The 1980s were different. Very different. It was the time of skin-tight pants, bangs, mixed tapes, Michael Jackson. Then came Ramanand Sagar’s Ramayan, which changed India. But this is 2020, and we have learnt our Hindu mythologies from My Friend Ganesha, Devdutt Pattanaik, Amish Tripathi and newer TV serials like Devon ke Dev – Mahadev and Mahabali Hanuman. In the post-Matrix world, it will be difficult to go back to the slow-moving arrows of old Ramayan now. It has its quaintness value, but it will be difficult to get addicted to it now.
Many of us scoff at badly produced and poorly scripted shows like Sasural Simar Ka and Nagin—mostly watched by the elders our families. While we secretly laugh at the memes lampooning their scripts and characters, here’s our chance to sit back and witness first-hand, a show whose impact on Indian culture, imagination and politics can’t be weighed in numbers or described in words.
The arrows will take a little too long to reach the targets; the VFX might make us cry; and yes, Ram will take five days to meet Sita for her swayamwar. Every now and then, it will break into elaborate songs that never end. But sit back and enjoy, see the excitement in your parents’ eyes as they look for their childhood memories attached with the show, and the inexplicable joy the image of Ram on TV brings to your grandma’s face.
The epic show
Television shows, many can argue, ironically saw revolutionary change in their production and reach, after online streaming platforms gave us the power to watch TV and movies at our own will. And we stopped watching ‘TV shows’ on ‘TV channels’ all together.
Inarguably, shows like Game Of Thrones (GoT) have had a huge impact on the people’s collective imagination whose catchphrases and dialogues have become a part of our vocabulary. You can’t argue with the show’s popularity and influence, whose finale was watched by some 19.3 million people.
Despite its global success, GoT doesn’t even come close to the kind of frenzy and influence Ramanand Sagar’s Ramayan had on India. GoT’s ‘record-breaking’ finale viewership cowers before the massive 80-100 million viewership Ramayan garnered when Indians huddled around their TV sets every Sunday to get a darshan (view) of their gods.
God’s on TV
In a 1988 article, ThePrint’s Media Editor, Shailaja Bajpai, a journalist with The Indian Express back then wrote, “Never before, and maybe never again, will there be another quite like it. From Kanyakumari to Kashmir, from Gujarat to Gorakhpur, millions have stood, sat and kneeled to watch it. Millions more have fought, shoved and keeled over, watching it.”
Imagine the kind of power the show wielded on Indians: the country would come to a standstill for an hour every Sunday when it was aired. People would leave their footwear outside of their living rooms to watch the telecast, as if they were entering a temple. Many would put garland and a tika on the television set, and sit on the floor with their heads covered and hands folded in prayer to see the epic unfold.
The show would virtually bring the country to a standstill for that one hour, with people scrambling to get near the TV sets, wherever they may be—in their living rooms or of their neighbour’s. Even the government had to re-schedule urgent meetings when Ramayan was on air.
I have heard stories about people’s euphoria when it came to watching the mythological TV series. My grandfather, an IPS officer, who was posted in an interior part of Rajasthan and had a TV, would tell me how people used to knock at his door every Sunday morning to watch the show.
Arun Govil as lord Ram
As lord Ram, the show turned out to be a magnum opus for Arun Govil. Such was the character’s impact that the actor couldn’t really bag any big roles after the show ended. His image as India’s ‘maryada pushottam’ was so deeply ingrained that he would prove unconvincing in any other role.
Famously, when Govil visited a Varanasi Ghat in his Ram costume, over one million people came to greet him. Some, with teary eyes. On many instances people would approach him, asking him if they could touch his feet, their eyes sparkling with admiration. This kind of celebration of celebrities is exclusive to India.
We may not have that level of fan following for the TV stars these days, like we had for the original Ram, but his return is definitely an opportunity for many of us to witness and observe what exactly made him a cult.
Views are personal.