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 dynamic so endearing, funny, chaotic and relatable that it’s no surprise its comeback is cause for celebration.
A lot has changed since the Sarabhais went off the air in 2006 – Monisha and Sahil 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. And, Maya’s favourite dialogue to her daughter in-law has transformed from “so middle-class” to “so north Indian Punjabi-ish middle class”, and even “mythologically downmarket”.
What remains the same – we are happy to report – is the family equation, their squabbles, quick solutions, and Rosesh’s poetry. In the mid 2000s, when Ekta Kapoor’s regressive K-serials dominated TV, JD Majethia’s satirical take on family with Sarabhai VS Sarabhai united viewers. It ended many a family feud, for finally, it was possible for all those living under one roof to watch a show together.
It’s greatest contribution, however, was its relatability – one that was grossly misplaced in the shows that heralded Parvatis and Tulsis of the world as ideal women, and in which the dead often returned from the grave. With Sarabhai VS Sarabahi, I saw glimpses of my own extended family – 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 family could very well be anyone’s family.
Maya and Monisha weren’t just characters, they each 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 defines.