“In case any of you kids are wondering why a bunch of 30-40 year olds are reminiscing about Channel V, it’s because Channel V was our YouTube,” tweeted comedian Azeem Banatwalla, a member of a generation that was witness to the rise of the phenomenon called Indi-pop. It was a reference to a time in the 1990s when Bollywood had not yet learned to co-opt and consume all emerging subcultures popular with the youth. Young India, basking in the afterglow of economic liberalisation, was beginning to discover its homegrown celebrities and musicians, and finding that these personalities were as good as their Western counterparts.
Steering this phenomenon were two Indian television channels in a perennial face-off. One was MTV India. The other was Channel V.
Channel V shut shop this week. When the latest music, Indian or international, is available to everyone with a smartphone and an internet connection, what purpose could a 24-hour music channel serve? While MTV India figured the zeitgeist early on in the 2000s, and rebranded itself as a youth entertainment channel with reality shows like Roadies and Splitsvilla, Channel V was a Johnny-come-lately in the game. After being remodelled several times, without any noticeable rise in TRPs in the last decade, Channel V has finally been dropped by Star India, according to news reports. Taking its place will be a Kannada sports channel.
“We are like this wonly,” a vegetarian Tamil cowboy announced in 1994 on Indian cable television. Quick Gun Murugan was the mascot of Channel V – a new channel that would bring the best of international rock and pop hits to India but with a twisted desi sensibility.
Channel V emerged because Star India and Viacom Network, which had banded together to bring MTV to the country, had a falling out. Star India wanted to localise the content, but MTV preferred to continue with its singular focus on international songs. Channel V, Star India’s answer to MTV, began producing original Indian content with a host of fresh faces as video jockeys.
To popularise the channel, its fiery creative team (director Shashanka Ghosh and writer Rajesh Devraj) came up with a series of “sambhar western” promos featuring the character Quick Gun Murugan. (He later went on to have his own feature film in 2009.)
Quick Gun Murugan was followed by a host of madcap mascots – zany spins on cultural stereotypes – featuring in irreverent sketches, the likes of which Indian television had not seen.
One of them was Aunty 303, a single mother who dotes on her son in the day, and dons a leather jacket and goggles in the night to fight crime lord Naughty Boy (Razak Khan). Played by Paromita Vohra, Aunty 303 appeared in a bunch of one-minute black-and-white promos influenced by early American pulp magazines.
Another memorable Channel V mascot was Jawalkar, without a V. A parody of a Latin American dictator, Jawalkar, in his blue regalia and red sash, walked from door to door to confiscate anything that would make the V sign. On spotting any possible V, he would shout “Gheun tak” (Take it, in Marathi) to his minions. In his spare time, Jawalkar would censor content on Channel V by regulating the intensity of Michael Jackson’s pelvic thrusts. But some V would always remain undetected as a symbol of defiance.
In 1996, a rustic 20-something from Haryana, wrapped in a blanket and holding a stick, calmly informed viewers to vote for the Channel V Music Awards. Or else “thadi khopdi pe chale roadways ki bus.” (A Haryana Roadways bus would run over your head). This was Udham Singh, played by Manish Makhija, who wrote his own scripts. Udham Singh was not just a mascot but also the occasional VJ. The character became so popular that it went on to feature in a series of advertisements for Limca.
In its list of mascots Channel V also had a range of animated characters. There was Bai, a plump Maharashtrian maid, known for her catchphrase “Itna paisa mein itnayich milenga.” (This is what you get at this price). There was Simpu Singh, a Punjabi schoolteacher always taken advantage of by his naughty students. And the most bizarre of them all – Banjo and Macho, the “space khalasis”. These were two Punjabi truck drivers who travel through space and encounter, among other sights, intergalactic dogs. The clay-motion promo was discontinued after a short run, probably when the suits realised how Macho and Banjo sounded when said with a Punjabi accent.
But no character from the Channel V stable became as popular as Lola Kutty. Played by Anuradha Menon, Lola Kutty was a Malayali woman who had come to Mumbai from Kerala to make it big. Positioned as the “Channel [V] resident beauty on duty”, Lola Kutty quickly won over viewers. Her thick Malayali accent, distinctive costume (spectacles, Kanjeevaram saris and gajra gracing her curly hair), and unusual one-liners (“One man’s beard is another man’s Velcro”) made her wildly stand out among the channel’s other conventional VJs.
From featuring in minute-long promos, Lola Kutty graduated to hosting shows and interviewing Bollywood celebrities. She was often accompanied by her sidekick Alex, a curly-haired village fool from her hometown, always seen in shiny shirts and folded mundu. Together with Alex, Lola Kutty featured in numerous Channel V promos, including parody covers of Western pop hits.
These sketches, spots and characters will now reside in our hearts (and the internet) as misty-eyed nostalgia, always welcome to be revisited as Indian television keeps getting duller and more conservative by the day.