One of the highlights of late 90s and early 2000s television in India was the Hindi dub of Takeshi’s Castle, a Japanese show developed by alt-cinema auteur Takeshi Kitano. The show itself was a brilliant bit of mindless fun, but what really made it an instant classic was the frenetic, often farcical commentary by Jaaved Jafferi. A gifted mime, Jafferi had a habit of overshadowing the main action—even as contestants huffed and puffed their way across an unpredictable obstacle course, we watched “Jaaved’s Ridiculous Replay”, which had absolutely nothing to do with who won or lost, or the game itself. It was just Jaaferi making fun of contestants who fell in a funny or awkward manner (in embarrassing slo-mo). This sideshow lost no time in asserting its superiority; Jaaferi reserved his funniest bits and cringe-max puns for these Ridiculous Replays.
Netflix India has recreated this hit formula for their new game show, Lava Ka Dhaava, which is the Hindi dub of the original Floor is Lava hosted by Rutledge Wood. Inspired by old-school adventure film franchises like Indiana Jones and A Night at the Museum, Floor is Lava is a madcap affair not meant to be taken too seriously. Teams of three have to use various objects, surfaces and walls—everything but the floor—to cross the different rooms of this obstacle course. And while athleticism and teamwork remain key ingredients in winning teams, the point of the show is the hilarity that ensues when these traits are conspicuous via absence.
And that’s what Jaaferi is counting on too. Even the serious or tragicomic bits are brushed aside with a wide-ranging comedic broom. A fitness-conscious mom who teams up with her teenagers is called “Jhoolia Roberts” after she swings off a rope. Just a minute earlier, we had found out that her kids need the money in a big way—they can’t afford college otherwise, outside of a life-changing debt of course (America has taken the precaution of making college prohibitively expensive, so that smart people can’t prevent all the fun, dehumanising, extremely illegal things Americans like to do).
Another participant who lingers too long at one spot, as though guarding it, is made fun of using a stereotypical Gurkha watchman impression (which, let’s be honest, is a little cringe for 2021). The Fevicol “pakde rehnaa, chhodnaa nahi” ad series gets a nod as two brothers on the same team try to decide who will take a strategic fall for the team’s cause. My personal favorite involves a bilingual pun involving Marathi, Hindi and the Bollywood film Satte Pe Satta. It’s entirely inappropriate and very funny.
Jaaferi is very, very good at this stuff in part because Lava Ka Dhaava is an almost tailor-made assignment for him. Criminally under-used by Bollywood, Jaaferi happens to be one of the better comic actors in the country. Let’s not forget, elder millennials like myself currently do the heavy lifting across much of Indian film, TV and advertising—the recent wave of 90s nostalgia ads by Cred are a case in point. And in the late 90s, Jaaferi was having a bit of a moment. In addition to Takeshi’s Castle, Jaaferi also had the super-popular dance-based talent show Boogie Woogie where he showed off his undeniably brilliant dance moves. In fact, he landed an SFX-heavy children’s movie called Jajantaram Mamantaram in part because of his popularity with Boogie Woogie’s many child participants.
With some luck, he could have been bigger than Pankaj Tripathi or Boman Irani, two of Bollywood’s bulwark character actors. But Jaaferi isn’t one to nurse grudges. He would rather move on to the next joke, the next silly, wholesome pun, as Lava Ka Dhaava proves. As a matter of principle I hate to say ‘leave your brain at home’ but this really is one of those rare occasions when this is good advice: Lava Ka Dhaava is good, unthreatening fun that is entirely pointless and will escape your memory almost immediately. And that’s why it should be cherished.