ByÂ Tarun Surya:
Think Indian television channels and the first few names to come to mind would be Star Plus, Star One, Zee TV, Sony etc. But what people don’t realise is that all these channels only came to India after the Liberalisation policy of 1991. Even fewer people realise that till that point, the monopoly of viewership was held by only one channel: Doordarshan. For 32 years, right from the introduction of television in India in 1959 to the Liberalisation era, Doordarshan ruled the roost as India’s only means of news, entertainment, knowledge and sports.
From its humble beginnings, restricted to first Delhi and later to metropolitan cities, Doordarshan grew with respect to its viewership base to encompass the entire country. Its availability on both the radio as well as the television enabled it to reach out to all strata of society, be it the urban city dwellers or the rural farmers. Being government controlled did restrict its functioning somewhat but that was never seen as a hindrance. As the government began to open up, Indira Gandhi’s approval to broadcast the Asiad on television gave Doordarshan exactly the boost it needed to expand its viewership. The advent of colour television once again brought a new dimension to the programming. This allowed the variety of documentaries on the many tourist spots of India and other such places to reveal their exact beauty with the miracle of colour.
Till then, Doordarshan enjoyed the peak of its popularity but it could not last. The Emergency signalled the demise of Doordarshan as Indira Gandhi began using it as a propaganda tool to maintain her hold on the government and make sure the party was not cast in the wrong light by the Opposition. This fact began embittering the people against the channel and by the end of this period; Doordarshan’s popularity began falling. With the arrival of private channels, a death blow was struck to the channel as these new channels had something Doordarshan never did: adaptability. As the generations changed, mind-sets changed too. From being the only means of information as well as entertainment for people, Doordarshan became a channel where “women played obsolete instruments and dull men read news for insomniacs and retards”, to quote Chetan Bhagat.
What could have elicited such a fall, you may ask? Well, the answer would be: exactly what has happened to every other governmental institution. Lack of infrastructure, severe dwindling interest and, of course, how could any such institution not have a humungous dollop of corruption? The government’s policy on adaptability is almost as flexible as a Gujarati rotla, so it is impossible to blame anybody except them for the fall of the channel. In today’s perspective, it is absolutely impossible to fathom how such an incompetent, lack-lustre and downright boring channel was able to sustain itself for over three decades! Truly, boredom can force people to endure any amount of torture. To today’s generation, Doordarshan as a channel is meant only for parades and other such soporific activities. In the end, all that can be said is that the government will have to look “door” to have any “darshan” of its future existence.