Growing up in a middle-class household, all I had was an old box television and a CD player. No cable or DishTV or Tata Sky—my family never felt the need. But around me were concerned friends. How could a child grow up without television? This led one of them to start sending me DVDs with recordings of Taarak Mehta ka Ooltah Chashmah episodes. But almost 14 years later, the iconic show, which introduced the world to Jethalal and fam, has gotten more than just stale. With speculation about actor Shailesh Lodha, who plays Taarak Mehta, potentially quitting the franchise, there is little for fans to go back to. It served its purpose in an OTT-less era, but Hindi TV doesn’t need it anymore. Taarak Mehta needs a rest.
Even now, Taarak Mehta ka Ooltah Chashmah, which started back in July 2008, can be found running 24×7 on Sony SAB. The only difference is that in 6-7 years or so, the warm family show has started to feel alien. The children on the show have now all grown up and, with them, so have we. That Gokuldham society and its members are subject to change beyond their characteristics and typicality just feels wrong. It’s awkward watching Gogi, the adorable little Sardar kid who made the most unreasonable demands and required constant supervision, as an overgrown college-goer.
Taarak Mehta’s legacy and success
The television show reached out to an entire generation of Indian kids in a way that made it tolerable for them to sit with their families at the dinner table. In fact, Taarak Mehta made itself the better alternative for parents who did not want their kids to watch too much television. For many, the show was their first foray into the idea of —“mini-India”—as the members of Gokuldham anointed themselves. Although the show has its own set of problematic elements and reinforces stereotypes, it means a lot to a generation of kids who watch it as comfort content. Take, for example, the entire track where the residents of Gokuldham create a fake chudail to stop a gang from carrying out illegal activities—it’s something I can watch again and again.
The major appeal of the television show is the idea of ethics and ‘Indian values’ at the very core of its scripts. Taarak Mehta gives people hope that even if bad things happen, those who are true to themselves will eventually turn out to be right. To its credit, it also talked about a multitude of social issues and created awareness about them in its own light-hearted manner. It also had an age-inclusive cast that set it apart from other family dramas, beyond the confines of a typical female-audience focusing saas-bahu serial. The absence of OTT platforms was also a reason why the show was successful.
An institution of nostalgia
But in recent years, the charm is gone, it’s slipped out of the popular imagination. Despite still being in production, it has become an institution of nostalgia. Social media memes and references around the television show are picked from older plot tracks. GenZ and Millennials are adamant about keeping the legacy of the authentic cast and concept of Taarak Mehta alive. Daya Ben (Disha Vakani) left the show on a maternity break and never returned. Taarak Mehta of the show is now rumoured to be leaving. They changed the heart of the show—Tapu (Raj Anadkat)—a few years ago. Sodhi (Gurucharan Singh) was replaced, Nattu Kaka (Ghanshyam Nayak) passed away last year, and with Gokuldham members having renovated their houses and changed the interior design of society, even the architecture and space of the new Taarak Mehta fails to evoke any sense of familiarity.
The advent of standup and improv on OTT platforms has also perhaps made the slapstick comedy niche along with blaring background music in the background obsolete. The characters, who once appeared funny, don’t anymore. Nor does the tv show’s preachy tone. Jethalal still craving fafda–jalebi is now monotonous and redundant. And the constant barging in of actors to promote their movies via the show makes it look more like a marketing gimmick than a story. Even the nature of issues they deal with has become repetitive or banal—dragging Champaklal’s concern about a dream for almost three episodes shows that the script and characters are overstretched beyond justification. Just like the Truman Show, it feels like no matter what, all Taarak Mehta plots are somehow the same for the past 14 years. Ideas get exhausted, and one can run out of creativity. And it is fine to accept that.
Even if the television show is still garnering a decent enough TRP, the question is if it should run or just accept the fact that the prime of its telecasting is over and give a sweet end to our childhood. Now that they even have a world record in the Guinness Book for being the longest ever soap opera, it is high time the characters break out of their shells and stay with us in a different form—the memory of our childhood which we carry with us forever.
Views are personal.
(Edited by Srinjoy Dey)