We live in the age of the Internet. From watching random YouTube videos to binge watching our favourite shows on Netflix, we rely on the internet for our dosage of entertainment. And after we’re done watching our favourite American and British TV shows, we wonder if there’s something that we could watch that was a little closer to home, a little desi. Of course, watching the idiot box is just not an option all thanks to Naagin (this show is in its second season right now btw) and the likes.
One of the most watched TV shows of all time is FRIENDS. While one might have different opinions about the show, one cannot deny the pop-culture juggernaut that the show is. The most popular American and British shows are largely on one particular genre – comedy. Most of the young Indian audience is consuming copious amounts of this genre and we don’t really like the desi options.
But I distinctly remember my childhood days when comedy on Indian television was worth its weight in gold.
Remember Office Office?
Another one of Pankaj Kapoor’s gems, Office Office was a hilarious yet true take on the sarkaari attitude of people. We loved to hate the misery that poor Mussaddilaal had to endure every time he went to get his work done.
Or Flop Show?
Jaspal Bhatti’s Flop Show was nothing like the name suggested. A satire on the socio-cultural problems faced by the common man, we still remember it for the ever-so-smiling Bhatti saab, even though only 10 episodes of the show were actually produced.
Or Sarabhai vs Sarabhai?
Probably one of the very few shows that could boast of a good script and a crisp direction. Although it heavily borrowed elements from Everybody loves Raymond, it is a memorable show for everyone who watched it.
Today, we have shows like The Kapil Sharma Show, Comedy Nights Bachao, Tarak Mehta ka Oolta Chashma and Bhabhi Ji Ghar Pe Hain ruling the roost in the genre. We have a sad excuse for a ‘talk show’ in The Kapil Sharma Show; a roast comedy show in the form of Comedy Nights Bachao and a situational comedy in the form of Bhabhi Ji Ghar Pe Hain.
Remember the times when we had a fantastic talk show as Movers & Shakers and a charming host in Shekhar Suman? That comedy was witty, satirical and smart. The Kapil Sharma Show, on the other hand, is extremely pedestrian in terms of humour and most of its jokes rely on inherent homophobia. Moreover, Kapil hardly takes risks as a comedian and spends most of the time on the show sucking up to Bollywood celebrities.
Men dressing up like women is now the new gold-standard for humour in our country.
Why don’t we get women to play the roles that these men do? Because men dressing up as women has been equated with humour from a long time. Is transphobia one of the major reasons? Yes. But the audience’s perception of women is also one of the contributing factors. For example, Ali Azgar plays the nani of the family. She has one motive in the show – find an ideal guy and fornicate. As simple as that. Now, it’s funny because it’s a guy doing it dressed as a woman. Is the Indian society ready to accept women who’d readily do it on stage? It’ll scandalise a huge section of the population and people will get offended left, right and centre.
None of our comedies can be referred to as sitcoms, because our shows rely more on the characters to crack jokes out loud than the situations themselves.
The TV channels are reluctant when it comes to producing one episode every week.
The format that is put to use all over the world somehow fails to strike a chord with the media outlets. If we can wait a week for a new episode of Modern Family or Big Bang Theory, we can very well wait for an Indian TV show that appeals to us. Writing funny jokes every day isn’t humanly possible. A weekly show will make sure that we get decent episodes consistently and the production houses need to trust the audience with this.
This is what made Tarak Mehta ka Oolta Chashma really really bad. It was a great show when it started but the jokes started getting stale and the show took a turn for the worse as it kept getting aired for a long time.
Most of the funny comedians have now shifted to YouTube because of the independent nature of the medium and the immense creative freedom which they can exercise there.
If you ask a youngster to name a few funny people, chances are that they’ll name some comedian they’ve been following on YouTube. The rise in internet culture has seen the fresh and experimental comedy migrate to streaming websites because of the lack of censorship. Every comedian has a distinct style and this attracts people from all walks of life.
Even the sketches and webseries that they’ve come up with have been received really well. The crowd that was being starved by television have now found a new home in YouTube. It’s simple demand-supply logic at play here. It’ll be unfair to say that our taste in comedy has gone down the drain. Indian audiences did respond well to comedy that is done well. Permanent Roommates is the biggest proof of that. Star Boyz in Space and Better Life Foundation are the kind of shows that can get the Indian audiences back on track.
Maybe the production houses haven’t received the memo yet or maybe they are happy with the preconceived formulas of ‘hit’ shows. These webseries could easily be brought to the small screen on a weekly basis and the audiences is capable of deciding on their own.
One of the biggest reasons behind the failure of new-age comedy shows has been their reluctance to evolve with the ever-changing society.
Recently, comedian Sunil Pal was a member of a panel on a private news channel. When asked about his opinion about the new wave of comedians and Tanmay Bhat in particular, he had this to say:
Half the audience of Tanmay Bhat are gays and lesbians who like his sort of comedy, because as it is, they want to only dirty the society. You will never understand even a single joke of his. All he does in his shows is stand in front of the crowd with a mic and make vulgar and below-the-belt statements
The sheer ignorance of comedians who won our hearts about a decade ago is clearly visible. Even though we found their jokes funny at the time, they don’t hold up in today’s context. For some reason, these older comedians are too reluctant to make peace with the more liberal comedy scene we have now. These are the same comedians who make our TV shows and hence, they end up being below par.
Indication of our times, when you can’t make fun of the rich and the powerful. The whole aspect of comedy punching upwards has gone for a toss in this race for TRPs.
Comedy is a very contentious topic among the Indian audiences. One man’s funny is another man’s offence. So much so, that we should rank high when it comes to lena-dena. No, I’m not talking about the other kind of lena-dena which the reason behind our high population rates or the lena-dena that contributes to high corruption rates. I’m talking about offence ka barter.
Indian television needs an overhaul in terms of writing. Our shows have gone from bad and worse and no risks are being taken. If we are to get better shows from Indian production houses, we’ll have to stop accepting the kind of drivel they are coming up with. It’s a two-way road to be honest. They’ll need to trust the audience and we’ll need to reward ballsy storytelling.
Let’s hope that TV channels take note of this and try incorporating better writers into the mix. We can definitely use some more well made comedy shows on Indian television.