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After 25 years, Doordarshan says Hum Log tapes lost
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#1
It wasn't meant to be history in the making and it wasn't the well-publicised soap opera that the audience was waiting for with bated breath. Its star quotient was zilch and its makers were unfamiliar with a concept called TRP.

And, the people behind the show didn't know that much later in the future, even after the saas-es, the bahu-s and the balika vadhus of the world would have taken the nation by storm, they would continue to remain in public memory as strongly etched as they had been when they had first gone on air.

It was Hum Log, India's first soap opera that created history with its popularity and became everything that it had not set out to be. This July, it would be 25 years since Hum Log began its nearly two year run on Doordarshan (DD).

Hum Log had an average viewership of 50 million per episode. In a research paper, Arvind Singhal and Evertt M Rogers say that even in non-Hindi speaking regions the soap's rating was between 20 and 40 per cent while in north India it ranged between 60 and 90 per cent.

In honour of this landmark in its life, which helped DD discover the genre of soap opera and enter the next level of entertainment television, all it has to show is a sorry face - DD doesn't have the tapes of Hum Log in its library. Its shocking but true.

Kamalini Dutta, head, DD Archives, says, "We don't have Hum Log in our library as we don't have the IPR (Intellectual Property Rights) of the serial. It was a sponsored programme and was produced by outside (external) groups."

That is all Dutta has had to say, without elaborating further. However, her former colleague, Sharad Dutt, who retired from DD in 2006 after having served as a director and OSD to the Director General, DD, says, "The archives of DD have always been in a bad shape - many people working with the archives have also fallen ill due to its bad condition."

"The fact is that DD never attached enough importance to its own programmes; Dilip Kumar's first ever interview to a channel, which I conducted and which was 90- minutes long, has been lost. That is just an example of the state of affairs there." Dutt says.

As for the IPR of Hum Log, the story isn't very clear. The facts, according to Sharad Dutt who was involved with the production of the serial right from the beginning, go thus: "Hum Log was the idea of the then Secretary of the Information and Broadcasting Ministry, S. S. Gill, who had a Mexican soap as a model that was produced by Miguel Sabido."

Dutt continues to explain, "Sabidos soap had created wonders in curbing population growth in Mexico City and he wanted something similar for India, to help the Family Planning mission. So, Manohar Shyam Joshi, who had just left the editorship of two publications then, was roped in to pen the script."

Dutt adds, "It was to be produced in-house by Doordarshan, but since DD was not fully equipped to do that, external producers were brought in - Shobha Doctor from Mumbai and Chanda Oberoi from Delhi. So, the serial was co- produced by DD and an agency run by these individuals."

Dutt says that Satish Garg of DD was the executive producer of the serial that was directed by the late P. Vasudev Kumar. The agency that put in the money as co- producers of the serial has since gone out of business.

So, nobody knows where the Hum Log tapes are. Garg, who retired from DD in 1994, says, "DD did have tapes earlier, at least till when I retired. I don't know anything beyond that."

Dutt informs that Sony Entertainment TV took tapes from DD about five years ago and had telecast the whole series after crunching the original 154 episodes into 52.

Nobody knows where the tapes are, and quite predictably, nobody knows what exactly it would take for anyone to discover them. Tapes may be missing but the experience of Hum Log will forever remain in the minds of those who brought it alive.

Hum Log not only was the first soap opera of India that every television household of India tuned into but it also gave birth to the first TV celebrities of the country - Basesar Ram, Nanhey, Lallu, Badki, Majhli, Chhutki and more. The actors who played these characters continue to be referred to by these names even now, 25 years after they first got into the skin of these characters.

Seema Bhargava, who played Badki, says, "Its so unbelievable that even now absolute strangers stop me on the road and ask, You are Badki, isn't it? Its incredible, especially in my case, as I have changed a lot since then; I've put on so much weight in these 25 years. I've gone on to do many more serials after Hum Log, but this character has stayed with me; its like almost being Badki."

Bhargava is married to actor Manoj Pahwa, who played Tony in Hum Log (the guy with whom Majhli runs away to Bombay to pursue her Bollywood dream and who is eventually murdered by her). The duo is based in Mumbai and is as active in television as on stage.

Presently, the Pahwa couple is rehearsing for Naseeruddin Shah's theatre group Motleys play Ismat Aapa Ke Naam Part II, which sees them rubbing shoulders with yet another Hum Log star, Loveleen Mishra, who is still remembered as Chhutki, the youngest daughter of the family in Hum Log.

Mishra adds, "Though I've attained satisfaction as an artiste by working in a variety of serials since Hum Log , it was, indeed a different kind of a high. I was a babe in the woods when the serial was telecast, all of 16 and the youngest member of the troupe."

"We were all like a family. The shooting used to be done at Dhirendra Brahmacharis Aparna studio in Gurgaon and we were all picked up and dropped back home," recalls Mishra.

She had landed the role after she heard about auditions for a DD serial from her elocution teacher at the Convent of Jesus and Mary, Sushma Seth; her teacher too became part of the Hum Log folk lore, playing dadi.

In fact, most of the cast members are based in Mumbai now, including Rajesh Puri, who played Lallu. A prolific actor both on TV and the big screen, Puri has also directed a few serials, including Bhabhi for Star Plus and Soni Mahiwal for DD.

"It amuses me no end that I'm still referred to as Lallu. Playing Basesar Ram left a deep impression on me; Hum Log truly was a wonderful experience. After all, it opened doors for me everywhere," he says.

The most passionate about Hum Log of them all, however, is the chocolate boy of the serial Abhinav Chaturvedi, who, as is obvious, is still better known as Nanhey.

Talking to Chaturvedi is like reliving those heady days of 1984-85 when the serial was on air and everybody tuned in to DD to watch the saga of the typical north Indian lower middle class family unfold bit by bit.

Chaturvedi hasn't let 25 years since those days dilute his ardour for what turned him into a household name. The most comprehensive library on Hum Log is with him - in the form of newspaper reports and comic strips on the serial, the photographs, the sketches by famous cartoonists and whatever else information that one would like to have on the making of Hum Log.

All of this is neatly filed and ready for reference any time of the day, a habit which he says he got from his mother. A storehouse of information (I've so much to share that I don't know where to begin), he recalls some memorable moments from Hum Log.

"I got this role thanks to the son of Manohar Shyam Joshi, who scripted it, as his son was my friend. He had heard his father sketch a character and he told him, a isa ladka to mere saath parhta hai," he reminisces.

There couldn't have been a better choice than Manohar Shyam Joshi to pen India's first soap opera. The writer/journalist laid the template for all soaps to follow Hum Log on Indian television, though the world of TV has taken a completely different route since Joshi's days.

"With due respect to all who were associated with Hum Log , the credit for making the serial the hit it was goes solely to the script writer. He was a genius and had a memory like that of a telephone directory. Even after he had written his next serial, Buniyaad, he could recall lines from a particular page he had written for Hum Log." says Nagpal.

Nagpa adds that only Joshi could have converted a sociological project of talking to the masses about government policies on family programming, education of the girl child, etc., into a soap opera.

Seema Bhargava recalls how working for the serial meant endless rehearsals till the scene was perfected. "Today, we act with walls as the way of creating a serial has changed completely. We work with progressing scripts today where nobody knows how the story is going to shape up. But Joshi ji had the entire story ready even before we had begun shooting," she says.

Sushma Seth, who played dadi (and whose daughter Divya played Majhli), says that Joshi did a brilliant job in using television as a medium of education.

"Its incredible how he turned issues like family planning, drinking and other aspects of a middle class life so beautifully into a story." Seth says.

Just like the missing tapes of Hum Log , not many know that the stardom of the serial inspired American student Arvind Singhal to undertake a Ph. D. thesis on entertainment as education, with special focus on Hum Log .

Along with Everett M. Rogers, Singhal coauthored a book, Entertainment- Education, A Communication Strategy For Social Change, with Hum Log case study being an important ingredient. Singhal is presently a professor of communication at Ohio University.

Considering the success that it was, is it possible to have another Hum Log in today's age and time? "Of course, but on a different platform as television as a medium itself has changed so much and we will have to keep that in mind," says Rajesh Puri.

Loveleen Mishra, however, feels that it would be unfair to compare the two very different times. "I'm not sure if people would like to watch that kind of a soap today. Now its all about gloss, and after all, we should give the devil his due," she feels.

Seth agrees and feels, "The differences between cinema and television have blurred a lot and therefore, a soap like Hum Log , if it has to be redone today, will look very different from what it was."

The literature and anecdotes on Hum Log are so voluminous that it is beyond the purview of the current story to present it all. What however, one does feel sad about, is the absence of any DVD that you can just pick up and start playing on a Sunday when you want to watch something different
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