Custom Featured Image

‘Tara’ To ‘Naagin’: Television Shows Then & Now In India

The most palpable way in which India felt change was perhaps through the television industry. Yet, the more the industry boomed, the more it has splintered us!

There was a time in India, in the 1970s, when people used to sit and stare and wait for recreation vis-à-vis the radio listening to BBC Radio or the famous Binaca Geetmala. 

But this recreation in the 80’s had shift to the TV screen and Doordarshan (DD), which in those days were synonyms. Government-owned channel Doordarshan produced Krishi Darshan, but that was in the realm of infotainment, honestly. The few TV sets that delighted several households was admiringly draped in a table cloth and admired as an object art.

Then came the mid-1980s, the golden age – when Indian television was brought to life for the first time by DD’s sponsored programme. It bound us together every evening and by us I don’t mean just our families, it brought the entire Indian force together. It became one family, one nation, one channel and one culture. We all laughed with Yeh Jo Hain Zindagi, cried our hearts out to Buniyaad and even worshipped the box with Ramayana and Mahabharata.


But nothing, literally nothing, had prepared us for what was to happen!

DD broadcast the Gulf war in 1991, CNN’s Peter Arnett went live from Baghdad and there was no looking back since. Within the course of one year, our TV screens, like the Iraqi capital, exploded into action. Then came the biggest game changer – the 1991 economic reforms and liberalized access to communication technology. What this led to was the penetration of foreign media companies into the country and entry of Indian companies into television, and our lives were transformed magically.

Imagine this – television was unveiled in India in 1959 and the whole nation watched just one channel for over 30 years. And it sporadically burst into life and there was 24X7 TV all around. There are hundreds of channels now with every genre of programming (a few we aren’t even aware of) – entertainment, music, sports, news, lifestyle, spirituality, property, etc. The first 24X7 news channel began in 1998; but do you even know all the news channels of the country now? Not to forget the linguistic ones!

And that TV set in a wooden cabinet that had the beetle antenna for grainy black-and-white pictures??? Banished and Vanished! It’s time for LCD, satellite transmissions with cable and DTH HD telecasts, OTTs on mobiles, laptops and tablets to rule.

Content too has changed drastically! Rapid satellite and cable penetration into India’s heart saw TV fiction move away from daring urban drams to K serials of the joint Hindu parivar where family was the only thing women wanted. One person denoted an era of her own post millenium – Ekta Kapoor who struck gold by bringing in the concept of family shows held together by a lead woman character. Ticked with all the attributes of some antiquated ideal of the beti, bahu and biwi, these dramas presenting the Indian society in a different manner were sheer entertainment.

For me, however, 90’s TV shows had a more progressive approach as they portrayed real women with shades of gray. Remember Hasratein? Yes! It showed a woman leaving her husband to start a relationship with her married boss which was something way ahead of time and the audience accepted it with maturity as well. And now we see a Simar transforming into a fly and taking her revenge on the vamp of the family.


Naagin, one of the highest rated shows portrays a women shape-shifting into a serpent. These post millennium concepts are in large contrast to ’90s shows like Mandira Bedi’s gig as Shanti – a journalist who digs up the dark secrets from the past of two Bollywood professionals. This clearly shows the changing landscape of leading women on television screens.

Hum Paanch

There was also the era of Dekh Bhai Dekh, Hum Paanch and Family No 1s where we witnessed actors like Naveen Nishchol, Farida Jalal, Ashok Saraf participate in the tomfoolery and it literally got us rolling on the floor laughing. What we have now is a whole new set up of comedy shows where conversations are channelised into humour!

Liberalisation era’s green shoots have evolved into what is arguably the biggest TV revolution of all – News TV. The World This Week (DD National) and The News Tonight (DD2) and many other reputed channels brushed aside the government press release style and gave us the news instead. The south too witnessed the likes of famous journalists, who swapped print for the picture tube.

With all the evolution and progress, the one nation theory of the ‘80s is a million mutinies now. Its only when India plays cricket, we are united before the TV screen as we were in the Mahabharata days. The most significant unifier is perhaps sports on TV. The television shocked and awed us when it started its journey out, but now it’s just another electronic toy.