Retelecast of epics during lockdown: Orchestrated nostalgia or soft radicalisation?

Loved watching ‘Ramayan’ and ‘Mahabarat’? Wonder why much-loved programmes like ‘The Sword of Tipu Sultan’ and ‘Mirza Ghalib’ are not being shown again

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Kolkata: Last weekend, shows depicting Hindu mythological epics ‘Ramayan’ and ‘Mahabharat’ started airing on Doordarshan and DD Bharati. And in the ensuing week ‘Ramayan’ garnered the highest-ever rating for a Hindi General Entertainment Channel (GEC) programme since 2015.

This was confirmed by an official statement released by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting on Thursday. “When the Broadcasting Audience Research Council (BARC) started measuring the television audience, it found out that Ramanand Sagar’s ‘Ramayan’ had garnered the highest-ever rating for a Hindi General Entertainment Channel (GEC) programme since 2015,” said the notification.

Deepika Chikhalia who played Sita in Ramanand Sagar’s ‘Ramayan’ told eNewsroom, “When Ramayan was re-telecast this time the feeling was very different from last time. That is because this time I am married and my children are watching the show along with me. My body of work that is now being watched by my children is a very unusual feeling. In the olden days when we were shooting for the serial, the epic Ramayan was being brought to the audience for the first time. Now, viewers have already seen different versions of Ramayan on other private channels. But the charm and nostalgia live on because those who were younger then, are all grown up now. It brings back memories of watching television as a family.”

“At that time Doordarshan had a lot of variety. There used to be something for farmers, another popular show was ‘Phool Khile Gulshan Gulshan’. So you see, the grandeur in television was brought with Ramayan. The viewer got to watch their gods, beautiful clothes, good-looking actors, the screenplay was beautiful. So everything was very pleasing to the eye and also very emotional. The story also connected with people’s hearts. And anything that connects to your heart and soul can never be forgotten. I think it was a beautiful era in Indian television” said Chikhalia.

“People enjoyed watching the show and we equally enjoyed making it. I remember when the shooting was over and the show went off air, it felt like the break-up of a family. It had mattered so much to us back then, and continues to connect all the makers even now,” she added.

However, if you take a closer look you will notice that shows which depict history of the Muslim-rule in India or Muslim family dramas such as ‘The Sword of Tipu Sultan’, ‘Mirza Ghalib’, ‘Gul Gulshan Gulfaam’, ‘Farmaan’ and others have been left off the list of old repeats.

Ramayan is telecast twice at 9 am and 9 pm on DD National every day. Mahabharat is also shown twice with fresh episodes at 12 pm and 7 pm on DD Bharati daily.

Doordarshan is also repeating five other shows that include ‘Chanakya’, ‘Upanishad Ganga’, ‘Shaktimaan’, ‘Shriman Shrimati’ and ‘Krishna Kali’. The other shows that began airing from last weekend are ‘Byomkesh Bakshi’, ‘Circus’ featuring Shah Rukh Khan, ‘Hum Hain Na’ and ‘Tu Tota Main Maina’. Most of the shows are telecast in the afternoon slot, after 3 pm. The ministry also issued an advisory to all the DTH and cable operators to broadcast all the DD Channels as well as Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha Channels as per the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act. “Non-carriage of these channels is liable for action under various sections of the act,” the statement added.

However, if you take a closer look you will notice that shows which depict history of the Muslim-rule in India or Muslim family dramas such as ‘The Sword of Tipu Sultan’, ‘Mirza Ghalib’, ‘Gul Gulshan Gulfaam’, ‘Farmaan’ and others have been left off the list of old repeats. ‘The Sword of Tipu Sultan’ was made by Sanjay Khan and talked about the young nawab’s contribution to the Indian freedom struggle. ‘Gul Gulshan Gulfaam’ was based on the life of a Kashmiri family living in Srinagar who made their living from a houseboat. ‘Mirza Ghalib’ written and produced by noted film-writer and poet Gulzar was based on the life and times of the famous classical Urdu and Persian poet of the Mughal era, Mirza Ghalib. ‘Farmaan’ was directed by Lekh Tandon and based on Rafia Amin’s novel Alam Panah, set in Hyderabad. It dealt with a family of fictional royal heirs living in Hyderabad and how they moved on in life once they realise both reign and realm are beyond any kind of royal lineage in modern times.

But before you run down the lanes of nostalgia, think twice. In a country that is supposed to be secular, isn’t this soft radicalisation? In a secular country that is fast moving towards religious radicalisation, where even a deadly disease like corona is becoming communalised, step out of the circle for a while!

When quizzed about this differential treatment Arunava Roy, Head of Program DD Bangla told eNewsroom: “In the last couple of years Doordarshan has had a renewed and steady viewership which is why we are coming up with these shows again. Over the epics we have had a lot of positive feedback from the audience. The decision was taken by the headquarters in New Delhi. I don’t think there is any differential treatment being meted out in the choice of shows. There are certain technical difficulties in re-telecasting these old shows. The cassettes in which they were recorded are redundant now. So now we have to first digitise whole shows at a time and then telecast them simply because the machines used then are outdated now. On top of that we have a lockdown situation and are tremendously short of staff.”

But before you run down the lanes of nostalgia, think twice. In a country that is supposed to be secular, isn’t this soft radicalisation? In a secular country that is fast moving towards religious radicalisation, where even a deadly disease like corona is becoming communalised, step out of the circle for a while! Reflect on what kind of a lifestyle is being fed to you by your ever-so-predictable social media algorithm! What ideas are being put into your head! Take a look around and you will know it is not as simple as you are made to believe.

When lakhs are forced to walk home and die due to lack of food and exhaustion on highways, doctors are dealing with lack of protective gear and testing kits for the Corona virus we have the Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javedkar posting photographs on Twitter about how he is enjoying the lockdown while watching Ramayan at home! The tweet was later brought down and another showing him staring at the computer screen and claiming to ‘work from home’ put up in its place! There are two things you can discern from this. The first tweet was his natural reaction. The second tweet was the result of severe trolling for the first and instructions from higher authorities. How can a minister be so insensitive when the whole world is going through one of the most severe humanitarian crisis after World War II?

Is this the time to look for various forms of entertainment, when we have been asked repeatedly not to treat this as a ‘holiday’? You might be depressed staying at home, doing housework, watching news, reading books, trying new recipes. But you still have a comfortable life! Spare a thought for the less privileged. How are they fighting the disease? Some have no home, no pay, no food and most importantly no water to wash their hands at all. Think before you hit social media handles and post videos of the blingy clothes in your closet, a la Karan Johar!

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