Comedy on television in India seems to follow a zigzag route. Earlier last year, channels were positive about the genre. However, as the year went by, comedy didn't quite manage the expected mark. 'Khichdi', one of the successful comedies, shifted to Star One and with most other initiatives like Zee's 'Hum Sab Baraati' and Sahara's 'Aao Bahen Chughli Karen', 'Main Office Tere Aangan Ki' not working out, comedy wasn't much of a talking point.
The scene seems to be changing again. TAM Media Research indicates that both 'Sarabhai v/s Sarabhai' and 'Instant Khichdi' are the only shows to cross the 1 mark for STAR One and 'Kareena Kareena' giving a consistent 1 plus for Zee TV, as good as the channel driver.
The rising trust is again seen in STAR Plus' India v/s Pakistan comedy, 'LOC' launching on the same date as the Indo-Pak match on February 25, 2005. Sony is bringing the Hindi version of the UK show 'Kumars at No 42', titled 'Batliwallas at House No. 43', which is scheduled to take the Friday, 9.00 pm slot, from February 25, 2005. Apart from SAB TV, Smile TV is investing in the genre a 100 per cent.
Success rate of comedies on Indian TV is not high and leaders realise that. Agreeing with this, Jamnadas Majethia, Company Director, Hats Off Production says, "There are various hurdles comedy faces in India. To begin with, Indians - both makers and viewers, have a 'low' sense of humour. That makes the job that much more difficult."
Apart from shows like 'Instant Khichdi' and 'Sarabhai v/s Sarabhai', Hats Off is taking care of 'Batliwallas...' as well. The other concern he brings out is that the payment structure presently is not good enough to bring out quality work. "Internationally, one show is enough to take care of the maker and there is exclusivity. But in India, you need to put your fingers in other shows to sustain yourself. As a result the required hard work is affected."
Rajiv Mehra, Director, Eagle Films adds, "Not enough time and effort is going in the genre. Comedies need time for development so that they can retain and keep bringing back the audience. But channels are often in a hurry and required time isn't invested." Eagle Films' 'Office Office' on SAB TV has won quite a few television awards and they are partnering with STAR for 'LOC'.
Tarun Katial, EVP, Sony TV throws light on some more factors, "There is also lack of good writing, which is integral for a good comedy. Also, for the Indian audience, you can't try risqué programming, which is seen on the international television and the options become that much lesser."
SAB TV's Kanta Advani doesn't quite agree that the success rate of comedies internationally is high. She avers, "What is the benchmark? If the criterion is ratings, then even internationally comedies do not work. Give me one example of 5/6 TRPs of a comedy show on an English channel. What can be said is that comedy shows on English channels are more popular within the channel's programming mix. Hindi channels have a wider mix comprising of soaps, serials, sitcoms, fiction, and so on. Therefore there are other genres, which rake in higher TRPs."
However she does agree with others that it is easier to make an Indian cry than laugh. A few points to be kept in mind, while making a comedy, as per her are, "Sense and sensibilities while creating such programmes. The effort must be to provide relief, wholesome entertainment tackling the issues, which are faced by the masses on a day to day basis. It is like the "You Said It" cartoon by R.K.Laksman. The content must act as a stress buster."
Another point that is inherent for comedies as per the producers is that they can't be a daily. "It is seen time and again that weekly formats are successful as they allow time in development." Majethia adds that even if the 25th joke on the same topic is fantastic, people would be bored. He also shares that unlike original works like 'Sarabhai…' and 'Instant…', adaptations like 'Battliwallas…' are more difficult. "And hence they need more time."
The players realise that comedies require special treatment if they have to work. It is a fact that human beings smile often than cry, perhaps the channels need to focus on the reasons that induce that smile to add a new dimension to the Indian comedy scene.