Down the years, Bollywood had humour tracks with male and female artists. Though it used to be ‘clean humour’, much of it involved making fun of people’s obesity. Initially Indian films were screened in Indian theatres only. With the advent of technology and the internet, people from different countries were exposed to Indian movies and vice versa. The Indian humour started catering to a global audience and changes were brought into it. Thus sexual innuendos, jabs at people’s disabilities, etc. were used. And with the main leads taking to comedy, the roles for comic artists per se diminished. But there is hope. At least some of the writers belonging to the generation next are returning back to clean humour.
Though Rumy Jafry has written more humourous film stories, but has also written serious stuff. He is now working on 2 comedies David Dhawan’s remake of Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Chupke Chupke (1975) and a remake of Basu Chatterjee’s Shaukeen (1982), while writer Jasvinder Singh Bath (called Jassi in Bollywood), who debuted with Yamla Pagla Deewana, is currently working on the sequel of Yamla Pagla Deewana. Though Jassi has done 2 comedies back to back, he says that as a creative artist, he may think of diversifying in future to other genres. He also insists that both the films that he has done are family entertainers.
Indian Sense of Humour: Jafry likes the humour shown in the old Hollywood movies of Charlie Chaplin and Laurel and Hardy. He does not like the kind of humour shown in the Hollywood movies today. He says, “Indian sense of humour is very different from that of the people in other countries. Abroad, a little adult and sex-based humour works. But, I like the Indian sense of humour, which is clean.”
Jassi says, “The common man of India, today, is burdened by many things, like salary-problems, social problems, feeding his family, he is surrounded by corrupt people, there are scams, etc. The common man is looking at it in a satirical or funny way and getting on with life and doing what he does best, honestly. If it were not for his sense of humour, he would not have survived the mess in his everyday life.”
So, is Indian sense of humour good or bad? He insists, “That is a perspective. India is a multi-cultural society. There is no culture like India. No culture in the world has so many languages. Our sense of humour is such that we can’t offend anyone. Having fun and making fun of people are two separate things. Hum mazak karna pasand karte hain. Hum mazak udana pasand nahin karte. This is how Indians treat humour. Unlike this in the West, they get offensive about anyone. It’s a free for all. They might bring down the president or the queen, anybody. They can get away with anything. Each society has its own rules and sensibilities. And one should respect that. Every society has its own way of seeing things. That is because you are conditioned to look at things in a particular way. In India all the communities, religions, races, etc. live in harmony together.”
Difference between Fun/Entertainment and Humour: Only Jafry gave us the difference. Jassi said he did not understand the question. Jafry says, “Even crying can be an entertainment. If you are frightened after watching a movie, that is also entertainment. When you watch Sa Re Ga Ma, Comedy Circus or Crime Petrol on TV, you are being entertained. Fun could be even sports. When you sit in a giant wheel or a roller coaster, these are also fun. While when humour is seen or heard, people laugh.”
Good Humour Diminishing: Last few years saw a lot of ‘less clean’ humour being dished out in the name of comedy. However, speaking to these two writers, we find hopes of revival of squeaky clean humour at least in some sectors of Bollywood. Jafry says, “I have written 20-25 comedies, like Waqt Hamara Hai, Coolie No. 1, Bade Mian Chote Mian, Maine Pyaar Kyon Kiya, Biwi No. 1, etc. I am not concerned about what others write. But I have never written anything in bad taste.”
There is a thin line between clean humour and humour based on sex, discrimination, etc. Jafry says, “One type of humour is of Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Chupke Chupke (1975), very clean family entertainer. Another type is black humour like Jane Bhi Do Yaaron (1983). Then David Dhawan’s Eena Meena Dika (1994) had a vulgar kind of humour, where no one laughed.”
Jassi says, “My Yamla Pagla Deewana (2011) is a clean family entertainer. There are no double meaning dialogues. Making lame jokes on someone’s disabilities or sexual preferences is not a done thing. This kind of comedy is taking the easy way out. In the long run only clean comedies have survived. Those comedies work, where the characters themselves are serious, but the situation is funny, e.g. Jane Bhi Do Yaaron, Golmaal (1979), Chupke Chupke. None of them are trying to crack jokes. Good clean comedy stands the test of time and that is the main feature of the film.”
Revival of Humour in Our Lives: Jafry insists that only if the writer has good sense of humour, he can make people laugh. Jafry says, “Humour in movies should be such that it connects with the common man. In that way we can revive it.”
Jassi says, “I feel that somewhere all of us are not accepting the hard facts of life. Accept them. If you don’t come to terms, it’s difficult to see beyond it. Once you accept the harsh side of life, you start seeing the funnier side of life.”
No More Good Female Comedians: In Bollywood movies today, there are no good female comedians like late Tun Tun, late Manorama (Bollywood)? Jafry says , “But I have made many ladies do comedy like Binduji, Guddi Maruti. I am writing a script, where I am planning to take Bharati (of Comedy Circus fame). I find that every girl I meet wants to become a heroine (laughs). Some female actors like Archana Puran Singh do a lot of comedy without any kind of complex.”
Jassi says, “I used to love them. I think Tun tun and Manorama were fantastic. I think there are more of them. But there are no roles being written about comical actors. Now-a-days, heroes themselves are doing a lot of comedy. Previously, the Hindi film used to be 3 hours long. Now it has been reduced to 2. The roles for peripheral characters are not being written, because the lengths have reduced. I think the comedians have vanished.”
But then, male comedians are very much in existence like Paresh Rawal and Rajpal Yadav. He adds, “Oh, right. Talking personally, I would still like to see a character like Tun Tunji or Manoramaji. Maybe such roles have not been written. I cannot give a definite answer. We need to write such characters and maybe we will find another Manoramaji or Tun Tunji.”
But most of the older generation comedy actresses played characters, who were made fun of due to their obesity. Why was this concept prevalent that a female comedian had to be fat? Other gags could be written with female comedians in view. Jafry says, “Bindu has not been obese. I have made her perform in comic roles, like in Shola Aur Shabnam (1992).”
But Bindu could not be called predominantly a comedian. Jafry says, “Previously, Tun Tun would get roles, where she is fat as is looking for a boy to get married. Those types of roles were only written for women. It is like making fun of her being fat. But I have never written such roles. We do have female comedy artists like Archana Puran Singh, who is not exactly fat. Himani Shivpuri is not obese and has done comedy in some movies.”
Jassi says, “In my first movie, Sucheta Khanna of TV serial Lapataganj fame, who had played the heroine’s sister, had a comical track. There were no double meaning jokes made on her colour, obesity (she’s a slim girl), etc. She’s again playing a funny character in Yamla Pagla Deewana 2. We have not made any cheap jokes. But in the movie, there is a girl, who is doing comedy.”
This article was first published in Eve’s Times and has been reproduced here with the permission of the Editor, Swati Amar.