Is 'Bulbulay' bad for comedy?

Published September 8, 2014
With high ratings, quite a few awards, an international audience and a 300-episode library, Bulbulay is definitely a 'successful' show.
With high ratings, quite a few awards, an international audience and a 300-episode library, Bulbulay is definitely a 'successful' show.

Writers are required to adhere to some semblance of neutrality and present an unbiased picture to our readers, all without enforcing our opinions.

Sometimes though, painting a neutral picture is the most unfair thing we can do. Sometimes, neutrality borders on denial. I start with this grim note because I want to lead in to a simple question: Is Bulbulay bad for comedy?

With high TRP (target rating point) ratings, quite a few awards, an international audience and a 300-episode library, it is definitely a 'successful' show.

For those of you unfamiliar with the property, Bulbulay is a sitcom that follows the formula introduced by Family Front back in the 90’s; the exploits of a less than intelligent family trying to survive their ignorance in an otherwise intelligent world.

It is such a runaway success that it has become the formula behind numerous major sitcoms on the air today. The plot essentially boils down to how the characters' attempts at simple tasks are thwarted by their sparing use of common sense.

 Nabeel and Mehmood Sahab dressed as women for one of the episodes.
Nabeel and Mehmood Sahab dressed as women for one of the episodes.

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I find it an interesting, satirical look into the delusion that supplements stupidity. On offer are some hilarious one-liners and oft zany situations with entertaining slapstick moments every now and again.

That said, Bulbulay and it’s clones have a shelf life.

The audience gets an occasional quick laugh from the show, but it leaves no lasting memories, no personal journeys, no introspection. Its jokes and catchphrases will not make anyone’s list in the future, once the novelty wears off.

Bulbulay is this successful for one simple reason: it has no competition.

All Bulbulay needed to do was not be too terrible, and judging from ratings, the audience seems to have ruled that it's not.

Family Front had a leg up on Bulbulay because it introduced this idea in recent memory. The idea was funny. Was. At first.

Now, they have been repeating the same formula to the point that you can telegraph a joke as it comes. If you are a fan of Family Front, you've probably figured out entire episodes of Bulbulay as soon as they start.

Granted, there are no rules in comedy and “to each their own” is a moderately reasonable school of thought. However, millions of people tuning in to the likes of Hasb-e-Haal and its clones can’t all have that distinct a palette, so there must certainly be a common denominator through which we identify comedy. These talk shows are witty, layered and hit us where we live — we can all relate to that.

Bulbulay's 200th episode

Comedy is not limited to the volume of punchlines delivered, a large part is played by how well it is timed. The industry has garnered a fear of experimentation. With the success of Bulbulay, a hoard of clones popped up on other channels, all utilising the same formula of humour through hyper literal interpretation, over-acting and outlandish situations nobody would ever relate to.

The creators seem to distrust the audience’s perceptiveness to the jokes, so they water the content down, cue a laugh track, and play that Bulbulay song; so you know exactly when to laugh and how much.

If we take a trip back to the days of Fifty-Fifty, we can see how it worked on so many levels. There was satire, there was parody, there was absurdism and slapstick all fit nicely into a single sketch. The entire show was one gigantic social commentary.

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Similarly, the hysterically funny VJ, operating on a micro-budget, managed to generate laughs which were much more memorable. That proves that our audience is capable of processing smart, layered jokes.

So, perhaps it is time to start letting different comedies shine through?

Instead of copying the formula, creators should tell themselves that the audience demands humour programming. To serve that end, Bulbulay should be part of our history as the show that launched the golden era of comedy programming, not the era of Bulbulay clones (which is much more likely at this point).


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