Cable Television has been around in India for more than a decade now. Considering that the peak of Doordarshan as a monopoly lasted for less than a decade - from 1984 when it really began expanding nationwide till the advent of cable tv in 1992 - I thought it is time to compare the two to see which has fared better in terms of providing entertainment, information and education to the viewers. The monopoly of a state-owned broadcaster or the competition among private players?
Even as I set out to do the comparison, I ran into a problem. I used to be a regular DD watcher when growing up - seeing as that was the only source of entertainment back then and being a student I had plenty of time on my hands. I used to watch most of the serials, the news, current affairs program, sports etc (some say I even used to watch Krishi Darshan, but there is no truth to it. That was only for the first year or so :-) But since I started working around the same time as cable TV started, and hence time became somewhat of a scarce commodity, I haven't watched as much of cable as I have of DD. So it was never going to be an objective comparison, but since when is objectivity a requirement for blogging?
So, anyway, as I started comparing, I found that there is just no comparison. I could come up with dozens of programs that I liked and remembered on DD, but for the life of me, I couldn't think of a single cable program that I have watched in last decade that I really liked (not counting the likes of BBC, Nat Geo, Discovery etc - I am comparing DD with the Indian cable channels to compare apples with apples). The DD list was seemingly endless. In no particular order and off the top of my head - Buniyaad, Darpan, Katha Sagar, Tamas, Yatra, Intezaar, Nukkad, Bharat Ek Khoj, Malgudi Days, Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi, Choti Badi Baatein, Vikram aur Betal, Mirza Ghalib. Heck, even Mahabharat had its likeable moments (not Ramayan though). And this is just those programs which we used to call "serials". On top of that there were documentaries, the musical programs (sunday morning National Integraion show or some such), discussion programs (there used to be one hosted by Vinod Dua on Sundays called Phursat mein or some thing), award winning movies from such renowned directors as Satyajit Ray, Ritwik Ghatak, Bimal Roy, Mrinal Sen, Shyam Benegal etc. And what do we have on the cable side? Saas bhi kabhi bahu thi? Indian Idol? Even the much hyped KBC was not a patch on DD's Quiz Time, if you ask me, in terms of the quality of questions or of participants.
So how did this come to pass? How come a state-owned, cash-strapped monopoly could churn out entertaining *and* informative programs at such a regular rate, but the cash-rich private players can only come up with duds like Ghar ghar ki Kahani? Is it just my nostalgia or is free market really inferior to state-owned monopoly when it comes to providing meaningful entertainment? Note, the operative word there is meaningful. I have no doubt whatsoever in market's capability in delivering endless jhatka's of Rakhi Sawant into our living rooms. But why can't all those zillion channels produce a simple Darpan or Tamas?