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Journalist, Author, Columnist. My Twitter handle: @seemagoswami

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Deja vu

If such American series as Dallas can be revived successfully, why can’t Hum Log and Buniyaad?

Growing up in a pre-satellite television era, my TV viewing was perforce restricted to the stuff that the handful of Indian channels deigned to show. Thus it was that all the excitement about Dallas and ‘Who shot J.R. Ewing?’ completely passed me by. I was much too enthralled by the catfights between Blake Carrington’s former and current wives, Alexis and Krystle (Joan Collins and Linda Evans), as they went at each other with their grotesquely-padded shoulders and seriously-big hair in Dynasty, to care very much about the adventures of another oil tycoon named Ewing.

Now that Dallas has been revived (though sadly, Larry Hagman, who played the legendary JR died after the first season of the sequel), I am trying to shore up my knowledge about the show that had the entire world enthralled during the late 70s, through the 80s, and the early 90s, just so that I can have all the characters straight in my head. But such are the twists and turns of the plots – the entire 9th season was just a dream of one of the characters? Are you kidding me? – that I have given up in despair.

The entire exercise did get me thinking, though. Given how many of the old British and American series have been revived of late – Upstairs Downstairs, Charlie’s Angels, (Beverly Hills) 90210, Hawaii Five-O – there is clearly a market for nostalgia in the world of television serials. So why is it that nobody in India has gotten around to making sequels of all those serials that we grew up on?

I know that there are some that I would love to see updated for the 21st century. First among them is, of course, the programme that set the ball rolling, as it were: Hum Log. When it started in 1984, the high spot of the TV-viewing week used to be the film song programme Chitrahaar. But from the first episode on, Hum Log became required viewing in almost every household in the country. We would watch enthralled as a middle-class family (where the daughters were endearingly referred to as ‘Badki’ ‘Majhli’ and ‘Chutki’) went about its everyday life, with all the highs and lows this entailed. And we stayed tuned in as Ashok Kumar, the grandfather of the nation, materialised on the screen to give us a little homily on family values. (If any intrepid soul does revive the show now, Anupam Kher would be a shoo-in for the Ashok Kumar slot.)

Running a close second is that old favourite, Buniyaad, which told the story of a Punjabi family torn apart by Partition. Lajjoji and Masterji became iconic figures in their time while the young and radiant Kiran Joneja, playing Veeravali, won the hearts of the nation (and that of her director and future husband, Ramesh Sippy). Given how TV-friendly he is, maybe Karan Johar can take over the task of recasting Buniyaad, tracing the trajectories of the characters as they make their way in a newly-resurgent India. Or even take it forward two generations and set it in the new millennium, with Veeranwali playing the grand old matriarch to the descendants of her illegitimate son.

And then, there was Rajani, the crusading housewife played with a certain insouciant charm by the late Priya Tendulkar, who took on the system in her own brisk, no-nonsense way in every episode, and triumphed over it, striking a blow for Everywoman and Everyman. I can’t help but think that this era, in which the phrase ‘aam aadmi’ is on everyone’s lips – not to mention political agenda – is just right for a revival of the Rajani spirit. And wouldn’t it be a coup if some production company could tempt Smriti Irani back on the small screen to play the role that Priya Tendulkar made famous?

I am not so sure about how I would recast Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi though. Shafi Inamdar and Swaroop Sampat were so perfect as Ranjit and Renu Verma – he, the long-suffering, put-upon husband and she, the harried, slightly ditzy housewife – that it is hard to see who could match up to them. And maybe the simple, almost childish fun that the serial encapsulated is not in tune with our more-cynical times. But it would be nice to see it revived, if only to recapture the spirit of a more innocent age.

The other serial I have happy memories of is Karamchand, the detective drama which immortalised the lines: ‘Sir, you are a genius’ – ‘Shut up Kitty’. But while Sony Television did try to revive it, with Pankaj Kapoor reprising his role as Karamchand while Sushmita Mukherjee was replaced by Sucheta Khanna as Kitty, this version did not evoke quite the same magic. So, it’s not as if Indian television does not do re-makes of sequels of old shows. Sab TV, in fact, commissioned an Indian version of the American sitcom, I Dream of Jeannie, titled (rather risibly) as Jeannie Aur Juju (don’t ask!). But this version didn’t have anything like the resonance of the original.

But I refuse to be disheartened by these failures. After all, if Bollywood can do re-makes of such mega-hits as Don and Agneepath and have them raking it in at the box-office, surely television can reprise its iconic series successfully too? And until it does, I for one, will live in hope of seeing a remade-for-our-times version of Hum Log or Buniyaad.

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