Americans watch the India story – from Indus valley to Bangalore

By Arun Kumar, IANS,

Washington : From the Indus Valley civilisation to the 21st century, India’s story through the ages unfolds before television audiences in the US with the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) telecasting a three-part series on the world’s largest democracy.

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“The Story of India”, a three-part landmark BBC series on the rising economic giant started Monday night through America’s non-profit PBS and continues over the next two Mondays. The six-hour documentary covers more than 4,500 years of South Asian history, from the Indus Valley civilisation to the 21st century.

“The glories of Rome, Egypt and Greece have all been the subject of TV portraits, as yet there has been no television story of India on our screens.

“This series sets out for the first time to do that: to show a world audience the wonders of India; the incredible richness and diversity of its peoples, cultures and landscapes; and the intense drama of its past, including some of the most momentous, exciting and moving events in world history,” the PBS says.

The documentary sees Michael Wood embark on a dazzling and exciting journey through today’s India, “seeking in the present for clues to her past, and in the past for clues to her future”.

Comparing it to the landmark “Planet Earth” series, Michael Judge in a Wall Street Journal preview says: “This is just the beginning of an expedition that draws a straight line from the ancient civilizations of the Indus Valley to the high-tech wonders and wealth of Bangalore’s Silicon Valley.”

“Like the Discovery Channel’s ‘Planet Earth’, this is documentary television that shouldn’t be missed,” he says. “As Mr. Wood explains with great verve at the start of our voyage: ‘Only India has preserved the unbroken thread of the human story that binds us all’.”

However, Tom Shales of the Washington Post is a little disappointed. “Pretty, pretty pictures are at odds with sometimes wearisome words in ‘The Story of India’, an ambitious attempt to encapsulate 5,000 years of what is now ‘the world’s largest democracy’ into a mere six hours of television.

“The articulate interlocutor for the BBC-PBS co-production is a chatty chap named Michael Wood, and though he’s amiable and erudite, he hasn’t organised the material for maximum clarity and coherence,” says Shales.

“It is a massive project, indeed, and viewers who face up to the challenge will undoubtedly learn much that was previously unknown about this paradoxical land of ancient myths and cutting-edge cybernetics,” he notes.

“Unfortunately, tonight’s premiere of the six-part series does not bode wildly well: It seems at times confused and fuzzily focussed,” Shales wrote Monday.

“The visuals are occasionally magnificent, though, especially shots of everyday people crowding city streets or bobbing about in India’s fabled waterways. The images of India’s ever-seductive culture are stunning and intoxicating, even if Wood’s analysis tends toward the off-puttingly dry.

“The series would benefit from less talk and more action than in the premiere, but even with its limitations, ‘The Story of India’ all but dares viewers not to be at least intrigued – and, quite possibly, fascinated,” Shales adds.

Monday’s opening chapter “Beginnings” and “The Power of Ideas” covered 60,000 to 500 BC and then 500 to 200 BC. Forthcoming chapters in the saga are titled “Spice Routes and Silk Roads”, “Ages of Gold”, “The Meeting of Two Oceans” and “Freedom, 1700-2009”.