Ramanand Sagar’s Ramayan, which was a rage in the late 1980s, has made a comeback at a time when the 21-day lockdown has forced people indoors. Union minister Prakash Javadekar Saturday shared a photo of him watching the show, but was quick to take it down after being criticised for government’s handling of the lockdown.
ThePrint asks: Ramayan on DD: Best way to keep India’s elderly indoors or show the young TV beyond Netflix?
Youngsters might watch Ramayana out of curiosity but won’t abandon their favourite shows
Editor (media) & editorial skill development, ThePrint
Ramayan is not going to keep anybody at home, young or old, there’s a coronavirus lockdown for that.
It is, however, a reminder that there used to be television beyond streaming channels, before DTH and cable TV; that there was a world where millions of people sat together and miles apart to watch the same TV show at the same time, week in, week out.
For those old enough now to have watched the original telecast in 1987-88, it is pure nostalgia, a chance to revisit an old familiar friend and remember what it meant to have a TV box set with just one TV channel.
It speaks of a simpler time, a time when the telecast of the mythological did not signify either the rise of Hindutva politics or a blow to secularism.
Back then, it was a plain and simple, rough and ready dramatisation of a much-loved epic, as much about human values as the supernatural antics of Hanuman or Ravana.
Today’s youth will not abandon any of their favourite shows for Ramanand Sagar’s series; if they watch it at all – does anyone watch DD now – it will be out of curiosity, to see what their grandparents or parents loved so much.
Perhaps they will marvel or laugh at its crude special effects, its poor production values, its slow pace and then return to the thrills of their latest computer game.
Now if only they would watch it…
Ramayan’s comeback gives me an opportunity to relive my childhood days
Chief sub editor, ThePrint Hindi
With Ramayan’s re-telecast I have the chance to relive my childhood. The smell of incense sticks and the chants of aarti used to fill the entire locality at nine in the morning when Ramayan was on air.
With Ramayan’s telecast, words like ‘matashri’ and ‘pitashri’ re-entered our lexicon. This was a period of change when the ‘idiot box’ was considered to be a tool of ‘social change’ and not an Idiot. It was Ramayan which reminded us of our Indianness, and our great national and cultural heritage.
Youngsters of the Netflix era, who have heard stories of serials like Ramayan and Mahabharat in their homes, are also excited. They will probably sit with their parents to watch the show. But poor visual effects may act as turn offs for the present generation. In an era when we have access to on-the-go entertainment on our phones, they might find it difficult to reimagine a time when Ramayan on TV was a huge deal.
For my mother, ‘Ramayan’ was not just about gods, it was about bringing families living under one roof together
Senior copy editor, ThePrint
When Doordarshan announced a rerun of Ramayan, arguably to keep people indoors during the coronavirus lockdown, my first thought was to call my mother and give her the news first-hand. But I forgot.
On Saturday, she called to tell me, “they have started Ramayan again”. Someone loath to modern TV shows — “they are only good for breaking families apart, create mistrust” — her excitement over a programme on TV made even the atheist in me mutter, “thank god for this”. But Ramayan isn’t just a good, heart-warming show for her. As I learnt over that call, its initial telecast was possibly the only event that she now remembers as one that brought the three families living under one roof together. “Every Sunday, for an hour or so, we felt like one.”
Even though religious beliefs and a chance to see ‘gods’ in motion was somewhere at the core, there was something else about Ramayan that made it so endearing to them. As my mother said, Mahabharat, another Ramanand Sagar production, was watched but “never liked”. I remember because as children, we were often not allowed to see it.
So will she watch all the episodes of Ramayan again? “I don’t know. Maybe in bits. It makes me cry.”
To think that youngsters will watch TV, and that too Ramayan, is pretty naive
One of the greatest selling points of Netflix is the variety of content it provides. One could keep cracking jokes about how we spend more time choosing films rather than watching them, but it really is the best thing about the streaming platform. This kind of variety comes fairly handy because our generation gets bored way too easily. To think that youngsters will stick to one TV show, that too the Ramayan while being quarantined is pretty naive.
Another joy of watching a Netflix series is to deconstruct it with your friends later on. Conversations around the storyline, production quality, character development, acting, camera work etc. are rather fulfilling.
However, a Hindu epic like Ramayan which is deeply rooted in our understanding of the Hindu culture, naturally comes with a lot of baggage, especially if you’re watching it with your elders. It can’t merely be viewed as entertainment, it is treated as a reality of the beginning of our existence. While watching it, one must take the story as it is being offered to you. Forget deconstructing, merely questioning the intent behind a particular event in the epic can lead to a huge fighting, which I want to avoid at all costs, especially when I’m quarantined.
Ramayan’s return a chance for the young to relive the entertainment era of their parents, grandparents
I grew up listening to the stories of how the world used to come to a halt on Sundays when Ramayan was telecast. Many regional Doordarshan channels later re-telecast both Mahabharat and Ramayan, and that’s when I watched it. We only had Doordarshan in our house. So as a teen who loved watching TV, Ramayan seemed a better choice than watching Krishi Darshan (a famous agricultural awareness programme). But I was disappointed. I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that it was the highest-grossing show of its times and had an audience of 650 million in 55 different countries. It was only a few years later that I understood why it was a sensation.
The graphics were poor, the music loud and dramatic, but our parents and grandparents were still glued to the TV because it was a well-created show. The characters were complexed and layered, and the story line was gripping with enough dramatisation. Also, mythology has always appealed to the Indian audiences. This is the reason why Aamir Khan was reportedly planning to make a 7-part series based on the epic of Mahabharat which has an estimated budget of Rs 1,000 crore.
I see the re-telecast as an opportunity for the youth to relive the entertainment era of their parents and grandparents when the choices were limited. Ramayan has been a family show, so maybe it can serve as another bonding opportunity for the different generations of a family living together, provided the youth have enough patience to cope with the badly VFXed air-wars and some ‘sanskar’ lessons.
By Unnati Sharma, journalist at ThePrint