Back in the 1980s owning a television was considered a status symbol. And if your household did have a television, most neighbours, family, and friends were sure to visit, even everyday to watch the few but very popular shows. DD National was the only channel on air for a long time, and newsreaders were veritable celebrities. It was the advent of satellite television, exactly 25 years ago, that was a game changer. Initially in ones and twos and then by the dozens, channels started to sprout. Then started exclusive channels for news, entertainment, movies and regional channels as well. Cable connections, gave way to the set top box, to the personal dish TV. Despite all its evolution, there have been some shows that have not only delivered strong social messages but also held the attentions of Indians captive. Here are 10 such shows on Indian television that we find timeless. Do let us know which shows you’d like to add to the list
Ramanand Sagar’s Ramayan first aired in 1986 on DD National. It taught India a few important lessons. That television could be opulent, that television was for the masses, and that television could give cinema a run for its money. For the first time a series had gained such popularity. There were news reports of people performing aarti to their television sets and the characters gained celebrity status. It was later aired on other channels.
In 1988, when Ramayan came to a heart-wrenching end on television, Indian households despaired. Their lives would now be empty, it seemed. It was then time for BR Chopra (of Bollywood fame) to step in and fill in the gap with Mahabharat. With a production cost of INR 9 crore, it was the most opulent show yet. And it achieved its intended results in the sense that for the 45 minutes that Mahabharat aired on DD National, most shops and establishments shut down, and the streets of India were largely empty.
Based on the popular series of children’s books by RK Narayan, this series was one of the first that got children excited about television. Malgudi Days was first aired on DD National in 1987. The highlight of the series was the direction of the renowned actor-director Shankar Nag and the catchy music by maestro L Vaidyanathan. Master Manjunath who played the adorable young boy, Swami, was the hero of most children of those times. The series was later telecast on a number of private channels, including Sony.
‘Shanti – Ek Aurat Ki Kahani’ first aired in 1994 on the national channel DD National. Produced by UTV Software, the serial was one of the earliest to feature a strong feminist central character. Mandira Bedi as Shanti, a young journalist and biographer, gained a mass following and the serial itself became a classic with people across the country tuning in to follow the revolutionary series. Later broadcast on Star TV, the epic series Shanti has certainly made it into the hall of fame of Indian television.
Speaking of Hindi television serials, another series that captured the interest, attention, and awe of viewers from across the world was Byomkesh Bakshi featuring Rajat Kapur in the lead role and KK Raina as Ajit Bandhopadhyay. The sleuth was a creation of Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay, but the series elevated these Bengali stories to a nationwide obsession. Byomkesh Bakshi was first telecast in 1993 (Season 1) and in 1997 (Season 2) on DD National. The serial won Rajat Kapur a national award for his acting.
One of the most popular Hindi drama series and one of the earliest serials that got the nation’s attention was Buniyaad. Apart from introducing fine actors such as Alok Nath, Kanwaljeet Singh, and Kruttika Desai who would go on to dominate Indian cinema and television, the serial was also among the first that got Indian families watching television together. Directed by Ramesh Sippy, Buniyaad was at first aired in 1986 on the DD National channel and subsequently telecast on Sahara One and other private channels.
The series that started off a trend of sitcoms and socio political critiques was Jaspal Bhatti’s Flop Show. First aired on DD National in 1989, the show was written and directed by the Satirist Jaspal Bhatti himself and produced by his wife Savita Bhatti. The sensational response that this 10-episode series got stands testimony to an evolving Indian society – emerging out of the shadows of a freedom struggle and industrial revolution, and looking forward to demanding a social cleanup. Flop SHow was later aired on other satellite channels as well.
Based on the renowned economist, kingmaker, and political strategist, Chanakya (also called Kautilya), this 47 episode historical drama was first aired on DD National in 1991. Harbinger of a spate of historical serials, Chanakya was written and directed by Chandraprakash Dwivedi. It is with this show that television started to become a medium for learning and understanding Indian history. That the series was somewhat fictionalised, didn’t matter to the Indian populace. Chanakya’s quotes and his strategies became widely discussed in socio political realms after this show.
Kaun Banega Crorepati?
Modeled after the UK game show “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?”, India went GK crazy with the introduction of Kaun Banega Crorepati better known as KBC. First aired on Star Plus in 2001, KBC truly set the TRPs on fire. It was a blazing combination of Amitabh Bachchan’s magnetic personality and the idea that ordinary people could win huge sums of money. It was the combination of Bollywood and entertainment on television that made KBC an addictive show. KBC is ongoing – Season 7 aired in 2014 and production of another season may be underway.
Satyamev Jayate is the new kid on the block. The first season of this talk show aired in 2012 on the Star Network and on DD National. Hosted by the popular Bollywood star Aamir Khan, it focussed on a number of sensitive social issues and brought them out in the open. Through stories, data, celebrity intervention the show became a hard-hitting reality check. Apart from a mass audience, the show raised many crores for charitable causes.