Most Indian homes today have sleek television sets that are produced by Korean, Japanese and Chinese companies. While homegrown television brands struggle to survive against the big multinationals, it is hard to imagine a time when only Indian TVs dominated the market, that too manufactured by government-run companies.
Konark Television Ltd., created in 1973 by the government of Odisha (then Orissa), was one such company that garnered success not just in its home state but across the country. It was named after Konark, the coastal town situated in the Puri district in Odisha, also famous for its 13th century Konark ‘Sun’ Temple.
A good, affordable TV
An affordable and good quality television that was widely bought, Konark Television was a unique brand in a sea of other government-run companies like Uptron and ECTV, and private companies like Nelco, Weston and Dyanora.
“Konark had quite a reputation. I remember very clearly when we bought our first Konark TV,” says Bhubaneswar-based school principal Rinku Sarangi. “It was 1983, and I was 18 years old. It was a colour TV and had no remote, only wooden knobs that had to be turned like an equaliser.”
Sarangi remembers how her whole family would huddle together to watch various classic Doordarshan programmes on their Konark TV – Chitrahar and Mahabharata on Sundays, NDTV’s The World This Week on Fridays, and occasionally the Mexico-soap inspired family drama Hum Log. “Konark was a big part of my teenage years. It almost became like my companion,” explains Sarangi.
In pre-social media days, the television (and before that, the radio) played a central role in Indian homes.
In a blog post, professor Susant Kumar Purohit from Sambalpur remembered his old Konark TV – a classic Rohini Deluxe model. “Built with a beautiful shuttered cabinet, it had four well-crafted wooden legs, so that it did not need a separate stand or table,” he writes. He also remembers watching many memorable programmes on this TV including the live telecast of the famous 1983 World Cup cricket tournament that India won.
It’s not just special memories attached to Konark’s TVs that make it culturally relevant, it is also its contribution to Odisha’s history.
In an article on Broken Scooter, a website dedicated to news about Odisha, Sourav Panda describes Konark as a household name that at one point earned the reputation of being the number one TV brand in India.
“From a meagre 19 employees and a (production) capacity of 75 television sets per year to a mammoth employee base and more than a lakh sets per year, Konark Television was the star among other companies. It brought itself and Odisha in the national focus… Bhubaneswar was identified as the land of Konark Television and Odias as the mothers and fathers of this revolution,” writes Panda.
Konark TV as a brand now enjoys a cult status in Odisha. But there are barely any material traces of it left – save a few TV sets floating around on sites like Olx for as little as Rs 4,000.
It was Hyderabad-based Graphic designer Lalit Mohan Sahoo who took it upon himself to create a written history of Konark TVs and its ads – something that will last. Having grown up in Rourkela, Odisha, Sahoo fondly remembers his family’s 21-inch Rohini Deluxe black-and-white TV, but not as much as the old Konark ads.
“From childhood, I have been interested in advertising, whether it was television or print ads. I had been looking for these classic ‘With Best Compliments from’ Konark TV ads for years,” Lalit told ThePrint. Earlier this year in February, Sahoo finally struck gold when he came across an online archive of Sucharita, an old Odiya magazine. After managing to dig out dozens of the old ads, which appeared between 1979 and 1990, he published an article in order to make them accessible to others.
These earliest ‘With Best Compliments from…’ ads were essentially simple listicles for all the models that Konark offered. “From the design perspective, those ads were pretty bland in the beginning, as though made by DTP operators. Later, the design improved with more information about the product and comparison with Odisha’s rich heritage & craftsmanship”, explains Sahoo.
Once Konark established itself as an Odisha favourite, there was a perceivable shift in its ads that increasingly started to adopt a more pan-Indian identity, by using motifs and images that appealed to people across the country.
Some of these newer ads are incidentally Sahoo’s personal favourites. This includes an ad for Konark Senator, which features Deepika Chitkalia, the actress who gained national fame for playing Sita in DD’s Ramayana TV serial, and an ad for Konark Galaxy 7, which featured a luxury car in an “unconventional layout” – an appeal to higher-income groups to see Konark as a lifestyle choice.
But it still remained an Odisha favourite, even when its popularity started to wane when new technology started flooding the market.
The Konark Temple, which featured in so many of these ads, was incidentally destroyed by invaders in 1568, with only small portions of it surviving.
Ironically, Konark TV too faced death at the hands of foreign companies who invaded the domestic market post-liberalisation, causing the company to flounder under debt and mismanagement. It finally shut shop in the late 1990s.
Today, the television as an artefact continues to evolve with our computers increasingly functioning as our TV screens and our TVs trying to catch up to be as “smart” as computers. But for many, the memory of what Konark TV signified survives regardless, ringing true with one of its ads – “Konark, a living legend in name and perfection”.