tv classics

The DD Files: ‘Hum Log’ versus ‘Buniyaad’

Both shows are landmark depictions of the Great Indian Family.

If you were to pick two shows that defined Doordarshan in the 1980s, they would most certainly be Hum Log and Buniyaad. Both serials were about the Great Indian Family, but in its scope, writing and emotional appeal, Buniyaad was the Mahabharat to Hum Log’s Ramayana.

Hum Log came first. By the end of July 1984, middle India was hooked on to the life and times of the luckless and lustreless family led by Basesar Ram (Vinod Nagpal). The characters of Hum Log included subservient and self-sacrificing women led by Bhagwanti (Jayshree Arora), Basesar’s wife, and unemployed young men nurturing audacious dreams. Its themes covered the thwarting of ambition due to lack of encouragement and resources and dowry. More than 40,000 letters were posted to the makers of the 157-episode series, which was written by the eminent Hindi novelist Manohar Shyam Joshi and directed by P Kumar Vasudev. Viewers laughed and wept with the characters with whom they identified completely.

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The first episode of ‘Hum Log’.

Only seven years later, the families that were shedding copious tears over Bhagwanti’s silent and endless suffering were discussing incest and adultery with the Forresters in The Bold and the Beautiful and gaping at endless legs between satin sheets. Which could explain why a rerun of Hum Log that was compressed into 52 episodes and telecast in 2000 wasn’t half as successful.

Hum Log was inspired by Information and Broadcast Minister Vasant Sathe’s trip to Mexico, where he watched a popular television show that educated as well as entertained. Every episode ended with the affable actor Ashok Kumar in a sharp suit and dark glasses explaining the theme of the day and prodding viewers to think about what they had just watched. The show did generate progressive conversations about the empowerment of women, education and equal opportunities, but it also evoked a complete sense of identification with its pitiable characters that ultimately proved stifling both on and off the screen. The actors – most of them from the Delhi theatre scene – were mobbed on the streets and received marriage proposals. Others like Seema Bhargava (Gunvanti, the eldest daughter) were so stuck in their self-sacrificing moulds that their television careers nearly died with the show.

Divya Seth, as the attractive middle daughter Rupvanti who dreams of a film career, was suitably chastised and stripped of her ambition – just the viewers wanted it to be. There was no end to Bhagwanti’s suffering because that’s how the audiences wanted to see her. And before we blame Ekta Kapoor for unleashing the saas-bahu scourge on television, let’s give credit where it is due – the fantastic Sushma Seth, who plays the sharp-tongued and hard-to-please matriarch with a soft corner for Rupvanti and contempt for her servile daughter-in-law Bhagwanti. The conflicts between the women were mostly one-sided and without the claps of thunder and dramatic crash zooms that was de rigeur two decades later.

Hum Log whetted the appetite for more family sagas – and in 1986, there was another epic written by Manohar Shyam Joshi on the small screen. Buniyaad was directed by Ramesh Sippy and was, in many ways, an improvement on its predecessor. The series was better filmed – the sets and framing were superior and realistic – and the story of several generations of a Pakistani Hindu family that migrated to India during the Partition was better fleshed out. One reason could be the fact that Sippy’s family had moved from Karachi to Mumbai in 1948, and the director identified closely with the material. The agony of Haveli Ram (Alok Nath), who grapples with his decision to leave behind his ancestral home, is chillingly real.

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The first episode of ‘Buniyaad’.

The ensemble cast featured some of the finest actors of the day – Anita Kanwar, Kanwaljeet Singh, Mazhar Khan, Soni Razdan and Kiran Juneja. The masterful writing and robust production not only recreated the pre-Independence-era mansions and later the refugee camps and middle-class homes, it also straddled generations and mirrored their changing worldviews brilliantly.

If Hum Log expanded the audience for Indian television, Buniyaad owned it. The Partition had been fruitfully explored by literature but except for stray instances on the screen (Dharamputra, Garm Hava), the historical tragedy hadn’t been adequately explored in popular culture. The unrelentingly dark Tamas would arrive two years after Buniyaad went on air.

Wisely enough, the makers of Buniyaad didn’t attempt to re-interpret the classic. It would have been sacrilege.

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Changing the conversation around mental health in rural India

Insights that emerged from discussions around mental health at a village this World Mental Health Day.

Questioning is the art of learning. For an illness as debilitating as depression, asking the right questions is an important step in social acceptance and understanding. How do I open-up about my depression to my parents? Can meditation be counted as a treatment for depression? Should heartbreak be considered as a trigger for deep depression? These were some of the questions addressed by a panel consisting of the trustees and the founder of The Live Love Lough Foundation (TLLLF), a platform that seeks to champion the cause of mental health. The panel discussion was a part of an event organised by TLLLF to commemorate World Mental Health Day.

According to a National Mental Health Survey of India 2015-16, conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), common mental disorders including depression, anxiety disorders and substance use disorders affect nearly 10% of the population, with 1 in 20 people in India suffering from depression. The survey reported a huge treatment gap, a problem that is spread far and wide across urban and rural parts of the country.

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During the visit, the TLLLF team met patients and their families to gain insights into the program’s effectiveness and impact. Basavaraja, a beneficiary of the program, spoke about the issues he faced because of his illness. He shared how people used to call him mad and would threaten to beat him up. Other patients expressed their difficulty in getting access to medical aid for which they had to travel to the next biggest city, Shivmoga which is about 2 hours away from Davangere. A marked difference from when TLLLF joined the project two years ago was the level of openness and awareness present amongst the villagers. Individuals and families were more expressive about their issues and challenges leading to a more evolved and helpful conversation.

The process of de-stigmatizing mental illnesses in a community and providing treatment to those who are suffering requires a strong nexus of partners to make progress in a holistic manner. Initially, getting different stakeholders together was difficult because of the lack of awareness and resources in the field of mental healthcare. But the project found its footing once it established a network of support from NIMHANS doctors who treated the patients at health camps, Primary Healthcare Centre doctors and the ASHA workers. On their visit, the TLLLF team along with APD and the project partners discussed the impact that was made by the program. Were beneficiaries able to access the free psychiatric drugs? Did the program help in reducing the distance patients had to travel to get treatment? During these discussions, the TLLLF team observed that even amongst the partners, there was an increased sense of support and responsiveness towards mental health aid.

The next leg of the visit took the TLLLF team to the village of Bilichodu where they met a support group that included 15 patients and caregivers. Ujjala Padukone, Deepika Padukone’s mother, being a caregiver herself, was also present in the discussion to share her experiences with the group and encouraged others to share their stories and concerns about their family members. While the discussion revolved around the importance of opening up and seeking help, the team brought about a forward-looking attitude within the group by discussing future possibilities in employment and livelihood options available for the patients.

As the TLLLF team honoured World Mental Health day, 2017 by visiting families, engaging with support groups and reviewing the successes and the challenges in rural mental healthcare, they noticed how the conversation, that was once difficult to start, now had characteristics of support, openness and a positive outlook towards the future. To continue this momentum, the organisation charted out the next steps that will further enrich the dialogue surrounding mental health, in both urban and rural areas. The steps include increasing research on mental health, enhancing the role of social media to drive awareness and decrease stigma and expanding their current programs. To know more, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of The Live Love Laugh Foundation and not by the Scroll editorial team.