JASPAL BHATTI 1955-2012
Indian television’s first home-grown wisecrack Jaspal Bhatti, who passed away following a road accident on Thursday, had the rare talent of not making you feel bad for feeling good. Always opposed to filthy double entendres, Bhatti touched hearts by dressing urban angst in a suit of deadpan humour.
His Flop Show, a 10-episode-long series telecast in the late 1980s on Doordarshan, turned out to be a top show with viewers smiling at his half innocent, half crazy portrayals of the common man at the receiving end of an apathetic system. He mocked the cops, he scoffed at the bureaucratic red tape, laughingly exposed criminal tendencies in the food business by casting himself as the vendor — in short, he invariably walked the tightrope between being cheeky and outrageous.
His jest-a-minute routine did not spare the now slothful, now blundering common man either; his humour was about giving equal treatment to all, none was favoured, nobody was spared.
As director-actor, he struck a chord with middle class viewers who saw in his jokes a reflection of their sensibilities, their problems. Till Bhatti came along, humour was not taken seriously on television. He broke the mould, winning for the medium a new respect and unparalleled popularity. Interestingly, the show used to carry the credit, “mis-directed” by Jaspal Bhatti.” Usually casting his wife Savita as his screen spouse, he later came up with Ulta Pulta, which again was a series of digs in the common man’s language without ever stooping to gutter humour.
It was on the small screen that Bhatti was a big star. With Flop Show and Ulta Pulta, Bhatti became a sensation who could do no wrong. His tube humour was miles removed from the banana peels and dropping-your-pyjama variety that was in vogue in cinema at the same time.
He later came up with Nonsense Private Limited which met with, well, limited critical and popular appreciation. He also used his image to good effect in the programme Comedy ka King Kaun. He also competed alongside his wife in Nach Baliye. However, he came back to the public eye when he showed up at the Jantar Mantar fast of Anna Hazare. It was in the fitness of things that the man who first showed corruption in our socio-political system should align with a movement with the espoused aim of uprooting corruption.
Bhatti though was not always a comic. Born in Amritsar in 1955, he trained to be an electrical engineer from Punjab Engineering College, Chandigarh, before joining The Tribune as a cartoonist. A soft-spoken serious man, quite well read, he reinvented himself for television and later branched out to Hindi and Punjabi films. Though he acted in the Aamir Khan-starrer Fanaah and a handful of other Hindi films, his jokes on the big screen did not have the same chutzpah and at best were mildly appealing. Beginning with Mahaul Theek Hai that he directed in 1999, he met with relatively greater success in Punjabi cinema and, as luck would have it, he was touring Punjab to promote his latest flick, Power Cut, when he met with the fatal accident.