The landscape of Indian television changed in 2002, the year that Khichdi — a sitcom centred around a Gujarati family, The Parekhs — found a 30-minute prime time slot. The odds were stacked against them. It was David against the K-serials Goliath, which dominated the TRPs with the help of Parvati, Tulsi and Prerna, their melodrama set amid expensive backdrops. Added to this mix was the first ever ‘season’ format of Khichdi, which no one in India had attempted before. But with over 136 episodes, two seasons and a movie, Khichdi defied all odds and gained a cult following. The catchphrases — Hansa’s ‘Hello how are? Khaana kha ke jaana’; the kids uttering ‘bade log, bade log’ — left an indelible mark. Now, after a hiatus of eight years, the Parekhs are back on the small screen — the new season began on April 14 and is being aired on Saturday and Sunday.
“When we (the show) came, Ekta Kapoor had started a revolution on television, but can you remember anything from those shows? She upped the scale and the production value for sure, but what was the impact? TV has always been a victim of TRPs. But we also need to instill a sense of responsibility in our audience and encourage good content,” says producer JD Majethia, who also plays Hansa’s brother Himanshu on the show.
For inspiration of the cult classic and creating this dysfunctional family, the second producer, Aatish Kapadia, didn’t have to look far. Be it the gajra-loving Hansa, an eccentric Dadaji or the unpretentious humour of his son Praful, his family was full of such characters. Also, at a time when offence is an easy zone, the portrayal of a Gujarati family in a certain way and the comedy that unravels during the process is still finding many takers. “On the contrary, people from the community are very happy. They gloat over the fact that their lives have made it to television. I have lived my life with people who are actually like the Parekhs. There have been times when I think that ‘are they seriously acting this way’. Also it’s easier to laugh at a community that’s not yours. So I thought, why not look into my own,” says Kapadia, who has also written other breakthrough shows like Sarabhai Vs Sarabhai and Baa, Bahu aur Baby and has worked closely with Majethia.
The producers say that getting the cast together again was the biggest hurdle and the cornerstone necessary for a sequel to work in the first place. “It’s a big challenge to direct a sequel because people have a frame of reference and expectations,” says Majethia. The lead cast — Supriya Pathak, Anand Desai, Rajeev Mehta and Vandana Pathak have reprised their roles.
This season of Khichdi opens to Babuji and the clan living in a house devoid of walls. They have been victims of a builder’s fraud and are reduced to living in this half-built structure with no roof. “Everyone, even if not directly, has been a victim of builders’ fraud, maybe a building went into redevelopment, or the builder ran away with the money. But will you even try to live in such a house? The Parekhs will,” says Majethia.
This time the emphasis is also on a thicker, more structured plot, replete with a beginning, middle and an end. “The madness is still there. But there is more variety to the plot. In earlier seasons, there was no semblance of a plot. We did pointless scenes which we got away with. But in the one-hour format, we needed more structure. They will become wedding planners, see how it unfolds, and what capers they get into when they go to a masquerade party,” adds Kapadia.
It’s rare that a TV show wields this kind of hold over an audience, especially over 15 years. They were the darlings of audience and TRPs alike. “If Khichdi was not liked, I’m not sure we would have been able to come back. I think it was the innocence of the characters. We had stayed away from the scheming, corrupt narratives and made characters that you must have encountered somewhere. Also we did not want to stereotype the community as the garba-playing and dhokla-eating lot. I am Gujarati, but I eat dhokla twice a year,” says Majethia.
Kapadia feels it’s the oddball element in the characters that made their recall worthy. “You think of Hansa, or Praful, and a smile comes on your face. We all wish to break away from social norms and are all living vicariously through these oddballs. They are aspirational in a wicked way. You wish that I could perhaps live in a house without walls. We obviously can’t, so we live through them,” says Kapadia.
Kapadia takes serious offence though when the show is described as a brainless, freaky comedy. There are serious overtones in the narrative, he maintains. “It’s offensive when people say ‘dimaag side pe rakho aur show dekho’. If you don’t use your brain, you will not understand the narrative at all. The wit is sharp and wicked. The Parekh family has put their brains aside but aapke paas toh dimaag hai,’ There are many things which we don’t point out directly, but we point to the larger framework of the society. There is no strife between the devrani and jethani (sisters-in-law) – one hates to cook and the other hates it when someone enters her kitchen. There is perfect balance,” says Kapadia, who adds that Himanshu, Praful’s brother-in-law stays in the same house and no one says anything. “They wear colour-coordinated clothes — like school uniforms, which we have used to create an impression of them being like children, more lovable than adults and can get away with anything,” he says.