When the first-ever episode of Taarak Mehta Ka Ooltah Chashmah aired on Sony SAB (then SAB TV) on 28 July, 2008, a teenaged, baby-faced Virat Kohli was still a few weeks away from making his debut for Team India—let that gently sink in. Fifteen years is an awfully long time for a daily sitcom, whichever way you slice it. TMKOC has now completed a staggering 3800+ episodes across these 15 years and despite widespread criticism of its post-pandemic episodes, continues to attract a solid fan-base across the Hindi-speaking belt.
TMKOC has been adapted from a weekly column by the Gujarati writer Tarak Mehta, originally published in the Marathi-Gujarati weekly Chitralekha. If you’ve been biding your time in Captain America-style deep-freeze these last 15 years, here are the highlights, in easy-to-read bullet points.
- The setting: The fictional ‘Gokuldham Cooperative Housing Society’ in Goregaon East, Mumbai. Often referred to as ‘mini-India’ by residents due to its (perceived) diversity.
- The central comedic duo: Jethalal (Dilip Joshi) and Taarak Mehta (currently played by Sachin Shroff, until 2022 by Shailesh Lodha). Jethalal is a Gujarati merchant who’s uneducated but resourceful, a successful businessman but naïve, deeply silly but endearing. His friend and neighbour Taarak Mehta generally gets Jethalal out of scrapes, usually in a way that highlights a societal or practical problem, public-service-announcement style.
- Other crucial characters include Mehta’s wife Anjali Taarak Mehta, sometimes called ‘ATM’ (Sunayana Fozdar), the treasurer of Gokuldham, Krishnan Iyer (Tanuj Mahashabde), his wife Babita Iyer (Munmun Dutta; Jethalal privately has the hots for her), Aatmaram Bhide (Mandar Chandwadkar) the secretary of Gokuldham, his paapad-selling wife Madhu (Sonalika Joshi), resident gearhead Roshan Singh Sodhi (Gurucharan Singh) who runs a garage, his wife who is also called Roshan (Jennifer Mistry Bansiwal) et al. That last bit about the Sikh man with the eponymous wife is possibly inspired by the politician, The Great Indian Laughter Challenge judge, and ex-Team India batter Navjot Sidhu, whose wife, a politician, is also called Navjot Sidhu.
Just a cursory look at some of the landmark episodes of the show reveals the key to its popularity. The ‘water tank’ episode, for example, which sees most characters queuing up with their buckets —Gokuldham’s water supply has gone awry. It’s a highly relatable phenomenon for middle-class viewers and has racked up 129 million views on YouTube. Similarly, another episode deals with Jethalal’s fear of dogs and how the residents of Gokuldham react to it (some help him, others score cheap points); over 10 million views. In the latter episode, Taarak Mehta’s closing monologue, where he usually delivers the ‘moral of the story’, has the kind of one-liner that is a distillation the show’s pragmatic humour: “Insaan ki teen cheezon ke baare mein logon ko pataa nahi chalnaa chahiye—uski dhan-daulat, uska password, aur uski kamzori. (Three things should be kept confidential: your wealth, your password and your weaknesses.)”
Relatability, street smarts and a certain Aesop’s fables-like wisdom; these are the pillars of TMKOC. Throw in crossovers (with other popular Sony shows like CID et al) and celebrity guest appearances (lots of film stars make cameos to promote their movies), and you have the makings of a winner.
However, down the years there has been persistent criticism around familiar lines. Any show that runs this long is bound to recycle some of its tropes and themes—TMKOC is no different in this regard. The titular character’s relentless moralising can sound like a drag on occasion. Besides, the much-talked-about diversity of Gokuldham falls flat when you consider that there’s barely any Muslim representation on the show—a shopkeeper named Abdul appears infrequently and it’s notable that he is not a resident and is seen at all times only outside the society, at his shop.
During the first wave of Covid-19 in Delhi, when a Tablighi Jamaat congregation in Delhi was termed ‘a super-spreader’ event, the Muslim population in the city was unfairly targeted both online and offline. TMKOC made the cynical decision to introduce Covid-19 in Gokuldham via Abdul—and significantly, he is shown to be non-cooperative (at least at first) with the doctors and Gokuldham residents.
Over the last year or so, TMKOC has found itself drawn into several controversies. Shailesh Lodha, who played Taarak Mehta until 2022, quit the show and earlier this year, sued the makers for due wages. In May 2023, frequent guest star Monika Bhadoriya (who plays Bawri) accused producer Asit Kumarr Modi of underpaying several actors and presiding over an abusive atmosphere on-set. This after Jennifer Mistry Bansiwal (who plays Roshan Sodhi) had already accused Modi of sexual harassment in March this year, alongside co-accused exec producer Jatin Bajaj and project head Sohail Ramani.
Whether TMKOC survives these serious charges and lives to fight another day remains to be seen. But it would take a brave person to bet against a sitcom that has now seen 15 summers with no sign of stopping or slowing down.