Comedy’s close call

On the 16th anniversary of World Laughter Day, we map the journey of comedy in Punjabi films by talking to a set of comedians from an older generation about why they think our comic acts are lagging behind. Rameshinder Singh Sandhu writes

chandigarh Updated: Jan 11, 2014 16:25 IST
Rameshinder Singh Sandhu
Rameshinder Singh Sandhu
Hindustan Times

Be it theatre, television or Punjabi films — comedy is suddenly finding itself in trend. Films in fact, have the ‘must’ ingredient in such large doses that it’s impossible for any other genre to nudge its way into Punjabi entertainment. While audiences laugh their way to home, all thanks to Punjabi cinema, there is a breed of Punjabi artists that is win bewilderment over where humour in the entertainment industry is headed.

As Jatinder Brar, playwright and founder of Punjab Naatshala, Amritsar, says, “Watching a comedy show or a film today simply means that you never know at what moment you will be embarrassed. Secondly, there is nothing to learn from it. Most shockingly, most comedians target public figures to make people laugh. This is not fair. It often reminds me something that an eminent television and film writer, Eric Sykes, once said, ‘The difference between my generation and the current comics is that comedy was always at our expense. Now it’s at somebody else’s’.”

These actors’ own journeys were not easy, as they started off at a time when being in the entertainment industry meant facing rebuke. That was a time when there were no TV reality shows or live acts. But, they made people laugh. We talk to comedians who’ve been there, done that — the lesser known stars of comedy tell us how they think comedy can be imporved.

Jatinder Kaur,
72, Actor, Amritsar

In 1963, Jatinder Kaur was a young girl when she landed in the world of theatre, where she proved her ver as an actor. For more than 12 years, she performed plays in almost every village of Punjab where she tried to offer solutions to social problems in the garb of comedy.

However, Jatinder isn’t so optimistic about the current trend of comedy in films. “Comedy in films seems to be at its zenith, but it’s wrapped in vulgarity. Even leading comedy TV shows are shameful and cannot be watched with the family,” she rues. According to the actor, good comedy raises social issues and offers solutions too, such as Late Jaspal Bhatti’s comedy, she says for emphasis.

Jatinder acknowledges that in the stressful life of today, we need high doses of comedy to beat worries, but if comedians take the route of adding vulgarity, they are burdening the society with shame. The common people should feel one with the artist, she adds.

Having joined theatre at a time when girls were discouraged from stepping on to any public platform meant for entertaining, Jatinder says she is glad she had the courage to follow her dreams. As her next project is ready for release in April — Indo-Canadian film Qissa — in which Jatinder offers a comic act, she doesn’t forget to thank her husband for his support.

Anita Devgan,
43, Actor, Amritsar

When she first stepped into the world of theatre in 1992 as a final year student of theatre, Anita Devgan was told off by many. "My father opposed my talent and people told me that my work in theatre, especially to make people laugh, is futi," the versatile actor recalls.

However, none of that deterred Anita from engaging in entertaining audiences, be it on stage or at a village nukkad. She was a regular participant at various village functions in comic plays that not only made people laugh, but also attempted to give a message to the society. The best bit is that Anita continues to perform in villages today, despite having made it to films. She was last seen playing singer-actor Diljit Dosanjh’s mother in the hit rom-com Jatt & Juliet and Jatt & Juliet 2, where her act of an indulgent mother was much appreciated.

The scenario has changed, feels Anita. “Things are different today. If you have talent, there are many platforms to prove yourself in. Most importantly, almost no parent discourages his or her child from becoming a comedian or making a career in acting.”

The actor is excited that comedy today has turned into one of the hottest selling genres, but points out that it’s no longer meaningful like it was when she started out in the ’90s.

Chacha Raunki Ram,
54, Stand-up comedian/actor, Jalandhar

Balwinder Vicky, better known as Chacha Raunki Ram in Punjab’s laughter circles for the ageless character he has portrayed for decades now, continues to inspire the current generation with his comic acts. It was during college, he says, that he became an active performer and was selected to perform for Akashvani Jalandhar. As an anchor on one of the programmes aired, he offered solutions to problems raised and became popular with the people. In 1988, he worked for Doordarshan, presenting numerous hilarious skits in various programmes.

Like many other artists of an age gone by, it pinches Raunki Ram when he thinks of what comedy has turned into today. As compared with the days when he started out, when the producers, directors and artists were particular about what they presented, he is appalled at the laxity with which comedy is offered. “Those days, everyone would read the script carefully in order to ensure that it is free from anything cheap or obscene,” he recalls, adding, “Today, it seems that no one is worried about what they present; that is why many families often feel that television and cinema today makes them feel ashamed of what they present

Kulle Shah,

Stand-up comedian, Amritsar

Who doesn’t know him? Be it young or old, almost everyone admires Kulle Shah for his versatility in the comedy world, for his actions and expressions certainly speak louder than words.

Over the years, his acts have made people break into splits of laughter, but the comedian points out that unlike today, he refrained from laughing at others’ expense. “If we take the support of vulgarity to make ourselves popular, we will not survive for long. Public will start rejecting you,” he cautions.

Kulle says most Punjabi comedies flopped last year as they were based on comedy that was baseless. “Most films released last year could not do well because they had useless story lines and comedy that was sub standard,” he laments.

First Published: Jan 11, 2014 16:05 IST