New Delhi: Long before Indian TV shows came to be overrun with the scheming saas–bahu trope, with dramatic zoom shots and key moments repeated twice for effect, Anand Mahendroo’s light-hearted family comedy Dekh Bhai Dekh used to rule home screens.
The 1993 Hindi sitcom, which aired on Doordarshan, documented the trials and tribulations of the sprawling and idiosyncratic Diwan family whose members spent almost every waking moment together making fun of each other. The show took viewers through the ups and downs of the family, their relationships, their work troubles, their romantic entanglements, all with a good dose of laughter.
And it had a great ensemble cast, including Shekhar Suman, Navin Nischol, Farida Jalal, Bhavana Balsaver, Deven Bhojani, Sushma Seth, Vishal Singh, Amar Upadhyay and Urvashi Dholakia.
The first scene, featuring Deven Bhojani, set the tone for the sitcom. In it, his character, Karima, tore up the day’s newspaper and allotted one section to each member of the family. The film and gossip page went to the youngest daughter, the crossword to the grandfather, share market news for the businessman uncle and the matrimonials page for himself.
The show, which found a permanent place in the hearts of the ’90s Indian audience, was originally not created for Doordarshan. Produced by Jaya Bachchan, it was to be made for TV Asia in London, but when it started airing in February 1993, it didn’t receive a good response. Bhavana Balsaver recalled that Shekhar Suman used to poke fun at how poorly received it was. “We thought we were doing great but we had no response coming in.”
Later, when DD was looking to launch a new programme, they called Jaya Bachchan and the rest is history.
A family comedy
Delhi-based businessman Sandeep Gandotra tells ThePrint that he and his family were very excited when DD decided to telecast the show again during the Covid-induced lockdown.
“What I liked best was the show’s simple humour, the clean comedy, which families could watch together,” Gandotra says.
Mahendroo revealed, “I enjoyed writing and directing the show the most. But I don’t know if the show will work if it is aired today. Audiences are used to insult comedies now.”
Back in the day, what worked was also how each viewer, each family member, found a character they could closely relate to. A popular favourite, though, was Shekhar Suman’s character of Sameer Chacha, the fun-loving, inquisitive uncle.
“My favourite character in the show was Shekhar Suman because of his comedic timing. Whenever there was a dull moment, he brought it alive,” Gandotra reminisces.
And for Suman, the role came at a time when he most needed it. He had been going through a hard time professionally when he took up the role. “It was a crucial decision for me. Instead of doing bad movies, I felt it would be better to do good TV. I never looked back,” he said, according to Hindustan Times.
One week to shoot an episode
Daily soaps in India today face the pressure of creating and delivering content every day, as opposed to shows like Dekh Bhai Dekh, which was a weekly TV serial, something that affects the quality of the product, according to Bhavana Balsaver.
She recalled how they would shoot one episode for a whole week. “The quality of work in those days was very different because we had to produce one episode per week. In those days, TV serials were weekly so the teams used to work a lot on the dialogues, screenplay and good performances …Today, the serials are good but they still don’t have that kind of finesse.”
Gandotra concurs. “Most of the shows these days are only dictated by TRPs. Maybe Taarak Mehta Ka Ooltah Chashmah comes close to Dekh Bhai Dekh, nothing else.”
The weekly slot also gave the creator and cast leeway to improvise and experiment. Mahendroo said, “We improvised a lot … I would explain the whole scene to the actors, give them guidelines and let them take it forward. Thankful, we had a bank of episodes, so we could work without telecasting pressures.”
The show stopped airing after 1994. Though people may not recall all the dialogues, the title song sung by Udit Narayan remains etched in people’s minds.
“Iss rang badalti duniya mein, kya tera hai, kya mera hai, dekh bhai dekh … Har sham ke baad savera hai!”
Jammu & Kashmir-based Sair Mir tells ThePrint, “I loved the soundtrack. It was, and is still, amazing. The lyrics gave life lessons that are relevant even today. The world has gone from bad to worse since then. As kids, these lyrics taught us long back how people change and how nothing lasts forever.”