They are everywhere—from the Big Boss’s house to the mega award events of the Bollywood. You see them in the so-called news, dance and music programmes. They appear as performers, anchors, even judges in reality shows. They are the men who make you laugh. And not all of them are outstanding performers.
More often than not they are incorrigibly crass and annoyingly embarrassing, yet they are the new face of fun in the entertainment arena and their influence has, of late, become so infectious that the erstwhile popular heroes and heroines of the sas-bahu serials have left their sob operas and become ardent missionaries of the Hanso India Hanso genre of programming. When did it all happen and why has this change come about?
Five thousand years of history has produced a handful of Birbals, Tenali Ramas and Gopal Bhars. Our celebrated epics don’t have a fool. Our history of Hindi films have very little stock of pure laughter. We don’t have anything, which is remotely comparable to a Charlie Chaplin film or a Laurel & Hardy show. I mean something, which makes you laugh to until you are in tears. All our great comedians had only side roles, to give comic relief to the otherwise serious problems of our heroes and heroines, zamindars and oppressors, lords and lawarishes. There were shows on television, albeit off and on, such as Ye Jo Hai Zindagi, Mungeri Lal Ke Haseen Sapnay. Comedy remained a condiment, not a full course dinner on the entertainment menu.
Today it has become the staple of all TV channels. Why single out TV? The number of comedy films that have shaken up the box office speaks for itself. It made super hero out of Akshay Kumar, built public opinion for Sanjay Dutt (as Munnabhai), gave Saif Ali Khan the best actor award for a comic role, and catapulted actors like Boman Irani, Rajpal Yadav and Paresh Rawal to be the new crowd pullers.
Now switch on any FM channel. They are also overflowing with laughter. Life cannot run on the rails of monotony and boredom. Time is too precious to be wasted in sulking radio jockeys, male or female, are routinely making murgas of listeners and gaining popularity.
What else has changed in our lives that we have started laughing so much? The world of black and white, tears and laughter are blurring very fast. Watch TV commercials for proof. Crabtree switches want laughter and tears to flow on cue; there is a thin barrier of chocolate bar between life and death as Priety Zinta tempts yamdoot with a Cadbury’s Perk; Onida’s devil has started telling the truth—“sach ke siwa kuch nehi kahunga.”
Roles are reversing in the reality shows as well. Judges openly shout and fight on stage. Contestants make fun of and mimic their mentors and the anchors. Excited fans rush on to the stage to plant kisses on the cheeks of unsuspecting participants. And tears are no longer the emotional expression of loosers because the winners have already wept bucketfuls to express their joy.
Meanings and expressions are at cross purposes, making a mockery of the symbols associated with them. Farce is the name of the game in such a topsy turvy world. The rise of Great Indian Laughter Challenge, the mushrooming of comedy shows on television are mirroring this trend. Of course, some channels are resorting to comedy shows to differentiate themselves from the standard soap-reality-mythology recipe of competing channels. Whether it is working is a different story altogether.
Note the changes that have started taking place in the argumentative Indian middle class. We were too obsessed with our high ground of morality. Our sincerest laughter was fraught with purpose. We laughed to mock, laughed to criticise and, of late, we are laughing to decrease blood pressure. Otherwise, it’s hasna mana hai for us.
Full-throated laughter has always found refuge in the lives of the people living on the fringes. Shout at them and they’ll laugh; throw them out of the job, they’ll laugh. If the long arm of the law demolishes their jhuggis and shops, they smile and restart.
These are the people who have invaded the entertainment arena of India. Brace yourself for the real bheja fry. They are the workforce that helps the elite and middle classes to move on. They have seen the extremes. How easily they move from one community to another! They are the bond of the new India. Listen to their jokes and pranks, they spare nobody—the rich and the famous, the powerful, the underworld, the bar girl, or the anxiety-prone middle class. Nothing escapes from their radar. They find fun in the spectre of a bull chewing the cud, sprawling right in the middle of a crowded lane. Or at the sight of a screeching monkey on top of a window pane. And why not? Cats, rats, dogs are not only big brand icons, but also characters in the field of entertainment today. The other day I found comedian Raju Srivastav mimicking a tube light and the flame of a diya. Hanso India hanso. Have a good laugh at life and relax—they all seem to be saying.
Brands also realise that. From high pressure sales spiel, they are fast switching over to the fun message and laughter. Hanso to khulke hanso—brands advise us. Bindas bolo condom. A pizza can make separation bearable. With Alpenliebe parting can be an occasion for a laugh. Even mobile phones can be a source of fun and shararat.
Comedy works and it works without blowing any whistle. For people who are not in power, comedy is the only weapon to retaliate. We find it hilarious to make fun of people in power—the masterji in school, the boss in office, the patriarch of the family—and settle scores. “Hain na papa buddhu?” (“Isn’t your daddy a fool?) mummy asks her babbling baby. One reason why the Aamir Khan ads for Coke clicked with the janta was that each of the ads showcased the victory of the ordinary over the moneyed and powerful. Even in Lage Raho Munnabhai, in Chak De India and in Malamaal Weekly, it is the loser and hopeless who is having the last laugh.
The urge to consume, the desire for more is reaching new heights. The pressure to perform, the deadlines to meet, combined with the natural and man-made disasters are conspiring to make us the grim-faced fighters of life. You never know if a journey to the market place may end up in the mortuary. The need for a thicker insulation of laughter is now a necessity to protect us from the unpredictable reality we are surrounded with. Tension has opened up hundred jaws that torment us. Laughter seems to be the panacea.
Who says it is better to weep with wise men than to laugh with fools? At a time when everything is changing, laughter is probably the only constant.
—The author is vice-president, consumer insight and HFD, McCannErickson India
6 months ago