Indian television is often seen as playing second-fiddle to Bollywood or other major film industries in the country. However, the impact it has had on the pop culture and its reach and popularity among certain sections of society are undeniable. From timeless classics to new age reality shows, here are some of the best Indian TV shows of all time.
There is perhaps no list of Indian TV classics that does not include Sarabhai vs Sarabhai. This early aughts comedy with a stellar cast including Satish Shah, Ratna Pathak, Sumeet Raghavan, and Rupali Ganguly is one of the most-loved shows in the country and was only recently renewed for a new season. Starting in 2004, its unique premise involving two families in a posh Mumbai neighbourhood instantly captured the audiences’ imagination and is all set for a grand return this year.
Popular Indian comic Jaspal Bhatti’s Flop Show is a satirical take on the common man’s life that is unique in the annals of Indian television for its farcical portrayal of every walk of everyday life. The show’s lead Bhatti dons a different profession for each episode and presents the idiosyncrasies of modern-day life in his own unique way.
This incredibly informative series about the long and interesting history of India is directly based on Jawaharlal Nehru’s most popular work, the Discovery of India, which loosely translates into Bharat Ek Khoj. The drama series tackled a different chapter of Indian history in each episode and was written and directed by the award-winning filmmaker Shyam Benegal. The role of Nehru, the narrator, was played by Roshan Seth, who also played the role in the Academy Award-winning film Hollywood film Gandhi. The show followed Indian history in a chronological order with topics ranging from the Indus Valley Civilisation to the Indian struggle for Independence.
This fairly recent series has quickly become one of the most-loved and critically appreciated TV series in the country. A visual rendition of some of the most popular stories of Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore, the show broadcasts on the new Epic Channel and features a stellar cast that includes Bollywood stars Radhika Apte and Sumeet Vyas. Directed by the award-winning Bollywood director Anurag Basu, the show is set in 1920s Bengal and looks at turn of the century India and Indian society through the eyes of Tagore.
Office Office is largely credited with introducing the concept of a workplace comedy in India and also at the same time taking a satirical look at the culture of corruption in public offices in the country. Starring Bollywood legend and veteran actor Pankaj Kapur in the lead role as Mussadilal, the show quickly became one of the most critically acclaimed TV series in the early aughts. Premiering in 2001, the show’s cast also included popular Bollywood actors and TV legends such as Manoj Pahwa and Sanjay Mishra.
One of the most popular thriller TV series of all time in the country, Aahat was also one of the longest-running horror series in the country, with a total of 550 episodes over its lifetime. The show was best known for its gritty and thrilling music and a cast that included veteran actors such as Om Puri, Tom Alter, and Mandira Bedi. The show started off with mostly crime-related episodes, but gradually delved into the supernatural, with the second season featuring zombies, witches, wizards, and ghosts. The show premiered in 1995 and ran for 20 years intermittently, with the last and sixth season ending in 2015.
Star Bestsellers was in many ways a ‘startup incubator’ for talented writers and directors at the turn of the century, many of whom have gone on to make it big in the industry. The series, which featured stories written and directed by new faces, tackled different subjects relating to the human condition and societal intricacies. Among the number of talented directors were names such as Imtiaz Ali, Hansal Mehta, Tigmanshu Dhulia, and Anurag Kashyap, who would all go on to become some of the biggest directors in Bollywood.
This Indian version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire caught the imagination of the Indian audience like no other show before it. With Bollywood legend Amitabh Bachchan donning the host’s cap, the show brought a unique aspirational aspect by highlighting stories of struggle from the middle and lower strata of society. The show aired from 2000 to 2007 and was renewed in 2010 for a third season with another Bollywood legend Shah Rukh Khan as its host. The show was also central to the plot of the Oscar-winning movie, Slumdog Millionaire.
One of the first shows to adopt the concept of music-based reality television, Indian Idol premiered in 2004 and soon went on to acquire a legendary status in Indian television. The show mirrored similar western presentations, including a three-judge panel and a knockout round that included audience input, bringing television viewers directly in for the first time. A number of the show’s winners and participants have gone on to become successful playback singers and independent artists in Bollywood.
This much-loved TV show was directly based on author RK Narayan‘s acclaimed work of the same name and followed the adventures of Swami, a 10-year-old boy, in a remote village in Karnataka set in pre-independence India. The show was largely shot in Agumbe village in Karnataka’s Shimoga district and featured a great cast that included award-winning actor/filmmaker Girish Karnad.
Arguably the most popular TV series of all time in India, Ramayan captured the imagination of the Indian television audience like never before. Premiering in the year 1986, the series was produced by famed television content producer Ramanand Sagar and based on the Hindu epic Ramayan. It featured Arun Govil in the titular character of Ram and remains to this day a cult classic.
This popular series based on the life of Indian army soldiers in the commando regiment is most famous for being the screen debut of Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan. The series followed the adventures, trials, and travails of the commando regiment and had a successful run lasting for 13 episodes.
A Mouthful of Sky has the unique distinction of being the first TV series in India that used English as its primary language. The show premiered in 1995 and followed the adventures of a group of five MBA classmates, who reunited after 13 years to face an ugly secret. The show was an instant hit and featured an all-star cast of future actors such as Rahul Bose, Milind Soman, and Simone Singh.