I Heard It On The Radio
It’s not all Bollywood music on the radio. Some radio channels are keeping alive the art of verbal storytelling.
After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world – Philip Pullman
Most of us remember growing up with stories our dadis and nanis (grandmothers) told us. Some of them would be tales from our epics, some would be folk tales and some everyday stories that were set in the background our storytellers grew up in.
I remember my dadi telling me a touching story about a little boy who buys his grandmother a chimta from the pittance he gets from her as Idi (gift of money on Id). Only later in my life did I come to know that she had adapted Premchand’s story “Idgah”. How my very homely dadi came across Premchand is something I am yet to figure out.
In today’s times, the storytelling tradition is changing. Although we don’t have time anymore to drop everything to sit and listen to a story, our traditional love for storytelling hasn’t gone anywhere. However there is one medium that doesn’t require you to stop everything you’re doing and pay attention to it, and that is the radio. Most people would identify radio with FM channels, and FM channels with Bollywood music.
There are some other stations and shows, though, which are now willing to experiment with more innovative programming. One prime example is Yaadon Ka Idiot Box with Neelesh Misra. This show, narrated by former journalist and Bollywood lyricist, Neelesh Misra airs a new story everyday from Monday to Friday with a repeat of all the stories on Sunday.
His stories are based in or related to an imaginary small town called Yaad Sheher. Most of his tales, such as “New York Ki Ek Shaam” (An Evening In New York), have an element of small town upbringing to them – be it a description of a child going to the Dussehra ground with his father, or how many kicks a scooter requires before it consents to start.
The stories talk of childhood, relationships, first loves, the loneliness of living in a big city and bitter-sweet memories. Some stories like “Liftman Aur Wo Ladki” (The Elevator Operator And That Girl) also carry a social message, but without being preachy.
Misra says the response to the programme has been very good. Although their target audience was initially a little older, even younger audiences from the ages of 16 to 25 have appreciated it.
“The young people today are very mature. The same audience that likes item numbers, also likes these stories”, he says. Although they are meant for a modern audience, Misra says the stories have kept basic Indian values alive.
“In our stories you will never find someone being laughed at for being fat or being different. We try to convey a message through our stories. It is up to the audience what they make of the message.”
However, it is not always serious business. One interesting story was of a wannabe Romeo set in the backdrop of rising onion prices. It was called – wait for it – “Pyaaz Ki Kasam”! (Swearing By Onions).
Some listeners call in to share how they listen to the show with their grandparents and parents. Others in far off places recount the nooks and crannies they have to look for where they can catch the radio signal. The show reaches 35 cities across the country and can even be heard in some of Pakistan’s border towns which catch the signal.
Dramatisation of epics
Where Big FM has Yaadon Ka Idiot Box, Fever 104 FM has aired Ramayan, Gandhi and Bal Gopal. Sumanto Ray, National Creative Head of Fever 104 FM talks about their dramatised version of Ramayan.[audio:http://www.newslaundry.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/Sumanto-Ray.mp3|titles=Sumanto Ray]
Creating new literature?
While Ramayan, Bal Gopal and Gandhi are well-established stories, they aren’t really creating new literature which are a reflection of our times like the stories of Premchand did.
That is where Yaadon Ka Idiot Box comes in with its group of writers – called The Mandli – who come up with new Hindi stories set in today’s milieu. While most of the writers are based in Mumbai, some of them are from other cities and connect to what Misra calls “naye zamaane ka gurukul” (the gurukul of the new generation) by Skype etc.
One of the writers, Samrat Chakraborty, says that most of the writers in the Mandli themselves have some connection to a small town like Yaad Sheher. Which is perhaps the reason why they manage to capture the mood and feel of small towns so well.
Given that nobody would like to hear a story interspersed with radio jingles, Big FM has gone ahead and made the story-telling segment in the second season of Yaadon Ka Idiot Box commercial-free. It is a bold move, but the radio station’s AVP, Programming, Rochak Kohli says that they have not cut down on commercials, only adjusted the segments where they appear in order to keep the story ad-free. Kohli says this is one of their station’s biggest shows. Due to different habits of the audience, it plays at separate times in different cities. In cities that sleep early it is played around 8pm or in the afternoons.
While telling stories on television has the definite advantage of visuals, storytelling on radio is a different experience altogether. Radio is believed to ignite the theatre of the mind where the listener forms his own pictures to the voices he hears. A throwback to simpler forms of entertainment.
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