Doordarshan, India’s pioneer in the TV spectrum, has turned 60. In most of the world’s nations, this is a popular retirement age. It is generally agreed that workers attaining this milestone should clean out their drawers, accept a watch at a small farewell ceremony, gracefully get out of the way and recede into the sunset of redundancy. The parallel with Indian television is striking. Doordarshan began regular transmission in 1965 as a news service and in the Seventies, it was the most powerful propaganda channel of the government. But no contemporary government could possibly need such a service any more, now that private enterprise has rendered it redundant.
Today, the majority would balk at the idea of starting or ending the day with Pratima Puri or Salma Sultan calmly enumerating the signal deeds of the government of the day. A horde of private channels offer the very same thing, presented with the energy of slam poetry and the unabashedly staged quality of WWF wrestling. The national channels represent only the tip of the iceberg. State capitals also have their own government mouthpieces, exuberantly hammerlocking the opposition parties every day. There are so many eager to inform this nation, permanently afflicted by attention deficit disorder, which perpetually wants to know.
But let us not imagine that Doordarshan is completely redundant. Like Indian Airlines was tasked to service unremunerative routes, Doordarshan brings us glad tidings from the world of kho-kho, and news from farm and field that private channels would sniff at. Besides, Doordarshan’s history was made memorable by hugely successful serials in multiple genres, like Buniyaad, Tamas and Karamchand. As the news of the day aspires to the condition of fiction, perhaps the national broadcaster can take pole position again, with productions that lay no claim to the truth, but exuberantly depict hyperreality.