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India lost one of its most popular comedians in October 2012, when Jaspal Bhatti died in a car accident at the age of 57.
On his sixth death anniversary, The Quint caught up with his partner in both professional and personal capacity, wife Savita Bhatti.
Savita, who spent 32 years working and living with the man she calls her mentor and companion, says she tries to be strong and funny when she talks about him. “But my tears of pride fail me,” she says.
“As a husband, he was extraordinary, but as a co-actor and director, he was extremely professional and very strict. He wouldn’t shy away from scolding me on sets.”Savita Bhatti, Comedian and Wife of Jaspal Bhatti
“Bhatti moulded me into the person I am today,” she says, adding that he believed in the power of education and encouraged her to keep studying after they were married.
“When we got married, he asked me to study further even though I had a graduation and a teaching diploma. I did my journalism and post-graduation after marriage. Sometimes, I feel it’s also the men in your life who can empower you.”Savita Bhatti, Comedian and Wife of Jaspal Bhatti
‘There Was a Method to His Madness’
Jaspal Bhatti was known for highlighting the issues facing the common man with his humorous wit. His deadpan delivery, crisp writing, and sharp commentary made him a household name.
“There was a method to his madness,” says Savita. An early riser, Jaspal Bhatti would go for a long morning walk and by the time he would be back, he would have worked on his script and new ideas. What’s more, he would also rehearse lines by saying them out loud in public.
“Initially, when he started working for Doordarshan, they told him that his accent had a Punjabi touch. So, he would go to Rose Garden every morning and read his script aloud, which helped him work on it.”Savita Bhatti
While he believed in improvisation and encouraged it, Savita claims Jaspal had a very clear vision of what he wanted. He wouldn’t tweak or change anything that would compromise the quality of the content, she says.
In a bid to keep Jaspal Bhatti’s legacy alive, his family runs his Nonsense Club (a comedy club that he started in Chandigarh) and the MAD Arts Jaspal Bhatti film studio. The family also organises the trilingual Humour Festival in Chandigarh.
Savita says that the stand-up acts and social commentary that she has done so far pales in comparison to Jaspal’s work.
“We are all trying to do as much as we can but even if we can reach 1% of what he did, we would think we have been successful.”Savita Bhatti
Jaspal Bhatti Inspired Sunil Grover & Today’s Comedians
When asked about contemporary Indian comedians, Savita says that all comedians today sound the same, despite the fact that they have better opportunities. But they can only be judged after 10 years, she adds.
The major difference lies in their USP and approach, Savita says, adding that while everyone tries to sell themselves, her husband was trying to sell a vision.
“He always had hope in his comedy. So even though he was talking about various problems, when people watched his show they felt like they are in it together and that there is a way out.”Savita Bhatti, Comedian and Wife of Jaspal Bhatti
He gave comedy in India a professional status and helped show aspiring comedians that they could lead successful lives as artists, she says.
A number of comedians, like Sunil Grover – whose career was launched by Bhatti – have borrowed from his style, but have a long way to go, she says.
‘Success Didn’t Come Easy to Him’
Savita says that despite the struggles he faced, Jaspal became successful because he never stopped working no matter what.
His portrayal of the issues facing the common man resonated with the audience, and helped erode the offensive stereotypes that are associated with the Sikh community, she says.
In an industry where Sikhs were stereotyped as buffoons, when people saw a Sardar doing comedy and making sense, it changed the image of the Sikhs in minds of peopleSavita Bhatti, Comedian and Wife of Jaspal Bhatti
For someone who was politically very aware and floated ideas about starting political parties named after government scams, Jaspal Bhatti never wanted to be a politician. He was a true artist, who wasn’t always given the respect he deserved. He had to struggle to earn it, she says.
A people’s person, working on slice of life comedy, Jaspal Bhatti derived his inspiration from real life conversations that helped make his comedy relevant. His comedy lives on in the hearts of many. As Savita Bhatti puts it:
I wrote in one of my Facebook posts once that Jaspal ji, you tricked us into believing you are gone when you never left. You’re here. You’re very much here.Savita Bhatti
(This story was first published on 25 October 2017. It has been reposted from The Quint’s archives to mark the death anniversary of Jaspal Bhatti)