"Each time I start a new project, I feel like I'm going to give an examination. You're always worried about every minute thing which goes into making a sucessful programme. So I am tense and nervous as I'm shooting for my new sitcom from tomorrow." That's actor-director Anant Mahadevan as he starts shooting for yet another sitcom called Alvida Darling for producer Dinesh Bansal starring Farouque Shaikh and Varsha Usgaonkar. A few weeks ago, Mahadaven made headline news in the industry because he suddenly found himself off Chamatkar (Sony) which he had directed for over 100 episodes. The reason for his departure is still not known. "No comment,'' is all Mahadevan offers.
Mahadevan is one of the very few actors who have made a smooth transition into direction and carved out a new identity with the success of serials like Chamatkar and Ghar Jamai (Zee). This, after having made a mark as an actor with Ados Pados and the original Ghar Jamai on DD way back in 1984 which had made him a household name.
Mahadevan hasbeen loyal to television since the inception of commercial television on Doordarshan in 1984. In a career span of 15 years he has acted in around 100 serials. "It's not been an uphill struggle," says Mahadevan, "but years of hard-working and learning. It's certainly been a fight against all odds.''
Though he is faithful to the small screen, Mahadevan is no great admirer of what's happening on it. "I don't subscribe to the kind of television we make.'' he says, "Though I'm not trying to be overtly different and the idea is not to go on a tangent which people can't understand but the basic fight is to bring in a change," he adds sounding a bit confused. He admits that Chamatkar is a loud comedy but it worked because it was a take-off on hot topical issues. On the other hand, Ghar Jamai is toned down though it's not as subtle as he might like because he feels the audience is not educated enough to understand subtle comedies.
Still, Alvida Darling , which is being made for Zee will be according to Mahadevan 75 per cent a subtle comedy. It's not a sitcom but a comic soap with one story from episode 1 to 52 instead of episodic stories. Then he's doing another sitcom for Himesh Reshamiyya called Bhabhi Tera Dewar Deewana, a youthful romantic comedy which has a family orientation. "It's on the lines of Archies comics," explains Mahadevan.
Apart from these rib-ticklers, another serial of his which will appear on Doordarshan shortly, is also inspired from a comic. Mandrake the Magician is the inspiration for Doctor X; it will deal with hypnotic powers and has Sudesh Berry in the title role.
Anant the actor, has not only acted in comic roles. He has appeared in drama serials such as Andaaz, Tipu Sultan, Amar Prem, Manzil but is better remembered for his role of the bewildered son-in-law Subbu in Ghar Jamai (not the one on Zee which he directs but the 1984 one) and also as the unforgettable Chintamani in Sai Paranjpe's Ados Pados. Still, he refuses to typecast himself as a comic actor.
"I've done more dramatic and negative roles than comic ones. Why can't people remember Purnash Pundit in Tipu Sultan or Andaaz in which I'm the villain? Or Junoon in which I played a lawyer for which even Mrinal Sen complimented me," he asks.
Similarly, he's directed not just sitcoms but also serious subjects like Memsaab which he had also produced under his banner Entertainment Business Corporation for TVi which failed because the channel never took off properly. He also directed a thriller Jaal for Zee, a family drama Parivaar for NEPC while he started his directorial career with a series Sambandh.
But after Chamatkar and Ghar Jamai all offers that come his way are comedies. "If I've got recognition as a comic director, it is mainly because of the success of Chamatkar. In that I've been trying to give a different flavour to comedy by not going down the beaten track. And I've been fairly successful. So people trust me more for comedies. Recently, when I did a Rishtey episode, my producer didn't have faith in me until he saw the end product," he explains.
Mahadevan feels that sitcoms are different compared to soaps which are very simple. "Because in a soap you've to create an emotional moment and leave it to the audience. But in a sitcom you've to land a punch and see that people laugh,'' Mahadevan explains. He regrets that over here humour is misunderstood for crass and vulgar jokes and that is what the viewers are happy with. He doesn't want to comment about serials that are on the air but when you ask him about sitcoms, he replies: "They don't make me think at all." He thinks the that laugh tracks in serials are used not to enhance a joke but mostly when a joke is very bad. "Indians have a habit of imitating the West and misusing what they imitate. Like they will use a gas lighter not to light a choolah but a bomb!" he laughs. He explains, rather defensively that the laugh tracks are properly used when required in Ghar Jamai but they are not the regular canned laughter but recorded laughter live at a show. Which reminds him of Chamtakar: "I feel sadand deprived. I do miss Chamatkar, I had a great time doing it." he says wistfully.