23 August 2012

That '80s Show: Katha Sagar

Benjamin Gilani and Supriya Pathak in 'Sannata'
A long piece I did for Caravan magazine, about an almost-forgotten TV series, Doordarshan and India in the '80s: 

   If you watched television in India in the mid-1980s, you might remember seeing a half-hour episode of a Hindi series in which an impressionable young man is spooked out of his wits by a delightfully wicked Pallavi Joshi in twin plaits and spectacles. Or one with Saeed Jaffrey as a cheery dhaba owner betrayed by his fetching young wife? Waheeda Rehman as a Goan landlady acquiring a taste for feni in her old age? A thoughtless Benjamin Gilani loving and leaving an achingly young Supriya Pathak?

If any of these rings a bell, you’ve probably watched some part of Katha Sagar, a hugely popular series that aired on Doordarshan in 1986. The TV series was released in February as a DVD box set by Reliance Home Video and Cinevistaas Ltd (the original producers, then called Cinevista Communications). To watch Katha Sagar today is to get a glimpse into another country, a pre-liberalisation India whose urban middle class was a very different creature from the one it is today. These eight DVDs are part of a potential archive, not just of Doordarshan’s early adventures in programming, but of an entire era.   

Established in 1982 by Prem Kishen, son of Hindi film actors Prem Nath and Bina Rai and himself an ex-actor, Cinevista spent three years producing corporate and advertising films. In 1985, when Doordarshan invited private producers to submit tenders for serials, Prem Kishen was one of the first seven to apply. His proposal, to adapt 21 internationally renowned short stories as 28 half-hour television episodes (eventually expanded to 37 stories over 44 episodes), would become Katha Sagar.

Looking back from within the highly saturated media landscape we now inhabit, the single-channel, bureaucratic media universe into which Katha Sagar emerged seems almost inconceivably bare. Yet it was also a tremendously exciting space. The possibilities for a new mass medium in a third world country seemed immense. Indian officialdom was just beginning to conceive of television as more than a tool for literacy, and to expand the state’s pedagogical ambitions to include, for instance, the broadcasting of high culture...

Read the whole article on the Caravan site.

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