In 1983, he became immortal by playing a corpse in Kundan Shah’s rib tickling comic caper Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron. Satish Shah, perhaps, is the only actor in the world who invoked a smile upon our faces by lying motionless. And when he spoke, we all burst into laughter.
In his new avatar as a judge on Sony’s Comedy Circus, Shah lets loose all his emotions. Buoyed by close friend and legend comic Johnny Lever’s addition to the judges’ panel, Satish Shah talks his experience on CC and more in a brief chat with us.
Why have you chosen to be a judge on Comedy Circus?
I got a call from the show’s production house and after giving ear for few seconds, I hung up! They got back again and the first thing the caller uttered was ‘it’s an emergency’. Naturally, I panicked but slowly these men revealed their intention and I thought of why not give it a try. They came up with a new idea and so, I was keen to explore it.
Do you think that a pair of an actor and stand-up comedian will succeed in making people laugh?
Initially, even I was a bit skeptical, but once I saw their performances, I knew we are on the right track. This truly is a challenge for both of them. These TV actors were, perhaps, performing live for the first time on TV. Similarly, it is a challenge for the comedians to co-exist with these actors.
Which pair has impressed you so far?
Honestly, it’s too early to rate them. Just like it’s difficult for these participants, we judges too have found the going tough. For instance, last week, we all thought that Kiran Karmarkar and Sunil Sawara would get eliminated, but as it turned out Varun Badola and Deepak Dutta. So, we at the moment will refrain from picking any favourite. However, I must confess that Swapnil Joshi and VIP will be tough to beat. I’m also impressed with Ali Asgar, who comes across as a natural comic.
Is there a standard method of judging on this show?
Not quite standard but we all have different roles to play. For instance, Archana looks after chemistry, timing and outlook. She even passes comments on what they are wearing. I tend to judge them merely on their performance, but a comic guru like Johnny will look at it from an all together different perspective. Also, with Johnny around, it makes out task a bit easier. Thus far, we have been a bit lenient, but from hereon we’ll call things straight. Citing poor health will not be termed as an excuse.
Talking of judges, wasn’t Pakistani comedian Umer Shariff scheduled to be on the show?
He committed himself dearly, unfortunately, there were some problems with his visa and thus he couldn’t’ make it. But we wouldn’t cringe now as we have got the best man (Johnny Lever) as his replacement.
What’s the difference between the Pakistani comedians and their Indian counterparts?
There isn’t much difference but the Pakistanis have better command over language. Swapnil Joshi, a Maharashtrian, has worked extremely hard but errs in language. I, being a Gujarati too faced similar problems, but I laid emphasis on improving my Hindi – which I invariably did. (Smiles)
Pakistani performers do come to India. However, Indian artists can’t perform there.
This is a complex issue. Anyway, if they don’t invite us, it’s entirely their loss.
Who do you think is the best stand-up comedian in the industry today?
Ah! I don’t think I’ll have to think twice. There is only Johnny Lever and I haven’t seen anyone as good as him. He is the only stand-up comedian who can even make you cry with his joke. His jokes often carry social messages. Most artists mimic, but Johnny doesn’t, he truly impersonates a person.
How has comedy changed with time?
The likes of Mehmood, Jalal Agha, Dinesh Hingoo and Johnny Whiskey were the forefathers of comedy in Indian cinema. People thronged to cinema halls just to watch these men. But in 1960, a new trend emerged when Dilip Kumar played a humourous character in the film Kohinoor. This concept caught viewer’s imagination and from thereon, directors started casting lead actors into comic roles. This proved to be our loss as we were given little footage in the film. At times, we went totally unnoticed. Unfortunately, this trend continued for generations. Even a Govinda, who started his career as a serious actor, switched to comedy and reaped success. Today, things are changing, albeit slowly.
Does that mean comedians have never got their due in Bollywood?
Johnny Lever has always got his due (laughs). As for us, we just had to make do with whatever we got. Earlier, I used to make 50,000 a month, now I can get the same amount in a single day by merely showing up on television. It’s not just us who are making money; our country itself is going through a period of economic revolution.
While there is a plethora of comedy shows on TV, we don’t see super quality ones these days. Your take.
Sadly, that is the case today. The only one that succeeded in recent times is Office Office. Here too, the makers couldn’t recreate the magic in its second edition.
What about your serials?
Frankly speaking, after Filmi Chakkar, I failed to amuse the viewers. Sarabhai vs Sarabhai is very close to my heart and I sincerely felt that it would work, but you people are responsible for its closure. With the lack of good writers, it’s impossible to tickle most ribs on a regular basis.
Leave aside comedy serials, didn’t you think of acting in daily soaps?
Well, I was offered a bounty to act in one of the premier saas-bahu soaps, but I promptly refused it. I just wouldn’t accept any offer for the sake of money. I owe a responsibility to the audience, so, I wouldn’t do anything that I’m not comfortable with. Besides, I don’t have the patience to work for 17 hours. Throughout my career, I worked in only one shift. I love spending time with my wife. What’s the point in making money if I don’t have the time to spend it? I don’t want to live like a rich man and die poorly.
Which films are you currently doing?
I’m currently shooting for Ravi Chopra’s Bhootnath, where I’m playing the character of a school principal. Since, I’m under contract, I can’t reveal much. I’m also featuring in Dhoom Dhadaka – the story’s about a don (played by Anupam Kher), who one fine day remembers his lost brother and begins hunting for him with my aid.
Were you embarrassed by your spitting act in Main Hoon Naa?
Oh! That was really embarrassing, especially when I had to spit on Shahrukh. In one of the scenes, we had to do18 retakes. However, Shahrukh, being a thorough professional, took it in his stride.
Finally, how has been this journey?
It’s been a true joyride. I’m glad that I have left my mark not just in the industry but being appreciated by the public is what I cherish the most. There haven been lows but I call them lulls. My wife and friends have helped me survive these times. I don’t have any children and I’m not that rich but I’m completely satisfied with life. There’s no loan to settle or repay any debt. At 56, I am enjoying life.
By MAYUR LOOKHAR