When will Prasar Bharti allow telecast of “Bharat Ek Khoj”?

The 53-part serial based on Jawaharlal Nehru’s epic “Discovery of India” and directed by Shyam Benegal has been ignored till now by DD, which may not want India to be ‘discovered’

Photo courtesy- social media
Photo courtesy- social media

Prakash Bhandari

While Doordarshan notched up record viewership during the lockdown by airing popular serials from the 80s, it has pointedly ignored “Bharat Ek Khoj”, the epic TV adaptation of Jawaharlal Nehru’s book Discovery of India, which he wrote while incarcerated in Ahmednagar jail.

The lockdown, with schools and colleges shut down, offered a great opportunity to showcase the 5000-year old history and culture of India by airing the well-researched and highly acclaimed serial. But perhaps DD has been more focused this time on entertainment and much less on education, reflected people associated with the making of the serial.

A team of writers and historians led by ShamaZaidi had worked on the well-researched script. The serial in its different episodes dwelt on the Mahabharata, Ramayana, Chanakya, Ashoka, the Chola Empire, Delhi Sultanate, Akbar, Aurangzeb, Tipu Sultan, the uprising of 1857 and focused on central figures like Vivekananda and Mahatma Gandhi, among others.

Roshan Seth and Om Puri had lent their voice, the former as Nehru and the latter as the narrator. The cast included Naseeruddin Shah, Shabana Azmi, Ila Arun, Alok Nath, Mohan Gokhale, Tom Alter, Sadashiv Amrapurkar, Yusuf Khurram and even Irrfan.

“It was last shown in 2013 on the death anniversary of Pandit Nehru and this lockdown period was ideal for a re-run. But perhaps they ignored it because of the Nehru connection,” said Ravi Jhankal, who had acted in the serial. “The book remains a classic with every library in the world having a copy. It’s a pity that DD did not think of putting the serial on air,” he added.

A more forthcoming Shama Zaidi, who headed the research team, did not mince her words. “Ramayana and Mahabharat of Ramanand Sagar and BR Chopra are poor depictions of history. When we were making Bharat Ek Khojwe knew it that this concept was unlikely to be repeated any time soon; so we wanted to be as accurate as possible. I know Prasar Bharati under the current regime will never air Bharat Ek Khoj as it is inspired by Pandit Nehru’s Discovery of India” said writer Shama Zaidi.

Noted singer and actor Ila Arun, who also played key roles in the serial, is more charitable though. Prasar Bharti could have been looking for entertainers and not the more cerebral, better researched and historically richer TV adaptation.”

“The serials on Ramayana and Mahabharatawere different with both depicting the mythology while Bharat Ek Khoj went beyond and showed all aspects of our history,” she added.

Ravi Khemu, father of actor Kunal Khemu, was chief assistant to Shyam Benegal. Both Khemu and Yusuf Khurram, who acted in the serial, are disappointed at the serial not being aired. Khemu quipped, “ Shyam Benegal created an all-time classic and it is a pity that DD did not think it worthy of a re-run during these times,”.

(Efforts to get the version of Prasar Bharati’s CEOproved futile. An email too has gone unanswered. We will update the report as and when we get a response.)

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