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Thirty years of Vividh Bharati

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Thirty years of Vividh Bharati

The Economic Times, Noember 8, 1987

Readers of this column will recall the four-part series of articles which was published a few weeks ago in connection with the observance of 60 years of broadcasting in India.

It carried a detailed account of the proceedings of the symposium which was organised by AIR Bombay as part of the diamond jubilee celebrations of Indian broadcasting. A brief reference to the work of Vividh Bharati was made in that series.

As it happens, 1987 also marks 30 years of the functioning of Vividh Bharati, which made its bow as a new “seva” (service) of the state-owned mass media organisation. This event was also observed with much nationwide fanfare. It is therefore about time an attempt is made to have a survey of its performance during the last three decades.

Today, Vividh Bharati presents a comprehensive network of as many as 30 channels. These are available to listeners all over the country through powerful transmitters. It purports to provide an alternative service to AIR’s main network, which covers a wide spectrum, ranging from programmes of classical, light classical and devotional music to plays and lectures to rural, industrial and news broadcasts.

As against this, Vividh Bharati, offers items of light variety and popular appeal. These may vary from family fare to folk music, from film songs and listeners’ requests to stories and skits.

The introduction of Vividh Bharati as the All-India variety programmes had a two-fold aim in view. One, to meet the challenge from foreign radios, featuring “unhealthy music” from films – chiefly the one from what was then known as Radio Ceylon.And two, to make a serious attempt to “blend” quality with variety.

I vividly remember the kind controversy that had surfaced even at the highest policy-making level prior to the launching of this network. The new service was the handiwork of Dr B. V. Keskar, then Minister for Information and Broadcasting, who came to earn, rightly or wrongly, the distinction as the architect of post-freedom India’s broadcasting policy.

In his official protest to Radio Ceylon, it is on record that Dr Keskar accused the foreign radio’s policy of thwarting “India’s effort to weed out from her broadcasts such material as might have a corrupting influence on the cultural standards of the people”. It would appear that initially, Dr Keskar was totally averse to the very idea of presenting commercial items side by side with programmes of entertainment.

Interestingly, it was Mr S. K. Patil, then Union Minister for Irrigation and Power, who favoured, with the pragmatism typical of him, sponsored programmes of this kind that simply did not permit direct advertising for the advertiser or for his products. He was hopeful that the sponsors would be duty-bound to give interesting programmes “as a service to the country”. Mr Patil’s stand on the issue evoked much criticism.

Vividh Bharati was designed to meet the need of average listeners for popular and light music. The object, it was proclaimed, was to formulate popular programme schedules in the light of changing tastes of the general run of listeners. Although, much water has flown down the Ganga since 1957, what do we find today? Has it really managed to sustain variety by quality? Has it managed to meet the challenge of foreign radios by better programmes? Hasn’t the service become crassly commercial? Questions such as these are apt to come to mind in the context of its performance over the last 30 years.

My listening of Vividh Bharati programmes has been restricted to Hindustani music and the Marathi fare, covering natyasangeet, bhavgeet and bhaktigeet ditties. Occasionally, I also tune in to musical features in Marathi and Hindi. Speaking broadly of listening fare, it must be said, in fairness to the programme planners, that the quality of the fare has been fairly selective and generally welcome.

The musical fare that is purveyed through Vivid Bharati is recorded. Lately, however, there is evidence of lack of inclination on the part of the programme planners to cast their net wide enough to cover the new repertoire that keeps coming in the market. Some of the artistes offer really wholesome music which provides positive evidence from the new talent emerging on the horizon.

What we presently hear is the same old repertoire which, with all its touch of class, gradually tends to get on the listener’s nerves for many reasons. In the first place, most of the records sound unserviceable. It is exasperating to listen to the records which allow the stylus to keep “jumping” their grooves or keep it revolve in one groove. Whenever such a flaw occurs, it is customary for the announcer to express regrets and tender apologies to the listeners for the “lapse”. Worse, such defective or unserviceable stuff is not only not discarded, but played again and again with the kind of callousness and persistence that would be hard to beat. Indeed, one smells in this the air of stagnation, to which pollution from commercial jingles gets so insouciantly added. The manner in which these jingles precede, intervene or follow almost every recorded piece make listening a futile exercise.















NOVEMBER 15 1987

30 Years of Vividh Bharati

By Mohan Nadkarni


Compared to the percentage of time allotted to featuring varieties of what may be termed “middle-brow” and “low-brow”, the representation given to programmes based on Hindustani music in Vividh Bharati’s day-long programme schedules must be fairly summed up as measly.

It includes a ten-minute “Sangeet Sarita” item at 7.30 a.m., followed by the half-hour “Anu-Ranjani” feature at 3.15 p.m. Originally, this was mere 15-minute presentation. Mercifully, this was extended to its present duration some three years ago.

Finally comes yet another 15 minute broadcast, titled “Swara Sudha” at 6.45 p.m. every day throughout the week. Mention must also be made, incidentally, of a ten-minute feature in place of “Swara Sudha” on Sunday morning, in which a wellknown personality form the classical field is billed to speak to the listeners.

The pattern of the morning and the evening broadcasts is more or less simpler, except that the latter has a longer duration than the former. The morning feature is not only innovative, but also instructive to those who wish to get familiarised with classical ragas. I say innovative, because the listener is first treated to a film-song based on a raga, followed by a piece in which the appropriate raga is rendered in its vocal or instrumental version. In between comes a brief comment, elucidating its salient classical features, the conventional time or season of its rendition and the like. “Swara Sudha” first plays a film song based on a chosen melody, followed by an instrumental piece and then a vocal item to round off.

Frankly, I have seldom missed tuning in to Vividh Bharati for these programmes, if only because they are designed to show its listeners how classical music has served and can still serve the needs of cinema music effectively. Lately, however, the manner in which these features are put through makes one wonder whether the proclaimed objective is really intended to be achieved. In the first place, it is often seen that the song chosen as as a filmic version of a particular raga is not only different but also confusing. For example, I have often heard a film-song based on the raga Bhairavi, as a filmic version of Bilaskhani Todi, a melody that sound strikingly similar to the former. Instances like these can be easily multiplied.

If anything, they are only apt to misguide or mislead non-classical listeners who sincerely wish to be enlightened on the finer points of raga music. To think that such bloomers should come from those producers who are academically qualified in traditional music!

No less unfair to the listeners is the blatant omission to announce the name of the composer of the raga-based film song. Contrast this with the meticulous care taken by the authorities in announcing the names of the film and also the playback singer. If this is not partisonship, what else is it?

Mention has also to be made of the announcements in Marathi that precede and follow all the programme schedules put through by Vividh Bharati. Even while conceding the need to fulfil the popular demand on linguistic considerations, it is said that the Marathi announcements, for the most part, gravely suffer from faulty diction and delivery.

This is obviously because the announcers are not familiar with the language of the region, nor is any care taken to groom them properly before they are assigned their job. Doesn’t this reflect a cavalier approach on the part of AIR to so important an aspect of broadcasting?

Recreation, admittedly, is one of the aims of broadcasting. Indeed, the success of a broadcasting system is in its capacity to create, sustain and promote, among its listeners, a desire to appreciate the fare it offers them. For all we know, there are so-called listeners’ research units in AIR as well as Vivid Bharati.

One therefore wonders what these units have been doing. Either they have failed to elicit a proper feedback – a sad commentary that carries an obvious moral; or if they do receive listener reactions, the authorities somehow choose to remain cold or indifferent to them.

It is high time the rationale of programme-planning is examined and determined in the light of listener interest. This holds good as much in the case of Vividh Bharati as in that of AIR. But then who cares? As long as broadcasting remains a stateowned monopoly, any attempt at securing a definitive feedback and responding to it in a positive manner is fated to remain a pipedream.

Finally, it is a case of supreme irony that in this year of grace for the broadcasting organisation, the powers that be should have closed down their programme journal, “Akashvani”. True, the journal, which started publication on a weekly basis since the very inception of the AIR, was originally intended to be modeled after the BBC’s prestigious counterpart, “The Listener”, and was also styled “The Indian Listener”.

Later it was rechristened “Akashvani” and converted into a fortnightly journal. Except for the first few years, the journal was brought out like a ritual somehow to be gone through – what with its poor lay-out and bad printing, with misprints galore to boot.

But “Akashvani” had its value to avid radio listeners, because it contained detailed programme schedules of all broadcasting stations in the country, besides reproductions of important broadcast talks. The sudden closure of the journal on grounds of financial viability sounds unconvincing and wee-bit hypocritical, coming as it does from the government.

I was one of the radiophiles who could not consider the journal as a dispensable commodity. And for this reason, I mourn its loss.


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