It was an era of very long attention spans. People had all the time in the world and only one channel to watch. In fact Hum Log, Doordarshan’s very first TV soap opera in the 1980s lasted a lengthy 156 episodes. Many shows just dragged on slowly (even without commercial breaks) and sometimes so less was fitted into a whole hour.
But amidst all this was a compact almost Twitter-like programme called Ulta Pulta. It presented a funny title sequence (It is still difficult to get the end of the song “Ulta hai! Pulta hain” out of one’s head), a parody on each and every problem faced by the common Indian man, followed by a satirical lecture by the creator Jaspal Bhatti and sometimes followed by another 30-second skit… all packed into a space of roughly 5 minutes!
It was like a blink and you miss it kind of TV serial of that era and we wondered how anyone could pack so much into so little time. All sorts of topics were covered: From the great bumbling Indian bureaucracy to a scooter mechanic taking a customer to a ride, to how the English word “Sorry” has ruined Indian culture.
It was inevitable that this show would be ramped up and Bhatti soon got a half-an-hour slot for Flop Show, which took the Ulta Pulta theme forward. That featured a spoof title song, followed by a short skit explaining the week’s topic, the actual serial followed by a parody song. (“Jis gali main kirayadar se jhagda na ho, us gali main hame ghar lena nahin” in the episode featuring landlord-tenant tensions!)
Bhatti kept production costs down by having his wife Savita produce the show and she also acted as his wife. (Friend Vivek Shauq who also appeared in the show, also died young.) I always wondered how Doordarshan sanctioned only 10 episodes of Flop Show as it had my entire neighbourhood in splits.
But from there Jaspal Bhatti just went berserk and exploded on the scene.
TV serials like Full Tension, Thank you Jijaji and Hye Zindagi Bye Zindagi followed and he also acted in Bollywood films like Aa Ab Laut Chalen and Hamara Dil Aapke Paas Hai.
He had come a long way from holding spoof dramas on the streets during his college days via his Nonsense Club or being a cartoonist in The Tribune.
He continued putting up performances all his life and parodied current events much to the delight of onlookers. Corruption and inflation were popular themes. He effortlessly made ad spoofs and continued to come out with short films throughout his career.
He proudly set up the country’s “First Comedy School” and called it the Mad Arts Jaspal Bhatti Film School.
He first tried a hand in direction with Mahaul Theek Hai, a satire on the Punjab Police. His versatility knew no bounds and he came as a judge on comedy shows and even shook a leg with his wife in the famous dance show Nach Baliye.
He was the proud owner of the Lifetime Achievement Award of the infamous Golden Kela Awards.
It was no surprise that the Ulta Pulta man embraced Twitter (@JaspalBhatti69) and entertained cyberspace with his one-liners. His very last Tweet will always read: BJP 'just pretending' to fight corruption: Sonia Gandhi...and congress pretending to be honest !?!
In his website (www.jaspalbhatti.com), he introduces himself as “They call me the Ulta Pulta man”, something which he remained proud of all his life.
Like Yash Chopra, who died before the release of his last film Jab Tak Hain Jaan, Bhatti died tragically just a day before the release of Power Cut, a Punjabi film which he directed, along with playing the starring role. It’s quite an irony, for he was an electrical engineer by profession.
He died at the young age of 57 in a road accident while promoting his last film.
So long and thanks for the laughs Mr Jaspal Bhatti, we are sure that heaven must be reverberating with laughter right now, even though things have got much quieter here back on Earth!
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He blogs at http://sunilrajguru.com/