Much before ABC’s comedy drama Modern Family made it to the small screen and our laptops, there was Sarabhai vs Sarabhai. In 2004, the Indian audience found itself in the middle of a family so dynamic, endearing, funny, chaotic and relatable that it is no surprise that the show’s comeback is cause for celebration.
The show, which returned after 11 years on Tuesday, retains the original cast — Satish Shah, Ratna Pathak-Shah, Sumeet Raghavan, Rupali Ganguly and Rajesh Kumar — and has been produced by JD Majethia of Hats Off Productions. Titled Sarabhai vs Sarabhai Take 2, it has 10 episodes.
“The show picked up slowly and gained a larger fan base with time. Back then also, we wanted to bring back the show but the circumstances didn’t allow; someone was always busy and people wanted to explore different things,” says Majethia, over the phone from Mumbai.
A lot has changed since the Sarabhais went off air in 2006: Monisha and Sahil now have a son called Arnab (also known as Guddu, much to Maya’s annoyance), they have shifted to two swanky penthouses, and the show has moved from the small screen to Hotstar. “Our fan base has now become mobile, so the digital platform is ideal. Someone who was in school when Sarabhai vs Sarabhai went on air is now probably working, and can catch the show according to their convenience. The beauty of online is that there is no competition with others over time slots, you have to compete with yourself — and do better than the last episode,” says Majethia, known for shows such as Khichdi and Baa Bahoo aur Baby.
That Aatish Kapadia has also written the script of season two reflects well in the first episode. “When we began work, we decided that we have to get it just right. It has to be better than the first season; it can’t be a disservice to the name that the show has acquired over time. We had to get the script right, which is the strongest aspect of the show apart from the actors,” he adds. Majethia reveals that he might also reprise his other show, Khichdi.
What remains the same in the new Sarabhai show, however, is the family equation — their squabbles, quick solutions, and of course, Rosesh’s poetry. Maya, the snooty south Bombay socialite, juxtaposed with the money-minded Monisha changed the way Indian TV looked at the saas-bahu relationship. In the new season, Maya’s favourite way of berating her daughter-in-law moves from “so middle-class” to “north Indian Punjabi-ish middle class” and even “mythologically downmarket”.
In the mid 2000s, when Ekta Kapoor’s regressive saas-bahu serials dominated television, and comedy talent shows had just entered the medium, this satirical take on family with Sarabhai vs Sarabhai united viewers. “Nothing remarkable in comedy has come out since; humour hasn’t progressed, it has only gone down,” adds Majethia.
Despite the success of his comedy shows, the Mumbai-based producer stopped dabbling in the genre seven years ago. “We moved to soaps – some worked, some didn’t. I realised the audience didn’t believe in the kind of humour we did anymore,” says Majethia.
To be uploaded on Hotstar every Tuesday, the best part of the new show is that the original cast has reunited. “Initially, there was apprehension, so we organised a three-day workshop. On the first day, we read out the script, and everyone was so at ease, and in character, that we cancelled the workshop on other days,” says Majethia.
The show’s USP is its relatability — one that was grossly misplaced in the shows that heralded the Parvatis and Tulsis of the world as ideal women, and in which the dead often returned from the grave. With Sarabhai vs Sarabhai, one saw real characters — a father who pulls his son’s leg ever so often; a pair of saas-bahu arguing over vocabulary; and peripheral characters comprising a deaf Madhu kaka and techie-geek Dushyant. This could very well be anyone’s family.
Maya and Monisha weren’t just characters, each of them symbolised the two middle-classes that exist in urban India. They dress, talk, walk and react differently but somewhere in the middle of these differences, lies dependency. When pulled apart, they can’t function, and in that familiar space of co-existence lies the beauty of urban India — one that Sarabhai vs Sarabhai extolls.