A WALK DOWN MEMORY LANE TO REVISIT ICONIC SHOWS THAT HELPED SHAPE A GIANT TELEVISION INDUSTRY
by ASJAD NAZIR
THE Covid-19 lockdown has led to a halt in current TV serials being shot and classics are being repeated during prime time.
The old serials have proven to be very popular with audiences, and this has triggered a wave of nostalgia for pioneering classics that helped to shape Indian television, which has enjoyed a global boom in the past 20 years.
Eastern Eye decided to jump on the memory train and do an all you need to know rundown of the top 20 classic Indian TV serials from the 1980s and 1990s, which was an exciting era that was so much more than the family dramas that dominate TV today.
20. Idhar Udhar: The Hindi sitcom first aired in 1985, with real life sisters Ratna Pathak and Supriya Pathak playing the lead roles. The series about independent women living alone was ahead of its time and was taken off after just 12 episodes, but made a return in 1997 and has since gained cult status.
19. Flop Show: Someone who was known as the king of satire, Jaspal Bhatti wrote, directed and starred in the popular sitcom, which first aired in 1989. The comedy series about the socio-cultural problems faced by the common man in India at the time was a rating winner. There has been a call to bring back the series during lockdown, but it is available on YouTube and continues to delight.
18. Tu Tu Main Main: The classic sitcom focusing on the conflict between a daughter-in-law and mother-in-law provided plenty of laughs. The series first aired on DD Metro from 1994 till 1996 and then was moved to Star Plus during the early days of the now globally popular channel. It inspired many other serials on Indian television, including more series with the same subject matter.
17. A Mouthful Of Sky: Masterminded by top Bollywood filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt, the 1995 serial was path-breaking because it was the first prime-time Indian drama to be produced primarily in English. The serial dealing with a post-independence generation balancing the twin worlds of Indian and urban western ethos had an impressive star cast and ran for 252 episodes
16. Shrimaan Shrimati: The popularity of this classic Hindi sitcom, which aired from 1994-1999, is such that it has been re-telecast during the coronavirus lockdown. The “love thy neighbour’s wife” concept revolved around a married man falling for a glamorous woman next door, and her simple husband becoming attracted to his smart, but caring wife.
15. Zabaan Sambhalke: The Indian answer to 1970s British serial Mind Your Language ran for 54 episodes across two seasons in the early nineties and made a successful 52-episode return later that decade. The comedy revolved around an engineer forced to teach Hindi at a school to students from across India and the world. The show would later be successfully released as a DVD box set in 2009 and its episodes continue to delight viewers all over again on YouTube.
14. Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi: One of the first sitcoms to be produced in India revolved around a married couple and all the colourful characters around them. It first aired in 1984 and ran for three successful seasons. A stand out in the series was Satish Shah, who played a multitude of characters and got crowned the king of comedy.
13. Fauji: The 1988 serial following the training of an Indian army regiment wasn’t massively popular and didn’t have a long run, but reached cult status because it marked the acting debut of Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan. The show led to him landing more small screen roles in serials, including Circus and then making a successful leap to cinema.
12. Banegi Apni Baat: The TV series, which ran for more than 300 episodes, from 1993 until 1997 gave a first break to actors who would become popular stars, including Irrfan Khan and R Madhavan. The series focused primarily on college life, tackled many social issues and gave rise to more shows aimed at younger audiences.
11. Byomkesh Bakshi: The first Hindi serial based on the legendary detective novels had two seasons, which aired in 1993 and 1997. Rajit Kapur took on the title role of the clever sleuth in a drama serial, which was a massive critical and commercial success. The series is so revered that it has been re-telecast during the on-going coronavirus lockdown and pulled in high viewing figures.
10. Dekh Bhai Dekh: The legendary Hindi sitcom produced by Bollywood actress Jaya Bachchan first aired in 1993 and had a strong cast. A forerunner to the extended family themed shows that would dominate Indian television in subsequent decades, the comedy series revolves around three generations of the same family and the various conflicts they faced.
9. Shaktimaan: The rubbish special effects may make you laugh today, but India’s first TV superhero series was massively popular and ran for 450 episodes from 1997 to 2005. Children loved the superhero rooted in Indian tradition and cheered for him each week. The fantasy adventure returned for an animated series and the original has been re-telecast during the lockdown. A new series is also being planned.
8. Karamchand: The first popular detective series of India aired in the mid-1980s and saw Pankaj Kapur play a sleuth who helps the police solve murder cases. The series made a surprise return in 2007 with Pankaj reprising his role of the carrot chewing detective. Such is the legendary status of the series that character Raj Koothrapali mentioned Karamchand in an episode of globally popular sitcom The Big Bang Theory.
7. Malgudi Days: The episodic series set in a fictional town was based on a collection of short stories written by RK Narayan in the 1940s. The standalone stories with a thought-provoking narrative proved to be popular with three seasons running from 1986-1988. It made a return with a fourth series in 2006 and a collective disc set was also released on DVD. The thought-provoking drama is available to watch on Hotstar.
6. Bharat Ek Khoj: Legendary Indian filmmaker Shyam Benegal masterminded this 53-episode historical drama based on The Discovery Of India, which is a book covering the 5,000 year history of the country. The episodic drama, which was like a series of mini-films, charts different chapters of India across thousands of years, including ancient civilisations, mythology, ruling dynasties and independence. There have been multiple calls to bring back the series during lockdown.
5. Hum Paanch: The series with the super catchy theme tune is regarded as one of the all-time great comedies of Indian television. It first aired from 1995-1999 and returned from 2005 to 2006. The funfilled series about a family with five daughters, which included a young Vidya Balan in the cast, can still make audiences laugh and has been successfully re-telecast during the coronavirus lockdown.
4. Buniyaad: The path-breaking 1986 serial was the first major small-screen production to be helmed by a top Bollywood filmmaker and had Sholay director Ramesh Sippy calling the shots. The 105-episode series dealt with the 20th century history of India and in particular Partition. The series with a strong star cast would help bridge the gap between Indian cinema and television.
3. Hum Log: The first major drama serial of India premiered in 1984 and had legendary Bollywood actor Ashok Kumar as narrator. Heavily inspired by a Mexican TV series from the 1970s, it looked at the daily struggles of a middle class family and shone a light on various social issues, which were instantly relatable to viewers. The series ran for 154 episodes across 17 months and opened the doors for drama serials that followed.
2. Mahabharat: The mythological drama was created by legendary Bollywood filmmaker BR Chopra and first aired from 1988-1990. The 94-episode series based on the Hindu epic of the same name had the kind of grandeur not seen on Indian TV before and significantly raised the bar. The series pulled in record-breaking viewing figures and made a triumphant recent return to television during the Covid-19 lockdown.
1. Ramayan: Mythological series have always been popular in India and this was the first big blockbuster. The small-screen adaptation of the ancient Hindu epic of the same name smashed the world record for viewing figures and had the nation hooked when it premiered in 1987. The story following the journey of Ram has been re-telecast during the coronavirus lockdown and broken records again, over 30 years later, which confirms that it really is the greatest Indian drama of all time.