Sunday, May 24, 2015

Comedy no laughing matter

Randeep Wadehra looks at The Great Indian Laughter Challenge and talks to Bhagwant Mann, our man from the region in the running for the top slot

Shekhar Suman, Parizad and Navjot Sidhu on the sets of The Great Indian Laughter Challenge: Packing in the punch
Shekhar Suman, Parizad and Navjot Sidhu on the sets of The Great Indian Laughter Challenge: Packing in the punch
MAKING people laugh is no joke. That’s why comedians sweat it out to come up with original gags and punchlines to earn public acclaim. And, for those who earn their bread as comedians, comedy is certainly not a laughing matter. Unlike the West, India does not take its humourists seriously. Bollywood has already turned this art into buffoonery.
Moreover, how many readers can recall having read great original humour in our
literature?
In the Indian milieu it was always difficult for new talent to get exposure because, like in other walks of life, the TINA factor operated here too. However, the onset of satellite television has breathed some life into the art. The SAB television is already a full-fledged comedy channel, while other channels have slots for at least one sitcom.
Now Star One has, after successfully launching The Great Indian Comedy, come up with The Great Indian Laughter Challenge, with Shekhar Suman and Navjot Sidhu as judges. While Shekhar has established himself as small screen’s wizard of wit, Sidhu is famous for his Sidhuisms.
For the Laughter Challenge there are six finalists, viz., Ehsaan Qureshi, Parag Kansara, Raju Srivastav, Sunil Pal, Navin Prabhakar and Bhagwant Mann. The competition cannot be described as of high standard because most of the gags were recycled jokes or plagiarised one-liners. However there was some original stuff too, which was peddled by the six finalists. The first leg of the finals, held on September 2, had Johnny Lever as a special judge along with Sidhu and Suman.
Parizad’s compering was good. But the performance of the finalists could, at best, be described as above average-but-not-excellent. Bhagwant Mann scored 40.7 points and was placed third. Nonetheless, a commendable effort by the channel to keep the life’s funny side up.
"I want people to sit down and reflect"
Bhagwant Mann
Bhagwant Mann
IT’S been a long haul to stardom for the boy from Satauj village in Punjab’s Sangrur District. At school, he’d mimic his teachers and make his classmates laugh. The teachers were not amused though. Later on, his talent for jesting earned for the Punjabi University, Patiala, two gold medals in National Youth Festivals. Today, he’s already on the way to becoming the nation’s "laughter-icon". Bhagwant Mann has an eye for the ridiculous garnished with oodles of humour, which helped him become Punjabi small screen’s laughter-generator, and has kept him in the race for The Great Indian Laughter Challenge, launched on Star One on July 3 this year, with finals on September 2 and 9. He was shortlisted among the 50 talented comedians from across the country. And now`85
Congratulations on reaching the finals. How does it feel?
Thank you. It’s all due to the blessings of my well wishers. It feels just great.
I’m in Mumbai to shoot for The Great Indian Laughter Champion series.
All the six finalists are being featured in a special series as champions. After all we are six of the best budding comedians in the country.
With more than 11 years of experience as a stand-up comedian on the Punjabi television and scores of VCDs to boot, still you are budding`85
I’ve done exactly five comedy VCDs and 20 audio cassettes. Yes, stage shows, both in India and abroad, have been numerous. Getting national exposure is a different game altogether.
In what way?
Like graduating from a state Ranji team to becoming a Test player. My ideas are of national relevance, like corruption, police atrocities, political hypocrisy et al. Mind you, in Zee Punjabi’s Jugnu Mast`85 I’ve been raising these issues. Now I’m doing the same in Hindi.
What has the response been like?
Beyond my expectations. People have begun to stop me to tell me how much they appreciate my work. Even a seasoned entertainer like Shekhar Suman, who’s also one of the judges for the show, has praised the content of my presentations.
Could you explain?
For example, when I said that in the Parliament the Speaker is the only one who couldn’t utter a word, it made a great impact.
And the other judge?
Oh, Navjot Sidhu just couldn’t stop laughing.
So, you’re making people sit up and take notice of the Punjabi brand of humour?
It’s more like making them sit down and reflect on what I’m trying to convey. There’s so much of pain and exploitation in our society. I don’t want the audience to wallow in gloom. They should think while laughing.
Weighty comedy, huh?
(Laughs). Yes, something like that. But not too heavy either.

First published in The Tribune dated September 11, 2005
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