gRowing into a middle-class family, all I had was an old TV and CD player. No cable or DishTV or Tata Sky – my family never felt the need. But around me there were worried friends. How could a child grow up without television? This led one of them to start sending me DVDs with recordings of Taarak Mehta ka Ooltah Chashmah episodes. But nearly 14 years later, the iconic show, which introduced Jethalal and his family to the world, has become more than stale. With speculation about actor Shailesh Lodha, who plays Taarak Mehta, potentially leaving the franchise, there’s little fans can look back on. It served its purpose in an era without OTT, but Hindi TV no longer needs it. Taarak Mehta needs rest.
Even now, Taarak Mehta ka Ooltah Chashmahwhich began in July 2008, operates 24/7 on Sony SA. The only difference is that in about 6-7 years, the warm family show began to feel alien. The kids on the show are all grown up now, and with them, so are we. That the Gokuldham Society and its members are subject to change beyond their characteristics and typicality simply feels wrong. It’s embarrassing to watch Gogi, the adorable little Sardar child who made the most unreasonable demands and required constant supervision, as an overgrown student.
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The Legacy and Success of Taarak Mehta
The TV show touched a whole generation of Indian children in a way that allowed them to sit with their families at the table. In reality, Taarak Mehta established itself as the best alternative for parents who did not want their children to watch too much television. For many, the show was their first foray into the idea of ’mini-India’ – as members of Gokuldham anointed themselves. Although the show has its own set of problematic elements and reinforces stereotypes, it means a lot to a generation of children who watch it as comforting content. Take, for example, the whole track where the people of Gokuldham create a fake chudail stopping a gang from carrying out illegal activities is something I can watch over and over again.
The main appeal of the TV show is the idea of ethics and “Indian values” at the very heart of its scripts. Taarak Mehta gives people hope that even if bad things happen, those who are true to themselves will eventually be right. To his credit, he also spoke on a host of social issues and raised awareness about them in his lighthearted way. It also had an age-inclusive cast that set it apart from other family dramas, beyond the confines of a typical female audience focusing on saas bahu serial. The lack of OTT platforms was also a reason for the show’s success.
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An institution of nostalgia
But for a few years, the charm has disappeared, it has escaped from the popular imagination. Although still in production, it has become an institution of nostalgia. Memes and social media references around the TV show are selected from old plot lines. GenZ and Millennials are adamant about maintaining the legacy of authentic distribution and the concept of Taarak Mehta alive. Daya Ben (Disha Vakani) left the show for a maternity break and never returned. Taarak Mehta of the show is now rumored to leave. They changed the heart of the show – Tapu (Raj Anadkat) – a few years ago. Sodhi (Gurucharan Singh) was replaced, Nattu Kaka (Ghanshyam Nayak) died last year, and Gokuldham members renovated their homes and changed the interior design of the company, even the architecture and space of the new Taarak Mehta evokes no sense of familiarity.
The advent of stand-up and improv on OTT platforms may also have rendered the niche of slapstick comedy with thunderous background music obsolete. The characters, which once seemed funny, are no longer. Neither does the moralizing tone of the TV series. Jethalal is always craving fafda–Jalebi is now monotonous and redundant. And the constant intervention of actors to promote their films through the series makes it look more like a marketing gimmick than a story. Even the nature of the issues they deal with have become repetitive or mundane – dragging out Champaklal’s worry about a dream for almost three episodes shows that the script and characters are overwhelmed beyond justification. Just like the Truman Show, it feels like no matter what, everything Taarak Mehta the plots have kind of been the same for 14 years. Ideas run out and creativity can run out. And it’s good to accept it.
Even though the TV show is still garnering a pretty decent TRP, the question is whether it should operate or just accept the fact that its telecast prime is over and give our childhood a sweet ending. Now that they even have a Guinness World Record for being the longest-running soap opera of all time, it’s high time the characters came out of their shells and stayed with us in a different form – the memory of our childhood that we carry with us forever.
Views are personal.
(Edited by Srinjoy Dey)