Remembering Raju Srivastava: The last laugh
The comedian etched himself to the minds of the masses with his mimicry and observational humour
I once had an argument with my father over Raju Srivastava. I was adamant that Raju has become a full-fledged comedian with The Great Indian Laughter Challenge and before that, he had done only blink-and-miss roles in films, including Tezaab (1988) and Maine Pyar Kiya (1989). My father flexed his age and experience, and spoke about Raju’s audio cassettes that were all the rage in his time. These cassettes were of the comedian telling jokes and stories. “Do you even know what a cassette is?” he asked, as if declaring that the argument had been won.
Raju Srivastava, comedian, actor and politician, passed away in Delhi’s All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) on Wednesday. He was 58. He was admitted to the hospital on August 10 after suffering a cardiac arrest while running on a treadmill in a hotel. Raju was put on the ventilator, went through an angioplasty and his health status reportedly fluctuated from better to worse in this period and after being in the ICU for a little more than a month, he was announced dead.
The comedian was born on Christmas Day (December 25) as Satyaprakash Srivastava in Kanpur. His father, Ramesh Chandra Srivastava, was a poet, commonly known as Balai Kaka. Before the cassettes or the The Great Indian Laughter Challenge, there was mimicry. Raju started off as a mimic for many Bollywood stars, chiefly Amitabh Bachchan and did stage shows. These performances attracted offers from the film industry and apart from the aforementioned movies, he got roles in Aamdani Atthani Kharcha Rupaiyaa (2001) and Main Prem Ki Diwani Hoon (2003). I remember recently spotting him as one of the college students in Baazigar (1993).
While some of the older generation may differ, it was indeed The Great Indian Laughter Challenge in 2005 that made Raju a household name. He had a gift for noticing intimate details from life we would usually not. After watching his comedy, you became aware of foofas (paternal uncles) living up to their cliché of being fussy; you suddenly recognised the nervousness of eating at a wedding when the camera is on you. He is also perhaps the only comedian who could mimic the behaviour of everything from firecrackers to dogs. His Gajodhar Bhaiyya put middle-class North Indian humour on the map and rather than being offended, we started to laugh at ourselves. It was an Amit Sana (Indian Idol 1) moment when Raju lost The Great Indian Laughter Challenge to Sunil Pal. Although, after that he was crowned the ‘King of Comedy’ in The Great Indian Laughter Challenge- Champions. He also got himself a solo show Raju Hazir Ho in 2008 on Imagine TV. His extensive TV stint included Comedy Nights with Kapil, The Kapil Sharma Show, Mazaak Mazaak Mein, Gangs of Haseepur and Bigg Boss 3 (in which he fought with Kamaal Rashid Khan (KRK)). He also featured in Nach Baliye Season 6 with wife Shikha.
In 2014, Raju was given a ticket by the Samajwadi Party to contest from Kanpur. Later, he returned the ticket, saying he was not getting enough support from the local units of the party. After that, he joined the Bharatiya Janata Party. Prime Minister Narendra Modi made him an ambassador of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan for which he shot various TV commercials and social service message videos. This served as a reminder of a time when Raju at an event, cracked jokes on Bihar politician Lalu Prasad Yadav while the latter was in the audience. It was a roast before modern stand-up introduced the term. Raju was satirical, taking jibes at Lalu’s quipping attitude, his Bihari accent and his political choices. The politician was laughing heartily, wiping his eyes. In another age, Raju would have been a court jester, tickling kings in power. Truth be told, he managed just fine in this age too.