Jest a minute, Satishbhai
Posted online: Friday, March 10, 2006 at 0000 hours IST
The moment he comes on screen, you expect an explosion of laughter. From Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi way back in 1984 to Sarabhai Vs Sarabhai in 2006, the actor has had the viewers in splits. He's the one to have set the ball rolling as far as stand-up comedies go (Phillips Top Ten) on Indian television.
Having been born and brought up in South Mumbai, it wasn't difficult for Satish Shah to get into the skin of his popular onscreen character Indravardhan Sarabhai. "It's a delight to play the role," chuckles Shah who has seen people like Indravardhan from close quarters. Though he is not exactly fond of taking potshots at his erstwhile neighbours or friends, Shah who has a great sense of humour is more than willing to see the funny side.
And guess what, for the first time, the actor claims to being paid for what he is best at, acting! When you look askance, the actor explains that so far, a lot was expected from him besides his said profession. "I used to contribute to the scripts and egg my co-artistes to do better. It had come to a point when they had started depending on me. It was a huge responsibility," reveals the ace comedian.
It all began with Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi where the actor was the first to be approached with the concept but the last to be cast! He had just graduated from FTII, when his friends Manjul Sinha and Kundan Shah called him for a favour. They had penned a script and wanted him to read it. They were doing a dry run before bouncing it off to producer S S Oberoi and the sponsors, Vicco Laboratories. After getting the go-ahead, they decided to cast Shah as Ranjeet but eventually Shafi Inamdar who hailed from theatre
and had an edge over him was roped in. Shah was then considered for Raja's role but since Rakesh Bedi was popular then, thanks to his films, he was taken and Shah was sidelined.
Even Swaroop Sampat was Shah's recommendation when Manjul wanted a good-looking girl for Renu's role. Ironically, after having helped to put the team in place, the actor found himself out of the scene.
Even the makers were wondering what to do with him. After a lot of deliberation, Sinha decided to give him a cameo in every episode, something which was unheard of. An aghast Kundan tried to put his foot down but Sinha stuck to his gun and took the risk. Needless to say, the gamble paid off and Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi proved to be a milestone in the history
of Indian television, a benchmark as far as sitcoms go.
Around the same time, Kundan Shah's dark comedy Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron which went on to become a cult classic, released, in which Satish had an important role, that of a corpse! Says Shah, "Serials like YJHZ and films like JBDY aren't made, they happen. If you look at the script of both you will find nothing outstanding in it. 70 per cent of it was improvised upon by the actors."
Surprisingly, the good-looking and pleasantly plump actor didn't cash
in on his popularity. At a time when his contemporaries like Shekhar Suman and Kanwaljeet were doing serials a dime a dozen, Shah stuck to one at a time. "I like to concentrate on one project and do quality stuff. Those were the days when everybody powerful and popular wanted to make money. In Doordarshan, people were getting corrupt and instead of being creative, they were being materialistic," he sighs. The cycle continued till private channels came in. "It was the best thing to happen to Indian television," quips Shah.
Zee, in its initial years, gave tough competition to DD and Shah was part of its hit brigade. Phillips Top Ten, a song countdown show, had Shah as a stand-up comedian-anchor who donned different guises in every episode. It was a roaring success and according to Shah, had the highest TRPs, around 48! However, after a while, Shah got bored of "talking to the camera" and quit even though the sponsors were willing to give him four times his price. "Frankly, I never liked anchoring a show. It's not my cup of tea. But since I shared a great rapport with Kunal Kohli who was directing Phillips Top Ten, I let myself be coaxed into it," reveals Shah.
So, what is his take on laughter shows that have burst onto the scene today? "I don't like it at all. The actors involved in it may get instant fame but what happens after it goes off air?," he points out. Shah himself has been flooded with offers to host shows, but he's turned down all of them. "I am an actor, I need people around me," he reasons.
It's remarkabe that Shah, who has done just over a handful of serials in his 22 year career
span, has to his credit
most of the shows that have either set standards or raised the bar of sitcoms. After YJHZ, the actor alongwith Ratna Pathak Shah, was part of a hilarious filmi take-off Filmi Chakkar. A completely crazy concept, the serial was laugh-a-minute riot. "It came to me in a different format. It was based on a German programme and the couple in that show related every incident in their lives to a similar one in a film. We Indianised it and introduced a song that went with the filmi situation. But Zee wanted us to use only those songs that were in their library and that was creating a writers' bloc. Ashok Pandit suggested that instead of recorded songs we ourselves sing a line or two. That clicked in a terrific way," recalls Shah.
But as it happens with every successful show, Filmi Chakkar ran into some trouble with the producers
and was taken off air. Later it came in a new avataar as Mast Hai Zindagi with the same team of actors but failed to catch the viewers' fancy. In between, Shah did a few episodes of Farida Jalal's Hum Hain Anadi, 10-15 episodes of Raman Kumar's serial based on the Rajesh Khanna-starrer Bawarchi as a friendly gesture. He also did more than 100 episodes of All The Best which he entered mid-way in place of Shafi Inamdar who passed away. He's also had his share
of duds in Apun To Wahi Hai which went off the air after 14 episodes.
But he's probably the only actor to have featured in both the versions of the same serial. For instance Ghar Jamai. The first one aired on Doordarshan had him playing a father-in-law to Ananth Mahadevan and in the second one aired on Zee and directed by Mahadevan, Madhavan played his son-in-law. "It was a big hit both the times. In the second round, we had to stop after 65 episodes because the channel started interfering. They wanted mine and Madhavan's character to continue fighting like Tom and Jerry which we didn't feel right. We wanted to bring in emotional tracks, but the channel was unwilling. Eventually, we had to give up," recalls Shah.
Looking back, the actor has no regrets about doing fewer serials and films even though his film career
has been far from trail-blazing. "During my younger days, heroes were not comfortable with me and so I got relegated to smaller roles but now as a character actor, I am getting my due," he informs non-chalantly. His forthcoming films include Satish Kaushik's Milenge Milenge in which he plays Shahid Kapur's father. "It's an interesting role where the father is a big fan of his son. He gives in to all his son's demands and plays along with whatever he says but there's a twist in the end," he says mysteriously. His other films include Meghna Gulzar's film
starring Fardeen Khan in the lead. "It's not a run-of-the-mill kind of a movie. Moushumi Chatterjee is playing my wife," he informs. He's also got a bilingual film, a Mauritius collaboration in English and Hindi with Jimmy Shergill in the lead. So, his kitty
seems to be full as far as films are concerned.
On TV he had Sarabhai ... which has taken a break despite being granted an extension of 26 episodes. The serial will come back with the same team after three months. Shah is looking forward to getting a short breather. "In any case, the moment a role stops exciting me as an actor I quit. But in this case that is not necessary because I had a blast," he grins.
The comedian will be seen in one episode of Jodee Kamaal Ki with his wife Madhumita. "We lost but it was fun. Actually I participated in it only because I wanted my wife to face the camera. I thought she will be nervous but she was a pro," laughs the actor. This, however, isn't Madhumita's first appearance on screen. She had played Shah's better half in the first episode of Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi! "Since then she's been a part of my zindagi as my critic and friend. She has a good sense of humour and ours is a easy-going household," he says proudly.
Jodi Kamaal Ki
Sarabhai is not the only surname Ratna and Satish share. They are linked in real life too with a common surname in Shah, and it doesn't end there. Great friends, the two of them get along like a house on fire. That's probably the reason why, whenever the duo has come together be it Filmi Chakkar, Mast Hai Zindagi or Sarabhai Vs Sarabhai they have crackled the screen with their chemistry ...
What makes you the hit jodi?Satish Shah:
We are so comfortable with each other that we can easily do all kinds of scenes, be it fights or initmate bedroom scenes. Even when we are sitting a few feet apart, you'll find a unspoken proximity between us. That is what chemistry is all about. I guess this comes naturally because we take care not to encroach on each other's comfort zones.
Ratna Pathak Shah:
We have been friends for a long time. As co-stars there is a lot of trust and genuine appreciation between the two of us.
You came together for the first time in Filmi Chakkar...RPS:
That's right. During Filmi Chakkar Satish was a great help. The serial had a catchy idea but I had no clue how to go about it. It needed an over-the-top performance. Satish helped me in understanding the concept and then we had a blast.
Yes, I remember that in the beginning she had difficulty in digesting the format. Filmi Chakkar was about this couple who compared every situation in their lives to a film which had a similar story. Ratna was not getting the hang of it. I felt she was holding back a little. That's when I told her, we were supposed to be huge film buffs who seriously believe in singing songs related to the situation. She got the idea and then there was no stopping her.
Yet, your pair was not repeated...SS:
Yes, unlike in films, a hit television pair is not repeated because the producers feel that it will cause viewer fatigue. According to producers the serial would have lost its newness if they'd cast us together.
Actually, the long gap has worked to our advantage. It has helped retain the freshness of our pair.
Ratna Pathak Shah
She first made her presence on screen with a laugh-riot Idhar Udhar aired two decades ago on Doordarshan. Since then, Ratna Pathak Shah has done few serials but the actor is busy with Motley, a theatre group headed by her husband Naseeruddin Shah. She's also a part of Avehi-Abascus which is developing a curriculum for secondary students. A tete-a-tete
You were amongst the first ones to appear on television but despite being a part of a popular comedy Idhar Udhar you were hardly seen on the small screen ...
When I did Idhar Udhar, everybody was learning on the job. Over the years, I have found that writing is very mediocre in television. The script which is very important, specially for a sitcom, is weak. You find writers re-working on the script at the last minute on the sets. Also, TV is not like a film which is a one-off thing. Serials are ongoing and you have to give it the same energy levels which may not always be possible.
What attracted you to Sarabhai Vs Sarabhai?
I have seen and enjoyed most of the Gujarati plays done by JD Majethia, Aatish Kapadia and Deven Bhojani. What's more I am fond of them and like their attitude towards each other. When I was offered the role, I thought it was a good idea though I didn't know what it would look like on screen. But Aatish seemed very confident and as we went along, I realised that Maya Sarabhai is a fantastic character. She can be mean, bad and still get away with it. As Maya I am getting to do all those things I wouldn't have dreamt of doing in real life. (laughs)
Will you be taking up any other serial?
No, not right now. There's nothing that excites me. I would love to be a part of a detective series, something like The Practice or the ones written by Sherlock Holmes or Ruth Randell. But the detective serials that I have seen here are very shabby. The plots are either improbable or boring.
You aren't seen much in films either.
Honestly, I haven't been offered many films. I can't say I am sorry about that's because I would have turned down many of them, anyway. I am sure the offers would have been for bhabhi, chachi or sister roles with nothing substantial to do.
So, what are you playing in Yun Hota To Kya - What If? How is it working under under Nasseruddin Shah's direction?
Oh, I have done many plays with him and I am in tune with his style of working. Yun Hota To.. is a set of four stories and I feature in one of them. I am playing an out-of-work film extra artiste who has had a relationship with Paresh Rawal. What happens when the two meet again after a long time is what our track is all about. My portion got over in four days which was too soon for me. I really enjoyed doing the film!
Any other film
in the pipeline?
There's one other project for which talks are on. I wouldn't like to reveal it till it's finalised.
You are also actively involved in your theatre
That's right. Soon we will be launching Katha Collage 2. It's been designed by Naseer. Even my daughter Heeba will be acting in it.
How do you zero in on stories for your play?
We look around for plays everywhere. It was Naseer's idea of doing stories of Sadat Hassan Manto, Premchand, Kamtanath in English. Actually, now, even I feel like doing a play.
We are intrigued about your project Avehi Abascus.
Avehi Abascus was founded in 1990 by a group of like-minded people. We prepare educational kits for class 5, 6 and 7 which can be studied alongwith the school syllabus. We have developed six kits for teachers, two per year. So far, 200 muncipal schools in Mumbai are using it and from June onwards it will reach 900 schools. The curriculum encourages children to discuss and generate ideas.
Your pairing with your sister Supriya Pathak was a huge hit. Yet, nobody has thought of casting you together...
We did try to revive Idhar Udhar but it fell flat. There was one crossover episode of Instant Khichdi and Sarabhai Vs Sarabhair where we teamed together. I love working with my sister.
Does comedy come naturally to you?
No, by nature I am not a very funny person. My jokes always fall flat because I never get the punchline right. I have to work at my ability to perform a comic situation. I think a comedian should have the physical skills and excellent body control for sharp twists and turns like Lucille Ball who did all kinds of things including singing and dancing.