A tweet from Prakash Javadekar, the Union Minister for Information & Broadcasting (I&B), announcing that the state-run Doordarshan will re-telecast the iconic television series Ramayan saw twitter and other social media platforms erupt. The announcement left people divided, and reactions ranged from sheer elation to pure anger. Some felt the government's decision to telecast a show that brought the entire nation to a stand-still during its run between January 1987 and July 1988 was nothing less than an ode to nostalgia, while some claimed the show laid ground for the Babri Masjid riots in 1993.
A still from Doordarshan's Ramayan. Image from Youtube.
For some, watching one of the most beloved television during a 21-day Lockdown where the nation is battling with one of the worst pandemics known to humanity, the Coronavirus, isn't all that bad an idea. At the same time, it wasn't surprising that few found the decision to rerun Ramayan politically motivated considering how in the past, the show was held liable for reviving the Ram Mandir movement in northern India. Twitterati also pitched in names of all the other shows that they would love to relive. It was a wish fulfilled for some, with the announcement that DD was going to bring back two more yesteryear favourites, namely, the Shah Rukh Khan-starrer Circus, and the detective series Byomkesh Bakshi.
Ramanand Sagar's Ramayan enthralled audiences across the country between January 1987 and July 1988. During its run, people would treat Sunday mornings as a pilgrimage of kinds where the entire family, sometimes the neighbourhood, would congregate in front of television sets to pay obeisance to actors portraying gods. The epoch-making show set its own standards, and things were never the same.
In the same way, Circus directed by Aziz Mirza and Kundan Shah was one of the biggest successes that Shah Rukh Khan enjoyed after his debut in Fauji (1988). Set in a circus troupe, Circus followed the trials of Shekharan Rai (Shah Rukh Khan), who struggles to manage his father's circus, and had an ensemble cast that included Renuka Shahane, Pavan Malhotra, Sudhir Kakkar, along with Ashutosh Gowariker, Makrand Deshpande and Neeraj Vohra amongst others. While Fauji established Khan's status as a television star, Circus cemented his reputation and also paved the path for the foray into films.
At a time when television in India appeared to get stuck in a rut, Basu Chatterjee's Byomkesh Bakshi revitalised the medium with the first television adaptation of sleuth created by Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay. The series also marked the first significant appearance of Rajit Kapur as the eponymous character across the 34 episodes, 14 in the first season (1993) and 20 in the second that was telecast in 1997. The series soon become one of the most enduring memories of those growing up in the 1990s. If Kapur got the nuances of the Indian Sherlock Holmes-like detective right, his sidekick, Ajit Banerji, played by K.K. Raina, uniquely reinterpreted Dr. Watson. The episodic mysteries also featured few of the well-known names in Indian films such as Sadhu Meher, Milind Gunaji, Govind Namdeo, and the legendary Utpal Dutt.
Much like the shows' impact on the audiences' psyche and the format, their origins, too, were surprising. Legend has it that the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi tried to watch Doordarshan one day but found nothing on that caught his attention. As a result, he called V.N. Gadgil, the then I&B Minister, and complained to him that Doordarshan ought to show something that enshrined in Indian values and ethos. One thing led to another, and down the chain officials contacted Ramanand Sagar and B.R Chopra to produce shows such as Ramayan and Mahabharat.
Irrespective of how one stands on the political spectrum, one shouldn't be surprised at DD's decision to re-telecast Ramayan thirty-three years after it debuted. In the age of Netflix and Amazon Prime, where reruns of older television series such as Friends and all-time classic Seinfeld, constitute a major chunk of the online streaming platforms, it's only normal for a television channel to indulge in reruns of some of its most recognised shows.
A few days ago, when Arun Govil, Deepika Chikhalia, and Sunil Lahiri better known as Lord Rama, Goddess Sita and Lakshman from the iconic television show Ramayana appeared on The Kapil Sharma Show, they wouldn't have imagined in their wildest dreams that Ramayana would return in 2020. Back in the 1980s and the 1990s, when shows such as Ramayan, Circus and Byomkesh Bakshi were first aired, there was no competition. The onslaught of satellite television in the early 1990s gave Doordarshan a run for its money, and by the late 1990s, the landscape might have changed. That said, there is no denying that that DD's backlist is worth its weight in gold.
For years, DD's popular shows such as Nukkad, Malgudi Days, Bharat Ek Khoj, Chanakaya, Chandrakanta and many more, have enjoyed patronage on websites such as YouTube while a few such as Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi have had a fanatic second-innings on streaming platforms such as Amazon Prime. If Netflix and its ilk can pay top money for golden oldies, then why would Doordarshan not do the same? Besides, back in the 80s and 90s, most people didn't have a choice when it came to watching television. Today, you have a hundreds of channels and platforms offering thousands of shows to pick and choose. If you don't like anything, simply flip the channel.