What it was like growing up with the TV pop culture of the good ol’ ’90s

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As the idiot box took root in the homes of middle-class Indians, we children discovered an addictive pastime that also increased our patience and built character.

The ’90s in India were somehow the age of the urban middle class, and the wholesome programming reflected that.

I still remember running home from tuition as a kid, determined to be at home by 5:30 p.m. The house was a five-minute walk away, but I would speed up to complete the trip in three minutes. The reason? To catch the cartoons being telecast that day on the quaint old Doordarshan-2 channel. An eminently binge-able sequence that would run, Aladdin, Darkwing Duck, Duck Tales, Tale Spin, and — my favorite — Phantom 2040. Unless you video-recorded it on your dusty VCR, there really was no way to catch the episode again. The best of the lot was the Sunday morning special Jungle Book, with its hallmark title song that eulogised Mowgli as an undergarment-clad flower. The rest of the week was spent on tenterhooks, filled with a pregnant sense of anticipation and excitement, waiting for the next episode to resolve the cliffhanger.

This is something that faded away with the 1990s.

And it wasn’t just the toons. Even the television comedy series like All the Best on Friday or Tu Tu Main Main, or — my personal sitcom favorite — Shrimaan Shrimati — made you pine for the next episode. The premise of this hilarious adult comedy — something that would not make it past two episodes in today’s era of political correctness in India — is about two men eyeing their neighbour’s wife while trying to protect their own. The hilarious Jatin Kanakia as Keshav Kulkarni (Keku) and Rakesh Bedi as Dil-bura — sorry — Dilruba, the uncle of the adorable Ajay Nagrath’s chintu would bring a smile to your face if watched just a single episode. The equally tough competition given by Archana Puran Singh as Doll and Reema Lagoo as Koki made for wholesome entertainment.

 

 

Dekh Bhai Dekh, which took the Indian middle-class audiences to London in their living rooms, Zabaan Sambhal Ke and All The Best held strong on their own merit. Flop Show brought out hilarious satire thanks to its misdirector Jaspal Bhatti. Imported shows like Didi’s Comedy Show, Derrick, Telemache, Knight Rider and Giant Robo exposed urban Indians to the occidental pop culture.

Film songs gained traction with Rangoli on Sunday morning or Chitrahaar on Wednesday night, both shows with quality programming. Foot-tapping numbers that made it to the set-list of these programs were rendered classics or hits. The icing on top of the cake was Superhit Muqabbala presented by the highly imitable desi rapper Baba Seghal and later Kirutika Desai. That was the era when ‘Aaja meri Gadi mein bait ja’ and ‘Thanda Paani’ by Baba Seghal rocked the country. If you wanted to watch Milind Soman and Alisha Chinai in ‘Made in India’, you just had to wait for Superhit Muqabbala, which maintained and sustained the pop music scene.

“Yackooo” always brought smile to my face as soon as I heard it. Uttered by Kroor Singh in the television series Chandrakanta remains as unforgettable as the iconic “Arre O Sambha” of Gabbar Singh fame. Betaal Pachisi was as memorable as it was edifying. Junoon’s streak as most popular TV show was unbroken till Mahesh Bhatt entered the small screen scene as director of Swabhimaan. Keshav Kalsi growling “Nana” when his mentor tries to calm him down was one other line that was often imitated unsuccessfully. Imitihaan was one other serial which featured the famous duo of Alok Nath and Renuka Shahane as a father-daughter combo that was a sure-fire tear jerker. I almost forgot to mention Surabhi hosted by Renuka Shahane and Siddharth kak. She was one of the top superstars of the 1990’s television landscape.

 

It is the little things that get lost from generation to generation and it is the secret joy that these little things possess that the current generation will never know and the past ones will never get to experience again

 

Equally inimitable was Shaktimaan, which landed in controversy over children dying after allegedly attempting to imitate him. No Indian Superhero discussion is complete without mentioning our very own version of Star Trek, Captain Vyom. We had so many Indian Superheros and villains to look up to and play with as kids, let alone the G.I. Joes that we assimilated.

If you were into mythology, you had legends like Ramanad Sagar’s Ramayan and B.R Chopra’s Mahabharat which ran for years. They also gave us Vikram-Betaal. Sanjay Khan gave us The Sword of Tipu Sultan and Jai Hanuman while Dr. Chandraprakash Dwivedi gave us the wonderful Chanakya, which featured some of the purest Hindi ever spoken in modern times. The Great Maratha and Meera chronicled the lives of Shivaji and Meerabai, giving us a glimpse into the past. Alif Laila did a wonderful take on Arabian Nights.

Wanted detective thrillers? They gave us the wonderful series of Byomkesh Bakshi starring Rajit Kapur that is still favorably viewed and critically acclaimed. We cannot talk about detectives of the ‘90s without bringing up a monkey of the name Rancho in Raja aur Rancho. The dynamic duo saved the day every week, taking on dreaded criminals and even terrorists. Jasoos Vijay saved the day, giving tough competition to the two aforementioned detectives.

And if you wanted to catch a movie on TV, you would not only be entertained but surprised first — you would not have been hammered all week with ads about the upcoming movie. That one movie every week was quality family time where all members of the family got together irrespective of age, gender or interest. The weekly Indian language movie on Sunday Afternoon offered us a panorama of art across the country. I got to watch wonderful movies from Bengali, Marathi, Malayalam and even Sanskrit during the slot. The pinnacle of it all was “Mile Sur Mera Tumhara”. The song on national integration and unity in diversity showcasing the country’s rich and varied culture.

 

 

It was a time when channels were limited, televised slots valuable. The program and content creators had to fight for the slots with the excellence of their content in order to ensure revenue as well as continuity. The slots too were divided by audience. Cartoon time had little competition from soaps. Soaps had little encroachment from comedies. Comedies had little threat from sports — Indian cricket matches usually overrode all other spots.

And the war for the remote had not yet begun then. Those were peaceful times on the couch. Those were the times when watching TV was fun, offered abundance of variety yet stopped short of spoiling us for choice. One can channel-surf today for 30 minutes without watching a single programme, essentially wasting the entire 30 minutes — this is a testament to the shrinkage of our attention spans from over-exposure to content. Above all, the joy of waiting for the next episode every week is now completely lost amid spoilers, previews, reviews, leaks and binge-watching.

It is the little things that get lost from generation to generation and it is the secret joy that these little things possess that the current generation will never know and the past ones will never get to experience again. The euphoria of turning the antenna on the terrace and getting a better viewing experience after a storm, the reeling-in of the tape of a cassette with a pencil. Makes you wonder how much we may possibly have lost from the previous generation.

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