Once during a train journey, I was talking to an aunt about a show that came on Doordarshan in the 1970s, called Phool khile hain gulshan gulshan, which was hosted by yesteryear actress Tabassum, better known as baby Tabassum. My friend who was present there, was surprised that I was talking about a show aired in the 1970s with a lot of fondness and conviction (considering I was born in the mid 1980s). My friend called it borrowed nostalgia, where I was just trying to be fond of someone else’s nostalgia, since I had not really lived through those moments.
A similar borrowed nostalgia I have to share is of Kundan Shah’s sitcom Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi, which was aired from 1984-85. I was born two years after that. But that didn’t stop me from gathering stories about Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi. I even watched most of its episodes during a rerun on Star Plus and today, I continue to watch them on YouTube. This year, India’s first sitcom completes 30 years!
The sitcom revolved around the funny happenings in a middle-class household in Bombay, which had Ranjit Verma (Shafi Inamdar), his wife Renu (Swaroop Sampat) and her forever unemployed brother Raja (Rakesh Bedi). Every episode showed the family of three grappling with one problem after the other, be it a tough boss at office, a forgotten wedding anniversary, a pesky friend, a misunderstanding between Ranjit and Renu, an uninvited guest or Raja’s perennial job hunting. One day it would be a wrong medical report that would cause them worry and on the other, it would be a distant relative from their village on visit to Bombay. All these everyday happenings were woven in a clever interplay of humour and reality. To add spice to their lives come the Bhattacharyas (Vijay Kashyap and Sulabha Arya ), their Bengali neighbours and their aunt (called Meerut wali chachi throughout the series), played by Farida Jalal. Satish Shah’s character changed in every episode and he added an extra punch to the lives to Ranjit and Renu, either as their paying guest, plumber or burglar. Tiku Talsania appeared in a number of episodes as Ranjit’s boss.
|Satish Shah as the paying guest who refused to go|
|Both Ranjit and Renu were working professionals,
who would fight at the end of every month to balance their budget
Television programming was in its inchoate days in 1984. Colour tv programming came to India in 1982, with the Asian games and Doordarshan did not have much to offer, except news bulletins, cultural programmes, a few talk shows, documentaries and feature films. Hence, 1984 was a watershed year for television, as India had its first soap opera in Hum Log and its first sitcom with Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi.
Many things worked for this sitcom to start with. Aired on Fridays at 9pm, Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi came at a point when Hindi cinema was going through its worst phase. Content became weak in films and audience got bored with the same old action-revenge formula. With Yeh Jo Hai Zindagibeing aired on Fridays and Hum Log on Saturdays, the weekend collections were hit for many films. This serial marked the transition of audience from cinema halls to drawing rooms. People now gathered in groups before a television set that was available in the neighbourhood and remained glued to the developments of their favourite serials. People preferred the realism in serials to the unbelievable gore and action of cinema. Top filmmakers, realising this new trend, now shifted their focus from cinema to television. Ramesh Sippy, who made Sholay in 1975, brought out Buniyaad in 1986. BR Chopra made Bahadur Shah Zafar (1986) and the supremely successful Mahabharat (1988). Ramanand Sagar made his television blockbuster Ramayan (1987) and Gulzar made an ode to poetry with Mirza Ghalib (1988). Television was the place where new actors and script writers sought to build their careers now, under the watchful eyes of these veterans. Around this time, even Shahrukh Khan had made his debut with Fauji.
|Farida Jalal as Ranjit’s Meerut wali chachi|
|Raja represented the youth of the 1980s –
educated, but jobless
Many successful names took off from Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi. The serial was directed by Kundan Shah (co-directed by Raman Kumar) and produced by Oberoi Films. Kundan Shah was just out of the success of Jaane bhi Do Yaaron (1983) and Swaroop Sampat had won the Miss India title in 1979. Rakesh Bedi had a successful stint in cinema prior to this, most notably, in Sai Paranjpye’s classic comedy Chasme Buddoor (1981). The title song of Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi, sung by Kishore Kumar, was composed by Ajit singh. Later day filmmakers, such as Ashok Pandit and Vinita Nanda were assistant directors in this sitcom.
Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi was a path-breaker and the concept of showcasing everyday humour in an Indian household was successfully used in later day sitcoms, such as Dekh Bhai Dekh (read my post here), Hum Paanch and Sarabhai Vs Sarabhai. The sitcom came out in two seasons, though the second run could not quite match up to the popularity of the first season. Writing faltered in the second season and two of the main characters, Ranjit and Renu (who went abroad according to the story) were missing in it. The show had to run on the merit of Rakesh Bedi and Farida Jalal alone.
Sharad Joshi, who had previously written dialogues for heart-warming films like Basu Chaterjee’s Choti si Baat and Girish Karnad’s Utsav, wrote the dialogues for this serial as well. Later, he wrote the dialogues of Ramanand Sagar’s Vikram aur Betal. His stories were adapted into the series Laptaganj, now running on Sab TV.
|Chachi knew how to solve every problem
Today, comedy is yet again the new ruler of prime time along with reality shows. But it’s quite telling that quality comedies have been few and far between. Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi was taken off air after a dispute rose between the makers, Oberoi Films, and the sponsors – Vicco Laboratories (makers of Vicco Vajradanti). After the success of the serial, SS Oberoi increased the charge for the ad slots and Vicco decided not to sponsor the serial. Later, Oberoi approached Brooke Bond, which sponsored 13 episodes. But the serial was pulled off air when Vicco laid claim to the ownership of the show. The case dragged on for 14 years and in 2001, the Supreme Court ruled that the ownership of a creative product lies with the person who creates it. But the writer Sharad Joshi had passed away by then and Shafi Inamdar too was no more. There were talks of bringing out the serial again but nothing took off. India’s first comic sitcom met with a tragic end in real life.
Looking back, there is no doubt that Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi figures at the top when it comes to comedy on Indian television. The series showed how one could handle any difficult situation in life by just laughing at it, as Ranjit, Renu and Raja did episode after episode. The sitcom also showed some problems faced by working couples in urban India. Shemaroo brought out the DVDs of this serial a few years back and thankfully, it has been saved for posterity, unlike the reels of Hum Log, which got lost lost in a to-and-fro movement between Doordarshan and Sony. Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi is a throughback to a time when middle-class homes in TV serials did not look like an ad of nerolac paints and the characters did not dress in suitings and designer saris while going to bed. Catch a few episodes on youtube as they don’t make them like that anymore.