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Review: ‘Goodnight India’ Is A Pale Imitation Of Old School Television Comedy

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Hosted by standup comedian Amit Tandon and actor Jiya Shankar, Goodnight India is a new addition to the comedy slate of SAB TV, airing every weeknight at 10:30 pm. Billed as “India’s first nighttime family show”, Goodnight India features 20-odd minutes of light, accessible, ‘family-friendly’ standup comedy by Tandon and a revolving cast of new, emerging standup voices, established comedians (like Vipul Goyal, who featured in the first-ever episode on Monday) and comic actors (like Kavita Kaushik, whose future appearance—perhaps over this weekend— has been teased throughout the week in promos).

In theory, this feels like a decent idea. Since Movers and Shakers ended in 2012, we have not had a traditional late-night ‘variety show’ on Hindi-language TV—y’know, a bit of celebrity action, a bit of standup comedy, an enthusiastic in-house band to punctuate the punch lines; everything you could possibly want by way of ‘light entertainment’ at the end of a tough working day. The idea is to see the TV-watching Indian family as one collection of eyeballs that the showrunner has to capture.

In practice, however, Goodnight India is too bland to be really impactful. Roughly 50 per cent of the show is wife jokes of the tired kind, most often deployed by Tandon himself (“My wife feels happier when I say, ‘Sar pe balm lagaa doon?’ than when I say ‘I love you’!” OR “Hum ek doosre ke haath nahi, ek doosre ki galtiyaan pakadte hain”). In the three episodes I have watched so far, there have been no less than three separate routines on the Amitabh Bachchan/Hema Malini film Baghban, including one by Tandon. I know they have to cater to the whole family, but picking the most clichéd and preachy Bollywood example of a ‘family film’—Bachchan plays a kindly patriarch whose grown-up children are almost comically cruel to their parents—feels like lazy thinking.

“Did you like Baghban?”, Tandon asks Shankar at the beginning of the third episode, which aired on Wednesday. Shankar replies that she “liked Salman Khan in it”. Tandon tut-tuts and says, “Is film mein itne sanskaar thay lekin tumhein ismein bhi Salman Khan dikhaa? (This film taught so many family values and you like Salman Khan out of all that?)”

In all honesty, the only way I can be persuaded to watch more of this stuff is if they sideline Tandon and let the younger comics run the show.

Cue canned audience laughter. But this joke, as well as Tandon/Shankar’s respective personas on the show, offer an unintended insight into some of the unspoken rules of Indian pop culture. Tandon, in his late 40s, can whip out the same wife jokes we’ve heard for a decade and still land a plum TV hosting gig. He introduces himself at the beginning of every episode as “produced by mother, directed by wife,” upon which Shankar replies, “I’m Jiya, single and enjoying my life.” I groan every time I hear this, without fail.

So basically, the man is allowed to be comfortably middle-aged on national TV, even cracking jokes about his own over-the-hill career stage. But the woman, of course, has to be young and single and “enjoying her life” (which is one of the many time-honored Indian euphemisms for sexuality). 

Another thing that is supposedly endearing to our parents (I can think of no other reason why it was done here, frankly) but comes across as weird and mega-cringe is Tandon introducing comedians as “passout(s)” from such-and-such college. Vipul Goyal is introduced as “IIT passout” on two separate occasions, for example. Another comedian, Shashwat Maheshwari, is introduced as “BITS Pilani passout”. Are there other 40-somethings like Tandon and Goyal who are still beholden to their college glory days? If so, I am very glad that I don’t know any such people. What purpose, comedic or otherwise, does this introduction serve here? Are these comedians applying for jobs or drafting matrimonial ads on national TV? 

 Which isn’t to say there’s nothing of worth here: I enjoyed some of the jokes made by the younger comics, like Shashi Dhiman from Chandigarh, who’s a part of the first episode. Dhiman, a pharma professional in real life, was quite funny, I thought. Her super-short set revolved around her name and how she has a bone to pick with her parents about it. When her romantic overtures towards a boy named Daisy were rebuffed, she asked him “to adjust”, given his own atypical-around-these-parts name. “Woh adjust karke chala hi gaya”, she says, miming a sight Indian women are quite familiar with: the Indian man crudely ‘adjusting’ his crotch in public.

Similarly, Maheshwari, who’s from Kanpur, builds a reasonably funny routine around the city’s infamously erratic power supply. He says that because his Dad was only seen in the evenings, after office, he didn’t have the best idea about his facial features. “Mere oopar literally mere maa baap ka saaya thaa (My dad came home only in the evenings; only his hazy silhouette was visible to us),” he said.

In all honesty, the only way I can be persuaded to watch more of this stuff is if they sideline Tandon and let the younger comics run the show. But that’s not going to happen, because both Indian families and Indian family shows prefer unfunny (but ‘successful’) old fogies to ‘struggling’ youngsters.

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