Oct 26, 2012

Jaspal Bhatti, comic revolutionary

It is perhaps a left-handed tribute to the enduring nature of the "Indian system" that even today, the day after Jaspal Bhatti passed away in a road accident, a child watching his immensely intelligent satire "Flop Show" would instantly recognise how similar its India remains to that of 1989, when the show first began. Sure, you can now get a working telephone connection without resorting to shamans, but even today "do-shabd-vaale" chief guests arrive late, people produce fake medical bills, property sharks have only become more bloodthirsty, buildings fall at the drop of a feather, and as for TV serials, well, the tragedy is we still don't know if they were intended to be comedies.

We of the eighties, the Doordarshan Generation, often talk of how good television was during the times of DD. While garden-variety nostalgia is probably to blame for most of it, when it comes to comedy, we do have a strong case. And leading the charge, your honour, would be "Flop Show". Bhatti's creation was preceded by "Ulta Pulta", five-odd minute pieces in DD's morning show that I would often catch while getting ready for school. I can't remember a single one of them now, but I do remember an awakening to the idea of satire, of which, sadly, mainstream TV and films in India have produced very little. Even "Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro" was a fortuitous coming together of youthful insouciance ending in noir and comedy, but "Flop Show", a worthy expansion of the promise of "Ulta Pulta", was a planned and sunny "oye chal yaar" saunter through middle class angst. Underlined by the weekly pastiche of Hindi film songs that was a high point in TV creativity. If you consider that DD, that same media org that often filled entire 20-minute news bulletins with speeches of Rajiv Gandhi wanting to make bananas, has greenlit satire of the highest order that pulled down the pants of most things smug, you do have to give its officers credit.

Of course, "Flop Show" never took potshots at real people or pointed fingers at the highest of places. Nor did Bhatti really touch the high notes of national popular attention again. But he did pursue his talent, through films and notably surfacing during elections to make merry at the expense of politicians. But this part of India had changed: now humour was an excuse to get offended and buy free outrage-time, or just make Archana Puran Singh guffaw - a task achieved even when she watches paint dry. Whatever little had been achieved during the few years of comic liberation had been ceded to buffoonery of the Cyrus Broacha variety, to plagiarised stand-up of the Shekhar Suman style, or to a laughter track stuck in an infinite loop. Note milord, "Flop Show" never needed a laughter track.

You can draw neat parallels in this demise of purposeful and intelligent satire with the withering away of R.K. Laxman, or indeed even in Bhatti's own career. A few months ago, I noticed that he was on Twitter (where a semblance of satire - or at least attempted satire - has gone to live) and still had the occasional touch. Evidence:

"A chair thrown at Nitish Kumar...what else a politician wants?"

"#HappyBdayNamo ..Astrologers say nxt PM again will be bearded.Modi,Nitish,MMS already have.Rahul G's beard will grow with d worries"

People have started using diesel & petrol as body perfume to show off.

Sachin Tendulkar bowled thrice in a row...Members of parliament are not performing much anywhere

One of "Flop Show"'s best episodes was its last one, where it memorably poked fun at itself. Bhatti often did that to himself, and earned a lot of appreciation in the process. One can only attribute his untimely demise to a tendency, also followed by his old comrade Vivek Shauq (who passed away last year), of keeping a meeting appointment too early. Hopefully the gods, who will undoubtedly be the butt of a few jokes now, did him the honour of greeting him, despite this inconvenience.

In his creations, Jaspal Bhatti would be credited with "Misdirection". This was a fitting description, given that the people he poked fun of think of themselves as providing "direction" to society. It was and is an "Ulta Pulta" world, and very few Indians threw a spotlight on it like Jaspal Bhatti.


Vcat said...

Brilliant. Can't agree more.

Vcat said...

Brilliant. Can't agree more.

Unknown said...

Thanks, sir.

Anonymous said...

>> but I do remember an awakening to the idea of satire


Before Ulta Pulta, I think the only comedy I was well acquainted with was slapstick.

I still remember being amused by 'Misdirection: by Jaspal Bhatti" and "Overacting: by XX" every single time.


Rahul SMS said...

jaspal sir you were brilliance in comedy . You took comedy ona different level inspiring and making people laugh . Yours shows were incredible and can never be replicated . Always the best you will there be in our hearts as you always were . May god bestow you with holy peace . Amen .

Anonymous said...

Absolutely on the spot.

Ah the DD days. Who can forget the jaspal+savita ji+vivek combination and the unmissable titles.