tv classics

The DD Files: Would Jaspal Bhatti’s satire ‘Flop Show’ be banned today?

The 1989 TV show poked fun at all we hold dear and got away with it.

Jokes about ethnic groups are a no-no, the comedian Kiku Sharda was detained for mimicking a self-styled godman and Comedy Nights with Kapil has wound up, leaving behind a bland, humourless season.

Even as the debate over what is funny and what isn’t rages on, you may just want to rewind to a 10-episode series on Doordarshan that was so tacky and yet so earnest that it commanded a serious cult following. Jaspal Bhatti, the poker-faced writer and director, took the issues of the day and turned them into fodder for his 10-part series, Flop Show, in 1989. In terms of production values, it was comparable to a college skit. And a second visit might make you flinch at the shockingly amateurish attempts at putting together a semblance of a television show. But Flop Show resonated with pre-liberalisation India for the topics it embraced and its affable leading man.

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Flop Show belonged to that significant chunk of television shows that were produced outside Mumbai. Produced entirely in Chandigarh, many of the indoor sequences were shot at the Punjab Engineering College, of which Bhatti was an alumnus. A small group of actors played different characters, with the exception of Savita Bhatti, Jaspal Bhatti’s wife and the show’s producer.

Bhatti relied on situational comedy, parody, satire and a central character in every story that made you laugh even while dealing with serious issues. Bhatti’s characters were recognisable caricatures: a professor who moonlights as a professional speech writer, a wrestler who produces television serials, a wife who is always suspicious of her husband, nosy neighbours, and identifiable settings, including a middle class home, a dysfunctional government office with lazy and corrupt staff or a banquet hall with gaudy festoons.

The disclaimer that ran before every episode dedicating the day’s show to the people it parodied was as distinctive as the end credits – a reworded version of popular hit songs.

But more than the message the show purported to deliver and the laughter it often evoked, it was Bhatti, the common man who struck a chord. As the hapless everyman caught in complicated situations both at home and at work, Bhatti played his bit with ease and a trademark sorry face.

In retrospect, Flop Show did a good job of walking the fine line. It always made good use of self-deprecating humour while poking fun at others. Wonder who would have gotten away today with taking pot shots at the entire TV industry or bureaucrats, some of whom he may have had to court to get his show sanctioned.

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Flop Show was Bhatti’s first step towards stardom. His brief but brilliant stint as a comic and satirist ended in a fatal car accident in 2012. He was 57 years old.

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Changing the conversation around mental health in rural India

Insights that emerged from discussions around mental health at a village this World Mental Health Day.

Questioning is the art of learning. For an illness as debilitating as depression, asking the right questions is an important step in social acceptance and understanding. How do I open-up about my depression to my parents? Can meditation be counted as a treatment for depression? Should heartbreak be considered as a trigger for deep depression? These were some of the questions addressed by a panel consisting of the trustees and the founder of The Live Love Lough Foundation (TLLLF), a platform that seeks to champion the cause of mental health. The panel discussion was a part of an event organised by TLLLF to commemorate World Mental Health Day.

According to a National Mental Health Survey of India 2015-16, conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), common mental disorders including depression, anxiety disorders and substance use disorders affect nearly 10% of the population, with 1 in 20 people in India suffering from depression. The survey reported a huge treatment gap, a problem that is spread far and wide across urban and rural parts of the country.

On 10th of October, trustees of the foundation, Anna Chandy, Dr. Shyam Bhat and Nina Nair, along with its founder, Deepika Padukone, made a visit to a community health project centre in Devangere, Karnataka. The project, started by The Association of People with Disability (APD) in 2010, got a much-needed boost after partnering with TLLLF 2 years ago, helping them reach 819 people suffering from mental illnesses and spreading its program to 6 Taluks, making a difference at a larger scale.

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During the visit, the TLLLF team met patients and their families to gain insights into the program’s effectiveness and impact. Basavaraja, a beneficiary of the program, spoke about the issues he faced because of his illness. He shared how people used to call him mad and would threaten to beat him up. Other patients expressed their difficulty in getting access to medical aid for which they had to travel to the next biggest city, Shivmoga which is about 2 hours away from Davangere. A marked difference from when TLLLF joined the project two years ago was the level of openness and awareness present amongst the villagers. Individuals and families were more expressive about their issues and challenges leading to a more evolved and helpful conversation.

The process of de-stigmatizing mental illnesses in a community and providing treatment to those who are suffering requires a strong nexus of partners to make progress in a holistic manner. Initially, getting different stakeholders together was difficult because of the lack of awareness and resources in the field of mental healthcare. But the project found its footing once it established a network of support from NIMHANS doctors who treated the patients at health camps, Primary Healthcare Centre doctors and the ASHA workers. On their visit, the TLLLF team along with APD and the project partners discussed the impact that was made by the program. Were beneficiaries able to access the free psychiatric drugs? Did the program help in reducing the distance patients had to travel to get treatment? During these discussions, the TLLLF team observed that even amongst the partners, there was an increased sense of support and responsiveness towards mental health aid.

The next leg of the visit took the TLLLF team to the village of Bilichodu where they met a support group that included 15 patients and caregivers. Ujjala Padukone, Deepika Padukone’s mother, being a caregiver herself, was also present in the discussion to share her experiences with the group and encouraged others to share their stories and concerns about their family members. While the discussion revolved around the importance of opening up and seeking help, the team brought about a forward-looking attitude within the group by discussing future possibilities in employment and livelihood options available for the patients.

As the TLLLF team honoured World Mental Health day, 2017 by visiting families, engaging with support groups and reviewing the successes and the challenges in rural mental healthcare, they noticed how the conversation, that was once difficult to start, now had characteristics of support, openness and a positive outlook towards the future. To continue this momentum, the organisation charted out the next steps that will further enrich the dialogue surrounding mental health, in both urban and rural areas. The steps include increasing research on mental health, enhancing the role of social media to drive awareness and decrease stigma and expanding their current programs. To know more, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of The Live Love Laugh Foundation and not by the Scroll editorial team.