Laughter keeps one healthy: Raju Srivastav
For years, he has been tickling our funny bones with his jokes and stand-up comedy — on small screen, on big screen and on stage. The reason why RAJU SRIVASTAV needs no introduction. On World Laughter Day today, the celebrated stand-up comedian talks about his childhood, the initial days in Bombay (now Mumbai) and the importance of reality shows. He also shares an important message on Coronavirus and days of lockdown…
On the concept of World Laughter Day
It is important to celebrate World Laughter Day because happiness and laughter are important for life. Even doctors and researchers across the world say it has been proven that laughter is the best medicine and not limited to being just a saying. I believe the more you laugh, the more you stay healthy. The increasing number of successful laughter therapy cases and the laughter clubs in the country are proof enough that laughter helps one keep healthy. It is said that even if you have to fake laughter, do it as it is beneficial for you. And that you get double the effect if you laugh your heart out. I recently heard that laughter is the best medicine to fight off Coronavirus. So, let us all have a hearty laugh.
Where there’s a will, there’s a way. I remember when we were young, two to three families got together and hire a VCR for 24 hours and watched movies for Rs 100. Back then, we thought if everyone started following this format, all the cinema halls in the country will shut one day. But then what happened? The old cinema halls were renovated with plush settings and single screens turned into big state-of-the-art multiplexes. Likewise, actors made rounds of producers’ and directors’ offices earlier. Now, they have shifted concentration towards web series. So, new ways always open up before the old ones shut. Over the last one month, I have done a few shows — some for medical professionals, others for corporates on my laptop. I had never thought a day will come when I shall be performing live not in front of an audience but a laptop. And then get paid for it too.
Every class in a school has always had one or two students who are fun-loving and play pranks. During my schooldays, I was one among them. The prank I played was to do proxy on behalf of students who were not in class. I would say, ‘present sir’ in different tones and pitches every time the teacher called out a roll number. But then got caught once when the roll number called belonged to a girl and I did the proxy for a boy. Such talent of changing voices was not considered art then. It was only limited to singing, playing instruments…
In our schooldays, parents expected their kids to become government servants as it was a pensionable job. I too was given examples of friends who had got jobs in banks or Railways. No one could imagine that someone who cracked jokes will become so famous and earn so much one day that he will have a staff of 10-15 people.
As I was very fond of dancing, my friends used to call me home and I performed for them on Khaike paan Benaraswala or other Amitabh songs. But then the parents of these very friends stopped them from meeting me as they felt the studies of their kids got affected due to me.
But by that time, the applauses got me interested in becoming a performer. In those days, there were only orchestra shows so that got me interested. Most of these were organised were during Durga Puja or Diwali melas… I started frequenting these regularly and when I returned home late, say around midnight, I was scolded. It was criminal to stay out of home after sunset then.
Due to regular bickering, I started distancing myself from my family. My father was my silent supporter for as a poet, even though he pursued it part-time as he worked as a reader in the courts, he could see the creative streak in me. But as the reins of kids and home were in the hands of my mother, he couldn’t say or do much. I thought to myself that when I am alone even when I am home amid so many people, let me get out of here and explore myself, my life. So I decided to get to Bombay (now Mumbai), the city of dreams, to continue doing orchestra and music shows.
Chalo Bombay (now Mumbai)
I took off from Kanpur for Mumbai in 1982. I was just over 18 then. There were no relatives, no contacts. All I had was confidence and willpower to succeed. At the back of my mind, I knew it would be a difficult period but I was prepared for it. I wanted to enjoy it and not sulk or cry during this phase. I knew I will have to put in loads of effort to carve a niche for myself.
Where I stayed, Johnny Lever and singer Vinod Rathod were my neighbours. Singer Sukhwinder Singh too stayed a short distance away. As all of us were struggling and had limited resources, we shared and made food so that it didn’t burn a hole in one person’s pocket. During those days, there were no mobiles so we found a family with a landline phone. They kept diaries in each of our names in which messages were noted down through the day. On way home at the end of the day, we used to get pick up our diaries and get the messages. Each one of us paid Rs 50 a month. In case the message was urgent, someone from the family came to drop a message in our room. Extra charges were paid for this luxury service.
I feel myself lucky to have got a chance to do live shows as I used to mimic film stars within two years of my arrival in Mumbai including one in Kishore Kumar’s team. I even went to London for shows during those initial years. But whenever I returned home, I was asked by friends and neighbours what I did for a living. As live shows were not recorded and shown on television, I know some of them thought I was fooling them. And that I worked somewhere else.
While live shows or performances in orchestra shows in Kanpur got me Rs 50, I was paid Rs 100 in Mumbai. As all events happened at night, I made rounds of the offices of producers and directors during daytime. It was during this phase that someone advised I learnt driving so that I could earn a living by driving a taxi during day and perform at night or when there were no shows but that somehow it didn’t work out.
On reality shows
Any platform which helps a performer reach out to more and more people is a blessing. It gets you an identity. I had released audio cassettes and had done films but I got recognition and people started recognising me after The Great Indian Laughter Challenge. Reality shows gave my name a face. Earlier, I would be riding a rickshaw which would be playing my cassettes but no one knew I was the one behind it. So I feel we – Sunil Pal, Ehsaan Qureshi, Sudesh Lahiri, Bharati, Sugandha Mishra, Sunil Grover, Sanket Bhonsle, Siddharth, Krushna Abhishek, VIP – owe our identity to reality shows which helped us gain recognition and reach millions of homes.
Change of fortune
Earlier, stand-up comedians or mimicry artistes acted as a relief in between shows of singers but then the roles got reversed. After the reality show, singers performed in between our shows when we took a break. Renowned playback singers wondered as to why would anyone give Rs 15 lakh to someone like me to perform jokes and mimic stars. They would say, ‘He is not a singer so why pay so much?’
The character of Gajodhar
During our summer vacations, we kids used to be visit our maternal grandparents’ place in Bighapur, district Unnao from Kanpur. And there was this barber named Gajodhar bhaiya who came home to cut our hair. He was a great narrator of stories so much so that he would spice them up by adding his own thread of story. Perhaps, it was his idea to make the conversation and the incident interesting and engaging. That stuck in my mind and when I got an opportunity, I used him as a character.
We are six brothers and one sister. Only the youngest, Deepu has taken after me and does events and mimicry. He is in Mumbai too. I have two kid, Ayushman and Antara. While Ayushman is a budding sitarist , Antara is into film direction and making advertisements. She owns an ad agency and co-produced Vodka Diaries starring KK Menon, Ashutosh Rana and Mandira Bedi.
Message on Coronavirus days
People spend all their earnings on making a home. Now the government is saying that the home which you made with so much labour is where you should remain for a few days. So let us support the government in all possible ways. Keep safe and keep laughing.