Vinod Dua passes away at 67; he made Hindi television cool and street food sexy

New Delhi, Dec 5: The pioneering and anti-establishment television journalist, and a walking encyclopaedia on India’s culinary secrets, Vinod Dua, passed away on Saturday, months after he lost his wife, the well-known radiologist Padmavati ‘Chinna’ Dua, during the peak of the pandemic earlier this year.

Vinod Dua, a recipient of the Padma Shri and the Ramnath Goenka Award for Excellence in Journalism, was suffering from post-Covid complications and was 67 at the time of his death.

Most recently, Dua was in the news when the Supreme Court invoked its 1962 judgment in the Kedar Nath Singh case to quash the charge of sedition brought against him under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code by a BJP MLA in Himachal Pradesh. Dua had been accused of making comments critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Sharing the news of his death on Instagram, Mallika Dua, Vinod and Chinna Dua’s comedienne daughter, wrote: “He lived an inimitable life, rising from the refugee colonies of Delhi to the peak of journalistic excellence for over 42 years, always, always speaking truth to power.”

A generation has grown up seeing Vinod Dua, back in 1974, anchoring ‘Yuva Manch’, Doordarshan’s popular programme for young people in the age of black-and-white television.

This generation remembers the warm, affable and politically outspoken Vinod Dua as the first television personality to make Hindi ‘cool’, long before the late S.P. Singh and Udayan Sharma became the bridges between Lutyens’s Delhi and the Hindi heartland.

Friends remember him for loving food and favourite whisky, and bringing even the stiffest party to life by breaking into a song in the rustic Saraiki dialect. It is spoken at Dera Ismail Khan in present-day Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan, which his parents had to leave as refugees.

Echoing the sentiments of the legion of friends of the Duas, Mallika wrote in her tribute: “He is now with our mom, his beloved wife Chinna, in heaven, where they will continue to sing, cook, travel and drive each other up the wall.”

Although Vinod Dua was famous as a Hindi journalist, he studied English Literature at Hans Raj College, Delhi University, and even did a Master’s in it, but he was a natural storyteller and the language that he was most articulate in was Hindi.

After stints with the Sutradhar group at the Shri Ram theatre and outings as a street theatre artiste, Dua became one of the earliest faces of television in India, starting with ‘Yuva Manch’, which he co-anchored with Manoj Raghuvanshi.

He was also associated with the Satellite Instructional Television Experiment (SITE), which laid the foundation for the expansion of television across India, and in 1981, he became the face of ‘Aap Ke Liye’, the Sunday magazine programme for families on Doordarshan.

Dua became a household name when he co-presented, together with the then little-known psephologist Prannoy Roy, the first-of-their-kind election analysis shows on television — Doordarshan yet again — in 1984. Viewers still remember him fondly for making Roy’s “swings” intelligible in plain Hindi with a dash of ready humour.

Thereafter, in 1987, Dua started anchoring ‘Janvani’, a programme that was symbolic of the early glasnost of the Rajiv Gandhi era, where regular people (the ‘aam admi’) got to ask questions of ministers.

That was a short-lived programme, but Dua went on to anchor and produce a series of current affairs programmes on different television channels.

The one that made him famous all over again, however, was NDTV India’s ‘Zaika India Ka’, which saw him travelling around the country, discovering street food gems, mithai shops and dhabas, making the owners of some of them nationally famous and rich. Many of these places still carry framed photographs of Dua’s enjoying a good meal with their owners.

In the recent past, Dua was attracting the ire of the ruling dispensation with his 10-minute ‘Jan Gan Man Ki Baat’ podcasts on a popular news website.

He was trolled for lashing out at Bollywood star Akshay Kumar for making lewd comments on Mallika Dua during a shoot of ‘The Great Indian Laughter Challenge’. And he was also accused of sexual harassment by the ‘Gulabi Gang’ director Nishtha Jain in a Facebook post — the charge died a natural death after Vinod Dua defended himself against it.

In the end, Vinod Dua will live in the public memory not only for putting Hindi on the map of Indian television, and for bringing India’s street food riches to the drawing rooms of television viewers, but also for being rooted in the noblest values of good journalism. He will also be remembered as a good man and a dear friend with a warm and welcoming smile.