By Priyanka Pereira
In an era when the term ‘sitcom’ was alien to many who watched television, Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi successfully fit the moniker. First aired in 1984, when television had just started seeping into different corners of India, this was Indian television’s first comedy. Revolving around a couple Ranjit Verma (Shafi Inamdar) and Renu Verma (Swaroop Sampat) YJHZ worked mainly on two principles— relatability and humour. “All the characters were like your next door neighbours,” recalls Sampat one of the principal characters of the show. Along with her and Shafi, there was Rakesh Bedi who played Raja, her unemployed and unmarried brother, Tiku Talsania who played Ranjit’s boss and Satish Shah who played multiple roles through the series. In the years to come, these actors became the face of comedy in India.
When Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi was being made, television was in its nascent stage in India. It was aired on Fridays at 9:00 pm and its popularity can be gauged from the fact that video stores in London would await periodically for the copy of the serial’s tape and that box-office openings of film releases were affected because of the show. Film and Television Institute (FTII) alumni Manjul Sinha, Kundan Shah and Raman Kumar came together to direct the show, while India’s leading satirists, Sharad Joshi penned it.
Reminisces Kumar, “It was the first time the three of us were wielding a camera for a TV show. We were completely new to the 25-minute format. It was mind-boggling at times because we wondered how to fit it all in that time frame.” They kept the template of the show simple: to tackle one regular life situation in every episode, add humour to it and narrate it in a manner that would be simple, yet serve a didactic purpose for the viewers.
Inamdar was a well-known theatre actor then. Shah and Bedi were classmates at FTII and were just about finding their feet in the industry. Sampat had won the Miss India title a few years ago, and for Manjul, one of the directors, who had posters of her in his college hostel at FTII, it was a dream to work with her. Sampat, however, was in a bit of a dilemma when she was offered the role, because she had a plum offer for another TV show. “However, I chose to go with my gut instinct and chose this. Also, I knew Shafi bhai for years. He was like an elder brother to me. I was excited at the thought of working with him,” she says.
Bedi too was a little skeptical of taking up an offer on television then, because television was often given the step-motherly treatment as opposed to films. Skepticism loomed large on how long this medium would sustain, or how well it would do. It was only when he met the show’s writer, that the actor finally made up his mind. “Sharadji explained the character to me very beautifully. Every household has a Raja he told me,” he remembers. “He could be the Man Friday of the house or a sore thumb sticking out. But my character would be relatable to anyone who watches the show, Sharadji told me. His explanation had me sold,” says Rakesh.
When Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi was written and being cast for, there were no reference points to rely on. “And this is what made the entire experience more fun,” says Kumar. When the characters were being planned, it was Kundan Shah’s idea to get Satish Shah to do different get ups for different episodes. “It was clearly an experiment which paid off. We had seen Satish do a lot of mimicry at FTII. So we knew he could pull this off,” says Kumar. The actor, on his part, remembers this as the foundation stone to his career. “This show really helped me hone my talent and made me confident as an actor. I owe a lot to this,” he says.
The shooting took place at Rajkamal Studios in Mumbai, and each episode was shot over three days. Kumar, Shah and Sinha would take turns to direct, because at times they had to shoot for 36 hours continuously. “We would eat, sleep, shave, brush on set,” says Bedi. Adds Sampat, “We became like a family. Since I was the only girl on the set on most days, all the boys used to teach me cuss words in between shoot and make me repeat them. By the time the show got over we became such thick friends, that we would hang after the shootings also.” Interestingly, when they started off 13 episodes was their target. “We did not know if we would be accepted. But after seeing the response we went on to make more than 40 episodes,” says Kumar.
The serial worked on two counts: the impeccable chemistry between Inamdar and Sampat and the memorable lines written by Sinha. Sampat remembers an episode where her character, Renu, dressed like a man goes to meet Ranjit (Inamdar) at his office. And Ranjit, while shaking hands with her, says, “Yeh haath kuch jaana pehchaana sa lagta hai” (This hand feels familiar). “People still come up and tell me that they remember these dialogues and you know the relevance of the show even today,” she says.
After a highly successful first season, Inamdar left the show. However, with the huge popularity of the show, a repackaged second attempt was made with the underlying idea that Ranjit and Renu have moved abroad because of his work, while Raja’s love life and affair with Nivedita became the new center of activity. The second innings had a reasonably good run, but never reached the fame of the first. The first season continues to be popular with box sets of it being sold everywhere. “Just recently, a friend of mine was travelling abroad and she told me that a co-passenger kept watching Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi episodes throughout the journey,” smiles Swaroop. After all, when a show has lasted around 30 years, there is a good reason to.
*The entire show was shot in a single camera set up
*The title track of the song was sung by Kishore Kumar
*The laughter track of the show was recorded by all the actors and it was used in other comedy serials for years to come
* Tiku Talsania’s oft-repeated line Yeh kya ho raha hai?’ was television’s equivalent of Kitne aadmi the?’