The Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting seems to have discovered something known to social media users for a while now. Nostalgia sells. Buzzfeed and its many imitators have made a tidy sum with lists of memes about “10 things only ‘90s kids will get”, and Throwback Thursday keeps returning to Instagram like a bad rash, week upon week. Now, India’s middle and upper classes have all the time in the world. And the government has decided to service this captive audience by airing on Doordarshan, “by popular demand”, according to Union Minister of Information and Broadcasting Prakash Javadekar, Ramanand Sagar’s Ramayan. Also on offer in the menu of state-sponsored memories are Mahabharat, Shaktimaan, Circus, Chanakya, Byomkesh Bakshi and Upanishad Ganga.
Many of the shows that are being re-telecast are classics. In the 1980s and 1990s, some of the best film-makers, writers and technicians had turned to television and DD gave them space and freedom to make relevant, relatable programmes. But the moment it began to face competition after the airwaves were liberalised, it could not match up in terms of viewership. Unlike in England, or even the US, where the BBC and NPR still provide quality programming that more market-driven studios will not, DD became the state’s broadcaster, instead of a public good. That all it has to offer in 2020 is a highlight reel of its past glory is hardly something to celebrate.
The government must know that every show being re-telecast is available online. Or, perhaps, the point is not nostalgia, but to actually go back. During pre-liberalisation scarcity, neighbourhoods would gather around a single TV-set to watch the only entertainment available — DD. Appointment viewing, though, has given way to binge-watching — armed with a smartphone, people have gotten used to a bounty of content. As another crisis looms, and state capacity is put to the test, the Ramayan, Mahabharat and Upanishad Ganga may be just the coping mechanism Indians need, as they wait for Shaktimaan to deliver.
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