Pic credit: deccanherald.com
By Siddhartha Krishnan . 4 min read:
I fondly remember those days, when an iconic opening tune would start playing and a black and white sketch of a railway station appeared on our TV screens. At once, we abandoned everything and sat in front of the TV with the whole family, to find out what is happening in Malgudi? Those were the 90s, when things were a lot simpler and laid back.
Even after all these years, whenever I think about this TV series, invariably a smile comes onto my face. I’ve often wondered why?
Perhaps, it’s because “Malgudi Days” is like a box of assorted chocolates – disparate episodes, each with its own unique flavor, but all set in one fictional town, showing the struggles of regular people, like you and me. This is what differentiated this iconic television series from the rest because it managed to directly connect with its audience, by telling fictional human stories in a realistic but engaging manner, the credit for which must be given to the great Indian writer R. K Narayan.
For all my readers, who are based out of India and who have not heard about this TV series, let me give you some context. “Malgudi Days” is based on a collection of short stories by the same name, written by R.K Narayan, which was first published in 1943 by Indian Thought Publications. The book was later republished outside India by Penguin Classics in 1982. However, some episodes of the TV series are based on Narayan’s later works eg. The Horse and Two Goats.
Pic credit: wikipedia.com
R.K. Narayan’s great ability was to tell the story of ordinary people, in a simple and unpretentious manner. Whether humor or melancholy, he managed to pull both off with subtlety and nuance. It is because of this realism, which he managed to bring in his stories, that some critics have compared him to the great Russian short story writer Anton Chekhov. He has also been compared to Guy De Maupassant because of his great ability to compress a narrative without losing the story, which the Pulitzer prize winner Jhumpa Lahiri, has also testified.
Pic credit: wikipedia.com
The TV series which is an adaptation of R.K Narayan’s book, was mostly shot in Agumbe village in Shivamogga district of Karnataka and was directed by Kannada actor/director Shankar Nag. The first episode was premiered on Doordarshan on 18th March 1987. Shankar Nag directed the first 39 episodes of the series. Each episode was around 20-25 minutes long. In 2006, another 15 episodes were aired on Doordarshan, directed by Kavitha Lankesh, who had replaced Shankar Nag. The music score, including its much-loved opening tune, was composed by Carnatic musician L. Vaidyanathan.
The other standout feature of the TV series was its sketches, which were done by the famous cartoonist R.K Laxman (R.K Narayan’s younger brother). A stellar cast including the likes of Anant Nag and Girish Karnad, expertly portrayed complex characters on screen, which we fondly remember even today.
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Back in the 90s, neither did we have the comfort of private viewing on mobile phones nor the luxury of digital entertainment platforms like Netflix or Amazon Prime Video. During those days, watching a television show used to be a family affair and, in the villages, it used to be a community affair. There was bonhomie and camaraderie among people, since everyone seemed to have a lot more time on their hands.
Although, the Indian mythological epics – the Mahabharata and Ramayana were the most popular TV shows during those days, I for some reason grew a fondness for “Malgudi Days”. This is not to say that I didn’t like those TV shows, but I was somehow able to connect more naturally with this TV series. This I assume was because of its realism. The characters somehow felt like the next-door neighbor or the shopkeeper down the alley or a friend at school. Simply put – people I could relate to.
To illustrate this point, let me take you through some of my favorite “Malgudi Days” episodes (my top 3 – not in any order). It will give you a taste of what to expect from the TV series, in case you haven’t seen it:
Pic credit: hotstar
A Horse and Two Goats – Muni, a poor Indian goat herder, is in desperate need of money, but is too lazy to make any significant effort, to change his destiny. He opts instead, to get into a sly transaction with a foreigner, who mistakenly thinks that an ordinary horse statue is of considerable value. The inability of the two to communicate with each other due to their language barrier, makes for some interesting viewing.
Pic credit: ultrabollywood
Iswaran – a young man harbours a strong desire to get into university but is unable to clear his intermediate examinations, despite multiple attempts. Due to constant societal pressure, he starts to doubt his own abilities, and is ultimately driven to insanity.
Pic credit: ultrabollywood
Roman Image – is the story of an extrovert who gains the trust of a renowned archaeologist. Thus, begins an excavation wherein he finds a statue on the bed of the Sarayu river, supposedly of Roman emperor – Tiberius II. This generates a lot of media attention, but later the protagonist finds out that the statue is from a nearby temple and it is not as old as he had thought. The story attempts to expose the incompetence of experts and the foolhardiness of superstitious people.
The above is just a glimpse of what is on offer. From humor to melancholy to satire, different tones are employed, to tell a compelling story on a range of topics, all set in one fictional town.
Pic credit: ultrabollywood
Another unique characteristic of these stories, is that their message has universal appeal, due to which these tales have become timeless classics. In R.K Narayan’s own words, Malgudi could have been a town anywhere in the world because its characters are people everyone can relate to.
In memory of this TV series, the Arasulu railway station in Shivamogga district is being renamed as Malgudi railway station and a “Malgudi Days” museum is being constructed near it. Artist John Devaraj is heading this project to ensure that the desired result is achieved.
Pic credit: indiatoday.com
Sadly, today for some reason there is a dearth of good human stories, be it books, television or movies. There is a lot of negativity which is being spewed in the name of entertainment; reality TV shows (some of them) being a good example of it. Also, news has become a form of entertainment where inconsequential but polarizing debates are sold to the public. The result is toxicity which is not good for society in the long run.
I can understand that negativity sells but are there no good stories to tell? There are a lot of good people out there, aren’t their stories worth telling? I’ve become bored of this business of hate and desperately want the good stories to return to our books, television and films.
Maybe, it’s time to take a leaf out of “Malgudi Days” and be inspired by it, once again. It’ll be like a breath of fresh air or should I say a box of assorted chocolates?
For those who wish to see this TV series, the entire series is available on Amazon Prime Video with English subtitles. Most episodes are also available on YouTube in multiple Indian languages.
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Nice… Book is on my table 🙏😇
Malgudi days shows the simple parts of life.
I read the book when I was a kid in school, reading your post got me back in time.
90s are best
I’ve actually had the Guide as a prescribed text in class 8 and wanted to retain the magic of Narayan by keeping to his books . Hence I never watched the television series as I didn’t want to be disappointed…. Perhaps I should have watched the series …. those days television did have some nice programs …
Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Yes, Guide is an all time classic as well, also made into a movie which was very well received. You should give the TV series a go, its been very well made. I am sure you will like it.
I belong to that era and enjoyed Malgudi days in my childhood. Beautifully written, especially the conclusion which is the harsh truth of our society, Thanks to Ekta Kapor if i might say.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the post…😊
I can see why you would be drawn to this series. In the United States, in past years, there have been a number of what we called ‘sitcoms’ shown here. Shows about regular people, families and what it is they encounter in their daily lives. There is humor, sadness and everything in between. There are, unfortunately or not, not enough of them anymore as there once was. There are the so called ‘reality’ shows and some are not too bad but some…I’m not sure what people might see in them. I agree that there is too much in every day news that is disparaging and is that which…for me…is somewhat depressing. There isn’t the light I would like to see in the world around me. I do know that it seems to be these kind of news broadcasts that so call
“make the news” what it is but I wish it were not so. Thank you for the wonderful insight of a series that brought seeing people in all their guises to the people of India. You are fortunate to have been one that enjoyed seeing it and watched it. Take care.
Thanks Renee for sharing your thoughts on the post. You’ve summed it up so beautifully! Only goes to show that we are all connected, no matter where we are in this world. The struggles of us humans are the same everywhere. Maybe, that’s what R.K Narayan was trying to tap into through his short stories. I just hope at a time when the world is increasingly getting polarized, we stop for a min and try to see how similar we are rather than how different. On a lighter note I am a big fan of American sitcoms, especially those of the 90s. Seinfeld, Home improvement, Friends and Everybody loves Raymond were some of my favourites. I still do watch these, on the net, they are a great stress buster plus they kindle nostalgia.
So very true. We need lots of stress busters, for sure.
Wonderful post, thanks for sharing. I will try to watch it on Amazon Prime.
Thanks for sharing our old memories …feel Nostalgic