While she is mostly recognized as the mother figure of nineties’ Bollywood, Reema Lagoo celebrated her funny bone on television.
Shrimaan Shrimati was quite an adult show for any kid to watch. I was in fourth grade when it used to air on Doordarshan and I remember watching it religiously with my parents. I think they assumed I wasn’t understanding a word of what was happening. They were right. Later, when I watched reruns of the show on Sab TV did I realise how inappropriate the show was. The henpecked husband of a middle-class Mumbai family, Keshav (Jatin Kanakia), is in love with his movie star neighbour, Prema Ji (Archana Puran Singh). His irritating wife, Kokila (Reema Lagoo), is perpetually dissatisfied with him, as is his obese son. Prema’s effeminate homemaker husband, Dilruba (Rakesh Bedi), on the other hand, nurtures quite an active crush on Reema Lagoo’s Kokila – which she regularly thwarts successfully.
Done-to-death stereotypes aside, what did not turn Shrimaan Shrimati into a sleaze fest (like most Hindi comedies has been for the last decade) was its controlled writing and the extremely natural performances of the lead actors. While all of them were equally fantastic, Reema Lagoo stood out as the mascot for the tired and frustrated Indian middle-class housewife – one who struggles to bring up a son and keep up the pretence of a happy home, a responsibility the husband refuses to be bothered with. Lagoo enjoyed acclaim and popularity because of her natural performance and outstanding comic timing.
Tu Tu Main Main was the mother of the saans-bahu-kitchen-politics format on Indian TV. And surprisingly, the makers of the show, designed it as a comedy. Reema Lagoo and Supriya Pilgaonkar portrayed a mother-in-law-daughter-in-law duo perennially baying for each other’s blood while actually harbouring genuine love, respect and concern. Tu Tu Main Main originally aired in 1994 along with Shrimaan Shrimati on Doordarshan too, later moving to Star Plus in 1996. For most people who watched TV during that decade, the top-of-mind recall for “tu tu main main” (which is a colloquial Hindi phrase for continuous, irritating and unnecessary argument) still remains the show. Reema Lagoo struck a fantastic comedic partnership with Pilgaonkar (much like Farida Jalal and Bhavna Balsavar in Dekh Bhai Dekh) to create the last memories Indian TV has of healthy and progressive female relationships, before drowning in the dark abyss of Ekta Kapoor’s vitriolic opera.
For a country that, in the last fifteen years, turned the comedy space into a male bastion riddled with crude sex jokes, double entendres and guffawing sardars, it is crucial for us to remember that women were Indian TV’s funniest comedians at one point. And Reema Lagoo is a shining example of that. Even though she upheld her tear-jerking motherly Barjatya act for over two decades in Bollywood, her comic prowess was explored with aplomb on television.