Saturday, June 18, 2005

The Great Indian Laughter Challenge

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.

Saaru chhe
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
5) Consistency

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.

Talent galore

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.


  1. I haven't watched any kind of tv for the last two years (except for selected BBC series on DVD), but I did catch a few minutes of that Batliwala rip-off of The Kumars at No. 42, and was quite fascinated by how exceedingly unfunny it was. And people watch this?

    I also saw a couple of sketches of The Great Indian Comedy Show. That was at least tolerable, although I don't know if that was the general quality of the show.

  2. I fully agree with Rashmi, Star one has lot more to give: you can see special squad a suspense thriller not taking the audience for granted i.e. audience are intelligent enough and needn't be spoonfed, then we have remix for the youth and the great indian comedy show the recent presentation by Bharat Dabholkar was excellent.

    I think Rashmi is not out of the Anonymous Hangover

  3. Hi,
    i was looking for reveiws of Bunty and Bubbly and that's how i stumbled into your blogspot. And i must say you absolutely wowwwwwwwed me. You write great and then when i discover that you are from IIM-A it only reaffirms my belief that you are seriously gifted. I have my own little blogpsot and i linked your blogspot to mine. Okay i am this software engineer based in Kolkata and i want to subscribe to JAM. But i think its a Mumbai based magazine isn't it? So what can i do to get hold of a copy?

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  4. One shouldn't forget that we also have had Shriman Shrimati and Hum Saath Aath Hain type of classics. Then there was Office Office which ran wide and long and all these were a breather to the Indian primetime. Shekhar Suman still tries his best to arouse comedy with news on Star news Poll Khol and we all know about NDTV's work on getting the best 'Hasya kavis' on the channel regularly.
    The 'K' series at Star and similar ones on other channels are here to snatch away slots which otherwise would be occupied by the hubby's interest in NEWS, when they are back home after a tiresome day. These channels need a way to get the viewership levels up and what better way than to elucidate the instincts in the Home Minister i.e. the wife.

    Some people, I'm sure, in the entertainment media would try their level best to keep the laughter spirits up in the society.

  5. Application of the 'chand' analogy for the blog commenters was a good one


  6. Anonymous4:26 PM

    when will indian comedy shows become as good as Friends or Will & grace or the Jayleno show

  7. Wow Sidhu's rejoinder was actually very good ! Somehow "Hum Paanch" was slapstick but I liked it. I also liked "Tu tu Main main" and "Shreeman Shrimati" which were screened on Doordarshan if my memory serves me right. Though they might not go down in the history of Indian television as a few of those which top the bill I still find (rather 'found') them good.

  8. Hey sorry I forgot to add "Family No 1" on Sony. Trust me they portray some good characters in that show. And then there's "Dil Vil Pyar Vyar". I only hope I have not stooped too low by now :p

  9. But a lot of stuff that's passed on as comedy borders on the vulgar...not quite the clean comedy...I agree cent percent that Sarabhai is a winner on all fav is Rosesh and his moma...

  10. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  11. I have been watching Great Laughter Challenge for last 2 months without fail.

    My favorite comedian is:

    1.) The guy who acted as a bar dance girl talking to his client. He was a young fellow from Mumbai.

    I havnt watched Sarabhai vs. Sarabhai, but I have heard its very clean.

    How can people forget "Zabaan Sambhalke" and "Dekh Bhai Dekh".

    BTW, I think you should allow anonymous comments. There are people using other blogging tool who would like to reply.

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