Television as a chronicler
Dec 20 2013
Despite its devotion to profits, Indian TV fulfills a social role, albeit unwittingly
It doesn’t matter if people didn’t have the slightest notion of the credentials of the two dramatis personae: one is a long forgotten actor and the other is an obscure singer-model from UK. Modern media has perfected the art of creating news out of the most inconsequential event and as long as the money keeps pouring into the coffers, nobody is complaining, except those unfortunate souls who never got the chance to appear on reality shows but bide their time nevertheless, waiting to claw and leave their mark on prime time.
Whatever one has got to say about the greedy ways of the media, it does allow for refreshing one’s memories when it comes to forgotten stars, even ex-wannabes. Public memory is anyway very short and fickle, and when most shows are targeted at an audience who were either kids or not yet born when globalisation was unleashed on Indian soil to salvage a gasping economy, it is quite natural that Rishi Kapoor would be known as Ranbir Kapoor’s father and not the other way round.
Having had a taste of fame and fortune leaves a permanent longing in one’s system; not everybody is lucky like Amitabh Bachchan who still hogs the limelight and continues to savour the fruits of success. It is very painful to come to terms with audiences’ amnesia and there have been numerous instances, especially from the south, where fading stars have resorted to politics to keep their aura alive. MG Ramachandran, Jayalalitha, NT Rama Rao, and in recent times, Chiranjeevi have successfully made the switch from films to politics.
In comparison, their Mumbai counterparts have been less lucky. Dharmendra, Vinod Khanna, Rajesh Khanna or Hema Malini — even Amitabh — are hardly known for their forays into politics; but it is television, Page 3 and the occasional films that have kept them alive in the minds of the people. When the camera pans across celebrity audiences in any award function and momentarily dwells on a star from a bygone era, it is difficult to ignore the desperate glint in the star’s eyes — trying to hold on to that single moment of fame — before it flits away to focus on a young celebrity who is the latest heartthrob.
Dev Anand, Pran, Yash Chopra, Dara Singh, Shammi Kapoor and Rajesh Khanna have all been lucky to have lived till the time when satellite television had resurrected and sustained interest in old Hindi films and songs through frequent screenings or remembrances of co-actors and contemporary stars. Raj Kapoor, Guru Dutt, Meena Kumari,Nargis or Kishore Kumar still hog the small screen and the minds of its viewers decades after their death. But many others have not been so lucky.
Sitara, the ‘dancing tigress from Nepal’, Paro Devi, a courtesan from Meerut, the radiant Naseem Bano, the gorgeous Kuldip Kaur, the flamboyant Shyam, the leading man who earned ‘thousands of rupees a month and lived in a lovely house in the Bombay suburbs’, Rafiq Ghaznavi the celebrated music composer who was known as the ‘ladies man’, VH Desai who was considered as Indian cinema’s leading comedian, or the dancing star Bhagwandas were all icons who graced Indian screens during the 40s and 50s. Unfortunately, mass media like television was not there to document their fame and life styles. They live amongst the dusty pages of archival documents and research articles of film historians and retro aficionados, unknown not only to the present generation, but also their parents.
In a country that is rich in past but poor in history, perhaps that is their fate.