By Utpal Borpujari
TV serials these days mean never-ending soaps with pious daughters-in-law, evil mothers-in-law, child brides, strict grannies. Various combinations of these and many other such characters seek to keep the viewer glued to channels that themselves are plotting at any given point in time to win the race for TRPs.
But there was a time when TV serials meant quality viewing, memories of which continue to linger in the minds of those who grew up in times when television was coming of age in India. Thanks to the diversification of the DVD/VCD market, quite a few of the classic serials of yore are now available in the market. You can pick up the whole Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi series, that platform for unadulterated fun courtesy Shafi Inamdar, Satish Shah, Rakesh Bedi and Swarup Sampat. Or Amol Palekar’s much-loved growing-up-years serial Kachchi Dhoop, not to talk about the CDs of kitschy Ramayan and Mahabharat during the telecast of which the whole nation would come to a standstill.
Here’s one more quality additon to this growing list of meaningful TV series from yesteryears that have been made available in the form of DVDs and VCDs, and this time it is Guldasta, a collection of visual presentation of some of Munshi Premchand’s classic stories.
The series, released recently by Shemaroo, was originally telecast on Doordarshan in 1996 and comprises ten stories by the master storyteller whose hold on depicting social evils through his stories set in northern Indian heartland is legendary. What makes the stories important is the fact that some of the themes continue to be as relevant today as they were when the stories were written nearly a century ago.
Take for example “Vinod”, the first story in the series, which is set in the background of the menace called ragging. Like in many of Premchand’s stories, here too the characters have a kind of innocence that has gone missing in today’s television protagonists. The story takes one to the life of Chakradhar, a student from a conservative background who is strongly against ragging in college. Four spoilt brats in college want to teach him a lesson and hatch a plan. But just as an innocent Chakradhar is about to be punished, the four accept their misdeed, resulting in compromise and forgiveness. The underlying message is that mischief should not surpass certain boundaries.
“Chamatkar”, on the other hand, focuses on how greed can transform man. It is about how Chandraprakash is given employment by his father’s friend Thakur Sahib but in turn he steals the latter’s jewellery during a wedding, but finally repents after facing a lot of misery as his wife faces strong psychological turmoil. “Lottery” is another story in the series that probes the human mind, with two brothers fighting over what they would do when they would win a Rs ten lakh lottery. But finally, the winner turns out to be no one from their house, locality, state or country, but somebody in Africa.
Another story in the series, “Khudai Foujdar”, depicts how those who had become rich exploiting the poor would one day have to pay for it. A wealthy village trader gets a letter from the thug chief that he has oppressed the poor and accumulated a lot of wealth and they will take away all that he’s got. As the restless trader employs some gunmen to guard his premises, some policemen arrive with a suggestion to deposit all his wealth in the security locker against a receipt. The trader puts all his wealth in a vehicle and heads towards the police station, but on the way the policemen reveal themselves as the “Khudai Foujdar” or God’s Army and say they plunder corrupt and selfish traders to bring back the wealth to the poor. “Ek Aanch Ki Kasar” exposes how politicians do exactly the opposite of what they preach through the story of Lala Yashoda Nandan, a public crusader against dowry, is revealed to be accepting dowry for his son in the sly, while “Boodhi Kaki” is about another continuing social evil which is now rampant in big cities – that of usurping properties of lonely, aged people. The other stories in the series, “Mata Ka Hruday”, “Nairashya”, “Mukti Bhog” and “Stri-Purush” take up other social issues through powerful portrayal of the rural society.
Film director Anurag Kashyap, who released the DVDs on July 31, the 129th birth anniversary of Munshi Premchand, during a theatre festival in Mumbai, highly appreciates the effort. “Premchand’s ‘Mansarovar’ was my introduction to the world of literature and short stories. Releasing the three DVD / three VCD sets is a great effort to reach out to today’s youth, to get them connected to our literature in an entertaining manner. These DVDs would serve as great resource material for schools, colleges, students, writers who teach and study Hindi literature,” he says about the series that was produced and directed by Sunil Batta.
Shemaroo Entertainment’s Hiren Gada takes justified pride in releasing the series. According to him, “Premchand’s stories continue to be part of every Indians academic curriculum. His stories represented the ordinary Indian people as they were. By releasing Premchand’s stories on home video we will not only be reaching out to a lot more audiences, but will also be providing them with quality and enlightened content.”
Shemaroo, he says, plans to bring these episodes back on television by tying up with broadcasters. The company also has plans to promote and make these episodes available on other platforms like the Internet, Broadband, IPTV, Video on Demand and mobile as also the overseas market. Surely, this effort to bring quality visual imagery to modern homes deserves applause. More so, when the news is that veteran director-poet-lyricist Gulzar has just finished shooting a series of Premchand stories for Doordarshan’s Classics slot.