One of the most striking gaps in both popular and academic writing on Bombay cinema pertains to cinema’s convergence with every “new” medium – radio, state-regulated TV, cable and satellite TV, the Internet, mobile phone, and of late, video games. Of course, it is much easier to sit up and take note of all the trans-media flows in contemporary Bollywood. The question is, in what ways did earlier phases of media convergence set the stage? Did producers’ and directors’ experiences with Radio Ceylon and All India Radio shape their reactions to state-regulated TV during the 1980s? Did this in any way influence how film content was taken up by transnational television channels like MTV and Channel [v]?
Over the next few weeks, I will blog about several interesting moments of convergence. And what better way to start than to return to the earliest instance of film’s convergence with television and specifically, a program called Showtheme! Some background: when state-regulated Doordarshan opened its doors to sponsored programming in 1983, signaling a departure from an earlier model of public service broadcasting with the express goal of utilizing television for “development” and “modernization,” some of the earliest and most popular shows were film-based. The Saturday evening Hindi language film, the film songs show Chitrahaar, and Show Theme, which used popular film songs and scenes to speak to a theme each week, always garnered high viewer ratings. In fact, by 1984 these shows had established an immensely lucrative “national audience” for Doordarshan.
Show Theme was produced by Creative Unit, a Bombay-based advertising agency, in collaboration with Network 7, a television production company owned and managed by Manjoo Singh. I had the chance to meet and chat with Manjoo Singh, the charming host of Show Theme, during the course of my fieldwork in Bombay – here are her recollections:
At the time, 1982-83, people at DD were thinking about sponsored programmes and Show Theme was the first one. Of course, there weren’t any other channels. Programs like Chitrahaar and the Sunday evening film was there. So at the time, Show Theme sounded like a good idea. We also connected themes to artists and these artists were getting TV exposure for the first time. For example, when Hero was released, we got Jackie Shroff to do a show on crime. At the time, people didn’t get to see much film-related material on TV. So for Doordarshan, Show Theme was great – they paid a fixed amount to us, and we would pay a part of that to producers for film material. The amount was fixed, irrespective of what movie it was or which star it was. But then, most producers and distributors were happy. Many of them felt that the show brought back the film’s saleability – a second release, maybe in smaller towns. And within Doordarshan, people were very happy and appreciative. For them, Show Theme was the perfect mix of entertainment and information.
And I still remember, I received a lot of compliments from Hrishi-da [Hrishikesh Mukherjee]. He said he enjoyed watching and appreciated how we incorporated really good themes into the show – two shows in particular.
One was on generation gap which showed how elders don’t understand youngsters and vice versa. That program was very effective because we touched upon all angles of the theme. We used clips and songs from Guddi, for instance. When that program went on air, I got calls from schools in Bombay saying we want to use it in our classrooms. On that level, it was entertainment but it was also information. The other one was a theme called koshish (effort), and we talked specifically about organ donation. We got letters from people after that show also. In some ways, we did then what soaps are doing today – getting a sense of many aspects of life, at an everyday level.
Show Theme had a first run, and then we re-started it. That time, Hero released so we got Jackie Shroff to do a show on crime. Then Meenakshi did one. We did a show with Anupam Kher because Saaransh had come out then. So we connected themes to artists. And these artists were getting TV exposure for the first time, showing them as they really are. So when an actress or an actor came on TV and were just being themselves, people were really interested in that. But I tell you, the research used to take a long time – we had to pick the right scene for the right theme and we did not have a large staff or anything. I have spent many, many hours thinking about and going through so many films.
Actually, my involvement with films goes back…I was making film-based radio programs also. There were sponsored shows on radio. Like there was a show called Kal Aaj aur Kal on film music – an interview with a singer or a music director. I remember Laxmikant Pyarelal, Lata Mangeshkar, and so on. It dealt with old film music – to show how the trends in music had evolved, how things had changed from the 50s and 60s, very nostalgic. And of course, some information about what they were doing now. Then another show called Awaaz-e-Andaz – a drama kind of show, a dramatic narrative. And the film dialogues would be played – people would identify which film or artist it was. There was a prize…people would send in letters. Films are so into everyone’s minds and hearts – I mean, people remember dialogues and scenes so well, it is amazing. And in 1983, when the opportunity came, I moved into TV. And Show Theme was first sponsored by Limca and Ponds.
The Show Theme team was not large – I had a writer and a researcher. She used to write the script for the theme and supervise the research. It wasn’t easy at the time to get films. We used to identify clips and then go to the distributors, transfer reels to tele-cine, sometimes the whole reel. We would shoot the stars in this one studio we had in Bombay. Then the second person was a production person who used to deal with permission, payment, getting reels – acquisition – coordinating with artists to set up dates, etc. Very early on, there was an agency involved owned by the person who publishes Stardust so they were involved. And they got the clients. They used to help us get artists. Their role was – because they were getting the sponsors, they used to help us with the show. They didn’t interfere with the creative process at all.
I can’t tell you how popular it was – it was at 11 on Sunday mornings. There was nothing else to compete with at the time, you know. But I also think it was really good for its time. Dramas like Hum Log and comedies like Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi happened later – this was December 1983. And I remember, Show Theme was on the cover of TV & Video World, the only trade magazine at the time.
Within Doordarshan, people were very happy and appreciative. And within the film industry, producers, directors and stars were also happy and I made several friends. Everyone was appreciative and in those days, they felt that the show brought back the film’s saleability – a second release, maybe in smaller towns.
It worked and it was popular. People’s response was good also. I meet people who were young at the time and they remember some of our themes. I should tell you – we did a very nice show with Ila Arun at the time, where she sang these Rajasthani songs on TV. At that time, I was told by Sanjeev Kohli that they discovered her and did a record with her because of Show Theme. Think about it…Ila Arun – Indian Idol for that time!