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Humlog a, first Indian Soap

Basesar Ram had two passions: wine and Mir. Starting July 7, 1984 and ending on December 17, 1985 the trial and tribulation of this alcoholic man's family, its ups and downs, twists and turns, a formula, telecast twice a week, hooked the masses of this nation. Each episode ended with vetran actor Ashok Kumar adding a word of grandfatherly advice, a jargon, a 'message'. Basesar Ram could keep Mir but wine had to go. The serial was conceived and run like a state project meant to engineer a better society, a simpler happier Middle class.

The great experiment had its origins in the Left back-lanes of South America where a poor migrant girl in Peru could sews her way to riches. That was the basic premise of Perunivan telenovela, 'Simplemente Maria'. Produced in 1969 by Miguel Sabido for Mexico's  Televisa it had proved to be a working and highly successful formula, creating a television revolution in Latin America. Singer, the sewing machine company had put money in the venture and with the success of this series had had a handsome return in number of sales. The experiment ought to be run at a wider scale.

In 1983, delegates from India, Egypt, Nigeria, Kenya and Brazil visited Mexico City on a special invite of David Poindexter, the President of the centre for Population Communinications International, New York, to meet Miguel Sabido. S.S Gill, then secretary in the ministry of Information and Broadcasting and later the first Chief Executive Officer of the Prasar Bharati, headed the Indian delegation. Gill came back and after initial failure to interest anyone from mainstream commercial media in his project, got a a team together. He got Shobha Doctor, someone from ad background, as Producer, P. Kumar Vasudev as Director, Satish Garg as the Executive producer and Manohar Shyam Joshi, who went on to write many more classics for Doordarshan, as Script Writer. The serial was 'brought to you by' Maggi, a new special food launched in 1983. And together they created Hum Log, India's first soap opera believed to have reached 80 Million people at its peak.

The phrase was 'Hum loga has started'. That was what people would say if they picked up distant chords of domestic trouble in the neighborhood. By the end of 80s it was already over. The God shows were taking over the television and the county. Those I do remember.  But with my DOB I could't have seen the show then how do I recall watching it? I often wondered. But then I had forgotten where I had finally managed to catch it. In early 2000, Sony bought the tapes from Doordarshan and re-telecasted the 154 episode story in 52 episodes. After that the tapes were mysteriously lost. And that is how I got to see 'The Great Detoxification of Basesar Ram'  in one of the most terrifying scenes that I have ever witnessed on TV. Towards the end, Basesar Ram gets possessed by the demons that reside in the bottle. Sharaab Dayan. That would be the local parlance. He starts worrying about death. He wants to live to see his dearest daughter's marriage. Will he be able to witness it? He wants to quit and witness it. He quits. And he starts seeming lizards on the wall. He jumps from his cot all too often. Invisible creatures crawl on his skin. Basesar Ram doesn't quote Mir anymore. He screams in agony. Lizards keep staring at him. And that is when the violence of it all suddenly seems unbearably graphic and cuts through.

In my holidays I hate no one.
I do not have to fight
on any front.
I have drunk all the liquor
and put the bottle in the lavatory
on which is written:
For Defense Services Only.
This is the sum of my life.
(Like all good citizens
I pull down the curtains
the moment I hear the siren.)
- line of Hindi poet Dhoomil translated by Arvind Krishna Mehrotra.

(Title track was by Anil Biswas)


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