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Has Television lost its purpose?

The year 2020 marks the 30 years of one of the best Television shows ever made - Surabhi, the Indian cultural magazine show that today reminiscences the family time and bonding we had along with the enriched knowledge about the rich heritage and culture of India in 1990s. Doordarshan which began its journey 60 years ago in 1959 came a long way with Surabhi which was hosted by Siddharth Kak and Renuka Shahane. An ambitious arts and culture television show, set out to discover what diversity actually looked, sounded, tasted and felt like ran from 1990 to 2001. In the very first episode, host Siddharth Kak explained that Surabhi meant sugandh or khushboo (fragrance), which like tradition, culture and talent, wafts into various aspects of life and enriches our sense of identity and heritage.

With the platform like Doordarshan the show soon reached every family with a television. It explored the purpose making Indians proud of India's rich heritage and was often referred to as the podium that brought up the oneness in the diverse culture of India, from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, from the land of Seven Sisters to the islands of Andamans, Surabhi reached everywhere. The tune of Surabhi became an all-time popular tune composed by Dr L Subramaniam.

With so much of buzz around Television today with trending topics such as TRP rigging, CBI enquiries, among the other turmoil the world is facing, it becomes more relevant for us to discuss the purpose of television itself. There was no marketing strategy behind or viewership targets driving Surabhi. And yet the show fetched millions of postcards from the audience on a weekly basis. The love and loyalty of the audience poured in the form of tons of postcards received every week. According to the Limca Book of Records, the show once received the highest ever documented response in the history of Indian television – over 1.4 million letters in a single week. The Indian postal department was forced to issue a different category of postcards called "Competition Postcards" priced at 2 Rupees each for participating in such contests. During the 1990s, Surabhi had become a benchmark show and is known as "one of the best television shows ever made that reflected the length and breath of the Indian culture". Subsequently, Kak established the Surabhi Foundation with the assistance of Ford Foundation and started a project on preserving cultural artifacts.

We were thrilled to have a discussion with the creator of the show Siddharth Kak about the Purpose of Television as a medium in today’s world and his future aspirations.

He says, (Watch the video below for the complete interview)

  1. Culture is never static - it evolves continuously. Craving for a TV to bring the family together is like lamenting the disappearance of the horse and carriage as a means of transportation.
  2. Future of TV is not TV!
  3. The idea of offering artistic prizes was a part of a philosophy of exploring India and being proud of India together with the audience.

We ponder, that the charm of waiting for informative shows such as Surabhi is gone. We live in the age of instant gratification. Today we have Google and YouTube. No one wants to wait for a week to watch a show. What would Kak do differently if he had to launch Surabhi today? He says, "We should not complain about changing norms in our society. We should not whine about the good old days. Instead we should look at what the current technological and social media phenomenon can offer us to reach new audiences, a new demographic and new interests."

Siddharth Kak is an Indian documentary maker, television producer, and presenter, best known as the producer and presenter of Surabhi. He was educated at Lawrence School, Sanawar and subsequently graduated from St. Stephen's College, Delhi. In the heydays of Surabhi, audience did not directly interact with the presenters. Letters were the only medium. Keeping with the pace he launched his Vlog Sidkak Speaks on Youtube offering a guide to the huge chaotic mass of audio-visual content churning out on streaming platforms! He is involved in the documentation, preservation and dissemination of India's Cultural Heritage at the National and International level through The Surabhi Foundation for Research and Cultural Exchange.

Contributor: Paromita Bannerjee - Paromita is a leader in People Practices with a knack towards solving problems. An IIM Bangalore alumna and a story visualizer, her focus is on bridging the gap between education and industry by supporting fresh graduates to kick-start their career and helping the women to return to the workforce after mandatory breaks.

She wants to make the world a better place to live for every life on earth. She is a passionate animal lover, loves to write poetry and her encounters with ghosts (real or imaginary :)) during her leisure. She believes if there is a will, any relationship can go long run with the right balance.
The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the article belong solely to the author.

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