Remembering Sharad Joshi and the art of writing

He wrote ‘Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi’, which paved the way for sitcoms.

Do film writers gets more credit than their television counterparts?

Delegates in attendance at the Indian Screenwriters Conference (August 3-4) in Mumbai were familiar with the works of such names as Juhi Chaturvedi (Vicky Donor, Piku), Sudip Sharma (NH10, Udta Punjab) and Tushar Hiranandani (Masti, Dishoom) during a panel discussion on changing gender equations in movies, but most of them drew a blank when Farhan Salaruddin, who has written the television serial Dehleez, asked if anybody knew about the contributions of television writers.

Have TV writers always been invisible? Was there a golden period when literary heavyweights drove small-screen narratives? In the 1980s, when the state-owned television channel Doordarshan began sponsoring television shows, they launched the professional careers of several well-known writers. The success of television serial Hum Log (1982) turned Hindi writer Manohar Shyam Joshi into a celebrity and earned him the epithet of the father of Indian soap operas.

Around the same time, another writer was making history. Sharad Joshi’s work has deeply influenced comedy shows. The late Hindi poet and satirist was posthumously honoured for his contributions to television and film writing at the ISC event.

Born in Ujjain on May 21, 1931, Joshi wrote satirical plays (Ek Tha Gadha Urf Aladat Khan, Andhon Ka Haathi), and was a regular contributor to the newspapers Nav Bharat Times and Nayi Duniya. In the ’70s, he wrote dialogue for such films as Kshitij (1974), Chhoti Si Baat (1975), and Godhuli (1977).

Joshi became a household name in 1984 with Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi , which centred on the lives of a married couple Ranjit (Shafi Inamdar) and Renu Sharma (Swaroop Sampat). Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi was the first sitcom of its kind. It was co-directed by Kundan Shah and Manjul Sinha, and had a viewership rivalling film releases. Shah was initially reluctant to hire Joshi to write the show because his fame as a literary figure preceded him. However, Shah dropped his guard after meeting Joshi, the filmmaker writes in the ISC brochure.

The story goes that Joshi was taking longer than usual to write an episode. A peeved Shah told him off after Joshi missed the deadline. Joshi had written twice the length of the episode. In his defence, Joshi said, “I tried to follow the structure but got carried away by my pen and followed it.” Shah learnt one important lesson from that incident: Joshi enjoyed the organic process of writing more than following a structure.

Apart from writing, Joshi was also known for his stage performances. Screenwriter and general secretary of the Film Writers Association, Kamlesh Pandey, said, “He took gadya [fiction] on stage and made it a visual thing. He took the courage to read out his satirical writings in front of an audience and created his own niche. I would especially go to a kavi sammelan [poetry conference] just to listen to Sharad Joshi. My experience of watching him on stage has been tremendous. He had what you call a dry sense of humor. While reading on stage, he would be poker-faced. He won’t even give away a smile but the audience would burst into laughter at his every line!”

Sharad Joshi on stage.

As Joshi’s television output grew through the shows Devi Ji, Haso Haso, Yeh Duniya Hai Gazab Ki, Guldasta, Daane Anaar Ke, his film work dwindled. Among his better-known films from the 1990s are the romcom Dil Hai Ki Maanta Nahin (1991) and Udaan (1997), which was released after his death on September 5, 1991. He was awarded the Padma Shri in 1990.

In 2009, the television serial Lapataganj – Sharad Joshi Ki Kahaniyon Ka Pata was based on his novel by the same name. The comedy Atithi Tum Kab Jaoge? (2010) was based on Joshi’s essay Tum Kab Jaoge, Atithi from the book Yatha Sambhav.

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