TV’s most loved, most deranged family is readying itself to be unleashed on film. And if our conversation with all its actors is anything to go by, it might just be as riotous

Malay Desai (MUMBAI MIRROR; September 26, 2010)

What began as a joke is now… well, a bigger joke. Khichdi, the TV series christened after the ubiquitous rice-lentil dish of the subcontinent, will be served on a larger platter — the big screen, this week. The promoters are relaying this from the rooftops, and with good reason.

After all, no other product of our TV heritage - Hum Log, Malgudi Days, CID et al has made it to 70mm, a trend the West adopted years ago.

The sitcom, a brainchild of writer Aatish Kapadia and then Gujarati film actor Jamnadas Majethia opened in 2002 amidst a wave of expensive game shows and melodramatic soaps.

It took self-deprecating humour to a new high (or low, as some might feel) and grabbed TRPs. Its second season wound up at its peak in 2005, but not before beginning a trend of Gujarati characters in TV serials, earlier set only by ‘Malhotra’-esque Punjabis.

The serial’s Parekh family, played by veteran actors of the vernacular stage is now etched in telly history: Anang Desai, aka ‘Babujee’, the timid head of the family, ‘Jayshree’; his gossip-loving daughter-in-law (Nimisha Vakharia); the idiotic couple, ‘Praful-Hansa’ (the endearing Rajiv Mehta and Supriya Pathak) while producer Jamnadas Majethia himself is Himanshu the buffoon. The two kids (of whom the girl is being played by Majethia’s real life daughter Kesar) are the only level-headed characters of the family.

We caught up with the actors at their loudest best at the studios of their production house for a freewheeler, albeit in Gujarati.

MM: What makes you think the audiences will bear you for three hours?

Aatish: (Laughs) On the contrary, it’s tougher in the 20-minute weekly capsule. Our 8 pm slot was a time when children would be studying, the cooker whistle going off and other noises. In a film, it’s easier to get attention.

JD (Jamnadas Majethia): …and we had to make it, Aatish and I had been thinking of it all the while. We’re sure the audiences would love our comic timing in a film format too. After all, it’s near-perfect after knowing each other for so long. Now if you wake me up at an odd hour and throw me into a situation with either of them, I’ll still react like (snaps).

MM: You sound like you’ve been in Bollywood all this while.

JD: I have been… only struggling! I was under contract for five years for two big banners - Sharman (Joshi) and I were together - and no film materialised. Then the production firm happened and acting took a back seat. In Khichdi, we had a Dubai schedule which Deven Bhojani refused. Then, Aatish insisted I do the role. As the producer, I thought it would save costs too! The channel loved the subsequent TRPs and Himanshu can’t leave the family now! Meanwhile, I have undergone a great disciplinary change. My friends circle has shrunk, all my habits, I quit drink… whatever… baddhuj bandh!

MM: So is Himanshu of the TV series the ‘hero’ of your film?

JD: Well, mostly… he has retained his innocence but some things, like his embroidered costumes had to be changed!

KHANA KHA KE JANA: (From top left, clockwise) Anang Desai, Aatish Kapadia, Rajiv Mehta, Nimisha Vakharia, Markand Soni, Jamnadas Majethia, Supriya Pathak, Kesar Majethia

MM: Thankfully! What is it with Gujarati men and embroidered shirts and floral prints? (At this, the family erupts in laughter and spontaneous chatter)

Aatish: Arre, of course! Lagna ma tamari pase embroidered shirt na hoy toh tamaro koi class nathi! (If you walk into a wedding without an embroidered shirt, you’d be frowned upon).

Rajiv: Aney havey toh ema heera ni ladi aava madi chhe! (Nowadays they’re diamond-studded) And some have these floral prints which make me wonder if they breed honeybees!

Aatish: Amuk loko toh Swarovski pehre chhe! I suggest they put a pallu too!

MM: Obviously, your characters are inspired from such real-life people. Who all are the people who influenced creating this family?

JD: (points at Aatish and begins chatting about how one ‘Ranjan bhabhi’s brother Atul’ is totally a Himanshu)

Aatish: 60 per cent of Gujaratis, when they speak Hindi, do not use the ‘anuswar’: (the ‘n’ pronunciation) ‘Ayege-khayege-karege-jayege’, they say!

JD: Even the ‘Ae-Bappu’ comes from how I used to speak while growing up in Saurashtra. Many relatives in Jamnagar used to call me ‘Aa-Babul’!

Aatish: Gujaratis, especially vepariyo (businessmen) have this ‘thai rehshe’ (will get sorted) attitude about everything from cooking to business deals… which makes them say things like ‘kisi ko pata nahi chalega,’ several times without reason!

MM: Okay, now for rapid fire. Supriyajee, what would Hansa want with her if she were stranded on an island?

Supriya: Obviously, Praful, gajras and all my jewelery.

MM: And not anything which would save your lives?

Nimisha: Arre ganda thai gaya chho? (Are you mad?) Why would anyone want to save Praful-Hansa if they’re left on an island! (laughs)

MM: By the way, how much of a Hansa are you at home?

Supriya: There is no Hansa in me… she’s totally an antithesis! Though I am a very proud Gujju, my husband is as Punjabi as it can get!

MM: Next. If your Parekh family were to take over the CWG management, what do you think would happen?

JD: Entertainment thashe, corruption nahi!

Supriya: I’d get everyone to dress prettily. Small shorts won’t work! Gajras and sarees will be mandatory for female athletes!

Aatish: But you’ll have trouble understanding ‘Commonwealth’ itself!

Rajiv: (laughs) Yes, we’ll have to make all announcements in Hindi and Gujarati! There will be extended lunch hours too.

MM: Lastly, just in case of an accident, if your movie wins the Oscar… how would each one of you react on its stage?

JD: I’d reason that since I have got my ‘Parmidar’ from this film, and would request the Academy to call my extended family to the Oscars too… and join me on stage. (There are only 60 characters named Parmidar in the TV series).

Anang: Babujee’s never got a chance to prove himself. Here too I think he’d be tormented by these people hogging the stage and Jayshree shouting me down.

Supriya: First of all, I’ll wonder about the meaning of ‘Oscar award’.

Rajiv: …and I’ll obviously explain after saying ‘Main hoon na’: “Oscar Hansaa! Woh Andheri mein theatre nahi the - Ambar-Oscar? Oscar! Aur award matlab woh hospital mein wards nahi hote… A-ward, B-ward… award!”

Supriya: (laughs) And then Hansa would insist they must ban all kinds of English usage from the Academy awards!

Nimisha: I would thank them for giving me this ‘world-best’ award but request another one the day I do Babujee’s kaam-tamaam.

Aatish: I’d say, at least after the Oscar, we’d be able to argue with those who’ve said ‘Bas kar’ to our mad humour!

The recipe-maker

Pic: Nilesh Wairkar

The secret of the sitcom’s success, Aatish Kapadia on the science behind the characters’ chemistry…

You’ve written many gems (Ek Mahal ho Sapno ka, Sarabhai v/s Sarabhai) in your 20-year-long career. Why get into the risky film-making business?

There comes a time when you feel your work isn’t giving you space… and I felt I needed a break in the said 20 years. Also, JD and I had always been keen on making this… and had faith in our content.

Explain the deranged Khichdi family. Why don’t Jayshree and Babujee have spouses?

See, there a science: Jayshree is a widow. She loves dominance and behaves that way. Had there been a husband, she wouldn’t have been a control-freak.

Also, I’m a rebel by nature… I wanted to portray a very different widow from those being portrayed in our media. Babujee too is a widower, a father-in-law who behaves like a mother-in-law!

Tell us about this science which goes behind creating funny characters.

While writing, you have to create a double helix which meets its logical conclusion. Also, every character has a logical reason about its behaviour. Sometimes I write mathematically… all arguments must have their sensible counter-arguments.

All Gujjus love self-deprecating humour, don’t they?

Of course! We don’t take ourselves too seriously! All we want in life is good food, entertainment on weekends, kharcha on Diwali and good clothes! The world may laugh and we’d care a damn! And this works for writing comedies… it’s very easy to laugh at others, I can write that with my feet!