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Rare Footage

Nostalgia, digitised for music buffs

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PAST PERFECT Carnatic musician Lalgudi Jayaraman watches a video recording of a performance he gave for Doordarshan several years ago. A DVD of the violinist's work was released recently

Chances are you that may have never heard of Vellukudi Krishnan. A spiritual person known for his mellifluous discourses on religious texts, he used to be a regular at studios of Doordarshan and All India Radio. SV Ramani had always been a fan, but living in Nairobi he never got a chance to hear Krishnan's recordings. That is till he heard about Doordarshan selling recordings of Krishnan's discourses. He is now a proud owner of a set of 20 DVDs released by Doordarshan, which has been steadily digging into its archives to bring out digital versions of its music, dance and cultural programmes. So far, the public service broadcaster has digitised and put on sale around 100 titles and has plans for more.

"We released the first set of VCDs and audio CDs in 2003, " says Kamalini Dutt, former director, Doordarshan archives. It covered not just Bharatanatyam and Kathak but Begum Akhtar's ghazals and sufiana qawwali too. The VCDs and CDs sold like hot cakes at the stall set up at the Pragati Maidan in New Delhi during the NRI meet, Pravasi Bharatiya Divas.

There was so much demand that within five months DD brought out four more VCDs featuring Carnatic musician ML Vasanthakumari, sitar maestro Nikhil Banerjee, and Kuchipudi and Odissi dances. They followed it up with a collection of performances by Bharat Ratna awardees MS Subbulakshmi and Ustad Bismillah Khan in 2004.

Now, it routinely releases titles. It has been a blessing for the artistes. "The impact of DVDs and CDs is much more because they have these musicians performing, interacting with each other and spontaneously coming up with gems of performances, " says Carnatic violinist Lalgudi GJR Krishnan. They help showcase our art and also make for fabulous gifts when artistes are performing abroad.

The collection in the archives is unparalleled, she says. "No other television channel can boast of having recordings of almost all the top artistes in both classical and folk. Doordarshan was set up in 1959. So it is 52 years of cultural heritage, " says Bharatanatyam dancer Padma Subrahmanyam.

It is not run-of-the-mill stuff, but rare footage of artistes in action. "We have all the cultural programmes from the pre-cable television era. Even now, we continue to produce music and dance programmes and are not worried about TRP ratings, " says Seetha Ratnakar, assistant station director, DD, Chennai.

Also, as many of the recordings were done over a period of time, they show the growth of artistes such as Bhimsen Joshi and Yamini Krishnamoorthy. There is also an interview with Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, a demonstration by Lucknow gharana doyen Lacchu Maharaj, a young Amjad Ali Khan playing the sarod, and former prime minister Indira Gandhi asking cosmonaut Rakesh Sharma in 1984 how India looked from space to which he famously replied Sare Jahan Se Achcha (best in the world).
However, the DVDs and CDs have not been promoted well and keen collectors have to visit DD offices to buy them. The other option is to wait for the broadcaster to put up stalls on the sidelines of book fairs and release functions.

What Doordarshan should do is create a national library that can be accessed by researchers as well as the public, says Subrahmanyam. But officials say they are going one step ahead and are in the process of creating a virtual archive. The project, which started in 2008, aims to convert all programmes and ensure that they are future-proofed against change in technology. "It will make migration to newer technology easier. It also takes care of loss of quality and makes it easy to retrieve files and distribute them on multiple platforms, " says Dutt.

Collectors are happy that for the moment some of the programmes that they loved and grew up with are available at stalls, like the one set up at the AIR office in Chennai recently for the launch of two DVDs, one on Carnatic musician Lalgudi G Jayaraman and the other on Kuchipudi dancer Alekhya Punjala. "I am happy that I could buy something for my friend, " says S Jagannath, who is still searching for his favourite DD video - Mile Sur Mera Tumhara. "Most of the DVDs are on dance and music. I wish there were more patriotic videos too, " he says.

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