Monday, July 8, 2013

Comedies, scripted and unscripted


Channel surfer

Randeep Wadehra

Comedy has come a long way from being a side-tract of cinematic narratives. In those days, there was little scope for comedians to proliferate. Yet, the likes of Mahmood and Johnny Walker attained iconic dimensions, commanding more remuneration than the highest paid film heroes of their time did. Nevertheless, despite Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi, Golmaal, Chupke Chupke and Jane Bhi Do Yaaro, comedy came into its own when TV arrived as the alternate medium of mass entertainment.

Today, SAB TV telecasts maximum number of comedies although Star TV, Colors and Sony too have been airing popular comedy shows. Gradually, the genre has evolved into various avatars, viz., sublime, ridiculous, slapstick, stand-up, sitcom, dramedy (comedy drama), animation cartoons and game-show comedy. The content may be silent and subtle, risqué and ribald, parody and prosodic… Although, initially, sitcoms ruled the small screen, stand-up comedy has been becoming increasingly visible lately. Star One’s Laughter Champions series unleashed a new animal on small TV – the stand-up comedian. Small town entertainers like Raju Srivastav, Kapil Sharma and Sudesh Lehri etc became TV stars. Kapil has gone a step further by producing his own comedy show for Colors – Comedy Nights With Kapil, which has already featured such film stars as Dharmendra, Shahrukh Khan and Deepika Padukone; its success may take TV comedies to another level. Among women, Archana Pooran Singh had stamped her class as stand-up TV comedian (actually, she used to sit on a chair) in Uncensored, a sardonic take on class divides; she invented the concept of HS (high society) and LS (low society) as comic elements.   

Doordarshan gave some memorable comedy shows during its halcyon, monopolistic days, viz., Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi, Dekh Bhai Dekh, Khatta Meetha etc. The classic Wagle Ki Duniya, inspired by R.K. Lakshman’s cartoons, was a great success because it related to our everyday life. Moreover, its understated humor, coupled with brilliant acting, was a novelty for the viewers, who had accepted high decibels as necessary evil in comedy. Yet, its later avatar on SAB TV, R.K. Lakshman Ki Duniya, is an aggressive version of the silent, laidback aam aadmi; the protagonist is not a meek spectator but is quite willing to take on the various societal ills. On the same channel, Tarak Mehta Ka Ooltah Chashma has been entertaining viewers since July 2008. Another entertainer, Chidiya Ghar, revolves around antics of the Narayan family and their servant. Some comedies have become legendary, setting new benchmarks. Zee TV’s Hum Paanch took a humorous look at the dilemmas faced by a middleclass family comprising five daughters and their parents. Sarabhai vs. Sarabhai was essentially a sardonic take on “class conflict” wherein the snobbery of a pseudo-sophisticate mother-in-law was juxtaposed with charmingly, and alarmingly, naïve middleclass daughter-in-law. 

Political satires have been very few. Kakkaji Kahin on DD was a game-changer of sorts, because never before on Indian television had such lampooning of politicos been telecast. This paved the way for Office Office and Sifarishi Lal etc when private channels arrived on the scene. It is strange indeed that there has been such paucity of political satires. Right now, our entertainment TV channels have no political comedies on air. On news channels, the only notable one is The Week That Was on CNN-IBN. Perhaps, the alternative lies in the rather wildly amusing news snippets and video clips that regularly appear on different news channels. During their spat, Beni Prasad Verma and Mulayam Singh swapped such articulate invective as “insane” “bunch of liars” “not fit for even sweeping the floor of…” etc. Not to be outdone, female politicos too opened fire. On Times Now, fiery Vrinda Grover yelled “shame on you” at feisty Meenakshi Lekhi while discussing CBI’s charge sheet in the Ishrat Jahan case. Lekhi paid back the compliment in a higher decibel, with the usually effusive Goswami desperately trying to keep the debate on track. Nevertheless, the cake goes to the BJP rep on NDTV Primetime, where he was hell bent upon proving that, in 2002, Narendra Modi’s beard was “not white”! Poor Ravish Kumar watched more than five minutes of airtime go waste, thanks to this erudite analysis. But such are the demands of unscripted real time, real life political comedies!

Published in The Financial World dated 08 July 2013

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