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Whose line is it anyway? TV shows courting controversy land writers in soup

With TV shows courting controversy, writers wonder how far they can go

Comedy is serious business with only one purpose — to make people laugh. But it is no laughing matter that it is turning into a risky business. You never know when and where someone will be offended and file a complaint. Instead of whipping up a chuckle fest, comedy shows are courting controversy and writers are feeling the heat. Is it time to draw the line? And if not, should they prepare to face the onslaught and get mired in a legal wrangle.

The small screen comic caper, Bhabhi Ji Ghar Par Hai, drops a sexual innuendo and leaves it for the audience to interpret it as they wish
The small screen comic caper, Bhabhi Ji Ghar Par Hai, drops a sexual innuendo and leaves it for the audience to interpret it as they wish 

Hard to digest
Recently, The Kapil Sharma Show has found a enemy in the nursing community. The funny man had to bear the brunt in his hometown, Amritsar, where his effigies were burnt. The Florence Nightingales feel the show is objectifying the profession in the form of a hot nurse (played by Rochelle Rao) and a fat nurse (essayed by Kiku Sharda, who is no stranger to controversy and was arrested for mimicking a godman earlier this year).

Rochelle Rao
Rochelle Rao

Even the Bharti Singh and Krushna Abhishek-hosted show, Comedy Nights Bachao, roasts their guests brutally, but things often tend to go overboard in a bid to grab eyeballs.

Last week, the nurses marched to the office of Amritsar’s top cop demanding why no action has been taken against the makers of Kapil Sharma’s show. It may be true that small screen and film writers do not have an agenda against anyone, but disgruntled elements are in no mood to listen.

Nurses feel the The Kapil Sharma Show is objectifying their profession with caricatures of a hot nurse (Rochelle Rao) and an obese crossdressing one (Kiku Sharda; above)
Nurses feel the The Kapil Sharma Show is objectifying their profession with caricatures of a hot nurse (Rochelle Rao) and an obese crossdressing one (Kiku Sharda; above)

Just for jest
As Raaj Shaandilyaa, who has written for shows like Comedy Circus and Comedy Nights With Kapil, explains, “We try to make people laugh. We don’t try to make people ‘khi-laugh’. Writing double meaning dialogues or making fun of somebody are two different things.”

Shaandilyaa adds, “I avoid making fun of something or someone because I do not consider it comedy. Comedy should be clean, funny and smart.”

TV show May I Come In, Madam? tries to be naughty in  a nice manner
TV show May I Come In, Madam? tries to be naughty in a nice manner

Writer Bunty Rathore, who is currently working on the Hindi remake of the Marathi film Poshter Boyz, starring Sunny and Bobby Deol, agrees. “There must be a line between spice and vulgarity.”

Rathore has written for Golmaal 3 (2010) and All The Best Fun Begins (2009) which made people crack up without going overboard on the sexual innuendos. He feels, “The audience should oppose vulgarity. They should not accept it and make these films successful.”

Insulting comedy
Paritosh Painter, who has written for films like Dhamaal (2007), Paying Guests (2009), as well as for TV and theatre sees a new trend rising in comedy. He says, “Lately, I have noticed that ‘insulting comedy’ has become popular. So, when I say I draw a line, I would go all out to get into an insulting comedy zone with reference to my characters, but not with real people. To make fun of people is easy, making fun with people is difficult.” So are producers and channels setting guidelines? Or do they feel any publicity is good publicity?

Writer Manoj Santoshi of shows like May I Come In, Madam? and Bhabhi Ji Ghar Par Hai, explains, “When writing a naughty comedy, you are treading a fine line. You drop a hint and the audience understands.”

Adds Painter, “Usually producers don’t set guidelines as their motive is crystal clear. The audience needs to laugh and go crazy, do whatever it takes. But usually writers get stuck with the Stars Are Norm Practice (SNP) rules of the TV channels. It is like self-censorship. But I don’t think there should be any guidelines to evoke laughter. There are a lot of other things around us that need guidelines.” Shaandilyaa adds, “Nobody says or pressurises us to write double meaning stuff. It’s a team call every time — some writers pen this kind of stuff because it’s the easiest mode to make people laugh and some time it depends on which show you are.”

In Bhabhi Ji Ghar Par Hai, there is a character called Vibhuti whose hands have been rendered immobile. Explains Santoshi, “Everybody is moaning about the loss of mobility in his hands. But Vibhuti declares that he has many helping hands around him in form of his loved ones, till a neighbour tells him, “Apna haath Jagannath hota hai!” People may think it is double meaning, but to each is own. We are not implying that.”

As Painter concludes, “Laughter should have no boundaries. Boundaries are meant to protect our life, but not to limit our pleasures.”

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