December 1, 2018

The classy ladies from Doordarshan 1970s - those were the grand old days of TV news

Before Arnab Goswamis and Rahul Shivshankars turned TV studios into wrestling rings with pre-decided results, there were a few women with amazing grace.

Gitanjali Aiyar, Minu Talwar, Neethi Ravindran and Salma Sultan, the four women in the photograph, had never imagined that a casual picture from a friend’s wedding would suddenly generate such nostalgia 14 years later.

Three Doordarshan-era anchors recall what a dignified era of television news looked like
The royal ladies of Doordarshan circa 1970s

Every night at 9 pm on Doordarshan, the television wing of Prasar Bharati, the state-owned public broadcaster, a female anchor and a male anchor (or occasionally, two female anchors) would deliver the news of the day in impeccable English, in a calm tone without fiery graphics or wild accusations.

“Until then, the audience had been living on ‘Chitrahaar’ [a popular programme featuring the latest hits from the Hindi film industry] and ‘Krishi Darshan’ [a show that gave news and information related to agriculture] and films,” said Simon. “So when we arrived, we were these incredible, unimaginable superhumans at 9 pm.”

In a pre-social media era, these newscasters were akin to film stars, dressed in crisp saris and with their hair and make-up done up elegantly.

“People’s imagination ran wild guessing what our lives were like, who we were, who we were married to,” said Simon. “There were stories that Neethi and I are sisters married to a Hindu and a Christian, but I was not even married at that time. There would be competitions to guess the sari colours and whether we repeated our saris. Questions like ‘How can they have so many saris?’ and whether our saris were sponsored by someone would be regularly asked.”

It was also a time when watching the Doordarshan news was considered necessary to improve one’s English. Aiyar remembers receiving letters that would commend her enunciation or how she read the news.


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