Frozen in time

Popular Kashmiri serial of 80’s, Hazaar Dastaan depicts the golden era of its lead actor Nazir Josh and of Doordarshan Srinagar. Haroon Mirani analyses how the promising artist remained frozen in his character Ahed Raz while his stage, the Doordarshan remained frozen in time.  
Heads would roll, vehicles would halt and commotion would erupt when Nazir Josh aka Ahed Raz would walk by a street in eighties. A mere sight of Josh would bring smiles on the faces of people irrespective of age, gender and religion.
Josh was the lead character in comedy serial Hazaar Dastaan, which had proved to be mini revolution for Doordarshan Srinagar. People sold land and jewellery to buy a television set, so that they could watch this political satire. The drama was a take on the politics of Kashmir.
What programmes produced after spending crores of rupees couldn’t do, Hazaar Dastaan managed with a cakewalk. It switched people from largely popular Pakistan Television (PTV) to Doordarshan. People even forgot PTV’s successful Andhera Ujala serial.
Twenty years down the line, if Josh gets a second look from people, it is their graciousness. If DD somehow manages to surface on TV sets and viewers pause for a moment, either it is a miracle or the TV remote needs a new set of batteries.
The story of Josh and Doordarshan run on parallel tracks with both complementing each other right from their heydays to this day where DD seems disappearing in a collage of satellite and cable channels.
Josh started his career in theatre at 16 in his home town Budgam. He came to limelight with his play Tim Gori Gaye staged in a Srinagar drama festival in 1973. The play, written by Josh, was critically acclaimed and won a prize beating other high profile plays.
Soon Josh joined Doordarshan and went on to create history along with producer director Bashir Budgami with Hazaar Dastaan. The stupendous success of Hazaar Dastaan took everyone by surprise. It became talk of the town with people discussing each move and dialogue of Ahed Raz – the king played by Josh – and his ministers – Wazir Kalan, Wazir Hutmute, Wazir Talukpeth, Daroge Zindan and Shohi Peer. The characters entered local parlance. Chor Pather(Fool’s abode), Ahed Raz’s kingdom became a reference.
In all, 52 episodes of the serial were telecast from Doordharshan. The success also earned Josh some high profile adversaries. The serial ran into trouble when the then chief minister Farooq Abdullah accused the drama of reducing the position of politicians to comics.
The play was soon after – in 1986 – with much chagrin among people. The controversy reached a stage where the video cassettes of the drama were taken to the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi for screening. He liked the play.
The drama came back on air to entertain people till 1987. Hazar Dastan is known as the climax of Josh’s popularity. His fan following emerged in that era and reached to its crescendo.
Explaining the success of Hazaar Dastaan, Syed Salim, a media critic, says, “Actually people wanted something like that to vent their feelings. When Hazar Dastan came on TV battering the rulers, it was an instant hit.”
After Hazaar Dastaan, Josh hit TV screens with another comedy serial Jum German. The character of Jum German in the drama resembled the character of Ahed Raz. Nevertheless, the drama enjoyed modest success. But with every passing drama, Josh’s popularity saw a downtrend.
“Josh continued his tryst with comedy with same style and no improvisation thus ending up as a stereotype,” says Salim.
Doordarshan too followed Josh in its downslide as it refused to evolve with time. “In last two decades an era changed from industrial age to IT age but DD remained at the same pedestal,” says Salim.
They continued to churn same old dramas with similar plots hoping that Kashmir too remained same. As Kashmiris have now access to hundreds of TV channels, DD remains tucked to cable with the government’s mandatory provision of carrying the channel on cable.
Unaccountable money influx has also influenced the quality of work in Doordarshan.
With the eruption of militancy in Kashmir, DD was left in the hands of local artists, who in early nineties were literally given free hand to make software. “As India was desperate to keep DD running, so he who had anything to do with DD was allotted programmes for production. Such people became overnight millionaires,” says Salim. “Even trash was accepted and programme quality degenerated.”
Money became a priority for everyone in DD irrespective of his or her background or calibre. People from of every walk of life poked their nose in production for money and entered the list of producers for DD.
There is a automobile spare-parts dealer, a hotelier, a contractor, a poultry farmer,  government employees, a former store keeper with SMC, all working as a producers in DD. Journalists also constitute a large chunk of money making producers at DD. Then there are hundreds of relatives, mostly family members of these producers who too act as producers on papers.
According to an estimate, there are more than one thousand private producers in DD Srinagar. “Of them, majority are non professionals, who don’t know the ABCD of production,” says Salim.
Almost 75 per cent of producers either don’t have time to produce or don’t have the capacity. They sublet the work to few working producers.
One of the reasons for Josh’s failure has been attributed to his dabbling into other fields. “When an artist remains as only an artist his creativity increases and he continuously improvises,” says Mushtaq Ahmad, a media analyst. “But when he dabbles in other fields, every field of his suffers.”
In nineties, Josh became a producer, a director, a singer, a dancer and almost everything that had a chance to earn money. With all such jobs at hand, there was no time to perfect the original art and thus the quality deteriorated.
There are numerous examples of people sticking to just one line and achieving tremendous success. Charlie Chaplin, Johny Walker, Johny Lever, all stuck to their genre and continued to improvise with success.
Josh on the other hand dabbled with so many things and lost the pulse of changing audience with devastating results. The golden maxim, excess of everything is bad, amply applies to Josh who overdid his audience with his Hazar Dastan style.
Lack of experimentation and accountability at DD too has stagnated it. Most of the staff at DD knows what to do and what not to do for salary to come in time. So they carefully choose their options.
It is a joke in the field that among hundreds of private producers here, nobody can work at a private channel.
The way mass media professionals revolutionised print media in Kashmir has not been replicated in Television. Either the top end spaces are blocked or the DD’s rules effectively curb their entry.
“DD has started empanelment of producers and they categorise the producers in A, B, C and D categories according to work they have done,” says Arshad Ahmad, a Mass Comm professionals. “Here also same old producers come forward and freshly trained professionals are left out.”
Few mass media professionals who have managed their entry in DD have either become part of the huge money minting machine or simply don’t have freedom to express their creativity.
Even as Jammu has it own DD station, the producers of that region always mange to get a major chunk of programmes in Kashmir. But not a single Kashmiri producer ever gets a contract for production of programmes at DD Jammu.
Josh and DD ruled at a time when they had monopoly, now the times have changed. Both Josh and DD seem to be unaware of the likes and dislikes of people. So they continue to burden them in their own style with flops.
“Actually DD was started to counter PTV, but then PTV changed and Pakistan now has dozens of top line private channels, but DD never changed itself even on that count,” says  a private producer on condition of anonymity.
Kashmiris are desperately craving for a new genre of programmes, which the DD or people like Josh are unable to produce.


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