[VoxSpace Selects] Amrutham – A Petrichor Of A Series For A Happy Telugu Household

The Simple Lazed Up Joy Of Watching A Comedy

It was a Sunday. A simple regular Sunday, where my mom woke up early in the morning, out of habit; woke us children up, out of necessity, and let my dad sleep, because he was the only who deserved the day. My sister was forcefully handed over the broom to clean our house, and I was pushed out to go get meat and masalas for the Sunday special delicacies to be prepared. The family of four, along with a couple of babai’s, (uncles or basically any male above 30 years) and other random relatives, would all congregate around the midday lunch, basking in the glory of freshly made Chicken Curry and perhaps even the Asafoetida rich aromas of a vegetable heavy sambar.

Thereafter, the old people would prefer a power nap, the children along with one of the Babai’s would turn on the television to watch some random movie, which would either have a romantic hero, sacrificing any and every part of his body to win over his lover, or a revenge seeking macho hero who would fight with hordes of people by jumping over oil barrels. We would then review the film and decode the aspects of why the particular hero did what he did, owing to his ‘caste’ in real life. You see the motives of a movie, were very simple those days.

Then of course, it was the time for all the males to wait for the chai time to come. To ask for it, albeit indirectly, a couple of relatives, or the Babai’s would pretend to leave. As is our Telugu tradition, my mom would convince them to stay for chai. And thus, the evening would proceed with random chit chatting about some random relative’s gossips, almost always circling around the topic as to how money is not everything, but character is, not unlike the content we were consuming day in and day out.

Amrutham – The Remedial Elixir For A Mundane Household 

In this kind of simpleton Telugu household, and in the time of progressive revolution across different genres of entertainment, came to our televisions and right after into our lives, Amrutham. To give you a context, we were privy to content mostly from three or five satellite channels. For the most part, our childhood was speckled with memories of shows like Kallankitha (drama), Ruthuraagalu (social drama), Marma Desam (horror), Antharangalu (drama), Anveshitha (horror). So, you can pretty much say that my family was pretty much into horror & drama from the start (no wonder they are never tired of me). Then came, Amrutham, a satirical social comedy, with no frills and fancies about it. It was fresh as the autumn wind, with its simplistic and realistic comedy, and never sifting in its effort to reflect upon the society’s prejudices, limitations and its beauty overall.

To those who have no idea as to what I am talking about, I would highly recommend that you watch at least a couple of episodes, presently available on YouTube and perhaps read this after. For those who’ve already watched the show, I would say you had a good few years to look back fondly upon, no? To me Amrutham, served more like a time-capsule. One which encapsulated the essence of revolution in entertainment and social awareness. Literature often is lauded to be the more progressive cousin of Visual Media. But the lines were surely and steadily blurring, as Amrutham stood proudly as the forebearer of such a transition.

A Range Of Adorable Characters And Social Issues…

The character driven comedy comprised of the titular – Icchapurapu Ksheera Sagara Panchamrutha Rao (aka Amrutham) played by Shivaji Raja, Naresh and Harshavardhan successively over the course of its running, and his closest friend & neighbor Aamudaala Anjaneyulu (aka Anji) played by the Late Gundu Hanumantha Rao, who together sketched out different antics revolving around their business venture, an open air restaurant by the name Amrutha Vilas. The setup also consisted of adorably regular characters – like the ever-disgruntled house-owner, Gongali Appaji (aka Appaji) played with a punching panache by Sivannarayana, the loyal do-gooder all-in-one staff at Amrutha Vilas, Sarveswaran (aka Sarvam) played by Vasu Inturi.

Over the course of its run, Amrutham boasted of many memorable characters as well, like Sanjeevini (aka Sanju played by Jhansi, Uma Mahanti, Supraja and Anita Choudary) Amrutham’s sportive and clear-headed wife, Padmini (aka Paddu) Amutham’s university studying sister-in-law played by Swati, Parandhamayya, Amrutham’s ever furious Father-In-Law who always looked down upon Amrutham, played by Late Devadas Kanakala, Ambhujanaadam, Amrutham’s ex-boss who finds it meaningful to hand around at Amrutha Vilas instead of anywhere else, and Rubber Balaji, Amrutham’s cousin who is an aspiring Film Director.

With the plethora of inspiring and well-defined characters at his disposal, the creator of Amrutham, Gunnam Gangaruaju, leaves no stone unturned, in reflecting upon social paradigms week after week. I can still easily remember, rather fondly, the scenes of Amrutham’s first episode, where Amrutham and Anji set out to find a cow in the big wide city of Hyderabad, and somehow manage to bring it to Amrutham’s new home, only to find it even tougher to make it do a walk-through of the place. Or the instance where Amrutham has to cross an admission line which is easily two or three miles long, in order to get an appointment for his yet to be born kid in the kindergarten. Or the three episode arch of a Lagaan spoof, or the one where Rubber Balaji comes with an incredibly stupid idea (as he does often through out the show) to do a show at Amrutha Vilas.

Often times, Amrutham’s episodes were so eerily contemporary with the issues going in the city, that it seemed like the writer was treading on thin ice, but it was the cleverness of the writer, to introduce puns and pecks of satirical, just the right amount to ensure nothing is taken as offence. That perhaps has been the crowning achievement for a social comedy like Amrutham.

The Significance Of Amrutham To A Regular Household…

From a young boy’s perspective, Amrutham gave our family the much-needed bonding time, which on the weekdays was usually provided by Kaun Banega Crorepati. Amrutham in one word was a lazy Sunday spent with a bunch of friends, and who doesn’t love that? At the same time, it was a Sunday magazine of sorts, which everyone used to read to get updated about an issue happening in the city. Amrutham was a regular guy, facing regular problems and always ended finding some random out of the box solution to it.

Thus, in many ways, Amrutham, offered an optimistic view of looking at life and its multitude of problems, an aspect that today’s comedy shows (or films) laded with animal humor can never understand. Amrutham and Anji, added to our list of Babai’s that we could meet every Sunday. And laugh with them, perched upon a Neelkamal plastic chair, with one leg dangling over an arm.

The Moment Of Meeting Amrutham After A Decade…

However, when I revisited the show almost a decade later, the youngster in me had bloated up into a beer paunch bellied hardship prone academic adult writer. Now, my perspective had changed. By this time, I had watched sickeningly large number of shows, ranging across thrillers, comedies and drama. By this time also, I had interacted at close encounters the life sapping sides of world around me. Harmless comedy inside of me had turned into sharp tongued sarcasm, which was intended mostly to harm unintended souls. Ingrained pessimism and black colored T-shirts filled up my almirah.

Speaking of comedy though,  I was now privy to stories which could be colored in different shades of comedy as well. As a knock from the past, while I was fresh out of watching ‘Seinfeld’ (watching for the 22nd time). Office (for the 4th time) and Curb Your Enthusiam (lost the count), I chanced upon an episode of Amrutham on my social feed.

So, whilst waiting for my Swiggy order to come, in a 2bhk apartment riling in my loneliness, feeling unnecessarily sorry and absolutely pathetic about my life and my abilities to write, I clicked upon Amrutham. And as the teardrop exclamation logo of Just Yellow productions came about and the all too familiar crooning of ‘Orey Anjineeyulu…Thega Aayasa Padipoku Chaalu’ came about, I found myself tiredly singing along with the tune automatically. Slowly, as I realized that I knew the lyrics, and the voice of Kalyani Malik made me catch up with an old friend, I started to unwind in its sense of nostalgia. Then while I was watching an episode, directed by the famous neo-noir Film Maker, Chandrashekhar Yeleti, I found myself smiling at everything happening on my laptop screen. Amrutha Vilas was there, a hyperactive and chirpy Amrutham was there, the subtle and logical Anji was there, and the funky dressed golden waist belt wearing Appaji was there, and ofcourse the thickly Tamil accented Telugu speaking loyal server, Sarvam was there.

It didn’t matter what the setup, premise, or the story for the episode was. I just needed to see them, much like walking in the corridors of the university you studied in, thousands of years earlier. It didn’t matter, because it felt warm and less lonely watching these people I knew enacting out a set piece. From being a random kid in awe of the people writing and acting in Amrutham, to becoming a writer who has met, spoken or interacted with these gifted people over the course of the year past, my life happened.

The Need To Watch Amrutham By Every Telugu Writer, Now More Than Ever…

Amrutham is a show which I think is a mandatory viewing for anyone who wishes to write comedies and satirical. Not just because it refrains from using tropes and languages which are universally accepted, but because it does so with absolute ease and mastery. Amrutham made comedy look incredibly easy to write, and sometimes such prejudgment could lead to any aspiring writer’s unbecoming, including yours truly. But that’s the thing with Comedy, it is simple. It connects and resonates, if written well, with the everyone universally. It doesn’t differentiate between have’s and have nots. Unlike romance, which these days, looks a faroff luxury both onscreen and off-screen. When one watches Amrutham, the concept of observation comedy comes to the fore. It tells an acute observer that there is comedy to be found in the most mundane of things. It doesn’t require punchy setups or rhyming words or some cross-dressing tamasha. All it requires is to see the world around you, and note down the weirdness in the regular. For this Amrutham is one of the best observed comedies ever written.

Amrutham ended its show run in 2007, after 313 episodes under its ‘golden’ belt. Later on, the writer and creator of the show, Gunnam Gangaraju spoke as to why he made the decision on ending the show, which to its claim was the top grossing show even at its end. He said that the writers could not come up with more trials and quirks, which could be utilized within the framework of this changing society. Like everyone who is a fan of the show, I do feel that Amrutham could have returned, and be immensely successful, time irrelevantly. However, as I writer I also understand the thought of ending good things, when they are good. I’ve watched Breaking Bad enough times to realize this.

Thus, I do wish that Amrutham never returns with the same setup and characters, for the sole fear of losing its charm and magic. You see, somethings are meant to be finite. Like Petrichor – the smell of soil right after the rains. There’s some beauty to it. Although, eternal in every fan’s heart, with a nostalgic dash of warmth, Amrutham, unlike the definition of its name, needs to be finite.

Perhaps like me, the people behind and involved with Amrutham will  come back to entertain the audience, more like in a Better Call Saul way in terms of building on the already established world. Maybe the magic could afterall be revived, but I doubt that it would have the same amount of impact, a socially aware comedy series had on a sambar slurping kid watching it as the last thing allowed on TV for the day.