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Flop Show — Jaspal Bhatti’s 1989 satire spared no one, and the common Indian loved it

The satire in Jaspal Bhatti’s Flop Show, which made a comeback during the lockdown last year, remains relevant three decades later. And its comedy is still (largely) just as funny.

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New Delhi: When the late Jaspal Bhatti’s Flop Show made a comeback to Doordarshan in the early days of the lockdown last year, the satirical comedy served as a reminder to Indians of simpler times when political humour around politicians or government officials and workings wasn’t off-limits.

The show — ten 30-minute episodes aired originally in 1989 — was laced with straight-faced pungent comedy that wasn’t rooted in canned laughter or long pauses to induce giggles but situations any common Indian could relate to. 

Bhatti, a comic and satirist, parodied everyone and everything — from corrupt contractors to property encroachers, demanding bosses to VIPs — effectively transgressing into a terrain Indians know all too well.

The first episode of the show featured a character depicting a managing director of a public firm, who used office resources to find his missing pet. Other fun characters on the show included a professor who wouldn’t sign his student’s thesis until the man married his niece.

Even within a hyperbolic set-up, these characters embodied people that Indians have seen all around themselves.

Bhatti played the protagonist in each episode but unlike other shows where the central character is a bearer of virtue, the satirist wasn’t the show’s moral voice — far from it. He was frequently seen crossing the ethical lines, playing characters like high-headed MD, or the selfish professor, or even a dishonourable doctor.

Flop Show also featured a cortège of recurring cast including Savita Bhatti, the satirist’s real-life spouse, who also co-produced the show and played his wife in all episodes. Vivek Shauq, the late actor who went on to star in Hindi and Punjabi movies and is remembered as a brilliant comic, was another.

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What made it iconic

Rishabh Arora, co-founder of online craft store Local Kala who isn’t an ’80s or ’90s kid, was recommended the Flop Show last year by his mother for being “one of the funniest shows”.

“More than the show, I liked other funny parts of it. For instance, the song that was played in the end and the credits. They were hilarious and very different. It was an old show and I wouldn’t have watched it if it was not interesting,” said Arora.

The witty disclaimer at each episode’s beginning, satirical takedowns of ‘amoral’ institutions, and episode close with Bollywood song parodies were some of the show’s novel elements for Indian television.

“Script piracy”, “jarring music”, “camera jerks”, “audio drops”, “sets and upsets” were some rib-tickling word plays on credits. “Jo tumko ho pasand vahi baat karenge” and “ghoome boss ki biwi caron mein” were among the classic music spoofs that are popular even now.

“I like that the show was clean and had healthy humour. There was no vulgarity, and it could be watched with the family. Famous comedians of today can’t make a show without offending someone’s religion, language or gender,” said Shivam Gupta, who runs a hardware business in Sonepat. The 25-year-old watched the show during its rerun in April 2020.

Is it a timeless classic?

Despite being frequently labeled as “ahead of its time” or “timeless classic”, there were moments on the show that modern viewers put to tests now.

Bhagyashree Chatterjee, a 22-year-old media student, said the show had a lot of “wife jokes” that seem misogynistic now.

“Jaspal Bhatti often ridiculed his wife in public while cracking those jokes. There was one incident where he also joked about dowry. That was a little tasteless,” she said.

Even so, people remember the show fondly and often find the show’s gags indistinguishable from contemporary realities. Whether it was the delay in the Supreme Court’s hearing of the Ayodhya case or the Delhi L-G’s formation of a panel to decide SOPs for installation of CCTV, there are present-day political situations that find their reflection in the show and encapsulate its wit and insight.

(Edited by Amit Upadhyaya)

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