The 90s’ nostalgia: When we obsessed over TV shows from the past

Several television classics witnessed a revival of sorts in the past two years as audiences started to reminisce about the good old times while being locked up inside homes and grappling with uncertainty amid the pandemic

The summer of 2020 was all about reliving the history of small screen’s glorious past.
The summer of 2020 was all about reliving the history of small screen’s glorious past.

By Reya Mehrotra

This year, two big announcements kept entertainment aficiniados busy—that of Friends: The Reunion and Sex and the City Reboot. While watching the former, fans cried, posted their favourite memories on social media, and watched the ‘reunion’ with their friends. The excitement went up so high that offices announced screening of The Reunion for employees. For Sex and the City Reboot, fans complained about Kim Cattrall not being a part while wondering how the lives of the three other ladies would have changed in all these years.

But 2021 wasn’t the year we started obsessing over shows from the past. The summer of 2020 was all about reliving the history of small screen’s glorious past. In March last year, when the lockdown was imposed, then Union minister of information and broadcasting Prakash Javadekar announced the re-run of Ramayan on Doordarshan to keep the public motivated and to encourage them to stay at home. This was followed by BR Chopra’s Mahabharat being re-telecast.

The shows received immense love and popularity. Ramayan broke the records and became the most watched show in the world with 77 million impressions on April 16, according to data from Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) India, an industry body founded by organisations that represent broadcasters, advertisers and advertising and media agencies.

A spokesperson from Amazon Prime Video, India, says 2021 can be termed as the “year of re-watching classic comedies” as there has been an uptake in audiences choosing to binge-watch classics such as The Office, Big Bang Theory, Two and a Half Men and Parks and Recreation, among others.

The idleness, newly shifted work model from office to home and complete lockdown meant increased consumption of content. With cinema halls closed, the audience reminisced about the good old shows of the past. Memories were relived and refreshed as families stayed together locked up inside homes. As Amazon Prime Video puts it, “in a year when people were confined to their homes and grappling with uncertainty, they provided the much-needed safe haven and escape, while bringing back fond memories of happier times”.

This reflected in the numbers as well. OTT platforms clocked increased demand for iconic shows. Kartik Mahadev, business head-premium channels, ZEE, shares that at a macro level, interest in English content saw a steady increase during the lockdown. “Work from home and the lack of outdoor entertainment options meant an increase in consumption of content in-home. Zee Cafe has added over 300 hours of content post lockdown, to cater to the growth in walk-ins within the genre. These include iconic sitcoms such as Seinfeld and I Dream of Jeannie,” he shares.

Post-lockdown, Mahadev says, there was a surge in TV viewership and the English genres grew by 53% ahead of overall entertainment genres on television (as per BARC data week 12-week 22). Zee was the first channel to bring Friends to India in 1999 and Zee Cafe has telecast other iconic shows like Big Bang Theory, Two and a Half Men, Seinfield and Grey’s Anatomy, among others. Friends: The Reunion, too, was telecast on Zee Cafe earlier this year.

Mahadev says over the past 18 months, ‘comfort viewing’ has emerged as a big theme on television and spotting the nostalgia content trend, the channel introduced iconic sitcoms from the 1960s to the early 2000s that included I Dream Of Jeannie, Seinfeld and Everybody Hates Chris.

Age no bar, timeless

The sudden obsession with iconic shows during lockdown can be explained. For the 90s’ generation, it was about growing up with these shows that cater to all age groups and are not bound by time. In Friends, when Ross says, “18 pages, front and back,” referring to the long letter penned by Rachel, everybody breaks into laughter. Inside jokes such as this make people bond and share a laugh even today.

As for the Indian epics, they remain timeless due to the ethical and cultural values they impart. In fact, most of the shows from the late 80s, 90s and early 2000s—Indian and American—have developed a cult following. The content of the 90s’ era can be defined as rich, original, fresh and, in many cases, ahead of its time. It was a decade of experiments and bold voices—when women were gaining agency onscreen and were being heard.

Sex and the City (1998), for instance, echoed the voices of the modern women who had their own issues and led lives independently, made bold choices and were the primary characters in the story while all the men remained the secondary. Gilmore Girls (2000) was about an independent woman and her daughter’s close bond. The Pride and Prejudice series (1995) too portrayed a strong-willed woman.

Amazon Prime Video spokesperson says that for a generation that grew up watching these shows, they have built a community around their favourite content—a sense of belonging and loyalty over the years. “Not only are these stories laden with light-hearted humour that strikes a chord, but their characters have become a part of the audience psyche. These characters somewhere start representing their common experiences, become a part of their everyday conversations and eventually a part of pop culture,” he says.

For most Indian women, it was the sense of independence and freedom they inhibited from these shows, while for almost everyone, it was the introduction to American English.

Pallavi Narayan, divisional lead, corporate communications, Penguin Random House, started watching Friends at the age of 14 when it was telecast in India. She says the show made her well-versed in English and shaped the way she talked as it did for her peers. “I started noticing people say ‘Oh My God’ like Janice from Friends or use ‘like’ or ‘you know’ while talking after American sitcoms became popular. Before that our English was quite simple,” she shares.

For her, Sex and the City shaped a cultural ecosystem for women globally. “These women were not cooking or cleaning and putting up with children but had their own lives and were primary characters of the show,” she says. Narayan adds that the exposure to American pop culture also made brands like Jimmy Choo or Marc Jacobs popular in India.

In India, during the same time, shows like Hum Paanch, Ramayan, Sarabhai vs Sarabhai, Mahabharat, Shaktimaan and Malgudi Days were trending and became a part of Indian households.

Communications professional Shahira Khan says that for her Movers & Shakers was her very own version of Jimmy Fallon back then.

“The way Shekhar Suman walked down the stairs in his fancy velvets and bling suits was a delight. I remember how composed and witty he was with his one-liners and jokes. The line-up of actors and the chit-chat session were our sneak peek into the glamorous life of Bollywood. I also remember Boogie Woogie, Small Wonder and Kora Kagaz,” she adds.

For children, TV presented an array of shows like Son Pari, Shaktimaan, Shaka Laka Boom Boom and more. Agra-based Phalguni Garg, who is pursuing a Master’s degree in Spanish, says that thanks to OTT platforms, certain shows from the 90s have really aged well, and have left an indelible impression on the 90s’ kids who still binge-watch them decades later. “I remember the winter nights when my sister and I were young and used to watch Shaka Laka Boom Boom, Son Pari and others with a cup of hot chocolate. One doesn’t get to see such kind of shows for children today,” she says.

From the golden era of TV in the 90s, the 2010s reduced to an era of reboots and sequels—when shows and films from the past were remade, often with little to add or at times impressing the audience once again. But as the pandemic hit, with a dearth of new content initially, a number of OTT platforms brought back the shows from the past and those already available on streaming platforms witnessed an increase in viewership.

Popular American drama Friends remained trending in the top 10 list of Netflix on several days even after seven years of being added on the streaming platform. Viewership too increased. In fact, Amazon Prime Video’s spokesperson says that video streaming services have helped introduce these classics to a younger generation that were already curious about them through social media and other shared community references as many of these classic comedies remain deeply relevant even today.

Groovy times

Talking about the music scene in the country, the global popularity of bands like Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears revolutionised the Indian music industry in the 1990s and early 2000s. Albums and singles emerged and made everyone swoon. Singers like Shaan, Sonu Nigam, Rajeshwari Sachdev, Pankaj Udhas and Lucky Ali released several memorable hits.

Singers like Falguni Pathak crooned to dozens of hum-worthy songs. Alisha Chinai’s desi album Made in India had a western feel as she objectified Milind Soman and so did Sunita Rao’s Pari Hu Main and Pallavi Kelkar’s Chadhti Jawani that was a remix of the 1971 song of the same name. Bands imitating the American music groups emerged like The Aryans, Euphoria and Colonial Cousins, among others.

Streaks of feminism were felt in the Indian pop culture as women took the centre stage, while in contrast, objectification of both men and women remained at peak with music albums and remixes that emerged during that time. Westernisation of old Indian classics came in the form of remixes that became huge successes and remain so till date. Some examples are Kaanta Laga, Mere Naseeb Main, Pardesiya, Kaliyon ka Chaman, and so on.

With the growing popularity of grooving numbers, channels like V Channel and MTV brought about a spectrum of VJs to entertain the audiences and engage them in conversations. VJs like Anusha Dandekar, Nikhil Chinappa, Malaika Arora, Sophie Chaudhary and Shenaz Treasury ruled the small screen before their jobs became redundant.

However, the booming music scene of the 1990s and early 2000s slowed its pace and singles and albums and VJs at large vanished post-2005. In fact, albums and singles are returning to Bollywood only now.

With options aplenty to relive the 90s through YouTube and OTT services, it is time to press ‘rewind’ to a glorious era of entertainment.

Popular Indian TV shows of the 80s, 90s and 2000s

  • Mahabharat
  • Ramayan
  • Aahat
  • Shaktimaan
  • Hum Paanch
  • Chitrahaar
  • Vikram Aur Betaal
  • Alif Laila
  • Hip Hip Hurray
  • Boogiee Woogie
  • Tu Tu Main Main
  • Shriman Shrimati
  • Malgudi Days

Popular American dramas

  • The Office
  • Friends
  • Sex and the City
  • How I Met Your Mother
  • Gilmore Girls
  • Seinfeld
  • The Wonder Years
  • The Simpsons
  • Small Wonder
  •  The OC
  • Desperate Housewives
  • One Tree Hill

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First published on: 10-10-2021 at 03:30 IST