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Sunday, June 13, 2021

Hello Friends: Did you know there was a cringe-inducing desi copy of Friends starring Nikhil Chinapa, Cyrus Broacha and Maria Goretti?

Starring Cyrus Broacha, Maria Goretti and Nikhil Chinappa in the lead roles, along with Simone Singh, Anil Dimri and Aparna Bannerjee, Hello Friends aired on Zee TV in 1999 and lifted almost everything from Friends.

Written by Sana Farzeen | Mumbai |
Updated: May 28, 2021 8:19:20 am
friends, hello friendsWhile F.R.I.E.N.D.S launched in 1994, Zee TV premiered Hello Friends five years later.

Have you ever ordered something online and were left flabbergasted after a cheap copy of the original reached you? Well, you will understand the feelings while watching Zee TV’s Hello Friends, a blatant copy of the iconic Friends that was made in India in 1999. As Friends: The Reunion is all set to stream in India on ZEE5 on May 27, here’s revisiting its desi clone, which was cringe-inducingly bad.

While the American sitcom launched in 1994, Zee TV premiered the clone five years later. In a bid to grab young audience’s attention. It starred VJs — Cyrus Broacha, Maria Goretti and Nikhil Chinapa in the lead roles, along with Simone Singh, Anil Dimri and Aparna Bannerjee. The original starred Courtney Cox, David Schwimmer, Jennifer Aniston, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc and Matthew Perry.

If you manage to watch a few episodes, which are available on YouTube, you will realise that the makers did not have to spend a single penny on scriptwriters, given the episodes are designed exactly like the original. The characters can be considered replicas of the fab six — Chandler, Monica, Joey, Ross, Rachel and Phoebe. Two minutes into the first episode and you will feel like the actors are mouthing the same dialogues, only in Hindi.

While Cyrus plays a copywriter with a dry sense of humour (Chandler), Simone’s Sanjana is the perfectionist, a la Monica. Nikhil Chinapa plays her brooding brother Vikram (Ross), Amit is a struggling actor Rahul like Joey, while Maria plays the eccentric Penny, a riff on Phoebe. Central Perk, the coffee house the ‘friends’ hanged out in the original series, became ‘Uncle Sam’s Cafe’. Unlike the original’s Gunther, Uncle Sam, played by Kunal Vijaykar, was quite friendly with the troupe.

hello friends The popular ‘Friends’ apartment was also recreated for Hello Friends. (Photo: Netflix, YouTube)

Loyal fans of Friends were also left heartbroken to realise that ‘Hello Friends’ not just copied the entire script but also the set, parallel characters and background stories. However, they did some tweaking to match Indians sensibilities and culture, especially in the 90s. For example, Vikram’s wife was not shown as a lesbian but left him for another man. He was also just a geek unlike Ross’ paleontologist. Given no one ever remembers what was Chandler’s profession, the character Cyrus in the Indian series was already into advertising, a job Chandler took later in the show. Simone’s Sanjana was a dress designer and not a chef like Monica.

While the makers would have felt that keeping the show close to the original would help impress the local audience, the strategy backfired. People compared the two and found the copy lacking in almost every department.


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A post shared by Nikhil Chinapa (@nikhilchinapa)


As expected, Hello Friends could only last for 26 episodes, and got a disastrous 1.4 rating on IMDb. Last year, when a clip from the video went viral, Nikhil Chinapa had shared stills from the show, and seemed surprised that it took 21 years for the world to discover it. He wrote, “In retrospect, I wouldn’t change this for the world. It was stupid, it was fun and in my opinion, it was so bad, it was brilliant (in a mildly psychotic way). 🤪 I also loved working with the cast. Most people don’t know this but us VJs barely hung out together – we were constantly travelling to various cities. This was a fantastic opportunity to hang out, eat samosas and ruin our beautiful Hindi language (thanks Cyrus!) 😄.”

Maria Goretti, in an interview, also shared that the reason for the show’s short stint was because actors were not keen to reprise the roles for a second run. She also shared that the team did not know that Hello Friends would be an obvious lift of the NBC show.

“I thought it’d be a fun show about friends living in Mumbai, but when we reached the set, read the screenplay etcetera, we realised what we had signed up for. To be honest, that was actually a little heartbreaking,” she told The Print. Cyrus Broacha, in his inimitable style, further joked that his parents divorced him after the show aired and that “I hid in an abandoned warehouse for over three months”.

The much anticipated Friends: The Reunion will stream on ZEE5 in India and on HBO Max in the US on May 27. The team of Friends will come together on the original soundstage, Stage 24, on the Warner Bros. Studio lot in Burbank for a real-life unscripted celebration of the beloved show.

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