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TV Comes to India: Primal Screen

TV Comes to India: Primal Screen

Remember when the small screen measured a standard 21 inches and was not something that fit in the palm of your hand? If you’re going ‘whaaaat?’ you probably won’t be able to answer the following question, but keep reading anyway.

Here goes: which is the longest-running show on Indian television?

Hint: it was definitely not a soap or even a mythological serial. It’s a show about crops, seeds and agricultural practices.

Answer: Launched on Republic Day in 1967, the show is Krishi Darshan. And guess what? It’s still running – 16,000-odd episodes and counting.

Krishi Darshan

Krishi Darshan has survived all the lows and highs in the journey of television in India. Here’s a recap of the big moments in a medium that mirrored, and facilitated, our progress as a nation, and that helped us bond as a people.

TV Comes To India: A little over two decades after the first TV stations were set up in the US and England, television was introduced in India on 15th September 1959. Thanks to a low-cost transmitter that broadcast across a limited, 40-km radius around Delhi, the first TV viewing experience in India was a community event. People gathered around a television set in 21 tele-clubs set up around the capital. The TV sets had been bought from the US with a grant from UNESCO.

India’s first television programmes were not edge-of the-seat dramas. Far from it. They were themed on social education, community health, the rights and duties of citizens, and traffic and road sense. Soon, educational programmes for school children and farmers were introduced. At this point, Doordarshan was a part of All India Radio.

Pratima Puri | Indian Television Archives

First V News Bulletin: By 1965, twice-a-week programming turned into a daily, hour-long service, with the first-ever news bulletin going on air. It was a five-minute slot and Pratima Puri was India’s first television newsreader.

First TV Show: India’s first television show, Krishi Darshan, launched on Republic Day in 1967. It was – and still is – a programme for farmers.

More Cities Get Coverage: After Delhi, the next city to be covered by television was Mumbai, in 1972. Within the next three years, the service was extended to five more cities. This means, as recently as 1975, only seven Indian cities had a television service and Doordarshan was still the sole television broadcaster.

DD Becomes Independent: Doordarshan became an independent entity with its separation from All India Radio in 1976. It was now officially India’s national broadcaster.

DD’s Golden Age: The 1980s was a boom time for TV in India. Colour television was introduced and the first colour programme was a live telecast of the Independence Day parade on 15th August 1982. Next, the Asian Games, which were hosted in Delhi that same year, were beamed into our living rooms, in vivid colour. It fuelled the demand for imported colour TV sets, which were a great boon as this was also the era of soaps and serials.

India’s first TV serial, Hum Log, was launched in 1984, followed by other iconic serials like Buniyaad (1986-87) and mythological dramas like Ramayana (1987-88) and Mahabharata (1988-89). Other unforgettable serials that captured the nation’s imagination were Waghley Ki Duniya, Yeh Jo Hain Zindagi, Nukkad and Rajni.

During prime time, every evening, Indian families would gather around the small screen as the nation came together to laugh, cry and hope as they identified with the struggles, failures, triumphs and aspirations of their favourite characters on the small screen.

Satellite TV: The 1990s was the era of satellite and cable television, which revolutionised home entertainment. And it came to our homes in dramatic style when, in 1991, the Gulf War was telecast live, via satellite, by American TV channel CNN.

The P V Narasimha Rao government was ushering in liberalisation and, for the first time, private and foreign broadcasters were allowed to operate in India. Hong Kong-based STAR Television (Satellite Television Asian Region) kicked off this revolution in India in 1992, forever changing home entertainment in the country. Fuelled by satellite technology and cable television in the 1990s, there was an explosion of private news and entertainment networks.

As a result, national broadcaster Doordarshan found itself struggling to compete, not only with much better programming but also with superior technology.

DTH Broadcast: The next step was Direct-To-Home (DTH) services, which were launched in 2003. This technology directly linked broadcasters to individual viewers via a small dish antenna, which directly received satellite programmes. No more middlemen, no more cable TV operators.

The technology also increased the reach of television as viewers were no longer tethered to a physical cable. It also opened up the number of channels that viewers could receive.

Streaming Platforms: Streaming was the next big thing. Powered by the Internet and device-agnostic, streaming platforms have altered how entertainment is ‘consumed’ like nothing else before. Suddenly, ‘home’ entertainment was replaced by ‘entertainment on the go’.

With smartphones becoming the preferred entertainment platform, ‘television’ is not cool any more.

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