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Remembering Jaspal Bhatti's brand of satirical humour: Death anniversary special


On the comedian's death anniversary, we look at some of his most popular works and see why its time we reminisce about the Jaspal Bhatti brand of humour.

Sukhpreet Kahlon

A much loved episode of Flop Show titled ‘Contractor’ looks at the poor quality of construction material used by government appointed building contractors, and Jaspal Bhatti’s neighbour is livid as while hammering a nail into the wall, Bhatti has managed to dislodge a brick that falls into the neighbour’s house, breaking his colour TV. And following heated conversation ensues: 

Neighbour: Do you know how much a colour TV costs?
Bhatti: No, I got mine as part of my dowry. 
Neighbour: That’s really shameful. 
Bhatti: Why, didn’t you get it as part of the dowry?
Neighbour: No, actually I received cash in my dowry so I bought a colour TV with the money for Rs. 12,000, which is the money you will now give me because you broke the TV!

This kind of a tangent is typical Bhatti humour, where the conversation reveals the mind set and prejudices of people within a larger narrative.

Born in Amritsar, Jaspal Bhatti received his training as an electrical engineer at the Punjab Engineering College, Chandigarh. He participated in street plays and worked as a cartoonist for The Tribune, Chandigarh where he engaged with social ills. This theme found its way into his immensely successful show, Flop Show.

Aired on Doordarshan in 1991, Flop Show was part of the sea change taking place in Indian television at the time. With shows like Buniyaad, Wagle ki Duniya and Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi, television serials focused on the middle class and their everyday problems.

Flop show also concentrated on the concerns of the common man, and in doing so, made everyone the butt of their jokes, including themselves! From the State, government officials, housewives, to officious bureaucrats, academics, doctors; no one was spared. The satirical humour captured the frustrations of the common man, often vocalizing things that one wondered about, but didn’t say aloud. 

The episode on doctors for instance, is dedicated to the doctors whose carelessness inspired the making of the episode. The episode is about Bhatti playing a doctor who puts a patient through an unnecessary surgery just to make sure that his misplaced watch wasn’t left inside the patient! In the episode on chief guests, he plays a serial chief guest who only attends functions if he is invited as the chief guest and even carries around his own welcome garland! 

Even though Bhatti took up serious issues in the situational comedy, his affable manner ensured that the criticism was never excessive. Most importantly, his irreverent attitude was routinely directed towards himself and his show, as is evident in the credits that poke fun at every category including ‘Camera Jerks’, ‘Over Actors’ and of course, ‘Misdirected by Jaspal Bhatti’. The show had a prime time 9pm slot and audiences were glued to their seats. 

Despite the choppy production quality, Flop Show was a huge success and made Bhatti a household name. He went on to make series like Ulta Pulta and Full Tension and even forayed into films with a few small roles at the end of the 1990s.  

His film directorial debut, Mahaul Theek Hai (1999), a comic satire on the Punjab police was an instant success. In the same year, he played a small role in Rishi Kapoor’s directorial debut, Aa Ab Laut Chale (1999), where Bhatti, along with Satish Kaushik and Himani Shivpuri provided the comic relief.

Jaspal Bhatti with Salman Khan in Yeh Hai Jalwa (2002)

Bhatti went on to appear in several Hindi films including Kartoos (1999), Hamara Dil Aapke Paas Hai (2000), Yeh Hai Jalwa (2002), Kuch Naa Kaho (2003), and was also seen in a Punjabi film Jija ji (2005) that had three comedians in the lead roles - Bhatti, Gurpreet Ghuggi and Jaswinder Bhalla. The film looked at the power relationship between brothers-in-law where Bhatti takes full advantage of being the brother-in-law of an IAS officer, leading to hilarious situations.

In the following year, he played the role of Jolly Singh in Fanaa (2006), and did a few other roles in Hindi films where he mostly played the quintessential Sardarji. An ever entertaining duo, Bhatti and his wife Savita competed in Nach Baliye, a dance competition in 2008. 

He later shifted his focus to Punjabi films and directed a comedy, Power Cut (2012), which exposes the corruption of officials and the massive power outages in Punjab. In his typical style, the hero of the film is named Current and the heroine Bijli.

In the same year, Bhatti met with a fatal accident and passed away at the age of 57. His death came as a huge shock to his family and fans. He was posthumously awarded the Padma Bhushan. 

Jaspal Bhatti’s satirical humour remains alive in the minds of people who recall simpler times when comedy poked fun at people and institutions in a good-natured way.

While the times have changed especially with the social media space and the accompanying trolls who are changing the nature of discussion and engagement; we reminisce about the Jaspal Bhatti brand of humour. Taking a leaf out of his book, we could do with not taking ourselves so seriously.

Watch an episode of Flop Show: