It is a lot harder to make people laugh than to make them cry. But after years of success at the latter - thanks to the saas bahu series of soap sagas - Indian television is finally attempting to tickle our funny bones.
Ironically, the first memorable show on Indian TV way back in 1983 was a sitcom - Kundan Shah's Yeh jo hai zindagi. It is an all time classic. But nothing quite lived upto that for the next two decades.
Indian television comedies were pretty much 'lowest common denominator' - loud and slapstick. 'Hum Paanch' was maybe, slightly tolerable, only because characters like Kaajal bhai and the dead wife on the wall (Priya Tendulkar) were imaginative (relatively speaking).
But, now the drought is finally ending. With 'Sarabhai vs Sarabhai' Star One finally has a winner.
Sarabhai has all the elements necessary for a good sitcom -
1) A small but clearly defined cast of characters (like Rosesh the duffer son who writes insufferable poetry)
2) An inherent - and exaggerated - clash of values producing comic situations (the sophisticated saas vs the middle class bahu).
3) Great acting (not just the big names like Ratna Pathak Shah, Satish Shah - everyone plays their parts well!)
4) Great scripts and dialogue
Sarabhai is (very loosely) inspired by Dharma and Greg but has a life and locus quite its own. The same team (Jamnadas Majethia & Aatish Kapadia) also writes, produces and directs another weekly sitcom - Instant Khichdi.
Khichdi started life on Star Plus and was later migrated to Star One. In the process the Gujarati family whose antics the show features also suddenly become crorepatis looking for new - and hilarious - ways and means to spend their money.
Instant Khichdi is also entertaining but of late the Praful-Hansa PJs have lost their zing. Sarabhai is more sophisticated - and relies less on physical comedy - and hence gets my vote as India's no 1 television sitcom.
What's more, the Great Indian Laughter Challenge - also aired on Star One - is on a hunt for India's "hasi ka baadsha'. And is definitely worth a watch. Last night I was struck by the originality and style of the two finalists who were both so good that the judges and audience declared a tie.
While the other contestants merely related jokes - although with considerable chutzpah - the two who made it to the last round were stand up comics in the true sense. They used their own accents/ background/ world around them to create a very unique and personal brand of humour.
The Hyderabadi chap used his Hyderabadiness to great effect. His song 'Usne Paaya Khaaya' (usne including Bill Kalinton, Mrs Kalinton, Pervez Musharraf, Adnan Sami, and even Saddam Hussein) was absolutely hilarious. But hilarious while making a larger point - which is what the best humour is about.
Deepak Raja from Jalandhar put his own mama, chacha, foofas and taayas to good use while scripting his routine. The fact that he was dressed in an abonimable pink suit teamed with a flowery shirt didn't matter at all. What he said and the way he said it was so ... funny!
India has a long tradition of haasya kavi sammelans where little known and well known poets gather. These kavis wring out humour from everyday Indian life - some of it, truly priceless.
These kavis - and other homegrown talents like Deepak and his Hyderabadi counterpart - are the ones who will really raise the standards of humour in India.
And by the way, will someone PLEASE give Navjot Singh Sidhu his own show. Whatever you may feel about his cricket commentary (in English) Sidhu is amazing in Hindi. Witty AND insightful (he hosted a show on Red FM last week and was very very good).
As a judge on the 'Laughter Challenge' he laughs easily and loudly. A man jiske dil mein koi gile shikve nahin hain. Shekhar Suman on the other hand is stiff and 'professional'. Plus he wears dark glasses - on air!
Yeh hai attitude
Shekhar Suman: Sidhuji bataiye, jab log Sardars ke baare mein jokes sunaate hain, aapko kabhi bura toh nahin lagta
Sidhu: Kabhi nahin! Chaand ke upar agar koi thooke toh kya use daag lag sakta hai??!!
If more of us believed that - instead of taking 'offence' easily when the joke's on us - the world would resound more often with laughter.
And yeah, the 'chaand' analogy applies to blogging - and anonymous, rude commenters too.