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The Content Hub: Education in comedy doesn’t exist in India

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MUMBAI: With the soaps and dramas ruling the Indian television screens, comedy to some extent has taken a backseat. A session on ‘Comedy Fix’  moderated by Indiantelevision.com's founder, CEO and editor in chief Anil Wanvari and panellists Neela Telefilms director Asit Modi, Optimystix Entertainment producer Vipul D Shah and All India Bakchod (AIB) co-founder and member Tanmay Bhat sought to find if the TV industry is seeing a dearth of writing talent.



Modi said that in the field of comedy there is not only shortage of writers but producers as well. “Our industry is not ready for new writers. We have a closed mindset when it comes to new writers and tend to only work with a particular set of experienced ones. We don’t give an opportunity to explore,” he said.



Bhat went on to reason why new writers are not accepted by the industry and what today’s writing lacks. According to him the current state of television writing is very generic. “Right from actors to producers to writers, I have seen ‘just-get-it-done’ kind of attitude where originality doesn’t matter but copy pasting does.  In my early days, when I used to meet television writers  one common thing that I noticed amongst them was that they all had a set pattern of writing in a number of shows,” he elaborated.  



All the panellists felt that in today’s time everything is scripted and agreed that the attitude towards writing is very poor which needs to be changed.



Shah highlighted right from the beginning there were no new writers created for TV but the ones making the films ended up writing for the small screen too. According to him, it is difficult to get innovative story writers because it is demanding. “Today, television writing, whether fiction or non-fiction, has a set of dos and don’ts because a channel can demand a change in the plot anytime and we as writers have to be also on our toes to fix it.”



He went on to say that western formats can never be adopted in India. “Our humour is completely different from the genre abroad. We can't present dirty comedy here because it will never be accepted. So, to bring the humour, which can be accepted by Indian audiences, we have to create our own talent, which is again very difficult.”



According to Modi, whose Taarek Mehta Ka Ooltah Chashmah has been running successfully for more than six years, writing a daily comedy is not only a challenge but a task. It is not only the writer's responsibility to make the show going but the entire teams. “You not only need a good writer but a good performer also. And after getting a good performer/actor, one needs a good producer who can bridge the gap.”



Showing the silver lining in the cloud, Bhat said that thankfully now humour has started getting the respect it deserves. According to him, comedy education doesn't exist in India. “We compare ourselves to the shows in the US. But we also have to look at the kind of education and training they have gone through. All writer/comedians one sees in their shows have all gone through a certain level of training. This doesn't exist in India.”



The panellists agree that Indian television has always accepted family comedies and this is what will continue in the future as well. From shows like Dekh Bhai Dekh to Khichdi to Sarabhai vs. Sarabhai, they all have catered to the masses.  



Is there fatigue coming in comedy? “No, not at all,” said both Modi and Shah. "There will be always space for comedy. Shows like Comedy Nights with Kapil, Comedy Circus, are making everyone laugh today. And everyone loves to laugh, so comedy is and will always be audience’s first choice," added Modi.



Wanvari further delved to find out that apart from family comedies if there is a room for sitcoms on television? “It will change, because comedy has just started its journey.  I am seeing a lot of scope as more comedy channels are being launched. In comedy more than the story, character development is important. So once the characters are developed, the task will be simple," said Modi.



According to Shah, whose Comedy Circus ran for seven and half years, a show never feels the fatigue. “Yes, at times a few episodes works and a few don't. Comedy sometimes backfires as well. But overall as a genre, there is no fatigue coming in,” he further said.



Coming from a digital background, Bhat feels that television needs to start catering to the youth a lot more. "They are still catering to the families and not the youth. So, young people will stop watching television at some point of time unless channels keep re-inventing.”



As for Bhat, re-invention should start from the writers’ room. “I don't see enough young people picked up from the colleges and groomed. It is essential to grab someone at 16 and groom them to get good comedy in place. Any college kid would want to write for television but there are no platforms."

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