Shailesh Kapoor: Who stole our Comedies?

19 Jul,2013

By Shailesh Kapoor


Everyone likes a laugh. Across cultures and eras, ‘Comedy’ has never lost its relevance. In India too, comedy films have a rich legacy, going back to gems like Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi, Padosan, Angoor, Gol Maal and Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro. On television, the ’80s featured exemplary comedy work, none less than Kundan Shah’s Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi.


Television comedy continued to thrive in the ’90s and the early 2000s, with Dekh Bhai Dekh, Hum Paanch, Khichdi, Baa Bahoo Aur Baby, Movers & Shakers and Office Office. You may have missed the nuanced work of Kundan Shah and Basu Chatterjee in some of these, but you certainly couldn’t have complained of quality or quantity in absolute terms.


The last decade, however, has been shockingly under-served when it comes to comic television in India. If we keep aside the launch and the subsequent success of Comedy Central, there’s not much of a story to write.


In 2005, The Great Indian Laughter Challenge made stand-up comedy a mass phenomenon, leading to a spate of clones, till Comedy Circus found a personality of its own, standing out as a unique idea amongst the me-toos. 2005 also saw Sarabhai Vs. Sarabhai, a modern classic in its own right. But as Star One moved away from comedy into romance, they created a vacuum that no one was willing to fill.


Taarak Mehta Ka Ooltah Chashmah launched in 2008 and has been the frontrunner of the comic genre over the last five years. But this has also been a period when other channels have labeled comedy a ‘SAB TV thing’, paying very little attention to it in their core programming strategy.


That it is a case of missed opportunity seems like stating the obvious. Here are 10 reasons:

1. Comedy films continue to deliver consistent repeat viewing and high ratings on television.

2. De-stress and relaxation (called ‘Mind Fresh’ by consumers across the country) remains a frontal benefit delivered by television viewing in India. Whenever it has been used well in existing soaps as a device, it has worked wonderfully.

3. Comedy Nights With Kapil has shown that a good comedy format can beat reality shows with five times its budget on viewer popularity.

4. Jethalal is the most popular television character on Hindi GECs today, ahead of Anandi, Sandhya, Mahadev and Ram Kapoor.

5. India is going through a phase of political disenchantment, and time could not be more right for a satirical look at the state of the nation.

6. General Entertainment Channel (GEC) cannot exclude the most unifying and ‘general’ of all genres!

7. Some of the biggest Bollywood box office successes in recent years have been comedies.

8. Rohit Shetty is the No 1 director in Bollywood today, and the only director who can command audience attention like a superstar, purely on the strength of his action-comedies.

9. There’s liberal sprinkling of humor in the top reality shows, featuring anchors like Manish Paul and Jay Bhanushali. And it works.

10. Short comedy formats continue to thrive on radio, across big and small towns.


So what gives? Why has comedy become a ‘single-channel + an odd weekend show’ phenomenon? I believe there are two reasons.


One, it is not easy to make the audiences laugh. Writing for a comic show requires special talent, and the writers’ breed thriving today is more of the daily-soap variety. Hence, we have a dearth of good comedy ideas anyway, and those, which may sound good on paper, may eventually falter in execution.


Two, there is an under-estimation of the genre’s potential at the broadcaster’s end. Because not too many comedy shows since Taarak Mehta managed to achieve great success, the genre has been put under question. In reality, it’s the execution that should have been examined. Comedy Nights With Kapil proves that a well-crafted comedy show can achieve mainstream success at par with the best of television.


I hope to see a change, where comedy features as a mainstream GEC genre. The time cannot be more ripe. The need cannot be more under-served. The writing on the wall cannot be more clear. It’s a matter of when and who, than whether.


Shailesh Kapoor is founder and CEO of media insights firm Ormax Media. He spent nine years in the television industry before turning entrepreneur. The views expressed here are his own. He can be reached at his Twitter handle @shaileshkapoor


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One response to “Shailesh Kapoor: Who stole our Comedies?”

  1. kunal rajhans says:

    Perhaps you should have researched better and watched at least one of the 338 episodes of the online phenomenon Jay Hind! It’s India’s only Late Night Show & compared to the Daily Show by American think tanks. Jay Hind! Is the longest running full format tv show in the world which is exclusively online. It’s also the first online show to beat broadcast shows and win best show and best anchor at Indian Television Academy Awards. Created by Abhigyan Jha who was the creative force behind Movers & Shakers and Anchored by Sumeet Raghvan, the star of Sarabhai vs Sarabhai – Jay Hind! Is the finest satire in the country. Did you miss it by design or was the reseach naturally flawed?