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No joking, this is funny business!

When Jaspal Bhatti comes, smiles and chuckles can't be far behind. Yet life is serious for this engineer-turned showman who knows that the dividing line between being a stock of laughs and a laughing stock is dangerously thin, finds ANJANA RAJA N... .

Photos: V.V. Krishnan

The serious side of Jaspal Bhatti.

JASPAL BHATTI, the man who has been helping us laugh at ourselves on the small and big screen through his famous productions like "Ulta Pulta" and "Flop Show" for some decades now, started life as an engineer. This softspoken gentleman with the capability of making us laugh while maintaining a deadpan expression admits to a certain inheritance when it comes to the eye for a joke. His father - also an engineer - had the talent to "see the lighter side of life". Nevertheless, Jaspal Bhatti recalls that his elders were always a little apprehensive about his taking up the humour business full-time - "Kahin yeh isko profession na banaa le" - yet he did, and there has been no looking back since.

That Indians have no sense of humour to boast of is a complaint heard often. It is one of the things we might admit amongst ourselves, but certainly would take umbrage if any outsider dared to hint at such a shortcoming in our culture. Why, isn't hasya rasa one of our major emotions, listed in the Natya Shastra, associated with no less a figure of divinity than Omkar? Maybe that's the problem. It becomes heavy business. But it's not as if there isn't plenty of `masala' for a good laugh out their on the roads, points out Bhatti. The heat these days is not short of ludicrous situations - car engines that stop running, air-conditioning that sends the temperature soaring - but, he agrees with that trademark little smile, it's usually only the onlookers who can see the funny side of these experiences.


Those twinkling eyes and neat beard bring a smile to the face of anyone who has seen him at his comic best - even when he is being perfectly serious - but is Jaspal Bhatti good at laughing at himself? "You notice I am usually the one in the role of the one being laughed at, like the corrupt bureaucrat or the businessman," he says. Yes, we remember him as the `halwai', giving his staff instructions to stuff the rotting potatoes into samosas and sell them off; as the Government official for whom the snacks to be served at a meeting form the most essential item on the agenda; as the officer suspended on corruption charges, languishing in jail yet confident that he can start a consultancy to the same office and earn even better than before, and numerous other negative role models that he excels in transforming into laughing stocks. But that is role-playing. It would be hard to figure out without trying, how this cartoonist, showman and satirist whose writings appear in English and Marathi papers would take to being caricatured himself.


And while laughter is a good way to relax, for the one with the responsibility of making others laugh, it's a matter of some tension. "You worry, whether you will succeed in making the audience laugh."

Obviously, this is not a case of laughing all the way to the bank.

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