Background: Veteran Producer and Creative Director Nayana Das Gupta was one of the first individuals behind the launch of Bombay Doordarshan in 1972. In a candid interaction with Sashank, Nayana shares her experience working on Santakukadi, the Gujarati children's show 'by and for the children' and her expectations for the Doordarshan's upcoming children's channel 'DD Kids'.
SASHANK KINI: I’m with Nayana Dasgupta who one of the… the first individuals in the launch of Bombay Doordarshan and the Gujarati children’s show Santakukadi. So firstly I’d like to ask you what brought you into something as new as television? Doordarshan was itself in its early days… right…
NAYANA DASGUPTA: Inception…
S.K.: Inception… yeah…
N.D.: Well… after my graduation I was doing my Mass Communication. At that time I wasn’t much aware of television so I had not thought of it and I was more concentrating on advertising, radio journalism etc. because I’m fond of writing but this just came as a challenge suddenly… an offer… and I found it very very fascinating so I took it up and after that no looking back.
S.K.: No looking back…. So were you involved in children’s shows or did you have other things to…
N.D.: Many, many more you know because at Bombay Doordarshan Kendra we had, being a cosmopolitan city, we had an opportunity to present shows in multiple languages. So you know, so we had Marathi as the primary language but apart from Marathi, Hindi, Gujarati and English, and similarly we had lots of other genres like music basically. Because the entertainment field is in Bombay. So we had very famous shows like Aarohi and Shyama Ghazal which featured many many upcoming artists who are very very established today, I would like to say. So I was very fortunate to be associated with all these range of programmes and of course Santakukadi was my favorite because it was by children and for children.
S.K.: Let’s come directly to the show Santakukadi.) Could you tell us a little bit more about what that show was about?
N.D.: Okay… ummm… The show used to feature every Monday 6:30 sharp and… Those days there were no avenue for entertainment. Doordarshan was the only one. In fact I met somebody two months back and of course she was a grown up lady with children and she approached me and somehow she recognized me. And she said it was a habit for all the children to come home and finish homework and whatever nashta immediately… and sit in front of the TV and get glued for Santakukadi. You know we used to have these very specific signature tunes for each show, whether it is Santakukadi or other languages, or Kilbil which is in Marathi or Khel Khilone or Magic Lamp. They would hear the signature tune and start rushing and sit in front of the TV. And those were the habit making and at the same time… So we had a very challenging and a very interesting responsibility as a mass communication media producer and director to present something constructive and positive and with entertainment, not ‘preachy’ and just teaching, you know. But the best part is that which I don’t think the viewer would have realized is because we had lot of time constraints and we had only one studio and there were so many shows to be shot… There were certain shows like where it a play or a variety show like ‘Aao Maari Saathe’ or ‘Gajra’ which is in Marathi or even for that matter a quiz like ‘What’s a Good Word’ which had been very famous shows… these things we cannot present live, we have to shoot them. Studios were always booked and reserved for these kind of shows. So all the children’s shows practically used to be live. When I say live, by 6 o’clock the children sit in the studio in front of the camera and are given the brief. Then there is a pin drop silence and the announcer makes a.. the announcement for the transmission to begin and we switchover to the live show of children but viewer will not know the difference between whether it is live or recorded or is it recorded and shot. So it was much more challenging in that manner because the show must go on even if the camera fades or something happens to the child or even if the compere gets a lot of cough. The show must go on and it has to be flawless because it we are so much committed to the viewers that we cannot let any mistake go on air either technically or in the factual nor in the presentation.
S.K.: Could you tell us a little bit more about what exactly happened on the show?
N.D.: Ummm… we usually would have a format of a presenter because we did need a presenter mainly to control the children and to guide them. Because if the children were left alone they would feel lost, and it was a very conscious decision of… for all the children’s media programmers that we want to make it for the children and by the children. Because if it is by the children then the acceptability and self-identification is much more and a child sees another child doing something, the inspiration value is also there, you know, which was kind of it just happened so most of the shows were made like this…. but we involved things which will be very important for the child in their growth, whether it is on a personal level… because anyway in the school they are learning everything so no need to teach what they are doing in the school ki ‘aise homework karo’, ‘aise karo’, ‘haath dhoke khana khao’ (do homework like thi, like this, wash your hands before eating) and all that, that is not required because it is already there and that is not entertainment for them. But then like I remember creating a complete series on seasons, you know, where the children should be exposed to the seasons but how to tell them? So we… I picked up different famous poems and certain songs in Gujarati called ‘the rain’ and every aspect of the rain, visually and otherwise, I involved including the water and the boats which they would only make and put it. And certain songs were composed by very very good and young music directors who are very famous today and established like Rajat Dholakia, gujju (Gujarati), and those songs were again sung by children. So composed, sung, and presented in the form of dance like ‘tak-dhi-na-dhin’ would involve so that the children and just thoroughly enjoying, and there are certain songs which till today people remember, those who have been to it.
S.K.: Considering this is a Gujarati show, did you have something specific to specific to you know…
N.D.: Yes, of course the ‘festivals’. We could not miss out on any, whether it is Navratri or Diwali or any other… And suppose it is about Diwali, we would see to it how firecrackers are hazardous and pollution and all that… I remember once… like depending on the subject we would take them on the visit to the factories… and handicrafts (for something). In fact, once…. for the children, Diwali’s association is with the crackers, but I wanted to divert the focus from that because as I said, it has pollution and this and that. So I had created interschool Rangoli competition for the children. Now for children rangoli is our tradition, so if they do it today, they will do it tomorrow and will keep doing it… And anyway rangoli is part of our art so which they anyway do the painting and all… and we had received 500 entries which was beyond our expectations. So this kind of ‘online’ competitions also we would go for, sometimes poetry writing we would go for, sometimes essay writing for instance if it is second October ‘Gandhi Jayanti’ and if you tell them to write something or speak something about it… Whatever they know… nothing ‘preachy’. So then telling the truth get imbibed into them very easily.
S.K.: Could you tell us the challenges you faced in the show, the major ones that were involved?
N.D.: See usually, we would pick up… It was very important for us to pick a child that could speak the particular language. The same challenge was faced by all other language shows… so obviously, they should be able to speak fluently, for that matter the age group has to be little bit more so that they understand. They need not mug up the script because we didn’t have a script per se… but they should express themselves without any fear. Imagine when the child is sitting in the studio and where lots of lights are (coming) and too much hulla-gulla, announcer is finished and they say shhh… everybody keep quiet and then the countdown starts ‘Ten, nine, eight, seven’… and the child might get scared but the fear should not be there… that was the main thing that the subject and the atmosphere should be so interesting that the child is interested in only what he or she is doing… Sometimes it would happen that the child would start crying due to XYZ reasons and they will (say), ‘Okay you want to do this? Why don’t you do this?’ karke they would be out of the show so these kind of many many crises and calamities we had to face during many shows but it was fun as a challenge.
S.K.: Was any research undertaken in order to you know come up with new episodes?
N.D.: Can I tell you something? It may sound like I’m blowing my own trumpet but this is the truth but it was more or less a one-man show, maximum two people. Nowadays when we are working with the others and in the satellite television we know on the shoot on the day the director has a minimum of more that 3-4-5 ADs and even the writers have their research assistants. Here the concept is by us, the programming, the conceptualization, development and implementation is in terms of technical editing is by the one person and the team of assistants. We couldn’t even have two-three assistants in those days. Only one assistant. So we had to do everything, the research and the concept. And there is one more very important aspect nowadays which is in terms of feedback and the TRPs which is the benchmark you know for the popularity. But for us the instant reaction of the viewer and their recall of your show was the best feedback and the TRPs which was usually oral but then we had started later on the shows in the languages of Marathi, and Gujarati and Hindi where viewers used to write the letters and we had to answer them. So there they were free to criticize you know but mostly they would have their own demands, as per their likes and dislikes. You know they would say ‘let’s have this, we would like to see so and so and so and so’. But most of the time everybody used to like the show and that was the criteria which was the pushing and challenging factor. That I’m not supposed to repeat my concept, I’m not supposed to repeat my same talent. If my one anchor is very good with children, I would feel very tempted and you know sometimes we used to have anchors also with different age groups. Sometimes storytelling will be maybe some kind of a daadi-grandma character, you know… person… and sometimes a child himself who is very good, you know a youth child and a scarecrow kind of a thing will present a show. Those kind of varieties they had to bring. So different concepts, different presentation, and different talent which we have to look for and television being a new media there were no trained talent for writing or for performance. So we would have to kind of groom them.
S.K.: So there were many other shows on air in Bombay Doordarshan which like Magic Lamp, Khel Khilone, Kilbil. So can you tell what was very different and unique about Santakukdi as a show?
N.D.: Well… I would say that it is not only unique and different about Santakukadi… Of course the language Gujarati it was… but I would like to say that each show by themselves was very unique and they had their own style of presentation and selection of subjects… and Bombay being a cosmopolitan city I can very very proudly say that each child wanted to see all the shows. The child will see on Monday Santakukadi, on Tuesday Kilbil which is in Marathi. Even if it not a Marathi speaking child would like to see. And Khel Khilone which was in Hindi and of course Magic Lamp, which was in English. So all the language… See, the language was not the mark… because that was the kind of very young approach, young in the terms of the concepts and the treatment by the programme makers that the programme by itself has to be entertaining and enjoyable by all the children. So what if it not in Gujarati, so other children who might not speak Gujarati but would be able to enjoy it.
S.K.: After you stopped working on Santakukdi did it continue after that?
N.D.: No… it so happened that there was an expansion even otherwise… or technically of the shows. When we started we had only one channel, the main Doordarshan. Then we had another channel called DD-II. Also we had a launched afternoon shows in the TV. And till then Marathi programmes were mixed with the all other languages then the time came when technical bifurcation took place where Maharashtra programmes were all over Maharashtra. So being all over Maharashtra then we had to… we were catering to and presenting only Marathi shows and all the other shows in any other languages whether Gujarati or Hindi or English they were shifted to the other channels. So… and then gradually the other channels were also converted and gradually so at some level all the other language shows were closed down. Because some other important programmes had to take place and like for Gujarati they had Gujarat and all over Gujarat. Same with Hindi and same with English shows. Then the educational shows started which was called ETV so there was lot of bifurcation.
S.K.: Now let’s talk about Doordarshan itself. To what extent was it committed to children’s television while you were and over the years you know if you’ve seen?
N.D.: See because Doordarshan caters to the country, at a national level, it is not possible for it to be committed to a particular age group or genre but I’m sure in all the cities and everywhere they’ve given enough due importance to the children’s genre. Unfortunately, what happens you know it is very difficult to create the concepts for the children and on the top of it by the children because then you have to have the access of grooming to the talent. At the same time the subject should be such which can be presented by the children.
S.K.: So when DD it does plan to launch DD Kids in future should it go the satellite way or should it have its own unique… because it’s been relying a lot… through the years it has featured a lot of live action and puppetry and these forms… what should it do in future?
N.D.: The content has to be relevant to the IQ level of today’s child. Today’s child is exposed to multiple other things. So we have to come up with format and presentation to grab the attention of the child because today’s child is got a lot of diversification. Everything is on the tips. IPad and any other. They have a freedom to choose so they will go for something which is more interactive, which is more… maybe some children who like dishoom-dishoom they would go for action kind of thing, cartoon films and whatever it is. But the key point for any genre for that matter especially for children is self-identification. If we create anything with self-identification. Look at the success of satellite channels in the serials it is because of self-identification…. The first layer and the main layer should be entertainment and fascination through the beautiful characters, identifiable characters… one could be naughty, one could be… exactly the nature and the kind of children what they are you know. Now those kind of characters with that kind of characteristics if we create them. And second layer can be of any message, any cause, any education which could be just by the way. And if we want that also we can present and that is the advantage we have than the other countries because we have the complete heritage of traditions and different languages. According to me due to digitization and easy access to Youtube etc. so many other values have totally gone into the background… I wouldn’t like to say underground, but background… we create a fusion, where the primary, let’s say the foreground is given, the main layer is given to today’s technique, today’s time, today’s child with the content which has got a fusion of old and new… and it is very much possible for today’s young writers there are so many good children’s writers who can write everything, these kinds of things, you know… And the best part of children’s shows is they don’t have any norms; they don’t have any formulas because these are all love triangles. The scope is enormous and we have to keep it in mind ‘nothing negative, only positive entertainment’, which the children would love.
S.K.: So thank you so much for sparing your views. It’s been a pleasure talking to you.
N.D.: My pleasure! Thank you.