Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The soap epic

Nine a.m. on Sunday morning.

The kids would be bathed and ready, the house would smell of incense, and the family would gather and get ready.

In small villages, the entire family would dress in their Sunday finest, and gather at a few select houses to participate in the most important event of the day.

Sometimes, a priest would be present, and ready, with marigold and camphor.

And at the stroke of nine, a light would flicker, and the screen would come alive with the familiar spinning orb that was the logo of Doordarshan, and the familiar voice would start crooning…

“Sita Raam patita paavan……”.

Grandmothers would gasp with teary eyes, while an “arthi” would be taken around the telly.

And for the next hour, they would all remain mesmerized by masterfully melodramatic myth.

Ramanand Sagar revolutionized Indian television. “Buniyad” and “Hum log” might have been classic soap operas, but it took Sagar to recognize the sure-shot way to TRP super-stardom. It had to be the Ramayan, big, glitzy, and supremely devout.

Slam-bang action would not have worked. The pace had to be slowed down, and select moments repeated and replayed to re-enforce the point. The cast had to look goodier than goody, and Arun Govil would forever be remembered for his celluloid soppiness. Can any of us ever forget that “divine smile”, which would fill the screen (in nauseating close up) for a good 20 minutes out of the 45 of each episode? Dara Singh became Hanuman, in deed and spirit. And Dipika won an election because she was “Sita maa”. For that matter, Arvind Trivedi won an election too, since he was “Ravan”, who, though a brute, did govern Lanka magnificently.

Sagar knew that all good things did come to an end, but the savvy businessman makes it last very, very long. So, the simple task of Hanuman setting fire to Lanka would take an average of six hour-long episodes. Dasharatha’s death, which should only have taken a moment, took all of a month. And the battle scenes were masterpieces of 80’s television special effects. An arrow would leave Ravana’s bow. This arrow would then (in super slow motion) become twenty-five arrows. Ram would look at it and raise his eyebrow (as we would gasp). He would release his counter-arrow which would become twenty-five arrows as well, and defeat Ravana’s arrows. Ram would then take the time to graciously smile at us, while Lakshmana and Hanuman would nod and prostrate appreciatively.

The process would then be repeated with arrows that would breath fire (to be quenched by arrows spitting water), arrows that became tridents (countered by arrows that became maces), and arrows that sparked red (countered by arrows sparking blue). The choices were endless, and would mesmerize us viewers for weeks on end.

Kids would play in the streets with little bows and arrows. Parents would no longer worry that their kids were wasting Sundays, but were now spending quality time with the family learning about their heritage and culture.

“Prasad” from poojas would be distributed as the title song blared again, at the end of the episode.

And you could bet your last paisa that the faithful would gather once again, at the same time next week, demanding more of the same. For seventy-eight whole weeks. And when Ravana was finally killed, cities celebrated. When Sita had to undertake the “Agni pareeksha”, the same cities wept. And in the final episode (actually, it was three episodes), when Hanuman ripped open his chest to reveal Ram (Arun Govil smiling divinely), an entire nation cried enough tears to overcome Bangalore’s water problems.

Ramanand Sagar; RIP.


Anonymous said...

Sunil, what a lovely lovely piece. so evocative of more...innocent? days. have heard so many stories about people dropping everything they were doing or had to do just to sit in front of the idiot box and watch Arun Govil's beatific smile.

Brown Magic said...

ahh yes, the arrows and the counter arrows. that was my favourite part.
That show was such an integral part of the sunday routine. that was a very nice post.

Anonymous said...

I believed in those arrows so much that I disliked war scenes in Mahabharat, where most of the arrows were mere arrows.

Anonymous said...

Kids would play in the streets with little bows and arrows.
I did! The arrows were the kottaakuchi from the broomstick (that my grandmother put together by shaving off the coconut leaves). The bow was a branch from our neem tree.

Ram would look at it ... Ram would then take the time to graciously smile at us, while Lakshmana and Hanuman would nod and prostrate appreciatively.
Well put! As much as I loved it in my childhood, I couldn't stand the reruns later.

Btw, is Preeti Sagar a relation of Ramanand?

Anonymous said...

Not to forget the long "mantra jaaps" before shooting the arrow. All the while knowing that an arrow(and it's 1000 clones) has been shot towards you. Ramanand Sagar's character were real heros. I would have crapped in my pants. Me and my little friends even discussed them and thought they were symbol of something bigger :).

I guess the streching was Ramanand Sagar's way of adding some suspense in the drama. Most of the country already knew the story. How do you make a soap out of such story? Whatever you are expecting to happen today, will happen next week. Just when you think it should happen "Mangal Bhavan Amangar Haari" will sneak upon you ;).

And, and lets not talk about "Krishna".

Ramanand Sagar you will be missed.

gawker said...

hehe great post. Yes, the arrow effects, which is what I most distinctly remember about the serial, were positively 21st century. And they just went on and on and on.

Sunil said...

Charu...yes indeed...beatific smile. BM, Vishnu......our lives aren't the same any more, without those outrageous slings and arrows of fortune.

Srikanth.....we used broomsticks as well. And by Preeti Sagar....do you mean the singer? I haven't the slightest clue if she's related. But Sagar is hardly a rare name.

PK.....yes...let's not even begin talking about Krishna. What a man, this Sagar!

Gawker....on, and on and oooooooooon. Like Duracell.

Minal said...

Sunil: Thanks for this lvoely tribute. Brought back memories. I still recall how the all the roads would be silent. Not a soul to be seen in that Sunday morning slot of 9-10 when the Ramayana and later Mahabharta was on.
Btw the war scenes were my favourite. Always waiting what the next arrow would turn into:-)

I was planning to write one, now I won't. I could never match yours:-)

Sunil said...

yes indeed....empty streets.

Write about it anyway minal....it'll certainly be a different perspective.:-)

Shruthi said...

Lovely post! Every word rings true :)

A kid I know went to a Ram temple and protested that the idol is not of Ram's (he was expecting Arun Govil's face on the idol) :)

Ankit said...

Excellent post and thanks for rekindling the great memories. Although I was only 8/9 when I watched it, Ramayan was a staple on weekend mornings. I found it difficult to get up and get ready for school but never for those 2. I remember waking up earlier than I needed to get my requisite "goti," "gota," and cricket games with my chawl friends in before the show started. Even today, while reading through the post and the comments, I had the background music that used to accompany the arrows, playing in my head.

Sunil, ayushman bhava... for a great post.

Sunil said...

Shruthi......that's hillarious!

Ankit, thanks. Ayushman bhava sounds good......though that was the classic comeback one liner Mukesh Khanna had in Mahabharata :-)

Anonymous said...

Can anyone mail me the title song of ramayan.. my mail id is rohit.bagad at gmail.com