New Delhi: Shobha Doctor confesses to missing the mid-80s greatly. As producer of Hum Log, Indian television’s first soap, which started airing in July 1984, she was constantly shuttling between Mumbai (then Bombay, her home) and Delhi.
She also had another role—roping in advertisers for the show.
“Adi Godrej came up to me one evening at a gathering and said, ‘I don’t care, extend the episodes, but get me on board as an advertiser on Hum Log’,” remembers Doctor.
Sometime in the middle of August, Hum Log will be back in a new avatar and a shorter name—Hum, as part of the state-run broadcaster’s revamp, an exercise that started last year when it completed 50 years. Doordarshan (DD) is seeking to recover ground it has lost to channels such as Star Plus, Zee and Colors by capitalizing on the nostalgia of older viewers and gaining some new ones.
While 26 episodes have already been commissioned, DD is said to have given the go-ahead to a proposal for double that number.
While the Godrej group went on to become one of the main sponsors for the 156-episode serial, Doctor, who used to run Concept Agency, which was engaged in marketing and advertising, also signed up other brands such as Colgate, Nestle and Ponds.
Doctor will be associated with Hum as mentor and make sure that the spirit of the serial stays true to the original. As the first sponsored serial on DD, Hum Log was the precursor to the soaps that now form the staple of entertainment television (TV) programming in India.
Though Doctor is unwilling to go on record, a 10-second ad spot on DD is estimated to have cost approximately Rs90,000 at the time. Storyboards for the ads had to be cleared by the controller of advertising sales at DD, the only TV channel in India until non-state players entered in 1992.
Hum Log used to attract high ratings according to surveys carried out by the IMRB International research agency. At the peak of its popularity in 1985, almost 80% of the nation’s 3.5 million TV viewers were said to tune into the serial.
DD will air Hum twice a week during weekends. A marketing campaign is being planned, with as many as 175 hoardings across the country, apart from print advertising. On 24 July, actors from the old show will appear on India Advantage, a DD National show, in a segment titled “A Journey From Hum Log to Hum”.
Each episode of Hum is budgeted at Rs5.5-6 lakh, high by DD’s standards where the average production cost of self-financed projects is in the range of Rs3.5-4 lakh. Each Hum Log episode used to cost about Rs58,000. Pulse Media Pvt. Ltd, a Mumbai-based production company, has been commissioned by DD to work on the new serial. Sanjay Tripathy, Pulse Media’s managing director, is directing the serial in Sitamarhi, Bihar, where Hum is set.
The sponsors for the new serial are Life Insurance Corp. of India and Nirma. The rates will be premium—more than Rs60,000 for a 10-second ad.
Hum is going to be different from Hum Log. Apart from moving the locale to Bihar from Haryana, the new serial will focus on the lives of five families in Sitamarhi, instead of one in the original. In keeping with the changing times, characters drive Scorpios, have mobile phones and there are TV sets at home. A far cry from the matchbox-sized room where the trials and tribulations of three generations played out, and the characters Lallu, Nanhe and Chutki turned Rajesh Puri, Abhinav Chaturvedi and Loveleen Mishra and many others into TV stars.
Sushma Seth, who essayed the role of the grandmother in the original show, will be returning as the sutradhar or story-teller, a role that was handled by the venerable Ashok Kumar in Hum Log.
Seth remembers shooting for Hum Log in a studio belonging to yoga guru Dhirendra Bhramachari in Gurgaon, late into the night.
“We got bound scripts. It was very systematic, the scriptwriting by Manohar Shyam Joshi was strong and the execution by director, P. Kumar Vasudev, was exemplary,” recalls Seth, who went on to play countless Dadimas in film and on TV.
Seth is confident that Hum, just like Hum Log, will touch a chord.
Doctor, for her part, says: “While Hum Log was a milestone with powerful characters, we hope to recreate equally strong characters with Hum.”