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Over the last 10 years, Indian television can best be described as a magnanimous diaspora of saas-bahu sagas, high-voltage dramas, rom-coms, social issues, mythologicals, comedies and of course, reality shows. No one can deny that for the longest time, the saas-bahu genre of daily soaps was ruling the roost. But recently, the trend seems to be changing. With the plethora of comedy shows, we can safely say that comedy is quickly overtaking all other genres.
Earlier, the prime time slots on all General Entertainment Channels (GEC) were exclusively dedicated to family shows. Though there have always been comical shows on TV like Khichdi or Sarabhai v/s Sarabhai, the real potential of comedy was never explored. Cut to now, when channels are experimenting with different content on these time slots and comedy seems to be the clear favourite.
Today, there is an entire channel devoted to comedy – Sab TV. The success of Sab TV has proved that the audiences are open to watching humorous content. Taking a cue from this, now even other channels like Sony and Star Plus have dedicated their prime time slots to similar content. More importantly, it's not men who are calling the shots on these shows. Earlier, comedy was a domain mainly ruled by male actors, like Deven Bhojani, Satish Shah and Shekhar Suman. Actresses chose to steer clear of this. At the most, we had veterans like Supriya Pathak, Ratna Pathak Shah or Guddi Maruti, who were applauded for their comic timing.
But television is a fast changing medium and the last few years have seen the rise of a lot of female soap stars attempting to master this genre. Unlike before when comedy was a genre restricted to unglamorous women, today's glamorous lot is more than willing to tickle the audience's funny bone. What's surprising is that these are the very actresses, who began their careers with daily soaps and insipid dramas. Be it acting in sitcoms, participating as stand-up artistes or hosting and judging comedy reality shows, these women have taken to this trend and how!
The sultry Kavita Kaushik is one of the most popular examples of a soap actress switching to comedy. She started her acting career with Kutumb and Kahani Ghar Ghar Kii, but it is with her portrayal of the bindaas, funny and witty Haryanvi cop, Chandramukhi Chautala in FIR that she gained instant recognition. When we ask her why she decided to play Chandramukhi, when it would have been safer to stick to a regular soap character, Kavita says, "I think playing the regular saas-bahu role is dead boring. It is all hunky dory in the beginning, but after a few weeks, it becomes dull. Also, the genre of comedy has more to offer in terms of acting. When I do comedy, I feel my energy and enthusiasm are correctly utilized."
She discusses why actresses like her seem to prefer comical roles on TV, over drama. "Change is inevitable. Right now, comedy is refreshing and so it has taken centre-stage. Also, you need good actors to do comedy and that's why the crme de la crme of the industry is acting in such shows." Kavita compares this current trend to the one started off by Bollywood actresses in the 80s. "Even earlier, Sridevi and Madhuri Dixit were not only glamorous and sexy but they had excellent comic timing. But there were just a few of them. Now the audience's perception of TV actresses is changing. They have started accepting women is this genre. Look at Bharati Singh in Comedy Circus. She can give the male comedians like Kapil Sharma and Krushna Abhishek a run for their money."
As someone who has worked in both comedy as well as drama, Kavita definitely prefers the former. Her reason for it is simple, "It is all about talent, not just jhatka-matkas. Audiences want to see women perform comic roles, and don't always want to get a hint of their cleavage and butt."
And perhaps that's why Disha Vakani has got a popular comic show Taarak Mehta Ka Ooltah Chashmah in her kitty. She has been applauded for her portrayal of Dayaben. Another name that comes to mind is Ragini Khanna, who was seen in Bhaskar Bharti and is now doing the romantic comedy Sasural Genda Phool. On one side there is Ami Trivedi in Papadpol, which is based on imaginary characters created by renowned writer Shahbuddin Rathod, while on the other there is Sucheta Khanna in Lapataganj, a show based on the stories of Hindi satirist Sharad Joshi. Both these adaptations have been widely appreciated by the viewers.
It doesn't end there. Tragedy queen Divyanka Tripathi, who rose to popularity with the drama Banoo Main Teri Dulhan shocked everyone when she decided to play the silly wife in the laugh riot Mrs & Mr Sharma Allahabadwale. With this show, it was for the first time that Divyanka tried her hand at comedy. When asked about it, Divyanka maintains, "Comedy was something which I always wanted to do. I've shed enough tears in my earlier show. Now is the time to make viewers smile." Not many know that she chose this one over a serious fictional show for Zee TV.
It's not only acting in fictional comedy shows that has found favour with these women. Many actresses have begun their foray in comedy through the various stand-up reality shows like Comedy Circus and Laughter Ke Phatke. Everyone will agree that the infamous vamps of television, Urvashi Dholakia, Karishma Tanna and Kamya Punjabi started this trend. They were the first to appear in Comedy Circus alongside experienced stand-up comedians. Their performances were so loved by the audiences that the makers of the show started including more leading ladies with every new season.
Because of these trendsetters, actresses like Shweta Tiwari, Sayantani Ghosh, Chitrashi Rawat and more recently, Parul Chauhan and Tina Datta tried their luck with stand-up acts. Jennifer Winget, who rose to fame with Kausautii Zindagii Kay and later Dill Mill Gayye is one of the few actresses, who has juggled a daily soap as well as participated in Comedy Circus 3. What's more, she has even hosted Laughter Ke Phatke and Teen Ka Tadka. She believes that a balance can be maintained by doing two genres of shows simultaneously. "I don't think taking up comedy is a conscious decision for any TV actress. When I participated in CC3,
I got a good response from the audience. It is definitely different from crying in a daily soap. Personally, I wanted a change and so I took it up, along with my regular show and enjoyed it to the core. Doing it gives me a different kind of high. If it appeals to my sensibilities, I will do it again."
She agrees that actresses add the much needed glamour quotient to the shows and gives her take on participating in them. "It's the way we look at TV, which is growing. You don't need to be a clown to do comedy. You can be poker-faced and still make people laugh. In stand-up comedy, you get to be yourself. But this is not a phase, as even today dramas are equally popular."
Actresses have no qualms playing anchors on such shows too. Shruti Seth, known for her hosting skills was seen as an anchor in the first two seasons of Comedy Circus, which were colossal hits. Then came Purbi Joshi, who with her witty banter and sexy persona became an instant hit. Rashami Desai, Anita Hassanandani, Surveen Chawla, Roshni Chopra and Mouni Roy followed suit.
The challenge of anchoring a reality show and getting to explore new avenues is what each of them is looking for. The pretty Roshni Chopra states, "It provides great scope to display your talent. The audience is fed up of women shedding crocodile tears on daily soaps. Comedy is tougher than enacting those mopey roles. It is like pushing boundaries. What's more, people are accepting such gags. As far as hosting is concerned, television is evolving. I think actresses, who are all-rounders will last." She is happy that the fairer sex is on the forefront when it comes to hosting these shows. "Comedy Circus always takes on a lot of women hosts. Earlier, only vamps were allowed to be glamorous. Now even the hosts on such shows are glamorous. So I get to be the hot as well as funny girl."
It's not only glamour and comic timing that one is looking for. According to Archana Puran Singh, the co-judge of the Comedy Circus series, people on such shows need to have a combination of talents. "If you want to be a judge on a comedy show, you need to have a certain amount of intelligence, quick thinking, be bindaas and have a peculiar kind of attitude. I have all of this and I have always been known for my glamorous image. I am a complete package so maybe that's why the channel has never felt the need to replace me." You can't argue with that logic. Though her male co-judges have been replaced season after season, Archana has been the only constant on the show.
She is the only female judge around. So one wonders, why did she choose to be one. "I believe whoever judges a comedy show requires expertise in that genre. Be it my serials or movies, I have predominantly played comic roles. For me, judging the show is not a job; it comes naturally to me. You may say if a Farhan Akhtar can judge a dance reality show, in spite of being a director, so can I. But come what may, he can never replace a Saroj Khan. Similarly, comedy is my forte and I have doing it for 30 years. I am eligible to judge the show."
Right now she may be solitarily holding the fortress, but Archana believes that things are changing. "Earlier, barring a few, most actresses, were way too bothered about their looks. Acting, judging or hosting a comedy show results in the loss of dignity, as you have to make fun of yourself to make people laugh. But today's TV actresses are willing to experiment. Luckily for them, they aren't stereotyped in certain categories, unlike the big-screen actresses. On TV there is scope for experimenting, earning loads of money and it is this combination that makes such shows appealing. Also, there is fierce competition between the small-screen actresses, who are out to prove that they can do much more than just act in saas-bahu sagas."
It will still take a while for actresses to don the role of judges on comedy shows. But one thing is for sure – comedy is here to stay. Like Archana says, "Sitcoms and stand-up comedy have arrived very late in India. But now that they are here, they will be popular. After all, politicians and celebrities provide enough fodder for this genre." We couldn't have said it better.
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