Six months after Diana Silvester stopped producing Cinemala, a television comedy show that ran non-stop for 20 years, on Asianet, Kerala’s first private TV channel, she continues to be inundated with calls requesting her to resume the programme. “Even today I had calls from two viewers asking me to restart the programme. It’s only now that I realise how popular the programme was,” says Diana sitting in her chic office in Palarivattom.

As she steps out into the corridors of her office, for a shoot, one clearly notices the adulation she commands from her colleagues, staff and team. As one of the pioneers among woman producers, of a programme that brought rip-roaring comedy direct in to the drawing rooms of the viewers, she is seriously revered. And Diana carries it all very lightly.

The sheer logistics of creating and presenting 1,000 episodes of comedy non-stop had drained her, the reasons for ending the show. “I was tired,” she says.

She would have been a football player had destiny not played its part. Now, with a break from Cinemala, she’s back with Vaalkannadi, a two-hour programme on women’s issues that will be aired from March 17. Badai Bungalow is another of her programmes currently being beamed.

Tip-Top theatre group

But it is comedy and Cinemala, on Asianet, that Diana will most be remembered for.

“Comedy is a serious business. It’s like walking on a trapeze; if the punch line or timing goes awry then it is lost.” Diana says.

As a youngster she would stand watching in wonder the making of comedy as it unfolded live in the living room of her house in Mattancherry. Her father C.R. Silvester, along with the famous Tip-Top theatre group, would hold practice sessions daily and she grew up lip-synching the dialogues, revelling in the art.

“Tip-Top group is the Bible of comedy for me. I remember each and every dialogue of the plays that were rehearsed. I learnt the art of timing and about punch lines from them.”

It was perfect timing for her when some years later the monopoly of electronic media in the State was opening to accommodate others. Asianet began collating a team that would reach out with local taste and flavour. Diana who had returned from Chicago after completing her post graduation in Media Studies applied. “This was not my passion. I don’t know how it all came about but it has. I have no regrets,” she says.

The former Chairman of Asianet, Sashi Kumar asked her to conceptualise a short, half-hour programme from the 10 films that the channel then owned.

She made 100 short ones in the first attempt, impressing the board and Cinemala was born in 1993.

Initially, an episode held together, with an anchor, a string of comic clippings from movies, those loved and funny scenes that evoked nostalgia and laughter. It became an instant hit.

Armed with success Diana began to experiment. A current newsy topic was skilfully crafted by her team into a direct comic satire that struck a chord with viewers. “No subject was left,” she recalls. Anything and everything that was happening around in the State was parodied and satirised, be it political, cultural or social. Mimicry, slapstick, burlesque and lampoon were used as comic tools, often loud and direct but never insipid.

Cinemala soon lost its cine element and became relevant to the day. In its new avatar it garnered highest TRPs and fans, recalls Diana.

Political satire became one of its hottest elements. Diana remembers the former Chief Minister K.Karunakaran, who loved watching the shows, pointing out a missed issue which he thought had scope. “He had a great sense of humour,” she says.

With suggestions and kudos pouring in Diana began shaping her talented actors, often giving them exaggerated characteristics as political dupes. On the celebration of the programme’s 900th episode Diana says that the present CM Oommen Chandy confessed that his “duplicate” was more popular! He said that a child believing him to be the dupe asked him about his dancing skills.

Nurturing comedians

Such became the reach of the programme but it had its fair share of controversy, albeit little. A well-known personality reacted badly to his parody and Diana faced an unpleasant situation. “It comes with the nature of my work;” she says adding that “Malayalis, by and large, don’t like to laugh at themselves.”

While Cinemala was gaining ground and making a definite space for itself in the history of television in Kerala, it also became the breeding ground for talented actors. A host of well-known stars began and nurtured their careers here.

“Many of the comedy artistes in the industry have been associated with us. Salim Kumar was one of the first on the show. People remember those episodes even now. Actors Dileep, Kalpana, Saju Kodiyan and Subi Suresh are some of them,” says Diana.

Today, as she savours her much deserved break from work deadlines, the phone calls from fans continue to ring. They motivate her. Offers to direct films are the other request that she has been receiving. Being a woman director has been easy, contrary to what the general notion is.

“I would love to travel and cook but with so many people imploring and with every new situation in current affairs I begin conceptualising. I don’t know but an encore may come about. As of now I have my new programmes to work at.”