Doordarshan turns 52

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Doordarshan, which launched its broadcasting initiative in 1959 with just a small transmitter and a makeshift studio, soon became the nation’s heartbeat, until the coming of numerous channels during early 1990s. Doordarshan turned 52 this month, but there was no spark of celebration, rather it was mute. Doordarahan, which was once a nationwide sensation, is not even a distant memory now.

Many of our famous stars started their careers from Doordarshan. As the only Indian channel during the mid-to-late 20thcentury, Doordarshan inspired many to pursue careers in Indian cinema, including the likes of Bollywood megastar Shah Rukh Khan. But these days Doordarshan only inspires to switch to another.

Gautam Bharadwaj, who debuted as a cadet alongside Shah Rukh Khan in the 1988 hit soap ‘Fauji’, still cherishes his time on set, describing it as ‘a phenomenal experience’. He says Doordarshan marked the birth of Indian entertainment – working on sets, training; scripting and production were fairly new concepts back then.

Kiran Juneja, who is best known for her role in the groundbreaking 1980s drama ‘Buniyaad’, also attributes her career success to Doordarshan. “I am what I am because of Buniyaad and Mahabharat,” she said in an interview. She has since starred in Bollywood movies such as ‘Fashion’, ‘Jab We Met’ and ‘Khosla Ka Ghosla’.

Asked about how things were different in the television industry back then, Ms. Juneja noted that it was tough to land a role in those days, but once you did, people remembered. “We survived the times.”

Ms. Juneja may have survived back then, but Doordarshan itself has struggled since, as other channels, such as Sony Entertainment, Zee TV and Star Plus arrived on India’s television landscape, luring viewers with their more modern, glamorous and international fare.

As India’s only national channel, Doordarshan had to cater to the masses and not just the urbanites. The channel launched initiatives like ‘Krishi Darshan’, a daily show exclusively for farmers, but it was unable to strike a balance that would also appeal to India’s growing middle class.

According to Ujwal Anurag, a 27-year old producer in Hyderabad, Doordarshan lost out in the past couple of decades because of its ‘lax attitude.’
In an effort to save his and others’ childhood memories, Mr. Anurag in 2007 launched ‘Doordarshan National’, a blog exclusively for series aired on Doordarshan. Claiming that it would ‘bring back memories from the past’, the blog has a collection of 400 videos, including commercials, serials, theme songs and films that were once aired on Doordarshan.

In a bid to get more footage for his blogs, Mr. Anurag even offered to pay Doordarshan for VCD’s of several serials, but he said that officials at the broadcaster were indifferent to his offer.

Doordarshan has more recently branched out into 11 regional and six national channels, including DD National, but it still hasn’t been able to cater to the Indian audience’s growing needs.

The only way the channel can leap forward is by developing relevant shows that cater to all sections of society, says Tarjeet Sabharwal, a media expert and author of ‘Satellite Television: An Impact on Social Participation’.

Ms. Sabharwal believes that drastic measures involving public participation are needed, with greater market research, better quality of broadcasts, more shows that cater to urban India and the addition of creative and innovative series.

Doordarshan’s schedule now includes soaps, cultural programs on traditional Indian dance and music, the daily news and movies on weekends. But these shows haven’t been overly successful as they just emulate other channels. Add to this Doordarshan’s obsolete technology and scripts from bygone times, it’s hardly surprising that the broadcaster has lost so much ground.

“Flexibility, audience research and resourceful manpower is what the channel desperately needs” adds Ms. Sabharwal.

It remains to be seen whether the old Indian broadcaster will listen and adapt or slip further into obscurity.