Envision Ramanand Sagar's opus Ramayan and the first thing that pops up in the collective consciousness of the masses who viewed the television series when it aired on Doordarshan in the late 1980s is the colourful arrows laboriously traversing the screen. Or, the calm face of Lord Ram played by, up until then the relatively little-known, Arun Govil, whose biggest challenge was to “emote without being too expressive”, or screen legend late Dara Singh as numan.Among the things that do not come to mind when one thinks of Ramayan is the fact that it was perhaps the most influential television series ever in the world. Today, when one believes that a global viewership of eight to 10 million, which shows such as The Game of Thrones or the season finale of Breaking Bad garner, is big, it would be startling to consider that Ramayan enjoyed an average weekly viewership of over 100 million. When the show ended its initial run, it went beyond being a successful television series, and its leads, Arun Govil and Deepika Chikhalia, who portrayed Sita, were literally revered as the very incarnation of the divinity they enacted. With the sole exception of B R Chopra's Mahabharat that followed a few years later, Ramayan would undoubtedly qualify as perhaps the world's biggest mythological show.
At the time Ramayan debuted on 25 January 1987 on Doordarshan, India's government-owned television network, the mythological genre that had been kind of evergreen in the early days of Indian cinema had nearly been done away with. The first full-length film to be made in India, Dadasaheb Phalke's Raja Harishchandra (1913), was crafted with elements brought together from Sanskrit epics and it would not be incorrect to say that Phalke’s film invented the mythological genre in the Indian context. In her book Filming the Gods: Religion and Indian Cinema, Rachel Dwyer points out that the mythological is unique to Indian cinema and was established in the initial days of silent cinema. This was also the time when “filmic ways of viewing religious symbols and practices became part of the visual culture of Indian cinema and indeed of Indian culture.” In many ways, the mythological also follows what is termed 'classical narration', where a film focuses mainly on the cognitive perceptions of the spectators and also tries to appeal to the viewers' emotions.
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