Monday, 26 March, 2007


Vikram Sarabhai was instrumental in bringing television to India and launching what even today, nearly four decades later, is a bench-mark pilot project in TV’s use as a means for rapid and personalized development communication and education. Krishi Darshan and the Pij experiment should have set the tone for edutaining and empowering television for India. It didn’t. The lessons were there but were not learnt. The tedious, dull, well meaning but non-endearing programming that Doordarshan churned out (and to a large extent continues to churn out) dealt a death blow to the concept of television as an unparalleled channel for change. The boom in satellite television stations made those ideas even more distant. Today, while there are news channels that bring some accountability to public life by their sting operations, there is still no people’s channel which focuses on key issues of empowerment and on giving voice to the voiceless as an essential ingredient for a vibrant democracy.

In the past, Darpana Communications and the Darpana Academy for Performing Arts have been involved in the following projects:

The TARA Experiment 2000 – 2002

In early 2000 a group of individuals and institutions, lead by the ex CEO of STAR, Ratikant Basu, floated a bouquet of four language channels to become entertaining activist channels.

Dr. Mallika Sarabhai, with over two decades of experience in performance, TV and development, became the CEO of the Gujarati channel. Dr Sarabhai came in as the CEO after the business plan was in place. This was a two year zero revenue plan when the channel, riding the dot com swell, would have an IPO. The dot com bust, unfortunately, coincided with the planned IPO and the channel closed.

However the actual inroads made by the Gujarati channel were noteworthy.

· In 18 months of programming the channel brought the opinions of 1.8 lakh people to the public. None of them had ever been publicly asked for an opinion on issues that concerned and impacted them.

· In the Ahmedabad city municipal poll, TARA offered an equal platform to the contenders of each seat, from every party in a programme called Kaun Ketla Panima. Typically, good orators from each party are sent to address public meetings and it is their speaking ability that brings in the votes. Here, for the first time, voters assessed actual candidates from each party, juxtaposed with each other, for their worth and commitment. For perhaps the first time their votes were based on informed choice.

· Satyam Eva Jayate was the forerunner of programmes like We The People. Elected politicians were put on the mat by the anchor and a studio audience of people from his/her constituency. In addition another 15 people from the constituency sent in filmed questions which were also answered.

· After just three months on air, an IMRB survey on peoples’ perceptions of Gujarati channels showed TARA to be the most believable and bold.

· The channel’s investigative stories on environmental issues and on the management of public institutions like hospitals were powerful enough to bring about change in their functioning..

· An investigative story on prohibition and the nexus between bootleggers, politicians and the police, led to a major upheaval in the prohibition policy in Gujarat. Another story led to the break up of an employment agency which operated a prostitution business.

· Lakhs of people whose opinions had never been sought on issues of governance, who felt that no-one was interested in their opinions, were empowered to start thinking of governance and taking ownership of decisions that affected their lives. They started forming self help groups, the progress of which was also charted on the channel.

· Every conceivable genre of television was used – fiction, soaps, music videos, chat shows, quizzes, interviews and game shows, always with development and empowerment as the focus but always entertaining enough to hold a viewer.

Even today, nearly 3 years after it shut down, there is a constant demand for it, or a similar channel to be restarted. Many people feel that had the channel been on during the communal carnage, sense would have prevailed quicker.

AAPNI BAPOR 2003-2005

· Going forward from the learning of the channel and the programming, Darpana Communications, a department in Dr. Sarabhai’s Darpana Academy, took on a project to produce an hour of programming, five days a week, on DD 11 (Gujarati) focused on empowering women.

· The programmes ( list attached) included women and girls of all ages, used all genres of TV, and talked of issues encompassing all aspects of a woman’s life – health, laws, rights, sexuality, adolescence, violence, information, education, interpersonal issues, careers, banking, savings, local governance, environment and more.

· Today these widely viewed programmes are being used by NGOs and government departments to train and motivate, educate and inspire. The department has by now produced over 800 hours of women’s programming.


In the aftermath of the Gujarat carnage, Darpana produced and broadcast on DD 11, 300 hours of programming dealing with issues of communal harmony. Once again the genres used were varied and the subjects tackled many. The highlight was a new understanding of India’s multiplicity of culture.

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