Updated: June 18, 2020 2:53:51 pm
As fans of ‘Taarak Mehta ka Ooltah Chashma’ who had missed last evening’s episode were catching up on their favourite television show at noon Wednesday – it was the replay of the 500th – Taarak Mehta appeared on the screen to thank viewers and hoped the show would go on till a 1000 episodes. It has run almost a decade. By then, in the real world Taarak Mehta had breathed his last. Age had caught up with his body but not his spirit. When speech failed him, he used to speak with his bright eyes or a wave of the hand, say people who knew him closely.
Apart from his other humour scripts, this particular televised serial inspired by his column in Chitralekha magazine since 1971, said to be India’s longest comedy serial, had made him hugely popular, creating fans of protagonists Jethalal and Dayabhabhi among viewers across neighbourhoods including the Indian community abroad. Born in Ahmedabad in Khadia, a neighbourhood known to have inspired revolutionaries, Mehta moved to Mumbai in the late 1950s. Apart from being editor of a Gujarati daily, he worked for 26 years in the Films Division working his way up from a script writer to a gazetted officer. He returned to Ahmedabad in the late 90s to live outside the Walled city, in Ambawadi area.
“Having grown up in pols, and having seen the chawls of Mumbai, he set his characters in these neighbourhoods,” says Mahesh Shah of Chitralekha.
His four page column ‘Duniya Ne Undha Chashma’ in Chitralekha became very popular among readers. But the television serial took Mehta’s writings out of this elite niche to the wide world. Dealing with everyday social issues, weaving in messages of communal harmony, public hygiene in a simple satirical narrative stopping short of the slap stick…Ooltah Chashma quickly caught on even with young children taking the place of cartoons like Doraemon, Chhota Bheem in most homes. Mehta’s humour was a class apart from his Gujarati humourist peers. Those who knew him say he was inspired by Jyotindra Dave.
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The character of Tapudo, in the Ooltah Chashma – the teenager who reflects on societal issues, was an instant hit. It is said that the ‘Tappu Sena’ that Patidar quota leader Hardik Patel briefly launched, of young Patidar children, was inspired by this character.
“Tapudo, in the Chitralekha column however, has not grown up, even over two generations of readership, and while the one in the magazine is a naughty boy, the one in the TV serial is comparatively calmer,” says Shah.
Mehta did not let the humour leave his daily life as well. At one of the Gujarat Literature Festivals in Ahmedabad, a couple of years ago, another humourist Vinod Bhatt and Mehta were spotted having a funny exchange, with Bhatt on the stage, and Mehta sitting in the front row on a wheel chair in the audience. Someone handed Mehta a bottle of water and Bhatt remarked from the stage, “it is only water, please have it”, as everyone burst into laughter. Mehta had always been candid about his drinking habit. He provoked those around him to find their funny bone and keep it.
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