Of Vividh Bharati and those wonder years

Films Division on Saturdays are a must-go, must-watch and must-tell for film buffs. But more so this weekend, as the iconic institution digs deep into its archives to screen films on radio and television in India from the 1950s to 70s. Aptly showcased this week when one celebrates the birth of the father of the nation, these films throw light on how the nascent nation communicated.

Singer Mukesh at All India Radio

“Unlike the present times of independent, round-the-clock radio and TV, these films talk about the long period of state-controlled media, with radio having the widest reach pretty much until the early 1990s. The films are about the purpose and ideologies behind the establishment of these mass media,” says Avijit Mukul Kishore, co-curator at the FD Zone as it’s known.

If you have seen or just heard tales of how television was a rarity and luxury in Indian households till the 1980s, it is time to embark on what these media meant from the state’s perspective.

TV Tower in Worli during construction

Kishore tells us that when you watch the films you discover many an intriguing fact. “It is a lesson in story-telling and visual history. The film, Vividh Bharati, for instance, is fascinating, where the filmmaker constructs a documentary out of completely staged sequences, with musicians, film stars, defence personnel and All India Radio employees, talking about the first radio service that gave the listeners an active role in deciding the content,” explains the filmmaker and cinematographer.

Injecting fresh insights into decades that are often ignored, he speaks of another film, Tale of a Tower. He explains that the film is on the construction of the TV tower in Worli, which is a visual treat. The landscape of Mumbai captured 40 years ago is captivating and the methodical exploration of the engineering challenges of building such a structure, educative.

Likewise, the film, Do You Have a License? on the need for a licence to own and operate a radio or TV set reminds us of the licence-permit days of Indian history. The screening will include 10 short films ranging from Indian News Reviews (1956 / 61) to the President’s Speech Inaugurating the Daily TV Programme in 1965; becoming peepholes into a history of media that laid the foundations of communication for this country.

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