That ’80s Show

Doordarshan’s early venture into high-culture entertainment is a glimpse into the world of pre-liberalisation middle class

01 August 2012
Parikshit Sahni in ‘Zameen’.
Parikshit Sahni in ‘Zameen’.

IF YOU WATCHED TELEVISION IN INDIA in the mid-1980s, you might remember seeing a half-hour episode of a Hindi series in which an impressionable young man is spooked out of his wits by a delightfully wicked Pallavi Joshi in twin plaits and spectacles. Or one with Saeed Jaffrey as a cheery dhaba owner betrayed by his fetching young wife? Waheeda Rehman as a Goan landlady acquiring a taste for feni in her old age? A thoughtless Benjamin Gilani loving and leaving an achingly young Supriya Pathak?

If any of these rings a bell, you’ve probably watched some part of Katha Sagar, a hugely popular series that aired on Doordarshan in 1986. The TV series was released in February as a DVD box set by Reliance Home Video and Cinevistaas Ltd (the original producers, then called Cinevista Communications). To watch Katha Sagar today is to get a glimpse into another country, a pre-liberalisation India whose urban middle class was a very different creature from the one it is today. These eight DVDs are part of a potential archive, not just of Doordarshan’s early adventures in programming, but of an entire era.

Established in 1982 by Prem Kishen, son of Hindi film actors Prem Nath and Bina Rai and himself an ex-actor, Cinevista spent three years producing corporate and advertising films. In 1985, when Doordarshan invited private producers to submit tenders for serials, Prem Kishen was one of the first seven to apply. His proposal, to adapt 21 internationally renowned short stories as 28 half-hour television episodes (eventually expanded to 37 stories over 44 episodes), would become Katha Sagar.

Trisha Gupta  is a writer and critic based in Delhi. Her published work can be read on her blog, Chhotahazri, at

Keywords: India entertainment liberalisation Doordarshan 1980s