Gods and men must be crazy

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By The Bengali beam is cooking up a laugh riot as more and more viewers look for a shot of humour on the small screen. Reshmi Sengupta finds out what it takes for the comedies to tickle our funny bone in Panna
  • Published 7.07.05
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Warring gods to conniving mortals, middle-aged bumpkins to bungling families ? for those wanting to be spared the mushy soaps, there?s a spate of rib-ticklers to pick from. Comedy is serious business for Zee Bangla and ETV Bangla, for the war for eyeballs has seldom been so hot before.

Favourite four

Chuni Panna: The oldest of the lot and a trendsetter of sorts, Chuni Panna on ETV Bangla is miles away from sophistication. Loud, in-your-face humour with an occasional satiric slant has been the mainstay of the serial, revolving around a pair of middle-aged simpletons who have been driving the show for over 820 episodes (that is, three years).

?When we started off, we decided to reach out to the maximum number of viewers. So, the attempt has always been to steer clear of anything over-the-top. We found that Chuni Panna is even more popular in the suburbs,? says Dwijen Bandopadhyay, one half of the Chuni Panna pair. The serial is pitted against Zee Bangla?s Dhyatterika, Monday to Friday at 10.30 pm.

Dhyatterika: One of the top five serials on Zee Bangla, Dhyatterika is a situational comedy where gods act like mortals. ?The combination of swargo and martyo (heaven and hell) makes it so entertaining. But the characters are properly etched out and depending on viewer feedback, we build the characters or do away with them,? says Dhyatterika producer Atanu Roy.

Owing to an increasing male viewership ? thanks also to the skimpily-clad apsaras ? the serial was plucked out of the 6.30 pm slot and planted in the coveted 10.30 pm slot this March. One of the main reasons behind its soaring popularity is topicality of content. The Parliament polls had found their way into the durbar of the divine, where the gods plotted against each other and bickered over portfolios.

Labonyor Sansar: The story of a couple and its extended families in a bittersweet relationship commands two repeat airings and a huge chunk of female viewers at 6.30 pm on Zee Bangla, Monday to Friday. Most of its humour is situational and dialogue-based, utilising the north-versus-south Calcutta tiff to the hilt. ?While Labonyo?s mother is Anglicised, the mother-in-law is traditional and old fashioned. Labonyo is a housewife but has a mind of her own and understands today?s values. So middle-aged women viewers like her a lot,? says Sudeshna Roy, who acts in and also directs the serial along with Abhijit Guha.

As in Dhyatterika, the script keeps an eye on topical issues which are reflected through the characters. For instance, a whole weekly series was woven around the Corporation elections. And the Labonyor Sansar ringtone has scored 9,000 downloads ever since the offer was announced on May 17.

Mangal Ekai Ek Show: Barely into its fourth episode, this ETV Bangla weekly aired at 8.30 pm on Sundays is still in the teething stage. Its advantage points: The assured viewership of the popular Ek No. Messbari which it has replaced, and director Partha Sen. ?Mangal... is family-oriented, but much of the fun springs from the pivotal character of Mangal, who unwittingly ends up complicating things,? says director Sen, who had also delivered Ek No. Messbari.

Fun formula

Tickling the funny bone is not all that easy and serial directors are feeling the pressure to churn out comedies on a daily basis. Almost all the shows have a set of characters and a string of stories stitched around them, but the TRPs take a downward slide the moment the scripts start flagging. Hence, coming up with rib-tickling ideas is the biggest challenge for script-writers. Properly etched out characters, mostly types than individuals, are equally important in the scheme of things.

?Maintaining the storyline is an enormous pressure,? says Partha Sen. ?And when the stories are not so strong, we try to cover that up with good acting,? says Dwijen Bandopadhyay of Chuni Panna.

If story is the strongest point, monotony is the greatest fear. Comic mannerisms of the characters, if stretched for too long, run the risk of spoiling the show. ?Narod with his idiosyncrasies had become an instant hit in Dhyatterika, but people get bored if the same thing continues for long,? adds Atanu Roy.

And good actors not branded comedians are what a director needs in front of the camera. ?The sense of timing in an actor is the most important factor in a comedy,? says Sen.

A sense of d?j? vu in the storyline also works in one?s favour. The tussle between men and women in Ek No. Messbari, for instance, hurled one back to the days of Share Chuwattor and Basanta Bilap, feels Sen.

Likewise, Chuni Panna, for some, may be a whiff of the brilliant Bhanu-Jahar team, Labonyor Sansar a throwback to Lucille Ball, and Dhyatterika a flashback to the warring gods in many a black-and-white film.