Revolutionizing the ‘Idiot Box’

After eight tiring hours of school, coming back home the first thing we all wanted to do was to hit the power button of the telly and immerse ourselves in a world painted with our favourite cartoons. Make way for Noddy, Oswald, Tom & Jerry were the “survival kit” of a six-year old back then. While exploring a variety of cartoons, we started loving action-adventure-comedies like Pokémon, Kick Buttowski, Kid vs. Kat, Power Rangers and never realized how they became the coping mechanisms for 11-year olds. And finally, when puberty hit us like a train, suddenly animated cartoons weren’t hilarious anymore, except maybe some anime. Watching Friends, How I met your mother, The Big Bang Theory and then bragging about being the coolest kid in your group was fun in its own way. But what really makes this ‘nostalgia joyride’ memorable is the effort which went behind the convincing parents and negotiating with siblings for that solitary moment with the TV.

Remember how the living room used to turn into a war zone when everybody’s favourite shows used to air at the same time? Just like the show timings, siblings used to clash with each other too. Brokering deals like promising to cook Maggi for your sister or studying for two hours straight so that your mom would allow you to watch a 20-minute show was always worth a sacrifice. Hiding the remote to watch your show peacefully, always led to the formation of a search party, who eventually found the well-hidden remote, but not the batteries.  Then again, there were times when the lone wolves used to call it a truce and watch their beloved daily soaps together. Watching television with family during dinner became one bonding time every Indian household cherished. No fights used to take place during these hours.  Everyone at peace; more engrossed in the TV rather than the food or the argument that took place earlier.

Today almost every Indian household is equipped with a slim, high-definition TV-set mounted at the center of the wall in the living room. But have you ever wondered how television became such an integral part of our life? 

In the early 1980s, Doordarshan’s DD National was the only standalone channel which ran on the television in India. Shows like Hum Log, Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi, Ramayan and Mahabharat ruled the minds of Indians. DD enjoyed the luxury of zero competition, it was like a “run alone and win the race” for them. The monopoly of DD changed when PV Narsimha Rao with Dr.Manmohan Singh as his Finance Minister allowed private and foreign broadcasters to engage in limited operations in India. Starting from 1991, we have come a long way today with more than 850 channels streaming on Indian television. However, some of DD’s shows like Ramayan and Mahabharat have always been recalled by people fondly and as they were re-telecasted on DD as well as on Star Plus and Colors TV in 2020, a lot of people got to relive their childhood memories in such tumultuous times.

TV has evolved so much over the years from our parents’ youth to our childhood makes it easy to forget that this box was rarely found in any house during our parents’ childhood. Starting with only 41 TV sets and only one TV channel in 1962, by 1995, television in India had  more than 70 million TV sets giving a viewing population of more than 400 million individuals through more than 100 TV channels. From the blurred scenes of the 1983 cricket world cup final, remembered by the commentary, “The Indian skipper has done a tremendous job to get down there!”, which only few people who had television sets back then could see,  to the high definition view of 2011 world cup final with “Dhoni finishes things off in style!”, being relished in every household, TV sets evolved and were now a part of every household but there was still more to come in this wonderful evolution of TV.

Up until the 1980s and 90s, television was not a household item. During those days, theater plays were the best source of entertainment, along with the cinema. From the 1940s to 1980s, PL Deshpande’s plays like ‘Batatyachi Chawl’, ‘Vyakti ani Valli’ rocked the stage. From the likes of Kusumagraj to Vinay Apte, theater plays had actors, directors, poets and writers enthralling the public till the 1990s. TV came as a big competition to these local theaters. These days, the old telly box is facing similar challenges thanks to streaming websites like YouTube, Hotstar, Netflix etc.

 I wonder if Pula was there today, would he have been a YouTube star probably working with Bhadipa?

Today, we stand in an era where there is no dearth of entertainment options, everyone has loaded their phones and laptops with Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+ Hotstar, Zee5, Voot etc. Since everyone owns a private screen, we have started spending less time watching TV.  An average human spends about 300-400 minutes per day glued to their mobile, TV or laptop screens. Although the device changes, our love and our addiction to binging and binge worthy serials remains the same.

            It’s hard not to think whether TVs are really relevant now. The power to choose ad-free content without having to fight for it has somehow affected the hours we all used to sit in the front of the box. Since applications as basic as YouTube have movies or shows, they are preferred over cable TV. Clearly these have an advantage due to the availability of all the episodes any time of the year, so it is certainly becoming increasingly difficult to not go on a spree.

 But when you binge something which is replete with the right amount of qualities which make you treasure the series for long hours it becomes monotonous and after some time you eventually lose interest. Remember re-watching an episode because the next one wasn’t aired yet? Setting timer for that Manchester United match while shuffling from one channel to another, an obsession only the fanatics would understand. These applications ruled out the hype, killed the anxiety of not knowing what happens in the next episode. The intense build up was one of the reasons we used to stick to our beloved shows despite the ads! 

Modern applications stand as a competition to TV today just as TV stood as a competition to theater arts in the 1980s. However, despite this stringent competition, theaters have stood the test of time, and have been able to adapt, improvise and overcome various adversities. That’s one of the reasons why theater performances still find their loyal audience in the millennials as well as the older generation of fans. Today, when theaters stand closed due to the lockdown, people have the option of watching plays online on BookMyShow. Over the years, it has been proved that good plays will always get their audience. Similarly, TV shows have managed to stand the tough competition they face today. Although cable television has been affected due to streaming applications, it has managed to hold its ground and have its deserving viewership just as theater arts managed, while keeping its sanctity intact.

With the advent of mirror casting and development of Android and Smart TVs, it became possible to stream the ad-free content on television itself. Devices such as the Amazon Firestick have also helped in bridging the gap between the TV and streaming applications. Streaming applications are nothing but a revolutionary feature to the TV. Starting with CRT, coming up to Smart TV, the televisions evolved, stayed relevant over the decades and will continue to do so. A household without TV is still a rare possibility.

TVs still hold their ground in every household and will continue to do so as long as families still come together to watch an exciting match of cricket. So, while you finish reading this, I’ll cook the popcorn, dim the lights and fight for what’s rightfully mine; the remote.

Smeet and Rohan

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