In 1982, Doordarshan had just turned 17. The only channel in pre-cable television India, the only source of entertainment for thousands of households. Initially at All India Radio, in 1971, I was one of the first to join the news in English. But it was only with the Asian Games in 1982 when DD went national and switched to colour that the frenzy began. Suddenly you were being recognised all over India, schoolboys would follow me in the streets of Jaipur, Indian Airlines would offer me special service and auto drivers would refuse to collect fare. My local butcher in Bhogal, south Delhi, would say, “Aiye, aaj ki kya taaza khabar hai madam.” Amid the buzz of markets, I’ve heard the whispers, “Of course, that’s her, who reads the news on TV,” and the replies, “No, yaar, she is so ordinary (read dark).” Soon, being ‘ordinary’ was no longer acceptable; you had to look your best at all times because TV endowed you with this larger-than-life persona. Overnight, we who read the news were fashionistas. Our clothes and hairstyles were copied. We were asked in hushed tones where our saris were bought and who stitched our blouses. Teachers would tell kids to emulate the way we spoke.
Fashion icons ‘Who does your hair?’
DD was a phenomenon, it brought us right into the bedroom of our viewers. It became, in no particular order, a rallying point for debates on politics, a coffee house topic of discussion, a social platform for the neighbourhood when the beloved serialised version of the Mahabharat or the Sunday feature film was broadcast. And it had no competition. No surfing of channels. No overload of information. No barrage of shrieking opinions.
Even for an insider, DD seemed a befuddled giant. Monkeys would swing on treetops in the parking lot and cats would lope in and out of the studios, but I adored working there. No news bulletin could start without eating a greasy matthi and sipping hot, sweet tea from a chipped cup, served by a young boy—his fingers generously adding to the flavour of the tea. Not for us the bland coffee machines and cafeterias. The AC did not work when it was required to, so come summer and the gentlemen news presenters of my vintage would come well-groomed in shirts, ties, coats and no trousers! Now, now. Don’t get me wrong. They did wear shorts.
I went to Mandi House and DD Kendra on Copernicus Marg recently and was consumed by a sense of deja vu. Absolutely nothing had changed. Even the music is still of my vintage, and we still have those same badly drawn, weakly painted backdrops of village scenes, green fields, plump village women and a kindly sarpanch. I know these programmes in no way excite the viewer any more. But DD can change and it has its loyal viewers who will stick by it. Even if it does, for me, DD will always be its sweet 17 self.
Veteran newscaster Gitanjali Aiyar now works with the World Wildlife Fund
Gitanjali Aiyar’s remembrance of the 17th year of Doordarshan (Good Evening, India...) was excellent. DD is what matters to people all over India in the villages. They have little use for the westernised ‘chamcha’ news channels, with their talk shows peopled with vainglorious intellectuals who rarely listen to each other.
I saw this lady in 1987, on Doordarshan. Was he 19, or am I mistaken, about the time.
I don't know how to say this. We saw people like this lady in Doordarshan, and we thought her ordinary. Today, DD seems like a board of directors, talking about the news. I don't know why, but when there was only DD, it seemed that the service is propaganda. I hope I am fervently wrong, when I say, that I don't want to believe, this, because I shouldn't have, perhaps.
DD was a hand-maiden of the Mrs. Indira Gandhi , the empress of India. Their narratives were crude and transparently biased. The truculent opposition fought fierce guerilla wars against he media monopoly. The obsequiousness continues on Loksabha TV. Not a single gene of rebelliousness in its DNA.
Tedium was the message, which is why chitrahaar and the sunday movie were a welcome relief. I could never get why they showed equestrian events so frqyuently unless it was for the brown saahibs with chota pegs in hand. The recycling rate was high (same, already seen programs many times), an indicator of the low productivity of the babu staff.
Producers would be queueing up before Mandi house to get slots, the way middle class Indians queued up for Bajaj Chetak. The principles of shortage economics were designed well by the Nehruvians and operated as intended, even in cultural spheres.
Nevertheless, there is a certain subdued dignity and classiness to DD programs today, contrasting it with the raucousness of private channels. DD Bharathi deserves a special thanks.
This is really excellent ,highly readable piece of memoir of a beautiful woman ( though with lot of makeup , I believe ). I enjoyed reading it.
But all said and done with all those umpteen number of highly westernized ( and also highly corrupt and paid "chamchas" ) news channels , DD is what matters to people all over India in indian villages. A villager for example has nothing to do with barking " intellectuals" on TV with their erudite opinion who really do not listen to each other at all.
In consideration to what Mr. Rao feels, every news channel appears to be different, and today, Doordarshan appears to be so, because it seems, other channels for some reason, wanted to be what Doordarshan isn't. They are all media channels, disseminating news. It appears, the idea is that DD was also, as importantly, giving social messages to viewers, and apparently as govt wanted it, and also in a way, where people are biased towards govt. Today, people may feel that DD is a good news channel, and that govt. is directly associated with it. The other channels might be anti-corruption, and this is also good, because where DD says the news, the other channels can also engage the viewer on the private news channel. DD cannot say, the opposition, ruling party, etc. are corrupt, because it isn't really a propanganda means for the govt. When I was a young boy, the news, both Bengali and English, always began with what Indira Gandhi said, in any fora. I believe, the CPI(M) was in power, and the West Bengal govt. was in charge of the ministry of I & B. People also started saying, that the central I & B ministry, was trying to influence the viewer, when Delhi Doordarshan began broadcasting in West Bengal.
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