I was well into my early teens when I realized Swapnil Joshi was not Lord Krishna and Puneet Issar was not the evil Duryodhana from Vyas’s Mahabharat. Growing up when computers were just becoming popular meant that television played an important role as a means of entertainment and information. Indeed, the tube was where I learned the stories of Lord Krishna (1993) and Mahabharat (1988), thanks to Ramanand Sagar and B. R. Chopra. Spending the best part of my summer vacations at my grandfather’s place, and a lot many subsequent Sunday evenings, meant that there was no escaping the beatific Joshi as Krishna or the deep, rough baritone of wicked Issar. As the 90’s moved on, another serial became a part of the Sunday routine – Akbar-Birbal. With Birbal played by the likeable Anang Desai (Tulsidas from ‘Khichdi’) and the venerated Akbar played by Marathi theatre personality, Vikram Gokhale, it did not take long for the show to capture a young boy’s imagination.
The epoch of soaps was soon to start and my living room could not inoculate itself in time: there was ‘Saas’ (Neena Gupta and Kanwaljit Singh) that began airing in 1999 on Star Plus and ‘Kora Kagaz’ which gave Renuka Sahane and Salil Ankola their tickets to fame. ‘Kahani Ghar Ghar Ki’ and ‘Kyon Ki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi’ began airing around 2000 and reached my mother in the summer of 2003.
Comedy revolved around ‘Hum Paanch’ and the adorable Hatteli and Kajal Bhai. Even the lady in the frame on the wall added a touch of her own to the show that will be known for propelling Ashok Saraf into mainstream Hindi entertainment. ‘Hum Paanch’ was arguably the best Hindi comedy show that dominated the waves in the late 90’s. Sadly, this genre of Hindi television entertainment hasn’t witnessed much innovation in recent years with ‘Sarabhai vs. Sarabhai’ being the only possible exception.
The onset of reality shows was marked firmly with Amitabh Bachchan, who hitherto was known to my generation for bile like ‘Bade Miya Chote Miya,’ ‘Suryavansham,’ and ‘Lal Basdshah,’ steering the Indian version of ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?’ to instant success. Talk shows meant Simi Garewal and ‘Movers and Shakers’ till some refreshing coffee was introduced in 2004.
Perhaps, the only television program I remember enjoying through the late 90’s and early 2000’s was ‘Hip Hip Hurray.’ I developed an extreme sense of attraction towards Peeya Rai Chowdhary and Kishwar Merchant that lasts to date. With ongoing convent education and raging hormones, that show was perhaps a window into what I imagined my life would turn into after school.
TV shows with the quality and charm of yore are rare these days. Or probably, with changing times and better access to international television our preferences have changed. After all, who’d want to watch Daya and Fredericks bumbling their way through 30 minutes that used to be fun in the 90’s when we can catch Rick Castle, Neal Caffrey, Adrian Monk, and Jack Bauer work their magic? Why watch Jassi when Betty and some desperate housewives are two channels away? The only thing that shall be missed will be those kitchen conversations with the maid about the latest death of Mihir Virani …