Once upon a time, long before television was invaded ( read:screwed over) by kanjeevaram sari clad women with jewellery as heavy as themselves, witchcrafty make-up, mean plans and super-repetitive close-up shots (or in other words Balaji Telefilms), was the era of Doordarshan’s Prime Entertainment. And that was when, long before becoming the Bhabhi of the Nation (singing Lo Chali Main with Salman Khan in Hum Aapke Hai Kaun), Renuka Shahane entered our lives as the Lady with the Electrifying smile, greeting us “Namaskar” every Sunday Night with Siddharth Kak on SURABHI. CINEMA VISION INDIA’s production, Surabhi brought information packaged in an entertaining 30 minutes box like never before. It wowed us to the core. Children, adoloscents and adults across the nation were glued to the half hour of culture explosion that ranged from dizzying heights of Ladakh to Aleppey’s backwaters, from the fields of Paan cultivation to remembering the greatness of cinema legends like Raj Kapoor and K.L.Saigal. Surabhi was my Indian Wikipedia; even better, it was on Television and I competed with my Dad in answering the Sawaal Jawaab.
Surabhi’s entire decade of impeccable dedication to exploring the magic of India makes it truly one of the defining programs of Indian Television. When I am faced with the question from someone who wants to know about India (yeah, someone who just saw Slumdog Millionaire), I wish I could make him sit through each episode of Surabhi to get a glimpse of the variety and gigantic diversity of the magic that is India. Surabhi brought the dry Thar desert and the extremely wet Cherrapunji to the comfort of our homes. It taught us the cultivation of spices and the Hyderabadi Biriyani directly from the Nizaam. And it captured our history, our culture, tradition and also showed a glimpse of our future (Remember, Sushmita Sen’s first TV interview after winning Miss India, right before she was to compete Miss Universe. The rest as they say, is history). Renuka Shahane and Siddharth Kak’s popularity soared and Surabhi was a national success.
Amul became the official sponsors of the show and till date is known as the Taste of India; all thanks to Surabhi. The advert featuring Manthan’s “Mero Gaam Katha Parey” first premiered in Surabhi and Surabhi also did a story on Verghese Kurien, the Milkman of India. Another phenomenon spawned by Surabhi was the Competition post card, which was sold at Rs.2 (previously, post cards were sold at 15 paise) per postcard. The popularity of Surabhi’s Sawaal Jawaab was never seen before in Indian Television, donno the exact figure of audiences replying on to the Competition Questions (but this was way before the age of email and SMS). As far as my memory goes, I remember Surabhi breaking the Limca Book of Records for Highest Measured Replies from Viewers – and the question that week was a visual of a factory where workers (all female) were kneading dough (and then some more), and the question was to identify the product. And the answer was – Sri Mahila Griha Udyog, the manufacturers of Lijjat papad.
Surabhi’s essence comes alive in its title music- a video which travels through traditional Indian Pottery to the Murli, Tanpoora and a classical Indian dancer (now I am confused if that’s Kuchipudi or not) and then the famous shot of Jantar Mantar. I just feel short of words when I hear it even today, and the pakhawaj beats just mesmerize me. (Watch it below).
I watch the title track of Surabhi and I miss the “Namaskar” in chorus by Renuka and Siddharth that follows it . The second best thing I miss about Surabhi is the big list of prizes for Sawaal Jawaab, sponsored by the various State Tourism. I can vividly remember one of my teachers winning a holiday in Goa, and when her name was announced on TV, the next day, she was the school’s star of the day. The questions in Sawaal Jawaab were extremely educational and one of the questions that just flashed into my head was of this lock, which had no keyholes in it. But it had three keys. The question was to guess how to open the lock. I still don’t know the answer coz there was a load-shedding on the next Sunday when the answer was aired. 8-( And of course, the format was Renuka would ask the question and Siddharth would end the show with a slight hint which kept all of us guessing. Surabhi is etched in our memories , especially in guys n gals of my generation coz it gave us the sense of pride and showcased it, and how brilliantly so. Surabhi for us, is in the true sense of the term -IMMORTAL.