The story begins in early ’90s when Doordarshan monopolised Indian viewers’ attention, by hook or by hook. Enter the hero – the able cable! Before we narrate to you about all the twists and turns, we are sure you can imagine what the outcome was (when the otherwise famished Indian audience were served a feast treat of delicious, tempting and addictive television programmes on cable)- yeah a protruding ‘belly’ urrr ‘telly belly’ we mean!
Blame it on shows like Krishi Darshan that were not meant for the masses or on those vertical coloured lines which seemed to dominate everyone’s TV set each night after 11 pm, but the fact is that Doordarshan could never quench the creative thirst for entertainment of Indian audiences. Neither a movie a week nor Chitrahaar being played just twice a week seemed enough. There were some programmes that were rare treasures though, including Karam Chand where the carrot-eating detective solved serious issues in the coolest manner, or the witty Byomkesh Bakshi that showed a handsome Bong boy solving mysteries one after another! However, DD had this knack of giving us one grossly popular serial every year – be it Hum Log, Buniyaad, Mowgli or Chandrakanta – thus ensuring that we watch it rather than watching any movie on VCP or VCR. It also made sure that we got our regular dose of Indianness (through Bharat Ek Khoj) and spirituality (through Ramayan and Mahabharat). But it forgot to be entertaining, while striving to be a decent TV channel. Let’s admit it – Indian viewers wanted much more and the Cable TV provided that, in abundance!
The first to enter our household through cable were channels brought by Star TV Network namely MTV, STAR TV, Star Movies, BBC, Prime Sports and STAR Chinese Channel. Just imagine – Indian audiences were so desperate for entertainment that they didn’t mind watching Chinese channels, especially when some Jackie Chan movie played with subtitles! The Santa Barbara and The Bold and Beautiful soap operas succeeded in pulling only a handful percentage of Indian population but yes MTV’s VJ Noni with her typical South-Asian accent became a household name!
Let’s take an interval for the time being but don’t go anywhere as ‘picture abhi baaki hai mere dost ‘(the movie is still remaining, my friend)! Resuming the Telly Belly discussion, Zee TV made a zabardast (mind-blowing) entry and became India’s first Hindi channel on cable! It gave us both –Tara as well as Bole Taare; in other words Zee served a wonderful potpourri of programmes for all tastes and age groups. Soon, we all were addicted to Tara, Hum Paanch, Banegi Apni Baat, and the Friday favourite Close Up Antakshari. Zee’s success became a lesson for Doordarshan and it was quick to learn as well as implement, thanks to DD metro. It gave us two fabulous sitcoms in that era, Dekh Bhai Dekh and Zabaan Sambhal Ke, along with creating an epic saga of a woman named Shanti. The latter marked the innovation of a new prime time, the afternoon prime time, wherein both the protagonist (Mandira Bedi) and her black bindi (a forehead accessory) became a household favourite. That was the time when the street vendor woman who sold utensils in exchange of clothes started cursing the cable – “Bakwaas hai yeh cable. Koi Bibi darwaza hi nahi kholti.
Zee TV made a zabardast (mind-blowing) entry and became India’s first Hindi channel on cable! It gave us both –Tara as well as Bole Taare; in other words, Zee served a wonderful potpourri of programmes for all tastes and age groups. Soon, we all were addicted to Tara, Hum Paanch, Banegi Apni Baat, and the Friday favourite Close Up Antakshari.
Aisa kya dekhti rehti hai TV par? (This cable is rubbish. None of the ladies open the door while it’s running. What are they watching all the time?)” Her business suffered. The street and neighbourhood socialisation suffered. Children’s studies suffered.And what followed after this was a tsunami of Hindi TV channels and serials. Zee’s success became an inspiration for many ventures, especially Sony TV that delighted us with its dubbed sitcoms in association with Columbia Pictures Television. Remember the serials like Who’s the Boss?, The Nanny and everyone’s favourite I Dream of Jeannie! That was the time when we actually fell in love with TV! The icing on the cake was placed by Balaji Telefilms and Ekta Kapoor. Balaji telefilms hit a goldmine!
There were some great jingles, performances and story lines that left an imprint on our hearts during the defining decade. Many of us can still sing that Jungle Jungle baat chali hai, pata chala hai…” full on! Aah the nostalgia!!
Coming back to the present, there is so much to watch yet nothing worth watching. We all have dedicated TV Channels for kids, teenagers, music, movies, sports, news, spirituality and even for purchasing things. The omnipotent remote control is used just to fiddle around, because despite having different types of content at our fingertips, we are not entertained at all. None of the television serials in today’s day and age can impact us like the serials of the ‘90s did. How I wish we had a rewind button!
Keep blowing the Trumpet! This & many more stories await in the pages!