Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Skip away Skippy, Appu is here.

BBC iplayer has just uploaded a documentary on the Australian television series Skippy The Bush Kangaroo that was played between 1966 and 69 world over. We had to watch it instantly, Sid being Aussie and all that.

No, I can’t muster much enthusiasm for Skippy. The bush kangaroo was not a part of my childhood, or my parents’. Yes, Skippy was played in more than 126 countries. No, India was not one of them. Yes, it was watched by more than 300 million people. No, that didn’t include any Indians.

The first reason is obvious. There was no television in India in the 1960s. Television only came to India in 1972 so we were never meant to catch the phenomenon in real time. But what about recordings? Sorry, even when we did get television, it was government-controlled, and the government chose to protect our pure eastern minds from nasty western programmes about kangaroos doing funny things with kids. The first western programme I watched was Bold & the Beautiful in 1994 when cable television was finally allowed to operate in India. (Of course, one can argue that it is also a fine programme about a bunch of funny creatures jumping and humping about.)

But don’t feel sad for us. We had our own home-grown – and may I add grander – fix of kids-in-the-wild programming. Appu aur Pappu was a television serial broadcasted from 1987-88 on late afternoons every Sunday. Pappu was the son of a forest officer. Appu was his pet elephant. Together, they foiled the plans of poachers and smugglers, rescued stranded travelers lost in the jungle, befriended tribals, helped wild animals in peril and had other adventures. And boy, did we love our Appu! Believe me, if you think that the dumb kangaroo was the shit, wait till you see what a clever elephant can get up to.

Of course, it was a copy of Skippy. But then, Skippy was a copy of Flipper, an American television serial than ran between 1964 and 67 about the son of a Chief Warden of a marine preserve who befriends a dolphin, and how they together save the world.

But there is one difference. Sid’s Skippy was carefully documented, archived, turned into a cultural reference point, and is still being discussed in documentaries 40 years later. Why? Because it had a marketing machinery behind it. I can't even find a wikipedia page on my Appu to prove to Sid that he was for real.

Try looking up Appu aur Pappu on youtube at your own peril. Whatever turns up - I can assure you - had nothing to do with my childhood. And if you have any doubts about elephant intelligence, here is BBC saying boo to you.

Here's the Indian take on Skippy:

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