Dilip Joshi has done many roles in his career so far, but the character of Jethalal, that he plays in the show Taarak Mehta Kaa Ooltah Chashmah, has overshadowed them all. The Gujarat-born actor tells Giridhar Jha that this serial, a rib-tickler that has already surpassed 2,544 episodes, will continue to run until the audiences get tired of it, which does not appear to be happening anytime soon. Excerpts:
Taarak Mehta Kaa Ooltah Chashmah has completed ten years. An uninterrupted run of a decade on television, how does it feel?
It’s a surreal experience, to be honest. Never in my wildest dream did I think that it would last so long. It is getting good TRPs more than a decade since its first episode was telecast. It would not have been possible without the love and blessings of the audiences, not only from across the country but also abroad.
When the role of Jethalal was offered to you, did you think it would become so popular?
Its characters were originally conceived by the legendary Gujarati journalist Taarak Mehta in 1972, when he started writing a weekly column in the Gujarati magazine Chitralekha. Until his demise, he had been writing regularly about characters like Jethalal and Champaklal and their life in a chawl. They became very popular among Gujaratis across the world. The chawl became a housing society in the serial. I think people from all age groups relate to its characters and their relationships with one another. Jethalal, for instance, is an obedient son, a loving father and husband, a good neighbour and a good boss at his shop.
The family audience just gets the serial’s style of humour. We extract laughs from day-to-day situations and don’t use double meaning. The entire family sits together to watch it. TV was missing something like this. All these factors have turned it into one of the most loved serials of all time. Being a Gujarati, I was aware of the popularity of Chitralekha’s characters and humour. It was the staple of Gujarati households in India and abroad, but I had no idea that the show based on this work would have such a pan-India appeal.
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The serial also delivers social messages through comedy…
For how long will this serial go on? As long as it is liked by the audience. We have no intention to take it off air.
Yes, and it does it without being preachy. It depicts the virtues of Bharatiya sanskriti through characters such as Jethalal, who respect their fathers and don’t mind being scolded by them. There are neighbours who, despite their minor differences, live happily with each other. All these things are very positive, unlike the majority of saas-bahu serials where the only plot is the mother-in-law and daughter-in-law engaged perennially in kitchen politics and conspiracy against each other. Tell me where in real life do you see such characters? Today, people lead stressful lives and want to forget about it all for half an hour by watching Taarak Mehta.
Jethalal appears to have overshadowed Dilip Joshi, the actor who plays him.
I consider it an achievement if Jethalal has put Dilip Joshi in the shade. After all, an actor has to live the character. It goes to show that I have played him well. I had done a few other characters in the past which had also become popular. People used to call me by the name of those characters when they were on air. But public memory is short and they tend to forget the characters once a show goes off air. Although, I think it will be difficult to forget Jethalal that quickly.
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Are you doing any other serial or film?
Where’s the time? I work for about 22-24 days a month for Taarak Mehta, sometimes continuously for 15 days without a break.
Many people think that Gokuldham Society reflects a mini-India…
Absolutely. It’s a place where couples from different castes and religions stay together in harmony. They even celebrate each other’s festivals.
Comedy is a difficult genre. Isn’t it challenging tickling the funny bones of the audiences day after day, year after year?
It is. You have to come up with something new in each episode. Unlike soap operas, this serial does not have an emotional track which you can stretch for six months. It is difficult, but I think it has been blessed by god. I have been a follower of the Swaminarayan sect (of the Akshardham temple) and I think that a comedy serial cannot run for more than a decade without the blessings of the almighty. There is a superpower guiding Taarak Mehta.
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Most from the show’s team have stuck to it since its inception. There must be a family-like atmosphere during shoots.
Oh yes, there is a familial atmosphere on the sets. All the artistes are so grounded! We understand each other quite well and the success hasn’t gone to our heads.
Do you think the advent of over-the-top platforms such as Netflix will affect television’s popularity?
Digital content definitely poses a challenge. The younger generation is hooked to digital content. OTT platforms such as Netflix are coming up with some solid stuff. You know, content was always important, but now it has become more important than ever. If television has to survive, it has to provide that quality to people. We cannot afford to get complacent thinking the serial will always remain popular. Even now, if we spot anything missing in the script, we take it up and do not start shooting until we are fully satisfied.
What next, after Jethalal?
I don’t know. I have never planned anything. I believe in enjoying the moments. We should enjoy the journey as long as it lasts. I had never expected Taarak Mehta to be such a huge hit. Who knows I will get something better than this in the future!