Can the Daily News be fun to watch? In today’s times you might get an emphatic ‘No’. A plethora of channels, 24 x 7 availability, plenty of repeats, yet nobody really interested in what is being dished out non-stop.
But there was a time when it was the most popular item, not to be missed, by both urban viewers and rural gatherings that gave it the ratings of being the most watched programme in daily fare.
The start of television in India
15th September 1959, saw an experimental telecast made with a small transmitter and makeshift studio. Until 1965, this first TV channel in India called Doordarshan (DD1) was with All India Radio (AIR), airing being done from there. 15th August 1982 saw DD1 channel commence its operations from its own TV studio in New Delhi. Krishi Darshan (about farming), Chaupal, Samachar (The News) and Kalyani were the first aired programmes. Hum Log was the first sponsored TV serial that came on in 1984.
Until then the News or Samachar was always heard in rapt attention on the radio. TV gave viewers a chance to see first-hand how it was delivered. In a very short time it gained popularity and became the most awaited programme that few would have liked to miss.
A must-view programme for all
Never mind that DD1 was the only viewing channel available in the country, there was the small joy of seeing news readers male and female reading out the news about India and the rest of the world, in a way that was endearing. DD being the only channel, there was no contradiction to what was being said, and be it Ram, Rahim, Gurubaksh or Joseph, all received the same content, across the length and breadth of the country.
It was news alright that was being reported not views being presented like today. In this simple broadcast, it in a manner of saying ‘united the country’. But the star attraction to the Samachar in Hindi and News in English was the way the news readers were seen on the small screen. Each having a characteristic appearance, distinct from the other, an unmistakable style of dress and a voice, diction and delivery that could easily be distinguished as belonging to a particular news reader, even if one were not viewing the television, but just hearing the voice.
It became a wonderful game that people played amongst themselves, guessing who would be reading the news that day, what color of dress would the person be wearing, so on and so forth.
In this small era of the 80s and early 90s, DD News caught the fancy of one and all.
Why was it so?
Firstly, DD1 was the only TV channel available to watch, secondly news of the day’s events could not be missed even though the radio was always there, since more importantly, there were no repeat telecasts.
What had made the news so very interesting that got young and old, literate and illiterate, glued to the TV sets without fail at the appointed hour? It was a breed of professionals who though appointed by the Govt. body that controlled it, followed an unwritten code of conduct that spelt discipline and decorum that is highly appreciated across the country even today.
Let us have a glimpse of some of the memorable things of some of the popular female news readers that millions who have been part of their journey would nostalgically recall, as ‘the golden days of Indian televison’. We present ten of the more popular ladies from an interesting lot of 40 plus strength of those times, to show that added charm to the news hour. Like, how they dressed, looked, carried themselves and delivered, that actually gave the channel a dignity befitting a national medium. In fact even the reporting of the daily events, actually portrayed the dissemination of news as an art.
1. Salma Sultan
Some of the female news readers seemed to have an endless wardrobe of ethnic saris and earrings. Their attire, the style of dressing, a particular item that they always had on them was a hot topic in many a discussion, with even wagers being placed about a particular color of dress being donned an what not. Salma Sultan’s trademark was a rose worn low in her hair. “It wasn’t meant to be a style statement. I loved roses and we just did our bit to look good onscreen”. The Doordarshan director initially found it a little out of place stating that it was the news and not a place to parade style and fashion. She complied by not wearing the rose the next day. “But when I appeared a few times without the rose, there was a flood of protest letters. All of them wanted the rose back,” she recalls. Amusedly she also recounts about a harassed husband once pleading with her through mail, not to turn up in a new sari every day. “My wife makes similar demands that I cannot meet,” he wrote.
Salma Sultan worked as an anchor in Doordarshan for 30 years from 1967 till 1997. She was famous for her signature rose tucked under her left ear in her hair,and draping the border of her sari around her neck in a unique style. And one fine day she disclosed the reason; “I did not have so many blouses to match with each sari so I created a style to hide them.” This style has appealed to thousands of middle aged women across India who have since taken up to imitate that.
Salma Sultan gave the first news of assassination of Indira Gandhi on Doordarshan’s evening news on 31 October 1984, more than 10 hours after she was shot.
Born to scholar and secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture mohammed Asghar Ansari and homemaker mother Salma, she has an elder sister Maimoona Sultan (4 time Congress MP from Bhopal). She joined Doordarshan when she was 23. Schooling from Sultanpur, Madhya Pradesh, graduation in Bhopal, post graduation in English from the Indraprastha College for Women, Delhi.
After retirement, Salma Sultan took to directing serials on social topics for Doordarshan under her production house Lensview Private Limited. Her serials Panchtantra Se, Suno Kahani, Swar Mere Tumhare and Jalte Sawal drew much attention. She has a son and daughter both ding very well in life.
Check out her style statements in these images.
2. Geetanjali Aiyer
She while at Doordarshan was the newsreader with the jazzy hairstyle that modern fashionable women wanted to emulate. She mentions, “I had my hair stylist regularly telling me that women wanted the Geetanjali Aiyer style haircut and obliging brought in ‘that much extra’. One of the first English news presenters who joined Doordarshan in the year 1971, she has been awarded best anchor person four times in her 30 year career. Known for her sense of dressing and stylish appearance, Geetanjali Aiyer was quite the favourite, for her way of reading the English News.
A BA Hons in English and a diploma holder in Theatre from the National School of Drama, her versatility shone in the various projects she took up besides news reading. Gitanjali involved herself in the field of corporate communications, government liaison and marketing. Apart from reading the news, she also conducted TV interviews, acted in the serial “Khandaan”, and lent her face for some leading brand advertising. She has also done assignments with the Taj and Oberoi Group of hotels, and her full time consultancy with CII together have given her a deep understanding of Public Relations, Press Relations, Government Relations and Event management. Presently she works with World Wildlife Fund. WWF is a worldwide Organization, started in 1961 in Switzerland. Today It is one of the biggest and most credible organizations working in more than 100 countries across the globe with communities, governments and international agencies to conserve and protect our natural environment.
Check out her various avatars in handlooms.
As her name goes, she is soft in her hues and has a remarkable dress sense. In her many stints when interviewing in India and foreign locales, she has been covering the National Film Awards, the Festivals of India abroad, Republic Day parades, swearing-in of two Presidents and delivered even the funeral commentary of the late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. “I”ve been the voice of ceremonies, both in good and bad times.” Her easy flowing style of delivery is most charming and adorable. Despite her soft demeanour, she is impulsive but with a never-say-die attitude.
Having dedicated 16 years to National news, Komal G.B. Singh is an inspiration to many. She started her career with acting on stage with Yuva Vani. Later she joined Doordarshan and became a News Reader. More recently she has anchored events like President’s Fleet Review, Beating Retreat & National Film Awards etc. She is with the Board of Directors for NIFT, Fortune Institute of Communication, and also a guest lecturer at Jamia Millia National University (Hindi department) for communication.
Check her out in these wonderful elegant handloom sarees.
4. Avinash Kaur Sarin
One of the very beautiful faces in the news reading lot, Avinash Kaur wore four things that she was known for – handwoven & handcrafted sarees, a large bindi on the forehead, neat bun at the back of her head, and a welcoming smile. As it goes, small-town sari sellers would be besieged with befuddling requests: “Woh sari jo Avinash Kaur ne pichhle Somwar ko TV par pehni thi, waisa dikhaiye (The sari that Avinash Kaur wore last Monday on TV. Show us something like that).
Starting her career with Doordarshan as a news reader in the 1970s, she went on to become main newscaster, documentary director and television personality. She is currently a member of the official panel of directors and producers at Doordarshan.
Sarin was born into a Sikh family. Her father was a professor in music. She received double bachelor’s degrees in Physics and Education from the University of Delhi. Sarin started her life as an anchor of a science show, Vigyan Patrika, on Doordarshan in 1979. She is blessed with a wonderful husband and two lovely children.
During the 1984 riots in Delhi, when Sarin was not to be seen for a month due to health reasons, millions of letters, including one from the President’s House, were sent to the Doordarshan head office in Delhi enquiring about her well-being. This was a precedent of sorts in the history of television at the time.
See her beautiful dresses in handlooms that she sports.
5. Neethi Ravindran
Ravindran, who read news on DD between 1976 and 2001, recalls how a little village boy by a roadside dhaba in Rajasthan identified her and shouted, “News, news”. Talking about DD she says “Most of the news was read out rather than illustrated through visuals, which meant you got to see more of the presenter”. Ravindran does a lot of compering now.
Neethi Ravindran used to grace the TV screen with her poise and crisp voice every night during 1980s and 1990s. After golden Doordarshan days, she has been keeping busy as a voiceover artist, making documentaries, short films and anchoring special programs. It was her voice that led us through the death of Mother Teresa in 1997 and she was the brainchild behind award-winning documentary Fifty Years of India’s Independence, made for the Ministry of External Affairs through the United News of India.
See her calm and poised countenance in these images showing her in a handloom saree.
6. Rini Simon Khanna
With her bob cut and a wonderful delivery in the English News, Rini Simon Khanna became popular for her excellent command in English with many trying to emulate her style of speaking. She was literally handpicked from Radio to anchor the National news on Delhi Doordarshan in 1985. Co-anchoring news with Tejeshwar Singh and his deep baritone, both became widely followed and adulated.
With a career that spans three decades now, Rini began producing and hosting programmes and interviews on India’s National Radio, All India Radio at 13 and was soon selected to read the Prime time National News on All India Radio. In addition she does commentary on prestigious occasions such as Independence day, Republic day etc. for television and radio.
Besides the News, her talent shone in Voice modulation, rendering commentary and voiceovers for documentaries, advertisement films and feature-films. She also played the role of anchor in many international and national conferences, cultural shows and seminars for prestigious organizations, UN agencies, corporate groups and Government.
“The days spent working with DD, are special since they brought me instant recognition and gave me unimaginable success and fame. I am warmly received in any part of the country I travel to and people still remember my good work. The effects are simply staggering. Even after so many years of not having been on television, I am amazed at the recall value people have”.
Post-DD she has been compering and anchoring for conferences, symposia and cultural shows as also lending her voice to films, radio and television advertisements, corporate films, documentaries and newsreels. Hers is the voice for the Airtel nationwide, Delhi Metro, Air India et al campaigns.
She finished her schooling from The Air Force School at Subroto Park, Delhi in 1981. Thereafter she graduated in English literature from Jesus and Mary College, Delhi University, and did her post graduation in History and also did a PG diploma in Journalism from Indian Institute of Mass Communication (IIMC), New Delhi.
Rini works at her own pace now, away from the crazy deadlines and manic schedules of those DD days.
Stylishly presenting herself in saree or salwar kameez, she always looks marvelously at ease wherever she is.
7. Sarla Maheshwari
Considered the most striking presence that graced TV News in the age of Doordarshan, Sarla Maheshwari floored the viewers with her utter simplicity, devoid of any form of jewellery, that shone so elegantly. A small mole on a small petite face, an almost expression-less face, a typical gujju style saree sporting lady, she caught the nation’s attention with her quiet but effective delivery of the Hindi news. Her very rare smile that spread gently caught the fancy of millions of viewers, like ‘an indulgent parent giving that pleasantly tolerant look’.
8. Sadhana Shrivastav
An extremely pleasant smiling face with bob cut hair in a neat semi circle that contained a full face, wore a lovely handloom saree, earrings to match and a nice bindi, was what Sadhana Shrivastav presented of herself to the viewers. Good diction in Hindi for the news, with a smooth flowing style that made it interesting, was her forte´. She could also conduct programmes in English equally well, in her nice ‘including’ voice that made people feel comfortable.
Behind this nice looking face, is a string of achievements that have made her a well-known household name. Honoured with the International Lifetime Achievement Award on 31March 2009, by the International Congress of Women, Sadhna Shrivastav’s work in the film and electronic medium is significant, both in front of the camera and behind it. A well-known name in the TV & Cultural Scenario for 35 years, Sadhna is a master of both the mediums having long years of hands on experience.
Besides being a popular TV news reader, she has been Anchor for Television & Stage
Director & Producer of Documentaries, Short Films, Serials, AVs, Consultant-Coordinator of Festivals & Events,Managing Partner in Nasadiya Arts, Trusteeof India Foundation, Chairman Heritage Trust and other such. Sadhna has to her credit compered programmes for various cultural institutions as well. Whether it is a visit by heads of states, countries, global organizations or the national days such as the Republic Day, Independence Day, etc., she has lent her own distinct style as commentator of live telecasts of Doordarshan. She has also provided her professional expertise in the media to Foreign embassies based in India for festivals such as Days of Poland in India, Year-long celebration of Chopin, and events of the Royal Norwegian Embassy.
An extremely talented personality, her personal contribution in all her activities has been immense and most valuable.
Check out her various saree avatars.
9. Usha Albuquerque
Usha Albuquerque’s foray into media and journalism, started as the English news reader for Doordarshan. She wrote for several magazines. Soon she took up producing, and sometimes anchoring, television news features, quizzes, talk shows, and documentaries for corporate houses, the Air Force, Ministry of External Affairs and international organizations, such as the World Bank and Portuguese and Brazilian TV.
She is a gold medallist in English Literature and Education from Madras University. Usha’s first career steps led her to teaching English, History, Education and Drama to high school students.Her media career was capped by the production of many documentaries on socially relevant issues, including “Seeds of Life”, which won the highest national film award in the country, and “Silent Killing” which was nominated for the UNICEF Child Rights Award. Adding the dimension of counselling to her portfolio for the last nineteen years, she pioneered career guidance on television by producing several widely acclaimed series – Hum Honge Kamyab, The Professionals, Parvaz and the career chat show ‘Avenues’, – that, together, ran for over 4 years. She is a regular columnist on careers and career counselling for national and regional dailies, television and radio channels and online sites.
Today, she combines her role as founder director of Careers Smart with running Insight Productions, her film production company.
Always looking neat and poised in whatever she sported in sarees, her elegance combined well with her soft yet firm voice in which she delivered the English News.
See how nice she appears in these handloom sarees.
Handlooms and the Doordarshan ladies
When one goes through the various images one gets the idea that the DD ladies had a good dressing sense and change, to break the monotony of daily viewers. That is why it also became a hot topic of discussion during those days and even today nostalgically recalled that the varieties in sarees that they displayed, the matching combinations that they wore, the excellent accessories that they sported in the form of the matching earrings, the lovely red bindi on the centre of the forehead, Salma Sultan’s favourite rose on the left side of the head, the prominent but elegant mangalsutra of Shobhana Jagadish were some of the very attractive sights besides the joy of hearing the quiet and effective delivery of the daily news.
Handlooms provide the variety like none else. There is delightful change in every saree product. Doordarshan being viewed across the nation, the hues that were on display, were sober and not flashy, yet wore the look of elegance and soft style. This also helped the arc lights of the studios from throwing unnecessary glare through reflection, which the flashy art silks could have.
Check out the enormous range in the different sarees that the ladies sported. The plain vibrant with designer border or the multicolor sarees worn by Salma Sultan, the simple plain white to the colored, plain and lightly distributed motif sarees, the enchanting bandhani weaves of Sarla Maheshwari, the elegant temple border sarees sported by Usha Albuquerque, the border magic fabrics worn by Geetanjali Aiyer were different and definitely envied by a vast multitude of female TV viewers. What about the lovely handcrafted, handwoven sarees that looked good on Avinash Kaur Sarin and the prints that looked equally enticing on her? Rini Simon Khanna in her pastels and colorful cottons, Sadhana Shrivastav in her wonderful array of colorful silks and cottons with the thin to wide zari borders, Neethi Ravindran in her great saree & blouse color matching combos, Shobhana Jagadishin her immaculate starched prints, while Minu Talwar came in prints and plains with borders.
There was variety, there was color, there was feminine allure, without a hint of dressing to kill. That is what actually made urban and rural, the student crowd and the females in the forties, the fashion-fond and the elegant dresser, glued to the TV sets, waiting for the news to begin and immediately pouncing on who was reading the news and what the new avatar looked like, no doubt each female viewer fancying in the mind, how such and such would look on her, what could the changes that could be incorporated, so on and so forth. Fashion also had its roots in the news studios of Doordarshan.
Those were the days my friend, a story that sadly came to an end, when News seemed better than a sponsored programme.