In 1992, my friend Jaya Bachchan dropped by my office. She told me she was starting a TV channel in the UK, and wanted me to make a comedy show for her. I decided to create an upmarket comedy about a joint family. I shot a pilot and sent it to her.
Later, I got a call from (Amitabh) Bachchan saab. He loved it. He said he fell off the chair laughing while watching it. And that was it,” says Aanand Mahendroo, the man behind the iconic TV show Dekh Bhai Dekh.
Aanand created, developed, edited and directed the show, which is still remembered for its remarkable ensemble cast that formed a quirky on-screen family, and its clean comedy. Talking about what inspired him to create the show, Aanand says, “The inspiration was my own family. Farida Jalal’s character was inspired by my mother. Late Navin Nischol’s character was like my elder brother.”
The series starred Shekhar Suman, Nischol, Jalal, Bhavana Balsavar, Deven Bhojani, Sushma Seth, Vishal Singh and Nattasha Singh, among others. Aanand already knew most of them, so the casting process was smooth. “The show was put together in 10 days. I knew I wanted Faridaji and Sushmaji for sure. For Shekhar’s role, I had thought of Harsh Chhaya too, but Shekhar was miles ahead in terms of his comic timing,” says Aanand.
Shekhar, who had hit a rough patch in Bollywood back then, had chosen to do the show “on instinct”. He says, “It was a crucial decision for me. Instead of doing bad movies, I felt it would be better to do good TV. I never looked back.” The actor was paid Rs 5,000 per episode “But I would have done it for Rs 500 too,” says Shekhar, with a laugh. “I needed the money. I had a family to look after and I was scraping through at that time.” The show was made on a budget of `5 lakh per episode, and was shot in RK Studios, Chembur.
Aanand calls Dekh Bhai Dekh a “collaborative effort”, and credits its success to the “tremendous actors”. “I enjoyed writing and directing the show the most. But I don’t know if the show will work if it is aired today. Audiences are used to insult comedies now,” he says.
The show was one of the first to use a multi-camera set-up. Aanand would edit the footage on the spot. He adds, “We improvised a lot, with Lilliput writing the dialogue. I would explain the whole scene to the actors, give them guidelines and let them take it forward. Thankfully, we had a bank of episodes, so we could work without telecasting pressures. The show even went to London. We shot there for 13 episodes. I miss those days; they were great fun.”
Shekhar, along with Deven, who played the role of a house servant, amassed a lot of popularity. Shekhar loved his role as a young uncle. “He was a good-hearted guy who poked his nose into everyone’s problems. He was hyper and spoke very fast. That became the USP of the character. I was given the latitude to do the role as I wished, and that happened thanks to Aanand,” says Shekhar.
The actor adds that Aanand was a taskmaster and had a keen eye for detail. “We would reach by 9am, and would read the script till lunch time. Then we would shoot. But as it was a multi-camera set-up, if one of us goofed up, he would start from the beginning. Once, I remember, we gave 70-80 retakes. Lilliput did a fantastic job. Actors are nothing without good writers and directors. This show was a career milestone for me. I don’t know where I would have been today had I not done it,” says Shekhar.