bhai Dekh” kept us chuckling, while “Chitrahaar” and “Rangoli” kept us grooving. Shahrukh’s “Fauji” was the army boy every teenager drooled over, while Siddharth Basu’s “Quiz Time” ignited my interest in trivia. The interest in one-day cricket, and the fascination with tennis, was all thanks to Doordarshan’s cancelling regular programming to telecast the matches.
The advent of Cable TV and 24/7 programming in the early 1990s sounded a death knell for Doordarshan. By the mid-’90s, Doordarshan was surrounded by issues, shoddy production quality, boring shows that took the audience for granted and not keeping up with the times. Doordarshan started looking tired, a has-been in front of the shiny new shows and content on cable. The fall was hard for one that had been the ruler for a long time. Yet, our family held out as much as possible. However, the move to Chennai, where Doordarshan’s programs were all in Tamil, meant that our family also bowed to the inevitable.
From starting in 1959, with a small transmitter and a make-shift studio, Doordarshan has travelled a long time. The interesting fact is, despite being an OTT fan, I still search for Doordarshan once every year. Republic Day is not complete if I don’t watch the parade on Doordarshan.
The only difference is I now watch it on Youtube, and not on that boxy TV set.
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