Pre-Liberalisation Children’s Television in India

in Overview
Published on: 04 September 2018

Sashank Kini

Sashank Kini, Research assistant at MICA, Ahmedabad, is a researcher, writer and educator specialising in children's studies and media culture.




Doordarshan, the national television network, was the first ever channel to be launched in India in 1959. It held a virtual monopoly in the television broadcasting industry until the country’s liberalisation in 1991. During this period, Doordarshan was the sole television channel available to the Indian child. The channel aired mainly educational shows and a few children’s serials; its content was appreciated for various reasons such as:


a) for actively involving the child,

b) for creating content beneficial to children’s growth,

c) for familiarising children with the country’s culture,

d) for experimenting with various genres, and

e) for creating region-specific content.


Unfortunately, due to the lack of documentation, most of these programmes have been forgotten over time.


The broadcasting scenario in India changed dramatically starting the early 1990s. Foreign channels for children, such as Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon, gradually lured the Indian child with their fast-paced animation and slick production values. Today, there are 19 commercial channels[i] for children airing content from around the globe, primarily from the United States and Japan. The popularity of Indian animated shows such as Nick’s Motu Patlu and Pogo’s Chhota Bheem has increased investment towards animation (KPMG 2016), resulting in their Intellectual Property (IP) creation, merchandising and co-production deals with foreign markets.


In the past decade, Doordarshan has made only one major contribution to children’s television—Galli Galli Sim Sim, the official Indian adaptation of the American classic Sesame Street[ii]. Another series titled V3 (Victory 3), airs during weekends. Doordarshan has struggled to keep pace with the commercial networks and has lost by a mile in the numbers game. Realising its shortfalls, it is finally working towards winning Indian children back through the launch of DD (Doordarshan) Kids, a channel dedicated exclusively for them in the near future.


This article, by delineating the history of children’s television content on Doordarshan from its inception to the early 1990s, shall bring to light some wonderful and original edutainment programmes telecast for children in the past. Doordarshan can reclaim its position in the hierarchy of the most-watched list of programmes for children, provided it can overcome its major shortcomings, which this article shall dwell upon. The insights shall benefit Doordarshan and hopefully give it both an impetus as well as a direction for launching DD Kids.


This article first dwells upon the historical development of the global broadcasting industry and the expansion of the children’s television industry in the United States. The Western world was far ahead of developing nations in introducing broadcasting technology; consequently, their television industry was highly advanced. Children’s television picked up rapidly in the capitalist countries and especially in the United States because the advertisers leveraged their commercial potential early on.


Global developments


Television was arguably one of the most groundbreaking contributions of the industrial revolution. The United States and Europe experimented with television broadcasting as early as in the 1920s. By the 1930s, the United States and the United Kingdom set up the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) and the British Broadcasting Company (BBC) respectively; both the countries, along with France and Germany, offered regular television programmes. Television soon spread to Canada, Japan and to other European nations. By the 1950s, it was the centrepiece of most developed nations. Satellite television began in 1962 (Kumar 2010).


History of children's television in the United States


Commercial networks


In the beginning, commercial networks aired pre-existing films by Walt Disney and other productions. In his book Children’s Television: How it Works and its Influence on Children, C. Schneider (1989) mentions that the original programmes comprised live-action entertainment shows featuring anchors and puppets (Mr. I-Magination[iii], Howdy Doody[iv]). The years 1947–1955 were considered the golden age of children’s television because of the wholesome nature of programming during that time.


But while children’s television was initially not seen as a profitable business venture, the 1950s post-War climate changed everything. The American economy was rebuilding and a leisure-driven culture was shaping up. Suddenly the prices of television sets nosedived, and the child, neglected during wartime, became the centre of attention. In 1955, Walt Disney’s animated series The Mickey Mouse Club[v] became a runaway commercial success. Toy companies, and fast-food and confectionary industries, that were initially reluctant to invest in the children’s genre, began splashing millions on it. Live-action anchor-based programmes gave way to affordable moneymaking animation. These animated shows, though popular, were not immune to criticism; by 1965, the Saturday morning shows on Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) were disparaged as ‘garbage pile’ (Schneider 1989:61).


The Public Broadcasting System


The commercial-free Public Broadcasting System (PBS) aired the handsomely funded[vi] long-running Sesame Street (1969–present), and other popular educational shows such as Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood (1968–2001)[vii]. The makers of Sesame Street did not believe in ‘catering to the lowest common denomination’. They instead wanted their audience to develop an appreciation for top-notch thought-provoking content (Lesser 1974).


Television in India


This part looks at the developments in Indian television broadcasting, charting the course from a brief account of the entry of television to the launch of Doordarshan. Television was initially brought to fulfill the educational and developmental needs of society. There was a slow shift towards entertainment programming during the mid-1970s. By the 1980s, television had spread across India, and the who’s who of the media industry were on Doordarshan. The last segment, ‘1990s—Invasion of the Skies’, charts the turnaround in the Indian broadcasting industry with the country’s liberalisation and the entry of private players.


The beginning


On  September 15, 1959, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India, struck a deal with Philips for a transmitter, launching Doordarshan in Delhi. As India adopted Nehru’s socialist policies after Independence, television was expected to educate rather than entertain. Since the Indian economy was primarily agrarian, the early programmes such as Krishi Darshan (Agriculture Vision), were themed around farming, family planning, hygiene and education. The 1970s saw the public sector units flourishing, leading to more jobs and a boom in per capita income. The nouveau riche demanded more entertainment content, and, in 1972, a Doordarshan Kendra opened in Mumbai—the hub of media and entertainment. Soon, kendras (centres) sprung up in Srinagar, Amritsar, Pune, Calcutta, Madras and Lucknow[viii] (Sunderaj 2006). The post-Independence spirit was observable in the programming content, with shows celebrating India’s rich cultural diversity and traditions. Selected foreign content in harmony with the Indian ethos was also telecast.


The 1980s—The glorious days of Doordarshan


The Indian television industry saw a dramatic turn of events during this decade. Under the leadership of Indira Gandhi, DD became a national broadcaster by 1984. A second channel, DD Metro, was launched—firstly in Delhi, followed by the other metros. This channel started afternoon transmission in 1989. Doordarshan catered to a wider market, so it brought out a mixture of shows with both modern and rustic settings. Many of them were commissioned to producers outside Doordarshan, and this injected a lot of novelty, creativity and variety within the content. Television was increasingly commercialised with a rise in entertainment-driven programmes, as well as advertisements. Critics such as Mira Aghi feared that, with the changing times, Doordarshan was giving up on its mission to educate the public. The increasing permissiveness towards the telecast of imported content[ix] also raised many eyebrows.


The 1990s—The invasion of the skies


By the 1990s, Doordarshan had an unparalleled reach of 90 per cent of the country through its satellite-fed terrestrial network. The government restricted private broadcasters from uplinking[x] from the Indian soil, with the result that Doordarshan faced competition from none.


Two major events in the early 1990s flipped the scenario of Indian television. The first was the economic liberalisation of India in 1991, which finally opened the gates to private players. The second was the Direct Broadcasting Satellite (DBS). Much to the Indian government’s chagrin, private and foreign players began uplinking programmes from transponders in Hong Kong, Singapore, etc., and telecasting them in India. The first player was media baron Rupert Murdoch-owned Star TV, which came to India in 1991. This was followed by the indigenous Zee in 1992, and Sony in 1995. As a countermeasure, the Indian government hastily commissioned a series of new satellite channels. However, they did not possess the wherewithal to take on the 700-odd foreign channels (Saksena 1997). For the first time in years, Doordarshan found itself out of depth in a radically transformed media climate where the competition for capturing eyeballs had grown manifold.


A comparison of children’s television: USA versus India


There exist some similarities between the development of television in the United States and that in India. Both countries began with live-action original programmes which receded with the growth of animation. The major difference between children’s television in the two countries is that commercial networks picked up rapidly in the United States because of its capitalist economy. Toys and other industries entered the business early on and minted money by advertising on children's shows. India being a socialist economy did not support this until the liberalisation of 1991.


These changes have impacted the development of children's television in both the nations, positively and negatively. Children's shows grew exponentially in America and allowed it to establish a global presence. However, the rampantly consumerist nature of content has been subjected to a severe critical backlash. India's disapproval of commercialism might have cost it business opportunities, however, its planning for children's programmes prior to liberalisation was made without any intentions of exploiting its consumers. They often sought inspiration from educational shows such as Sesame Street on PBS.  


Pre-Liberalisation children’s television in India


The next part of the article examines children’s shows on Doordarshan that aired from their inception up to the early 1990s. This is covered in three segments:


1) Children’s shows airing between the 1960s and 1970s,

2) Children's shows made in the 1980s, and

3) Children's shows made in the early 1990s.


1. Earliest children’s television in India (1960s and 1970s)


The 1960s saw a marginal development in children’s television. The government began by launching the Delhi School Television Project in 1961 for secondary and higher secondary school children. These educational shows by Doordarshan were generally classroom instructional programmes. The scenario of children’s television improved in the 1970s. The setting up of Bombay Doordarshan in 1972 led to the production of four major children’s shows. Homemade children’s films produced by the Films Division of India, such as Ek Anek Aur Ekta (One, Many and Unity)[xi] were telecast as well. Besides Doordarshan, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), Central Institute of Educational Technology (CIET) and State Institute of Educational Technology (SIET) were majorly responsible for the educational shows for children. 


The earliest programmes, airing between the 1960s and 1970s, are covered in two parts 1) ISRO and the Indian Child—programmes made by the Indian Space Research Organization for the SITE and Kheda Communications Project (KCP), and 2) The Big Four at Bombay Doordarshan—children’s shows airing from the Mumbai Doordarshan Kendra set up in 1972.


  • ISRO and the Indian Child


The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), USA, in collaboration with ISRO launched the Satellite Instructional Television Experiment (SITE) in 1975 to harness space science for the upliftment of Indian society. The project continued until 1976, offering community TV viewing to 2,400 villages across six Indian states[xii]. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) provided funding to establish a television studio in Ahmedabad, the hometown of the founder of ISRO, Dr Vikram Sarabhai. Consequently, the Kheda Communications Project (KCP), targeting the oppressed populace of the rural poor and Dalits[xiii] started alongside SITE. Its transmitter was located in Pij village, Kheda, Gujarat. All shows produced by ISRO were recorded and edited thereafter in its own studio. The ISRO projects benefited from ’Japanese video technology of ¾ tape cameras imported to India after turning obsolete in their home country,’ (Manish Jani, pers. comm.).


  • Satellite Instructional Television Experiment (SITE)


For children, SITE made educational and classroom-based programmes, teaching subjects such as science, mathematics and the languages. The shows beamed for an hour post noon on a weekly or biweekly basis. Production took place in the ISRO studios based in Mumbai and Ahmedabad. Mariam Jetpurwalla was appointed as a producer for English by Television at ISRO’s Mumbai studio. The Government of Maharashtra handed her a curriculum to teach basic English to rural students of class 5 and 6. Jetpurwalla remarks that the dictatorial nature of the project offered minimal creative freedom. Moreover, she added, ‘We learned that the teachers on the field were not comfortable teaching the curriculum in this manner. This is because in rural areas we have diverse languages and regional accents, and a standard English accent doesn't work for everyone’ (Mariam Jetpurwalla, pers. comm.). Other criticisms levelled at SITE’s educational television include the poor maintenance of receivers and inferior viewing conditions (Kumar 2010).


  • Kheda Communications Project (KCP)


The Kheda Communications Project came up with more novel concepts for children through shows such as Our Universe, Nandu Indu and Vad Thi Mota Teta (The Seed is Bigger than the Banyan Tree) among others[xiv]. Binod C. Agrawal and M.R. Malek (1986) state that the shows ‘tackled themes pertaining to science, making of toys, importance of literacy, relationships between teacher and students, responsibilities of parents and their contribution to children’s progress in education’. Reputed Film and Television Institute of India (FTII)[xv] alumni would participate in KCP projects. Filmmaker Ketan Mehta, for instance, created Ramat Gamat Magaj Ni Dahi (Play Time), which involved engaging activities around popular pahelis (riddles). While Doordarshan was technically involved in the transmission of these shows, it did not produce any children’s content for KCP.


Vad Thi Mota Teta


Vad Thi Mota Teta, the first children’s television show for poor rural children in India, ran for 40 episodes over a period of two years (1975–77). Its title was a metaphor for the child outgrowing adults in their ambitions. The show was made by a team comprising producer Farooq Basrai, programme assistant Dhiren Avarshya, freelance writer Manishi Jani, research assistant Bela Mody, along with a child psychologist from B.M. Institute and a scientist representing ISRO.


Extensive formative and summative evaluation was conducted through the course of production. Both Jani and Farooq Basrai stayed over in the village for over 15 days to understand the children's appearance, personalities, behaviour and ambitions. Manishi Jani wrote the script in the Charotari dialect spoken in that region. Interesting insights emerged during the inquiry. ‘We once roped in the National Institute of Design to create special buttons for children’s t-shirts. You see, the homemakers would beat the clothes with dhokas (special bats used to wash clothes) which often resulted in the buttons breaking off,’ Jani recalls (Manish Jani, pers. comm.). The team spent three to four months on preproduction research alone, meeting once or twice every week to discuss the script and the research findings. Following this, the research assistant Bela Mody visited the village and read the script to the kids to gauge their level of comprehension. Only after this did the studio-based filming resume. Ahmedabad-based child artistes played the rural characters. The research assistant took the show to other villages to find if the children there enjoyed the show just as much.


After the Pij Transmission shut down in 1985, the Development and Educational Communication Unit[xvi] continued to feature educational content. ‘Shows with social motive and relevant to the rural audiences’ needs have reduced over time with the rise of filmy, commercial content. These days, many generalisations are made about the rural tastes by people operating from the metros,’ Jani laments (Manish Jani, pers. comm.). ‘If one wishes to study quality Indian children’s programming, they should look at the wonderful original content produced at KCP,’ recommends Rupa Mehta, the Programme Head at DD-Girnar, Doordarshan's Ahmedabad Kendra, which has largely relied on talent-hunt contests for its child audiences. Mehta adds, ‘ISRO’s projects had a credo, while Doordarshan worked in bits and pieces. As Doordarshan operated at a larger scale, any content for the child was relegated to 'special audience' programmes,’ (Rupa Mehta, pers. comm.).


  • The Big Four at Bombay Doordarshan


The 1970s ushered in some entertainment shows with the launch of the Mumbai Doordarshan Kendra (or Bombay Doordarshan) on October 2, 1972. ‘The government’s main aim in those days was to create an educational channel both for children and adults. Entertainment shows on Bombay Television came as a byproduct,’ explains writer-producer Mariam Jetpurwalla (Mariam Jetpurwalla, pers. comm.). The future kingpins of the media and entertainment industries found their calling at Bombay Doordarshan. People with backgrounds in theatre, literature and advertising were fascinated by this new medium. Nayana Dasgupta, one of the first five producers during the launch of Bombay Doordarshan, recalls, ‘As a Mass Communications student, I was concentrating more on advertising and radio journalism, because of my fondness for writing. Television came as a sudden challenge but I took it up nevertheless. After that, there was no looking back,’ (Nayana Dasgupta, pers. comm.).


Mumbai’s cosmopolitan nature led to programming in five languages—English, Hindi, Marathi, Gujarati and Sindhi. Some popular names include Aavo Maari Saathe (Come with Me; Gujarati), Gajra (Flower Garland; Gujarati), Young World (English) and What’s a Good Word (English). There were cultural shows, youth shows, documentaries on Indian art forms, quiz shows, plays, variety shows, etc. In short, Bombay Doordarshan abounded in interesting formats and engaging concepts. Mostly meant for adult consumption, Bombay Doordarshan featured only four children’s shows—Magic Lamp (English), Santakukadi (Gujarati), Kilbil (Marathi) and Khel Khilone (Hindi). Each aired once a week between 6:30 pm and 7:00 pm on weekdays and on Sunday mornings.


In the 1970s, producing a children’s show was no child’s play. Producers encountered several hardships, including lack of proper infrastructure, low budgets and staff compensations, and limited recording time. A perennial shortage of staff led to producers overseeing multiple projects. Kunwar Sinha, a news specialist, was put in charge of all the English language shows including Magic Lamp, where he worked along with Mariam Jetpurwalla. Shukla Das[xvii] handled cultural and youth programmes and documentaries before she took over Magic Lamp from Singh and Jetpurwalla. Meanwhile, Nayana Dasgupta, the producer of Santakukadi, administered women's shows, variety shows and news as well. For some producers, children’s programmes were an excess baggage dumped on them despite their lack of expertise. Others were delighted at the prospect of creating something entertaining and stimulating for the child. Therefore, at their worst, the shows became uninspired talent hunt competitions, and at their best, they created an entire world for the child.


Children’s programmes worked on dismal budgets. Shukla Das, the creator of Magic Lamp, remembered coping with a budget of merely Rs. 3000. Sesame Street, the show that inspired Magic Lamp, was meanwhile funded on an astronomical 8 million USD for the production of its first season. Pay standards at Doordarshan were equally poor. Kamini Kaushal, in spite of her star status, received a paltry sum of Rs. 300 for anchoring Khel Khilone (Patcy 2007). Lastly, the programmes were mostly shot and telecast live, with only one day given per month to record all the four children’s shows. ‘Bombay Doordarshan had only one studio for all the shows, and therefore, there were tremendous time constraints. Certain genres like plays and variety shows cannot be shot live. They have to be recorded. Therefore, studios were greatly reserved for such shows,’ Dasgupta explains (Nayana Dasgupta, pers. comm.).


The Gujarati children’s show Santakukadi was, in Dasgupta’s words, 'meant for and by the children’, where they would participate in activities held on the set while being guided by adult comperes. ‘Santakukadi used to feature every Monday at 6:30 pm. By 6 o'clock, the children would be in the studio and given a brief. A pin drop silence would follow until the announcer cues for transmission. The show went on irrespective of the crises and calamities that occurred during the shoot,’ says Dasgupta. Besides its on-set activities, Santakukadi hosted outdoor activities such as rangoli[xviii] and essay writing competitions and a visit to the handicraft factory. Dasgupta believes that involving children in this manner inspired the child viewers sitting at home, clarifying, ‘If the show is by the children themselves, the level of acceptance, self-identification, and inspiration is much more,’ (Nayana Dasgupta, pers. comm.).


Puppetry was another popular feature on the children’s shows produced by Doordarshan. The famed puppeteer Meena Naik, who anchored the Marathi children’s show Kilbil between 1975 and 1979[xix], observes that ‘children recognise puppets as different characters (from humans) so they lose their inhibitions and open up easily to them.’ Naik wanted to emulate the puppets on Sesame Street, however, India did not have any academy or institute then for puppetry. She says, ‘So I made the puppets on a trial and error basis and began anchoring Kilbil with a simple glove puppet. We named him Dhitukliya, which means small but courageous,’ (Meena Naik, pers. comm.). Interestingly, Dhitukliya was christened by one of the child viewers. As Doordarshan did not have a dedicated research wing, shows often sought ideas from letters sent by viewers. Both Dhitukliya and Meena tai (meaning 'elder sister', as she was referred to on the show) addressed different topics such as cleanliness, respecting elders, forms of classical dance, and so on, every Tuesday. Kilbil also featured children’s plays which were produced by Dr Yakub Sayeed and Vijaya Zoglekar during the same period.


Khel Khilone, the Hindi children’s show produced by Sudha Chopra, ran on an anchor-puppet format similar to Kilbil. It was hosted by veteran actor Kamini Kaushal and producer Manju Singh. The show ran till the early 1990s.


The English children’s show Magic Lamp, produced jointly by Mariam Jetpurwalla and Kunwar Sinha, initially followed the puppet-anchor format as well. Then in 1974, Shukla Das came in and changed Magic Lamp to a Sesame Street-like format involving muppets and puppets. Different segments were introduced, each with a developmental objective. The Apple House was for conceptual learning, the Hulla Gulla Pathshala taught science tricks, Star Quiz boosted parent-child interaction while Panna Clubs encouraged team-building and empathy towards the less privileged. The programme was temporarily discontinued after Das’ exit from Doordarshan in 1979. When it resumed telecast in the 1980s, producer Nischint Hora took over. However, Hora, having assisted on the show in the 1970s, felt Magic Lamp had ‘lost its fabulous identity by then,’ (Nischint Hora, pers. comm.).


When Doordarshan expanded to National Broadcast in 1984, all the Hindi shows were taken by Doordarshan Kendra, Delhi. The Gujarati shows went to the Doordarshan Ahmedabad Kendra, while the Marathi shows were retained by Bombay Doordarshan Kendra. Thereafter, Bombay Doordarshan could only run the Marathi programmes, and shows of other languages played on DD-II, which was launched in 1984. Soon, the children's shows drifted from weekly to a fortnightly telecast. They were eventually dropped.  


2. The 1980s in children’s television


Doordarshan’s expansion in the 1980s led to multiple new shows for or about children. Many of these children’s serials veered towards entertainment rather than education. These shows were largely fictional and plot-driven, experimenting with genres including science fiction, mythology, drama and mystery. There was simultaneously a growing presence of foreign children’s shows on Doordarshan. Examples include Mickey and Donald, He-Man, Laurel and Hardy and Charlie Chaplin. This happened because it was cheaper to import foreign content as compared to producing indigenously. Doordarshan also lacked the TV software to cater to the newly introduced channels.


Notwithstanding, the Indian children’s shows continued to be widely appreciated by children. The shows were well written, with engaging storylines and familiar characters that struck a chord amongst Indian audiences. Secondly, Doordarshan was introducing foreign programming a little at a time on its channels. This way, the Indian child was not overstimulated or swept away by fast-paced foreign cartoons. This situation changed drastically in the following decade. Highlighted below are Doordarshan’s most popular offerings for children in the 1980s.


Ghayab Aya


In 1986, India’s first own serialised 2D animation film Ghayab Aya was aired as a ten-part series on Doordarshan. It involved the adventures of a Casper-like mischievous yet compassionate ghost.


Dada Dadi Ki Kahaaniyan


Dada Dadi Ki Kahaaniyan (Grandparents’ Tales) was a 13-episode Hindi children’s fantasy series that was aired in 1986. It was produced by Ramanand Sagar, best remembered for his television adaptation of the Hindu mythological epic Ramayana. While conceptualising Dada Dadi Ki Kahaaniyan, Sagar took a page out of the Indian joint family custom of grandparents becoming substitute caregivers for their grandchildren. Legendary Hindi-film actors Ashok Kumar and Leela Mishra appeared as dada and dadi and narrated entertaining moral stories, inspired by literature, fantasy and folklore, to their grandchildren. These stories would be picturised, transporting viewers to the world of troubled royal families, sagacious priests, kind-hearted fairies and menacing ghouls. Each story would conclude with a moral, such as, ‘true love wins despite all odds’, ‘as you sow so shall you reap', and ‘never fall back on your promise', recited in unison by the grandparents and the children.


Malgudi Days


Malgudi Days was a television series based on the eponymous works of author R.K. Narayan. The popular Kannada actor Shankar Nag was the show’s director. When it was originally aired in 1987, 39 episodes were made which were spread across three series with 13 episodes in each. The stories were set during the pre-Independence period in a fictional village of Malgudi and revolved around its inhabitants. The Swamy and Friends episodes became the jewel in the crown of Malgudi Days. It was incidentally R.K. Narayan’s biographical work about the childhood days of his brother, the cartoonist R.K. Laxman. Unlike other episodes within Malgudi Days which narrated single incidents with no continuity between two episodes, Swamy and Friends was a continuous series. Kids especially loved it as its central characters were children themselves.


Mariam Jetpurwalla, the writer of the Swamy and Friends episodes, credits two factors for the show’s countrywide success. Firstly, the dialogues were spoken in extremely simple Hindi; so viewers with a limited knowledge of the language could also absorb the content easily. Secondly, R.K. Narayan’s original works had the qualities of universality and timelessness. Its fictional backdrop and the inclusion of relatable characters from different walks of life gave the show a long-lasting shelf life, according to Jetpurwala (Mariam Jetpurwala, pers. comm.). Admirably, the re-runs of Malgudi Days play on Doordarshan even today.


Ek, Do, Teen, Char


Along the lines of mystery novel series The Famous Five and The Secret Seven, sprung Ek, Do, Teen, Char (One, Two, Three, Four), Doordarshan’s mystery show for children. It was aired in 1987 both on DD National and DD Metro on the weekends. Ek, Do, Teen, Chaar involved four children solving crimes within their locality. Remaining faithful to the detective genre, the children had a dog by their side. Some episodes raised awareness of issues prevailing in India. One episode, for instance, tackled the issue of dowry[xx]. Self-identification played an important role in the show’s success. The child characters belonged to different religions and regions, allowing children across the country to identify with them.




Indradhanush (Rainbow) was a 13-episode science fiction show for children telecast in 1988. One of the four child characters[xxi] in the show designs a computer that hosts the body of an alien prince from the Andromeda Galaxy. This allows the boy to travel back and forth in time; however, after he disappears one day, his elder brother (Akshay Anand) embarks to rescue him. Anand Mahendroo, who conceptualised and directed Indradhanush, was inspired by the technological advancements in India, especially in computing, and the curiosity it generated among the public. The American sci-fi classic Back to the Future (1985) was another influence. Children in general love shows that transport them to another universe and present possibilities that they can only dream of. Indradhanush succeeded in this regard, depicting futuristic concepts such as time-travel and human cloning.


3. Children’s television in the 1990s


Soon after the economic liberalisation, the children’s television industry in the 1990s saw the entry of commercial networks. For a while, Doordarshan faced competition from children’s programmes being telecast on Zee TV. However, the real invasion of commercial networks in the children’s space began with the entry of the Turner Broadcasting System’s Cartoon Network. This is explained in two segments: 1) Efforts by Doordarshanthis segment highlights the animated and live-action programmes airing on Doordarshan in the 1990s, and 2) Toon Invasionthis covers the eventual takeover of the foreign children’s channels post-1995.  


  • Efforts by Doordarshan


Through the 1990s, Doordarshan continued making live-action children’s shows such as Sair Sapata, Potli Baba Ki, Hamari Zameen Hamara Aasman and Shaktimaan[xxii]. The programmes had the hallmarks of Doordarshan’s live-action content—educational values, the active participation of children and the use of puppetry. Sair Sapata (Fun Trips) took kids to parks, museums and to other places of their interest and shot their activities there. Hamari Zameen Hamara Aasman (Our Land, Our Skies) was along the lines of the 1980s mystery show Ek, Do, Teen, Char, featuring children as sleuths solving environment-related crimes. The Potli Baba Ki series produced by Sanjit Ghosh in 1992, featured innovative puppet animation.


The notable homemade animated television series to air on Doordarshan in that decade was Vartamaan (The Present). It was one of the very first Indian shows made using 3D animation. The 26-episode commissioned series was produced by Climb Media and directed by Bhimsain and Kireet Khurana.  


When Doordarshan aired a foreign show, it ensured that the content was in consonance with what it believed to be the Indian ethos. An excellent example of this is the Japanese anime Shōnen Mowgli, based on Rudyard Kipling’s original collection of stories The Jungle Book. The anime’s Hindi-dubbed version retained the book’s name and aired on Doordarshan in 1993. Set in India and with Indian character names, the series followed Mowgli, a feral child raised by animals in the jungle. The adaptation was brought alive by some of the most distinguished faces in the media industry. The memorable opening song Jungle Jungle Baat Chali Hai... was written by eminent lyricist- filmmaker Gulzar and composed by music director-filmmaker Vishal Bharadwaj. Actors such as Nana Patekar and veteran voice artists such as Vinod Kulkarni lent their voices to the Jungle Book characters.


Doordarshan also imported shows that created a transformational change within the society. The Bangladeshi animated series Meena that aired on DD Metro in the mid-90s raised pertinent issues on gender and social equality. DD organised a televised talk programme based on the show and invited parents, children and experts to participate in the discussion. Besides, it held on-ground activities in 31 Indian states with 3 lakh youth clubs to disseminate Meena’s stories (Cody, Rogers, Sabido and Singhal 2010).


  • Toon Maniak


When commercial networks entered India, children were not their immediate focus. Zee TV introduced the Bournvita Quiz Contest hosted by Derek O’Brien. For a short while in 1995, the American Disney Hour also appeared on this channel. However, there were no other major highlights until May 1995. That is when the American Multinational Turner Broadcasting System brought in Cartoon Network, the first channel meant exclusively for kids to air in India. Cartoon Network had the advantage of a huge repository of sophisticated animated shows made by Hanna-Barbera, MGM and Warner Bros over three decades. Another American giant, Viacom's Nickelodeon made its way into the Indian market in 1999, bringing a host of live-action series. To appeal to a wider fan-base, the content on both these channels was dubbed in Hindi (later on, in other local languages too), starting in 1999. 


Doordarshan’s position, as the Indian child’s sole resort for television content, was finally collapsing. Writer-producer Achyut Vaze[xxiii] asks rhetorically, ‘Foreign animation killed children’s television on Doordarshan. They were so brilliant and available at throwaway prices. Back then, for instance, the price of producing an episode of a children’s series locally was 1-1.10 lakh INR whereas a similar quality top-notch animated show could be imported merely for 5-10 thousand INR. How could Doordarshan beat that?’ (Achyut Vaze, pers. comm.).


The way forward


The final part of the article briefly mentions the major developments in children’s programming on Doordarshan post-90s. This is followed by the recommendations for Doordarshan’s DD Kids based on the insights obtained from the study. 


Doordarshan might still be strong in its content quality, and its reach is unsurpassed, however, it has lost out by a mile in the numbers game. Starting during the late 90s, until today, it has only two key achievements to boast of in children’s programmes—Shaktimaan and Galli Galli Sim Sim. The former is an Indian spin on the superhero genre while the latter is the official Indian adaptation of Sesame Street. Other recent offerings are V3 (Victory 3), a 26-episode live-action series sponsored by the Children’s Film Society of India (CFSI), and Kidz Island. Both air during weekends on DD National. 


DD Kids: The future


The National Network Doordarshan has plans to launch its own specialised channel for children—DD Kids. However, it has been in the pipeline for quite some time with no concrete developments. Meanwhile, commercial networks are bombarding the children’s channels with a host of both foreign and homemade programmes. Children, in turn, tune in to these channels rather than to Doordarshan, as they know that these feature content made just for them.


Doordarshan’s languid approach will not work in this day and age when it is no longer the Indian child’s sole companion. It has to become doubly aggressive if it has to win over the children of today who have the freedom to choose from content offered by the two dozen or so children’s channels by private networks, as well as other platforms such as the internet, gaming devices and the cell phone. Doordarshan has to overcome some of these major shortcomings to ensure the success of DD Kids.


1. Insufficient funding


This is a recurrent problem stated by producers who have worked on children’s shows. Achyut Vaze, whose children’s show Hotspotters never went on air after a fallout with Doordarshan over its financial support, says, ‘Children’s programmes on Doordarshan have consistently faced money problems. The recruited in-house team has limited talent; the real talent is outside in the Indian film and television industry. However, these people do not wish to work at the prices Doordarshan offers,’ (Achyut Vaze, pers. comm.). Doordarshan cannot compromise on its budgets if it has to bring onboard the right talent for quality children’s programmes. 


2. Content quality


Besides budgets, producers such as Rashmi Lamba, who worked as an assistant on Magic Lamp, feel Doordarshan must reexamine its present content. ‘Doordarshan has to emerge out of its outdated DD mode and must stop depending so much on talent performances. It must also refrain from imitating the content on private networks in an attempt to keep up with the competitive times,’ (Rashmi Lamba, pers. comm.). Nischint Hora noted, ‘In the past, Doordarshan was progressive in many ways compared to a lot of programming on the so-called “liberal” channel these days. Our programmes emphasised on issues like gender equality, and we never encouraged superstitions or enmity between religions,’ (Nischint Hora, pers. comm.).


Sashwati Banerjee, Managing Director, Sesame Workshop India, the team behind Galli Galli Sim Sim, believes Doordarshan should continue to be a differentiator and a disrupter in the market rather than a follower. She said, ‘Doordarshan has in the past and continues to host some amazing child-centric content. Be it Malgudi Days and Tenali Ram in the ‘90s to Galli Galli Sim Sim and Aadha Full, Doordarshan has always been ahead in bringing responsible, educational and entertaining content to families with young children,’ (Sashwati Banerjee, pers. comm.).


Concluding remarks


The most important question that Doordarshan needs to reflect upon is: What is the world of the Indian child today? The channel has achieved its greatest successes by creating a world for the Indian child in the 1970s up to the 1990s through shows such as Magic Lamp and Malgudi Days. However, those shows and the worlds created by them cannot work for the Indian child today as the age of information and choice has made their worlds far more complex and multifarious than anybody could envisage. Only when Doordarshan fully understands the world of today’s Indian child, will DD Kids be able to create programmes that would resonate and make a difference to their lives.


Challenging times lie ahead for Doordarshan. Having sustained itself for over half a century, we hope it successfully launches DD Kids in the near future. To quote Ashish S.K.[xxiv]:


'A digital free-to-air public broadcasting DD Kids channel will surely position itself as a differentiator and frontrunner… With its wide footprint and reach, the Doordarshan Kids channel, with the right kind of programming for kids, will be able to lead the way and create a path for nation building just as other countries like USA, Canada, China have public broadcasting services for nurturing kids and preparing them for the future.' (KPMG 2016;180)



[i] The children’s television channels in India as on 2017 are (in alphabetical order) Baby TV, Cartoon Network, Chintu TV, Chithiram TV, Chutti TV, Discovery Kids India, Disney, Disney Jr, Disney XD, Hungama, Kochu TV, Kushi TV, Nick Jr, Nickelodeon, POGO, Sonic, Sony Yay, Teen Nick and Toonami. 

[ii] Sesame Street is a long-running American live-action educational series that has been airing on Public Broadcasting System (PBS) since 1969. The original series was broadcast in over 140 countries, with independent co-productions broadcast in 20 countries including India, where it was known as Galli Galli Sim Sim.

[iii] Mr. I-Magination ran on CBS between 1949 and 1952. The host, dressed as a train engineer, discussed careers, activities, etc. with children; after this the cast would visit a professional from that field in an ‘Imagination Land’.

[iv] Howdy Doody was an American live-action show for children and aired between 1947 and 1960.

[v] The Mickey Mouse Club is an American variety television series that aired from 1955 to 1996.

[vi] Sesame Street received a funding of 8 million USD from Carnegie, Ford and Markle Foundation and the US Office of Education for the production of the first season.

[vii] A renowned American half-hour children's live action television series created and hosted by Fred Rogers. It follows Mr. Roger as he explores various topics for young viewers through presentations both in his own world and in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe. It was aired between 1963 and 2001.

[viii] Doordarshan kendras began in Srinagar, Amritsar and Pune in 1973, and in Calcutta, Madras and Lucknow in 1975.

[ix] Foreign imports, included comedy series and educational programmes, documentaries and feature films, especially from Germany (Transtel), Russia and Britain (BBC).      

[x] In satellite telecommunication, an uplink is a link between a ground station and a satellite in space.

[xi] Ek Anek Aur Ekta or ‘One, Many, and Unity’ is a traditional 7-minute short animated educational film released by the Films Division of India in 1974.

[xii] The six Indian states were Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa and Rajasthan.

[xiii] Dalit, in the traditional Indian caste system, refers to a member of the lowest caste, considered outcaste.

[xiv] Other shows produced at the Kheda Communications Project include Ramat Gamat Magaj Ni Dahi (Play Time), Kalamkaka Ni Vaat (Kalamkaka’s Talk), Jaagine Joun To, Chadiya (a musical programme with rhyming dialogue), Garbadiyo Gattu, Ank (Numerals), Seka ni Be Baju (Two Sides of a Coin), Chalo Jaiye (Let Us Go), Apana Prani Yo (Our Animals) and Jalpari (Mermaid).

[xv] The Film and Television Institute of India is an autonomous institute under the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting of the Government of India and is aided by the Central Government of India.

[xvi] The Development and Educational Communication Unit (DECU) at Ahmedabad, Gujarat, is dedicated to realising satellite communication based societal applications in the country.

[xvii] Shukla Das is a filmmaker and television specialist. She was the Senior Vice President (Programming) at Star TV and Sony. She currently works as a Professor of Communications at FLAME University, Pune, Maharashtra. 

[xviii] Rangoli is an art form, originating in the Indian subcontinent, in which patterns are created on the floor in living rooms or courtyards using materials such as coloured rice, dry flour, coloured sand or flower petals.

[xix] Kilbil had other anchors besides Meena Naik, namely theatre actor Bhakti Bharve; however, Naik's presence on the show was most remembered.

[xx] The dowry system in India refers to the durable goods, cash and real or movable property that the bride's family gives to the bridegroom, his parents, or his relatives as a condition of the marriage.

[xxi] The characters were portrayed by Jitendra Rajpal, Karan Johar, Sagar Arya and Vishal Singh.

[xxii] Shaktimaan was one of the longest-running shows for children on Doordarshan; it had a run of about 400 episodes. It aired between 1997 and 2005 and starred Mukesh Khanna as the titular Indian superhero. As the show was produced much after liberalisation, it is outside the purview of this study and will not be examined in detail.

[xxiii] Achyut Vaze is a Marathi writer and producer based in Mumbai. He produced the children’s series Hamari Zameen Hamara Aasman (Our Land, Our Skies) for Doordarshan.

[xxiv] Ashish S.K. is the founder of Punaryug Artvision Pvt Ltd. He was the Chairperson – FICCI AVGC in 2016. 




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