Comedies were never a saleable proposition in Hindi films down the decades. A rare Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi (which top-lined big name Ashok Kumar), Bhoot Bungla and the South remake Pyar Kiye Jaa were among the few exceptions that were by no means super-hits. Some films like Padosan initially flopped but later became cult. Even as comedy tracks were a commercial compulsion in most films (like the serious Pyaasa), it was generally believed that total comedies were a no-no. Even the first known rom-coms (romantic comedies) — Tere Ghar Ke Saamne and Professor—are now remembered not as fun movies but as ‘light’ romances starring big names!
Things started slowly changing in the 1970s, mainly though some films from Hrishikesh Mukherjee and Basu Chaterjee. But it was in the 1990s, with the smash success of Aankhen¸ a crime caper complete with a monkey, two Govinda’s, two Kader Khan’s and two Raj Babbar’s, that David Dhawan and Govinda together opened the doors to comedy, and Govinda emerged as the first comic hero who was also a top star, after Kishore Kumar.
Slowly, the Indian viewer supposedly learnt to laugh and likewise make the filmmakers chortle all the way to the bank. Today, comedy sells, primarily through these six schools of ‘laughing matter’.
To David Dhawan, editor par excellence who turned director with assorted genres goes the undiluted credit for making comedies saleable, and showing Govinda (and later even Anil Kapoor and Salman Khan) in a comic light.
The flagship film was Aankhen, though David had experimented with big chunks of humour in Shola Aur Shabnam and Bol Radha Bol earlier. But, probably to make this kind of fare acceptable to the masses, David was never above using a crass level of comedy, often bordering on double entendre even in lyrics, in films like Raja Babu, Gharwali Baaharwali and more.
David even remade movies from the South and Hollywood sources, even rehashing portions of Hindi films like Do Phool in Aankhen, Gol Maal in Coolie No. 1, Bawarchi in Hero No.1 and Pyar Kiye Jaa in Haseena Maan Jaayegi.
Nevertheless, his writers and he brought in the cocktail of big stars plus hilarious situations and one-liners. His last two films, Chashme Baddoor (an official remake with major modifications of the 1982 successful comedy Chashme Buddoor) and Main Tera Hero (with son and top star Varun Dhawan) have shown that his humour quotient is getting cleaner and classier like some of his best work earlier (Coolie No. 1, Jodi No.1, Maine Pyar Kyun Kiya, Partner).
Among David’s frequent writers was Anees Bazmee, who soon turned director. While his debut actioner Hulchul turned turtle, his second film, Pyaar To Hona Hi Tha in 1998, hit the bull’s-eye as a romantic comedy leagues funnier than its original source, the Hollywood rom-com French Kiss.
Still, it took Anees seven more years to fully get into the comic groove. And that was with one of Hindi cinema’s best comic movies, No Entry, in 2005. In the year to come, his delayed Sandwich came and flopped, but later become a cult hit on television!
Arguably, the most consistent of late among the comic directors, Anees is now known for mammoth-budget comic opus-es with climaxes that are never forgotten (No Entry, Welcome, Singh Is Kinng, Ready, Welcome Back) and has just released Mubarakan. Anees’ comedy is also stubbornly wholesome, where crass does not come in even by oversight, and so families flock to his movies.
To Priyadarshan goes the eternal credit for (permanently) raising the bar of comedy with the 2000 Hera Pheri. At his best, Priyan was incredible. He changed the images of many actors by having the vision of casting them against the grain, like action hulks Akshay Kumar and Suniel Shetty and ‘villain’ Paresh Rawal in Hera Pheri itself. His characters were not only iconic but earthy (but for his Hollywood rip-off Garam Masala), and he even made dark comedy side-splittingly hilarious, as we saw in Hungama, Malamaal Weekly, Mere Baap Pahele Aap (again a flop that became television cult) and Bhool Bhulaiya.
For Rajkumar Hirani, comedy was a means to an end—but what an end! The vital messages designed for society emerged even more hard-hitting in their impacts with this vehicle of humour when we watched Munna Bhai MBBS, Lage Raho Munna Bhai, 3 Idiots and PK. Without the insecurity of making films by the dozen, he scored big every single time with his unique formula of giving us lumps in the throat right in the middle of a comic scene, and a sudden and unexpected guffaw during an emotional sequence!
Indra Kumar’s comedy yielded mixed results. After delivering Hindi cinema’s first adult comedy in Masti, he went on to a totally universal level of humour in Dhamaal. He then entered the whacky zone with Double Dhamaal, triumphed in the brazen sex comedy domain with Grand Masti and came a cropper with his mix of horror and adult comedy in Great Grand Masti.
Though no master at the game, he is now poised to go wholesome again in the third film in the Dhamaal franchise.
Last, but not the least, is the unique Rohit Shetty. He is our answer to the Hollywood masters of action comedy, but with an Indian flavour. His entry into this zone was with his second film, Golmaal—Fun Unlimited, a modest success that is very popular today. His last few films have had more of action, but that is an element he seamlessly blends into his comedies as well.
Rohit Shetty fans are now waiting for Golmaal Again, the fourth film in this franchise, to come on par with his comic masterpieces—especially the consecutive trio of Golmaal Returns, All The Best and Bol Bachchan that are uproariously funny. His last real comedy, Golmaal 3, was diluted more than a shade by emotional angles, but proved a big hit too.