For those who lived through the 80s and the 90s, television was the prime source of entertainment. And how can we forget the classic serials that aired on that old rusty box? The entire family would huddle up and await, with eager anticipation, the start of their favourite shows. So many fond memories are associated with those shows. But bigger than anything is the nostalgia of the entire family sitting and watching it together. Those were the days without mobile phones and Netflix. And back in the day, lives were honestly better without both! Let’s look back and refresh all those beautiful, warm memories! Let us turn back time a little and return to those glorious days. These are what I think the best Indian TV shows of the 80s and 90s.
I’m sure there are many more I might have missed out on. So I want you to add those in the comments below and let’s build this list together.
1. Hum Log (1984)
Hum Log was the first Indian television soap opera. It was also the first drama series on India. Hum Log was a story of an Indian middle-class family of the 1980s — the hardships, the toil, wishes and dreams.
2. Malgudi Days
Malgudi Days is based on R.K. Narayan’s collection of short stories with the same name. Short stories about life in a small town of Malgudi. The show was a heartwarming and realistic tale of youth. This one is a classic; a milestone in Indian television. Those were the days. Alas! When Indian TV produced quality content.
Now we all know that the 32 stories were ‘fictional,’ all set in a ‘fictional’ town Malgudi. But here’s a little trivia around it. As a tribute to the iconic director of the show Shankar Nag, the Indian Railways recently decided to rename the Arasalu railway station in Hosanagar, Karnataka to Malgudi railway station. This was the place where some of the scenes were shot.
3. Byomkesh Bakshi (1993)
Byomkesh Bakshi is a detective TV series based on the novel by Bengali author Sharadindu Bandopadhyay. The exciting cases are complemented by Bakshi’s thirst for truth rather than a thirst for law, unlike his more famous counterpart, Holmes.
Nukkad is a very realistic and empathy-generating take on the struggles and hardships of the lower-income labour class in the big metropolitan cities of India.
5. Mungerilal Ke Haseen Sapne
Mungerilal Ke Haseen Sapne deals with a very relatable situation that one might find oneself in. It uses daydreaming as a symbol of escapism and freedom to conjure images of suppressed hopes and latent dreams.
6. Fauji (1988)
Fauji was Shah Rukh Khan’s television debut. The series followed the training of an Indian Army officer and all that comes with it.
7. Wagle Ki Duniya
The iconic sitcom was based on characters created by cartoonist R.K. Laxman. The story revolves around the everyday workings of a nervous sales clerk.
Circus is another TV series starring Shah Rukh Khan and tells us about the adventures and misadventures of a circus troupe.
9. Bharat Ek Khoj
Based on the book with the same name, written by first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, Bharat Ek Khoj is an Indian historical drama which spans the 5000-year history of India from its inception to its independence.
Tamas is a gritty, realistic historical drama set during the times of the Indian partition. It is based on the Hindi novel of the same name by Govind Nihalani.
Just like its source material, Mahabharat was a TV series of epic scale and grandeur. It depicted the entirety of the scriptures and remains true in its portrayal.
Another epic adopted as a TV series. A lot of dedication went into it. It may have been shorter than its counterpart but the quality was just as good.
13. Dekh Bhai Dekh
Dekh Bhai Dekh is a sitcom about a family whose three generations live together. It’s about the highs and lows of their relationships and their struggles with one another.
14. Movers and Shakers (1997)
Today, it’s Kapil Sharma who almost single-handedly holds the baton of comedy on Indian television. Back in the day, it was the very witty and funny Shekhar Suman. His late-night talk show presented the everyday happenings in a light-hearted, satirical fashion. Plus it was our window into the world of celebrities.
15. Zabaan Sambhalke
Zabaan Sambhalke is a sitcom that was inspired by the very hilarious Mind Your Language (British sitcom). It revolves around an engineer who is forced to teach Hindi to students from all corners of the country and the globe. It truly was a laugh riot.
16. I Dream of Jeannie
The dubbed version of this American sitcom was quite popular in the country. It is also a bit of a rom-com about an astronaut who finds a beautiful blonde female genie who instigates all sorts of mischiefs but also loves her master.
17. Junglee Toofan Tyre Puncture
Junglee Toofan Tyre Puncture was a show that veered towards children with its puppet shows and interesting anecdotal stories. The Zee TV show was based on the popular Sesame Street.
18. Small Wonder
Small Wonder was an American science fiction sitcom that recited the story of the family of a robotics engineer who builds a robot and models it after a little girl. Then he tries to pass her off as their adopted daughter. Truly hilarious and innovative for its time. But it does seem to be inspired a bit by the likes of Astro Boy and such.
19. The Jungle Book
Who doesn’t remember the anime adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s famous book? The tales of Mowgli were an integral part of the imagination and life of any child. It was a memorable weekend experience and such a joy to watch.
20. Flop Show
Jaspal Bhatti’s (who we lost too early) satirical comedy masterpiece commented on various social stigmas, situations and circumstances using genuinely funny skits and sketches.
21. Karamchand (1985-1989)
Karamchand is an Indian detective TV series that is equal parts seriousness and equal parts comedy, just like the detective and his assistant, respectively. It made for a thrilling watch.
22. Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi (1984-1985)
Kundan Shah’s iconic comedy show centres around the hilarious happenings in the life of a couple and how they deal with it. I recall this one with so much fondness for its relatibility and brilliantly used situational humour.
Chandrakanta is a fantasy TV series based on Devaki Nandan Khatri’s novel of the same name. It is a tale of a prince and a princess who has forgotten her origins.
24. Hum Paanch
Hum Paanch is an Indian sitcom about a middle-class man who always finds himself in trouble due to his five daughters. It is one of the most endeared sitcoms along with Dekh Bhai Dekh.
25. Just Mohabbat
Just Mohabbat is a coming-of-age tale of a young boy who tries to make sense of all the relationships in the world while tackling love and heartbreak.
26. Hip Hip Hurray
Hip Hip Hurray was a really relatable and touching teen drama that deals with the adventures, relationships and interactions between twelveth grade students. Truly a comforting and realistic watch.
27. School Days
This was, in essence, quite similar to our previous entry. We got a peep into the lives of teenagers and subsequently, into our own. A simplistic approach resulted in enduring popularity.
28. Office Office
Office Office is an extremely funny satirical sitcom that makes poignant commentary disguised as humour on the situation prevalent in public offices.
29. Alif Laila
An amazing fantastical journey that was inspired by the Arabian Nights, Alif Laila was all the mystical fantasy that one could hope for. It was an amazing collection of stories with enduring morals and great characters.
30. Vikram Aur Betaal
This was an adaptation of the popular stories of Baital Pachisi, the tales of the legendary King Vikram and the mischievous spirit Betaal. The moral and mythological tales will continue to enthrall us for centuries to come. Sharad Joshi who also worked on Ye Jo Hai Zindagi, was also a writer on this show.
Tehkikaat was a crime-detective thriller in which two private detectives take up various cases and try to solve curious murder mysteries.
Shanti is an amazing drama that tells us about the secrets that one’s past can hold. It is filled with twists, turns and mysteries that encircle the lives of all the people in the mansion.
India’s first superhero was Shaktimaan. And his TV series, albeit a bit cringy for present times, is nostalgically brilliant. It is an iconic character that is hailed as legendary to this day.
34. Captain Vyom
Captain Vyom is an iconic and brilliant science fiction TV series set in a futuristic world where humans have conquered the solar system. It is innovative and thoroughly engaging.
35. Raja Aur Rancho
A detective who has a chipmunk as his sidekick is the coolest detective ever. Reminds you of Ace Ventura, huh. The TV series had the duo solving the most difficult criminal cases and unraveling the mysteries behind them.
36. Shrimaan Shrimati
Shriman Shrimati is a classic comedy-drama that deals with two neighbours who covet each others’ wives. Fun ensues as their every attempt to flirt with the neighbour fails in one way or another.
37. Chanakya: An Epic Saga
Chanakya: An Epic Saga was a historical drama based on the life of 4th-century political strategist and economist who worked under the legendary king Chandragupta Maurya of the Mauryan empire.
38. Mr. Yogi (1988-1989)
Mr. Yogi was an amazing social satire and comedy that revolved around an Indian man settled in the USA who is looking for the perfect Indian wife.
39. Potli Baba Ki Kahani
Poti Baba Ki Kahani is a puppet show designed for children. It had amazing stories and educative morals for young kids.
40. Space City Sigma
Space City Sigma was the first science fiction show made in India. It features a war between humans and an advanced alien race that seeks to destroy them. The show was quite a revolution for the Indian television scene.
41. Tu Tu Main Main
Tu Tu Main Main is a very interesting sitcom and completely challenges most shows of today as it depicts a bitter-sweet comedy relationship between mother-in-law and her daughter-in-law, a beautifully depicted relationship that most shows tend to vulgarise.
A beautifully made college-drama series that shows students dealing with new facets of their lives and being introduced to the politics, ugliness, beauty, ragging and other systems present within the inner world of colleges.
Another pioneering science fiction tv series along with Space City Sigma was Indradhanush. It was a bit more grounded than the former as it followed the misadventures of some kids when they assemble a computer that becomes a host to an alien who is trying to escape his enemies.
44. Katha Sagar
Katha Sager, directed by Shyam Benegal, was a series that featured a collection of short stories by writers like Guy De Maupassant, Rabindranath Tagore, Leo Tolstoy, O. Henry, Anton Chekov etc. It is beautifully crafted and pays worthy homage to its source material.
45. Luv Kush
Luv Kush is a religious drama that recites the story of the two sons of Ram – Luv and Kush. We bear witness to their brotherhood, bonds, morals, wisdom and their relationship with Sita when they follow their exiled mother in order to support her.
46. Mirza Ghalib
Mirza Ghalib is a biographical tv series that was produced and written by Gulzar and had Naseeruddin Shah as the lead. The series is based on the life of the legendary Urdu and Persian poet of the Mughal Empire. It features some of the best collective works of Jagjit Singh and Chitra Singh.
47. The Sword of Tipu Sultan
The Sword of Tipu Sultan is a historical drama that gives a gripping portrayal of the courage, valour and bravery of the great warrior who sacrificed himself for the freedom of his country from the British rule.
48. The Great Maratha
The Great Maratha is another historical drama that is based on the life of Mahadaji Shinde. He was the ruler of Gwalior and was responsible for the founding of the great Scindia dynasty. So much unknown information is given by the film that we begin to question ourselves on our ignorance of the great historical figures of our country.
49. Gul Gulshan Gulfaam
Gul Gulshan Gulfaam was one of the first TV serials to be based in Kashmir. It told the story of a Kashmiri family. It takes up sensitive issues as it tackles the hindrance in the livelihood of the common people who are almost devastated due to the rise in terrorism in the state.
50. Kakaji Kahin
Basu Chatterjee’s Kakaji Kahin is considered to be one of his best works. It is a political satire that is based on Manohar Shyam Joshi’s book Netaji Kahin.
There we are! These were the best Indian TV shows from the 80s and 90s. What about you? Which are your favourites? What did we miss? Let’s add more in the comments below.
By Deepjyoti Roy