Friday, August 26, 2016
The Doordarshan Divas
Avijit Ghosh meets the first faces of TV - before the era of breaking news.
At a time when viewers couldn't switch channels because there was only one, when the infuriating Rookawat ke liye khed hai was the most common one-liner on the small screen and when streets were deserted on Sunday because everybody was watching the evening movie, they read out news on Doordarshan. They were not the attitude girls or the know-it-all boys who shove news down our throats these days. They were an older, less aggressive breed; much like family friends who dropped by for a fireside chat every night. When they read out news, it was like they were shaking hands with you. Tejeshwar Singh, Salma Sultan, Neethi Ravindran, JB Raman, Shammi Narang, Manjari Joshi, Rini Khanna, Komal GB Singh, Usha Albuquerque, Ramu Damodaran, Sunit Tandon, Gitanjali Aiyar, Minu - who will read the news in English and Hindi tonight? The question often popped up at dinner table conversations. Every newsreader had a distinctive style. You could close your eyes and make out who was reading the news. Some of them seemed to have an endless wardrobe of ethnic saris and earrings. Much like the heroines of the prime-time soaps today, their attire was discussed and imitated by middle-aged women across the country. Salma Sultan's trademark was a rose worn low in her hair. "It wasn't meant to be a style statement. We just did our bit to look good onscreen. But when I appeared a few times without the rose, there was a flood of protest letters. All of them wanted the rose back," she recalls.
Small-town sari sellers would be besieged with befuddling requests: "Woh sari jo Avinash Kaur ne pichhle Somwar ko TV par pehni thi, waisa dikhaiye (The sari that Avinash Kaur wore last Monday on TV. Show us something like that). And in Spoken English classes, students would be instructed to listen, and if possible record on tape, the English news read out by Tejeshwar Singh, Neethi Ravindran and others. "Listen to their diction. Try to speak the same way," teachers said. Students obeyed. The pay packet wasn't much. Salma Sultan, who read news on DD between 1967 and 1997, says she made about Rs 2,000 a month in her early years. But there were pleasures that money couldn't buy. The DD newsreaders were among the most recognisable faces in the country. Ravindran, who read news on DD between 1976 and 2001, recalls how a little village boy by a roadside dhaba in Rajasthan identified her and shouted, "News, news". Sunit Tandon, who describes himself as the "last of the dinosaurs" because he read out news as recently as May 2007, remembers the occasion when an Indian restaurant owner in Paris forced him inside and insisted he eat something. There was plenty of fan mail and phone calls too. A harassed husband once pleaded with Sultan not to turn up in a new sari every day. "My wife makes similar demands that I cannot meet," he wrote. Shammi Narang recalls how an aging retired government employee wrote asking for help to get his pension. "Perhaps we were perceived as powerful people who could get things done," he says. Not everything was rosy though. Back in the Seventies and Eighties, both DD and AIR were commonly perceived as the mouthpiece of the government. Visuals often meant watching the Union I&B minister cut a ribbon or lay a foundation stone. Events such as the 1984 anti-Sikh riots were sanitised. "I was often asked at parties or weddings, do you read out lies. I always told them, no, we just hide the truth," says Narang, who owns an audio recording studio.
Tandon, who works now with Loksabha TV, points out that it helped that DD had no competition and that they had a captive audience. Most of the news was read out rather than illustrated through visuals. "Which meant you got to see more of the presenter," says Ravindran, who does a lot of compering now. Narang feels lucky to have been one of the "right persons at the right time". In the early Nineties, with the onset of satellite television, Doordarshan lost its exclusivity. With competition, it was time to evolve. By the late Nineties, the newsreaders were required to upgrade themselves as news anchors. Their new job profile required them to be on the ball with national and international politics. "Not everybody was able to adapt," says Tandon. Consequently, some fell through the cracks. Others had by then developed new pursuits. Do they miss the good old days? Narang offers an honest answer. "No, I relish those days. I would have been a misfit in the modern set-up," he says. It's been years since most of them last read out the news though some such as Ravindran, Tandon, Narang and others do voice-overs and compere shows. Yet they have not been forgotten. At a recent function in Chhattisgarh, Narang was surprised to find the governor mention his name in the speech. "Actress Preity Zinta was there too. But the fact that he chose to mention me and spoke positively about our Doordarshan days made me feel good," he says. The old newscasters are almost like an informal select club. Sometimes they still get together on occasions such as a wedding. In the photograph they are smiling at Gitanjali Aiyar's daughter's wedding. "Those gatherings are great fun," says Tandon. Last month it was different though. They met at Tejeshwar Singh's funeral. That was a piece of news nobody would have liked to read out.
Source and Credit :- http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/sunday-times/The-Doordarshan-Divas/articleshow/2677780.cms