* Katha Sagar
* Reliance Home Video
* 8 DVDs- Rs 2499
In the late Eighties,when there was still only Doordarshan,a generation of Indians discovered literature from the world over in the form of TV entertainment. BPL colour televisions had come into the market during the Asian Games in 1982 and the charm of watching favourite shows on colour was tinged with romance. On Sunday evenings,we would press the tiny silver button to be greeted by the slow mournful signature DD tune. It was time for Katha Sagar a tele-series adapted from the short stories of legends like Leo Tolstoy,Anton Chekhov,Katherine Mansfield,HH Munro and O Henry. Compassionate,intimate and witty,the stories came with morals,translated on screen by some very talented Indian directors like Shyam Benegal,Kundan Shah,Anil Ganguly,Ved Rahi and Satyen Bose. Reliance Home Videos has now brought out all the 37 episodes as a set of eight dvds.
Even after years,it is gut-wrenching to watch an impoverished old Kashmiri clerk (played by Om Puri) cry in anguish when his new sherwani gets stolen in Nayi Sherwani. His old threadbare coat had been ridiculed by acquaintances,and it had taken him months of saving to afford the new one. Adapted from Gogols short story The Overcoat,the story gives us a larger issue to think about of the value of money and thrift to each individual. The sweet yet heartbreaking tale of Nandu in Nandu Ki Chitthi adapted from Chekhov’s Vanaka,highlights the plight of an orphan kid mistreated by his uncle’s family. Then there is the famous Ward No.6,adapted from Chekhovs story by the same name. Its a deeply philosophical tale about a doctor,who after befriending a lunatic in the mental asylum identifies with the patients thoughts on life and death and is later perceived as a lunatic himself. A young Irrfan Khan (in the doctors role) gives a sterling performance as a 45-year-old at 20.
It is always pleasurable to rewind and revisit stories that have been popular in collective memory. When age-old stories satisfy the metaphors of modern times,and are governed largely by simplicity and universality,bringing them back is a wonderful idea.The narrative is simple and the stories have an inbuilt rhythm. Apart from being the handiwork of some of Indias most talented directors,they also feature the countrys finest theatre actors like Supriya Pathak,Pallavi Joshi,Rohini Hattangady and AK Hangal. Even Bollywood stars such as Sharmila Tagore,Shammi Kapoor and Waheeda Rehman have essayed interesting roles in the series.
Some adaptations like Maria (based on The Fury by Pual Heyse) and Ek Bhool (adapted from Arnold Benetts The Lions Share) do seem lost by limited approach to the subject,while some are counter-intuitive,but one thread that runs common in all the 37 episodes of the DVD set is the simplicity with which these tales have been told. It allows you to ignore setpieces like a common background score and the grainy picture quality despite its conversion to the digital format. The latter is a bit of a letdown that could,perhaps,have been avoided. But,its still a must-watch for those who missed it and for those,who like lingering over times past.