NEW DELHI, March 29: "Ramayan" was back on television on Saturday, recalling for many those epic mornings an age ago when entire families, and even neighbours, gathered before clunky television boxes for their weekly fix of television and religion.
The streets were empty, as they were nearly three decades ago when Ramanand Sagar's serial that brought to life in garish and grainy colour the story of the noble prince and his 14-year exile began airing every Sunday.
Then, it was about people glued to television screens, some even praying before it, planning their day around that one hour a week and making sure they go nowhere. Now, it is about a lockdown in a highly tech efficient world of 24-hour entertainment as India and the world battle the coronavirus pandemic.
The government's announcement that it would rerun the show on DD National at 9 am and 9 pm everyday brought back nostalgia for times that were simpler and TV viewing was about community. When neighbours with television sets opened their doors for others and families timed their routine to match the screenings.
"Ramayan", which began its telecast in 1987, made household names out of its two stars Arun Govil and Deepika Chikhalia.
Govil, like many others, watched the show as it aired on Saturday morning, calling it a "nostalgic" moment.
"It is overwhelming to see the love for the show today and even when it aired. It is good that the show is back, the timing is great for the release as everyone is at home with their family. It is a show meant to be watched with the entire family, the young generation with the old generation," Govil, 62, told PTI in an interview.
The actor, who was part of another memorable mythological show "Vikram Aur Betaal" on Doordarshan, said it was destiny that brought the show back on the television.
"'Ramayan' teaches a lot of things and is relevant in today's scenario of coronavirus as well. It is about doing your work and being disciplined. A lot of people are still out, they should not cross the 'Laxman rekha'," he said evoking Prime Minister Narendra Modi's line in his speech while announcing the 21-day lockdown.
Deepika, who played Sita to Govil's Ram, agreed.
"It was different back then. I remember watching it with 50 to 80 people and today it was just four of us watching it at home. Back then we saw 'Ramayan' at Sagar sahab's bunglow, everyone from the cast had come to see. It was a different feel, TV was big then, the actor told PTI.
The actor said it was good to bring the show back in these times of "gloom".
"It is the right time because the scenes are so gloomy and economically we are bad, at every stage and phase, the world is suffering. You just sit back and pray to God and hope we all come out of it. The government is giving you something to sit back and think positively as you are in isolation," Deepika added.
Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar on Saturday tweeted that he was watching "Ramayan" at home but deleted it later after people criticised him and brought his attention to the plight of migrant workers.
Actor Kajal Agarwal said the show brought back memories of childhood.
"Taking me back to childhood. Ramayan and Mahabharat on @DDNational with the entire family. This was our routine weekend plan. So glad it's started, great way for kids to learn Indian mythology," she wrote.
Not everyone was so appreciative.
Homemaker Aparna Nandy, for instance, did not see any point in the government's decision to bring the show back.
She pointed out that most people had internet access and could easily watch the show on YouTube.
"No one is interested in watching 'Ramayan' today. This is not the time. I used to watch it so I remember details... Workers who are walking on foot to their homes in other states certainly don't care if 'Ramayan' is telecast or not. They would have seen the story in their village's Ram Leela anyway. The medical health workers need urgent supplies, not re-runs of 'Ramayana'," Nandy said.
There were also many prominent voices on social media that criticised the government for focusing on a mythological serial at a time when the country was facing a major health and humanitarian crisis.
For many others, it was just a walk down memory lane.
Like for Sunil Kumar, it was rewind to better times when the entire family, with his mother at the centre, gathered around the television.
"It is a good step from the government. People need distraction from reading and watching about coronavirus. Our faith is something that binds us together. I have seen Ramayan' and Mahabharat' many a times but I will watch it again as I have so many fond memories of watching the show with my mother and brothers," he said.
After Javadekar's announcement that Doordarshan was bringing "Ramayan" and "Mahabharat" back, many on social media started sharing the shows that they want back, including Jaspal Bhatti's satire Flop Show, detective drama Byomkesh Bakshi, Shah Rukh Khan-starrer Fauji and Circus, some of which are being reintroduced by the channel. - PTI